Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Three

SceneThe same as Act One, Scene One — exterior of the Mannon house. It is around nine o’clock of a night a week later. The light of a half moon falls on the house, giving it an unreal, detached, eerie quality. The pure white temple front seems more than ever like an incongruous mask fixed on the somber, stone house. All the shutters are closed. The white columns of the portico cast black bars of shadow on the gray wall behind them. The trunk of the pine at right is an ebony pillar, its branches a mass of shade.

Lavinia is sitting on the top of the steps to the portico. She is dressed, as before, severely in black. Her thin figure, seated stiffly upright, arms against her sides, the legs close together, the shoulders square, the head upright, is like that of an Egyptian statue. She is staring straight before her. The sound of Seth’s thin, aged baritone mournfully singing the chanty “Shenandoah” is heard from down the drive, off right front. He is approaching the house and the song draws quickly nearer:

“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.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter

A-way, my rolling river.”

He enters right front. He is a bit drunk but holding his liquor well. He walks up by the lilacs starting the next line “Oh, Shenandoah” — then suddenly sees Lavinia on the steps and stops abruptly, a bit sheepish.

Lavinia —(disapprovingly) This is the second time this week I’ve caught you coming home like this.

Seth —(unabashed, approaches the steps — with a grin) I’m aimin’ to do my patriotic duty, Vinnie. The first time was celebratin’ Lee’s surrender and this time is drownin’ my sorrow for the President gittin’ shot! And the third’ll be when your Paw gits home!

Lavinia — Father might arrive tonight.

Seth — Gosh, Vinnie, I never calc’lated he could git here so soon!

Lavinia — Evidently you didn’t. He’d give you fits if he caught you drunk. Oh, I don’t believe he’ll come, but it’s possible he might.

Seth —(is evidently trying to pull himself together. He suddenly leans over toward her and, lowering his voice, asks soberly) Did you find out anything about that Brant?

Lavinia —(sharply) Yes. There’s no connection. It was just a silly idea of yours.

Seth —(stares at her — then understandingly) Wal, if you want it left that way, I’ll leave it that way. (A pause. He continues to stand looking at her, while she stares in front of her.)

Lavinia —(in a low voice) What was that Marie Brantôme like, Seth?

Seth — Marie? She was always laughin’ and singin’— frisky and full of life — with something free and wild about her like an animile. Purty she was, too! (then he adds) Hair just the color of your Maw’s and yourn she had.

Lavinia — I know.

Seth — Oh, everyone took to Marie — couldn’t help it. Even your Paw. He was only a boy then, but he was crazy about her, too, like a youngster would be. His mother was stern with him, while Marie, she made a fuss over him and petted him.

Lavinia — Father, too!

Seth — Ayeh — but he hated her worse than anyone when it got found out she was his Uncle David’s fancy woman.

Lavinia —(in a low voice, as if to herself, staring at the house) It’s all so strange! It frightens me! (She checks herself abruptly — turns to Seth, curtly) I don’t believe that about Father. You’ve had too much whiskey. Go to bed and sleep it off. (She walks up the steps again.)

Seth —(gazes at her with understanding) Ayeh. (then warn-ingly, making a surreptitious signal as he sees the front door opening behind her) Ssstt! (Christine appears outlined in the light from the hall. She is dressed in a gown of green velvet that sets off her hair. The light behind her glows along the edges of the dress and in the color of her hair. She closes the door and comes into the moonlight at the edge of the steps, standing above and a little to the right of Lavinia. The moonlight, falling full on them, accentuates strangely the resemblance between their faces and at the same time the hostile dissimilarity in body and dress. Lavinia does not turn or give any sign of knowing her mother is behind her. There is a second’s uncomfortable silence. Seth moves off left.) Wal, I’ll trot along! (He disappears around the corner of the house. There is a pause. Then Christine speaks in a dry mocking tone.)

Christine — What are you moongazing at? Puritan maidens shouldn’t peer too inquisitively into Spring! Isn’t beauty an abomination and love a vile thing? (She laughs with bitter mockery — then tauntingly) Why don’t you marry Peter? You don’t want to be left an old maid, do you?

