Of What Remains
Camilla DuPree: wealthy, educated elderly spinster
Chapwell Bailey: middle-aged history professor
Elroy Pilsner: slovenly middle-aged family retainer
Maid: middle-aged woman in a dowdy dress
[The front of Belle Chase mansion – painted cardboard/screen backdrop of fading columns and large double-doors; small plants along left and right sides. ELROY PILSNER AND CHAPWELL BAILEY saunter to center stage and stop in front of the doors, engaged in discussion. ELROY is custodian and groundskeeper – grimy, disheveled, uneducated, speaks with a strong drawl. CHAPWELL is history professor at the local university – genteel, polite, well-spoken, in white linen summer suit.]
ELROY: Ain’t much to tell ‘bout the DuPrees. [wiping tobacco juice on his forearm then wiping his forearm on the side of his filthy shirt – slowly, thoughtfully, like an artist blending colors on a canvas] ‘Ceptin’ they was all crazy.
[ELROY backs off a bit, surveying the façade with a critical eye. Unknown to either man, CAMILLA DUPREE is listening from the balcony above. She is incensed by ELROY PILSNER’S remarks and the presence of an interloper]
CAMILLA: [loudly, angrily] You, sir, get off my property! And take this unclean heathen of a groundskeeper with you!
ELROY: [smiling, patronizing] Now, Miss Camilla, don’t go gittin’ yerself in a huff. I’m just jawin’ with a man from that college over in Monroe. He ain’t the least bit interested in yer family. Just here to look around at yer property is all. [pauses for response]. Ain’t no need gettin’ all riled up. Just a vis’tor here, ma’am. That’s all.
CAMILLA: [curtly] Does this visitor have a name?
ELROY: [yells up] Yessum! This is Mr. Chapwell Bailey.
CHAPWELL: [interjecting] It’s Mr. Bailey, ma’am. Mr. Chapwell Bailey – from ULM [cautiously, respectful] I don’t mean to disturb you. It’s just that I am intrigued by artifacts of the antebellum South.
CAMILLA: [angry and insulted] Artifacts! How dare you mock us! The ground you stand on was bought with the sweat and tears of my ancestors – rest their souls. Six generations of DuPrees! We do not think of ourselves in the past tense, sir.
CHAPWELL: [soft and apologetic] I meant no offense, ma’am. It’s a term we use in our research, not meant in any way as a value judgment. I meant no -[cut off abruptly]
CAMILLA: [irritated] I know what it means. What I don’t know is what business it is of yours. And why you think you can come prowling around uninvited.
[CHAPWELL has removed his hat and is now mopping his brow, nervously]
CHAPWELL: Tell me, ma’am, would it be possible to make an appointment? To look around your magnificent grounds and gardens, that is? Nothing more. [awaits response that does not come] It’s just that I’ve always had a deep and abiding love for the gracious lifestyle reflected in southern mansions. The pageantry and grandeur they represent I suppose. Can you understand that?
CAMILLA: [temper now flaring] Do you think I’m illiterate? Is that what you think? An ignorant spinster kept away in the attic till the last male heir died and left me with it? [emphatically] I was educated at Radcliffe, sir! And later at Tulane. And just for your information, Gertrude Stein wasn’t the only American resident on the Left Bank in our day, thank you very much! And what I know about the world is not confined to fanciful tales set in the deep recesses of a decadent South – or steeped in gothic lore that seems to characterize every mansion south of St Louis. [temper easing] Can you understand that?
[ELROY sidles off stage right, almost tiptoeing. CHAPWELL stands with mouth agape]
CHAPWELL: [face up toward balcony] I meant no disrespect, ma’am. I only meant to satisfy a childlike curiosity about this place. The symmetry of its spreading oaks, the camellia and azalea gardens that trace the gated cemetery over there. And the carriage house and servants’ quarters – a gracious assemblage indeed. [smiling, looking all around] And my being here right now – like being part of something lasting and wise…[attention suddenly diverted]
[Doors open quietly. CAMILLA stands in the doorway, graceful and statuesque in a white silk caftan]
CAMILLA: It was my brother’s doing. [slinks forward a bit] His reckless ways and expensive habits took him before he was able to sell it all off. [adjusting her sash] But I suppose you already know that.
[For a moment, their thoughts were conveyed intuitively – through their gazes. She is clearly from another time, yet somehow timeless.]
CAMILLA: [in a single grand gesture, motions CHAPWELL toward the door] Won’t you come in? I receive few visitors now.
[CAMILLA ponders the man, smiling with approval of his manners, gentility, quiet longing]
CHAPWELL: [humbly] My deepest appreciation, ma’am. I did not mean to inconvenience you in any way.
[Inside: large coffee table with old magazines and New York Times, Times Picayune, and faded clippings. Plush sofa, wingback side chairs, side tables, elegant cigarette holder, case, and lighter. Palm floor plants; expensive-looking objects placed about.]
