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 EXCERPT FROM

THE ACQUISITION

A Full-Length Play

By Stephen Bittrich

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3 SCENES ONLY - FROM VARIOUS POINTS IN THE PLAY.
 

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Copyright © 2006,
by Stephen Bittrich
(Draft: November, 2006)

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                                   "THE ACQUISITION"

                                   BY STEPHEN BITTRICH

                                   Act I, Scene 1

            SETTING:

                                   The sprawling grounds of WILLIAM
                                   AINSWORTH's Willowbrook Estate near
                                   Bishops Waltham in the county of
                                   Hampshire.  September 10th of 1815.

            AT RISE:

                                   JULIA HIGHTOWER, 20s, handsome, proud
                                   and clearly distraught, paces about the
                                   garden.  AINSWORTH, late 30ish, rich
                                   and rakishly handsome, enters the
                                   lengthening evening shadows and
                                   observes her a moment before he speaks.

                                   AINSWORTH
            There you are Miss Hightower.  I was beginning to think I'd
            be called upon to fish you from the trout stream.

                                   JULIA
            Beg your pardon, I required a bit of air.  

                                   AINSWORTH
            Ah, yes.  Lovely evening for it. 
                          (pause)
            And are you sufficiently pleased with the grounds of
            Willowbrook?

                                   JULIA
            Of course.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Splendid--then you approve?

                                   JULIA 
            Who could find fault with...the grounds, Mr. Ainsworth?

                                   AINSWORTH
            No indeed.  No indeed.  
                          (beat)
            But then I derive from your careful inflection that there is
            that at Willowbrook which you could find fault with, Miss
            Hightower.

                                   JULIA
            I--I cannot--

                                   AINSWORTH
            Ah, tush, tush, not another word of it.
                          (beat)
            Beautiful, clear night.  Did you take in the full moon rising
            above the peat bogs?

                                   JULIA
            I marked it.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Dramatic indeed.  
                          (pause)
            You know, Miss Hightower, I rather blush to say, but the
            highlight of my trip to Sussex this summer was not the
            tedious family business which beckoned me thither, no, no,
            but rather my brief sojourn in Heathfield and the various
            social gatherings during which I was privileged to make the
            acquaintance of you and your family.

                                   JULIA
                          (with a taste of irony)
            It was a thrilling season.

                                   AINSWORTH
            And during the picnic at Lady Woolcock's estate I must
            confess I was incredibly smitten with your wonderful charcoal
            sketches of the countryside.  It is thrilling indeed to
            discover a woman of such varied and studied accomplishment. 
            Upon leaving there, I admit, I could think of not much else
            for sometime...but you...and your beautiful sketches.  

                                   JULIA
            You flatter, Mr. Ainsworth.

                                   AINSWORTH
            No, indeed, I do not.  From very early in our
            acquaintanceship, I very greatly wished to be...connected to
            you and your great talent--to have some ownership in it.

                                   JULIA
            Ownership?

                                   AINSWORTH
            And when your family took lodgings in Hampshire late in the
            summer it seamed a fortuitous event indeed.

                                   JULIA
            Quite fortuitous.  I must return to the house, Mr. Ainsworth. 
            It grows cold.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Then let me warm you, Ms. Hightower...Julia.

                                   JULIA
            No--

                                   AINSWORTH
            Please, take my coat.

                                   JULIA
            I fear the chill has deeply set in.  There is no remedy you
            can provide.

                                   AINSWORTH 
                          (relinquishing all false
                           civility)
            I grow weary of these intrigues and double entendres.  I am
            not a stupid man, Miss Hightower.  I know the particulars for
            your family's visit.  Plainly, your parents mean to parade
            you about polite society as a farmer at the county fair
            flaunts his choicest pig--

                                   JULIA 
            Mr. Ainsworth!