Lavinia —(quietly) You needn’t hope to get rid of me that way. I’m not marrying anyone. I’ve got my duty to Father.

Christine — Duty! How often I’ve heard that word in this house! Well, you can’t say I didn’t do mine all these years. But there comes an end.

Lavinia —(grimly) And there comes another end — and you must do your duty again!

Christine —(starts as if to retort defiantly — then says calmly) Yes, I realize that.

Lavinia —(after a pause — suspiciously) What’s going on at the bottom of your mind? I know you’re plotting something!

Christine —(controlling a start) Don’t be stupid, please!

Lavinia — Are you planning how you can see Adam again? You better not!

Christine —(calmly) I’m not so foolish. I said good-bye once. Do you think I want to make it harder for myself?

Lavinia — Has it been hard for you? I’d never guess it — and I’ve been watching you.

Christine — I warned you you would have no chance to gloat! (after a pause) When do you expect your father home? You want me to play my part well when he comes, don’t you? — for his sake. I’d like to be forewarned.

Lavinia — His letter said he wouldn’t wait until his brigade was disbanded but would try to get leave at once. He might arrive tonight — or tomorrow — or the next day. I don’t know.

Christine — You think he might come tonight? (then with a mocking smile) So he’s the beau you’re waiting for in the spring moonlight! (then after a pause) But the night train got in long ago.

Lavinia —(glances down the drive, left front — then starts to her feet excitedly) Here’s someone! (Christine slowly rises. There is the sound of footsteps. A moment later Ezra Mannon enters from left, front. He stops short in the shadow for a second and stands, erect and stiff, as if at attention, staring at his house, his wife and daughter. He is a tall, spare, big-boned man of fifty, dressed in the uniform of a Brigadier-General. One is immediately struck by the mask-like look of his face in repose, more pronounced in him than in the others. He is exactly like the portrait in his study, which we have seen in Act Two, except that his face is more lined and lean and the hair and beard are grizzled. His movements are exact and wooden and he has a mannerism of standing and sitting in stiff, posed attitudes that suggest the statues of military heroes. When he speaks, his deep voice has a hollow repressed quality, as if he were continually withholding emotion from it. His air is brusque and authoritative.)

Lavinia —(seeing the man’s figure stop in the shadow — calls excitedly) Who’s that?

Mannon —(stepping forward into the moonlight) It’s I.

Lavinia —(with a cry of joy) Father! (She runs to him and throws her arms around him and kisses him.) Oh, Father! (She bursts into tears and hides her face against his shoulder.)

Mannon —(embarrassed — patting her head — gruffly) Come! I thought I’d taught you never to cry.

Lavinia —(obediently forcing back her tears) I’m sorry, Father — but I’m so happy!

Mannon —(awkwardly moved) Tears are queer tokens of happiness! But I appreciate your — your feeling.

Christine —(has slowly descended the steps, her eyes fixed on him — tensely) Is it really you, Ezra? We had just given up hope of your coming tonight.

Mannon —(going stiffly to meet her) Train was late. The railroad is jammed up. Everybody has got leave. (He meets her at the foot of the steps and kisses her with a chill dignity — formally) I am glad to see you, Christine. You are looking well. (He steps back and stares at her — then in a voice that betrays a deep undercurrent of suppressed feeling) You have changed, somehow. You are prettier than ever — But you always were pretty.

Christine —(forcing a light tone) Compliments from one’s husband! How gallant you’ve become, Ezra! (then solicitously) You must be terribly tired. Wouldn’t you like to sit here on the steps for a while? The moonlight is so beautiful.

Lavinia —(who has been hovering about jealously, now manages to worm herself between them — sharply) No. It’s too damp out here. And Father must be hungry. (taking his arm) Come inside with me and I’ll get you something to eat. You poor dear! You must be starved.

Mannon —(really revelling in his daughter’s coddling but embarrassed before his wife — pulling his arm back — brusquely) No, thanks! I would rather rest here for a spell. Sit down, Vinnie. (Christine sits on the top step at center; he sits on the middle step at right; Lavinia on the lowest step at left. While they are doing this he keeps on talking in his abrupt sentences, as if he were trying to cover up some hidden uneasiness.) I’ve got leave for a few days. Then I must go back and disband my brigade. Peace ought to be signed soon. The President’s assassination is a frightful calamity. But it can’t change the course of events.