CHAPWELL: [surveying the expansive room]. This is truly a splendid world in which you live. I would think you’d never wish to leave it.
CAMILLA: [pulling her delicate limbs closer to her frame] I suppose Belle Chase could hold interest beyond its history and architecture for some. [pans the room] It’s a world unto itself, you know. It takes more than a critical eye to study the ethereal. [pauses briefly] Do you have such abilities, sir? Can you feel its spirit? [She eases into her favorite wingback chair. CHAPWELL sits on a sofa.] You wish to see things from the inside out, sir? Mirror images? [pauses for response, which does not come immediately] You must indeed. The researcher examines a thing as it appears. The scholar studies its aura, that which cannot be observed directly. Which are you sir?
CHAPWELL: I cannot tell you, Miss Dupree – may I call you Miss DuPree? [shifting cautiously, searching for a response] You pose it as a philosophical consideration. Perhaps I’m neither scholar nor philosopher, but I do know your meaning.
[Enter MAID, who is asked to bring a pitcher of iced tea and two glasses. Exit Maid. CHAPWELL continues to pan the room in awe]
CAMILLA: You find history an admirable pursuit. As do I. [reaching for cigarette holder on side table]
CHAPWELL: Indeed I do. [reaching for the cigarette case and lighter on coffee table] And fascinating haunts. [smiling playfully. Lights her cigarette.]
CAMILLA: A giant mural. [spreading her hands gesturing an expanse] But a broad-brush stroke [assertively]. A one-dimensional picture of human behavior. [gazing intently at the man]. History is not a mirror image of human actions, sir. Nor their thoughts. It is, in the final analysis, nothing more than what one — anyone
— perceives it to have been. Like art, its meaning is negotiable.
CHAPWELL: [musing at the profundity of her statement] I had not considered it from that perspective. In that realm. [sincerely] You leave me with something new to ponder.
CAMILLA: [politely, gazing fondly] We must continue our discussions. You have awakened a muse in me I thought had long since died. Shall we pencil our calendars—or have I cast an ugly haze on the matter?
[They shake hands to seal the matter and bid adieu. CHAPWELL exits left. CAMILLA exits right. Lights dim while the stage is cleared, then replaced with writing tables and chairs on left and right sides, facing the audience. Books and several envelopes on each table]
[Enter CHAPWELL from left, reading a letter aloud, projecting for audience as he sits down at the table]
CHAPWELL: [smiling wistfully] … and I’m so happy to be in Manhattan again with Muriel and Lilly – they’ve hardly aged. We laugh and sip our wine and it’s Paris again. 1935, and our hearts are new. We’ve tickets for The Rose Tattoo on Friday – such a spicy slice of New Orleans just might quicken an urge to return home. [exits left]
CAMILLA: [enter right, smiling, reading letter aloud]. …and my colleagues find me quite the romantic of a sudden. “Feeling things that aren’t there?” they muse and smile. But I’ve begun to ponder history in the light of our discussions—as an artist might. To examine what is missing as well as what is observable. To look at shadows as well as light…[exits right].
CHAPWELL: [enter left, brow raised, reading letter aloud]. …so I’ve decided to stay on a while. I’ve taken an apartment near Muriel, a lovely “art decadence” place overlooking the city. Now here’s a history trove for you—but not of the genteel, earthy ilk you and I so adore. Roots may run deep here, but everything blooms quickly and fades too soon. [smiles, pauses]. I’ll take New Orleans in her day—closest thing to Paris I could cling to…and I so enjoy your letters and updates on your research… [exits left, still reading].
CAMILLA: [enter right, smiling, reading letter aloud] …sage advice. I’ve tracked down the curator in New Orleans. He knows the family you mention in your last letter and will contact them on my behalf. Bible records are the way to go – you must have known the Landrys well to know how fastidious they were about family records. It is like removing layers from an onion sometimes to find the truth. The Landry place has fallen to ruin, I’m sad to report, not the place you describe in your letters any more. I’ve scheduled a visit there next week. I’ll report what I encounter – real or ethereal. It pulls me like a siren or a childhood tale. You must…[exit left, reading fades].
[Lights dim. Tables and chairs are removed. Cardboard facade of Belle Chase returned to center stage, along with a few plants]
[Enter CHAPWELL, letter and card in hand. He stands surveying the façade. Slowly turns to face the audience.]
CHAPWELL: [somber, reads aloud] “Be it known that on June 28, 1957, Miss Camilla Eugenia Dupree passed quietly in her sleep and rests peacefully.” [places the letter and card in his white linen coat pocket. Studies the façade for a moment, then moves to the right corner, half-facing the house. He speaks as if the house can hear him.] It’s been a year already. You have new owners, and they have changes in mind I’m told. And though I must now and forever hold you at a distance, I can still hear the stirring echoes of Miss Camilla’s voice, like notes carried on the summer wind asking me repeatedly: ‘Can you feel its spirit?’
[Lights fade, curtains draw close]