Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Four

SceneEzra Mannon’s bedroom. A big four-poster bed is at rear, center, the foot front, the head against the rear wall. A small stand, with a candle on it, is by the head of the bed on the left. To the left of the stand is a door leading into Christine’s room. The door is open. In the left wall are two windows. At left, front, is a table with a lamp on it and a chair beside it. In the right wall, front, is a door leading to the hall. Further back, against the wall, is a bureau.

None of these details can be discerned at first because the room is in darkness, except for what moonlight filters feebly through the shutters. It is around dawn of the following morning.

Christine’s form can be made out, a pale ghost in the darkness, as she slips slowly and stealthily from the bed. She tiptoes to the table, left front, and picks up a light-colored dressing-gown that is flung over the chair and puts it on. She stands listening for some sound from the bed. A pause. Then Mannon’s voice comes suddenly from the bed, dull and lifeless.

Mannon — Christine.

Christine —(starts violently — in a strained voice) Yes.

Mannon — Must be near daybreak, isn’t it?

Christine — Yes. It is beginning to get gray.

Mannon — What made you jump when I spoke? Is my voice so strange to you?

Christine — I thought you were asleep.

Mannon — I haven’t been able to sleep. I’ve been lying here thinking. What makes you so uneasy?

Christine — I haven’t been able to sleep either.

Mannon — You slunk out of bed so quietly.

Christine — I didn’t want to wake you.

Mannon —(bitterly) Couldn’t you bear it — lying close to me?

Christine — I didn’t want to disturb you by tossing around.

Mannon — We’d better light the light and talk a while.

Christine —(with dread) I don’t want to talk! I prefer the dark.

Mannon — I want to see you. (He takes matches from the stand by the bed and lights the candle on it. Christine hastily sits down in the chair by the table, pushing it so she sits facing left, front, with her face turned three-quarters away from him. He pushes his back up against the head of the bed in a half sitting position. His face, with the flickering candle light on its side, has a grim, bitter expression.) You like the dark where you can’t see your old man of a husband, is that it?

Christine — I wish you wouldn’t talk like that, Ezra. If you are going to say stupid things, I’ll go in my own room. (She gets to her feet but keeps her face turned away from him.)

Mannon — Wait! (then a note of pleading in his voice) Don’t go. I don’t want to be alone. (She sits again in the same position as before. He goes on humbly.) I didn’t mean to say those things. I guess there’s bitterness inside me — my own cussedness, maybe — and sometimes it gets out before I can stop it.

Christine — You have always been bitter.

Mannon — Before we married?

Christine — I don’t remember.

Mannon — You don’t want to remember you ever loved me!

Christine —(tensely) I don’t want to talk of the past! (abruptly changing the subject) Did you hear Vinnie the first part of the night? She was pacing up and down before the house like a sentry guarding you. She didn’t go to bed until two. I heard the clock strike.

Mannon — There is one who loves me, at least! (then after a pause) I feel strange, Christine.

Christine — You mean — your heart? You don’t think you are going to be — taken ill, do you?

Mannon —(harshly) No! (a pause then accusingly) Is that what you’re waiting for? Is that why you were so willing to give yourself tonight? Were you hoping —?

Christine —(springing up) Ezra! Stop talking like that! I can’t stand it! (She moves as if to go into her own room.)

Mannon — Wait! I’m sorry I said that. (Then, as she sits down again, he goes on gloomily.) It isn’t my heart. It’s something uneasy troubling my mind — as if something in me was listening, watching, waiting for something to happen.

Christine — Waiting for what to happen?

Mannon — I don’t know. (A pause — then he goes on somberly.) This house is not my house. This is not my room nor my bed. They are empty — waiting for someone to move in! And you are not my wife! You are waiting for something!

Christine —(beginning to snap under the strain — jumps to her feet again) What would I be waiting for?

Mannon — For death — to set you free!

Christine — Leave me alone! Stop nagging at me with your crazy suspicions! (then anger and hatred come into her voice) Not your wife! You acted as if I were your wife — your property — not so long ago!

Mannon —(with bitter scorn) Your body? What are bodies to me? I’ve seen too many rotting in the sun to make grass greener! Ashes to ashes, dirt to dirt! Is that your notion of love? Do you think I married a body? (then, as if all the bitterness and hurt in him had suddenly burst its dam) You were lying to me tonight as you’ve always lied! You were only pretending love! You let me take you as if you were a nigger slave I’d bought at auction! You made me appear a lustful beast in my own eyes! — as you’ve always done since our first marriage night! I would feel cleaner now if I had gone to a brothel! I would feel more honor between myself and life!

Christine —(in a stifled voice) Look out, Ezra! I won’t stand —

Mannon —(with a harsh laugh) And I had hoped my homecoming would mark a new beginning — new love between us! I told you my secret feelings. I tore my insides out for you — thinking you’d understand! By God, I’m an old fool!

Christine —(her voice grown strident) Did you think you could make me weak — make me forget all the years? Oh no, Ezra! It’s too late! (Then her voice changes, as if she had suddenly resolved on a course of action, and becomes deliberately taunting.) You want the truth? You’ve guessed it! You’ve used me, you’ve given me children, but I’ve never once been yours! I never could be! And whose fault is it? I loved you when I married you! I wanted to give myself! But you made me so I couldn’t give! You filled me with disgust!

Mannon —(furiously) You say that to me! (then trying to calm himself — stammers) No! Be quiet! We mustn’t fight! I mustn’t lose my temper! It will bring on —!

