Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Two

SceneThe sitting-room of the Mannon house. Like the study, but much larger, it is an interior composed of straight severe lines with heavy detail. The walls are plain plastered surfaces, light gray with a white trim. It is a bleak room without intimacy, with an atmosphere of uncomfortable, stilted stateliness. The furniture is stationed about with exact precision. On the left, front, is a doorway leading to the dining-room. Further back, on the left, are a wall table and chair and a writing desk and chair. In the rear wall, center, is the doorway giving on the main hall and the stairs. At right is a fireplace with a chimneypiece of black marble, flanked by two windows. Portraits of ancestors hang on the walls. At the rear of the fireplace, on the right, is one of a grim-visaged minister of the witch-burning era. Between fireplace and front is another of Ezra Mannon’s grandfather, in the uniform of an officer in Washington’s army. Directly over the fireplace is the portrait of Ezra’s father, Abe Mannon, done when he was sixty. Except for the difference in ages, his face looks exactly like Ezra’s in the painting in the study.

Of the three portraits on the other walls, two are of women — Abe Mannon’s wife and the wife of Washington’s officer. The third has the appearance of a prosperous shipowner of Colonial days. All the faces in the portraits have the same mask quality of those of the living characters in the play.

At the left center of the room, front, is a table with two chairs. There is another chair at center, front, and a sofa at right, front, facing left.

The opening of this scene follows immediately the close of the preceding one. Hazel is discovered sitting on the chair at center, front. Peter is sitting on the sofa at right. From the hall Orin is heard calling “Mother! Where are you?” as at the close of the preceding act.

Hazel — Where can she have gone? She’s worked herself into such a state of grief I don’t think she knows what she’s doing.

Peter — Vinnie’s completely knocked out, too.

Hazel — And poor Orin! What a terrible homecoming this is for him! How sick and changed he looks, doesn’t he, Peter?

Peter — Head wounds are no joke. He’s darned lucky to have come out alive. (They stop talking self-consciously as Orin and Christine enter from the rear. Orin is questioning her suspiciously.)

Orin — Why did you sneak away like that? What were you doing?

Christine —(forcing a wan smile) The happiness of seeing you again was a little too much for me, I’m afraid, dear. I suddenly felt as if I were going to faint, so I rushed out in the fresh air.

Orin —(immediately ashamed of himself — tenderly, putting his arm around her) Poor Mother! I’m sorry — Look here, then. You sit down and rest. Or maybe you better go right to bed.

Hazel — That’s right, Orin, you make her. I’ve been trying to get her to but she won’t listen to me.

Christine — Go to bed the minute he comes home! I should say not!

Orin —(worried and pleased at the same time) But you mustn’t do anything to —

Christine —(patting his cheek) Fiddlesticks! Having you again is just the medicine I need to give me strength — to bear things. (She turns to Hazel.) Listen to him, Hazel! You’d think I was the invalid and not he.

Hazel — Yes. You’ve got to take care of yourself, too, Orin.

Orin — Oh, forget me. I’m all right.

Christine — We’ll play nurses, Hazel and I, and have you your old self again before you know it. Won’t we, Hazel?

Hazel —(smiling happily) Of course we will.

Christine — Don’t stand, dear. You must be worn out. Wait. We’ll make you comfortable. Hazel, will you bring me a cushion? (Hazel gets a cushion and helps to place it behind his back in the chair at right of table. Orin’s eyes light up and he grins boyishly, obviously revelling in being coddled.)

Orin — How’s this for the comforts of home, Peter? The front was never like this, eh?

Peter — Not so you’d notice it!

Orin —(with a wink at Hazel) Peter will be getting jealous! You better call Vinnie in to put a pillow behind him!

Hazel —(with a smile) I can’t picture Vinnie being that soft.

Orin —(a jealous resentment creeping into his voice) She can be soft — on occasion. She’s always coddling Father and he likes it, although he pretends —

Christine —(turning away and restraining a shudder) Orin! You’re talking as if he were — alive! (There is an uncomfortable silence. Hazel goes quietly back to her chair at center. Christine goes around the table to the chair apposite Orin and sits down.)

Orin —(with a wry smile) We’d all forgotten he’s dead, hadn’t we? Well, I can’t believe it even yet. I feel him in this house — alive!

Christine — Orin!

Orin —(strangely) Everything is changed — in some queer way — this house, Vinnie, you, I— everything but Father. He’s the same and always will be — here — the same! Don’t you feel that, Mother? (She shivers, looking before her but doesn’t answer.)

