By Sarah Agnew
EXT: A SINGLE MALE VOICE SINGS IN FRENCH ‘CA IRA’ (IT WILL GO ON)
INT: MRS WILLIAMS SNORES
HELEN: (CLOSE) Oh God, what will become of us? Where have I led us? (BEAT) I feel sick. I feel so sick I cannot move. (BEAT) Oh God, Oh God please help us. Please God. Please God.
CECELIA: (LOW) Helena, are you awake? (BEAT) You must be, I cannot hear you breathing.
MRS WILLIAMS SNORTS, SILENCE AND THEN SNORES AGAIN
HELEN: (CLOSE) Yes, dear sweet Cecy I am awake but I can hardly breathe. Hidden by this darkness, I am afraid for us, deeply afraid. My eyes are stuck open, my head spins and the spectres grow large in my mind. Talking, talking, talking, the voice in my head keeps talking to me, and yet I cannot think. What can I say to you? How can I reassure you that we shall be released, when I do not know how it is possible? Over and over again I am standing in our apartment listening to the guards marching up our stairs.
THE CLOMPING OF BOOTS AS TWO GUARDS AND A COMMISSAR CLIMB A FLIGHT OF STAIRS. THE DOOR OPENS WITH A BANG
COMMISSAR: I am instructed to present you with this decree.
MRS WILLIAMS: We will be at any time with you in this regard.
GUARD 1: What did she say?
GUARD 2: I don’t know maybe she is from the Loire.
HELEN: Monsieur, we are ready to obey the law.
GUARD 1: Good, or I would introduce you to this. Aristocrat.
COMMISSAR: Imbecile. Get back.
(to the ladies) Madam and Mademoiselles do not alarm yourselves, this is merely a political measure, you have nothing to fear, if you are innocent.
COMMISSAR (to MRS WILLIAMS) Madame, we require your particulars, what is your name?
MRS WILLIAMS: Mrs Williams, I am of the family that is originally French and then I married a Welshman and I am Scottish. These are my daughters Helen and Cecelia, Helen was born (FADES INTO GUARD 2) in England but then we moved to Scotland.
GUARD 2: (LOW) Definitely the Loire, no?
HELEN: (CLOSE) And there we stood, we three with our linen bundles as they sealed up our possessions, our life. My books.
COMMISSAR: Your property has been seized for the nation.
HELEN: (CLOSE) Mother could not be understood, I struck dumb, so it was my dear sweet Cecy, always the practical one that asked the most sensible of questions.
CECELIA: Monsieur, where will you take us?
COMMISSAR: Mademoiselle, I take you as far as the committee room, I know nothing more.
CECELIA: Helena, dear.
COMMISSAR: Mademoiselle, may I offer you my arm?
HELEN: Thank you Monsieur, I am most grateful.
HELEN: (CLOSE) I could not think who could help us now and yet only a few months ago our friends were the most powerful people in the whole of France. Our former friends in London had abandoned us, the deafening silence of letters unanswered and the defamatory remarks about me in the London press had made us cut our cords with England forever. Who could save us?
EXT A HACKNEY COACH DRIVES THROUGH PARIS, THE STREETS ARE EMPTY
MRS WLLIAMS: (LOW) We should write to the Du Fosse’s and Monsieur Coquerel as soon as we are able. Helen did you bring a pen and paper? Cecy, you should write to Monsieur Coquerel.
MRS WILLIAMS: He will be here in a flash once he knows.
CECELIA: And then what?
MRS WILLIAMS: Well, then, he may be able to help.
CECELIA: How? He is a private gentleman. He has no influence. We cannot trouble him.
MRS WILLIAMS: Trouble him? We are in trouble. It is us that are troubled. Really Cecelia.
HELEN: (CLOSE) As we drove through Paris shrouded by the starless night, I knew the sights we were passing. Houses boarded up, red flags hanging from portals, secrecy and disguise. No longer were the streets gay and full of joy and hope. The city that had once celebrated the Festival of Federation together, when ladies alongside old soldiers scooped up dirt to show they too had helped build the amphitheatre at the Champs de Mars. How could this promise of equality, fraternity and freedom have led to this?
INT FRONT DOOR OPENS, INSIDE A COMMITTEE ROOM, CONTAINING TWENTY MEN SPEAKING IN LOW TONES, INTERMITTENT COUGHING
HELEN: (CLOSE) The room we were taken to was disgusting, it stank of filth and fear. It was full of men, staring. We were the only women. I tried to find faces I might recognise. Every face looked strange. But there was only one face I wanted to see, John’s. We still did not know where they had taken him, only that he had been arrested a few days ago. We had not been arrested with the others. That’s why we thought we might be safe. We had thought we had escaped the decree arresting all the English residing in France. We had hoped that we had.
OFFICIAL: They will go to the Madelonettes with the others.
COMMISSAR: Is there any room at the Luxembourg?
OFFICIAL: I am not sending any more there tonight.
COMMISSAR: I will take them to the Luxembourg myself.
OFFICIAL: You are creating more paperwork for me Citizen.
(to a guard) Start loading them into the carts, they are all going to the Madelonettes.
GUARDS: Get up
FIVE GUARDS START TO KICK THE PRISONERS, THEY START TO MOVE, A MAN THROWS UP, MEN LAUGH. PRISONERS LEAVING ROOM CONTINUOUS
MRS WILLIAMS: Cecy dear are you waking, I think we will be moving soon?
CECELIA: I was not sleeping. (BEAT) I am so cold.
HELEN: Take my shawl, I do not need it.
CECELIA: Helen, why are you not cold?
HELEN: I never feel the cold like you, you must take after our mother’s side.
CECELIA: You are as French as me.
MRS WILLIAMS: Hush a while I am trying to listen. What are they saying Helena?
HELEN: (LOW) I cannot hear any better than you, but the Commissar seems to be gesturing for us to hold back.
THE LAST OF THE PRISONERS LEAVES THE ROOM.
THERE IS SILENCE. A GUARD COMES RUSHING BACK
GUARD: The carts are full. Those women will have to wait until tomorrow.
OFFICIAL: I want this room cleared.
(BEAT) Very well, take them to the Luxembourg. They can sort out the paperwork.
HELEN: (CLOSE) Amid the horrors of our arrest this Commissar had chosen to show us his humanity. We were too cold, too tired, too unsure of where we would be taken to show our gratitude with our usual warmth, but we felt it. The Commissar took us to the Luxembourg Palace, now refashioned into a prison to accommodate the growing number of prisoners. We had arrived trembling and were greeted by Benoit the prison keeper who showed us such sympathy that it gave us courage as we entered our new residence. Too exhausted for words, we each lay down on our mattresses. As I lay down my body ached from tension and I yearned for sleep and yet the horrors of the past entered my mind to disquieten me, once again I heard the sound of the tocsin.
INT. PARIS. HELEN’S BEDROOM Tocsin sounds. HELEN wakes with a start. There is shouting outside Helen rushes downstairs where Mrs Williams and Cecilia are closing shutters.
HELEN What is going on?
MRS WILLIAMS We are closing the shutters.
HELEN I can see that, but have you seen the streams of people heading towards the Tuileries, what do you think they will do?