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Starbottle for the Plaintiff

an opera in three scenes

Music and libretto by Lyle Neff

Based on a story by Bret Harte (1836-1902)

Date of composition: 1980-1881

First production: May 1981

Fourth Draft

COPYRIGHT (c) 1981, 1995, 2002 BY LYLE NEFF



  COLONEL STARBOTTLE, a seasoned Georgia lawyer . . . . . .tenor

  WIDOW [Georgia May Calhoun] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .mezzo-soprano

  LAURA LEE, her daughter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .soprano

  JEREMIAH K. HOTCHKISS, a deacon, and owner of a ditch
  company, originally from Connecticut. . . . . . . . . . .baritone

  JIM, the Colonel's ex-slave and present bodyservant . . .bass-baritone

  JUDGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .bass

  DEFENSE ATTORNEY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .baritone

  BAILIFF. . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .tenor

  HIRAM, Laura Lee's secret fiance. . . . . . . . . . . . .non-singing role


     CHORUS I, the non-churchgoers [including 3 soloists]

     CHORUS II, the churchgoers

     JURY, at first silent, later joining with CHORUS


  SETTING: a small town in Georgia, 1885.

     SCENE ONE: Colonel Starbottle's law office.

     SCENE TWO: The Widow's farmhouse, the next day.

     SCENE THREE: The courtroom, three weeks later.



  The libretto follows essentially the sequence of events in Bret
  Harte's short story, "Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff." The
  major changes that have been made include the following: (1)
  resetting the events in Georgia rather than in California, (2) the
  addition of a subplot involving a love-interest of the Widow and
  the Colonel, and (3) and expansion of Jim's and Hiram's

  Setting: a small town in Georgia, 1885.


  SCENE 1. Colonel Starbottle, a seasoned Georgia lawyer, returns
  to his law office with his bodyservant Jim and the Judge.
  Starbottle received a mysterious note after the case he just won,
  and so he has returned to his office from court to investigate.
  They discover that the Widow Calhoun, who is also in the office,
  wrote the note.

  Once Starbottle and the Widow are alone, she tells him that she
  wants him to take on a breach-of-promise suit for her daughter,
  Laura Lee. In order to supply more details of the case, the Widow
  brings in Laura Lee, who appears very innocent and immediately
  captures Starbottle's interest. Laura Lee tells him that the man
  who promised marriage to her is none other than Jeremiah K.
  Hotchkiss, a deacon at the church and the client for whom the
  Colonel just won a case. In her narration she relates how the deacon
  used secret means to promise marriage, such as underlining words
  in hymnals and passing love candies in communion plates. Now
  Laura Lee wants him to pay damages. Through her charm and
  innocence she gets Starbottle to agree to take the case.

  After Laura Lee leaves, the Colonel sends Jim to call Hotchkiss
  over to his office to see him. Jim notices the untidiness of the
  office and tells the Colonel that Starbottle ought to marry
  someone -- the Widow, for example. But Starbottle is not paying

  Alone, the Colonel talks to himself about Laura Lee. In his
  monologue he reveals how she has charmed him; then he asks
  himself how he let himself agree to take the case. He remembers a
  breach-of-promise suit that he lost once before. But his thoughts
  return to Laura Lee, and he awaits his next meeting with her the
  next day to discuss the case further.

  Hotchkiss the deacon walks in with his self-righteous air,
  demanding the reason for the Colonel's request to see him.
  Starbottle tactfully but not too clearly reveals Laura Lee's
  intentions; and when Hotchkiss finds out that Starbottle is
  taking her case, the deacon storms out in a rage, shouting that
  he wouldn't care if he were called as the first witness: "I have
  nothing to hide!"

  SCENE 2. The next day at the Calhoun farmhouse, the Widow is
  taking down the clothes. She sings about her first meeting with
  the Colonel the day before. He reminds her of her late husband
  and of the old days of the South. She wonders if he is
  interested in her.

  While she continues taking in the laundry, Hiram, Laura Lee's
  secret boy-friend, sneaks in under Laura Lee's window. When he
  quotes Shakespeare in a Southern drawl, Laura Lee tells him to be
  quiet so that her mother will not hear of their plan. After Hiram
  exits, Laura Lee innocently asks her mother to tell the Colonel
  when he comes to wait for her. The Widow sees this as her chance
  to impress Starbottle.

  Starbottle enters in a very cheerful mood, and, of course, with
  full courtesy. The Widow offers him a cup of cider, and, rather
  than openly confessing her feelings to him, she vaguely tries to
  suggest to him the advantages of an older woman by discussing the
  production of cider from apple juice. Of course, the Colonel does
  not understand her. Suddenly, Laura Lee appears in all her
  innocent splendor. The Widow goes into the house somewhat

  Starbottle asks Laura Lee about the breaking-off of the
  engagement with Hotchkiss. She replies that the deacon "jist
  quit." She then flatters the Colonel while trying to make a
  jealous Hiram stay out of Starbottle's sight. After Starbottle
  leaves, Laura Lee grabs Hiram by the ear, shouts threats at him,
  and takes him behind the house.

