Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Two

SceneIn the house — Ezra Mannon’s study. No time has elapsed.

The study is a large room with a stiff, austere atmosphere. The furniture is old colonial. The walls are plain plastered surfaces tinted a dull gray with a flat white trim. At rear, right, is a door leading to the hall. On the right wall is a painting of George Washington in a gilt frame, flanked by smaller portraits of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall. At rear, center, is an open fireplace. At left of fireplace, a bookcase filled with law books. Above the fireplace, in a plain frame, is a large portrait of Ezra Mannon himself, painted ten years previously. One is at once struck by the startling likeness between him and Adam Brant. He is a tall man in his early forties, with a spare, wiry frame, seated stiffly in an armchair, his hands on the arms, wearing his black judge’s robe. His face is handsome in a stern, aloof fashion. It is cold and emotionless and has the same strange semblance of a life-like mask that we have already seen in the faces of his wife and daughter and Brant.

On the left are two windows. Between them a desk. A large table with an armchair on either side, right and left, stands at left center, front. At right center is another chair. There are hooked rugs on the floor.

Outside the sun is beginning to set and its glow fills the room with a golden mist. As the action progresses this becomes brighter, then turns to crimson, which darkens to somberness at the end.

Lavinia is discovered standing by the table. She is fighting to control herself, but her face is torn by a look of stricken anguish. She turns slowly to her father’s portrait and for a moment stares at it fixedly. Then she goes to it and puts her hand over one of his hands with a loving, protecting gesture.

Lavinia — Poor Father! (She hears a noise in the hall and moves hastily away. The door from the hall is opened and Christine enters. She is uneasy underneath, but affects a scornful indignation.)

Christine — Really, this unconfirmed report must have turned your head — otherwise I’d find it difficult to understand your sending Annie to disturb me when you knew I was resting.

Lavinia — I told you I had to talk to you.

Christine —(looking around the room with aversion) But why in this musty room, of all places?

Lavinia —(indicating the portrait — quietly) Because it’s Father’s room.

Christine —(starts, looks at the portrait and quickly drops her eyes. Lavinia goes to the door and closes it. Christine says with forced scorn) More mystery?

Lavinia — You better sit down. (Christine sits in the chair at rear center. Lavinia goes back to her father’s chair at left of table.)

Christine — Well — if you’re quite ready, perhaps you will explain.

Lavinia — I suppose Annie told you I’d been to visit Hazel and Peter while you were away.

Christine — Yes. I thought it peculiar. You never visit anyone overnight. Why did you suddenly take that notion?

Lavinia — I didn’t.

Christine — You didn’t visit them?

Lavinia — No.

Christine — Then where did you go?

Lavinia —(accusingly) To New York! (Christine starts. Lavinia hurries on a bit incoherently.) I’ve suspected something — lately — the excuse you’ve made for all your trips there the past year, that Grandfather was sick —(as Christine is about to protest indignantly) Oh! I know he has been — and you’ve stayed at his house — but I’ve suspected lately that wasn’t the real reason — and now I can prove it isn’t! Because I waited outside Grandfather’s house and followed you. I saw you meet Brant!

Christine —(alarmed but concealing it — coolly) Well, what if you did? I told you myself I ran into him by accident —

Lavinia — You went to his room!

Christine —(shaken) He asked me to meet a friend of his — a lady. It was her house we went to.

Lavinia — I asked the woman in the basement. He had hired the room under another name, but she recognized his description. And yours too. She said you had come there often in the past year.

Christine —(desperately) It was the first time I had ever been there. He insisted on my going. He said he had to talk to me about you. He wanted my help to approach your father —

Lavinia —(furiously) How can you lie like that? How can you be so vile as to try to use me to hide your adultery?

Christine —(springing up — with weak indignation) Vinnie!

Lavinia — Your adultery, I said!

Christine — No!

Lavinia — Stop lying, I tell you! I went upstairs! I heard you telling him —“I love you, Adam”— and kissing him! (with a cold bitter fury) You vile —! You’re shameless and evil! Even if you are my mother, I say it! (Christine stares at her, overwhelmed by this onslaught, her poise shattered for the moment. She tries to keep her voice indifferent but it trembles a little.)

