The Taming of the Ill-Mannered Belle
by Katy Huth Jones
Lucius, a gentleman from southern Virginia
Trevor, his manservant
Blastus, his Negro servant
Mr. Benton Madison, a wealthy Richmond planter
Katherine, his oldest daughter
Bianca, his youngest daughter
Greeley, an old suitor
Horace, a young suitor
Act I, Scene 1 (The year is 1850. Lucius and Trevor enter a busy street in Richmond, Virginia.)
LUCIUS: Goodness, Trevor, here we are in fair Richmond, garden of the South, about to fulfill my lifelong dream. You know how I've always longed to see this fair city, famous for its university, and now, thanks to Father's generosity, here I am-with his blessing and your good company. So, my trusted servant, why don't we stay here for a time that I might pursue a law degree, since my family is well-known for being successful and serious in whatever they do. I want to bring honor to my father by adding more virtuous deeds to his own, stacking them on top of his wealth. What do you think, Trevor? Leaving Roanoke for Richmond, I feel a little like a thirsty man who turns from a puddle to a vast lake he can drink from.
TREVOR: Pardon me, Master Lucius. As usual, I'm in complete agreement with you about everything, and glad that you wish to study law. Let me add that I admire your virtue and your moral discipline. That said, let us not become so focused on improving the mind that we neglect matters of the heart.
LUCIUS: Thanks, Trevor. That's good advice. Now if only Blastus would get here, we could find a nice boarding house to stay so the new friends we make in Richmond will have a place to visit us. But, look. Who are all these people?
TREVOR: Maybe it's a parade to welcome us to town, master.
(Lucius and Trevor stand to one side. Benton enters with Katherine, Bianca, and two suitors to Bianca, an old man named Greeley and a younger man named Horace.)
BENTON: That is quite enough, gentlemen. My mind is made up. I will not permit my younger daughter to marry until I have found a husband for her elder sister. Long have I regarded both of you as friends. Therefore, if either of you wish to marry Katherine, he shall have my permission to court her.
GREELEY: Cart her, you mean. She's too much of a wildcat for me. How about you, Horace? Are you still interested in marrying?
KATHERINE: (To Benton) May I ask, sir, if it is your intention to make a stale of me among these mates?
HORACE: Mates, did you say? You will never find a mate until you improve your temper, young lady.
KATHERINE: You need not worry about that, sir. The only possible interest I would take in you would be to beat you about the head with a fencepost, paint your face with blood, and make a fool out of you.
HORACE: Deliver us from all such devils, good Lord!
GREELEY: And me too, good Lord!
TREVOR: (Speaking so that only Lucius can hear) Don't call attention to yourself, master. This will be entertaining to watch. This young lady is either stark raving mad or incredibly strong-willed.
LUCIUS: (Speaking so that only Trevor can hear) But her sister's silence show her to be mild-mannered and well-behaved, as a perfect Southern lady should be. Let us follow her example.
TREVOR: (Speaking so that only Lucius can hear) Agreed, master. Let's keep quiet and watch.
BENTON: (To Greeley and Horace) Gentlemen, since I wish to make good on what I have just said, Bianca, go inside. Don't be unhappy, my dear. Whatever happens, I'll always love you best.
KATHERINE: Spoiled brat! She shall make herself cry as soon as she thinks of a reason.
BIANCA: Dear sister, be happy in that you have made me unhappy. Father, I will humbly obey you and take comfort in my books and music while I read and practice my instruments.
LUCIUS: Did you hear that, Trevor? She has the voice of a goddess!
HORACE: Mr. Benton, will you truly be so cruel? I regret that our goodwill should cause fair Bianca such unhappiness.
GREELEY: Why are you locking the fair lady away because her sister is a fiend of hell, Mr. Benton? Why does the gentle daughter suffer punishment for the other's sharp tongue?
BENTON: Gentlemen, I have made my decision. Go inside, Bianca.
And because I know how fond she is of music and poetry, I plan to hire tutors for her. If either of you gentlemen know anyone suitable for the job, send him to me. I pay well for good teachers. Good-bye, gentlemen. Katherine, you may stay. I have matters to discuss with your sister. (He exits)
KATHERINE: May I not go inside if I please? Must I be given an hourly schedule as if I were still a child? As if I didn't have the intelligence to decide when to come and where to go? I think not. (She exits)
GREELEY: I can think of a very hot place where you may go. You have nothing that anyone other than the devil would want. Horace, our desire to marry isn't so great that we cannot wait patiently. It is not easy, but it may be borne. To prove my love for the sweet Bianca, I am going to find a good tutor to give her lessons in the subjects that delight her.
HORACE: So will I, Greeley. But don't go just yet. I realize we have been rivals in love, but it would be in both our interests if we endeavor together in one thing.
GREELEY: And what is that?
HORACE: To find a husband for Bianca's sister.