  SCENE 3. In the courtroom three weeks later the spectators are
  discussing the rumors about the case. The non-churchgoers claim
  Hotchkiss is guilty, while the churchgoers support his innocence.
  A fight ensues, which is suddenly interrupted by the entrance of
  the Judge and Jury. The Judge calls for opening statements.

  Starbottle speaks first. With much patriotism and legal fervor
  [not to mention borderline digression] he tells the story of his
  poor unprotected client and of the justice due her. The defense
  counsel then gives a weak speech in favor of Hotchkiss.

  When Starbottle is asked to present his first witness, he calls
  the deacon. The defense objects, but Starbottle points out that
  Hotchkiss offered to be the first witness in his law office. In
  order to live up to his word, Hotchkiss agrees to take the stand.

  Little by little Starbottle breaks Hotchkiss down. He questions
  the deacon about the hymnal, the love candy, and finally the
  secret mating calls made outside Laura Lee's window. Hotchkiss
  becomes so embarrassed by the snickering of the crowd that he
  runs out of the courtroom. The Colonel rests his case, and the
  defense attorney agrees to a settlement, protesting his client's
  innocence. The jubilant crowd congratulates Starbottle and
  invites him to the inn to celebrate. Just then Laura Lee brings
  in Hiram, and explains to Starbottle that she suckered Hotchkiss
  into the mess so that she and Hiram could marry and buy a farm.
  Starbottle, broken-hearted by this revelation, painfully retains
  his courtesy. He declines the invitation to celebrate and asks
  Jim for some whiskey. At this crucial moment the Widow offers the
  Colonel to make up for whatever hurt her daughter has caused him.
  Remembering Jim's words about the Widow and the Widow's wise
  advice about cider, he agrees to go with her as the crowd again
  congratulates him.



  The Colonel's office. A desk stage left, a door to the street
  rear center. There is also a door to a back room stage right. The
  office is in dire need of cleaning up.

  [The WIDOW, Georgia May Calhoun, is seated stage right, somewhat
  hidden from view in the faint light. Enter Colonel STARBOTTLE,
  JUDGE, and JIM, the latter carrying the Colonel's legal papers.
  They are jubilant over the case that the Colonel just won.]

  You have done it again, Colonel Starbottle.
  I must congratulate you on your abilities as a sympathetic pleader.

  I thank you humbly, Judge.

  That jury done laughed and cried with your speeches.
  they couldn't 'a' done nuthin' but give you their verdict.

  Thank you, Jim.

  I really don't see what the stars and bars,
  Jefferson Davis, and states' rights
  have to do with the contest of a ditch company
  versus the state of Georgia,
  but you sure convinced that jury to your side,
  and myself as well.

  But, massah Kernel,
  how comes you didn't go down to the Peach Blossom Inn
  to celebrate like you always done?

  I received a mysterious note at the conclusion of my speech.
  [shows the letter]
  It was an anonymous letter in a feminine hand,
  requesting to see me in my office.

  [directing to WIDOW]
  That must be the fine lady sitting there.

  [to WIDOW]
  A thousand pardons
  for having kept a lady waiting! Ahem --
  but congratulations of friends and courtesy due them
  interfered with the pleasure of --

  Yes, I was in court.
  When I heerd you gettin' off on that jury,
  I says to myself,
  "That man's flowery and convincin';
  jist the man to take up our case."

  Won't you sit down, kind madam?

  I'll settle the business of the last case with you later, Colonel.
  Good-day, madam.
  [Exit JUDGE out the street door.]

  [to JIM]
  Jim, please file those papers in the back room.
  [Exit JIM through the door stage right.]
  I'm Colonel Starbottle, of the law firm of Starbottle and Stryker.

  Missus Georgia May Calhoun -- widow, that is.

  My condolences. How long ago did Mr. Calhoun pass away?

  I've been unattached for ten long years.
  Is your partner Mr. Stryker in town?

  He passed on several years ago.
  May I ask the nature of your case?

  It's a breach-o'-promise suit -- for damages.

  My dear madam! I could hardly conceive a man
  base enough to deceive the trust of a woman like you.

  It ain't me, but my darter.

  Oh, -- ahem -- your daughter?

  Yes, her name is Laura Lee.
  So you might spare some pretty speeches
  for her before the jury.