Lavinia — Poor man! It’s dreadful he should die just at his moment of victory.

Mannon — Yes! (then after a pause — somberly) All victory ends in the defeat of death. That’s sure. But does defeat end in the victory of death? That’s what I wonder! (They both stare at him, Lavinia in surprise, Christine in uneasy wonder. A pause.)

Christine — Where is Orin? Couldn’t you get leave for him too?

Mannon —(hesitates — then brusquely) I’ve been keeping it from you. Orin was wounded.

Lavinia — Wounded! You don’t mean — badly hurt?

Christine —(half starting to her feet impulsively — with more of angry bitterness than grief) I knew it! I knew when you forced him into your horrible war —! (then sinking back — tensely) You needn’t trouble to break the news gradually, Ezra. Orin is dead, isn’t he?

Lavinia — Don’t say that! It isn’t true, is it, Father?

Mannon —(curtly — a trace of jealousy in his tone) Of course it isn’t! If your mother would permit me to finish instead of jumping at conclusions about her baby —! (with a grim, proud satisfaction) He’s no baby now. I’ve made a man of him. He did one of the bravest things I’ve seen in the war. He was wounded in the head — a close shave but it turned out only a scratch. But he got brain fever from the shock. He’s all right now. He was in a rundown condition, they say at the hospital. I never guessed it. Nerves. I wouldn’t notice nerves. He’s always been restless. (half turning to Christine) He gets that from you.

Christine — When will he be well enough to come home?

Mannon — Soon. The doctor advised a few more days’ rest. He’s still weak. He was out of his head for a long time. Acted as if he were a little boy again. Seemed to think you were with him. That is, he kept talking to “Mother.”

Christine —(with a tense intake of breath) Ah!

Lavinia —(pityingly — with a tinge of scorn in her voice) Poor Orin!

Mannon — I don’t want you to baby him when he comes home, Christine. It would be bad for him to get tied to your apron strings again.

Christine — You needn’t worry. That passed — when he left me. (Another pause. Then Lavinia speaks.)

Lavinia — How is the trouble with your heart, Father? I’ve been so afraid you might be making it out less serious than it really was to keep us from worrying.

Mannon —(gruffly) If it was serious, I’d tell you, so you’d be prepared. If you’d seen as much of death as I have in the past four years, you wouldn’t be afraid of it. (suddenly jumping to his feet — brusquely) Let’s change the subject! I’ve had my fill of death. What I want now is to forget it. (He turns and paces up and down to the right of steps. Lavinia watches him worriedly.) All I know is the pain is like a knife. It puts me out of commission while it lasts. The doctor gave me orders to avoid worry or any over-exertion or excitement.

Christine —(staring at him) You don’t look well. But probably that’s because you’re so tired. You must go to bed soon, Ezra.

Mannon —(comes to a stop in his pacing directly before her and looks into her eyes — a pause — then he says in a voice that he tries to make ordinary) Yes, I want to — soon.

Lavinia —(who has been watching him jealously — suddenly pulling him by the arm — with a childish volubility) No! Not yet! Please, Father! You’ve only just come! We’ve hardly talked at all! (defiantly to her mother) How can you tell him he looks tired? He looks as well as I’ve ever seen him. (then to her father, with a vindictive look at Christine) We’ve so much to tell you. All about Captain Brant. (If she had expected her mother to flinch at this, she is disappointed. Christine is prepared and remains unmoved beneath the searching, suspicious glance Mannon now directs at her.)

Mannon — Vinnie wrote me you’d had company. I never heard of him. What business had he here?

Christine —(with an easy smile) You had better ask Vinnie! He’s her latest beau! She even went walking in the moonlight with him!

Lavinia —(with a gasp at being defied so brazenly) Oh!

Mannon —(now jealous and suspicious of his daughter) I notice you didn’t mention that in your letter, young lady!

Lavinia — I only went walking once with him — and that was before —(She checks herself abruptly.)

Mannon — Before what?

Lavinia — Before I knew he’s the kind who chases after every woman he sees.