                                   AINSWORTH
            --but, and please excuse my audacious candor, you won't be
            winning any ribbons, I'm sorry to say, nor any husbands
            either for that matter, because, as sordid as it may be,
            there are scurrilous and unseemly tongues that wag this way
            and that 'round this tiny little hamlet.  And they wag, Miss
            Hightower, about you.
                          (JULIA appears almost dizzy
                           from AINSWORTH's utter lack of
                           decorum)

                                   JULIA
            I'm sure...I'm sure I haven't the faintest notion--

                                   AINSWORTH
            You are a marked woman.  There it is.  Sorry to be the bearer
            of ill tidings.  But there 'tis.  You may as well sew your
            old maid's weeds forthwith because no suitors of any repute
            will be knocking at your door.

                                   JULIA
            How dare you, sir!

                                   AINSWORTH
            I dare, Miss Hightower.  I am the first born son of the
            wealthiest man in Christendom.  In all truthfulness, mere
            social convention is a paltry constraint for my sizeable
            wealth and stature.  I dare... because I can.  The fates,
            however, have been less kind to you.  Being without a male
            sibling, your birthright, such that it is, has been entailed
            away, and your future, but for the unsecured and certainly
            meager offerings of an obscure male relative, can promise
            nothing more than abject poverty.

                                   JULIA
                          (after a beat, regaining her
                           composure)
            And yet...I do not tremble, Mr. Ainsworth.

                                   AINSWORTH
                          (after a beat, taking her in)
            And yet you do not.  There is much to be admired in you,
            Julia.

                                   JULIA
            And much to be abhorred in you.

                                   AINSWORTH
            And still...such an abhorred man as I might yet be your
            salvation.
                          (beat)
            I like you, Julia.

                                   JULIA
            Mr. Ainsworth, you've said quite enough.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Are you surprised?  Yes, I like you.  You are as handsome a
            specimen as ever I've seen, lively and energetic, talented in
            music and art, intelligent almost to a fault.  These
            attributes, I daresay, when matched with my own myriad
            graces, could well produce exceptionally pleasing off-spring.

                                   JULIA
            Thank you for you astute observations, Mr. Ainsworth, but
            despite your previous reference to prized livestock, you'll
            be surprised to learn, I am no farm animal.  Producing
            "exceptionally pleasing off-spring" is not my life's chief
            objective.

                                   AINSWORTH
                          (ignoring and pressing on)
            Be assured, I am not looking for love, Julia, and I am quite
            certain that you do not love me.  However, I do require a
            wife, a partner, in the business of expanding my honorable
            lineage.  It is a grand, unbroken line spanning centuries
            before me, and I am called upon to bid adieu to the
            temptations and distractions of my youth and perform my
            family duty.  I see you as a worthy candidate.

                                   JULIA
            Mr. Ainsworth, though your described partnership of
            convenience is no doubt brimming with fruitful promise, you
            will be shocked to discover your eloquent declaration of
            affection met with rejection.  I hope the disappointment will
            not linger with you for long.  Good evening, sir.
                          (SHE starts to leave, and HE
                           cuts her off)

                                   AINSWORTH
            Julia, certainly you are not ignorant of what I can offer a
            woman such as yourself  in a "partnership of convenience" as
            you describe it.  Not that I care a jot for social mores, but
            you cannot be completely unaware that your very reputation
            has recently been called into question.  Your association
            with a local artist, a certain Monsieur Legard, whose name
            alone inspires suspicion, is fatty meat for the maw of
            outrage, namely, the elder matrons of Bishops Waltham.

                                   JULIA
            My association with the gifted Mr. Legard is of my concern
            alone--

                                   AINSWORTH
            Unjust, I know.  Your guilt in this acquaintance, real or
            imagined, pure or impure, has set you alone and adrift at
            sea.  And I alone am your last hope for security, Ms.
            Hightower.

                                   JULIA
            Really, Mr. Ainsworth, I think you missed your calling. 
            Prize pigs, gristle filled maws, adrift at sea.  It seems you
            have a bent toward the poetic.  But perhaps you should have
            said, "I alone might offer a sturdy mast and sail"...or "I
            alone am a fruitful uncharted isle in your course" or better
            still "I alone am the God Poseidon deigning to grant fair
            seas for your passage home."

                                   AINSWORTH
            Perhaps I might have.