  But -- ahem -- my dear lady,
  Cannot this affair be settled out of court?
  I myself would undertake necessary arrangements --

  No! She wants him to pay -- damages,
  and nothin' short o' that.

  Of course, there is strong evidence?
  Perhaps you can give me -- ahem --
  a brief outline of the affair?

  Laura Lee kin do that, I reckon.
  What I want to know is,
  Kin you take the case?

  I certainly can,
  if your daughter will put me into possession
  of sufficient facts to constitute a brief.

  She kin be brief enough,
  or long enough, for that matter.

  When may I have the pleasure of seeing her?

  I'll jist call her outside.
  She's kinda shy, ye know.
  [goes to the street door, opens it, and calls out]
  You-oo! Laura Lee! Laura Lee!
  By the way, Colonel, are you married?

  Madam, I have been a contented bachelor all my life.

  Well, you should know
  that there are eligible belles in town
  who'd gladly take you down the aisle.
  [She smiles at him. Enter LAURA LEE, demure and innocent-looking.
  She is in plain dress and carries a closed parasol, keeping her
  eyes looking down at the floor.]
  Now you jist tell him, Laura Lee.
I'll be outside waiting.
[Exit WIDOW]

[getting up and seating LAURA LEE]
Miss Calhoun, please be seated.
Now, could you tell me the facts of your suit?

[in a monotone at first]
Jeremiah K. Hotchkiss first began to take notice of me a year ago...

One moment --
do you mean Hotchkiss the president of the ditch company?
He's a deacon at the church.

That's him.

Is it this gentleman who promised marriage?

Yes, sir.

Can you tell me the circumstances?

Jeremiah K. Hotchkiss first began to take notice of me a year ago,
and off and on ever since.
Most of the time at the Free-Will Community Church,
at morning service, prayer meeting, and such,
and at home, outside in the road.

Do you have any concrete evidence of his promises,
such as letters, trinkets, etcetera?

No, sir, I ain't got no letters or nothin'.

Most extraordinary.
For you see, my dear young lady,
this becomes a most delicate affair.
This gentleman is, in fact -- ahem -- one of my clients.
He is also a Yankee in town.
And the lack of any written evidence will make this almost impossible.
[LAURA LEE finally looks up and puts a hand on STARBOTTLE's hand.
He is captivated.]
I beg your pardon -- I mean,
this matter may be arranged -- ahem -- quite amicably.
Now, could you tell me how he formulated his declaration and promises?

[looking down again]

I beg your pardon -- hymn-books?

He marked words in the hymn-books and passed 'em on to me.
Words like "love," "dear," "precious," "sweet," and "blessed."
Sometimes a whole line out of Solomon's Song.
He marked lines and words out of the Marriage Service
in the prayer-book.
Once in passing the communion plate,
he slipped one o' them peppermint lozenges
with the letters stamped on it,
"I love you."

And you have the lozenge?

I ate it.

Did he meet you elsewhere?

He uster pass our house by the road and signal.
He'd say, "Keerow, keerow!"
And I'd say, "Keeree, keeree!"
Suthin' like a bird, you know.
And after the signal he'd pass on.
He was not what you'd call fond.

Were there any witnesses cognizant of this?

Of course not.

I will have to research the matter
and confront Mr. Hotchkiss with these allegations
and then consult you again.

[seemngly anxious]

In a day or two.

Well, then, why don't you come to the farm tomorrow for tea or --
something a little more substantial?
And we can discuss the case some more.

I thank you, dear lady,
I shall see you then.
Let me see you out.
[He opens the door for her, bows, and sweeps the doorway with his arm.]

Why, Colonel Starbottle, aren't you the suthern gentleman!
[Exit LAURA LEE. STARBOTTLE shuts door after her and stands in

She wants me to call on her.
I believe that girl has taken a liking to me,
and we only just met.
[to JIM in the other room]
Jim! Would you come in here?
[Enter JIM through the side door]

Could you go across the street to the New Haven Ditch Company
and bring Mr. Hotchkiss over for some business?

Sho' will, massah Kernel.
But who was that lady who was here
when we got back fro' the court?
She was a might pretty woman for her age.


She gave you that note there.

Oh, yes, that was Widow Calhoun.
She certainly has a pretty daughter.

You know,
since yer partner massah Stryker died,
yer office has been a mess.
Kernel, you needs a woman --
like that widow --
to marry and take care o' you.
Is you lis'nin'?
I could see she's got an eye for you.
[STARBOTTLE not paying attention.]
Oh, well.
[Exit JIM out the street door.]

