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Monologues: Martha Speaks Up

Celeste Holm (April 29, 1917 – July 15, 2012)
Celeste Holm (April 29, 1917 – July 15, 2012)

Given to Celeste Holm by Katherine Ashe and performed for various bookings and as promotion for the sale of the television series The Washingtons to PBS.

The series was not produced when Holm developed congestive heart failure on the set for the TV series Promised Land.

Read “Remembering Celeste Holm”

[Martha was a country woman, never an elegant lady.]The Continental Army is wintering at Valley Forge. Martha Washington, with her coach on sleigh runners and packed with provisions, has joined her husband and his freezing and starving troops. Several of the officers’ wives are also sharing the bleak winter camp and Martha entertains them with the story of how she and George met.


One day — we’ve all had some sherry-wine Mr. Chamberlain just got from London, and we were pretty cheerful…

Mr. Chamberlain, he says to me, “Martha, you considering marrying again? Who’d you think of marrying?”

I says, “Who would I think of? Who’d want to marry me! With my looks, I can’t expect lightning to strike twice the same place just for my benefit! I was lucky enough with Mr. Custis!”

“Don’t you know,” says Mrs. Chamberlain, “that you’re the richest widow round about Virginia? You’re a catch, Martha!”

“Wake up, girl,” says her husband. “There’s a world out there! A gentleman would have to be blind and unable to count, to not see you as quite an asset!”

I’d never thought of it like that before.

He asks, “Ain’t there anybody you ever took a fancy to?”

“No. Not really. I haven’t — you know — ever looked around like that.”

“Not ever in your life?”

Then I recalled… that brightly dressed young man I saw… Guess the wine had pretty much gone to my head, ’cause I just blurted out, “There was that very tall fellow I saw a while back in Williamsburg. He looked pretty fine to me. He’s a Colonel now, I hear tell. And I guess he’s still single. He was dancing with a young lady at the ball back then, but I heard after that he was courting Betsy Fauntleroy, and her Papa turned him down.”

Mrs. Chamberlain winks. “There’s only one Colonel the army who’s tall, tall, tall, and a Virginian. So I guess know who you mean.”

“Heard he was courting a lady up New York way, but her family turned him down, too,” Mr. Chamberlain put in. “He’s known for spending money, not for making it.”

“I guess I don’t have to care about that,” I says right out. ‘Cause there I was, with no papa…and more money than I’d ever need!

My neighbor gets a twinkle in his eye and says, “Hmm. Maybe we got a match for our Martha.”

“You know him?”

“No,” he says. “But I don’t see that’ll stop me.”

Well, I don’t know how it come about — My neighbor somehow got them to close down the regular ferry down at Eltham, the next time the Colonel was traveling to Williamsburg and had to cross the river. (I think maybe Mr. Chamberlain bribed the ferryman to send the Colonel along to his river crossin’, and let him know that he was comin’.)

All in a hurry, one day, comes Mrs. Chamberlain over to my house, and says I got to come right away and help her choose her curtains! I hadn’t any notion what was going on!

Mr. Chamberlain, he’s out on the river bank, and this big white horse, with a cockily dressed officer on top, comes along a’splashin’ through the shallows — The sun itself never shone down on so fine a sight of military splendor!

Mr. Chamberlain, he waves him down. Now, the Colonel had never set eyes on my neighbor before, to know him. But Mr. Chamberlain, he steps out smartly and says, “Colonel, Sir, would you care to take some refreshment? My house is nearby, and I’d be mighty pleased if you’d come join us.”

Well, the Colonel, real politely, says, “Thank you, Sir. But I’ve got to be on my way.”

He’s thinking this is a highwayman, about to steal his horse and everything he’s got! He puts his hand on his pistol and spurs his horse to go faster!

Mr. Chamberlain quick grabs his reins and stands right in front of that big old horse, and he hangs on like his life depends on it!

“Colonel, let me put to you this way. The richest widow in Virginia is visiting my house. And she’s got a hankering to meet you. We have the table set with the most lovely feast that ever a man traveling could hope to find. Now, you gonna turn down a fellow Virginian who’s gone to so much trouble?”

The Colonel looks him over real carefully. He seems to be thinking this through a bit. Then he takes his hand back from his pistol and says, “Maybe I have developed a bit of a thirst. I’d be pleased, Sir, to accept your hospitality.”

What do I see out the window, as I look up from Mrs. Chamberlain’s swatches — but Mr. Chamberlain coming along, grinning like to burst his cheeks, ’cause he’s netted the biggest fish he ever caught!