GREELEY: A husband? You mean a devil!
HORACE: I mean a husband.
GREELEY: I say a devil. Do you really think, Horace, that even though her father is very wealthy, there's any man such a fool as to be married to hell?
HORACE: Nonsense, Greeley. Just because we could not endure her temper, it does not follow that there are no men who would, if we could just find them. Men who would take her with all her faults, if there were enough money involved.
GREELEY: I cannot say. I would rather endure a public whipping every morning than have to endure her, no matter how much money was involved.
HORACE: Well, there is small choice in rotten apples. But come, since this obstacle to our love makes us allies, let us work together to find a husband for Benton's elder daughter, which will set the youngest free for a husband. Then we can return to our rivalry. Ah, sweet Bianca! Happy is the man that claims you. May the best man win. What do you say, Greeley?
GREELEY: I am agreeable, and would give the best horse in Richmond to the one who could woo her, wed her, and bed her, and rid the house of her! Come on.
(Exit Greeley and Horace.)
TREVOR: Master, is it possible that a person could fall in love so suddenly?
LUCIUS: Oh, Trevor, until it happened to me, I never would have thought it possible or likely. But while I idly stood by, watching her, I found the effect of love in idleness and now plainly confess to you, Trevor, I burn, I pine, I perish, Trevor, if I cannot have this young modest girl for my wife. Counsel me, Trevor, for I know you can. Help me, Trevor, for I know you will.
TREVOR: Master, this isn't the time to chide you. The heart may not be reasoned with. Since love has touched you and you are captive, it is time to buy back your freedom at the lowest possible cost.
LUCIUS : Yes, you are right. Please go on. I feel better already, and I know you will have even more good advice.
TREVOR: Master, you looked so longingly on the young lady that you seem to have missed the most important consideration.
LUCIUS: Oh yes, I saw sweet beauty in her face like that of Europa which humbled great Zeus.
TREVOR: Did you see nothing else? Didn't you notice when her sister began to scold her and raised such a ruckus that human ears could hardly stand to listen?
LUCIUS: Trevor, I saw her coral lips move, and with her breath she perfumed the air. Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her.
TREVOR: (to the audience) I think it's time to wake him from his trance. (to Lucius) Wake up, Master Lucius! If you love the girl, then use your wits to win her. The way things stand, her elder sister is so cursed and shrewd that the father can't wait to be rid of her. Until that happens, your love must be locked up in her home and not allowed any suitors.
LUCIUS: Oh, Trevor, what a cruel father he is! But did you notice he was ready to hire good tutors for her?
TREVOR: I did, master, and now I've got an idea!
LUCIUS: I have an idea, Trevor!
TREVOR: I think we are thinking the same thing, master.
LUCIUS: Tell me your idea first.
TREVOR: You will be a tutor and offer to teach the girl. Is that your idea?
LUCIUS: It is. Can it be done?
TREVOR: Not possible. If you are a tutor, who shall be Lucius, Vincent's son, while here in Richmond, keeping house, studying, welcoming his friends, visiting his relatives, and feeding them?
LUCIUS: That's enough. I have figured it out. No one knows us here in Richmond, so no one knows which is the master and which is the manservant. Then it follows thus: You will be the master, Trevor, in my place, live in my house, order the servants, and do as I would. I will be someone else, from Atlanta, or Charleston, or Raleigh. We have a plan now. Trevor, take off your clothes and put on mine. (they exchange clothes) When Blastus comes, he will pretend to be your servant. But I will sweet talk him into going along with this so he won't spill the beans.
TREVOR: You will need to do so. Meanwhile, master, since this is what you want to do, I will obey. For your father ordered me at our parting, "Be of service to my son." I think he meant something else by that, but I am content to be Lucius because so well I love my master.
LUCIUS: Trevor, be me because Lucius is in love. Let me be a slave to win the girl whose beauty has enslaved me.
Here comes the rogue. Where have you been, boy?
BLASTUS: Where have I been, massah? Where are you, massah? Has this boy Trevor stolen your clothes? Or have you stolen his? Or both? Please tell this poor boy what's goin' on.
LUCIUS: Come here, boy. This is no time for joking. Straighten up. Your fellow, Trevor here, in order to save my life has traded clothes with me and pretends to be me. Since we arrived in Richmond I had to kill a man and I fear that someone saw me. While I escape, wait on Trevor just as though he were me. Do you understand me?
BLASTUS: Yes, sir. (aside) Not a word.
TREVOR: I would second your wish if it meant that Lucius could marry Benton's youngest daughter. This is for your master's sake, not mine. So be careful in public. When we're alone, you can call me "Trevor." But everywhere else, call me your master "Lucius."
LUCIUS: Trevor, let's go. One more thing: You must woo Bianca like the others. Don't ask me why; just trust that I have good reasons. (All exit)