BONES OF THE CHINAMEN

 

 

The entire play takes place inside a barracoon, an enclosure to hold slaves.

 

 

************************************

 

                                             CAST

 

Narrator - Li Tong as an old man.

 

Li Tong - Chinese man who works in a barracoon as an employee of foreign slave traders.  He is in his late 20's.

 

Armindo DaCruz - Portuguese ex-seaman who rents barracoons and charters ships to make profit from the Chinese coolie trade to Peru and Cuba.  Known and feared for his cruelty.  Age: Middle-aged

 

Dr. Murray - dissipated and alcoholic English doctor well paid to certify that Chinese coolies are fit for their grueling sea voyage.  Age:  About 50

 

Captain Elliott - Once proud American clipper ship captain now reluctantly involved in the coolie trade.  Age: Late middle age

 

James Turner - corrupt British harbour master.  Age: 30's

 

Mr. Anderson - incorruptible emigration agent: late 20's, early 30's

 

Ah-fuk - chief Chinese crimp, one who specializes in kidnapping or otherwise inducing Chinese coolies into the barracoon

 

Brother - A Chinese from a scholar gentry family kidnapped and brought into the barracoon.  Age: late teens/early 20's

 

Sister (Tiang-si) - Captured while trying to free her brother.  Mid 20's

 

Three Chinese musical players - er-hu, gong, cymbals

 

Chinese male prisoners

 

Chinese and Eurasian male guards

 

 

 (Musicians can double as prisoners, etc.)

 

 

************************************

 

                              

BONES OF THE CHINAMEN

 

 

 DOUBLE ISLAND, SWATOW, CHINA, LATE 1800s

 

At rise the stage is completely dark.  From the darkness is heard the sound of a two-stringed Chinese fiddle, an "er-hu."  The pentatonic melody it is playing is painfully beautiful, almost heartbreaking. 

 

Suddenly, as the music stops and a glimmer of light fades in, we hear a sound and even catch a glimpse of a naked or nearly naked CHINESE MALE running across the stage.  In the style of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911) most of his head has been shaved and the remaining hair at the back of his head has been braided into a long pigtail (queue).  The CHINESE MALE performs in response to commands of an O.S. VOICE. 

 

                          O.S. VOICE

Run!..Turn!  Flap your arms!  Bend over!..Jump about while turning!..Duck walk!..Stoop!..Jump about!  Quickly!  Do not make the foreign-devil angry!...Enough!  Spin your queue!..Enough!  Now sign the paper and rejoin the other coolies upstairs!  Do as you are told or you will be beaten!

 

(The CHINESE MALE, panting heavily, then

runs off the other side of the stage) 

 

(After the COOLIE exits, we again

hear the sound of the er-hu.  Gradually,

a spotlight comes up on the MUSICIAN

(NARRATOR)and his er-hu.  He is dressed

in a nondescript Chinese jacket and

baggy trousers and wears soft felt or

cotton shoes.  His hairstyle is also

that of the Ch’ing Dynasty.  He is

sitting on a low support playing his

instrument.  Behind him is a rattan

or wicker stool which he occasionally

sits upon) 

 

(He faces the audience from extreme stage

left and throughout the play will be clearly

separate from the action he describes

- except near the end.  He should sit a

bit higher than the stage so there might

be a few steps leading down from his

position to the rest of the stage)

(After 20 or 30 seconds pass, the

NARRATOR stops playing and, still

holding his instrument, looks out at

the audience.  He smiles slightly. 

He is a very elderly man and when he

speaks there is an undertone of sorrow

and melancholy in his voice)

                              

NARRATOR

I am Li Tong, a Canton man of the clan Loi.  I was born in Goose Run Village during the year of the dragon, hour of the tiger.  This is a barracoon.  I play music here; with this: a two-stringed fiddle.  We call it an er-hu.  The foreign-devils say the melodies I play are almost painfully beautiful, melancholy, plaintive and heartbreaking.  My father always said it was the perfect instrument to express emotions.  I have learned that it is certainly the perfect instrument to express pain. 

 

          (The narrator glances toward the semi-

dark stage where Chinese and men of

mixed Chinese-Portuguese blood are

lighting the wicks of tallow candles

and oil lamps.  The stage should,

however, remain quite dark)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

I will play music here until I die.  That day will not be far off; but before I journey to the Land of the Yellow Springs I want you to know the truth about what happened when I was still young.  When I worked in a barracoon as a free man.  I have much to apologize for.  That much is clear.  And as you will see my crimes were horrific.  But please know I neither sold coolie slaves nor was I a coolie who had been enslaved.  I simply served the various foreigners who ran the barracoons and sailed the coolie ships.  I had learned English well from missionaries and in my father's shop I had worked with numbers and an abacus. These skills made me valuable to the foreigners who derived their profit from the coolie trade. 

 

          (The NARRATOR plays several notes, smiling

          at the memory of happier times.  The shadow

of the Calvary might briefly appear when

appropriate in the speech below)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

As a boy, I used to love to sit under the shade trees and listen to the itinerant story tellers who traveled from village to village filling our eager minds with outrageous gossip and tales of adventure and news of outside-the-province people.  And one day a foreign-devil storyteller with long nose and green eyes dressed all in black with high black hat and silver cross and holy book with red letters spoke of his three-in-one-god and how the son of his god who was mocked and murdered would return and we should be ready.  When I saw that even the Manchu soldiers would not disturb the temple he built to his god, I did the great washee and I too wore a cross. 

 

          (At the sound of a whip and a scream

          the narrator pauses to look toward

          the stage, then continues)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

My father was very angry but when the Taiping rebels came they spared me and my family because they too were of the cross.  And I met a woman I loved very much.  And for a few years I was very happy…But that is all gone now. 

 

          (Not without difficulty, the NARRATOR

gets up and sits on the stool)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

The time came when China was once again plunged into chaos and many had little or no food. In that turmoil, my father lost everything, and I was content to make money as I could; I was not one of those known as a 'crimp,' a Chinese who kidnapped his own people and sold them to foreigners.  And so I could live.  And I could live with myself.  Then, one day, on the 15th day of the seventh month, during the time of year we call Cold Dew, everything changed.  And yet, except for the storm, known today as The Great Storm, it was a day which began much as any other.  I had overslept but it was still early morning when I made my way on foot from my one-room lodging at a cheap Swatow inn, fighting the howling wind and heavy rain every step of the way. 

 

          (At the sounds of pounding on the barracoon

          door, the NARRATOR stands up and faces the

          stage)

 

I arrived soaking wet and still flustered from my ordeal and pounded on the door until the guards finally let me in.  Even these burly men had some difficulty in shutting the door against the fury of the wind and torrential rain.  It was at Armindo’s urging that I had changed my outside rainwear from the coconut fibre typical in the Swatow region to the attire of Westerners.

 

          (LI TONG, as a young man, enters the

still quite dark barracoon as described

above.  His actions continue as the

NARRATOR continues to speak)

 

(At the sound of hammering, LI TONG

pauses and looks up and back to

where the sound is coming from)

 

(The light on him dims a bit and

is now crossing him in streaks,

suggesting prison bars.  The

hammering stops and LI TONG unties

his queue holding his tarpaulin hat

in place and strips off his coarse,

thick, double-breasted pea coat)

 

(He places them on a wall peg then

adjusts the wicks on an oil lamp)

 

(He walks to a tiny kitchen and

prepares water for tea.  He places

wood under a clay stove and an iron

kettle upon it, first shaking the

kettle to ensure it has water.  While

busy with his kitchen chores he soon

infuses the water with tea leaves. 

He also brings out a saucer for winter

lichees and dried melon pips, prepares

congee and vegetables, etc.)

 

                        NARRATOR (cont)

Yes, that's right, I remember now - the wooden venetians at the windows had been nailed shut to prevent coolies from escaping.  And so inside the barracoon daytime was hardly distinguishable from the night.  There were about three hundred men in the barracoon.  All Chinese coolies.  Not counting their jailers, of course.  They were as they are now - Portuguese and mixed-blood Chinese-Portuguese from Macau.  And some, I am ashamed to say, were pure Chinese.  The coolies thought they were waiting for a ship to take them to "Gum San - the Gold Country... California;" but they were not.  And that is why the door was locked and barred and the venetians were nailed shut and the keepers had keys...and guns and knives and swords and rattan rods and leather whips...

 

(The NARRATOR is now clearly embarrassed)

 

                        NARRATOR (cont)

I apologize for the odor.  The only ventilation we had was through the crevices of the venetians and of the thick, pitch pine door when it was open.  The door at the rear was always locked except when the outside kitchen staff carried in the baskets of coarse rice and poor quality tea in narrow-mouthed earthen pots.  And when the tall jars overflowing with urine and excrement were removed from the terrace through the same door. The only other door was upstairs; it opened onto a terrace and the terrace jars were all the coolies had for a privy.  The terrace was, of course, too high for a coolie to jump down and escape...Although some tried.  Although I did no cooking for the coolie slaves or crimps, I would sometimes prepare fruit or congee or even dumplings for Armindo, Dr. Murray and Captain Elliott.  On cold winter days I also placed lumps of heated charcoal inside small brass and copper braziers so that our feet and hands might stay warm.

 

(A CHINESE MAN appears and begins

swishing lighted incense sticks about

as he crosses the stage and exits

during the next speech.  While he does

this, MEN continue to light candles

and turn up the oil lamps)

 

                        NARRATOR (cont)

(slight smile) Despite all that he was, Armindo was the only one who cared about the smell. So every day just before he arrived, one of the guards lit joss-sticks - sticks of incense; and soon the sandalwood aroma hid the offensive odors...as the music was used to hide the screams of coolies being whipped. 

 

(As the NARRATOR says this three Chinese

coolie musicians – gong, drum and er-hu –

appear and take their place on stage)

 

NARRATOR

  (Cont) (lost in memory)   

Armindo was the only man I knew about whom I could say that, whatever he was, he was to perfection.  Some of the foreign-devil slave sellers who came to the barracoon were the cruelest, most dangerous men on earth.  Men who had survived only by making certain that those opposing them did not.  And yet I never failed to see Armindo intimidate such men and impose his will on them.  It was not simply that they knew he feared nothing; it was as if they sensed that whatever it was that inhabited his tortured soul was not quite human.  If I had to sum him up in one phrase, it would be an intensity of purpose.  His anger, his laughter, his indignation, whatever it was was somehow more absolute, more focused – I almost want to say more pure – than that of other men.  Armindo-

(LI TONG suddenly stares at the audience)

Armindo DaCruz...Forgive me; I see from your lack of reaction that you do not know that name.  Consider yourself fortunate.  But, believe me, had you lived in southern China when I was a young man, you would have known it then.  And had you displeased him in any way, it would have been the last sound in your consciousness before you slept and the first sound in your consciousness before you woke.      

 

(There is the sudden and very loud sound of

pounding and the spotlight on the NARRATOR

immediately dims while the lighting of

of the stage setting immediately lights up. 

Throughout the play – except when the spot

intensifies as he addresses the audience –

the NARRATOR observes the play in profile)

 

The frightened CHINESE MUSICIANS rise quickly

-         with the docile air of men desperately

afraid of being beaten.  The MAN with the

drum stands over it ready to begin.  The MAN

with the gong holds out his stick and gong in

preparation to beat it.  The MAN with the

er-hu holds up his two sticks)

 

(Suddenly, there is an enormous crack of

a whip on flesh and the sound of a blood-

curdling scream.  As lights come up on the

barracoon, the MUSICIANS begin franti-

cally playing their instruments.  The

music now is loud and discordant and

cacophonous)

 

(Thanks to the increased lighting, we now

see that in addition to the one large room

there are stairs leading to a cockloft

above, where there are still more CHINESE

COOLIES.  The COOLIES milling about the back of

`    the rooms are not shackled in any way but have

     obviously been told precisely what area of the

     barracoon is theirs to move about in. 

 

(Their space has no lamps or beds but only

a scattering of straw and gunny bags to

serve as sleeping mats)

 

(Throughout the play we see the - often distorted -

shadows of these MEN moving about in the background;

emaciated apparitions flitting between

lanterns and candles and absorbed by the darkness)

 

           (A CHINESE coolie has his queue and thumbs and

large toes bound up together and is hanging

from a ceiling beam just inches from the floor's

packed earth) 

 

(ANOTHER COOLIE wearing nothing but a kind

of loincloth stands against the far wall.

His hands have been bound behind him and

he is tied by his queue to a wooden wall peg.

          His queue has been shortened in length by

being wrapped about the peg so that he cannot

sit down without painfully pulling his hair)

 

(WELL-ARMED MEN - both Chinese and mixed

blood Portuguese-Chinese - are observing

a furious PORTUGUESE whip a naked Chinese

who is hanging by his thumbs from ropes

tied to wall pegs.  The COOLIE's back is

crisscrossed with welts.  Blood runs freely

down his buttocks and legs.  The long, black

objects hanging from the Portuguese's belt

are the severed queues of Chinese men) 

 

(These CHINESE MEN also have their hair set in

the fashion of the Ch'ing Dynasty and their

queues are either wound around their heads

or else down in back reaching to their calves)

 

(Non-Chinese and mixed Portuguese-Chinese are

wearing mainly seamen’s clothes of the mid-

1800's:  pea jacket, guernsey, bell-bottomed

duck trousers, boots.  The weapons at their

belts are knives and flintlock pistols) 

 

(Not far toward the rear of the room, a few

Chinese CRIMPS and GUARDS are engaged in a game

of dice for money, occasionally letting out

groans of "Aiiyaahh!" when luck is against

them.  They take no interest in the beatings

as the beatings are nothing new to them)

 

(A CHINESE GUARD opens the door and we hear the

sound of wind and driving rain.  A swarthy

Portuguese somewhere in his early 40s enters

(ARMINDO).  An ex-seaman and an expert at

surviving in a very dangerous world.  His

flat-brimmed tarpaulin hat, monkey jacket

and boots are wet, shiny and dripping from

the rain) 

 

     (He wears a black-and-emerald green flannel

          shirt, black leather vest and striped merino

     trousers.  He wears no pocket watch but his

     knife is sheathed at his belt and a small

     cross hangs about his neck from a silver chain.)

 

(LI TONG has rushed out to offer him a towel

with which to dry off, but ARMINDO ignores

him and brushes by him to stand near his

PORTUGUESE EMPLOYEE whipping a CHINESE COOLIE)

 

(At each enormous crack of the whip on the

man’s flesh, the sound of a blood-curdling

scream is lost in the loud and discordant

and cacophonous music.  The screams soon

cease.  After observing the whipping for

several moments, ARMINDO moves quickly to

the MAN WITH THE WHIP, spins him about and

grasps his wrist)

 

                            ARMINDO

What the devil you whipping him for?