Christine —(goading him with calculating cruelty) Oh, no! You needn’t adopt that pitiful tone! You wanted the truth and you’re going to hear it now!

Mannon —(frightened — almost pleading) Be quiet, Christine!

Christine — I’ve lied about everything! I lied about Captain Brant! He is Marie Brantôme’s son! And it was I he came to see, not Vinnie! I made him come!

Mannon —(seized with fury) You dared —! You —! The son of that —!

Christine — Yes, I dared! And all my trips to New York weren’t to visit Father but to be with Adam! He’s gentle and tender, he’s everything you’ve never been. He’s what I’ve longed for all these years with you — a lover! I love him! So now you know the truth!

Mannon —(in a frenzy — struggling to get out of bed) You — you whore — I’ll kill you! (Suddenly he falls back, groaning, doubled up on his left side, with intense pain.)

Christine —(with savage satisfaction) Ah! (She hurries through the doorway into her room and immediately returns with a small box in her hand. He is facing away from her door, and, even if the intense pain left him any perception, he could not notice her departure and return, she moves so silently.)

Mannon —(gaspingly) Quick — medicine!

Christine —(turned away from him, takes a pellet from the box, asking tensely as she does so) Where is your medicine?

Mannon — On the stand! Hurry!

Christine — Wait. I have it now. (She pretends to take something from the stand by the head of the bed — then holds out the pellet and a glass of water which is on the stand.) Here. (He turns to her, groaning and opens his mouth. She puts the pellet on his tongue and presses the glass of water to his lips.) Now drink.

Mannon —(takes a swallow of water — then suddenly a wild look of terror comes over his face. He gasps) That’s not — my medicine! (She shrinks back to the table, the hand with the box held out behind her, as if seeking a hiding place. Her fingers release the box on the table top and she brings her hand in front of her as if instinctively impelled to prove to him she has nothing. His eyes are fixed on her in a terrible accusing glare. He tries to call for help but his voice fades to a wheezy whisper.) Help! Vinnie! (He falls back in a coma, breathing stertorously. Christine stares at him fascinatedly — then starts with terror as she hears a noise from the hall and frantically snatches up the box from the table and holds it behind her back, turning to face the door as it opens and Lavinia appears in the doorway. She is dressed as at the end of Act Three, in nightgown, wrapper and slippers. She stands, dazed and frightened and hesitating, as if she had just awakened.)

Lavinia — I had a horrible dream — I thought I heard Father calling me — it woke me up —

Christine —(trembling with guilty terror — stammers) He just had — an attack.

Lavinia —(hurries to the bed) Father! (She puts her arms around him.) He’s fainted!

Christine — No. He’s all right now. Let him sleep. (At this moment Mannon, with a last dying effort, straightens up in a sitting position in Lavinia’s arms, his eyes glaring at his wife and manages to raise his arm and point an accusing finger at her.)

Mannon —(gasps) She’s guilty — not medicine! (He falls back limply.)

Lavinia — Father! (Frightenedly she feels for his pulse, puts her ear against his chest to listen for a heartbeat.)

Christine — Let him alone. He’s asleep.

Lavinia — He’s dead!

Christine —(repeats mechanically) Dead? (then in a strange flat tone) I hope — he rests in peace.

Lavinia —(turning on her with hatred) Don’t you dare pretend —! You wanted him to die! You —(She stops and stares at her mother with a horrified suspicion — then harshly accusing) Why did he point at you like that? Why did he say you were guilty? Answer me!

Christine —(stammers) I told him — Adam was my lover.

Lavinia —(aghast) You told him that — when you knew his heart —! Oh! You did it on purpose! You murdered him!

Christine — No — it was your fault — you made him suspicious — he kept talking of love and death — he forced me to tell him! (Her voice becomes thick, as if she were drowsy and fighting off sleep. Her eyes half close.)

Lavinia —(grabbing her by the shoulders — fiercely) Listen! Look at me! He said “not medicine”! What did he mean?

Christine —(keeping the hand, with the poison pressed against her back) I— I don’t know.

Lavinia — You do know! What was it? Tell me!

Christine —(with a last effort of will manages to draw herself up and speak with a simulation of outraged feeling) Are you accusing your mother of —

Lavinia — Yes! I—! (then distractedly) No — you can’t be that evil!

Christine —(her strength gone — swaying weakly) I don’t know what — you’re talking about. (She edges away from Lavinia toward her bedroom door, the hand with the poison stretched out behind her — weakly) I— feel faint. I must go — and lie down. I—(She turns as if to run into the room, takes a tottering step — then her knees suddenly buckle under her and she falls in a dead faint at the foot of the bed. As her hand strikes the floor the fingers relax and the box slips out onto one of the hooked rugs.)

Lavinia —(does not notice this. Startled by Christine’s collapse, she automatically bends on one knee beside her and hastily feels for her pulse. Then satisfied she has only fainted, her anguished hatred immediately returns and she speaks with strident denunciation.) You murdered him just the same — by telling him! I suppose you think you’ll be free to marry Adam now! But you won’t! Not while I’m alive! I’ll make you pay for your crime! I’ll find a way to punish you! (She is starting to her feet when her eyes fall on the little box on the rug. Immediately she snatches it up and stares at it, the look of suspicion changing to a dreadful, horrified certainty. Then with a shuddering cry she shrinks back along the side of the bed, the box clutched in her hand, and sinks on her knees by the head of the bed, and flings her arms around the dead man. With anguished beseeching) Father! Don’t leave me alone! Come back to me! Tell me what to do!

(Curtain)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/oneill/eugene/o5m/act4.html

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