Christine — I— I knew you hated me, Vinnie — but not as bitterly as that! (then with a return of her defiant coolness) Very well! I love Adam Brant. What are you going to do?

Lavinia — How you say that — without any shame! You don’t give one thought to Father — who is so good — who trusts you! Oh, how could you do this to Father? How could you?

Christine —(with strident intensity) You would understand if you were the wife of a man you hated!

Lavinia —(horrified — with a glance at the portrait) Don’t! Don’t say that — before him! I won’t listen!

Christine —(grabbing her by the arm) You will listen! I’m talking to you as a woman now, not as mother to daughter! That relationship has no meaning between us! You’ve called me vile and shameless! Well, I want you to know that’s what I’ve felt about myself for over twenty years, giving my body to a man I—

Lavinia —(trying to break away from her, half putting her hands up to her ears) Stop telling me such things! Let me go! (She breaks away, shrinking from her mother with a look of sick repulsion. A pause. She stammers) You — then you’ve always hated Father?

Christine —(bitterly) No. I loved him once — before I married him — incredible as that seems now! He was handsome in his lieutenant’s uniform! He was silent and mysterious and romantic! But marriage soon turned his romance into — disgust!

Lavinia —(wincing again — stammers harshly) So I was born of your disgust! I’ve always guessed that, Mother — ever since I was little — when I used to come to you — with love — but you would always push me away! I’ve felt it ever since I can remember — your disgust! (then with a flare-up of bitter hatred) Oh, I hate you! It’s only right I should hate you!

Christine —(shaken — defensively) I tried to love you. I told myself it wasn’t human not to love my own child, born of my body. But I never could make myself feel you were born of any body but his! You were always my wedding night to me — and my honeymoon!

Lavinia — Stop saying that! How can you be so —! (then suddenly — with a strange jealous bitterness) You’ve loved Orin! Why didn’t you hate him, too?

Christine — Because by then I had forced myself to become resigned in order to live! And most of the time I was carrying him, your father was with the army in Mexico. I had forgotten him. And when Orin was born he seemed my child, only mine, and I loved him for that! (bitterly) I loved him until he let you and your father nag him into the war, in spite of my begging him not to leave me alone. (staring at Lavinia with hatred) I know his leaving me was your doing principally, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(sternly) It was his duty as a Mannon to go! He’d have been sorry the rest of his life if he hadn’t! I love him better than you! I was thinking of him!

Christine — Well, I hope you realize I never would have fallen in love with Adam if I’d had Orin with me. When he had gone there was nothing left — but hate and a desire to be revenged — and a longing for love! And it was then I met Adam. I saw he loved me —

Lavinia —(with taunting scorn) He doesn’t love you! You’re only his revenge on Father! Do you know who he really is? He’s the son of that low nurse girl Grandfather put out of our house!

Christine —(concealing a start — coolly) So you’ve found that out? Were you hoping it would be a crushing surprise to me? I’ve known it all along. He told me when he said he loved me.

Lavinia — Oh! And I suppose knowing who he was gave you all the more satisfaction — to add that disgrace!

Christine —(cuttingly) Will you kindly come to the point and tell me what you intend doing? I suppose you’ll hardly let your father get in the door before you tell him!

Lavinia —(suddenly becoming rigid and cold again — slowly) No. Not unless you force me to. (then as she sees her mother’s astonishment — grimly) I don’t wonder you’re surprised! You know you deserve the worst punishment you could get. And Father would disown you publicly, no matter how much the scandal cost him!

Christine — I realize that. I know him even better than you do!

Lavinia — And I’d like to see you punished for your wickedness! So please understand this isn’t for your sake. It’s for Father’s . He hasn’t been well lately. I’m not going to have him hurt! It’s my first duty to protect him from you!

Christine — I know better than to expect any generosity on my account.

Lavinia — I won’t tell him, provided you give up Brant and never see him again — and promise to be a dutiful wife to Father and make up for the wrong you’ve done him!

Christine —(stares at her daughter — a pause — then she laughs dryly) What a fraud you are, with your talk of your father and your duty! Oh, I’m not denying you want to save his pride — and I know how anxious you are to keep the family from more scandal! But all the same, that’s not your real reason for sparing me!

