Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act One

SceneExterior of the Mannon house on a late afternoon in April, 1865. At front is the driveway which leads up to the house from the two entrances on the street. Behind the driveway the white Grecian temple portico with its six tall columns extends across the stage. A big pine tree is on the lawn at the edge of the drive before the right corner of the house. Its trunk is a black column in striking contrast to the white columns of the portico. By the edge of the drive, left front, is a thick clump of lilacs and syringas. A bench is placed on the lawn at front of this shrubbery which partly screens anyone sitting on it from the front of the house.

It is shortly before sunset and the soft light of the declining sun shines directly on the front of the house, shimmering in a luminous mist on the white portico and the gray stone wall behind, intensifying the whiteness of the columns, the somber grayness of the wall, the green of the open shutters, the green of the lawn and shrubbery, the black and green of the pine tree. The white columns cast black bars of shadow on the gray wall behind them. The windows of the lower floor reflect the sun’s rays in a resentful glare. The temple portico is like an incongruous white mask fixed on the house to hide its somber gray ugliness.

In the distance, from the town, a band is heard playing “John Brown’s Body”. Borne on the light puffs of wind this music is at times quite loud, then sinks into faintness as the wind dies.

From the left rear, a man’s voice is heard singing the chanty “Shenandoah”— a song that more than any other holds in it the brooding rhythm of the sea. The voice grows quickly nearer. It is thin and aged, the wraith of what must once have been a good baritone.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you

A-way, my rolling river

Oh, Shenandoah, I can’t get near you

Way-ay, I’m bound away

Across the wide Missouri.”

The singer, Seth Beckwith, finishes the last line as he enters from around the corner of the house. Closely following him are Amos Ames, his wife Louisa, and her cousin Minnie.

Seth Beckwith, the Mannons’ gardener and man of all work, is an old man of seventy-five with white hair and beard, tall, raw-boned and stoop-shouldered, his joints stiffened by rheumatism, but still sound and hale. He has a gaunt face that in repose gives one the strange impression of a life-like mask. It is set in a grim expression, but his small, sharp eyes still peer at life with a shrewd prying avidity and his loose mouth has a strong suggestion of ribald humor. He wears his earth-stained working clothes.

Amos Ames, carpenter by trade but now taking a holiday and dressed in his Sunday best, as are his wife and her cousin, is a fat man in his fifties. In character he is the townsfolk type of garrulous gossip-monger who is at the same time devoid of evil intent, scandal being for him merely the subject most popular with his audience.

His wife, Louisa, is taller and stouter than he and about the same age. Of a similar scandal-bearing type, her tongue is sharpened by malice.

Her cousin, Minnie, is a plump little woman of forty, of the meek, eager-listener type, with a small round face, round stupid eyes, and a round mouth pursed out to drink in gossip.

These last three are types of townsfolk rather than individuals, a chorus representing the town come to look and listen and spy on the rich and exclusive Mannons.

Led by Seth, they come forward as far as the lilac clump and stand staring at the house. Seth, in a mood of aged playfulness, is trying to make an impression on Minnie. His singing has been for her benefit. He nudges her with his elbow, grinning.

Seth — How’s that fur singin’ fur an old feller? I used to be noted fur my chanties. (Seeing she is paying no attention to him but is staring with open-mouthed awe at the house, he turns to Ames — jubilantly) By jingo, Amos, if that news is true, there won’t be a sober man in town tonight! It’s our patriotic duty to celebrate!

Ames —(with a grin) We’d ought to, that’s sartin!

Louisa — You ain’t goin’ to git Amos drunk tonight, surrender or no surrender! An old reprobate, that’s what you be!

Seth —(pleased) Old nothin’! On’y seventy-five! My old man lived to be ninety! Licker can’t kill the Beckwiths! (He and Ames laugh. Louisa smiles in spite of herself. Minnie is oblivious, still staring at the house.)

Minnie — My sakes! What a purty house!

Seth — Wal, I promised Amos I’d help show ye the sights when you came to visit him. ‘Taint everyone can git to see the Mannon place close to. They’re strict about trespassin’.

Minnie — My! They must be rich! How’d they make their money?

Seth — Ezra’s made a pile, and before him, his father, Abe Mannon, he inherited some and made a pile more in shippin’. Started one of the fust Western Ocean packet lines.

Minnie — Ezra’s the General, ain’t he?

Seth —(proudly) Ayeh. The best fighter in the hull of Grant’s army!

Minnie — What kind is he?

Seth —(boastfully expanding) He’s able, Ezra is! Folks think he’s cold-blooded and uppish, ‘cause he’s never got much to say to ’em. But that’s only the Mannons’ way. They’ve been top dog around here for near on two hundred years and don’t let folks fergit it.

Minnie — How’d he come to jine the army if he’s so rich?