She wants me to call on her tomorrow!
I believe she fancies me!
And she has struck a spark in my heart, too.
Her shy eyes, her dainty hands,
and her youthful innocence are so charming,
so charming that -- that how did I agree to take this case?
It's practically impossible! She has no evidence!
I remember a long time ago having to take on
a breach-of-promise suit once.
The love letters that were read in court were so embarrassing
and provoked such laughter that I lost the casel
And now this time the defendant is my latest client!
It's practically impossible --
But I can't refuse those eyes, those innocent eyes.
I'll see her again tomorrow.
[STARBOTTLE consults his watch. The door opens to HOTCHKISS, who
enters with an obviously self-righteous air. He is clean-cut and
carries a hat in his hand.]
Won't you come in, Mr. Hotchkiss?
[STARBOTTLE places a chair, takes HOTCHKISS' hat, then returns to
his desk and brings out two glasses and a bottle of whiskey from
a desk drawer.]
Ahem -- a slight refreshment, Mr. Hotchkiss?

I never drink whiskey.

No? Pardon me.
A cigar then - the mildest Havana?
[takes out a cigar]

I do not use tobacco nor alcohol in any form.
I have no foolish weaknesses.
I got a message just now to see you.
I suppose in reference to our case?
[STARBOTTLE fills a glass with whiskey and water, tosses it down,
then after a moment's thought, takes a snort directly from the

Mr. Hotchkiss, the interview that I requested
concerns a certain subject -- ahem --
of some delicacy.
It concerns -- ahem --
a lovely young lady of one of the first families in Georgia.
This young lady enjoys the further distinction
of being the object of such attention from you
as to make this interview -- ahem --
really a confidential matter.

What's all this about?

I believe I've made myself sufficiently clear
as between -- ahem -- gentlemen,
though perhaps not as clear as I should to a jury.
The lady I refer to is Miss Laura Lee Calhoun,
only daughter of Widow Calhoun.

I have not exchanged half a dozen words with the person you name,
have never written her a line,
nor even called at her house.

As to your statement of your relations with Miss Calhoun,
I may state that it is fully corroborated by the statement
of the young lady in this very office today.

Then what does all this impertinent nonsense mean?
Why am I summoned here?

Because Miss Calhoun's statement is infamously -- yes,
damnably to your discredit, sir!
[HOTCHKISS, furious by now grabs the Colonel's stick on the desk,
which STARBOTTLE grasps by the other end. It separates into a
knife and handle. HOTCHKISS, left with the useless handle, falls
back into his chair.]
Mr. Hotchkiss!
I owe you a thousand pardons that -- ahem --
a weapon should be drawn by me,
even through your own inadvertence,
under the sacred protection of my roof.
Nor does this apology prevent you
from holding me personally responsible elsewhere
for any indiscretion committed in behalf of my -- ahem --
lady client.

Your client?!
Do you mean you have taken her case?
You, the counsel for my company?

My loyalty to your company does not prevent me
from espousing the cause of the weak and unprotected.
[HOTCHKISS storms to the door and opens it just as JIM appears in
the doorway.]

We shall see, sir!
There are lawyers who will be ready to resist the attacks of blackmail!
And I don't care if you call me as you first witness!
I have nothing to hide!
[In his self-righteous manner HOTCHKISS exits, slamming the door
behind him. JIM, puzzled, points to the door. STARBOTTLE shrugs
his shoulders and douses some more whiskey from the bottle.