                                   JULIA
            Mr. Legard, whom, as you have intimated, is of French
            heritage is in fact as true an Englishman as you or I.  He is
            my friend, and his skill with either brush or chisel is equal
            to anything I have seen displayed in the National Gallery.  I
            admire his talent.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Yes, I agree he is talented.  I've seen his nudes.  He's an
            eye for detail.
                          (SHE starts again to leave.  HE
                           grabs her arm)

                                   JULIA
            Mr. Ainsworth, you will let go my arm!

                                   AINSWORTH
                          (pulling her close)
            The deal is sealed, Ms. Hightower.  Your parents have already
            accepted my offer of matrimony and despite social proprieties
            dictating the contrary, have accepted a generous gift of real
            estate in this accord.  You have been sold--

                                   JULIA
            --I will not bow--

                                   AINSWORTH
            Nay, but you will!  As I said, Miss Hightower.  You have been
            sold.  I possess the painting!

                                   JULIA
            Wh-what did you say?

                                   AINSWORTH
            I possess the painting.  And I think you must know the one I
            mean.

                                   JULIA
            Impossible...

                                   AINSWORTH
                          (quiet and vicious, in her ear)
            It did not come cheaply.
                          (beat)
            You now sit precariously on the edge of ruin.  If you do not
            accept my magnanimous offer, you will suffer the pangs of
            social ignominy that only an itinerant leper might endure. 
            And moreover, I am quite certain that Mr. Legard will never
            in his short career see profit from a single painting in all
            of Hampshire.  You will give me satisfaction.
                          (The Willowbrook Rectory bell
                           tolls 6 times during the
                           course of the following
                           exchange)

                                   JULIA 
            Have you no heart?  Have you no soul?  I--I love him.

                                   AINSWORTH
            I know.
                          (beat)
            The rectory bell begs the question...will we be married?

                                    
                          (Before Julia can answer, the
                           lights fade to black)

                                    
                          (END OF SCENE)


Later in the play...
                                   Act I, Scene 10

            SETTING:

                                   A park on Lady Woolcock's estate in
                                   Sussex.  August 15th of 1815.

            AT RISE:

                                   JULIA and ANNA WORTHINGTON, 17
                                   garrulous and silly, but possessing an
                                   untapped wisdom, sketch in the grass.

                                   ANNA
            Oh!  It's no use.  I cannot draw a tree, Julia.  It looks
            like a great ugly bush.  How you can sit and draw sticks and
            grass with such passion is an astonishing feat of magic.  

                                   JULIA
            Draw what you see.  You will improve.

                                   ANNA
            Yes, that's what I'm afraid of.  I cannot imagine an
            undertaking more frightfully boring.

                                   JULIA
            Perhaps then you should take up the flute.

                                   ANNA
            The flute?  Oh no, no, no.  I shouldn't be able to sing
            whilst playing the flute.  Fine gentlemen like young ladies
            who sing.

                                   JULIA
            Do they indeed?

                                   ANNA
            It has been my experience.

                                   JULIA
            I think, Anna, at 17, you may have a vast many more
            experiences that may surprise you.  Just wait and see.

                                   ANNA
            Oh, there's no improving it!
                          (after a beat, frustrated)
            Should we not return to the picnic, Julia?  I fear this self
            imposed isolation may well be construed as a slight to Lady
            Woolcock--

                                   JULIA 
            Go then if you wish, Anna.

                                   ANNA
            --not a woman one would wish to neglect, I assure you.  Well,
            I cannot leave you alone.

                                   JULIA
            Why can you not?  I wish to draw, and you have made it
            perfectly clear that drawing holds no great interest or
            importance for you.  You should make your escape while you
            can.

                                   ANNA
            Because, my dear cousin, you need me as your protector.

                                   JULIA
            Do I?  Against whom may I ask?

                                   ANNA
            Why against Mr. Ainsworth, of course.

                                   JULIA
            Oh him.  Humph.

                                   ANNA
            Do not tell me that you do not find him handsome.

                                   JULIA
            Very well then, I shall not.

                                   ANNA
            ...and do not forget charming...and rich.

                                   JULIA
            I will concede that he is rich.  He's conveyed that plainly
            enough in his dress and manner, and I have no reason to
            disbelieve it.