Seth — Oh, he’d been a soldier afore this war. His paw made him go to West P’int. He went to the Mexican war and come out a major. Abe died that same year and Ezra give up the army and took holt of the shippin’ business here. But he didn’t stop there. He learned law on the side and got made a judge. Went in fur politics and got ‘lected mayor. He was mayor when this war broke out but he resigned to once and jined the army again. And now he’s riz to be General. Oh, he’s able, Ezra is!

Ames — Ayeh. This town’s real proud of Ezra.

Louisa — Which is more’n you kin say fur his wife. Folks all hates her! She ain’t the Mannon kind. French and Dutch descended, she is. Furrin lookin’ and queer. Her father’s a doctor in New York, but he can’t be much of a one ‘cause she didn’t bring no money when Ezra married her.

Seth —(his face growing grim — sharply) Never mind her. We ain’t talkin’ ‘bout her. (then abruptly changing the subject) Wal, I’ve got to see Vinnie. I’m goin’ round by the kitchen. You wait here. And if Ezra’s wife starts to run you off fur trespassin’, you tell her I got permission from Vinnie to show you round. (He goes off around the corner of the house, left. The three stare about them gawkily, awed and uncomfortable. They talk in low voices.)

Louisa — Seth is so proud of his durned old Mannons! I couldn’t help givin’ him a dig about Ezra’s wife.

Ames — Wal, don’t matter much. He’s allus hated her.

Louisa — Ssshh! Someone’s comin’ out. Let’s get back here! (They crowd to the rear of the bench by the lilac clump and peer through the leaves as the front door is opened and Christine Mannon comes out to the edge of the portico at the top of the steps. Louisa prods her cousin and whispers excitedly) That’s her! (Christine Mannon is a tall striking-looking woman of forty but she appears younger. She has a fine, voluptuous figure and she moves with a flowing animal grace. She wears a green satin dress, smartly cut and expensive, which brings out the peculiar color of her thick curly hair, partly a copper brown, partly a bronze gold, each shade distinct and yet blending with the other. Her face is unusual, handsome rather than beautiful. One is struck at once by the strange impression it gives in repose of being not living flesh but a wonderfully life-like pale mask, in which only the deep-set eyes, of a dark violet blue, are alive. Her black eyebrows meet in a pronounced straight line above her strong nose. Her chin is heavy, her mouth large and sensual, the lower lip full, the upper a thin bow, shadowed by a line of hair. She stands and listens defensively, as if the music held some meaning that threatened her. But at once she shrugs her shoulders with disdain and comes down the steps and walks off toward the flower garden, passing behind the lilac clump without having noticed Ames and the women.)

Minnie —(in an awed whisper) My! She’s awful handsome, ain’t she?

Louisa — Too furrin lookin’ fur my taste.

Minnie — Ayeh. There’s somethin’ queer lookin’ about her face.

Ames — Secret lookin’—’s if it was a mask she’d put on. That’s the Mannon look. They all has it. They grow it on their wives. Seth’s growed it on too, didn’t you notice — from bein’ with ’em all his life. They don’t want folks to guess their secrets.

Minnie —(breathlessly eager) Secrets?

Louisa — The Mannons got skeletons in their closets same as others! Worse ones. (lowering her voice almost to a whisper — to her husband) Tell Minnie about old Abe Mannon’s brother David marryin’ that French Canuck nurse girl he’d got into trouble.

Ames — Ssshh! Shet up, can’t you? Here’s Seth comin’. (But he whispers quickly to Minnie) That happened way back when I was a youngster. I’ll tell you later. (Seth has appeared from around the left corner of the house and now joins them.)

Seth — That durned nigger cook is allus askin’ me to fetch wood fur her! You’d think I was her slave! That’s what we get fur freein’ ’em! (then briskly) Wal, come along, folks. I’ll show you the peach orchard and then we’ll go to my greenhouse. I couldn’t find Vinnie. (They are about to start when the front door of the house is opened and Lavinia comes out to the top of the steps where her mother had stood. She is twenty-three but looks considerably older. Tall like her mother, her body is thin, flat-breasted and angular, and its unattractiveness is accentuated by her plain black dress. Her movements are stiff and she carries herself with a wooden, square-shouldered, military bearing. She has a flat dry voice and a habit of snapping out her words like an officer giving orders. But in spite of these dissimilarities, one is immediately struck by her facial resemblance to her mother. She has the same peculiar shade of copper-gold hair, the same pallor and dark violet-blue eyes, the black eyebrows meeting in a straight line above her nose, the same sensual mouth, the same heavy jaw. Above all, one is struck by the same strange, life-like mask impression her face gives in repose. But it is evident Lavinia does all in her power to emphasize the dissimilarity rather than the resemblance to her parent. She wears her hair pulled tightly back, as if to conceal its natural curliness, and there is not a touch of feminine allurement to her severely plain get-up. Her head is the same size as her mother’s, but on her thin body it looks too large and heavy.)