Lavinia —(confused — guiltily) It is!

Christine — You wanted Adam Brant yourself!

Lavinia — That’s a lie!

Christine — And now you know you can’t have him, you’re determined that at least you’ll take him from me!

Lavinia — No!

Christine — But if you told your father, I’d have to go away with Adam. He’d be mine still. You can’t bear that thought, even at the price of my disgrace, can you?

Lavinia — It’s your evil mind!

Christine — I know you, Vinnie! I’ve watched you ever since you were little, trying to do exactly what you’re doing now! You’ve tried to become the wife of your father and the mother of Orin! You’ve always schemed to steal my place!

Lavinia —(wildly) No! It’s you who have stolen all love from me since the time I was born! (then her manner becoming threatening) But I don’t want to listen to any more of your lies and excuses! I want to know right now whether you’re going to do what I told you or not!

Christine — Suppose I refuse! Suppose I go off openly with Adam! Where will you and your father and the family name be after that scandal? And what if I were disgraced myself? I’d have the man I love, at least!

Lavinia —(grimly) Not for long! Father would use all his influence and get Brant blacklisted so he’d lose his command and never get another! You know how much the “Flying Trades” means to him. And Father would never divorce you. You could never marry. You’d be an anchor around his neck. Don’t forget you’re five years older than he is! He’ll still be in his prime when you’re an old woman with all your looks gone! He’d grow to hate the sight of you!

Christine —(stung beyond bearing — makes a threatening move as if to strike her daughter’s face) You devil! You mean little —! (But Lavinia stares back coldly into her eyes and she controls herself and drops her hand.)

Lavinia — I wouldn’t call names if I were you! There is one you deserve!

Christine —(turning away — her voice still trembling) I’m a fool to let you make me lose my temper — over your jealous spite! (A pause. Lavinia stares at her. Christine seems considering something. A sinister expression comes to her face. Then she turns back to Lavinia — coldly) But you wanted my answer, didn’t you? Well, I agree to do as you said. I promise you I’ll never see Adam again after he calls this evening. Are you satisfied?

Lavinia —(stares at her with cold suspicion) You seem to take giving him up pretty easily!

Christine —(hastily) Do you think I’ll ever give you the satisfaction of seeing me grieve? Oh, no, Vinnie! You’ll never have a chance to gloat!

Lavinia —(still suspiciously — with a touch of scorn) If I loved anyone —!

Christine —(tauntingly) If? I think you do love him — as much as you can love! (with a sudden flurry of jealousy) You little fool! Don’t you know I made him flirt with you, so you wouldn’t be suspicious?

Lavinia —(gives a little shudder — then fiercely) He didn’t fool me! I saw what a liar he was! I just led him on — to find out things! I always hated him! (Christine smiles mockingly and turns away, as if to go out of the room. Lavinia’s manner becomes threatening again.) Wait! I don’t trust you! I know you’re thinking already how you can fool me and break the promise you’ve just made! But you better not try it! I’ll be watching you every minute! And I won’t be the only one! I wrote to Father and Orin as soon as I got back from New York!

Christine —(startled) About Adam?

Lavinia — Only enough so they’d be suspicious and watch you too. I said a Captain Brant had been calling and folks had begun to gossip.

Christine — Ah! I see what it’s going to mean — that you’ll always have this to hold over me and I’ll be under your thumb for the rest of my life! (She cannot restrain her rage — threateningly) Take care, Vinnie! You’ll be responsible if —! (She checks herself abruptly.)

Lavinia —(suspiciously) If what?

Christine —(quickly) Nothing. I only meant if I went off with Adam. But of course you know I won’t do that. You know there’s nothing I can do now — but obey your orders!