Mannon —(angrily to Christine) A fine guest to receive in my absence!

Lavinia — I believe he even thought Mother was flirting with him. That’s why I felt it my duty to write you. You know how folks in town gossip, Father. I thought you ought to warn Mother she was foolish to allow him to come here.

Mannon — Foolish! It was downright —!

Christine —(coldly) I would prefer not to discuss this until we are alone, Ezra — if you don’t mind! And I think Vinnie is extremely inconsiderate the moment you’re home — to annoy you with such ridiculous nonsense! (She turns to Lavinia.) I think you’ve done enough mischief. Will you kindly leave us?

Lavinia — No.

Mannon —(sharply) Stop your squabbling, both of you! I hoped you had grown out of that nonsense! I won’t have it in my house!

Lavinia —(obediently) Yes, Father.

Mannon — It must be your bedtime, Vinnie.

Lavinia — Yes, Father. (She comes and kisses him — excitedly) Oh, I’m so happy you’re here! Don’t let Mother make you believe I— You’re the only man I’ll ever love! I’m going to stay with you!

Mannon —(patting her hair — with gruff tenderness) I hope so. I want you to remain my little girl — for a while longer, at least. (then suddenly catching Christine’s scornful glance — pushes Lavinia away — brusquely) March now!

Lavinia — Yes, Father. (She goes up the steps past her mother without a look. Behind her mother, in the portico, she stops and turns.) Don’t let anything worry you, Father. I’ll always take care of you. (She goes in. Mannon looks at his wife who stares before her. He clears his throat as if about to say something — then starts pacing self-consciously up and down at the right of steps.)

Christine —(forcing a gentle tone) Sit down, Ezra. You will only make yourself more tired, keeping on your feet. (He sits awkwardly two steps below her, on her left, turned sideways to face her. She asks with disarming simplicity) Now please tell me just what it is you suspect me of?

Mannon —(taken aback) What makes you think I suspect you?

Christine — Everything! I’ve felt your distrust from the moment you came. Your eyes have been probing me, as if you were a judge again and I were the prisoner.

Mannon —(guiltily) I—?

Christine — And all on account of a stupid letter Vinnie had no business to write. It seems to me a late day, when I am an old woman with grown-up children, to accuse me of flirting with a stupid ship captain!

Mannon —(impressed and relieved — placatingly) There’s no question of accusing you of that. I only think you’ve been foolish to give the gossips a chance to be malicious.

Christine — Are you sure that’s all you have in your heart against me?

Mannon — Yes! Of course! What else? (patting her hand embarrassedly) We’ll say no more about it. (Then he adds gruffly) But I’d like you to explain how this Brant happened —

Christine — I’m only too glad to! I met him at Father’s . Father has taken a fancy to him for some reason. So when he called here I couldn’t be rude, could I? I hinted that his visits weren’t welcome, but men of his type don’t understand hints. But he’s only been here four times in all, I think. And as for there having been gossip, that’s nonsense! The only talk has been that he came to court Vinnie! You can ask anyone in town.

Mannon — Damn his impudence! It was your duty to tell him flatly he wasn’t wanted!

Christine —(forcing a contrite air) Well, I must confess I didn’t mind his coming as much as I might have — for one reason. He always brought me news of Father. Father’s been sick for the past year, as I wrote you. (then with a twitch of the lips, as if she were restraining a derisive smile) You can’t realize what a strain I’ve been under — worrying about Father and Orin and — you.

Mannon —(deeply moved, turns to her and takes her hand in both of his — awkwardly) Christine — I deeply regret — having been unjust. (He kisses her hand impulsively — then embarrassed by this show of emotion, adds in a gruff, joking tone) Afraid old Johnny Reb would pick me off, were you?

Christine —(controlling a wild impulse to burst into derisive laughter) Do you need to ask that? (A pause. He stares at her, fascinated and stirred.)