Seth —(seeing her) There she be now. (He starts for the steps — then sees she has not noticed their presence, and stops and stands waiting, struck by something in her manner. She is looking off right, watching her mother as she strolls through the garden to the greenhouse. Her eyes are bleak and hard with an intense, bitter enmity. Then her mother evidently disappears in the greenhouse, for Lavinia turns her head, still oblivious to Seth and his friends, and looks off left, her attention caught by the band, the music of which, borne on a freshening breeze, has suddenly become louder. It is still playing “John Brown’s Body.” Lavinia listens, as her mother had a moment before, but her reaction is the direct opposite to what her mother’s had been. Her eyes light up with a grim satisfaction, and an expression of strange vindictive triumph comes into her face.)

Louisa —(in a quick whisper to Minnie) That’s Lavinia!

Minnie — She looks like her mother in face — queer lookin’— but she ain’t purty like her.

Seth — You git along to the orchard, folks. I’ll jine you there. (They walk back around the left of the house and disappear. He goes to Lavinia eagerly.) Say, I got fine news fur you, Vinnie. The telegraph feller says Lee is a goner sure this time! They’re only waitin’ now fur the news to be made official. You can count on your paw comin’ home!

Lavinia —(grimly) I hope so. It’s time.

Seth —(with a keen glance at her — slowly) Ayeh.

Lavinia —(turning on him sharply) What do you mean, Seth?

Seth —(avoiding her eyes — evasively) Nothin’—‘cept what you mean. (Lavinia stares at him. He avoids her eyes — then heavily casual) Where was you gallivantin’ night afore last and all yesterday?

Lavinia —(starts) Over to Hazel and Peter’s house.

Seth — Ayeh. There’s where Hannah said you’d told her you was goin’. That’s funny now —‘cause I seen Peter up-street yesterday and he asked me where you was keepin’ yourself.

Lavinia —(again starts — then slowly as if admitting a secret understanding between them) I went to New York, Seth.

Seth — Ayeh. That’s where I thought you’d gone, mebbe. (then with deep sympathy) It’s durned hard on you, Vinnie. It’s a durned shame.

Lavinia —(stiffening — curtly) I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Seth —(nods comprehendingly) All right, Vinnie. Just as you say. (He pauses — then after hesitating frowningly for a moment, blurts out) There’s somethin’ been on my mind lately I want to warn you about. It’s got to do with what’s worryin’ you — that is, if there’s anythin’ in it.

Lavinia —(stiffly) There’s nothing worrying me. (then sharply) Warn me? About what?

Seth — Mebbe it’s nothin’— and then again mebbe I’m right, and if I’m right, then you’d ought t’be warned. It’s to do with that Captain Brant.

Lavinia —(starts again but keeps her tone cold and collected) What about him?

Seth — Somethin’ I calc’late no one’d notice ‘specially ‘ceptin’ me, because —(then hastily as he sees someone coming up the drive) Here’s Peter and Hazel comin’. I’ll tell you later, Vinnie. I ain’t got time now anyways. Those folks are waitin’ for me.

Lavinia — I’ll be sitting here. You come back afterwards. (then her cold disciplined mask breaking for a moment — tensely) Oh, why do Peter and Hazel have to come now? I don’t want to see anyone! (She starts as if to go into the house.)

Seth — You run in. I’ll git rid of ’em fur you.

Lavinia —(recovering herself curtly) No. I’ll see them. (Seth goes back around the corner of the house, left. A moment later Hazel and Peter Niles enter along the drive from left, front. Hazel is a pretty, healthy girl of nineteen, with dark hair and eyes. Her features are small but clearly modelled. She has a strong chin and a capable, smiling mouth. One gets a sure impression of her character at a glance — frank, innocent, amiable and good — not in a negative but in a positive, self-possessed way. Her brother, Peter, is very like her in character — straightforward, guileless and good-natured. He is a heavily built young fellow of twenty-two, awkward in movement and hesitating in speech. His face is broad, plain, with a snubby nose, curly brown hair, fine gray eyes and a big mouth. He wears the uniform of an artillery captain in the Union Army.)

Lavinia —(with forced cordiality) Good afternoon. How are you? (She and Hazel kiss and she shakes hands with Peter.)

Hazel — Oh, we’re all right. But how are you, Vinnie, that’s the question? Seems as if we hadn’t seen you in ages! You haven’t been sick, I hope!

Lavinia — Well — if you call a pesky cold sick.

Peter — Gosh, that’s too bad! All over it now?

Lavinia — Yes — almost. Do sit down, won’t you? (Hazel sits at left of bench, Lavinia beside her in the middle. Peter sits gingerly on the right edge so that there is an open space between him and Lavinia.)

Hazel — Peter can stay a while if you want him to, but I just dropped in for a second to find out if you’d had any more news from Orin.

Lavinia — Not since the letter I showed you.

Hazel — But that was ages ago! And I haven’t had a letter in months. I guess he must have met another girl some place and given me the go by. (She forces a smile but her tone is really hurt.)