Lavinia —(continues to stare at her suspiciously — grimly) You ought to see it’s your duty to Father, not my orders — if you had any honor or decency! (then brusquely) Brant is waiting outside. You can tell him what you’ve got to do — and tell him if he ever dares come here again —! (forcing back her anger) And see that you get rid of him right now! I’m going upstreet to get the latest news. I won’t be gone more than a half-hour and I want him out of the house by the time I get back, do you hear? If he isn’t, I’ll write Father again. I won’t even wait for him to come home! (She turns her back on her mother and marches out the door, square-shouldered and stiff, without a backward glance. Christine looks after her, waiting until she hears the side door of the house close after her. Then she turns and stands in tense calculating thought. Her face has become like a sinister evil mask. Finally, as if making up her mind irrevocably, she comes to the table, tears off a slip of paper and writes two words on it. She tucks this paper in the sleeve of her dress and goes to the open window and calls.)

Christine — Adam! (She moves toward the door to wait for him. Her eyes are caught by the eyes of her husband in the portrait over the fireplace. She stares at him with hatred and addresses him vindictively, half under her breath.) You can thank Vinnie, Ezra! (She goes to the door and reaches it just as Brant appears from the hall. She takes his hand and draws him into the room, closing the door behind him. One is immediately struck by the resemblance between his face and that of the portrait of Ezra Mannon.)

Brant —(glancing uneasily at her, as they come to the center of the room) She knows —?

Christine — Yes. She followed me to New York. And she’s found out who you are too, Adam.

Brant —(with a grim smile) I know. She got that out of me — the proof of it, at any rate. Before I knew what was up I’d given myself away.

Christine — She must have noticed your resemblance to Orin. I was afraid that might start her thinking.

Brant —(sees the portrait for the first time. Instantly his body shifts to a fighting tenseness. It is as if he were going to spring at the figure in the painting. He says slowly) That, I take it, is General Mannon?

Christine — Judge Mannon then. Don’t forget he used to be a judge. He won’t forget it.

Brant —(his eyes still fixed on the portrait — comes and sits in Mannon’s chair on the left of table. Unconsciously he takes the same attitude as Mannon, sitting erect, his hands on the arms of the chair — slowly) Does Orin by any chance resemble his father?

Christine —(stares at him — agitatedly) No! Of course not! What put such a stupid idea in your head?

Brant — It would be damned queer if you fell in love with me because I recalled Ezra Mannon to you!

Christine —(going to him and putting an arm around his shoulder) No, no, I tell you! It was Orin you made me think of! It was Orin!

Brant — I remember that night we were introduced and I heard the name Mrs. Ezra Mannon! By God, how I hated you then for being his! I thought, by God, I’ll take her from him and that’ll be part of my revenge! And out of that hatred my love came! It’s damned queer, isn’t it?

Christine —(hugging him to her) Are you going to let him take me from you now, Adam?

Brant —(passionately) You ask that!

Christine — You swear you won’t — no matter what you must do?

Brant — By God, I swear it!

Christine —(kisses him) Remember that oath! (She glances at the portrait — then turns back to Brant with a little shiver — nervously) What made you sit there? It’s his chair. I’ve so often seen him sitting there —(forcing a little laugh) Your silly talk about resemblances — Don’t sit there. Come. Bring that chair over here. (She moves to the chair at right center. He brings the chair at right of table close to hers.)

Brant — We’ve got to decide what we must do. The time for skulking and lying is over — and by God I’m glad of it! It’s a coward’s game I have no stomach for! (He has placed the chair beside hers. She is staring at the portrait.) Why don’t you sit down, Christine?

Christine —(slowly) I was thinking — perhaps we had better go to the sitting-room. (then defiantly) No! I’ve been afraid of you long enough, Ezra! (She sits down.)

Brant — I felt there was something wrong the moment I saw her. I tried my damndest to put her off the course by giving her some softsoap — as you’d told me to do to blind her. (frowning) That was a mistake, Christine. It made her pay too much attention to me — and opened her eyes!

Christine — Oh, I know I’ve made one blunder after another. It’s as if love drove me on to do everything I shouldn’t. I never should have brought you to this house. Seeing you in New York should have been enough for me. But I loved you too much. I wanted you every possible moment we could steal! And I simply couldn’t believe that he ever would come home. I prayed that he should be killed in the war so intensely that I finally believed it would surely happen! (with savage intensity) Oh, if he were only dead!

Brant — That chance is finished now.

Christine —(slowly — without looking at him) Yes — in that way.