Hazel —(gently) You mustn’t make your mother think of it, Orin.

Orin —(staring at her — in a queer tone of gratitude) You’re the same, Hazel — sweet and good. (He turns to his mother accusingly.) At least Hazel hasn’t changed, thank God!

Christine —(rousing herself — turns to force a smile at him) Hazel will never change, I hope. I am glad you appreciate her. (Hazel looks embarrassed. Christine goes on — with motherly solicitude) Wasn’t the long train trip terribly hard on you, dear?

Orin — Well, it wasn’t a pleasure trip exactly. My head got aching till I thought it would explode.

Christine —(leans over and puts her hand on his forehead) Poor boy! Does it pain now?

Orin — Not much. Not at all when your hand is there. (Impulsively he takes her hand and kisses it — boyishly) Gosh, Mother, it feels so darned good to be home with you! (then staring at her suspiciously again) Let me have a good look at you. You’re so different. I noticed it even outside. What is it?

Christine —(avoiding his eyes — forcing a smile) It’s just that I’m getting old, I’m afraid, dear.

Orin — No. You’re more beautiful than ever! You’re younger, too, somehow. But it isn’t that. (almost pushing her hand away — bitterly) Maybe I can guess!

Christine —(forces a laugh) Younger and more beautiful! Do you hear him going on, Hazel? He has learned to be very gallant, I must say! (Lavinia appears in the doorway at rear. She enters but remains standing just inside the doorway and keeps her eyes fixed on her mother and Orin.)

Orin —(who is again looking at Hazel, breaks out harshly) Do you remember how you waved your handkerchief, Hazel, the day I set off to become a hero? I thought you would sprain your wrist! And all the mothers and wives and sisters and girls did the same! Sometime in some war they ought to make the women take the men’s place for a month or so. Give them a taste of murder!

Christine — Orin!

Orin — Let them batter each other’s brains out with rifle butts and rip each other’s guts with bayonets! After that, maybe they’d stop waving handkerchiefs and gabbing about heroes! (Hazel gives a shocked exclamation.)

Christine — Please!

Peter —(gruffly) Give it a rest, Orin! It’s over. Give yourself a chance to forget it. None of us liked it any more than you did.

Orin —(immediately shamefaced) You’re right, Peter. I’m a damned whining fool! I’m sorry, Hazel. That was rotten of me.

Hazel — It was nothing, Orin. I understand how you feel. Really I do.

Orin — I— I let off steam when I shouldn’t. (then suddenly) Do you still sing, Hazel? I used to hear you singing — down there. It made me feel life might still be alive somewhere — that, and my dreams of Mother, and the memory of Vinnie bossing me around like a drill sergeant. I used to hear you singing at the queerest times — so sweet and clear and pure! It would rise above the screams of the dying —

Christine —(tensely) I wish you wouldn’t talk of death!

Lavinia —(from the doorway — in a brusque commanding tone like her father’s ) Orin! Come and see Father.

Orin —(starts up from his chair and makes an automatic motion as if to salute — mechanically) Yes, sir. (then confusedly) What the devil —? You sounded just like him. Don’t do that again, for heaven’s sake! (He tries to force a laugh — then shamefacedly) I meant to look at him the first thing — but I got talking — I’ll go in right now.

Christine —(her voice tense and strained) No! Wait! (angrily to Lavinia) Can’t you let your brother have a minute to rest? You can see how worn out he is! (then to Orin) I’ve hardly had a chance to say a word to you yet — and it has been so long! Stay with me a little while, won’t you?

Orin —(touched, coming back to her) Of course, Mother! You come before everything!

Lavinia —(starts to make a bitter retort, glances at Peter and Hazel, then remarks evenly) Very well. Only remember what I said, Orin. (She turns her back and starts to go into the hall.)

Christine —(frightenedly) Vinnie! Where are you going?

Lavinia —(does not answer her but calls back to her brother over her shoulder) You’ll come in a little while, won’t you? (She disappears across the hall. Orin gives his mother a sidelong glance of uneasy suspicion. Christine is desperately trying to appear calm. Peter and Hazel stand up, feeling uncomfortable.)

Hazel — Peter, we really must be getting home.

Peter — Yes.

Christine — It was so kind of you to come.

Hazel —(giving her hand to Orin) You must rest all you can now, Orin — and try not to think about things.

Orin — You’re darned kind, Hazel. It’s fine to see you again — the same as ever!

Hazel —(delighted but pulling her hand away shyly) I’m glad, too. Good night, Orin.

Peter —(shakes his hand) Good night. Rest up and take it easy.