Peter — Orin not writing doesn’t mean anything. He never was much of a hand for letters.

Hazel — I know that, but — you don’t think he’s been wounded, do you, Vinnie?

Lavinia — Of course not. Father would have let us know.

Peter — Sure he would. Don’t be foolish, Hazel! (then after a little pause) Orin ought to be home before long now. You’ve heard the good news, of course, Vinnie?

Hazel — Peter won’t have to go back. Isn’t that fine?

Peter — My wound is healed and I’ve got orders to leave tomorrow but they’ll be cancelled, I guess. (grinning) I won’t pretend I’m the sort of hero that wants to go back, either! I’ve had enough!

Hazel —(impulsively) Oh, it will be so good to see Orin again. (then embarrassed, forces a self-conscious laugh and gets up and kisses Lavinia) Well, I must run. I’ve got to meet Emily. Good-bye, Vinnie. Do take care of yourself and come to see us soon. (with a teasing glance at her brother) And be kind to Peter. He’s nice — when he’s asleep. And he has something he’s just dying to ask you!

Peter —(horribly embarrassed) Darn you! (Hazel laughs and goes off down the drive, left front. Peter fidgets, his eyes on the ground. Lavinia watches him. Since Hazel’s teasing statement, she has visibly withdrawn into herself and is on the defensive. Finally Peter looks up and blurts out awkardly) Hazel feels bad about Orin not writing. Do you think he really — loves her?

Lavinia —(stiffening — brusquely) I don’t know anything about love! I don’t want to know anything! (intensely) I hate love!

Peter —(crushed by this but trying bravely to joke) Gosh, then, if that’s the mood you’re in, I guess I better not ask — something I’d made up my mind to ask you today.

Lavinia — It’s what you asked me a year ago when you were home on leave, isn’t it?

Peter — And you said wait till the war was over. Well, it’s over now.

Lavinia —(slowly) I can’t marry anyone, Peter. I’ve got to stay home. Father needs me.

Peter — He’s got your mother.

Lavinia —(sharply) He needs me more! (A pause. Then she turns pityingly and puts her hand on his shoulder.) I’m sorry, Peter.

Peter —(gruffly) Oh, that’s all right.

Lavinia — I know it’s what girls always say in books, but I do love you as a brother, Peter. I wouldn’t lose you as a brother for anything. We’ve been like that ever since we were little and started playing together — you and Orin and Hazel and I. So please don’t let this come between us.

Peter —‘Course it won’t. What do you think I am? (doggedly) Besides, I’m not giving up hope but what you’ll change your mind in time. That is, unless it’s because you love someone else —

Lavinia —(snatching her hand back) Don’t be stupid, Peter!

Peter — But how about this mysterious clipper captain that’s been calling?

Lavinia —(angrily) Do you think I care anything about that — that —!

Peter — Don’t get mad. I only meant, folks say he’s courting you.

Lavinia — Folks say more than their prayers!

Peter — Then you don’t — care for him?

Lavinia —(intensely) I hate the sight of him!

Peter — Gosh! I’m glad to hear you say that, Vinnie. I was afraid — I imagined girls all liked him. He’s such a darned romantic-looking cuss. Looks more like a gambler or a poet than a ship captain. I got a look as he was coming out of your gate — I guess it was the last time he was here. Funny, too. He reminded me of someone. But I couldn’t place who it was.

Lavinia —(startled, glances at him uneasily) No one around here, that’s sure. He comes from out West. Grandfather Hamel happened to meet him in New York and took a fancy to him, and Mother met him at Grandfather’s house.

Peter — Who is he, anyway, Vinnie?

Lavinia — I don’t know much about him in spite of what you think. Oh, he did tell me the story of his life to make himself out romantic, but I didn’t pay much attention. He went to sea when he was young and was in California for the Gold Rush. He’s sailed all over the world — he lived on a South Sea island once, so he says.

Peter —(grumpily) He seems to have had plenty of romantic experience, if you can believe him!

Lavinia —(bitterly) That’s his trade — being romantic! (then agitatedly) But I don’t want to talk any more about him. (She gets up and walks toward right to conceal her agitation, keeping her back turned to Peter.)

Peter —(with a grin) Well, I don’t either. I can think of more interesting subjects. (Christine Mannon appears from left, between the clump of lilacs and the house. She is carrying a big bunch of flowers. Lavinia senses her presence and whirls around. For a moment, mother and daughter stare into each other’s eyes. In their whole tense attitudes is clearly revealed the bitter antagonism between them. But Christine quickly recovers herself and her air resumes its disdainful aloofness.)

Christine — Ah, here you are at last! (Then she sees Peter, who is visibly embarrassed by her presence.) Why, good afternoon, Peter, I didn’t see you at first.

Peter — Good afternoon, Mrs. Mannon. I was just passing and dropped in for a second. I guess I better run along now, Vinnie.

Lavinia —(with an obvious eagerness to get him off — quickly) All right. Good-bye, Peter.