Brant —(stares at her) What do you mean? (She remains silent. He changes the subject uneasily.) There’s only one thing to do! When he comes home I’ll wait for him and not give Vinnie the satisfaction of telling him. I’ll tell him myself. (vindictively) By God! I’d give my soul to see his face when he knows you love Marie Brantôme’s son! And then I’ll take you away openly and laugh at him! And if he tries to stop me —! (He stops and glances with savage hatred at the portrait.)

Christine — What would you do then?

Brant — If ever I laid hands on him, I’d kill him!

Christine — And then? You would be hanged for murder! And where would I be? There would be nothing left for me but to kill myself!

Brant — If I could catch him alone, where no one would interfere, and let the best man come out alive — as I’ve often seen it done in the West!

Christine — This isn’t the West.

Brant — I could insult him on the street before everyone and make him fight me! I could let him shoot first and then kill him in self-defense.

Christine —(scornfully) Do you imagine you could force him to fight a duel with you? Don’t you know duelling is illegal? Oh, no! He’d simply feel bound to do his duty as a former judge and have you arrested! (She adds calculatingly, seeing he is boiling inside) It would be a poor revenge for your mother’s death to let him make you a laughing stock!

Brant — But when I take you off, the laugh will be on him! You can come on the “Flying Trades.”

Christine —(calculatingly reproachful) I don’t think you’d propose that, Adam, if you stopped thinking of your revenge for a moment and thought of me! Don’t you realize he would never divorce me, out of spite? What would I be in the world’s eyes? My life would be ruined and I would ruin yours! You’d grow to hate me!

Brant —(passionately) Don’t talk like that! It’s a lie and you know it!

Christine —(with bitter yearning) If I could only believe that, Adam! But I’ll grow old so soon! And I’m afraid of time! (then abruptly changing tone) As for my sailing on your ship, you’ll find you won’t have a ship! He’ll see to it you lose this command and get you blacklisted so you’ll have no chance of getting another.

Brant —(angrily) Aye! He can do that if he sets about it. There are twice as many skippers as ships these days.

Christine —(calculatingly — without looking at him) If he had only been killed, we could be married now and I would bring you my share of the Mannon estate. That would only be justice. It’s yours by right. It’s what his father stole from yours.

Brant — That’s true enough, damn him!

Christine — You wouldn’t have to worry about commands or owners’ favors then. You could buy your own ship and be your own master!

Brant —(yearningly) That’s always been my dream — some day to own my own clipper! And Clark and Dawson would be willing to sell the “Flying Trades.” (then forgetting everything in his enthusiasm) You’ve seen her, Christine. She’s as beautiful a ship as you’re a woman. Aye, the two of you are like sisters. If she was mine, I’d take you on a honeymoon then! To China — and on the voyage back, we’d stop at the South Pacific Islands I’ve told you about. By God, there’s the right place for love and a honeymoon!

Christine —(slowly) Yes — but Ezra is alive!

Brant —(brought back to earth — gloomily) I know it’s only a dream.

Christine —(turning to stare at him — slowly) You can have your dream — and I can have mine. There is a way. (then turning away again) You remember my telling you he had written complaining of pains about his heart?

Brant — You’re surely not hoping —

Christine — No. He said it was nothing serious. But I’ve let it be known that he has heart trouble. I went to see our old family doctor and told him about Ezra’s letter. I pretended to be dreadfully worried, until I got him worried too. He’s the town’s worst old gossip. I’m sure everyone knows about Ezra’s weak heart by this time.

Brant — What are you driving at, Christine?

Christine — Something I’ve been thinking of ever since I realized he might soon come home. And now that Vinnie — but even if we didn’t have to consider her, it’d be the only way! I couldn’t fool him long. He’s a strange, hidden man. His silence always creeps into my thoughts. Even if he never spoke, I would feel what was in his mind and some night, lying beside him, it would drive me mad and I’d have to kill his silence by screaming out the truth! (She has been staring before her — now she suddenly turns on Brant — slowly) If he died suddenly now, no one would think it was anything but heart failure. I’ve been reading a book in Father’s medical library. I saw it there one day a few weeks ago — it was as if some fate in me forced me to see it! (She reaches in the sleeve of her dress and takes out the slip of paper she had written on.) I’ve written something here. I want you to get it for me. (His fingers close on it mechanically. He stares at it with a strange stupid dread. She hurries on so as not to give him time for reflection.) The work on the “Flying Trades” is all finished, isn’t it? You sail to Boston tomorrow, to wait for cargo?