 

                       MAN WITH THE WHIP

What?!

 

                            ARMINDO

    (to the musicians)

Stop that infernal noise, you heathen devils! 

 

(The light on the THREE MUSICIANS

immediately dims as the music stops

and the men rush off into the darkness)

 

                            ARMINDO

I said, what the devil you whipping him for?

 

                       MAN WITH THE WHIP

Bloody heathen's still refusin' to sign his contract!

 

(ARMINDO grasps the man's face with both

hands and pushes it near the face of the

COOLIE on the wall)

                              

ARMINDO

The Chinaman is dead, you damn fool! 

 

 

                       MAN WITH THE WHIP

...What's one coolie more or less?

 

(ARMINDO draws his sheath knife with

amazing speed and shoves him hard)

 

                            ARMINDO

That's thirty Spanish dollars I lost!  I ought to cut your heart out!  If you don't know how to whip coolies without killin' 'em, get the hell out!

 

(ARMINDO tosses his knife from

hand to hand with obvious skill

and sneers malevolently)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Unless you'd like to try me.

 

(The MAN hesitates)

 

MAN WITH THE WHIP

I got no quarrel with you.

 

ARMINDO

You will have, if you ever kill one of my Chinamen again.

 

The MAN moves quickly away.  ARMINDO

gestures to his CHINESE EMPLOYEES who

cut the COOLIE down and prepare to

take the body out by stuffing him in

a sack.  He replaces his knife, takes

off his jacket and hat, and looks about)

 

                            ARMINDO

Li Tong...Li Tong!

 

(LI TONG appears from out of the

darkness, as always eager to please

ARMINDO.  He rushes to ARMINDO and

takes his hat and jacket.  He

hangs them up carefully on wall

nails)

                            ARMINDO

I'm chilled to the bone.  Hurry up with the tea. 

 

                            LI TONG

Yes, sir.  I'm sorry.  I overslept.

 

 

ARMINDO

And add a bit of ginger to it; it’s bloody cold out there.

 

LI TONG

I have done that, sir, it is all prepared.

 

(LI TONG obediently brings fruit and

tea while ARMINDO removes his two

pearl-handled pistols from his belt. 

As he speaks, he carefully examines

the powder in the pistols' priming

pans, then changes the flint in each

cock.  He might also clear the barrels

with his ramrod, etc.)

 

                            ARMINDO

And how many times have I told you: when we got a storm, we don't need the damn heathen music!  Nobody out there can hear anybody screamin' in here during a typhoon!  Tell the buffle-headed musicians not to play except when they're needed or I'll ship them out!

 

                            LI TONG

I am sorry, sir.  It won't happen again.

 

ARMINDO

The storm smashed open the shed door.  Tools are gone.  Most likely blown out to sea by now.

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir, I know.  Even the barracoon was barely visible until I was almost upon it. 

 

ARMINDO

Aye.  A black silhouette that bids no one welcome.  Sheets of rain sweeping from one end of the roof to another and the tempest winds battering its China fir frame.  It was moaning, Li Tong, almost like a living thing. 

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir, I heard it.  I thought it sounded like an enraged beast maddened by the fury of the storm but unable to escape.

 

ARMINDO

(chuckling)

Well, maybe that’s what it is.

 

(The door opens and a BRITISH PHYSICIAN enters. 

We again hear the sounds of the storm outside) 

(As the CHINESE carrying the coolie's body move

past him they collide with him.  DR. MURRAY

manages to clutch his leather bag but his walking

cane is knocked from his grasp.  He utters an

oath but he steps aside to let the guards pass

with their burden. A GUARD picks up the cane by

its ivory handle and holds it out for him.  The

COOLIES exit with the body.) 

 

(The PHYSICIAN removes his peacoat and LI TONG i

mmediately takes it from him and hangs it up) 

 

(He is a rotund man, about 50, rather shabbily

dressed, whose red face shows unmistakable signs

of a life of dissipation.  His silver-rimmed

spectacles are propped halfway down his

protuberant nose.  His round, oily face is

framed by curly white hair and long sideburns,

and, regardless of his choice of apparel, never

fails to appear rather shabbily dressed.  His

black frock coat is well worn and his old serge

trousers and gray flannel shirt are far from new.

 

(He attempts to retain his dignity but appears a

bit unsteady on his feet and has difficulty

repressing a bad cough)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Mornin', Li Tong.  Glad to see you here.  The other so-called interpreters know about as much English as I know Chinese.

 

                            LI TONG

Thank you, Dr. Murray.  I arrived late because of the storm.  But I’ll get you a brazier.  You'd better dry off.

 

(LI TONG hands him a towel.  DR. MURRAY

rubs his face and arms)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I wager this weather'll be the death of me yet.  And the lightning’s in the north sky, so we can expect a lot more of this misery before it’s over.  (motions toward the door) What was that about?  Not dead of disease, I hope.  If so, I need to examine him.

 

LI TONG

No, sir, he died of a beating.

 

 

DR. MURRAY

Well, that’s a relief; no contagion for us to worry about and no more hell on earth for that poor creature.

 

(He returns the towel to LI TONG then

takes his bowler hat out of a

leather sack.  He carefully examines

the hat for damage while speaking)

 

                       DR. MURRAY (cont)

The rains loosened the sand.  Bones of Chinamen are exposed all along the north shore of the island.  The lucky ones had coffins. But now their coffins are bein' swept out into the river.  Poor bastards had no peace in life and now-

 

                            ARMINDO

You're late, Dr. Murray.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I was detained.

 

                            ARMINDO

By a bawdy house bottle and a more-than-willing chick-a-biddy, I'll wager.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Chick-a-biddy? 

 

(He places his hat on his head and

carefully adjusts it to his satisfaction)

 

                       DR. MURRAY (cont)

At my age I consider myself fortunate if I manage to enjoy a few moments pleasure with a wrinkle-bellied hedge whore.  But, no, my dear Armindo, I was in point of fact detained by the emigration agent.

 

                            ARMINDO

What the bloody 'ell does he want?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

He boarded the clipper and ordered your crew to reland the pork.

 

                            ARMINDO

Reland the- What the hell is wrong with the pork?

 

(ARMINDO replaces the pistols in his belt

and stands up)

 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Maggots.  Small maggots, to be sure, but it seems he has discovered them in the deepest recesses of the joints and he wishes me to remind you that according to the Chinese Passenger Act-

 

(While he speaks the following, ARMINDO

snatches an iron-handled whip from the

wall)

 

                            ARMINDO

I don't want to hear about the bloody Chinese Passenger Act!  Of course the bloody pork has maggots: The chuckle-headed Chinamen dry salt it instead of keeping it in brine.

 

(The PHYSICIAN places his leather doctor's

bag on a table and sits in a chair behind

it.  LI TONG approaches him with a cup of

tea but DR. MURRAY waves it away)

                              

DR. MURRAY

I gave up that scandal broth years ago, Li Tong.  Give it to your boss.

 

(While LI TONG gives the cup of tea to ARMINDO,

DR. MURRAY pulls out a flask of Brandy and a

glass.  He polishes the glass with a small

towel then carefully pours the brandy)

 

DR. MURRAY (cont)

Soaked to the bone, I am, Li Tong, but my tongue feels like the skin of a dried shark; a most unpleasant sensation that I shall endeavor to remedy immediately.

 

(He holds up the glass)

 

                       DR. MURRAY (cont)

To those dear friends who refuse nothing: the gallows and the sea.

 

(He drinks it down and clears his throat.  DR.

MURRAY looks about for a spittoon and LI TONG

quickly moves the spittoon closer to DR. MURRAY'S

feet.  DR. MURRAY expectorates into the spittoon,

then primly wipes his mouth)

 

  

                            ARMINDO

The whole blooming lot of them get the mulligrubs from their own addle-pated stupidity and some beetle-browed emigration agent relands my pork!

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Be that as it may, as your designated ship surgeon, I concurred that we have no choice but to replace the pork or else-

 

                            ARMINDO

Replace thirty casks of pork!?  Over my dead body!  You can doctor it up by runnin' pickles over it.  That'll take care of the bloody maggots.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Temporarily.

 

                            ARMINDO

Long enough until we get out to sea! 

(ARMINDO places his face close to the

PHYSICIAN's and speaks in a threatening

manner)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

You best not be forgettin' you work for me, Doctor Murray.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I...never...forget I work for you.  And you should never forget that without my attestation as to the good health of the coolies, you don't receive permission to sail.

 

(ARMINDO stares at the PHYSICIAN

for several seconds, then moves away. 

LI TONG refills his tea cup)

 

(ARMINDO angrily drinks some tea, then

stares into his cup)

 

ARMINDO

Strong taste, this.  This Hyson?

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir.

 

(DR. MURRAY leans close to ARMINDO’s

cup and inhales deeply through his

nostrils)

 

 

DR. MURRAY

Shade of primrose and a brisk, agreeable flavor.  Just what I used to drink before I gave up tea in favor of something a bit more fortifying to my system.

 

          (ARMINDO stares into his cup

          suspiciously)

 

ARMINDO

Scarcely any color at all.

 

DR. MURRAY

My dear Armindo, many of China’s finest teas barely color the water.

 

ARMNDO

Aye, some do not.  And many aren’t teas at all.

 

DR. MURRAY

True.  If anyone knows how to pull the wool over a tea drinker’s eyes it is the Chinamen.  They give the poorest quality tea to their Manchu overlords because the Manchus add milk, and in restaurants they serve rotgut known as foreign-devil tea to us because they think we would not know a fine quality tea if it bit us on our behinds.

 

ARMINDO

Is that a fact?

 

DR. MURRAY

Indeed, sir.  Of course, such chicanery is not limited to transactions in tea.  Ducks being weighed by the pound, I will not deign to describe the manner in which pebbles are shoved down the poor birds’ gullets to cheat the foreign housewife.  But with tea their manner is far more subtle.

 

          (ARMINDO’s stare never wavers.  The spot

          gradually intensifies on the NARRATOR

          who sits on his rattan stool observing

          the scene)

 

ARMINDO

Aye.  I’ve heard plenty of gup about how John Chinaman adulterates the tea and makes a profit while passing off sloe or ash as tea leaves.  And of course he is clever enough to add Prussian blue and other trickery to the coloring.

 

          (DR. MURRAY runs one chubby hand through

the white hair of his ring beard, looking

from ARMINDO to LI TONG and back to ARMINDO)

 

DR. MURRAY

What the deuce!  Surely you are not suggesting that Li Tong is adulterating our tea?

 

ARMINDO

I suggest nothing.  But I did once spot such trickery in a barracoon in Macau.  The Chinaman that done it got himself shipped out along with the rest. 

 

(ARMINDO turns and stares at LI TONG)

 

ARMINDO

Li Tong, pour this water out of the pot and get me a plate.

 

NARRATOR

During the time I was in the tiny makeshift kitchen, Dr. Murray did not say a word.  I think he understood that Armindo now suspected me of substituting poor quality tea and selling the better grade for profit.  It was not uncommon among my people to do so.  I suppose I should have been indignant but I did as he asked.  I had never had the courage to oppose him.  Nor had any other man.  The most frightening thing about him to me were his eyes.  They were a charcoal gray, the same cold shade of gray as the ash left by the joss-sticks my father burned in his village temple.

 

(ARMINDO speaks as he carefully removes

 the leaves from the kettle and arranges

 them on the plate) 

 

ARMINDO

Our bill for tea has doubled since the arrival of our young friend here.  Did you know that, Dr. Murray?

 

DR. MURRAY

Well, of course it has; it has everywhere in southern China and the port cities.  The Taiping rebels have seized the tea growing provinces and blockaded the trading routes.

 

          (ARMINDO continues to stare at the leaves)

 

ARMINDO

Aye, that they have.

 

          (THE MEN stare at the leaves in silence.

          The only sounds in the barracoon are the

     hawking and spitting of the COOLIES and

     the GUARDS and the creaks of the roof and

     walls in protest of the wind’s fury)

 

DR. MURRAY

And just what are you hoping to discover, sir?

 

ARMINDO

If the tea is genuine, the leaves will retain their color. If they’re sloe or ash or something else, the false coloring will be carried off in the water.  And these leaves will be black.

 

NARRATOR

Another minute went by.  I had done nothing wrong, but I had no idea if that could be proved to Armindo’s satisfaction.  I knew it was absurd but as each second passed I felt a guilt rise up in me, as if I had something to confess.  I knew it was my own weak nature and Armindo’s strong character which made me feel that way.  My nerves were being strained as if I were about to be found guilty of a crime.  And I think at that moment to please Armindo I would have confessed to that which I had not done.

As we would soon be examining coolies, I thought I should use the time to nib the quills, but the quill needs to be held as steadily as possible and I was afraid my hands might shake exposing my anxiety.  Which might be mistaken for guilt.  And so I sat and stared at the leaves, knowing my future depended on their ability to retain their color… And the leaves did retain their color. 

 

DR. MURRAY

Satisfied?

(ARMINDO nods)

 

ARMINDO

More tea if you please, Li Tong.

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir.

 

                            ARMINDO

Replace the pork?!  Next they'll be demandin' we provide every Chinaman wot goes on board with his own concubine!

 

                          DR. MURRAY

An interesting thought.  But I dare say we may have some trouble with this particular agent.

 

                            ARMINDO

I never met an emigration agent that a stack of silver dollars couldn't buy. 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

This one-

 

                            ARMINDO

This one won't be any different.  One way or another, I always bring them to their bearings.  And what about Captain Elliott?  Did he say the ship is ready to sail?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Oh, yes.  The clipper is all shipshape and Bristol fashion.  The ship isn't the problem.  It's the acting harbour master. Elliott's on his way over with him now.

 

                            ARMINDO

Doesn't he know the arrangement we had with Nicholson?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

We'll soon find out.  And, if I were you, I'd cut those Chinamen down and get them out of sight.

 

                            ARMINDO

What the bloody hell for?!

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Because the acting harbour master is a fellow named James Turner and I heard when he was at Ningpo he was the sort who worried about how Chinamen are treated.

 

                            ARMINDO

Turner.  Aye.  I know that name.  Damn his eyes!  Li-tong!  Get those Chinamen cut down and put 'em with the others.  And get Ah-fuk over here.

 

(As other CHINESE begin untying the COOLIES,

LI TONG walks to a group of armed CHINESE

CRIMPs and GUARDS absorbed in a game of dice)

 

                            LI TONG

Where is Ah-fuk?