Peter — Good-bye. Good-bye, Mrs. Mannon.

Christine — Good-bye, Peter. (He disappears from the drive, left. Christine comes forward.) I must say you treat your one devoted swain pretty rudely. (Lavinia doesn’t reply. Christine goes on coolly.) I was wondering when I was going to see you. When I returned from New York last night you seemed to have gone to bed.

Lavinia — I had gone to bed.

Christine — You usually read long after that. I tried your door — but you had locked yourself in. When you kept yourself locked in all day I was sure you were intentionally avoiding me. But Annie said you had a headache. (While she has been speaking she has come toward Lavinia until she is now within arm’s reach of her. The facial resemblance, as they stand there, is extraordinary. Christine stares at her coolly, but one senses an uneasy wariness beneath her pose.) Did you have a headache?

Lavinia — No. I wanted to be alone — to think over things.

Christine — What things, if I may ask? (Then, as if she were afraid of an answer to this question, she abruptly changes the subject.) Who are those people I saw wandering about the grounds?

Lavinia — Some friends of Seth’s .

Christine — Because they know that lazy old sot, does it give them the privilege of trespassing?

Lavinia — I gave Seth permission to show them around.

Christine — And since when have you the right without consulting me?

Lavinia — I couldn’t very well consult you when Seth asked me. You had gone to New York —(she pauses a second — then adds slowly, staring fixedly at her mother) to see Grandfather. Is he feeling any better? He seems to have been sick so much this past year.

Christine —(casually, avoiding her eyes) Yes. He’s much better now. He’ll soon be going the rounds to his patients again, he hopes. (as if anxious to change the subject, looking at the flowers she carries) I’ve been to the greenhouse to pick these. I felt our tomb needed a little brightening. (She nods scornfully toward the house.) Each time I come back after being away it appears more like a sepulchre! The “whited” one of the Bible — pagan temple front stuck like a mask on Puritan gray ugliness! It was just like old Abe Mannon to build such a monstrosity — as a temple for his hatred. (then with a little mocking laugh) Forgive me, Vinnie. I forgot you liked it. And you ought to. It suits your temperament. (Lavinia stares at her but remains silent. Christine glances at her flowers again and turns toward the house.) I must put these in water. (She moves a few steps toward the house — then turns again — with a studied casualness) By the way, before I forget, I happened to run into Captain Brant on the street in New York. He said he was coming up here today to take over his ship and asked me if he might drop in to see you. I told him he could — and stay to supper with us. (without looking at Lavinia, who is staring at her with a face grown grim and hard) Doesn’t that please you, Vinnie? Or do you remain true to your one and only beau, Peter?

Lavinia — Is that why you picked the flowers — because he is coming? (Her mother does not answer. She goes on with a threatening undercurrent in her voice.) You have heard the news, I suppose? It means Father will be home soon!

Christine —(without looking at her — coolly) We’ve had so many rumors lately. This report hasn’t been confirmed yet, has it? I haven’t heard the fort firing a salute.

Lavinia — You will before long!

Christine — I’m sure I hope so as much as you.

Lavinia — You can say that!

Christine —(concealing her alarm — coldly) What do you mean? You will kindly not take that tone with me, please! (cuttingly) If you are determined to quarrel, let us go into the house. We might be overheard out here. (She turns and sees Seth who has just come to the corner of the house, left, and is standing there watching them.) See. There is your old crony doing his best to listen now! (moving to the steps) I am going in and rest a while. (She walks up the steps.)

Lavinia —(harshly) I’ve got to have a talk with you, Mother — before long!

Christine —(turning defiantly) Whenever you wish. Tonight after the Captain leaves you, if you like. But what is it you want to talk about?

Lavinia — You’ll know soon enough!

Christine —(staring at her with a questioning dread — forcing a scornful smile) You always make such a mystery of things, Vinnie. (She goes into the house and closes the door behind her. Seth comes forward from where he had withdrawn around the corner of the house. Lavinia makes a motion for him to follow her, and goes and sits on the bench at left. A pause. She stares straight ahead, her face frozen, her eyes hard. He regards her understandingly.)

Lavinia —(abruptly) Well? What is it about Captain Brant you want to warn me against? (then as if she felt she must defend her question from some suspicion that she knows is in his mind) I want to know all I can about him because — he seems to be calling to court me.

Seth —(managing to convey his entire disbelief of this statement in one word) Ayeh.

Lavinia —(sharply) You say that as if you didn’t believe me.

Seth — I believe anything you tell me to believe. I ain’t been with the Mannons for sixty years without learning that. (A pause. Then he asks slowly) Ain’t you noticed this Brant reminds you of someone in looks?

Lavinia —(struck by this) Yes. I have — ever since I first saw him — but I’ve never been able to place who — Who do you mean?

Seth — Your Paw, ain’t it, Vinnie?