Mannon —(finally blurts out) I’ve dreamed of coming home to you, Christine! (leans toward her, his voice trembling with desire and a feeling of strangeness and awe — touching her hair with an awkward caress) You’re beautiful! You look more beautiful than ever — and strange to me. I don’t know you. You’re younger. I feel like an old man beside you. Only your hair is the same — your strange beautiful hair I always —

Christine —(with a start of repulsion, shrinking from his hand) Don’t! (then as he turns away, hurt and resentful at this rebuff — hastily) I’m sorry, Ezra. I didn’t mean — I— I’m nervous tonight. (Mannon paces to the right and stands looking at the trees. Christine stares at his back with hatred. She sighs with affected weariness and leans back and closes her eyes.)

Christine — I’m tired, Ezra.

Mannon —(blurts out) I shouldn’t have bothered you with that foolishness about Brant tonight. (He forces a strained smile.) But I was jealous a mite, to tell you the truth. (He forces himself to turn and, seeing her eyes are shut, suddenly comes and leans over her awkwardly, as if to kiss her, then is stopped by some strangeness he feels about her still face.)

Christine —(feeling his desire and instinctively shrinking — without opening her eyes) Why do you look at me like that?

Mannon —(turns away guiltily) Like what? (uneasily) How do you know? Your eyes are shut. (Then, as if some burden of depression were on him that he had to throw off, he blurts out heavily) I can’t get used to home yet. It’s so lonely. I’ve got used to the feel of camps with thousands of men around me at night — a sense of protection, maybe! (suddenly uneasy again) Don’t keep your eyes shut like that! Don’t be so still! (then, as she opens her eyes — with an explosive appeal) God, I want to talk to you, Christine! I’ve got to explain some things — inside me — to my wife — try to, anyway! (He sits down beside her.) Shut your eyes again! I can talk better. It has always been hard for me to talk — about feelings. I never could when you looked at me. Your eyes were always so — so full of silence! That is, since we’ve been married. Not before, when I was courting you. They used to speak then. They made me talk — because they answered.

Christine —(her eyes closed — tensely) Don’t talk, Ezra.

Mannon —(as if he had determined, once started, to go on doggedly without heeding any interruption) It was seeing death all the time in this war got me to thinking these things. Death was so common, it didn’t mean anything. That freed me to think of life. Queer, isn’t it? Death made me think of life. Before that life had only made me think of death!

Christine —(without opening her eyes) Why are you talking of death?

Mannon — That’s always been the Mannons’ way of thinking. They went to the white meeting-house on Sabbaths and meditated on death. Life was a dying. Being born was starting to die. Death was being born. (shaking his head with a dogged bewilderment) How in hell people ever got such notions! That white meeting-house. It stuck in my mind — clean-scrubbed and whitewashed — a temple of death! But in this war I’ve seen too many white walls splattered with blood that counted no more than dirty water. I’ve seen dead men scattered about, no more important than rubbish to be got rid of. That made the white meeting-house seem meaningless — making so much solemn fuss over death!

Christine —(opens her eyes and stares at him with a strange terror) What has this talk of death to do with me?

Mannon —(avoiding her glance — insistently) Shut your eyes again. Listen and you’ll know. (She shuts her eyes. He plods on with a note of desperation in his voice.) I thought about my life — lying awake nights — and about your life. In the middle of battle I’d think maybe in a minute I’ll be dead. But my life as just me ending, that didn’t appear worth a thought one way or another. But listen, me as your husband being killed that seemed queer and wrong — like something dying that had never lived. Then all the years we’ve been man and wife would rise up in my mind and I would try to look at them. But nothing was clear except that there’d always been some barrier between us — a wall hiding us from each other! I would try to make up my mind exactly what that wall was but I never could discover. (with a clumsy appealing gesture) Do you know?

Christine —(tensely) I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mannon — But you’ve known it was there! Don’t lie, Christine! (He looks at her still face and closed eyes, imploring her to reassure him — then blunders on doggedly) Maybe you’ve always known you didn’t love me. I call to mind the Mexican War. I could see you wanted me to go. I had a feeling you’d grown to hate me. Did you? (She doesn’t answer.) That was why I went. I was hoping I might get killed. Maybe you were hoping that too. Were you?

Christine —(stammers) No, no, I— What makes you say such things?