 

(ONE of the MEN points to a sleeping

figure.  LI TONG walks over to him and

lowers his voice)

 

                            LI TONG

Ah-fuk...Ah-fuk!  Wake up!  Armindo wants you.

 

(The man rolls over)

 

NARRATOR

Ah-fuk was bundled up like a child inside a worn wool slate grey blanket.  At the center of the blanket I could make out the black letters USM.  I had heard Ah-fuk boast of having snatched it on the streets of Hong Kong from a drunken American marine.  As I shook him, a pair of dice fell from his sleeve to the floor: The red aces seemed almost to glow in the semi-darkness like a tiny pair of angry eyes. 

 

          (AH-FUK rolls over and grunts)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

Ah-fuk was one of the most repulsive looking men I knew and on occasion when speaking with him I had been unable to repress a shudder.  He had prominent, feral eyes set into a thin dark lupine face and even his most relaxed expression seemed to suggest that sudden violence was just below the surface.  On the orders of a magistrate, part of his upper lip had been cut away. It was the Manchu government’s way of discouraging inveterate opium smokers from continuing with their habit.  In addition to disfiguring his face, the punishment had also affected his speech.  He compensated by raising his upper lip when he spoke and moving his lips in an exaggerated way.  He had also once contracted smallpox and his deeply pitted face was what we Chinese call a “chop dollar face,” because the Mexican and Spanish silver dollars introduced by the foreign devils were tested for purity so often by our merchants that the tiny testing implements left a myriad of small holes on the faces of the dollars.  I knelt beside him, steeled myself to look upon him at such close range, and lowered my voice still more. 

 

LI TONG

Did you take care of that thing we discussed?

 

NARRATOR

As was his habit, he inhaled noisily and widened his mouth before speaking.  His upper lip raised up as if it were some living thing which moved independently of his will.  

 

                        LI TONG (cont)

Ah-fuk, Did you take care of that thing we discussed!

                              

AH FUK

Don't worry.  It is done.  But the storm-

 

                            ARMINDO

Ah-fuk!

 

                            LI TONG

The storm what?

 

                            AH FUK

We will talk later.

 

NARRATOR

He snatched up the dice and placed them inside his sleeve.  Before I could pose another question he leapt to his feet and hurried over to Armindo.  I followed quickly after him.  He placed one fist inside the other as we do in greeting and gave him a slight bow.  I remember how his long, thin queue always hung down his back, its natural hair oil already having permanently stained his tunic.

 

                            ARMINDO

You bring the new coolies?

 

                            AH-FUK

Hab got.  First chop coolies.  Number one.

 

                            ARMINDO

First chop?!  You bracket-faced, buffle-headed loon, half the bloomin' coolies you bring me are so sick they die before they reach Peru.  I'm within an ames ace of buyin' all my Chinamen from somebody else. 

 

                            AH-FUK

Ga la!  First chop!  You looksee!  You catchee plenty dolla'!

 

                            ARMINDO

That better be right.  Bring 'em out!

 

(As the CRIMP obeys, ARMINDO sits in

a chair beside the BRITISH PHYSICIAN. 

He places his pistols on the table and

wraps his whip around his wrist.  He

brings out a snuff box from inside his

jacket and smears a pinch of snuff on

his nostrils and sniffs.  He sneezes) 

         

(LI TONG brings over a pot of tea, tray of

cups, sheaf of paper, quill pens, an abacus,

and an ink container.  HE sits beside ARMINDO,

uses a small knife to sharpen the point of

the quill pen, then dips it into the ink)

 

NARRATOR

Dr. Murray had wanted to change over to steel pens but Armindo insisted we stay with quills.  He claimed the steel pens lasted only ten days, that they corroded, that their ink flowed poorly and the needle-like nibs scratched the coolie contracts to shreds.  And so we continued to use a feather from the wing of a goose as our writing instrument.

 

(The light of an oil lamp reflects on the

foolscap and on the barrels of ARMINDO's

two flintlock pistols lying beside it and

on the cross about his neck)

 

(AH-FUK and his ASSISTANTS bring six

frightened CHINESE COOLIES from out of the

darkness.  They lead them out by walking

behind them and holding their queues.

The COOLIES are naked or nearly naked)

 

                            LI TONG

(to the first enslaved Chinese)

Move about to show the outside barbarians that you are healthy.  Otherwise, you will be taken outside and left to starve on the island.  And don't think anyone will take you to the mainland.  They are too afraid to interfere with the foreign-devil business. So do as I say.  Run!..Jump!..Turn!..Bend over!

 

(ARMINDO and DR. MURRAY watch closely as the

first CHINESE is forced to run about and flap

his arms and leap and stoop and jump)

 

                            ARMINDO

He looks strong enough to me.  'Ave 'im duck walk again.

 

    LI TONG

Walk like a duck again!  Quickly!  Before the foreign-devil is angry!

 

(The COOLIE obeys.  ARMINDO looks toward DR.

MURRAY who nods)

 

                            ARMINDO

All right!  Sign.

 

(LI TONG employs his quill to make notes on

sheets of foolscap before him and noisily

slams beads on his abacus)

 

                            LI TONG

Sign the contract.

 

(The COOLIE walks forward and LI TONG

roughly grabs the COOLIE's finger and

pushes it onto a kind of ink pad then

presses it down onto the contract.  He

then places a cord around the COOLIE's

neck which has a number on a bamboo tag)

 

                        LI TONG (cont)

This is your number.  Number two-nine-zero.  When you go on board the black-sided coolie ship, a foreign-devil will call out your number.  You will walk forward and he will ask you if you go on the voyage willingly.  You say 'yes,' understand?  Anyone who says 'no' will be beaten and dragged in the water from the rowboat!  You understand?!

 

(The COOLIE nods)

 

                        LI TONG (cont)

Now go upstairs!  If you cause trouble you will be whipped and left to hang by your thumbs.

 

(the COOLIE obeys)

 

(Much the same action is carried out with the

second COOLIE)

 

                        LI TONG (cont)

Jump!  Squat!  Flap your arms...Duck walk...Now, the other way.

 

(LI TONG looks to ARMINDO and DR.

MURRAY.  Both men nod)

 

                        LI TONG (cont)

Enough!  You are number two-nine-one.  You heard what I said.  When you are asked if you want to go, you say, 'Yes.'  Otherwise you will regret it. 

 

(The COOLIE walks forward and LI TONG

places the cord with number around his

neck)

 

                            COOLIE

Please, I am a charcoal seller.  Some men told me where I might find better employment.  But when I went with them I was gagged and tied and taken here.

 

                            LI TONG

Be quiet! 

 

COOLIE

I would rather die than go on the outside barbarian ship.  Others say it has no shrine to the heavenly goddess.  How will it find its way in a storm?

 

          (LI TONG grasps the coolie’s arm and

gestures toward it)

LI TONG

You were burned by joss-sticks before.  Do not cause more trouble or you will receive even worse!  Here!  Sign!

 

(LI TONG dips his finger in ink and presses

it to the contract.  The COOLIE moves off

and the next COOLIE attempts to move about

as ordered)

 

LI TONG

Hurry up!  Flap your arms about and run!..All right, now jump up and down!..Now duck walk!..Stoop!..Enough!  Now, spin your queue! Quickly, you coffin chisel, or else the red faced barbarians will whip you again!

 

(As the COOLIE spins his head sending his

queue flying about, we hear the sound of

a coin as it is flung against the wall. 

AH-FUK walks to the coin and picks it up) 

 

LI TONG

Hiding coins in your queue!  For that you will be beaten!  And lose your queue.  All of you had better remember what I told you: If you cause trouble you will be beaten!  Go to the back!  Wait there!

 

NARRATOR

Ah-Fuk walked to me while still intently studying the coin. I suspected the man was a triad member and that it was a coin issued by one triad or another.  But when I saw what it was, my pulse raced.  I turned to Armindo. 

 

LI TONG

This is a coin of the Taiping rebels.  Tai ping tien guo.  Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.

 

          (ARMINDO studies it in silence then

rapidly turns it over in between his

fingers as a gambler might do.  A

nervous tremor has crept into DR.

MURRAY’s voice)

 

DR. MURRAY

The rebels are getting stronger all the time.  Rumor has it Frederick Ward was killed fighting them at Tse-kie.  And now one of the Taiping armies is said to be heading this way.

 

 

 

NARRATOR

We all knew what Taiping rebels did to anyone involved in opium or prostitution or in any religion other than their bizarre form of Christianity.  Or even to anyone subjecting himself to the Manchu hairstyle.  No doubt they would have nothing pleasant in store for anyone involved in the slave trade.  Ah-Fuk had had a narrow escape from them and I could tell he was becoming excited. His men had also grown very quiet.  He spoke hastily and his deformed upper lip jumped about.

 

AH-FUK

Plenty piecee bad man Taiping hab got this side, too muchee likee cut throat pidgin.

 

ARMINDO

Tse-kie is only some ten miles from Ningpo, is it not?

 

DR. MURRAY

Yes.  Just a short ride inland.  And not that far from here.

 

(ARMINDO stares at the coin)

 

ARMINDO

Well, let’s hope if one of their mobs is heading this way it’s one of their all-women outfits.  I wouldn’t mind a tryst with their so-called silken army.  I hear they look right proper flash packets in those silken gowns of theirs.

 

DR. MURRAY

Aye, silk they looted from Hangchow.  But I hear they fight more bravely than the men.

 

(ARMINDO slaps the coin on the table. 

He raises his voice)

 

ARMINDO

Well, Dr. Murray, I have no interest in rumors.  Li Tong, have our best men question that man carefully and thoroughly.  Now bring in the next coolie.

 

          (AH-FUK takes a step toward Armindo)

 

AH-FUK

But what if-

 

ARMINDO

Be quiet, you bullet-headed fool!  We’ve all smelt powder and heard ball.  If the bloody long-hairs want a fight, they’ll find one waiting for them here.  Now bring up the next man.

 

                            LI TONG

Jump!  Run!  Squat!..Duck walk and flap your arms!

 

(While the next coolie is leaping and duck-

walking and flapping his arms, he begins to

cough and stumble. DR. MURRAY rises and looks

into his eyes and mouth and runs his hands

along the man's body as if checking the health

of an animal)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

This man is sick.

 

                            AH-FUK

No sick.  It too much laining.  Him hab cold. 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

No, not a cold.  His teeth are discolored and his cheeks are sunken.  His skin is withered and chalky pale.  And he’s short of breath.  The man's an opium smoker and he’s at death's door.

 

(ARMINDO walks to the CRIMP and slaps

his face.  The CRIMP reaches for his

knife but then thinks better of it)

 

                            AH-FUK

You no 'cassion makee so-fashion!

 

                            ARMINDO

I warned you not to bring me anymore like that.  One more time and I'll find another crimp.  You savvy?!

 

                            AH-FUK

...I savvy.

 

                            ARMINDO

Take him out.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

He'll die out there.

 

                            ARMINDO

He'll die where 'e's goin', so what's the bloody difference? 

 

(DR. MURRAY reaches for his doctor's bag)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I might be able to save him with-

 

 

                            ARMINDO

He'd be shark meat before we were three days sail out of Swatow. (to the CHINESE) Take 'im out!

 

(As the CHINESE ASSISTANTS take the COOLIE

to the door the man begins shouting to the

other COOLIES)

                              

COOLIE

At least I will die with my bones in Chinese soil!  You are not going to the Gold Country.  You are going to hell!  Escape while you can!

 

                            ARMINDO

What did he say?

 

                            LI TONG

(hesitating)

He...he just said his life is hell and he knows he will die soon. 

                            ARMINDO

That's it?

 

                            LI TONG

Yes.

 

(ARMINDO makes a very fast movement, grabbing

LI TONG behind his head, pulling it down by

his queue, very close to the candle.  LI TONG

is very much afraid)

 

                            ARMINDO

The missionaries taught you good English.  And you're smart.  All that makes you useful to me.  And the Spaniards say even the lie that lasts only half an hour is worth telling.  And that may be. But, so help me God, you lie to me one more time, and I'll ship you out on the next coolie ship!  You savvy?

 

                            LI TONG

I savvy!  I savvy!

 

                            ARMINDO

Now.  What did he say?

 

                            LI TONG

He...he told these men they are not going to the Gold Country.  They are going to hell and they should try to escape.

  

                            ARMINDO

(releasing LI TONG)

That's better. 

 

                            ARMINDO

(to his ASSISTANTS)

Bring him back.

 

(The ASSISTANTS force march the COOLIE to stand

in front of ARMINDO.  ARMINDO puts down his

whip and picks up a pistol)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Ask him if he's afraid to die.

 

                            LI TONG

The foreign-devil wants to know if you are afraid to die.

 

                            COOLIE

The next world will be much better than this.  My spirit will rise to the Jade Heaven in the Western Paradise.  I will be with the immortals.  These foreign barbarians are like the silkworms which blight our mulberry leaves.  Heaven will not endure men such as these and you - for helping such men - you will go to the Land of the Yellow Springs!

 

                            LI TONG

He says the next world will be better.  That you are like silkworms destroying the mulberry leaves.  And he damns me for helping foreigners. 

 

                            ARMINDO

But is he afraid to die?

 

                            LI TONG

He says he is not.

 

(ARMINDO stares at the COOLIE for a few

moments then stands up)

 

                            ARMINDO

A man who's not afraid to die deserves a chance to cheat death.

 

(He moves one of his flintlock pistols

closer to the COOLIE, and places the other

near himself on the table)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Tell him the pistols are loaded.  If he can kill me I order that he be let go. 

                          DR. MURRAY

Armindo, what-

 

                            ARMINDO

And returned to the mainland.  Unharmed.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Armindo-

 

                            ARMINDO

Damn your eyes!  Clap a stopper on your tongue!

 

                            LI TONG

The foreign-devil has told the others that if you can kill him, you are free to go.  No one will harm you.

 

(The COOLIE stares at the flintlock nearest

him.  There is no sound in the room except

for a few moans in the darkness from Chinese

who have been whipped or beaten.  ARMINDO

steps away from the table, tempting the

COOLIE)

 

                            ARMINDO

(whispering)

Go ahead.  Grab it.  Maybe you're faster than me.

 

(After several seconds the COOLIE quickly

reaches for the pistol and grabs it.  He

rapidly points it at ARMINDO.  ARMINDO

has not moved.  The COOLIE is puzzled but

he pulls the trigger.  There is only a flash

in the pan holding the powder.  The COOLIE

stares at the the flintlock, then lowers it)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Well, look at that.  The Chinaman had the nerve, after all.  The rain must have made the bleedin’ powder damp.  When that happens, powder only flashes.  A flash in the pan. 

 

(He walks forward and reaches for the

other pistol) 

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

This one, though, I expect the rain didn't get to quite so much.

 

                            COOLIE

You are a turtle's egg! 

 

                            ARMINDO

What'd he say?

 

                            LI TONG

He said you are the egg of a turtle.

 

                            ARMINDO

What the hell's that mean?

 

                            LI TONG

The turtle lays its eggs, then leaves.  The turtle baby...does not savvy who is its baba.

 

(ARMINDO laughs uproariously)

 

                            ARMINDO

Do you hear that, Dr. Murray?  The Chinaman called me a love-begotten child!  A bastard!

 

(DR. MURRAY chuckles, but nervously)

 

                            ARMINDO

Li-tong, tell him I’m not going to kill him.

 

                            LI TONG

You’re not?

 

                            ARMINDO

Hell, no. 

 

(ARMINDO throws the pistol to LI TONG

who fumbles it, but manages to hold on)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

You are.

 

                            LI TONG

...I cannot kill someone.

 

                            ARMINDO

Sure you can.  Killing a man is just a question of what’s in it for you.  In this case, it’s your life or his.  You don’t take his, I’ll take yours.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Armindo, there’s no call to-

 

                               

ARMINDO

Shut your trap!  (To LI TONG)  I’ll count to ten.  You use that barking iron on him, or, by Christ, I’ll load this one and use it on you.  One!  Two!  Three!  Four!

 

(LI TONG hesitates and then points

the pistol at the coolie.  His hand

is shaking)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Five!  Six! 

 

                      LI TONG (desperate)

I cannot kill someone!

 

                            ARMINDO

You’ve been killing men for years!  Helping me send them to the Chinchas to work themselves to death.  We’re one and the same kind, Li Tong.  Haven’t you figured that out yet? (beat) What is it?  You can send men to a slow death but you can’t give a brave man a quick one?  Seven!  Eight! 

 

(LI TONG pulls back the cock

from the safety position)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Nine!

 

(LI TONG pulls the trigger.  There

is another flash in the pan)

 

(LI TONG stares at the pistol, then

slowly hands it to ARMINDO.  LI TONG’S

hands are trembling)

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, I’ll be damned!  You see that, Dr. Murray?  Our interpreter has what it takes to kill another man.  That beats the Dutch and the Dutch beats the devil!  I better bear that in mind.

 

(LI TONG starts to walk away)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Li-Tong, Get me the cleanin’ oil and powder horn!  Ah-fuk!  This heathen celestial has guts.  Have your men take him the hell out of here. Into town.  No harm is to come to him.

 

(ARMINDO reaches into his pocket and

pulls out several Mexican dollars)

(He hands the dollars to the surprised

COOLIE)

 

                  ARMINDO (cont) (to AH-FUK)

And I better not find out later that these dollars Mex found their way into your pocket.  Savvy?

 

                            AH-FUK

I savvy.

 

          (The COOLIE stares at the coins and

then throws them to the ground)

 

COOLIE

I will not take devil-faced money!

 

          (In the silence that follows, one of

the CRIMPS quickly retrieves the coins. 

ARMINDO stares at LI TONG)

 

LI TONG

He says he will not take your devil-faced money.

 

          (ARMINDO steps forward, standing just

inches away from the COOLIE, and stares

into his eyes.  He reaches out and takes

the coins from the CRIMP)

 

ARMINDO

Tell him he can use the devil-faced money to buy medicine or, if he likes, to buy more opium.  But if he’s smart, he’ll use it to buy arms; weapons powerful enough to drive men like me from his land.

 

LI TONG

He says for you to use the money to buy weapons to drive men like him from China.  Take it and leave!

 

          (ARMINDO is holding the coins in his

hand, palm up.  The COOLIE looks at

the coins, then reaches over and takes

them.  He stares at LI TONG)

 

COOLIE

I will buy weapons to fight men like you.

 

ARMINDO

Enough gab!  Now escort him into town.

 

(The CHINESE ASSISTANTS comply.  ARMINDO

again sits down.  LI-TONG hands him

the gun-cleaning oil and powder horn. 

ARMINDO begins cleaning and reloading

his flintlock pistols.  LI-TONG stands

nearby staring at the pistols.  DR.

MURRAY pours himself a drink.)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

No guarantee his pistol's powder was too damp to fire.  You took a hell of a chance.

 

                            ARMINDO

We take a hell of a chance the day we're born.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I never thought I’d live to see the day you be giving silver to John Chinaman.

 

                            ARMINDO

That John Chinaman has as much hate inside him as me.  Why kill one of my own kind?  He knew what he was made of; Li Tong here is just finding out what he’s made of, isn’t that right, Li Tong?

 

(LI TONG continues staring at the

pistols.  Suddenly, he needs to

relieve himself urgently.  He grabs

a whale oil lamp and rushes to the

privy and slams the door)

 

(All light blacks out except for a

spot on LI TONG.  He has for the first

time in his life almost killed a man

and he is sweating profusely.  He barely

avoids throwing up.  As he settles

himself he stares at his shaking hand.

He then throws water onto his face and

uses a towel to dry off.  He unlatches

the door)

 

(He suddenly and briefly seems to be

looking back at the NARRATOR whose

position is near the privy)

 

(As he emerges from the privy, lights

in the barracoon are again as before)

 

DR. MURRAY

Li Tong, are you all right?

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir.  I am fine.

 

          (DR. MURRAY offers him the flask

           and a glass)

 

LI-TONG

No thank you, sir.  I will be fine now.

 

(When the CHINESE ASSISTANTS open

the door and take the COOLIE out,

we hear - in addition to wind and

rain - the loud sounds of horns,

cymbals and drums)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

What in damnation is that infernal noise?

 

(DR. MURRAY pours himself another drink)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Tonight'll be a full moon.  The seventh of the year.  The Chinamen believe hell opens up and the spirits of the dead are allowed to visit earth.  Starting tonight.  That's their welcome. (to LI TONG)  That right?

 

                            LI TONG

Yes.  The spirits are allowed to stay for one month.  But many of these spirits are the restless ones. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Why restless? 

 

                            LI TONG

Because they died violently and cannot rest until the person responsible is punished.

 

ARMINDO

Just like a Chinaman to risk his life in a storm to welcome dead spirits.

 

(AH-FUK appears from the interior)

 

AH-FUK

Boy say yes he spy looksee foreign-devil pidgin for Taiping.  But

Taiping no can come this side.  Hab too muchee afraid devil

cannon.

 

 

ARMINDO

Blast! 

 

DR. MURRAY

But surely, Armindo, you would not have wanted them to attack us.

The Taipings-

 

ARMINDO

The Taipings are a brave army fighting the god-rotting Manchus. I

have wanted to test their mettle since I came to this got-rotting

place. 

 

ARMINDO

All right, put him with the other coolies.

 

(DR. MURRAY holds out his glass, says his

toast and drinks his brandy down)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Very well, then, sir, a toast to the Taipings!  All hands forward to splice the main brace!

 

                            ARMINDO

Easy on that!  I don't want you full as a fiddler's bitch before Turner even gets 'ere.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

(saluting with his glass)

Aye, aye, sir!  But this storm reminds me of action I was in on the coast of Chusan during the China War.  Hell of a storm then, too.

 

ARMINDO

Are we in for another of your yarns then, Doctor Murray?

 

(In response to ARMINDO’s question, DR.

MURRAY simply raises his walking stick

as if to say it will not be a long one) 

 

DR. MURRAY

I had been sent ashore to find some provisions.  We were at war with the Chinese in the north but the southerners would ready enough sell us what they could for Spanish dollars.  What we really needed was eggs.  But I was having a devil of a time making myself understood to the villagers.  So I took my handkerchief out of my pocket like this, and rolled it up into a ball.  Then I stooped down like this, held the handkerchief down here, then made like a chicken laying an egg. 

 

 

(DR. MURRAY does a kind of duck walk of

his own for several steps before nearly

toppling over.  He raises his voice to

a high pitch) 

 

DR. MURRAY

Cockadoodledo!

 

          (DR. MURRAY looks so ridiculous the MEN

cannot help but laugh.  Even ARMINDO

joins in.)

 

LI-TONG

And they understood?

 

          (DR. MURRAY climbs back up into his chair)

 

DR. MURRAY

Oh, yes.  And once they stopped laughing, they rounded up all the eggs we needed.

 

          (The levity is quickly dispelled

when ARMINDO turns to AH-FUK)

 

                            ARMINDO

Bring the last one.

 

(The last COOLIE is a YOUNG MAN.  His clothes

and manner suggest he is from a higher class

than the other coolies.  The border of his

crown has been neatly shaved in the manner of

a scholar or a man-about-town.  Unlike the other

coolies, his queue is loosely plaited and black

cord tassels have been affixed to it to give the a

ppearance of greater length.  He is sobbing)

 

(DR. MURRAY's speech is slightly slurred as

he speaks to the boy)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Here, here, lad.  The more you cry, the less you'll piss!

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Tell the Chinaman to shut his bone-box or he'll end up in 'is eternity box.

 

                            LI TONG

Keep quiet or the foreign-devil will make it worse for you!

 

                           YOUNG MAN

My father was taken by crimps and sent on board a foreign ship.  He never returned.  My mother has no other sons.  If I am taken abroad who will burn incense before our ancestral shrine?

 

                            ARMINDO

What's his problem?

 

                            LI TONG

He says he is his mother's only son.  If he is sent away who will carry out his duties to his ancestors?

 

                            ARMINDO

Bad luck, that.  But if 'e don't shut 'is rice-trap, she won't have any son!

 

(Prodded by AH-FUK's threatening gestures,

the MAN goes through the standard degrading

routine)

 

                            LI TONG

Run!  Flap your arms!  Faster!..Duck walk!..Bend over!  Squat!..Enough!  Sign the contract!

 

(The MAN looks at the contract)

 

                           YOUNG MAN

I can't read it in this poor light.

 

                            LI TONG

You don't have to read it!  Just sign it!

 

(LI TONG roughly presses the MAN's finger

down on the contract.  AH-FUK leads the

MAN away)

 

(There is banging on the door and Chinese 

guards open it.  TWO CAUCASIANS enter. 

The American clipper ship captain (CAPTAIN

ELLIOTT) is tall, distinguished looking and

his sea-beaten, light brown face is framed

by the whitest of mutton-chop whiskers.  He

is seldom without his short nut brown pipe

pressed to his thick lips.  He is in late

middle-age)

 

(He is dressed in a black beaver overcoat,

well worn trousers and black boots)

 

(The acting British harbor master (JAMES

TURNER) is about forty.  He is plump and

squat with an abundance of curly black hair,

well trimmed black sideburns and a short

bristly mustache.  His pale, unnatural,

almost ivory, complexion would remind

Chinese of a type of bean curd prepared at

festivals.  He wears a coarse blue jacket

with black horn buttons, too short for his

body and bell-bottomed duck trousers) 

 

(He seems a man who, in normal times, would

not be hesitant in his manner or vague in

his demands.  But whatever he has witnessed

on his way to the barracoon has obviously

disoriented him)

 

(We again hear the sounds of a storm.  Guards struggle

to close the door.  If anything, the squall is worsening)

 

(The men remove their dripping pea jackets

while adjusting their eyes to the dim

interior light.  As LI TONG places their

jackets and flat-brimmed rain hats on wall

nails, the men walk toward the table)

 

(ARMINDO rudely shoves a CHINESE CRIMP off

a chair to make room for the acting HARBOUR

MASTER.  The CAPTAIN stands nearby)

 

                            ARMINDO

Anchor your ass to a chair, Mr. Turner.  I'm Armindo DaCruz.  You already know Dr. Murray.  Li Tong will get you tea.

 

(TURNER does not immediately respond to ARMINDO

as he is still stunned by the sight outside. 

He begins rubbing his shoulder)

 

                            ARMINDO

You hurt?

 

                            TURNER

I've never seen anything like it. 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Like what, Mr. Turner?

 

 

                            TURNER

All the sand is being blown away by the storm and the bones of the Chinamen are coming to the surface.  They're swirling about like leaves.  One of them hit my shoulder.  It felt as if I'd been clubbed.

                              

ARMINDO

Let Dr. Murray have a look at your-

 

                            TURNER

Some of the poor buggers never had a coffin to begin with.  Some were never even buried, just left to rot.  And the storm has exposed their corpses and dead men are dancing about as if the wind were blowing life into them.  The dogs and swine got hold of some.  I saw a dog with the bones of a human hand in his mouth.  And the way some of the bones were being blown along the ground, it almost looked like...like-

 

                          DR. MURRAY

White birch twigs.  That's what they looked like to me.  I never saw so many-

 

(The CHINESE playing dice suddenly grow

loud and argumentative)

 

                            ARMINDO

Goddamn ye!  Stop your heathen gabble or I'll cut your heathen tongues out!  You got nothing better to do, go check the Chinamen to see what they're hiding in their pigtails.  And check their mouths and assholes!

 

                            LI TONG

Quiet down and earn your pay!  Inspect the Coolies closely for anything hidden!  Queues!  Mouths!  Ears!  Assholes!

 

(LI TONG serves tea and busies himself

about the area)

 

(The CHINESE move off into the darkness

to carry out the order.  Meanwhile, the

CAPTAIN is tamping down the tobacco in

the bole of his pipe prior to lighting it. 

TURNER takes tea, ELLIOTT does not)

 

                            TURNER

The wind is blowing them here.

 

                            ARMINDO

Blowin' what here?

 

                            TURNER

The bones of the Chinamen.  They're being blown about like chain-shot.  And there's a flotilla of coffins rushing down the river, like some kind of well rehearsed water-borne procession: each coffin stays perfectly in its place as if it was being expertly guided. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Dead men at the helms, is it?  Sounds much like a well-spun galley yarn to my ears.

 

                            TURNER

This is no galley yarn, sir.  A devilish night, is what it is.

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, it's some squall, all right.  Anyway, do sit down.  I'm real sorry to hear about Mr. Nicholson.  Cholera, was it?

 

(TURNER sits, but refuses DR. MURRAY's offer of a

drink.  DR. MURRAY takes the drink.  TURNER looks

about as if he's never been in a barracoon before)

 

                            TURNER

(nods)

He lingered between wind and water for a few days but then he passed on.

 

                            ARMINDO

'E was a fine 'arbour master.  Fine as they come.

 

                            TURNER

Yes.  He was.

 

                            ARMINDO

Many fine men I've known have slipped their cables in Swatow or Macau, Mr. Turner.  My own brother lies in Hong Kong's Colonial Cemetery. 

 

                            TURNER

Colonial fever?

 

                            ARMINDO

Bloody pirates tortured him and chopped his head off to get the reward for foreign devils' heads.  One 'undred silver dollars.  Paid by the viceroy of Canton hisself.  One day I hope to meet up with that heathen.

(Glares at the CHINESE)

Until then, I do what I can to pay them back.  (suddenly noticing the CAPTAIN) Captain! (positioning a chair) Bring your ass to an anchor and tell me the clipper is ready to sail.

 

(The CAPTAIN remains standing and lights his

pipe with a friction match.  Sparks fly; smoke

wreaths curl about his head)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Aye, the clipper is as sweet as a nut and clean as a dairy, but she won't be sailin' anywhere just yet.

 

                            ARMINDO

Why in blazes not?!

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

You better ask Mr. Turner.

 

                            TURNER

You're not ready to sail. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Not ready?!  We loaded rice, salt, tea, biscuit, firewood, lard, tobacco-

 

                            TURNER

Your provisions you can discuss with the emigration agent.  I'm talking about the windsails. 

 

                            ARMINDO

We've fixed up a windsail! 

 

                            TURNER

The new regulations specify that there should be a windsail for every hatchway; and scuttles and air funnels. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Bloody hell!

 

                            TURNER

And twelve feet per coolie is the minimum.  As you're planning on placing three hundred coolies on board, that means each coolie will get only about eight feet. 

 

                            ARMINDO

We housed over the upper deck from the mizzen forward!  That way we can carry nearly as many coolies on the upper deck as on the 'tween deck.

 

                            TURNER

I already took that into account, Mr. DaCruz. 

 

                            ARMINDO

So what are you sayin'?

                            TURNER

I'm afraid you'll just have to ship fewer coolies. 

 

                            ARMINDO

And how am I supposed to make a profit if I ship coolies below cost? 

 

                            TURNER

Coolies are very much in demand in the Chinchas, are they not, sir?  For mining? 

 

                            ARMINDO

Not mining.  Digging!  The islands are covered with guano.  Bird shit. 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

They say it's thirty times more effective than ordinary manure.  The best fertilizer for agriculture ever known. 

 

                            ARMINDO

And it's makin' men wealthy beyond their dreams!

 

                            TURNER

Well, then, I would think that at the going rate men are willing to pay for them, three hundred coolies would bring you a fine profit.

 

ARMINDO

Aye.  That they would if I didn't have to allow for twenty percent dyin' on the way there. 

 

                            TURNER

Twenty percent!

 

                            ARMINDO

Aye.  And that's only if all goes well:  No diseases.  You explain it to him, Dr. Murray.  'E's new here.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Very well, sir.  My last voyage from Swatow was to Havana.  The coolies weren't used to the heat of the Tropics.  And in the ship's close confinement they grew weak.  Then apathetic.  Then they started to cough.  Their skin became red and blotched.  Then the eye diseases started spreading.  When I saw the fever and nausea I knew the intestinal worms had arrived.  And the worms started the diarrhea.  And the diarrhea became dysentery. 

 

                            TURNER

Didn't you disinfect?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

We did.  And when we had nothing left to disinfect with we fumigated the 'tween-decks with boiling pitch.  But nothing slowed it.  There wasn't anything I could do for the poor bastards.  By the time they died they were just bones covered by loose folds of shriveled skin. 

 

                            TURNER

How many did you lose?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

One hundred and thirty-four Chinamen. 

 

                            TURNER

My God.  So what did you do with them?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

What we always do.  When a man died we sewed him up in a rice sack and tossed him overboard. (laughs) Why do you think sharks follow ships in the coolie trade, Mr. Turner?

 

ARMINDO

Aye!  John Chinaman loves the taste of soup with shark fins and the sharks love the taste of John Chinaman!

 

(TURNER does not join in the laughter)

 

                            TURNER

I think I'll have that drink now.

 

(TURNER takes the glass offered by DR. MURRAY.

DR. MURRAY says his toast, which TURNER ignores)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Never dance with the mate when you can dance with the captain!

 

(DR. MURRAY gulps his down.  TURNER swigs some

brandy down, then returns the glass upside down.

ELLIOTT immediately walks over and turns the

glass upright)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

(somewhat upset)

Never place anything upside down before a voyage, sir!  It suggests a ship capsizing.

 

                            TURNER

I beg your pardon.  I didn't-

 

                              

ARMINDO

So you can understand, sir, why I have to ship at least three hundred coolies just to ensure a small profit.

 

                            TURNER

Well, I'm sorry, but I can't issue port clearance papers the way things are now. 

 

(ARMINDO rises and gestures for MR. TURNER

to follow him off to the side.  The MEN lower

their voices)

 

                            ARMINDO

Didn't Mr. Nicholson explain about things?  How they work, I mean.

 

                            TURNER

I know about your arrangement with Mr. Nicholson.  Two shillings a head, wasn't it?

                              

ARMINDO

Aye.  A florin for each coolie who leaves Swatow on any ship I charter.  He got paid whether they arrived alive or not.  Peru or Havana - destination made no difference.

 

TURNER

Well, I'll tell you, sir.  Ever since the British passed the Chinese Passenger Act, things have gotten tight.  A harbor master looking the other way these days is taking a great risk.

 

                            ARMINDO

And just what rate per coolie might make it worth the risk, Mr. Turner?

 

                            TURNER

...One crown per man.

 

 

                            ARMINDO

A crown?!  (laughing)  Before I'll pay you five shillings a man I might just as well scuttle the ship and sink 'er to the bottom of the harbor. 

 

(TURNER looks at his pocket watch)

 

                            TURNER

Well, I wish I could have been of more help to you, Mr. DaCruz, but Hong Kong's Governor Bowring is dead set against the coolie trade, and he's not a man to-

 

                            ARMINDO

Wait!  I'll give you a half-crown per man.  That's the best I can do.  Bloody Chinese Passenger Act or no bloody Chinese Passenger Act.

 

                            TURNER

I won't risk the wrath of Sir John Bowring for a farthing less than three shillings per man. 

 

(ARMINDO appears about to explode then

calms down)

 

                            ARMINDO

All right.  No point in going to loggerheads over half a shilling.  It's done. 

 

                            TURNER

Very well, sir.  You have my word.  Once I've received the specified sum, you'll have your port clearance papers.  You do understand you'll still have to deal with the emigration agent.

 

                            ARMINDO

Don't worry about 'im.  When he smells the silver, I imagine he'll pocket 'is pride just as fast as you did yours - in a pig's whisper.

 

                            TURNER

(icily)

Good day to you, sir.

 

(TURNER turns and walks to the door;

ARMINDO imitates an elaborate

gentleman's bow)

 

                            ARMINDO

And a good day to you, sir. 

 

(DR. MURRAY holds up his flask)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Hell of a storm out there, Mr. Turner.  Care to rinse your ivories one more time before you go?

 

(LI TONG holds out TURNER's hat and coat.

TURNER quickly puts them on and heads for

the door.  LI TONG opens the door for him,

struggling with the angry wind)

 

                            TURNER

Thank you, sir, I think not.

                          DR. MURRAY

As you like, sir.  But here's to the well wearing of your muff.

 

(DR. MURRAY gulps down the drink.  As

TURNER leaves, we hear the loud sounds

of the storm.  LI TONG and an ASSISTANT

to ARMINDO push the door shut)

 

                            ARMINDO

And may it be a good day when the next bit o' muslin you encounter leaves you pissin' pins and needles.

 

(ARMINDO again cleans his pistols.  The                            spot on the NARRATOR slowly comes up)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Now, Armindo, you really shouldn't be wishin' the French disease on anyone - not even harbour masters.

 

(ARMINDO’s fingers caress his chin and

down along his neck)

 

ARMINDO

Li Tong, I think it’s time I had a shave.

 

NARRATOR

I have often wondered if the day – and my life – would have ended differently had Armindo not needed a shave.  But I already had hot water boiling in the kettle so I quickly set up the porcelain basin and poured the water in.  Armindo stripped to his waist, lathered his face and neck.  I saw again the puckered scar of a bullet that had passed through his shoulder.  He propped a copper-backed mirror on a shelf and waited for the lather to take effect.  The razors of the foreign-devils are much longer than ours and narrower in the blade and when I stared at it, Armindo pretended to hand it to me and joked that someday I would no doubt cut his throat with it so why not then.  When he saw how horrified I was, he roared with laughter and snatched it back.

 

          (ARMINDO tests the blade, lets out an oath,

 and stares at the blade)

 

ARMINDO

Li Tong, this blade isn’t sharp.  Hang up the strop.

 

LI TONG

Yes, sir.

 

 (DR. MURRAY gets up, still holding

his bottle, and walks about, studying

the beams.  He begins humming and

then singing softly) 

 

                          DR. MURRAY

LET GO THE REEFY TACKLE!  REEF TACKLE!  REEF TACKLE!

LET GO THE REEFY TACKLE!  FOR MY BRITCHES ARE YAMMED!

 

(Captain Elliott joins in)

 

                        MURRAY/ELLIOTT

MY BRITCHES ARE YA-AMMED, MY BRITCHES ARE YA-AMMED!

LET GO THE REEFY TACKLE FOR MY BRITCHES ARE YAMMED IN THE SHEETBLOCK!

 

(ARMINDO waves his razor in time to the

music and joins in)

 

                    MURRAY/ELLIOTT/ARMINDO

 

LET GO THE REEFY TACKLE, REEF TACKLE, REEF TACKLE

LET GO THE REEFY TACKLE, FOR MY BRITCHES ARE YAMMED!

MY BRITCHES ARE YA-AMMED, MY BRITCHES ARE-

 

(ARMINDO looks up and notices what

DR. MURRAY has seen - water

dripping down from the ceiling

through the cockloft)

 

                            ARMINDO

Li Tong!  I thought I told you to get a carpenter to fix that.

 

          (LI TONG has hung the strop on the wall

          and ARMINDO is about to strop his razor)  

 

LI TONG

They will not come.

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Carpenters won't come to barracoons anymore.  Too many getting shipped out as coolies once their work is done.  Some of them won't even board my ship to make repairs.

 

                            ARMINDO

If I had a bloody ladder I’d fix it myself.  Bleedin’ downdraft in here is worse than any ship I ever sailed on.  And so’s the stench.

 

CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Any barracoon I’ve ever been in has had more of a stench than any ship’s reeking bilges ever did. 

 

          (DR. MURRAY is in a fine mood and

          again begins to sing, although the

          song is very melancholy)

 

DR. MURRAY

THE BOATMAN SHOUTS IT’S TIME TO PART, NO LONGER CAN WE STAY

 

          (CAPTAIN ELLIOTT joins in)

 

MURRAY/ELLIOTT

T’WAS THEN MAIMUNA TAUGHT MY HEART, HOW MUCH A GLANCE CAN SAY

T’WAS THEN MAIMUNA TAUGHT MY HEART, HOW MUCH A GLANCE CAN SAY

 

DR. MURRAY

WITH TREMBLING STEPS TO ME SHE CAME, FAREWELL SHE WOULD HAVE CRIED

 

MURRAY/ELLIOTT

BUT ERE HER LIPS THE WORDS COULD FRAME IN HALF-FORMED SOUNDS IT DIED

BUT ERE HER LIPS THE WORDS COULD FRAME IN HALF-FORMED SOUNDS IT DIED

 

DR. MURRAY

THROUGH TEAR-RIMMED EYES BEAMED LOOKS OF LOVE, HER ARMS AROUND ME FLUNG

 

          (ARMINDO seems moved by this song and

joins in.  At first he strops his razor

more or less in time.  Then he places

it down on the table and sits on the table

facing the audience; as if remembering)

 

MURRAY/ELLIOTT/ARMINDO

AS CLAIMS THE BREEZE ON SINGING GROVE, UPON MY BREAST SHE CLUNG

AS CLAIMS THE BREEZE ON SINGING GROVE GRIEF, UPON MY BREAST SHE CLUNG;

 

DR. MURRAY

MY WILLING ARMS EMBRACED THE MAID, MY HEART WITH RAPTURE BEAT

 

 

MURRAY/ELLIOTT/ARMINDO

WHILE SHE BUT WEPT THE MORE AND SAID WOULD WE HAD NEVER MET

WHILE SHE BUT WEPT THE MORE AND SAID WOULD WE HAD NEVER MET

 

         

(The song is over but ARMINDO continues

           on alone, half-speaking, half-singing)

 

ARMINDO

WHILE SHE… BUT WEPT THE MORE… AND SAID… WOULD WE HAD NEV-

 

          (MURRAY and ELLIOTT are surprised, almost

          astonished, at ARMINDO’s sudden display of

emotion.  No one moves)

 

NARRATOR

I had learned very little about his background from Armindo himself.  But from Dr. Murray I learned that he was from the desolate mountain area of northeastern Portugal.  Tray-os-montes – “back of the mountains.”  While still a young man he had had to flee Portugal for killing a man.  Dr. Murray knew little about the murder except that it involved a very beautiful but ultimately unfaithful woman. 

 

(ARMINDO turns toward them and seems

about to speak but then notices the

CHINESE CRIMP)

 

(The CRIMP leads the YOUNG MAN back

out toward the table and stops.  He

holds out two coins in his palm and

flicks the boy's queue with the other)

 

                            AH-FUK

Boy hab one topside.  One bottomside.

 

(ARMINDO, now himself again, wipes his

face with the towel to remove the lather

and puts on his shirt)

 

(LI TONG starts to collect the bowl and

brush and blade)

 

ARMINDO

Leave it!

 

(ARMINDO moves to the boy)

 

                            ARMINDO

One more Chinaman thinks he can hide money in his pigtail and up 'is arse.  (nodding toward the wall)  All right.  Some men just don't understand who's chief cock of the walk in here until I give 'em their red-checkered shirt.  Hang him up.

 

(While the CRIMPS tie the BOY's hands above

his head to the wall pegs, ARMINDO retrieves

his whip.  He walks toward a corner of the

room and dips the whip into a bucket of brine.

He removes the whip and studies it carefully)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

No call to dip it in brine.  He's just a boy.

 

                            ARMINDO

Don't be shovin' your oar into my work, Captain, and I won't shove mine into yours.  The salt adds to the pain and there's nothing like pain to make a Chinaman behave.

 

(ARMINDO walks toward the boy

and stands near his back)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

And while he's cramped in the hold of the ship on the way to the Chinchas, should anybody whisper in his ear about startin' some trouble, this young lout will shake 'is head no and steer clear of trouble.  'Cause he'll remember this!

 

(As ARMINDO says the word "this," he flays

the boy's back.  The BOY screams in agony)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

And this!

 

(ARMINDO continues to whip the boy with all

his strength as he says the word, "this."

The BOY screams and begins writhing and

moaning)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

And this!

 

(This action continues several times, after

`    which CAPTAIN ELLIOTT takes a step forward)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

That's enough!

 

(ARMINDO lowers his whip and stares at ELLIOTT)

 

 

ARMINDO

Listen good, Captain.  We were both of us born under the gun and educated on the bowsprit.  Purser rigged and Parish damned!  But the day I left the sea, that's the last day I took an order from another man.  You ride the high horse with me one more time, and we'll settle it. 

 

(At the sound of pounding on the door,

ARMINDO hesitates.  He nods to his

MEN to go to the door.  They draw

weapons and carefully open the door)

 

(A WOMAN rushes in.  The fury of the

storm seems to have increased.  The

MEN have some difficulty closing the

door behind her.  They do not notice

that one of the bones of the Chinese

dead has been blown in with her)

 

(The WOMAN stands surrounded by Armindo's

MEN with weapons drawn.  As her eyes

adjust to the light, she spots her

brother tied to the wall pegs and

screams.  She rushes forward)

 

                             WOMAN

Brother!  Brother!

 

(As SHE is just a few feet from her brother

ARMINDO grabs her arm and rips her head-

scarf off.  He motions for LI TONG to

hold a lantern near her face.  The WOMAN is

young and attractive.  She is dressed in a

tunic over broad petticoat trousers.  From

her dress, speech, etc., it is clear she is

from a respectable family)

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, I'm blowed if it isn't a pretty celestial piece in full feather.   

 

(The WOMAN spits in ARMINDO's face and

attempts to free herself.  ARMINDO wipes

his face and laughs. 

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

And spirited, too!

 

 

(He rips her scarf off and runs one hand

through her hair)

 

ARMINDO (cont)

Beautiful.  Feels like sable.  And black as a raven’s wing.

 

          (LI TONG moves closer to her and stares

at her.  Armindo notices this)

 

                  ARMINDO

Li Tong?  What the devil is the-

 

                            LI TONG

Tiang-si?  Is it you?

 

                           TIANG-SI

Li Tong?  You are with these men?

 

                            LI TONG

This man is your brother?!

 

                           TIANG-SI

Yes.

 

                            LI TONG

But he should not have been brought here.

 

                           TIANG-SI

What do you mean?  What do you know of this?

 

                            ARMINDO

What the devil is all this?

 

                            LI TONG

I know this woman.

 

                            ARMINDO

How?

                            LI TONG

In Swatow.  At the missionary school, she-

 

                            ARMINDO

What is she to you?

 

                            LI TONG

She...we were to be married.  I wanted her to-

 

                                

TIANG-SI

He is nothing to me!  A man I once knew who turned his back on his own people and went to work for outside barbarians like you. The Li Tong I knew is dead!  Now let my brother go!

 

                            ARMINDO

You hear that, doctor?  The celestial wench speaks the Queen's English.  And from the looks of 'er, I'd say we've got us a lady of quality here, wouldn't you?

 

DR. MURRAY

Yes, well, as Lord Byron so aptly put it: ‘A pretty woman is a welcome guest,’ but the Chinese say a woman is as dangerous as smuggled salt, so I think you might want to consider-

 

                           TIANG-SI

Let my brother go! 

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, now, I've got something you want and you...(looking her up and down) you've got something I want. 

 

                            LI TONG

Please!  I will pay you to release her.  And her brother.  Whatever you ask.

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, I'll be water bewitched and rum begrudged; our heathen friend fancies the wench!  Hell, Li Tong, they can both be released.  But only if I get what I want from this rigged-out bit of calico.

 

(TIANG-SI continues to struggle.  SHE

scratches ARMINDO's face)

 

                           TIANG-SI

Pig seller! 

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Ow!  All right, bitch, it's time to bring you to your bearings.

 

(ARMINDO holds the girl's wrists and forces her

up against her brother's back.  The brother

screams from the pressure on his open cuts. 

ARMINDO presses his body against hers and holds

his face just inches from hers)

 

(During his description of the Chincha Islands,

we hear intermittent and harsh sounds of the

drum, er-hu and gong where appropriate)

 

                            ARMINDO

You’ve got a tongue like a discharge of grape and canister at close quarters, but you listen to me, you cockish wench!  If your brother makes it to the islands alive, he'll soon wish he hadn't. He'll be diggin' the shit of cormorants, pelicans and gannets for the rest of 'is bleedin' life.  And you know how long that'll be? Maybe two years.  Maybe one.  No Chinaman ever came back from the Chinchas, you savvy?  Ever! 

 

                           TIANG-SI

Let me go!  I don't want-

 

(She struggles a hand free; he grasps her wrist)

 

                            ARMINDO

Of course, your brother might do what some others do.  He might throw himself over a cliff or bury himself alive in the guano or hide out in a cave until he starves himself to death.

 

                            BROTHER

Sister, don't give in!  Get away!  Never mind me!  Go!

 

                            ARMINDO

But I promise you this, little lady: while he lives, he suffers. The heat gets up with the sun and the sun on the dew releases the ammonia gas from the guano. 

 

                           TIANG-SI

Li Tong!

 

          (The NARRATOR is deeply affected when

           remembering his act of cowardice)   

 

ARMINDO

And he'll use 'is pickaxe and quarry guano and load it from cliffsides down through chutes and canvas hoses into squareriggers.  And he'll do it while standin' in acrid clouds of dust so fine that tiny bits of guano will get into his eyes and nose and lungs until he can't breathe. 

 

                           TIANG-SI

Li Tong!  Help me!

  

 

(She struggles; he holds her even tighter

and stares at LI TONG.  LI TONG finally

turns away in shame, as for a moment does

the NARRATOR)

 

ARMINDO (cont)

And if he tries to rest, he'll get flogged by the overseers, huge African negroes, blacker than the ace of spades, with cowhide lashes that cut into a man's skin like knives.  He'll quarry five tons of guano a day or he won't eat.  And no day off.  Until he drops.  And the turkey buzzards will be wheelin' overhead, waitin' to feast on 'is corpse!  That's your brother's fate.  Or not.  It's up to you.

 

                            BROTHER

Sister-

 

ARMINDO

Or we could wait for a ship sailing to Cuba where he’ll be sold at public auction and then under the whips and pistols of the negroes and the growls of the bloodhounds he can toil seven days a week, eighteen hours a day and be penned up at night with hundreds just like him.

 

BROTHER

Sister, please don’t!

 

(ARMINDO suddenly whirls and, holding the girl's

wrists with one hand, brutally whips the brother

with the whip in the other - one stroke.  The

BROTHER screams)

 

                           TIANG-SI

No!  Stop!  All right!  I'll do anything!  Don't hurt him!  Let him go!

 

                            ARMINDO

We have an understanding, then, right?...Right?!

 

(SHE nods)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Smart girl.  Good girl.

 

(As he attempts to kiss her, she moves her

head.  He kisses her neck then releases her)

                            

ARMINDO (cont)

Jasmine...Your skin smells of jasmine, did you know that?  No wonder Li Tong fancied you.  I've occupied a few celestial women in my time but always they was swivel-eyed, bacon-faced strumpets; never a well-rigged China frigate like you.  HOw 'bout it, Dr. Murray?  You ever 'ad a celestial flash packet in full feather like this one?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Can't say that I have.

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Damn right you haven't!  (to the girl)  Go up into the cockloft, take off your rigging and wait for me.  I'll soon have you grinnin' like a basket of chips.

 

                           TIANG-SI

I don't understand.

                            LI TONG

(embarrassed)

Tiang-si.  Go upstairs.  Take...take off your clothes.  Wait there.

 

(TIANG-SI walks to LI TONG)

 

                           TIANG-SI

I loved you.  Even when you were a boy and you teased me so mercilessly I loved you.  And when you were a man and penniless, I loved you even more...now...you disgust me. 

 

(TIANG-SI stares at him until he looks away.

She climbs up the stairs and disappears into

the darkness.  ARMINDO walks to the table and

places his pistols on the table)

 

                            ARMINDO

My guts are so hungry they're cursing my teeth.  Li Tong!  Stop standing around and cook something up.  I'll be even more hungry once I've finished up there.

 

                            LI TONG

...Yes, sir.

 

ARMINDO

And stop looking all in the Downs.  The ladies take quite a fancy to me once they’ve got to know me.  And this one smells sweeter than the sea air off Java when its perfumed with spice trees.

 

 (LI TONG retreats toward a rear corner where

in half light we can see him steaming rice,

vegetables and pork)

 

                            ARMINDO

You'll watch over my barking irons while I'm with the chippy, won't you, Doctor?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I will.  But I wouldn't be so hasty if I were you.

 

                            ARMINDO

What are you talking about?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

The way she dresses.  Her makeup.  Her English.  She may have been from Swatow once but not now.

 

                            ARMINDO

What of it?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I'd say she's up from Hong Kong.  And from the looks of her she's probably the mistress of some English merchant.

 

                            ARMINDO

You sayin' she's got the pox?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

No, my dear, Armindo, I'm saying that somewhere in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, there might well be an English gentleman that would pay a king's ransom to have her back unharmed.

 

                            ARMINDO

...Aye.  That he might.

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Aye.  Or he might send up well-armed men to get her back by force.  And he might have done it already.  For all we know-

 

(During the next few exchanges, ARMINDO

walks steadily closer to the CAPTAIN)

 

                            ARMINDO

Captain, I have a recollection of tellin' you not to shove your oar into my business, do I not?

 

                              

CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

If she does belong to a Limejuicer in Hong Kong, your playing John-among-the-maids with celestial whores could place us all in danger.  Including my ship!

 

                            ARMINDO

Your ship?

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Aye.  I won't stand by while you place my ship in danger of being seized. 

 

                            ARMINDO

We have a contract to ship coolies, have we not?

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

(standing up)

You can keep your coolies.  I never did fancy my clipper being used to transport Chinamen to Peru and guano from Peru to London. Slaves and bird shit!  No.  I'll find other cargoes for my ship.

 

                            ARMINDO

And what cargoes would those be, Captain?

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Tea, silks, whatever.  Why, in the gold rush days, we-

 

(ARMINDO suddenly unleashes his whip, wrapping

it around Elliott's legs, sending the CAPTAIN  

sprawling.  ARMINDO immediately grabs him up

and throws him against the table.  As HE speaks,

he forces the CAPTAIN's head back with the

barrel of one of his pistols, its muzzle placed

under the CAPTAIN's chin.  He cocks the pistol)

 

                            ARMINDO

Now you listen to me, Captain.  The gold rush days are over.  And there's plenty of once-proud clippers beggin' for cargo.  The rates for your precious ships have gone to hell in a handbasket and you damn well know it.  And your ship is so rotten it's little more than a hulk with canvas and blocks.  You can forget about tea and silk.  You're bloody lucky to get a cargo of Chinamen and you're gettin' that only because you were a mate of my brother's. 

 

(ARMINDO replaces his pistol in his belt.

HE takes a bottle of whiskey and pours

himself a glass.  He takes a long drink

and stares at the CAPTAIN)

 

                            ARMINDO

And you're also bloody lucky I hired you.  Nobody else will...Dr. Murray.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

What is it?

 

                            ARMINDO

Ask the good Captain to tell you about the Lion of the Sea.

 

(At the mention of the ship's name, the

CAPTAIN visibly cringes.  He sits in

a chair)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

I heard something about that ship.  One of the best clippers ever built.  She beat Sea Witch in a race, didn't she?

 

                            ARMINDO

...Captain!  Dr. Murray asked you a question.

 

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

She almost did.  A sudden squall took our studsails away at the last minute.  We managed to rig up old awning and spare tarpaulin but in the end it was no use.  We couldn’t catch the Witch.

 

                            ARMINDO

Tell Dr. Murray how your precious clipper ended up, Captain...The last voyage.

 

(As the CAPTAIN speaks the following, we

hear the soft sound of the er-hu being

played.  Very gradually increasing in

volume; the gong and cymbals might join

in, staccato-like, toward the end)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

...Like he said, the shipping industry had overbuilt.  Too many ships, too little cargo.  So I agreed to a coolie run to Havana. We picked up over a hundred coolies at Amoy and Namoa, two hundred here and another hundred in Macao...I had a bad feeling about it from the start.  Damn fool owner was a pig-headed turkey-cock; insisted we leave when we did.  It was a Friday.  Every seaman fears Friday's noon - 'Come when it will, it comes too soon'.  But the run to St. Helena was uneventful.  Not even that much sickness.  Only six Chinamen died.  I started to think we might be bung up and bilge-free, after all.  We took on food and water then we set out for Havana.  On the third day, I heard a ballyhoo of blazes coming from the main deck so I rushed out and I saw some of the crew cutting the pigtails off the Chinese. They said the Chinamen were filthy and weren't washing properly so they were cutting the vermin-laden pigtails off and the Chinamen were screaming and crying in protest.  I almost stopped them but I didn't...I wish to God I had…

 

ARMINDO

Captain?

 

CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

After about an hour, I was in my cabin when the carpenter’s mate ran in to tell me the Chinamen had grabbed a rifle and a saber from my second mate and were pelting us with anything they could rip up:  belaying pins, iron rice buckets, firewood, our carpenter's hammers, anything.  And they began setting fire to some of the wood.  I gave the order to clear the decks and the crew began firing their rifles and revolvers and slashing out with their swords and forcing the Chinamen back.  When they were all below, we battened down the hatches and sealed all the deck openings.  And we bolted iron bars to the coamings.  They couldn't come up but most of the provisions and water casks were down below in the lower hold.  In any case...

 

(DR. MURRAY pours CAPTAIN ELLIOTT brandy

in a glass and hands it to him.  He takes

a long drink then lets DR. MURRAY take it

out of his hand)

 

                    CAPTAIN ELLIOTT (cont)

In any case, I wasn't about to sail to Havana in that condition so I gave the order to return to St. Helena.  When we got there, we summoned the local police.  I thought if we got rid of the ringleaders, we'd be all right.  So we opened the hatches...

 

(The er-hu music ceases)

 

                            ARMINDO

Go on, Captain.

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

I thought...I thought the ventilation would be adequate.  We had wind sails and scuttles.  The ventilation trunks were...As God is my witness, I never intended...

 

                            ARMINDO

What was down below, Captain?

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

...I lost all four hundred Chinamen... 

(ARMINDO slams his whip on the table)

 

                            ARMINDO

What you lost was twenty-four thousand Spanish dollars!...And the Englishman who chartered the ship went bankrupt...So if I don't hire you, who else will?  So you'll say 'Yes' and 'Amen' to everything I tell you.  Is that clear, Captain?...Is that clear?!

 

(In the silence, we begin to hear thumps

against the exterior of the barracoon,

against the door and walls) 

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

What in blazes?  (Pointing)  You.  And you.  See what that is.

 

(As the TWO CHINESE walk to the door and

open it, ARMINDO turns back to the CAPTAIN)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Is it clear!

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

(nodding)

Aye.  That's clear.  But I've got a devilish bad feelin' about this business.  We didn't let our anchors go to the windward of the law.  Our joss is set. 

 

                            ARMINDO

You can prattle about joss all you like, just don't-

 

(The excited CHINESE have trouble closing

the door.  As they struggle to close it,

bones blow into the barracoon.  They scream)

 

                             GUARD

Aiiiyaaah!  The bones of the dead are hitting against the door!  And the wall!

 

(The SECOND GUARD picks up a bone and holds

it close to a lantern, then hurriedly throws

the bone down)

                              

SECOND GUARD

Aiiyaaah!  The bones are coming in!

 

(The CHINESE GUARDS and COOLIES become

extremely agitated; some even move

toward the door)

 

                        VARIOUS CHINESE

Aiiyaah!  The bones of the dead are coming here!  What is it?  The bones of the dead!  They're coming in!  Help!  The spirits are angry!  The dead are rising!

 

                            ARMINDO

What the hell?

 

                            LI TONG

Bones.  Dead men bones from outside!

 

                            ARMINDO

Pipe down!  (drawing his pistols)  Goddamn ye!  I said, pipe down!

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

I smell hell.

 

                            ARMINDO

Shut your potato-trap! 

 

 

(ARMINDO walks to the bone.  He replaces one

of his pistols in his belt and picks up the

bone.  He speaks to LI TONG)

 

                        ARMINDO (cont)

It's just a man's bone.  It can't hurt anybody!

 

(LI TONG is also afraid)

 

                            ARMINDO

Damn your eyes, tell them! 

 

                            LI TONG

It is only a bone.  You don't have to be afraid.  Don't make the foreign-devil angry.

 

(ARMINDO walks toward the coolies, holding

the bone.  THEY move back in fear)

 

                            ARMINDO

This...can't harm you.  (raising the pistol) This can.  The dead can't come back...Translate, damn you!

 

                            LI TONG

The fire-stick can harm you; the bones cannot!

 

  

(ARMINDO looks up and sees TIANG-SI staring

down at the scene.  He places his pistols and

the bone on the table)

 

                            ARMINDO

Enough of this.  Time to scuttle the celestial ship.

 

(He slowly walks up the stairs to the

cockloft while unbuttoning his clothes)

 

                            ARMINDO

Li Tong!  Untie the boy and put him with the others.

 

(As LI TONG unties the BROTHER, the BROTHER

winces in pain.  LI TONG takes him off

into semi-darkness.  The BROTHER whispers. 

They speak out of range of the others)

 

                            BROTHER

You must help my sister!

 

                            LI TONG

I cannot!

                            BROTHER

Li Tong, we have never met, but when I returned from Ningpo, my sister told me all about you.  How she had loved you and would have married you; then found out you had joined with the pig sellers!

 

                            LI TONG

And now she hates me!

 

                            BROTHER

She loves you still!  You need only quit this.

 

                            LI TONG

Why did Ah-fuk bring you here!  You were to be kept at the abandoned tea warehouse.

 

                            BROTHER

The tea warehouse was washed away by the storm during the night. So he and his men brought us here...But how do you know this?

 

                            LI TONG

It was...I paid Li Tong to kidnap you...and to send a message to Tiang Si.  I thought if she believed you were kidnapped by the pig sellers she would have to come to me.  But not here!  You should never have been brought here; and she should never have come here!

 

(The BOY stares at him, then spits in his face)

 

                            BROTHER

You are worse than the outside barbarians! 

 

(The BOY disappears into the darkness and

LI TONG slowly walks back toward the table,

wiping his face with a towel)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

What is it, Li Tong?  You look like a man sentenced to dance the Paddington Frisk...Well, my young friend, one thing I've learned in life: Whenever the blue devils come, the best thing for them is a proper English breakfast or, if available, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  But failing those options it's always best to fight them off with a swig from the foretopman's bottle.

 

(DOCTOR MURRAY pours himself a drink and is

just about to take it when suddenly we hear

the sounds of a female screaming.  We hear

the sounds of slaps and the screams change

to the sounds of a woman groaning uncomfortably

and rhythmically.  The DOCTOR and CAPTAIN

ELLIOTT exchange furtive glances then look

away in embarrassment.  LI TONG reappears

and stands motionless.  DR. MURRAY takes

his drink but no one else moves)

 

(In the silence we hear the sound of the wind

and of bones being blown against the exterior

of the barracoon.  The steam from the cooking

area is rising in hellish swirls)

 

(As TIANG-SI's crying and moaning rises in

volume, LI TONG moves toward one of ARMINDO's

pistols.  He places his hand on one of them

while looking up toward the cockloft)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Leave it be, Li Tong. 

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

It's a bad business.

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Aye.  But his getting himself killed won't help her.  Li Tong:  Leave it be!

 

 

(LI TONG suddenly lifts the pistol and

rushes forward.  DR. MURRAY and CAPTAIN

ELLIOTT restrain him and struggle to remove

the pistol from his hand.  The struggle

ends abruptly when TIANG-SI gives one final

loud cry of anguish)

 

(The pistol is now with CAPTAIN ELLIOTT)

 

(No one moves.  In the silence, there is a

sudden pounding at the door.  Again,

ARMINDO'S MEN draw their weapons but this

time they are obviously afraid.  Some

approach the front door with caution but

others cower away from the door completely)

 

(The braver CHINESE throw open the door and

a CAUCASIAN MALE enters.  The men struggle

to close the door against the howling wind

and pouring rain.  Several more bones blow in)

 

(The EMIGRATION AGENT is in his late 20's or

early 30's.  He is clean-shaven and very

straight-forward.  He could almost be mistaken

for a missionary.  His clothes are similar to

the others.  He removes his wide, low crowned,

hat and frock and, crestfallen, LI TONG hangs

them on a wall nail.  He then returns to his

cooking area)

 

(ARMINDO walks down the cockloft stairs while

buttoning his clothes)

 

                            ARMINDO

Who the deuce are you?

                              

DR. MURRAY

He's the emigration agent.  Mr. Anderson.  I told-

 

                            ARMINDO

Ah!  The totty-headed land shark who relanded my pork.

 

(The EMIGRATION AGENT does not issue threats

or speak gruffly.  Rather, he speaks matter-

of-factly with a somewhat prim holier-than-

thou manner.  A manner which, to a man like

ARMINDO, is far more infuriating than threats)

 

                              

EMIGRATION AGENT

Yes.  I relanded your pork.  And I may be relanding a number of other items as well if I find they're not up to snuff.  And before you receive any port clearance and certificate from me, I'll also ensure that you have ample medicines and water and provisions on board. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Is that all?

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Not quite.  You'll supply me with a complete passenger list and the contracts for every coolie.  You will also not sail until you have a surgeon on board and an interpreter; an interpreter approved by me.

 

                            ARMINDO

The hell, you say! 

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

The hell I do say!

 

                            ARMINDO

You can sooner whistle up a wind in the doldrums before I'll-

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

You will fulfill each and every article of the Chinese Passenger Act to the letter.  Or else you won't be sailing. 

 

                            ARMINDO

Is that what you came 'ere for?  To fuss over the health of the Chinamen?

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

That.  And to determine if these men truly wish to leave for Peru voluntarily.

 

                            ARMINDO

The devil you will!  That is done on board ship!

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Not in this weather it isn't.  It will be done inside the barracoon. 

 

                            ARMINDO

By whose authority?!

 

                               EMIGRATION AGENT

By my authority!  The charter or conveyance of the subjects of China to the Chincha Islands will be carried out according to the provisions of the Chinese Passenger Act or it will not be carried out at all!  And I suggest we get started. 

 

                            ARMINDO

(lowering his voice)

Your predecessor was a reasonable man, Mr. Anderson.  There's no need for-

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Let me make myself very clear, Mr. DaCruz.  If I find that there has been any fraud or violence in your manner of collecting the emigrants, I will not merely void your contracts and let these men go, I will have you arrested.

 

(During the following, ARMINDO moves closer

to the AGENT but the AGENT does not flinch

and stands his ground)

 

                            ARMINDO

You want to feel sorry for the Chinamen, is that it?  Well, who the hell do you think brought the Chinamen here!  Chinamen, that's who.  And who do you think brings the niggers to the ships in the Bay of Benin!  Other niggers, that's who.  We didn't even have to go into the interior to get 'em.  Black tribes brought their captives and slaves down to our barracoons along the coast. The niggers couldn't sell each other to us fast enough.  And the Chinamen are no different.  They're fallin' all over themselves to sell their neighbors.  They're kidnapping each other by force, they're feeding each other drugged cakes, they're gambling each other out of their freedom, and they're trickin' each other into comin' here.  I got two celestials came in 'ere, each thinkin' he was bringin' the other.  So I took 'em both and saved the money. John Chinaman is chasin’ the dollar more than we are!  So don't try ridin' the high horse with me.  We're providin' men an opportunity to sell their friends and neighbors for profit!  And they're jumpin' at the chance!

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Your type brings out the worst in men, that I grant you.  But there are placards all over southern China offering rewards for those involved in the slave trade.  Some Chinese crimps have already been executed.  And without you and your men, the Chinese kidnappers would have no protection. 

 

                               CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Aye!  I've seen what the mandarins do to kidnappers.  They nail them up facing the sun.  Then they cut their eyelids off so they can't blink.  That way they go painfully blind, then die of thirst. 

 

                            ARMINDO

I warned you to clap a stopper on your tongue!

 

                          DR. MURRAY

(speech somewhat slurred)

Aye.  And the women have their breasts cut off as well!  When I was outside Ningpo, I saw that pretty sight. 

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Is this man the physician who has examined these men? 

 

                  DR. MURRAY

At your service, sir.

 

(As DR. MURRAY places his glass to his

mouth, ARMINDO violently thrusts it out

of his hand.  It sails across the room

and smashes)

 

                            ARMINDO

Blast you!  You're already three sheets to the wind and the fourth's shaking!

 

                          DR. MURRAY

          (waving his walking stick)

If I were a younger man I'd give you a clout on your jolly knob!

 

                        EMIGRATION AGENT

Assemble your coolies, Mr. DaCruz.

 

(ARMINDO hesitates then gestures to the CRIMPS

to bring out the coolies.  As they bring some

of the COOLIES forward, we see shadows of others

in the background, suggesting there are many more

lined up behind the first row of five or six. 

One of the COOLIES in the front row is Tiang-si’s

BROTHER.  In silences of any length, there are

always a few sounds of bones hitting against the

exterior of the barracoon, no matter how faint)

 

(ARMINDO sits in a chair behind the table.  The

CAPTAIN sits on an empty barrel or sea chest. 

Only the CRIMPS and the EMIGRATION AGENT stand)

 

                  NARRATOR

As the slaves came forward, I could see that they had become anxious and afraid, their terror and fear of the bones was growing.  In the silence, I heard again the sounds of bones hitting against the exterior of the barracoon.  Like dead men knocking.  I was deeply immersed in my guilt and of having come face to face with my cowardice, and I hadn’t realized Armindo was addressing me.

 

                            ARMINDO

Li Tong...Li Tong!

 

(LI TONG emerges from the steam-filled cooking

area and walks forward.  He is still emersed

in his depression and guilt)

 

ARMINDO

(suspiciously)

Your thoughts have gone a-wool gathering, have they?

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

(to LI TONG)

Ask this man if he knows where he is going and if he is going willingly.

 

                            LI-TONG

The foreign-devil wants to know if you are going willingly.  Remember what you have been told about how to answer.

 

(After a pause, the COOLIE nods his head)

 

                            COOLIE

Yes.

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Where is he going?

 

                            LI TONG

Where are you going?

 

                            COOLIE

To the Gold Country.

 

                            LI TONG

(hesitates)

He says he is going to the Chincha Islands. 

 

(The AGENT moves to stand before the next

COOLIE.  It is Tiang-si’s BROTHER)

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Now ask this man the same.

 

                            LI TONG

The outside-barbarian wants to know if you are going on the black-sided devil ship on your own.

 

(The BOY hesitates)

 

(LI TONG glances toward ARMINDO who lifts his

head up toward the cockloft.  LI TONG again

turns toward the BOY)

 

                            LI TONG

Think of your sister.

 

(The BOY nods his head)

 

(Suddenly, we hear TIANG-SI's bloodcurdling

scream from out of the upstairs darkness)

 

                           TIANG-SI

Aiieee!

 

(She appears at the top of the stairs, her

clothes and hair disheveled to the point

where she looks like a kind of shaman.  She

is barefoot.  She also seems to have gone

slightly mad)

 

                        TIANG-SI (cont)

Lies!  Lies!  Listen to those who witness!  Dead but not silent!

 

(In the complete stillness, no one moves.

The sound of wind and of bones being blown

against the exterior are clearly audible.

After several seconds, TIANG-SI begins

descending the stairs)

 

                        TIANG-SI (cont)

These men were kidnapped or tricked into coming here.  Most of them still think they are going to the Gold Country!  They do not want to go to the Chincha Islands.  No Chinese has ever returned from there.  I will translate for you!

 

(ARMINDO stands and reaches for his pistol.

HE holds it but does not lift the barrel up)

 

                              

ARMINDO

You've got enough tongue for two sets of teeth!  Get back upstairs and stay there!

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Who are you?

 

                           TIANG-SI

I came for my brother.  He was kidnapped by these men.  They have whipped him almost to death.

 

                            ARMINDO

She's lying.  No one here is-

 

(TIANG-SI moves quickly to her brother,

spins him around and rips off his shirt.

The EMIGRATION AGENT is horrified)

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

My God!

 

(ARMINDO moves out from around the desk,

still holding his pistol.  He lowers his

voice)

 

                            ARMINDO

We've had some problems with discipline.  But Mr. Turner was reasonable and I'm sure you and I can reach an accommodation as well.  Let's say three shillings per-

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

You'll have accommodation soon enough in Her Majesty's prison at Hong Kong.  A few years walking the treadwheel will give you time to reflect on the evil you've committed here.

 

(The AGENT moves past ARMINDO in the

direction of his jacket)

 

                            ARMINDO

You’re out of your reckoning…Come back here!

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Indeed I shall.  With officers of the law!

 

(ARMINDO walks after him)

 

                            ARMINDO

I paid good money for these men and you're not leaving until you've signed the port clearance and certificate.

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

You'll be riding a cockhorse to Banbury Cross before you'll get any papers signed by me.

 

                            ARMINDO

Damn your eyes!  I'm not losing my investment because of-

 

(The AGENT picks up his hat and puts on his

jacket and turns to ARMINDO)

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Men like you are poisoning the Chinese mind against all of us.  Even honest tea traders are now in danger because the Chinese think all foreigners are involved in the slave trade.  'Pig sellers' they call us.  In Swatow I have seen an angry crowd chase after tea traders.  They were almost torn limb from limb!  All Chinese denounce the selling of coolies as pig-selling and denounce the brokers in the trade as swine-herds! 

 

                            ARMINDO

These coolies get paid for their labor.

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

Paid?!  Aye, paid in misery and death.  Even American owners of slaves have condemned the treatment of Chinese in the Chinchas as 'barbaric'!

 

                            ARMINDO

I want that certificate; and I mean to have it.

 

                       EMIGRATION AGENT

You'll get a sailing certificate from me when two Sundays come together.

 

(ARMINDO raises his pistol.  The AGENT

stares at him without fear but in genuine

wonder at what kind of a man he is facing))

         

EMIGRATION AGENT

So to your list of heinous crimes you would kill a man as well?

 

ARMINDO

I have done.  If you force me to I will again.

 

(The EMIGRATION AGENT takes several steps toward   Armindo)

          

             EMIGRATION AGENT

I have heard seamen say that what crawls over the snake’s back lies under its belly.  But never in my worst nightmares, have I dreamt that a man such as you-

 

(ARMINDO fires.  In the cloud of whitish blue smoke, the

AGENT places his hand to his chest, stares at ARMINDO in

shock, then falls to the floor)

 

(DR. MURRAY and CAPTAIN ELLIOTT stand up.

DR. MURRAY rushes to the AGENT and places

his hand on his neck and face)

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Are you mad?  You've killed him!

 

                            ARMINDO

Every bullet has its billet.  Ah-fuk, have your men bring in one of the coffins.  (AH-FUK hesitates)  Now!  (to the PORTUGUESE and another ASSISTANT)  You two go with them.

 

(AH-FUK quickly exits with the others.  The

sounds of the furious storm are still

thunderous when the door is opened.  More

bones are blown in.  The door is shut.)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

When news of this gets out, Governor Bowring will send every man from the Hong Kong barracks up here. 

 

ARMINDO

And exactly how, Captain, will news of this be getting out?  You and the coolies will be on your way to the Chinchas.  That leaves only Li Tong, Dr. Murray, the crimps and me.  And none of us will blow the gaff, will we, Li Tong?...Will we, Li Tong!?

 

                            LI TONG

No.

 

                            ARMINDO

Dr. Murray?

 

                          DR. MURRAY

Armindo, you can't just murder an emigration agent in cold blood.

 

                            ARMINDO

I can if there's no evidence of a murder.  We'll put this proud fellow in one of the Chinamen's coffins then send it down river with the rest.  The storm should take it out and sink it.  All the way to the bottom of the South China Sea.  He can spend his eternity checking ship bub and grub in Davy Jones's locker.

 

DR. MURRAY

You have murdered an innocent man!

 

ARMINDO

A man who threatens my livelihood is far from innocent, Doctor.  And when a typhoon hits and the canvas is torn to shreds and the ship is adrift, sometimes a captain has to give orders to cut away the top-gallant masts to save the lower masts.  Is that not right, Captain?

          (A few of the coolies and even the

          crimps have begun to whisper among

          themselves.  The fear is spreading)

                              

                           TIANG-SI

Your men are not coming back.  You'll have to get a coffin yourself.  But it will be yours.

 

          (From this point on, the NARRATOR edges ever

          closer to TIANG-SI, more and more distraught)

 

(ARMINDO glares at her then at her BROTHER)

 

                            ARMINDO

All right, you hell hound.  You should have kept your breath to cool your porridge.  Now you can watch while I navigate your brother's windward passage.

 

(He gets up and moves to her BROTHER.  ARMINDO

roughly grasps the BOY and manhandles him

over to the table.  The BOY is too weak to

resist.  TIANG-SI rushes forward to seize

ARMINDO’s arm but ARMINDO backhands her across

her cheek, sending her tumbling backward to the

floor.  She lays on her back with her eyes open

but with her stare fixed on the ceiling, as if

she no longer comprehends her surroundings)

 

(ARMINDO jams his pistols into his belt and

shoves everything else off the table onto

the floor – tea cups, quill pens, paper, candle,

bowl, brush, razor, bone and abacus.  The abacus smashes

against a near wall where it shatters, scattering its beads

in all directions.  Several of the beads strike TIANG-SI,

and the shock seems to revive her.  She rolls over and

pushes herself up)

 

(ARMINDO throws the BOY face down onto the table. 

He pulls out the severed queues from his belt and

throws them to LI TONG)

 

                            ARMINDO

Tie his wrists to the table legs. 

 

(HE gestures by holding his own wrist and

pointing to the BOY.  LI TONG hesitates)

                               

                        ARMINDO (cont)

Damn your heathen eyes!  Tie his wrists!

 

(LI TONG moves forward and ties the BOY's

wrists.  TIANG-SI rushes in, scratching

his face, but ARMINDO thrusts her away,

sending her sprawling to the floor,

nearly unconscious)

 

(ARMINDO pulls down the BOY's baggy

trousers and unbuttons his own.  HE

begins raping the BOY.  For several

seconds, there is only the sounds of

bones hitting the exterior of the

barracoon and the BOY's groaning. 

Finally, CAPTAIN ELLIOTT takes out

his own flintlock, cocks it, and

points it at ARMINDO)

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Release the boy.

 

(ARMINDO hesitates; LI TONG backs away;

The NARRATOR stares at TIANG SI with

an expression of never-ending sorrow)

 

                            ARMINDO

Well, well, well.  Silence in the court; the cat is pissing.  You be givin' me orders now, is it, Captain?

 

                        CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

Get off him or, by God, I'll send you to hell.

 

                            ARMINDO

...By Christ, Captain, I think you mean it.

 

          (ARMINDO withdraws from the boy and

          buttons his trousers)

 

ARMINDO (CONT)

But what if I were to hold this man up in front of me like this, then draw my revolver and fire?  Like this?

 

(ARMINDO has grabbed the boy's queue and

lifted him up so that ELLIOTT cannot get

a shot at ARMINDO.  ARMINDO fires.  ELLIOTT    

is hit in the shoulder and spun about by

the bullet.  He half falls, half sits into

a chair) 

 

(ARMINDO laughs and begins to speak but

TIANG-SI realizes the bone that ARMINDO

swept off the table is near her hand. 

SHE grasps it then stands up and quickly

walks behind ARMINDO) 

 

ARMINDO

I warned you not to shove your oar-

 

(She strikes ARMINDO across the back of

the head with the bone)

 

(ARMINDO falls across the BOY, spins

and staggers, still managing to stay

on his feet.  HE draws his knife from

his waist sheath) 

 

          (The NARRATOR screams at him)

 

NARRATOR

No!  Armindo!  For the love of God, no!

 

                            ARMINDO

You celestial bitch!  I would have saved your quim for another time.  But not now.

 

(As ARMINDO approaches her, he grabs her

by the neck and thrusts the knife into

her heart.  LI TONG rushes forward scream-

ing)

 

LI TONG/NARRATOR

Nooooo!

 

(TIANG-SI falls to the floor.  LI TONG

cradles her in his arms, beside himself

with grief.  ARMINDO stands holding the

knife looking down at them but the

increasing loud sound of the storm and

of the bones hitting the barracoon

draw his attention)

 

(As he turns away, he does not notice

the change that has come over LI TONG.  

LI TONG has stopped grieving and is

looking up at ARMINDO with an expression

of pure hatred)

  

(The door bursts open from the force of

the storm, and a shower of bones blows

into the room.  Kitchen steam surges

upward, madly blown about by the wind. 

Candles blow out and black smoke erupts

from the flickering oil lamps.  It is a

scene from a Chinese hell.  And for the

Chinese, it is as if the hungry ghosts

have finally arrived to seek their vengeance. 

But the fury, power, and din of the storm

all seem to be transferred to and absorbed

by LI TONG)

 

(Both LI TONG and the NARRATOR stare at

Armindo’s razor lying on the floor.

An enraged LI TONG grabs the straight

razor, rises, utters a primal scream and

throws himself at ARMINDO)

 

(ARMINDO turns with the bloody knife in his

hand but LI TONG’s hand flies through

the air with the razor, slashing his throat)

 

(ARMINDO stares at LI TONG and at the bloody

razor.  As he drops the knife, he grabs his

own throat.  He reaches out to hold LI TONG’s

face in his hands.  A ghost of a smile appears

on his face.  He whispers something to him and

then falls to the floor)

 

(LI TONG stares at him, drops the razor, then

kneels once again to cradle TIANG-SI in his arms. 

No one moves.  Then, as barracoon workers and

coolies slip out the door, the storm quiets. 

The lights slowly dim but not to black)    

 

 

                           NARRATOR

The woman I loved never spoke.  She only stared into my eyes, then died in my arms.  I can still see her gazing up at me.  Awake or asleep.  And I can still feel the warmth of her blood as it ran down her hair and along my wrists.  I think I must have held her for a very long time.  I was remembering the smell of her hair in the autumn rain when a hundred lanterns danced above us in the wind.  We sat in the garden by the eastern gate and watched the full moon as it rose higher – a white jade disc.  I was filled with joy knowing that she felt the same love for me that I had for her. 

 

          (LI TONG and the NARRATOR briefly stare

          at one another)

 

                        NARRATOR (cont)

But that was a world which would never come again.

 

          (LI TONG again focuses his attention on

           TIANG-SI.  The NARRATOR walks a bit away

           from them and again faces the audience)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

Armindo lingered for several hours.  He chose a Portuguese assistant as his successor and made him swear that they would not kill me; he did not want me sent to the Chincha Islands as death would have come too quickly for me.  He wanted to make certain that I would be forced to remain inside the barracoon forever.  His wish was granted... And I thought it was just.  I thought if I ransomed her brother from Ah-fuk, the woman I still loved might love me again.  Instead, my plan got her killed...and her brother sent to the Chincha Islands...

    

          (As the NARRATOR describes the following

                                       actions, DR. MURRAY and CAPTAIN ELLIOTT

                                      disappear into the darkness; ARMINDO is

stripped of his belongings and hustled outside)

                                 

NARRATOR (CONT)

Dr. Murray and the Captain quickly moved on, fleeing a land that seemed to place a curse on all those who worked there; but once Armindo was dead, the others around him were free to express their hatred of him.  Too cowardly to defy him in any way when he was alive, they stripped him of his belongings, stole his cross, knife and pistols, mocked his nakedness, then bundled him in untidy fashion inside a piece of coarse matting and left him to rot in the sand with the bones of deceased paupers he had condemned to death as his companions.  After what happened, I was useless as an interpreter or anything else.  The Portuguese and Brazilians and Spaniards who took over from Armindo whipped me but still I would not - could not - work as before.  But in my youth I had played the er-hu.  And so, when I eventually came to my senses, they allowed me to do nothing but that.  Although as the years passed the men who came after them often chastised me for playing too loudly: But they did not hear the bones.  Nor could they see the ghosts.  Finally, they became exasperated with me and I was told I was free to go.  But of course I had nowhere to go and so it was I who decided to stay.  You see the irony is that I was the only one who remained faithful to Armindo’s plan for my punishment.  Yes, I killed him.  But I did not betray him: When others failed him, it was I who granted him his wish.

 

          (The NARRATOR has now resumed his position

           at the er-hu)

 

NARRATOR (cont)

It took me years to stop hating him.  I began to understand that only I – not Armindo - had been given the right to make moral choices.  Armindo represented almost pure evil or perhaps, more accurately, pure amoral energy, and, as such, he never had the freedom to make a moral choice of any kind.  I now understand that Armindo was the true slave.  He could not change his nature anymore than could a cloud in the sky or a tree in the forest.  Only I could make decisions involving conscience.  Only I could seek redemption.  Armindo was too pure in being whatever he was. His inner pain drove him on.  He had no choices to make.  But I shall never forgive him for what he whispered in my ear just before he died.  He said:

 

ARMINDO’S VOICE (O.S.)

You see, Li Tong, I was right.  You and I are one of a kind.

 

NARRATOR (CONT)

I have had several decades to reflect on the ironies: the what if’s and the if only’s.  And, of course, I have never stopped hearing the bones.  Even in my sleep they swirl about like leaves caught in a storm's fury...Over the years, ship captains and others involved in the slave trade always look at me strangely.  They know me only as the man who killed Armindo DaCruz.  Pity; awe; wonder.  And now I have heard some of them say that the coolie slave trade may be coming to an end.  Not because anyone cares about coolies, but because the guano on the Chincha Islands is almost exhausted....No matter.  This is a barracoon.  I play music here. I will always play music here. 

 

          (THE NARRATOR again plays the eh-hu as

at the play's opening.  The stage lights

begin to fade.  The music stops just as

there is the furious snap of a whip.)

 

BLACKOUT

 

                                            THE END

 

 

 

The haunting music of the er-hu:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re6LVYisnYY&feature=related

************************************

BONES OF THE CHINAMEN

 

                              

Notes

 

 

1.  An "upstairs" would be nice but as many theaters do not have such space, the suggestion of another room should be sufficient.

 

2.  The clever movement of shadows should be able to suggest more prisoners than are actually on stage.

 

3.  Sounds of men fighting and screaming and gunshots might accompany the Captain's description of the revolt on board his ship.

 

4.  Although the role of Armindo is a powerful one, it must be made clear that the play belongs to Li Tong.  This is because only Li Tong makes moral choices.  Armindo represents almost pure evil or, at least, amoral energy, and, as such, makes no moral choices of any kind. 

 

    Even the act of buggery is not a homosexual act but simply a way for him to humiliate, to give pain.  Only Li Tong makes decisions involving character and conscience and only he - not Armindo - can seek redemption, and Bones of the Chinamen is therefore very much his play.

 

5.  Although the play is 80 pages, I estimate an at least 90 minute running time, no intermission.

 

6.         Bones of the Chinamen involves 19th century seaman profanity, cruelty, whipping, murder, etc.  The audience should feel as much as possible what a barracoon was like; there should be no sugar coating.

 

         ************************************

 

In shorter form, Bones of the Chinaman had a reading with the Vox Theater Company, NYC, and won the South Asian prize of the BBC Overseas Radio Playwriting contest, coming in among the top eight out of 1200.

 

Bones of the Chinamen has also been written as a novella and appears in the book

Dragon Slayer.

 

Copyright 2014 Dean Barrett

 

deanbarr@loxinfo.co.th