Lavinia —(startled — agitatedly) Father? No! It can’t be! (then as if the conviction were forcing itself on her in spite of herself) Yes! He does — something about his face — that must be why I’ve had the strange feeling I’ve known him before — why I’ve felt —(then tensely as if she were about to break down) Oh! I won’t believe it! You must be mistaken, Seth! That would be too —!

Seth — He ain’t only like your Paw. He’s like Orin, too — and all the Mannons I’ve known.

Lavinia —(frightenedly) But why — why should he —?

Seth — More speshully he calls to my mind your Grandpaw’s brother, David. How much do you know about David Mannon, Vinnie? I know his name’s never been allowed to be spoke among Mannons since the day he left — but you’ve likely heard gossip, ain’t you — even if it all happened before you was born.

Lavinia — I’ve heard that he loved the Canuck nurse girl who was taking care of Father’s little sister who died, and had to marry her because she was going to have a baby; and that Grandfather put them both out of the house and then afterwards tore it down and built this one because he wouldn’t live where his brother had disgraced the family. But what has that old scandal got to do with —

Seth — Wait. Right after they was throwed out they married and went away. There was talk they’d gone out West, but no one knew nothin’ about ’em afterwards —‘ceptin’ your Grandpaw let out to me one time she’d had the baby — a boy. He was cussin’ it. (then impressively) It’s about her baby I’ve been thinkin’, Vinnie.

Lavinia —(a look of appalled comprehension growing on her face) Oh!

Seth — How old is that Brant, Vinnie?

Lavinia — Thirty-six, I think.

Seth — Ayeh! That’d make it right. And here’s another funny thing — his name. Brant’s sort of queer fur a name. I ain’t never heard tell of it before. Sounds made up to me — like short fur somethin’ else. Remember what that Canuck girl’s name was, do you, Vinnie? Marie Brantôme! See what I’m drivin’ at?

Lavinia —(agitatedly, fighting against a growing conviction) But — don’t be stupid, Seth — his name would be Mannon and he’d be only too proud of it.

Seth — He’d have good reason not to use the name of Mannon when he came callin’ here, wouldn’t he? If your Paw ever guessed —!

Lavinia —(breaking out violently) No! It can’t be! God wouldn’t let it! It would be too horrible — on top of —! I won’t even think of it, do you hear? Why did you have to tell me?

Seth —(calmingly) There now! Don’t take on, Vinnie. No need gettin’ riled at me. (He waits — then goes on insistently.) All I’m drivin’ at is that it’s durned funny — his looks and the name — and you’d ought fur your Paw’s sake to make sartin.

Lavinia — How can I make certain?

Seth — Catch him off guard sometime and put it up to him strong — as if you knowed it — and see if mebbe he don’t give himself away. (He starts to go — looks down the drive at left.) Looks like him comin’ up the drive now, Vinnie. There’s somethin’ about his walk calls back David Mannon, too. If I didn’t know it was him I’d think it was David’s ghost comin’ home. (He turns away abruptly.) Wal, calc’late I better git back to work. (He walks around the left corner of the house. A pause. Then Captain Adam Brant enters from the drive, left, front. He starts on seeing Lavinia but immediately puts on his most polite, winning air. One is struck at a glance by the peculiar quality his face in repose has of being a life-like mask rather than living flesh. He has a broad, low forehead, framed by coal-black straight hair which he wears noticeably long, pushed back carelessly from his forehead as a poet’s might be. He has a big aquiline nose, bushy eyebrows, swarthy complexion, hazel eyes. His wide mouth is sensual and moody — a mouth that can be strong and weak by turns. He wears a mustache, but his heavy cleft chin is clean-shaven. In figure he is tall, broad-shouldered and powerful. He gives the impression of being always on the offensive or defensive, always fighting life. He is dressed with an almost foppish extravagance, with touches of studied carelessness, as if a romantic Byronic appearance were the ideal in mind. There is little of the obvious ship captain about him, except his big, strong hands and his deep voice.)

Brant —(bowing with an exaggerated politeness) Good afternoon. (coming and taking her hand which she forces herself to hold out to him) Hope you don’t mind my walking in on you without ceremony. Your mother told me —

Lavinia — I know. She had to go out for a while and she said I was to keep you company until she returned.

Brant —(gallantly) Well, I’m in good luck, then. I hope she doesn’t hurry back to stand watch over us. I haven’t had a chance to be alone with you since — that night we went walking in the moonlight, do you remember? (He has kept her hand and he drops his voice to a low, lover-like tone. Lavinia cannot repress a start, agitatedly snatching her hand from his and turning away from him.)

Lavinia —(regaining command of herself — slowly) What do you think of the news of Lee surrendering, Captain? We expect my father home very soon now. (At something in her tone he stares at her suspiciously, but she is looking straight before her.) Why don’t you sit down?

Brant — Thank you. (He sits on the bench at her right. He has become wary now, feeling something strange in her attitude but not able to make her out — casually) Yes, you must be very happy at the prospect of seeing your father again. Your mother has told me how close you’ve always been to him.