Brant —(dully) Aye.

Christine — Get this at some druggist’s down by the waterfront the minute you reach there. You can make up some story about a sick dog on your ship. As soon as you get it, mail it to me here. I’ll be on the lookout, so Vinnie will never know it came. Then you must wait on the “Flying Trades” until you hear from me or I come to you — afterward!

Brant —(dully) But how can you do it — so no one will suspect?

Christine — He’s taking medicine. I’ll give him his medicine. Oh, I’ve planned it carefully.

Brant — But — if he dies suddenly, won’t Vinnie —

Christine — There’ll be no reason for her to suspect. She’s worried already about his heart. Besides, she may hate me, but she would never think —

Brant — Orin will be coming home, too.

Christine — Orin will believe anything I want him to. As for the people here, they’d never dream of such a thing in the Mannon house! And the sooner I do it, the less suspicion there’ll be! They will think the excitement of coming home and the reaction were too much for his weak heart! Doctor Blake will think so. I’ll see that’s what he thinks.

Brant —(harshly) Poison! It’s a coward’s trick!

Christine —(with fierce scorn now, seeing the necessity of goading him) Do you think you would be braver to give me up to him and let him take away your ship?

Brant — No!

Christine — Didn’t you say you wanted to kill him?

Brant — Aye! But I’d give him his chance!

Christine — Did he give your mother her chance?

Brant —(aroused) No, damn him!

Christine — Then what makes you suddenly so scrupulous about his death? (with a sneer) It must be the Mannon in you coming out! Are you going to prove, the first time your love is put to a real test, that you’re a weak coward like your father?

Brant — Christine! If it was any man said that to me —!

Christine —(passionately) Have you thought of this side of his homecoming — that he’s coming back to my bed? If you love me as much as you claim, I should think that would rid you of any scruples! If it was a question of some woman taking you from me, I wouldn’t have qualms about which was or wasn’t the way to kill her! (more tauntingly) But perhaps your love has been only a lie you told me — to take the sneaking revenge on him of being a backstairs lover! Perhaps —

Brant —(stung, grabbing her by the shoulders — fiercely) Stop it! I’ll do anything you want! You know it! (then with a change to somber grimness — putting the paper in his pocket) And you’re right. I’m a damn fool to have any feeling about how Ezra Mannon dies!

Christine —(A look of exultant satisfaction comes to her face as she sees he is definitely won over now. She throws her arms around him and kisses him passionately.) Ah! Now you’re the man I love again, not a hypocritical Mannon! Promise me, no more cowardly romantic scruples! Promise me!

Brant — I promise. (The boom of a cannon sounds from the fort that guards the harbor. He and Christine start frightenedly and stand staring at each other. Another boom comes, reverberating, rattling the windows. Christine recovers herself.)

Christine — You hear? That’s the salute to his homecoming! (She kisses him — with fierce insistence) Remember your mother’s death! Remember your dream of your own ship! Above all, remember you’ll have me! — all your own — your wife! (then urgently) And now you must go! She’ll be coming back — and you’re not good at hiding your thoughts. (urging him toward the door) Hurry! I don’t want you to meet her! (The cannon at the fort keep booming at regular intervals until the end of the scene. Brant goes out in the hall and a moment later the front door is heard closing after him. Christine hurries from the door to the window and watches him from behind the curtains as he goes down the drive. She is in a state of tense, exultant excitement. Then, as if an idea had suddenly come to her, she speaks to his retreating figure with a strange sinister air of elation.) You’ll never dare leave me now, Adam — for your ships or your sea or your naked Island girls — when I grow old and ugly! (She turns back from the window. Her eyes are caught by the eyes of her husband in the portrait and for a moment she stares back into them, as if fascinated. Then she jerks her glance away and, with a little shudder she cannot repress, turns and walks quickly from the room and closes the door behind her.)

(Curtain)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/oneill/eugene/o5m/act2.html

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