SCENE TWO The Widow's farmhouse, exterior. It is situated diagonally, stage left. The second story has a window facing the audience, but out of view of the rest of the stage. There is a clothes line with drying clothes stage right. [WIDOW comes out of the front door of the house and takes down the dried clothes. She then sits down on the steps of the porch with her dulcimer and plays while singing.] WIDOW It's been ten long and lonely years Since my dear husband died; Back then to fall in love again I never even tried. For ten years in this house I've lived And had to carry on, But now I think that I have been Without a man too long. When I saw the Colonel give his speech In court a day ago, I knew that after all this time He was to be my beau. His gentle Southern courtesy, His every polished phrase, His love for the forgotten South Remind me of old days. If ever there could be a man To take my husband's place, The Colonel is the only one To match his style and grace. But can I tell him how I feel? And does he notice me? I wonder, oh, I wonder if My life with him could be? [WIDOW returns to the clothes and folds them out of hearing of the next dialogue. HIRAM creeps in stage left, dressed in a ridiculous mixture of sixteenth century ruffles and Southern overalls. He approaches the second story window. Reading from a book, he quotes Shakespeare in a heavy Southern drawl.] HIRAM "But sawft - What lite throo yonder winder breaks? It IZ the East and Jooliet iz the sun -- " LAURA LEE [still dressing, putting her head out of the upper window] Hiram! You be quiet or Maw will hear you! And my name's not Jooliet! HIRLM But I jist larned sum poertry fir yer ears, Laura Lee. And anyway it says in this here book that I'ze gotta get dressed up in these sissy-lookin' clo'es, and come to yer balCOney, whatever that iz, and say these pritty thangs. Like this: "It iz my lady, Ooooooooo it iz my LUV. Ooooooooooo that she knew she were ~ " LAURA LEE Be quiet! You hear? Shhhhh! Now go, before maw finds out about you and me and our plan! Colonel Starbottle's comin' any minute! So, shew! Before I take a switch to ye! HIRAM [frightened, exiting stage left] "Parting iz sich sweeeeeeet sorrer, that I shall say 'good-nite' till it be morrer." [Exit HIRAM] LAURA LEE [innocently, to WIDOW opposite] Maw, I see the Colonel down the road. Will you tell him I'll be down as soon as I get dressed? We're goin' to discuss the case some more. WIDOW Yes, darter. [LAURA LEE goes back inside from the window sill.] This is my chance to impress the Colonel while we're alone. [WIDOW tidies herself. STARBOTTLE enters stage right.] STARBOTTLE [obviously in good spirits] Good-day, Widow Calhoun. Is your lovely daughter at home? I've come to call -- ahem -- on business. WIDOW Why yes, Colonel, she will be down soon. Meanwhile, would you like something to drink? STARBOTTLE Yes, thank you. Some liquid refreshment would be delightful. [WIDOW pours cider from a jug on the porch. She hands him the cider and both of them sit on a bench center-stage.] WIDOW Here is some cider. So Colonel, you said you don't have a wife? STARBOTTLE No, madam. WIDOW A man like you ought to be married. STARBOTTLE I have never had to think of such a necessity. [thinks it over] But very recently I have been -- ahem -- enamored of a certain young female. WIDOW Oh? Is that true now? A younger belle, you say? Have you ever thought about the advantages of maturity? [STARBOTTLE seems puzzled. WIDOW takes the cider in her hand.] This cider a short time ago Was jist plain apple juice. It tased sweet and sugary But had no stronger use. In time the apple juice matured And now tastes different: The aging brought a mellowness, A more appealing scent. STARBOTTLE I'm afraid I do not understand your meaning. WIDOW Let me see...what I meant was -- [Before she can finish, LAURA LEE appears in the doorway in all her innocent splendor, now dressed in full regalia, still with a parasol.] STARBOTTLE [stunned, interrupting the WIDOW] Miss Calhoun! A pleasure to see you again! LAURA LEE [so innocently] Thank you, Colonel Starbottle. WIDOW [somewhat let down] Well, I know you two have to discuss your case. [to STARBOTTLE] I sure hope you can help Laura Lee. [Exit WIDOW into the house with laundry. STARBOTTLE bows and holds the door for her.] STARBOTTLE [to LAURA LEE] I have had -- ahem -- an interview with Mister Hotchkiss, but I regret to say there seems to be no prospect of -- ahem -- compromise. LAURA LEE [excited, leading him to the bench] Was he mad when you told him? [They sit on the bench.] STARBOTTLE He expressed his intention of employing counsel and defending a suit. LAURA LEE [moving near to him] Then you'll fight him, tooth and nail? You'll give him fits? And you'll make him pay? [HIRAM appears behind a tree stage right, out of the Colonel's sight, but in Laura Lee's view. LAURA LEE frantically but secretly signals HIRAM to stay hidden during the ensuing dialogue.] COLONEL I -- ahem -- I'll certainly do my best. [LAURA LEE kisses STARBOTTLE'S hand.] LAURA LEE Your best will shorely be enough! You'll do it! Lordy! Jist you talk for me like you did fer his old ditch company, and you'll fetch it, every time! Why, when you made that jury sit up yesterday, I could 'a' jist run over and kissed you right there, before the whole court! [LAURA LEE and STARBOTTLE laugh. LAURA LEE gives HIRAM a threatening look and fist, so HIRAM finally hides, for now.] STARBOTTLE I must ask you -- ahem -- to direct your memory to another point. The breaking-off of the engagement -- did he give any reason for it, or show any cause? LAURA LEE No. He jist quit. STARBOTTLE And naturally you were not conscious of any reason for his doing so? [LAURA LEE raises her eyes and smiles in reply.] I see -- none, of course! We shall begin proceedings at once. I must, however, caution you to say nothing about this case to anyone until you are in court. [LAURA LEE nods. STARBOTTLE is in rapture.] Good-day, Miss Calhoun. I hope to call on you again soon -- ahem -- about this business. [Exit STARBOTTLE stage right. HIRAM in nick of time hides from STARBOTTLE as he leaves. LAURA LEE grabs HIRAM by the ear and pulls him out of the bushes.] LAURA LEE You darned idiot! You almost ruined everythin'! HIRAM [in pain] "She speaks. Ooooooooooooooo speeeeeeeeeeeeak agin bright angel, for thow art as glorious -- " LAURA LEE Oh, shut up. You come with me so maw don't see us. [LAURA LEE takes HIRAM behind the house in a suggestive manner. Curtain.] SCENE THREE The courtroom, minutes before the trial, three weeks later. The Judge's Bench is on one side of the stage, with a door to the chambers. The public door is opposite, and the jury box is near the Bench on the back wall. And aisle runs between the rows of seats and ends with a gate behind the lawyers' tables. The witness stand is on the audience side of the Bench. [CHORUS I, the Non-Churchgoers, are seated or standing in various positions around the room. Some spectators are peeking through the open windows.] CHORUS I Have you heard? Have you heard about the case? Have you heard the rumors? Have you heard the news? Laura Lee Calhoun is suing Hotchkiss for breach-o'-promise! Damages! Five thousand dollars! The Colonel doesn't say nuthin', and the other side claims it's a lie. Damages! Five thousand dollars! Do you think, do you think the girl is right? Do you think he's guilty? [Enter CHORUS II, the Churchgoers, rather indignantly, from the public door.] CHORUS II Hotchkiss is a deacon at the Free-Will Church. He could not possibly have done such a thing! How dare you think he is guilty! He's a fair and honest man! A TENOR from CHORUS I I'll say he's honest! Why, I heerd tell that yer deacon Hotchkiss makes regular visits to the old barn down the road. He comes back with a big wad o' Greenbacks and says he was takin' a collection! CHORUS II [protesting] He's a sober, decent man! A SOPRANO from CHORUS I I'll say he's sober! Last week at the prayer meetin' he couldn't hardly stand up straight! And when he shook yo' hand and said "Good evenin', friend," his breath would jist make you faint! CHORUS II You should watch what you say! He's a fine religious man! A BASS from CHORUS I Well, once I saw him late at night, sneekin' away from choir practice. I reckon deacon Hotchkiss didn't rope in the gals jist fer psalm singin'! And then fer him to try and sneak out of it -- I suppose that's what YOU call religious! [CHORUS I snickers] CHORUS II You watch what you're saying! It's not true! CHORUS I Now we know! Now we know! Now we know! [individually, ad lib.] / I knew it! | That deacon's gonna get it! | What a bunch o' hypocrites! | Takin' advantage of a poor farm girl! | | CHORUS II [as a group, repeating ad lib.] | You can't prove the things you say! | He's a deacon at the church! \ We believe he's innocent! [During this confusion, the COLONEL, LAURA LEE, and JIM, carrying books, enter through the public door, followed by HOTCHKISS and his DEFENCE ATTORNEY. They all take their places at the tables. All of a sudden the choral fight is interrupted by the entrance of the BAILIFF.] BAILIFF SILENCE! ! ! ! All rise. [The people rise.] The case of Calhoun versus Hotchkiss. The Honorable Judge Bullock presiding. [JUDGE and JURY enter, and take their places.] JUDGE [pounding his gavel] I declare this court to be in session on the twelfth day of May, eighteen eighty-five. [All sit.] Does the counsel for the plaintiff care to make an opening statement? And try to stick to the subject, Colonel. STARBOTTLE [rising] Thank you, Judge. Members of the Jury, only a few weeks ago, I stood here as an advocate of a powerful company. I spoke then as the champion of strict justice against legal oppression; no less should I today champion the cause of the weak and defenseless -- save for that paramount power that surrounds beauty and innocence -- [he points a tender finger at LAURA LEE. LAURA LEE shys away innocently] even though the plaintiff of yesterday is the defendant of today. As I approached this building moments ago, my heart was lifted by the thought of our great republic of Georgia, for which we fought so proudly twenty years ago in the lost cause. Here in this great land of Dixie a jury such as this can be made of the simple citizen taken from the plough as well as the afluent banker who works behind the counter. It is this equality of the rich and the poor,
the strong and the weak,
which behooves me to defend this young lady
against an opponent of greater stature.
I intend to reveal how the defendant
led this innocent young girl
into a false security of a promise of matrimony.

I intend to show cause for compensation for the damages
to her emotional and mental well-being.
My client, the only daughter of a widowed mother,
stands today invested only in her innocence.
I must insist that this is no ordinary breach-of-promise suit.
There are no love-letters, secret caresses, stolen kisses,
or other endearments as one would expect.
But there was, I sorry to say, a new sacreligious intrusion:
the weak pipings of Cupid were mingled with the chorus of the saints;
the sanctity of the temple known as the meeting house was desecrated
by proceedings more in keeping with the shrine of Venus;
and the inspired writings themselves were used as the medium
of amatory and wanton flirtation by the defendant
in his sacred capacity as deacon.
This defendant, whose position as deacon and well-honored businessman
would normally lead one to expect gentlemanly and Christian behavior
above reproach,
has willfully deceived this poor girl
and done her such pain and anguish as to earn nothing less
than the condemnation of this court!
I thank you, your Honor.
[He sits.]

Rather windy, Colonel.
Does the defense with to respond?

Yes, your Honor.
Members of the jury,
I must respectfully deny my esteemed colleague's allegations
on three grounds.
First, my client is a deacon of a local church.
Whether one is a church-goer or not,
it is imperative that this be taken into account.
[some hisses from the CHORUS I]
Second, my client is an honored businessman
who has never engaged in shady dealings.
Third, the charges against my client
can be nothing but abusive and malicious lies,
no doubt confabulated by some unscrupulous person or persons,
whose sole intention is to rob this poor man unjustly,
using the court of justice as a battleground.
I am completely convinced of the innocence
of my client in these matters.
[He sits.]

Does the plaintiff wish to call any witnesses?

Your Honor,
I distinctly remember the defendant offering to be the first witness
when I first confronted him with the allegations
in my office three weeks ago.

I object!
The defendant does not have to testify against himself.

Did you have any witnesses to this, Colonel?

My assistant Jim witnessed the offer.

I don't doubt your word, Colonel,
but Mr. Hotchkiss does not have to take the stand.
Do you wish to testify, Mr. Hotchkiss?

I have nothing to hide, your Honor.
The charges are false.
[He takes the stand, even though the DEFENSE ATTORNEY tries to stop him.]

[with a Bible under HOTCHKISS' hand]
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

I do.

[approaching HOTCHKISS]
Mr. Hotchkiss, do you know the plaintiff?

I know her only in my capacity as deacon.

When did you meet her in your "capacity as deacon"?

I saw her, as well as other church members,
on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and evenings -- in worship.

[to Jim]
Jim, will you distribute the books to the jury?
[As Jim does so, the DEFENSE ATTORNEY objects.]

I want to direct the attention of the court
to this unprecedented tampering with the jury,
by the gratuitous exhibition of matter impertinent
and irrelevant to the issue!

Well, Colonel Starbottle?

May it please the court.
These books have all relevance to this case.
When I say that these books in question are hymn-books
and copies of the Holy Scriptures
for the instruction of the jury,
I believe I am within my rights.

The act is certainly unprecented,
but unless the counsel for the plaintiff
expects the jury to sing from these hymn-books,
I cannot admit the objection.

Mr. Hotchkiss, do you recognize these books?

Those are the sacred scriptures and hymn-books we use in church.

For the last twelve months
did you conduct and amatory correspondance with the plaintiff
by means of underlined words of Sacred Writ and church psalmody?

I don't know what you mean.

[flipping through a book]
But did you not mark here in red the words,
"softly and tenderly,"
and here the line,
"thee will I cherish, thee will I honor,"
and also,
"love divine all loves excelling"?

[beginning to break down from this point]
You can't prove that I underlined those!

Well, what of this:
"oh, love that will not let me go,"
"I need thee, oh, I need thee, ev'ry hour I need thee"?
And may I ask the jury, what does this imply:
"I love thee, I love thee and that thou dost know.
But how much I love thee, my actions will show"?

[to JUDGE]
I deny it!
[SPECTATORS snicker.]

But Mr. Hotchkiss,
did you have the audacity to refer to the plaintiff
by marking these phrases in the Sacred Writ?
I quote from the Song of Solomon, chapter four,
verses two through five:
"Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep...
thy lips are like a thread of scarlet...
thy neck is like the tower of David...
Thy two" -- ahem -- "breasts are like two young roes
that are twins..."

It's a lie, it's a lie I tell you!

[pounding gavel]
Order! Order in this court!

Mr. Hotchkiss,
are you familiar with a certain not unimportant feature
of religious exercise known as "taking communion"?

Yes, I am.

And did you on such an occasion once approach the plaintiff
and slip a love token upon the plate and push it towards her?

What love token?

It was a lozenge,
concocted I believe of peppermint and sugar,
and bore on its surface the simple words,
"I love you."

I have no idea what you're talking about!
[SPECTATORS laugh again.]

Order! I say order in this court!
[all quiet]
If there be any more disturbances,
I will have to clear this court.
You may proceed, Colonel Starbottle.

Sir, would you agree that among lower animals
there are certain signals,
more or less harmonious, as the case may be?
The sheep bleats, the horse neighs,
[eyeing HOTCHKISS]
and the ass, the ass brays?

Y-yes, I s-suppose so.

Do you recall any incident of approaching the farmhouse
of the plaintiff's widowed mother?

Y-yes, once or twice --
in my capacity as deacon.

And on that lonely moonlit road beside the widow's humble cottage,
did you in your "capacity as deacon" come upon the innocent girl,
looking out the window sill?

W-well, she happened to be there.

And, true to the instruction she received from you,
her lips parted in the musical utterance:
"Keeree, keeree!"
Followed by your impassioned reply:
"Keerow, keerow!"

Keeree! Keerow!
Keeree! Keerow!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Order! Order! I say order!
Order in this court!
[HOTCHKISS, embarrassed beyond control, flees the witness stand.
His DEFENSE ATTORNEY tries to stop him, but HOTCHKISS whispers
something to him and runs out the door as the crowd laughs. When
the door slams, the noise dies down.]

We rest here, you Honor.
[He sits.]

For some unexplained reason, your Honor,
my client desires to suspend further proceedings
with a view to effect a peaceable compromise with the plaintiff
of four thousand dollars.
I am still convinced of his legal innocence,
but I can only ask your Honor's permission
to suspend the case until I can confer
with the counsel for the plaintiff.

I approve of the defendant's course
and strongly urge the plaintiff to accept it.

[after whispering to LAURA LEE]
I yield, your Honor,
to the wishes of my client and -- ahem --

Then I declare this case closed and court adjourned.
Congratulations again, Colonel.

All rise.
[All rise. JUDGE goes out. JURY comes down to join the CHORUS.]

You've done it again, Colonel Starbottle!
You've done it, you've done it again!
[LAURA LEE approaches COLONEL with HIRAM at her side.]

[no longer innocent]
I reckon I'd bring Hiram 'round with me,
though he was awful shy.
Now, you jest get up, Hiram,
and give the Colonel a good handshake.
For if it wasn't for him and his searchin' ways
and his awful power of language,
I wouldn't hev got that four thousand dollars
from that flirty fool Hotchkiss...
[she laughs]
Now there's enough money to buy a farm,
So's you and me could get married.
That's what you owe to him.

[stunned by this revelation, but nevertheless managing to retain
his southern courtesy by shaking HIRAM's hand]
I -- ahem -- offer my sincerest congratulations,
though I think -- ahem --
you overestimate my powers of penetration.
Good afternoon.
[He bows.]

[to HIRAM]
Now let's go find that there Judge, Hiram,
So's he can marry us right away!
[LAURA LEE almost has to drag HIRAM to the Judge's chamber.]

He's done it, he's done it again!
Colonel Starbottle's done it again!
He's done it again!
Won't you come with us to the Peach Blossom Inn to celebrate?

My friends, I must humbly decline as I have -- ahem --
some work to do.

Fo' God, Kernel,
I hope dey ain't nuffin de matter,
but you's lookin' mighty solemn.
I ain't seen you look dat way, Kernel,
since de day pooh massah Stryker was fetched home
shot froo de head!

Hand me some whiskey, Jim.
[JIM pours whiskey into a glass from a bottle in the briefcase,
then hands glass to STARBOTTLE.]
You're right, Jim,
but I'm getting old now,
and somehow I am missing poor Stryker damnably.
[STARBOTTLE downs the whiskey]

I still says you ought to think about
gettin' hitched with some nice woman.
[WIDOW appears and pours another glass for STARBOTTLE, who does
not notice her.]

Who would marry me?
I am old wild bachelor who's made a fool of himself
over a conniving young girl
who had another man all the time!

Colonel Starbottle,
you don't need to fret about Laura Lee.
Why, if I had known what she was up to,
I'd never have asked you to take her case.
I'm quite ashamed of what my daughter's done,
but I tell you this:
I'd like to make up for what she's done to hurt you, Colonel.

Widow Calhoun,
Jim was right about you.
I may be a successful lawyer,
but I certainly could use some common sense sometimes.
Stryker had common sense,
but now he's gone and
madam, would you grant me the honor of your company
to the Peach Blossom Inn?

Why, Colonel, I'd be delighted.
[WIDOW takes STARBOTTLE's arm. They start leave, but the WIDOW stops.]
But Colonel, why would you want to go to that ol' Peach Blossom Inn,
when you can come to my house for a nip o' cider?
[They walk down the aisle of the courtroom to the door as the
CHORUS joins in a cheer for STARBOTTLE.]

You've done it again, Colonel Starbottle!
Colonel Starbottle's done it again!
He's made that deacon look like a fool
and won the case for the girl!
He's shown that in Georgia we have justice for all,
for all!



Score, sound recordings of the two performances, and video of one of them are with the composer.  A copy of the score is available at the Indiana University Music Library, Bloomington, IN.

Copyright (c) 1981, 1995, 2002 by Lyle Neff