                                   ANNA
            And why should he not convey that in his dress and manner? 
            He is a man of distinction and class.  Should he instead wear
            the garb of a tradesman and speak in a lowly accent? 
            Or...perhaps he should cover himself in paint splatters and
            speak of--
                          (quoting LEGARD)
            --"capturing that which is vulnerable in art."

                                   JULIA
            You are not so old, dear Anna, that I might not put you over
            my knee and give you a sound spanking.

                                   ANNA
            You wouldn't dare!
                          (AINSWORTH enters)

                                   AINSWORTH
            What would she not dare, Miss Worthington?

                                   ANNA
            Mr. Ainsworth!  Just in time.  You must save me from my
            cousin.  She has threatened to spank me if I let slip certain
            secrets that she holds locked inside her heart.

                                   JULIA
            Anna!

                                   AINSWORTH
            Well, this is most intriguing!  But I shan't inquire what
            these dark secrets are, Miss Worthington, as I do not wish to
            see you spanked...nor I do not wish to see Miss Hightower in
            the slightest compromised.

                                   ANNA
            You are a gentleman, Mr. Ainsworth, even if my cousin does
            not...that is to say...oh, never mind.

                                   JULIA
            Yes, never mind indeed.  

                                   AINSWORTH
            And what do you sketch most intently, Miss Hightower?  May I
            be permitted to see?

                                   JULIA
            Merely sticks and grass, nothing more.

                                   AINSWORTH
            I should be most honored to view your sticks and grass.

                                   JULIA
            Very well.
                          (AINSWORTH kneels beside her)

                                   ANNA
            Mr. Ainsworth, you shall sully your beautiful clothes on the
            bare ground.

                                   AINSWORTH
            No matter.  Is that not the aim of a country picnic, to take
            some of the earth back with you on your clothes...and in your
            heart.
                          (JULIA nearly rolls her eyes at
                           this.  It is not much more
                           sentimental than that which
                           LEGARD has sincerely uttered
                           to her on occasion, and yet
                           coming from AINSWORTH, SHE
                           finds it ridiculous)

                                   AINSWORTH (cont'd)
            Let me see what you have created, Miss Hightower.

                                   JULIA
            Very well.
                          (SHE hands over her sketch)

                                   AINSWORTH
            Thank you.
                          (AINSWORTH is clearly taken
                           aback.  HE had not expected
                           JULIA to possess such talent)

                                   ANNA
            You see, Julia, he is speechless, so smitten is he...with
            your great talent with...trees.

                                   JULIA
            It's quite all right Mr. Ainsworth.  You needn't heed any
            ridiculous utterance emanating from my cousin's over-taxed
            mouth.

                                   AINSWORTH
            I must see more.

                                   JULIA
            Sorry?

                                   AINSWORTH
            I must see more of your drawings.  Have you a portfolio of
            your work?

                                   JULIA
            I've not--I do have a collection of drawings, but I've not it
            with me.  Why are you so interested, Mr. Ainsworth?  

                                   ANNA
            Perhaps he is a lover of great art.

                                   JULIA
            Then he would hardly feel the need to see my portfolio.

                                   AINSWORTH
            I am indeed a lover and collector of art, among other things,
            though I do not profess to be an expert in what makes a
            composition noteworthy.  I do not know "what is art."  But I
            do know what pleases me, and your hand pleases me greatly,
            Miss Hightower.  I am intrigued.  I feel I need...a wider
            spectrum of your work to truly judge your merits as an
            artist.

                                   JULIA
            With all due respect, Mr. Ainsworth, I do not undertake these
            artistic diversions to be judged.  It is merely for my own
            amusement and edification.  
                          (beat)
            But if you insist, I shall send you my portfolio for you
            perusal.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Thank you, but you mustn't send it to me.  There is that
            danger that the precious cargo may be lost or damaged.  No,
            no, I will call upon you and your family in person.  Do you
            have any fixed engagements tomorrow?  Or might I pay a visit
            in the afternoon?

                                   JULIA
                          (somewhat reluctantly)
            We have no...fixed engagements.