Mannon — When I came back you had turned to your new baby, Orin. I was hardly alive for you any more. I saw that. I tried not to hate Orin. I turned to Vinnie, but a daughter’s not a wife. Then I made up my mind I’d do my work in the world and leave you alone in your life and not care. That’s why the shipping wasn’t enough — why I became a judge and a mayor and such vain truck, and why folks in town look on me as so able! Ha! Able for what? Not for what I wanted most in life! Not for your love! No! Able only to keep my mind from thinking of what I’d lost! (He stares at her — then asks pleadingly) For you did love me before we were married. You won’t deny that, will you?

Christine —(desperately) I don’t deny anything!

Mannon —(drawing himself up with a stern pride and dignity and surrendering himself like a commander against hopeless odds) All right, then. I came home to surrender to you — what’s inside me. I love you. I loved you then, and all the years between, and I love you now.

Christine —(distractedly) Ezra! Please!

Mannon — I want that said! Maybe you have forgotten it. I wouldn’t blame you. I guess I haven’t said it or showed it much — ever. Something queer in me keeps me mum about the things I’d like most to say — keeps me hiding the things I’d like to show. Something keeps me sitting numb in my own heart — like a statue of a dead man in a town square. (Suddenly he reaches over and takes her hand.) I want to find what that wall is marriage put between us! You’ve got to help me smash it down! We have twenty good years still before us! I’ve been thinking of what we could do to get back to each other. I’ve a notion if we’d leave the children and go off on a voyage together — to the other side of the world — find some island where we could be alone a while. You’ll find I have changed, Christine. I’m sick of death! I want life! Maybe you could love me now! (in a note of final desperate pleading) I’ve got to make you love me!

Christine —(pulls her hand away from him and springs to her feet wildly) For God’s sake, stop talking. I don’t know what you’re saying. Leave me alone! What must be, must be! You make me weak! (then abruptly) It’s getting late.

Mannon —(terribly wounded, withdrawn into his stiff soldier armor — takes out his watch mechanically) Yes — six past eleven. Time to turn in. (He ascends two steps, his face toward the door. He says bitterly) You tell me to stop talking! By God, that’s funny!

Christine —(collected now and calculating — takes hold of his arm, seductively) I meant — what is the good of words? There is no wall between us. I love you.

Mannon —(grabs her by the shoulders and stares into her face) Christine! I’d give my soul to believe that — but — I’m afraid! (She kisses him. He presses her fiercely in his arms — passionately) Christine! (The door behind him is opened and Lavinia appears at the edge of the portico behind and above him. She wears slippers over her bare feet and has a dark dressing-gown over her night dress. She shrinks back from their embrace with aversion. They separate, startled.)

Mannon —(embarrassed — irritably) Thought you’d gone to bed, young lady!

Lavinia —(woodenly) I didn’t feel sleepy. I thought I’d walk a little. It’s such a fine night.

Christine — We are just going to bed. Your father is tired. (She moves up, past her daughter, taking Mannon’s hand, leading him after her to the door.)

Mannon — No time for a walk, if you ask me. See you turn in soon.

Lavinia — Yes, Father.

Mannon — Good night. (The door closes behind them. Lavinia stands staring before her — then walks stiffly down the steps and stands again. Light appears between the chinks of the shutters in the bedroom on the second floor to the left. She looks up.)

Lavinia —(in an anguish of jealous hatred) I hate you! You steal even Father’s love from me again! You stole all love from me when I was born! (then almost with a sob, hiding her face in her hands) Oh, Mother! Why have you done this to me? What harm had I done you? (then looking up at the window again — with passionate disgust) Father, how can you love that shameless harlot? (then frenziedly) I can’t bear it! I won’t! It’s my duty to tell him about her! I will! (She calls desperately) Father! Father! (The shutter of the bedroom is pushed open and Mannon leans out.)

Mannon —(sharply) What is it? Don’t shout like that!

Lavinia —(stammers lamely) I— I remembered I forgot to say good night, Father.

Mannon —(exasperated) Good heavens! What —(then gently) Oh — all right — good night, Vinnie. Get to bed soon, like a good girl.

Lavinia — Yes, Father. Good night. (He goes back in the bedroom and pulls the shutter closed. She stands staring fascinatedly up at the window, wringing her hands in a pitiful desperation.)

(Curtain)

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