Orin — Good night, Peter. Thanks for meeting me.

Christine —(goes with them to the hall) I’m afraid this isn’t a very cheerful house to visit just now — but please come soon again. You will do Orin more good than anyone, Hazel. (The look of suspicion again comes to Orin’s eyes. He sits down in the chair at left of table and stares before him bitterly. Christine returns from the hall, closing the sliding doors behind her silently. She stands for a moment looking at Orin, visibly bracing herself for the ordeal of the coming interview, her eyes full of tense calculating fear.)

Orin —(without looking at her) What’s made you take such a fancy to Hazel all of a sudden? You never used to think much of her. You didn’t want me going around with her.

Christine —(coming forward and sitting across the table from him — in her gentle motherly tone) I was selfish then. I was jealous, too, I’ll confess. But all I want now is your happiness, dear. I know how much you used to like Hazel —

Orin —(blurts out) That was only to make you jealous! (then bitterly) But now you’re a widow, I’m not home an hour before you’re trying to marry me off! You must be damned anxious to get rid of me again! Why?

Christine — You mustn’t say that! If you knew how horribly lonely I’ve been without you —

Orin — So lonely you’ve written me exactly two letters in the last six months!

Christine — But I wrote you much more! They must have been lost —

Orin — I received all of Hazel’s letters — and Vinnie’s. It’s darned funny yours should be the only ones to get lost! (Unable to hold back any longer, he bursts forth) Who is this Captain Brant who’s been calling on you?

Christine —(prepared for this — with well-feigned astonishment) On me? You mean on Vinnie, don’t you? (then as Orin looks taken aback) Wherever did you get that silly idea? Oh, of course, I know! Vinnie must have written you the same nonsense she did your father.

Orin — She wrote him? What did he do?

Christine — Why, he laughed at it, naturally! Your father was very fond of Vinnie but he knew how jealous she’s always been of me and he realized she’d tell any lie she could to —

Orin — Oh, come on now, Mother! Just because you’re always getting on each other’s nerves it doesn’t mean Vinnie would ever deliberately —

Christine — Oh, doesn’t it though? I think you’ll discover before you’re much older that there isn’t anything your sister will stop at — that she will even accuse me of the vilest, most horrible things!

Orin — Mother! Honestly now! You oughtn’t to say that!

Christine —(reaching out and taking his hand) I mean it, Orin. I wouldn’t say it to anyone but you. You know that. But we’ve always been so close, you and I. I feel you are really — my flesh and blood! She isn’t! She is your father’s! You’re a part of me!

Orin —(with strange eagerness) Yes! I feel that, too, Mother!

Christine — I know I can trust you to understand now as you always used to. (with a tender smile) We had a secret little world of our own in the old days, didn’t we? — which no one but us knew about.

Orin —(happily) You bet we did! No Mannons allowed was our password, remember!

Christine — And that’s what your father and Vinnie could never forgive us! But we’ll make that little world of our own again, won’t we?

Orin — Yes!

Christine — I want to make up to you for all the injustice you suffered at your father’s hands. It may seem a hard thing to say about the dead, but he was jealous of you. He hated you because he knew I loved you better than anything in the world!

Orin —(pressing her hand in both of his — intensely) Do you, Mother? Do you honestly? (Then he is struck by what she said about his father — woundedly) I knew he had it in for me. But I never thought he went as far as to — hate me.

Christine — He did, just the same!

Orin —(with resentful bitterness) All right then! I’ll tell you the truth, Mother! I won’t pretend to you I’m sorry he’s dead!

Christine —(lowering her voice to a whisper) Yes. I am glad, too! — that he has left us alone! Oh, how happy we’ll be together, you and I, if you only won’t let Vinnie poison your mind against me with her disgusting lies!

Orin —(immediately uneasy again) What lies? (He releases her hand and stares at her, morbidly suspicious.) You haven’t told me about that Brant yet.

Christine — There’s nothing to tell — except in Vinnie’s morbid revengeful mind! I tell you, Orin, you can’t realize how she’s changed while you’ve been away! She’s always been a moody and strange girl, you know that, but since you’ve gone she has worried and brooded until I really believe she went a little out of her head. She got so she’d say the most terrible things about everyone. You simply wouldn’t believe it, if I told you some of the things. And now, with the shock of your father’s death on top of everything, I’m convinced she’s actually insane. Haven’t you noticed how queerly she acts? You must have!

Orin — I saw she’d changed a lot. She seemed strange. But —

Christine — And her craziness all works out in hatred for me! Take this Captain Brant affair, for example —

Orin — Ah!

Christine — A stupid ship captain I happened to meet at your grandfather’s who took it into his silly head to call here a few times without being asked. Vinnie thought he was coming to court her. I honestly believe she fell in love with him, Orin. But she soon discovered that he wasn’t after her at all!

Orin — Who was he after — you?

Christine —(sharply) Orin! I’d be very angry with you if it weren’t so ridiculous! (She forces a laugh.) You don’t seem to realize I’m an old married woman with two grown-up children! No, all he was after was to insinuate himself as a family friend and use your father when he came home to get him a better ship! I soon saw through his little scheme and he’ll never call here again, I promise you that! (She laughs — then with a teasing air) And that’s the whole of the great Captain Brant scandal! Are you satisfied now, you jealous goose, you?

Orin —(penitent and happy) I’m a fool! The war has got me silly, I guess! If you knew all the hell I’ve been through!

Christine — It was Vinnie’s fault you ever went to war! I’ll never forgive her for that! It broke my heart, Orin! (then quickly) But I was going to give you an example of her insane suspicions from the Captain Brant incident. Would you believe it that she has worked it all out that because his name is Brant, he must be the son of that nurse girl Marie Brantôme? Isn’t that crazy? And to imagine for a moment, if he were, he’d ever come here to visit!

Orin —(his face hardening) By God, I’d like to see him! His mother brought disgrace enough on our family without —

Christine —(frightened, shrinking from him) Orin! Don’t look like that! You’re so like your father! (then hurrying on) But I haven’t told you the worst yet. Vinnie actually accuses me — your mother — of being in love with that fool and of having met him in New York and gone to his room! I am no better than a prostitute in your sister’s eyes!

Orin —(stunned) I don’t believe it! Vinnie couldn’t!

Christine — I told you she’d gone crazy! She even followed me to New York, when I went to see your sick grandfather, to spy on me. She saw me meet a man — and immediately to her crazy brain the man was Brant. Oh, it’s too revolting, Orin! You don’t know what I’ve had to put up with from Vinnie, or you’d pity me!

Orin — Good God! Did she tell Father that? No wonder he’s dead! (then harshly) Who was this man you met in New York?

Christine — It was Mr. Lamar, your grandfather’s old friend who has known me ever since I was a baby! I happened to meet him and he asked me to go with him to call on his daughter. (then, seeing Orin wavering, pitifully) Oh, Orin! You pretend to love me! And yet you question me as if you suspected me, too! And you haven’t Vinnie’s excuse! You aren’t out of your mind! (She weeps hysterically.)

Orin —(overcome at once by remorse and love) No! I swear to you! (He throws himself on his knees beside her and puts his arm around her.) Mother! Please! Don’t cry! I do love you! I do!

Christine — I haven’t told you the most horrible thing of all! Vinnie suspects me of having poisoned your father!

Orin —(horrified) What! No, by God, that’s too much! If that’s true, she ought to be put in an asylum!

Christine — She found some medicine I take to make me sleep, but she is so crazy I know she thinks —(then, with real terror, clinging to him) Oh, Orin, I’m so afraid of her! God knows what she might do, in her state! She might even go to the police and — Don’t let her turn you against me! Remember you’re all I have to protect me! You are all I have in the world, dear!

Orin —(tenderly soothing her) Turn me against you? She can’t be so crazy as to try that! But listen. I honestly think you — You’re a little hysterical, you know. That — about Father — is all such damned nonsense! And as for her going to the police — do you suppose I wouldn’t prevent that — for a hundred reasons — the family’s sake — my own sake and Vinnie’s, too, as well as yours — even if I knew —

Christine —(staring at him — in a whisper) Knew? Orin, you don’t believe —?

Orin — No! For God’s sake! I only meant that no matter what you ever did, I love you better than anything in the world and —

Christine —(in an outburst of grateful joy — pressing him to her and kissing him) Oh, Orin, you are my boy, my baby! I love you!

Orin — Mother! (then seizing her by the shoulders and staring into her eyes — with somber intensity) I could forgive anything — anything! — in my mother — except that other — that about Brant!

Christine — I swear to you —!

Orin — If I thought that damned —! (with savage vengefulness) By God, I’d show you then I hadn’t been taught to kill for nothing!

Christine —(full of new terror now — for Brant’s life — distractedly) For God’s sake, don’t talk like that! You’re not like my Orin! You’re cruel and horrible! You frighten me!

Orin —(immediately contrite and soothing, petting her) There, there, Mother! We won’t ever think about it again! We’ll talk of something else. I want to tell you something. (He sits on the floor at her feet and looks up into her face. A pause. Then he asks tenderly, taking her hand) Did you really want me to come back, Mother?

Christine —(has calmed herself, but her eyes are still terrified and her voice trembles) What a foolish question, dear.

Orin — But your letters got farther and farther between — and they seemed so cold! It drove me crazy! I wanted to desert and run home — or else get killed! If you only knew how I longed to be here with you — like this! (He leans his head against her knee. His voice becomes dreamy and low and caressing.) I used to have the most wonderful dreams about you. Have you ever read a book called “Typee”— about the South Sea Islands?

Christine —(with a start — strangely) Islands! Where there is peace?

Orin — Then you did read it?

Christine — No.

Orin — Someone loaned me the book. I read it and reread it until finally those Islands came to mean everything that wasn’t war, everything that was peace and warmth and security. I used to dream I was there. And later on all the time I was out of my head I seemed really to be there. There was no one there but you and me. And yet I never saw you, that’s the funny part. I only felt you all around me. The breaking of the waves was your voice. The sky was the same color as your eyes. The warm sand was like your skin. The whole island was you. (He smiles with a dreamy tenderness.) A strange notion, wasn’t it? But you needn’t be provoked at being an island because this was the most beautiful island in the world — as beautiful as you, Mother!

Christine —(has been staring over his head, listening fascinatedly, more and more deeply moved. As he stops, an agonizing tenderness for him wells up in her — with tortured longing) Oh, if only you had never gone away! If you only hadn’t let them take you from me!

Orin —(uneasily) But I’ve come back. Everything is all right now, isn’t it?

Christine —(hastily) Yes! I didn’t mean that. It had to be.

Orin — And I’ll never leave you again now. I don’t want Hazel or anyone. (with a tender grin) You’re my only girl!

Christine —(again with tenderness, stroking his hair — smiling) You’re a big man now, aren’t you? I can’t believe it. It seems only yesterday when I used to find you in your nightshirt hiding in the hall upstairs on the chance that I’d come up and you’d get one more good-night kiss! Do you remember?

Orin —(with a boyish grin) You bet I remember! And what a row there was when Father caught me! And do you remember how you used to let me brush your hair and how I loved to? He hated me doing that, too. You’ve still got the same beautiful hair, Mother. That hasn’t changed. (He reaches up and touches her hair caressingly. She gives a little shudder of repulsion and draws away from him but he is too happy to notice.) Oh, Mother, it’s going to be wonderful from now on! We’ll get Vinnie to marry Peter and there will be just you and I! (The sliding doors in rear are opened a little and Lavinia slips silently in and stands looking at them.)

Christine —(immediately senses her presence — controlling a start, harshly) What do you want? (Orin turns to look at his sister resentfully.)

Lavinia —(in a flat, emotionless voice) Aren’t you coming in to see Father, Orin?

Orin —(scrambling to his feet — irritably) Oh, all right, I’ll come now. (He hurries out past Lavinia with the air of one with a disagreeable duty he wants to get over quickly and closes the door with a bang behind him. Lavinia stares at her mother a moment — then about-faces stiffly to follow him.)

Christine —(springs to her feet) Vinnie! (as Lavinia turns to face her — sharply) Come here — please. I don’t want to shout across the room. (Lavinia comes slowly forward until she is at arm’s length. Her eyes grow bleak and her mouth tightens to a thin line. The resemblance between mother and daughter as they stand confronting each other is strikingly brought out. Christine begins to speak in a low voice, coolly defiant, almost triumphant.) Well, you can go ahead now and tell Orin anything you wish! I’ve already told him — so you might as well save yourself the trouble. He said you must be insane! I told him how you lied about my trips to New York — for revenge! — because you loved Adam yourself! (Lavinia makes a movement like a faint shudder but is immediately stiff and frozen again. Christine smiles tauntingly.) So hadn’t you better leave Orin out of it? You can’t get him to go to the police for you. Even if you convinced him I poisoned your father, you couldn’t! He doesn’t want — any more than you do, or your father, or any of the Mannon dead — such a public disgrace as a murder trial would be! For it would all come out! Everything! Who Adam is and my adultery and your knowledge of it — and your love for Adam! Oh, believe me, I’ll see to it that comes out if anything ever gets to a trial! I’ll show you to the world as a daughter who desired her mother’s lover and then tried to get her mother hanged out of hatred and jealousy! (She laughs tauntingly. Lavinia is trembling but her face remains hard, and emotionless. