Copyright
Augustus Thomas.

The Copperhead : a drama in four acts online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryAugustus ThomasThe Copperhead : a drama in four acts → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


4E COPPERHEAD



USTUS THOMAS



FRENCHSFWNDARD UBRARY EDITION




SAMUEL FRENCH, 25 West 45th St., New York



THE BAT

A mystery play in 3 acts. By Mary Roberts Rinehart
and Avery Hopwood. Produced originally at the Morosco
Theatre, New York. 7 males, 3 females. 2 interior scenes.
Modern costumes.

Miss Cornelia Van Gorder, a maiden lady of sixty, has leased as a
restorative for frayed nerves, a Long Island country house. It had
been the property of a New York financier who had disappeared
coincidentally with the looting of his bank. His cashier, who is
secretly engaged to marry Miss Van Gorder's niece, is suspected of
the defalcation and is a fugitive. The new occupants believe the
place to be haunted. Strange sounds and manifestations first strengthen
this conviction but presently lead them to suspect that the happen-
ings are mysteriously connected with the bank robbery. Any sensible
woman would have moved to the nearest neighbors for the night and
returned to the city next day. But Miss Van Gorder decided to re-
main and solve the mystery. She sends for detectives and then things
begin to happen. At one time or another every member of the house-
hold is suspected of the theft. The audience is kept running up blind
alleys, falling into hidden pitfalls, and darting around treacherous
corners. A genuine thriller guaranteed to divert any audience.

(Royalty, twenty-five dollars.) PRICE 75 CENTS.



THE HAUNTED HOUSE

Comedy in 3 acts. By Owen Davis. Produced originally
at the George M. Cohan Theatre, New York. 8 males,
3 females, i interior. Modern costumes.

A newly married couple arrive to spend their honeymoon in a
summer cottage owned by the girl's father, who has begged them
nor to go there, because he claims the house is haunted. Almost
immediately after their arrival, strange sounds are heard in the house.
The bride leaves the room for a few moments and when she re-
turns, her husband is talking very confidentially to a young woman,
who he claims has had trouble with her automobile down the road,
and he goes out to assist her. But when he comes back, his wife's
suspicions force him to confess that the girl is an ild sweetheart of
his. The girl is subsequently reported murdered, and the bride be-
lieves her husband has committed the crime. A neighbor, who is an
author of detective stories, attempts to solve the murder, meantime
calling in a prominent New York detective who is vacationing in
the town. As they proceed, everyone in the action becomes involved.
But the whole thing terminates in a laugh, with the most uproarious
and unexpected conclusion imaginable.

(Royalty, twenty-five dollars.) PRICE 75 CENTS.



The Copperhead

(From "THE GLORY OF HIS COUNTRY," a Story
by Hon. Frederick Landis)



A DRAMA IN FOUR ACTS

BY
AUGUSTUS THOMAS

Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Author of: Alaoama, In Mizzoura, Arizona, The Other
Girl, Mrs. Leffingwell's Boots, The Earl of Paw-
tucket, The Witching Hour, As a Man
Thinks, etc.

COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY AUGUSTUS THOMAS
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY HARCOURT, BRACE AND

COMPANY, INC.
In a volume "Longer Plays by Modern Authors"



CAUTION. Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that
"THE COPPERHEAD," being fully protected under the Copy-
right Laws of the United States of America, is subject to a
royalty and anyone presenting the play without the consent of
the owners or their authorized agents will be liable to the
penalties by law provided. Applications for the Professional and
Amateur acting rights must be made to Samuel French, 25 West
45th Street, New York, N. Y.



NEW YORK
SAMUEL FRENCH

PUBLISHED
25 WEST 4STH STREET



LONDON

SAMUEL FRENCH, LTD.

26 SOUTHAMPTON STREET

STRAND



THE COPPERHEAD
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Especial notice should be taken that the possession of
this book without a valid contract for production first
having been obtained from the publisher, confers no right
or license to professionals or amateurs to produce the play
publicly or in private for gain or charity.

In its present form this play is dedicated to the reading
public only, and no performance, representation, produc-
tion, recitation, or public reading, or radio broadcasting
may be given except by special arrangement with Samuel
French, 25 West 45th Street, New York.

This play may be presented by amateurs upon payment
of a royalty of Twenty-Five Dollars for each perform-
ance, payable to Samuel French, 25 West 45th Street,
New York, one week before the date when the play is
given.

Whenever the play is produced the following notice must
appear on all programs, printing and advertising for the
play: "Produced by special arrangement with Samuel
French of New York."

Attention is called to the penalty provided by law for
any infringement of the author's rights, as follows.

"SECTION 4966: Any person publicly performing or rep-
resenting any dramatic or musical composition for which
copyright has been obtained, without the consent of the
proprietor of said dramatic or musical composition, or his
heirs and assigns, shall be liable for damages thereof, such
damages, in all cases to be assessed at such sum, not less
than one hundred dollars for the first and fifty dollars for
every subsequent performance, as to the court shall appear
to be just If the unlawful performance and representation
be wilful and for profit, such person or persons shall be
guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be im-
prisoned for a period not exceeding one year." rU. S.
Revised Statutes : Title 60, Chap.. 3.



PREFACE

To six of my published plays I have written
prefaces. These were in a series designed as each of
them endeavored to state to help rather indirectly
younger men than myself embarking upon the busi-
ness of play writing. They dealt in turn with the
problems first of writing a drama that should ex-
ploit a theory; next to write a play fitting a par-
ticular star; a third making use of bits of material
that come to a writer's notice and for the moment
seem irrelevant to his work; the fourth dealt with
writing a play around an historic character; the
fifth was of a comedy where a man played himself ;
the sixth was to write for two men already coupled
in the public attention. This preface will tell of
writing a play that started as a dramatization of a
story but resulted in something more than that.

The Glory of His Country, a short book by the
Hon. Frederick Landis of Indiana, told of an
old man, the keeper of a country turnpike,
living most of the time alone, and who for the last
forty years of his life had been a social outcast
among his loyal neighbors because he was supposed
to have sympathized with the South during the Civil
War, whereas his neighbors in this northern district
were fighting for the Federal Union. Under this
ostracism the old man's mind had partly given way.
His only interest in life was a granddaughter, his
sole surviving relative. His activity in the story was
an optimistic interest in the Congressional canvass of
a young man who had become interested in this

3



4 PREFACE

granddaughter. The story ends with the old man's
dying and under that melancholy set of circum-
stances his disclosure to the neighbors assembled of
a letter from President Lincoln thanking him for
his services during the war in which he had been
a spy. To have told this fact in the earlier days of
his ostracism might have been perilous as there still
lived enough men who would have felt themselves
betrayed and perhaps sought vengeance! Later the
habit of silence had settled upon him and his isola-
tion had grown.

The characters in Mr. Landis' book were the
quaint people of an Illinois town. The incidents
were those growing out of the simple social inter-
changes of that community; the girl's occasional
visits to the lonely grandfather, the country barbe-
cue, and the like. None of them especially dramatic,
not any one of them sufficient to invite a dramatist,
but the poignantly tragic position of the old man in
this lifetime 6f martyrdom was so effective that it
justified any effort to properly present it in the
theatre. There must have been about the story a
considerable conviction, too, in its simple use of
local color, because in addressing myself to
making the play from it I never thought outside
of its conception. The play had not been an easy
one to write in its first draft: the three act form.
I had scenes about the country hotel and in the
street. I tried to make the dramatic machinery
move by the young lawyer's political canvass and
the attempts of his unscrupulous political opponents
to hamper him. I made the simple old man the dis-
coverer of these machinations. When I was done
I had a tolerable country play exploiting an eccentric
old man. Mr. Landis and I both liked it but we
were prejudiced. The managers to whom I offered
the manuscript cared nothing for it. The three acts



PREFACE 5

began to look like deadwood and the time put in on
their production like a total loss.

One day my boy who was beginning playwright
and had a libretto in collaboration to his credit as
well as the precepts of many tiresome talks from his
father as part of his equipment, came home from
the Texas border where he had been with the New
York calvary in Squadron A. I asked him to read
the play and tell me what was the matter with it.
He was properly modest in advancing his opinion,
but characteristically youthful in its expression. His
first line was : "It seems to me you ought to con-
sume some of your own smoke." We talk some-
what cryptically but that speech was unintelligible.
"I mean," he added, "you ought to follow some of
the rules you have given me. You've always said,
'in playwriting, don't talk about it, do it.' Now all
the interesting things, or at least the things that stir
me in that play are things that you talk about, things
that happened forty years before in the Civil War.
I don't know enough about the game to advise you
in any retaliating fashion, but if the theatre will
stand for a division of that play into two epochs,
one during the Civil War, and the other at the time
of Landis' book, I think it would make a drama."

Being a parent for a long time cultivates one's
self-control. I gave the boy no intimation that his
suggestion had any value, but it fell into the sluggish
waters of my own intellectual pool like a sizzling
aerolite. I could hardly wait for him to get out of
the study and let me tackle the manuscript. The re-
sult was the four act version that is offered here-
with in which the Civil War period is treated in the
first two acts and the last two acts are devoted to
the time after an interval of forty years. The won-
derful advantage of the suggestion the reader who is
at all technical will immediately see. The first epoch



6 PREFACE

would be what in the theatre we call "period." IV
would justifiably have all the color, picturesqueness
and the character quality of that early stir when the
country was getting ready for war and was em-
barked upon it.

The tragic element in Shanks' life was in the fact
that both his boy who died at Vicksburg and the
wife who died of grief following the son's death had
gone believing him to be a Copperhead and a traitor
to his country. To show this son at the time of life
when he was a boy of sixteen years and big
enough to join the Army made Shanks himself
thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old at the begin-
ning of the play. His surroundings were the simple
country scenes of primitive Illinois with which I was
somewhat familiar in recollection, and the atmos-
phere and events were also those that I remembered
with great vividness, the bitterness between the
neighbors on that border line of the two sections ;
the activity of the women helping the men with their
equipment at a time when there were no large
clothing manufactories, and when much of the cloth
that the men wore in their civil life was home-spun ;
when the women cut and sewed uniforms in their
volunteer societies ; the young boys molded minnie
balls, and made cartridges for the muzzle loading
rifles. There was Lincoln's call for volunteers and
the hurried response from all parts of the north,
and when the wounded began to come home there
were sanitary fairs, so called, at which money was
raised for hospital equipment both there and in the
field. All of this associated with the simple and
direct speech of the people of that time was in my
memory. When it came to characters I did not have
to go outside of my own household for those most
typical. The militant grandmother, a sacrificing,
patient mother, a father who had been to the Mexi-



PREFACE 7

can War and was qualified by experience for the
hurried organizations, the babies that had to be
looked after while the men were away, the house-
hold and the other duties present ; the uncertain news
from the front and the acrid criticism of the anxious
women who were uninformed but positive in their
opinions.

To hold the two sections of the play together it
was essential that those in early manhood in the
first period should reappear as aged and veteran in
the second half of the play. For the leading char-
acter and. some of his associates this would offer to
each what would be called an actor's opportunity,
and for the girl who would play the drudge mother
of the Civil War time there would be the double to
her own granddaughter in the period of 1900. Com-
ing as the demand for the story did just when
America was going into the great World War and
with the non-resistance and other reluctant elements
in America at that time, the parallel was so close
that the historic conditions of '61 seemed to be
almost repertorial accounts of 1917, and the fact that
the story was in terms of that earlier period gave it
a symbolic force that would have been lost by ap-
pearing partisan if written in modern terms. The
very timeliness of it, however, made the writing of
the two acts comparatively easy.

The whole purpose of the story being to show the
life-long martyrdom of the man, Shanks, it was of
course essential in devising incidents and issues for
the second part of the story that they should be
affected by the false attitude in which his silent sac-
rifice had placed him, and of course they would be
more effective if their consequences fell upon those
to whom he was attached in the younger generation.
Beginning in the third act what was practically a
new play with a large proportion of new questions.



8 PREFACE

the real task confronting a playwright was to hold
this second half up to the first part by the surviving
characters and their memories. The success in
meeting that problem was a question for the text
itself to determine. If we may rest upon the ver-
dict of the public and the effect of the play in the
skillful hand? that presented it one should feel
content. To give these characters and memories
something upon which they might impinge and func-
tion, I introduced the love of the young people,
Shanks' granddaughter and the young Congress-
man, the anxiety of the Congressman's mother to
get a fitting wife for him, and the little contest that
grew out of the application of the girl herself for
an engagement as local school teacher wherein she
was opposed by a less able girl but one of loyal
antecedents.

The big note in Mr. Landis' book had been old
Milt's recital of his interview with Abraham Lin-
coln at the White House. A narrative that is con-
vincing and permissible in a book is often difficult
to sustain and project in the theatre. As I was
struggling with this difficulty one night in my own
library I caught sight of the well-known life mask
of Lincoln, a plaster copy of which was hanging
over the fireplace. This particular copy had been
given to me by Mr. Douglas Volk, the eminent por-
trait painter. The original had been taken by his
father, Mr. Leonard Volk, the sculptor, immediately
after Lincoln's election in 1860 and before his inau-
guration. The painter had repeated to me his
father's story of getting the mask, told me how Lin-
coln sat in a kitchen chair while the soft plaster was
thrown on his face in order to make the mold and
told me also how a piece of wood was needed in
order to keep the right hand steady while the cast
of that was taken. Lincoln had got this by sawing



PREFACE 9

the end from Mrs. Lincoln's broom handle. Mr.
Volk gave me also a copy of this cast of the
hand with the broom handle in it. In the plaster
are the marks of the saw that Lincoln used.
As two of the characters of Mr. Landis' had
been neighbors of Lincoln there was stage license in
reporting them present at this kitchen interview with
the sculptor. To put that mask and the hand that
signed the proclamation of Emancipation into the
last act was very simple. When old Milt told his
story of his interview in the White House this re-
cital was incorporated ; the old mask was taken from
his own mantlepiece and put under the lamp. The
plaster hand was exhibited in contrast to his own.
"A bigger man," Milt says, "bigger man'n me every
way." The effect was startling. The spirit of the
martyred President seemed to be in the room.

The element of timeliness made it essential to
produce the play promptly, and in the summer of
1918, I went with Mr. Richard Bennett to California
where it was planned to try the piece in a stock
engagement which he had arranged. After a read-
ing of the play and two rehearsals, the managers of
the theatre thought it of so little value that it was
discarded notwithstanding the expense attached to
trans-continental travel and the like. In the fall,
however, Mr. John D. Williams, the manager, inter-
ested Lionel Barrymore in the project. Nothing
could equal the enthusiasm of that young actor over
a mere reading of the 'script. Something had re-
cently interested him in the life of John Moseby
and all of the border conflict that made the back-
ground of the first half of the play was more vivid
in his own mind than it was in mine. If I had been
a younger author I would have been spoiled by his
finding esoteric meanings in nearly every
line; and the task of giving the two characteriza-



io PREFACE

tions, that of the young Milt and a second of the
old man was one that appealed to him from every
point of view.

It is a characteristic of most authors to want an
elaborate preparation of their material. But Lionel
Barrymore's desire for that quite exceeded my own
demands and really taxed the patience of his asso-
ciates. The result, however, was one of the most
convincing performances that the American theatre
has ever had, and the consequence after he had fin-
ished the play was his equal triumph in an English
version of Bernstein's play, The Claw, carrying a
similar old man.

AUGUSTUS THOMAS.



THE COPPERHEAD

New York, February 18, 1918.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

(In the order of their appearance)

FIRST EPOCH

JOEY SHANKS Raymond Hackett

GRANDMA PERLEY Eugenie Woodward

MA SHANKS Doris Rankin

CAPTAIN HARDY Albert Phillips

MILT SHANKS Lionel Barrytnore

MRS. BATES Evelyn Archer

SUE PERLEY , Gladys Burgette

LEM TOLLARD Ethelbert Hales

NEWT GILLESPIE William C. Norton

ANDREWS , Harry Had field

SAM CARTER Chester Morris

ADDITIONAL CHARACTERS IN SECOND
EPOCH

MADELINE KING Doris Rankin

PHILIP MANNING Thomas Corrigan

MRS MANNING , Grace Reals

DR. RANDALL Hay den Stevenson



ii



SYNOPSIS

FIRST EPOCH 1861-63.

ACT I. The dooryard of Milton Shanks.

ACT II. The Same. Two years later
SECOND EPOCH Forty years later.

ACT III. The dooryard of Milton Shanks.

ACT IV. The living room.

Scene laid in southern Illinois.

CHARACTERS IN PART ONE
JOEY SHANKS ......................... Aged 16



GRANDMA PERLEY
MA (MRS. SHANKS)
CAPTAIN HARDY
MILT SHANKS .



MRS. BATES 30

SUE PERLEY ,

LEM TOLLARD

NEWT GILLESPIE

ANDREWS, a minister .



38

30
60
SAM CARTER , 24



76
34
36
36




o.

Q.

o

(J



-C

H



.C

co



The Copper Head



PART I
ACT I

SCENE : The dooryard on the Illinois farm of MIL-
TON SHANKS.

At the stage, right, is a porch raised six inches
from ground attached to the lean-to kitchen of
SHANKS' house, the roof of which disappears
to the right. Under the porch down stage is a
window with a door in second entrance. Behind
the porch a rail or other rough fence straggles
across stage. The back drop shows a half hilly
country with the wet stubbly earth of early
spring. Painted on the center of this drop is a
sycamore tree sufficiently distinctive to help
identify the same drop under July color and
vegetation in Act Two.

On the stage at the corner of the house up
right is a small lilac bush which shows three
years advance in Act Two, and is a good lilac
tree of forty odd years of age in the last two
acts. To the left of stage in second plane is
rough log curb to well fitted with bucket on a
long sweep with a fulcrum at the side of well
and tail of sweep running off to the left. Above
this well is a young apple tree, bare, to be in
foliage and fruit in Act Two, and to be a stal-



14 THE COPPERHEAD

wart, old, gnarly apple tree in the last two acts.
The wings at the left are bushes. The whole
dooryard is filled with a litter of neglected farm
material, such as grindstones, plow, bits of
harness, a broken wheel, the running gear of a
wagon, and the like.

DISCOVERED : JOEY, a boy of sixteen. He is dressed
like the son of a poor farmer of 1861. Joey is
molding minnie balls over a charcoal fire, using
one mold as a second one cools, and dropping
the finished product into a bucket. He is im-
patient and fretful.

After a mold or two, GRANDMA PERLEY en-
ters from the road. GRANDMA is seventy-six
a farmer's woman of the time. She smokes a
crock pipe with a reed stem.

GRANDMA. Is that you, Joey ?

JOEY. Yes'm.

GRANDMA. Where's your ma ?

JOEY. Sewing inside.

GRANDMA. You seem cross about sumpin*.

JOEY. I want to be drillin' and they detailed me
doin' this.

GRANDMA. Drillin' !

JOEY. Yes.

GRANDMA. "Detailed" ye. Have you volun-
teered ?

JOEY. You bet I've volunteered.

GRANDMA. (In approval) Well, then, you go
drill I'll do that for you.

JOEY. Maybe you wouldn't know how, Mrs. Per-
ley.

GRANDMA. Yes, I would.

JOEY. (Explaining) This is hot lead. A drop of



THE COPPERHEAD 15

it'll burn right thro' yer shoe before you kin kick
it off.

GRANDMA. I know.

JOEY. You pour it in these holes with this iron
spoon.

GRANDMA. Lord, boy, don't teach yer gran'-
mother how to suck aigs! I molded bullets fer
Andrew Jackson. Where's yer knife to trim 'em ?

JOEY. (With sample) But these ain't exactly
bullets. They're minnie balls. That ring around
'em is to fasten the paper cottridge onto. Here's
one with the cottridge on it.

GRANDMA. I know all about it. And the ring
holds mutton taller that turns into verdy grease
an* you can't volunteer unless ye got front teeth ter
tear the cottridge paper to let the powder out when
you ram the cottridge home.

JOEY. That's right, grandma.

GRANDMA. In 1812 every man had a powder-
horn. This idear of the powder fastened right on
the bullet is twice as quick.

JOEY. And the sharp nose on the bullet makes
'em go further.

GRANDMA. Let a Yankee alone for inventions.
Go on and drill, my boy.

JOEY. Thank you, grandma. (Enter MA. She is
a beautiful, dark-haired drudge, aged thirty-four.
She carries a coat.)

MA. Where you goin', Joey ?

JOEY. Ter drill.

MA. I want you.

JOEY. (Going) They ain't time, ma, now
honest they ain't. (Exits. He runs off behind the
house.)

GRANDMA. Let him alone, Mrs. Shanks. I told
him I'd spell him at these molds. It's wimmen's
work, anyhow, at war times.



16 THE COPPERHEAD

MA. You're spoilin' him.

GRANDMA. A boy 'at wants ter volunteer has a
right ter be spoiled some.

MA. (Hesitating) I wanted to match these but-
ton-holes but I 'spose I kin measure 'em from the
bottom.

GRANDMA. (Rising) Why, I'll try it on fur yer.

MA. Will that do it?

GRANDMA. Why not? Kain't tell from my
shoulders whether I'm wearin' breeches or not, kin
you? An* anyhow, I'm smokin' a pipe man fashion.
(They try on the coat.)

MA. I hate ter see a coat pucker when it's but-
toned.

GRANDMA. No need to have it pucker.

MA. (Kneeling) I'll jest put a pin at each place.
(Does so) Joey hed no right to unload that work
onto you.

GRANDMA. I molded bullets before they ever in-
vented a shot-tower. I was only twenty-five years
old at Fort Dearborn and we wimmen all molded
'em big and little. Jim Madison had let the Eng-


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryAugustus ThomasThe Copperhead : a drama in four acts → online text (page 1 of 6)