Lavinia — Did she? (then with intensity) I love Father better than anyone in the world. There is nothing I wouldn’t do — to protect him from hurt!

Brant —(watching her carefully — keeping his casual tone) You care more for him than for your mother?

Lavinia — Yes.

Brant — Well, I suppose that’s the usual way of it. A daughter feels closer to her father and a son to his mother. But I should think you ought to be a born exception to that rule.

Lavinia — Why?

Brant — You’re so like your mother in some ways. Your face is the dead image of hers. And look at your hair. You won’t meet hair like yours and hers again in a month of Sundays. I only know of one other woman who had it. You’ll think it strange when I tell you. It was my mother.

Lavinia —(with a start) Ah!

Brant —(dropping his voice to a reverent, hushed tone) Yes, she had beautiful hair like your mother’s, that hung down to her knees, and big, deep, sad eyes that were blue as the Caribbean sea!

Lavinia —(harshly) What do looks amount to? I’m not a bit like her! Everybody knows I take after Father!

Brant —(brought back with a shock, astonished at her tone) But — you’re not angry at me for saying that, are you? (then filled with uneasiness and resolving he must establish himself on an intimate footing with her again — with engaging bluntness) You’re puzzling today, Miss Lavinia. You’ll excuse me if I come out with it bluntly. I’ve lived most of my life at sea and in camps and I’m used to straight speaking. What are you holding against me? If I’ve done anything to offend you, I swear it wasn’t meant. (She is silent, staring before her with hard eyes, rigidly upright. He appraises her with a calculating look, then goes on.) I wouldn’t have bad feeling come between us for the world. I may only be flattering myself, but I thought you liked me. Have you forgotten that night walking along the shore?

Lavinia —(in a cold, hard voice) I haven’t forgotten. Did Mother tell you you could kiss me?

Brant — What — what do you mean? (But he at once attributes the question to her naïveté— laughingly) Oh! I see! But, come now, Lavinia, you can’t mean, can you, I should have asked her permission?

Lavinia — Shouldn’t you?

Brant —(again uneasy — trying to joke it off) Well, I wasn’t brought up that strictly and, should or shouldn’t, at any rate, I didn’t — and it wasn’t the less sweet for that! (Then at something in her face he hurriedly goes off on another tack.) I’m afraid I gabbed too much that night. Maybe I bored you with my talk of clipper ships and my love for them?

Lavinia —(dryly) “Tall, white clippers,” you called them. You said they were like beautiful, pale women to you. You said you loved them more than you’d ever loved a woman. Is that true, Captain?

Brant —(with forced gallantry) Aye. But I meant, before I met you. (then thinking he has at last hit on the cause of her changed attitude toward him — with a laugh) So that’s what you’re holding against me, is it? Well, I might have guessed. Women are jealous of ships. They always suspect the sea. They know they’re three of a kind when it comes to a man! (He laughs again but less certainly this time, as he regards her grim, set expression.) Yes, I might have seen you didn’t appear much taken by my sea gamming that night. I suppose clippers are too old a story to the daughter of a ship builder. But unless I’m much mistaken, you were interested when I told you of the islands in the South Seas where I was shipwrecked my first voyage at sea.

Lavinia —(in a dry, brittle tone) I remember your admiration for the naked native women. You said they had found the secret of happiness because they had never heard that love can be a sin.

Brant —(surprised — sizing her up puzzledly) So you remember that, do you? (then romantically) Aye! And they live in as near the Garden of Paradise before sin was discovered as you’ll find on this earth! Unless you’ve seen it, you can’t picture the green beauty of their land set in the blue of the sea! The clouds like down on the mountain tops, the sun drowsing in your blood, and always the surf on the barrier reef singing a croon in your ears like a lullaby! The Blessed Isles, I’d call them! You can forget there all men’s dirty dreams of greed and power!

Lavinia — And their dirty dreams — of love?

Brant —(startled again — staring at her uneasily) Why do you say that? What do you mean, Lavinia?

Lavinia — Nothing. I was only thinking — of your Blessed Isles.

Brant —(uncertainly) Oh! But you said —(Then with a confused, stupid persistence he comes closer to her, dropping his voice again to his love-making tone) Whenever I remember those islands now, I will always think of you, as you walked beside me that night with your hair blowing in the sea wind and the moonlight in your eyes! (He tries to take her hand, but at his touch she pulls away and springs to her feet.)

Lavinia —(with cold fury) Don’t you touch me! Don’t you dare —! You liar! You —! (Then as he starts back in confusion, she seizes this opportunity to follow Seth’s advice — staring at him with deliberately insulting scorn) But I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything but cheap romantic lies from the son of a low Canuck nurse girl!

Brant —(stunned) What’s that? (then rage at the insult to his mother overcoming all prudence — springs to his feet threateningly) Belay, damn you! — or I’ll forget you’re a woman — no Mannon can insult her while I—

Lavinia —(appalled now she knows the truth) So — it is true — You are her son! Oh!