                                   ANNA
            Nor have I.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Then you must stay the night at your cousin's, Miss
            Worthington, and I shall call upon the both of you at 3
            o'clock in the afternoon.
                          (HE rises)

                                   AINSWORTH (cont'd)
            Well, I must pay my respects to the rest of Mrs. Woolcock's
            party.  I have not seen many of them in all of three years. 
            To my duty.
                          (JULIA is about to rise and
                           bow)

                                   AINSWORTH (cont'd)
            Please do not rise, Miss Hightower.  Continue your drawing. 
            Ladies, until tomorrow.
                          (HE bows slightly)

                                   JULIA
            Mr. Ainsworth.
                          (ANNA curtsies)

                                   ANNA
            Mr. Ainsworth.
                          (AINSWORTH exits)

                                   ANNA (cont'd)
            Oh, oh, oh, can you believe it, Julia?

                                   JULIA
                          (continuing her drawing)
            Keep your composure, Anna.  He will hear you.

                                   ANNA
            He will call upon you, Julia, and he will fall in love with
            you, and then you will marry.

                                   JULIA
            And then we will all eat cheese upon the moon.  Don't be
            silly.  

                                   ANNA
            And why mightn't he fall in love with you, Julia?

                                   JULIA
            Because he is very rich, and the rich need other rich people
            to increase their fortunes.  And if he did harbor even the
            embers of such feelings, they would certainly die from lack
            of nurture, as I have no particular feelings for him, polite
            and rich though he may be.

                                   ANNA
            And why do you not have particular feelings for someone who
            is perfectly good?

                                   JULIA
            Because he is perfectly good.  Perfect in every way he is...
            but there is something hollow in his manner.  I cannot read
            his true nature, his true passion.

                                   ANNA
            I suppose you prefer penniless artists who talk endlessly
            about their passions.

                                   JULIA
            That's quite enough.  Poor in pocket or poor in character.  I
            choose the former.

                                   ANNA
            I am sure you do.  Until your stomach grumbles, then perhaps
            your bent will be to the latter.
                          (beat)
            And I think you are wrong about Mr. Ainsworth, Julia.  I
            think there is some great secret passion in him, just below
            his genteel manner, that may yet be revealed.  
                          (beat)
            I do believe it.

                                    
                          (The lights fade to black)
                          (END OF SCENE AND ACT)


Later in the play...
                                   Act II, Scene 2

            SETTING:

                                   AINSWORTH's Willowbrook Estate in
                                   Hampshire.  September 27th of 1815. 
                                   The bedroom of the new MRS. AINSWORTH
                                   on the night of the wedding.  

            AT RISE:

                                   JULIA readies herself for bed. 
                                   AINSWORTH can be heard shouting OFF
                                   STAGE.

                                   AINSWORTH (O.S.)
            Julia!  Julia!
                          (AINSWORTH bursts in, coat off,
                           shirt loose at the collar,
                           breathing heavily, a bit
                           nervous)

                                   JULIA 
            What do you mean, sir, bursting into my bed chamber?  Did I
            not bid you good night?

                                   AINSWORTH
            I--I trust you are comfortable.

                                   JULIA
            What do you want?

                                   AINSWORTH 
            You are my wife.  I believe some familiarity is commonplace.

                                   JULIA
            I am tired from the journey.

                                   AINSWORTH
            Yes.  Is there anything I may do for your present comfort?

                                   JULIA
            Leave me.
                          (HE lingers)

                                   JULIA (cont'd)
            Well...what do you desire?

                                   AINSWORTH 
            I-I desire what husbands through the ages have desired from
            new wives.
                          (HE advances on her and kisses
                           her deeply. SHE does not
                           resist, but when HE has drunk
                           his fill, HE pulls away, and
                           SHE looks upon him coldly and
                           speaks with utter calm)

                                   JULIA
            Though you may indeed view me as a prize that you might keep
            upon a shelf or hang upon your wall, I am in fact a living
            breathing woman with a mind and soul unique to all the world,
            and singularly my own--never to belong to another--unless I
            so choose.  You may never touch this about me.  You may never
            own this about me.  This truth is sound and immutable.
                          (HE releases her and backs
                           away.  HE looks at her for a
                           long moment, then turns out of
                           the room without a word)

                                    
                          (The lights fade to black)
                           (END OF SCENE)

                                   

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