Brant —(fighting to control himself — with harsh defiance) And what if I am? I’m proud to be! My only shame is my dirty Mannon blood! So that’s why you couldn’t stand my touching you just now, is it? You’re too good for the son of a servant, eh? By God, you were glad enough before —!

Lavinia —(fiercely) It’s not true! I was only leading you on to find out things!

Brant — Oh, no! It’s only since you suspected who I was! I suppose your father has stuffed you with his lies about my mother! But, by God, you’ll hear the truth of it, now you know who I am — And you’ll see if you or any Mannon has the right to look down on her!

Lavinia — I don’t want to hear —(She starts to go toward the house.)

Brant —(grabbing her by the arm — tauntingly) You’re a coward, are you, like all Mannons, when it comes to facing the truth about themselves? (She turns on him defiantly. He drops her arm and goes on harshly.) I’ll bet he never told you your grandfather, Abe Mannon, as well as his brother, loved my mother!

Lavinia — It’s a lie!

Brant — It’s the truth. It was his jealous revenge made him disown my father and cheat him out of his share of the business they’d inherited!

Lavinia — He didn’t cheat him! He bought him out!

Brant — Forced him to sell for one-tenth its worth, you mean! He knew my father and mother were starving! But the money didn’t last my father long! He’d taken to drink. He was a coward — like all Mannons — once he felt the world looked down on him. He skulked and avoided people. He grew ashamed of my mother — and me. He sank down and down and my mother worked and supported him. I can remember when men from the corner saloon would drag him home and he’d fall in the door, a sodden carcass. One night when I was seven he came home crazy drunk and hit my mother in the face. It was the first time he’d ever struck her. It made me blind mad. I hit at him with the poker and cut his head. My mother pulled me back and gave me a hiding. Then she cried over him. She’d never stopped loving him.

Lavinia — Why do you tell me this? I told you once I don’t want to hear —

Brant —(grimly) You’ll see the point of it damned soon! (unheeding — as if the scene were still before his eyes) For days after, he sat and stared at nothing. One time when we were alone he asked me to forgive him hitting her. But I hated him and I wouldn’t forgive him. Then one night he went out and he didn’t come back. The next morning they found him hanging in a barn!

Lavinia —(with a shudder) Oh!

Brant —(savagely) The only decent thing he ever did!

Lavinia — You’re lying! No Mannon would ever —

Brant — Oh, wouldn’t they? They are all fine, honorable gentlemen, you think! Then listen a bit and you’ll hear something about another of them! (then going on bitterly with his story) My mother sewed for a living and sent me to school. She was very strict with me. She blamed me for his killing himself. But she was bound she’d make a gentleman of me — like he was! — if it took her last cent and her last strap! (with a grim smile) She didn’t succeed, as you notice! At seventeen I ran away to sea — and forgot I had a mother, except I took part of her name — Brant was short and easy on ships — and I wouldn’t wear the name of Mannon. I forgot her until two years ago when I came back from the East. Oh, I’d written to her now and then and sent her money when I happened to have any. But I’d forgotten her just the same — and when I got to New York I found her dying — of sickness and starvation! And I found out that when she’d been laid up, not able to work, not knowing where to reach me, she’d sunk her last shred of pride and written to your father asking for a loan. He never answered her. And I came too late. She died in my arms. (with vindictive passion) He could have saved her — and he deliberately let her die! He’s as guilty of murder as anyone he ever sent to the rope when he was a judge!

Lavinia —(springing to her feet — furiously) You dare say that about Father! If he were here —

Brant — I wish to God he was! I’d tell him what I tell you now — that I swore on my mother’s body I’d revenge her death on him.

Lavinia —(with cold deadly intensity) And I suppose you boast that now you’ve done so, don’t you? — in the vilest, most cowardly way — like the son of a servant you are!

Brant —(again thrown off guard — furiously) Belay, I told you, with that kind of talk!

Lavinia — She is only your means of revenge on Father, is that it?

Brant —(stunned — stammers in guilty confusion) What? — She? — Who? — I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Lavinia — Then you soon will know! And so will she! I’ve found out all I wanted to from you. I’m going in to talk to her now. You wait here until I call you!

Brant —(furious at her tone) No! Be damned if you can order me about as if I was your servant!

Lavinia —(icily) If you have any consideration for her, you’ll do as I say and not force me to write my father. (She turns her back on him and walks to the steps woodenly erect and square-shouldered.)

Brant —(desperately now — with a grotesque catching at his lover’s manner) I don’t know what you mean, Lavinia. I swear before God it is only you I—(She turns at the top of the steps at this and stares at him with such a passion of hatred that he is silenced. Her lips move as if she were going to speak, but she fights back the words, turns stiffly and goes into the house and closes the door behind her.)

(Curtain)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/oneill/eugene/o5m/act1.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 21:06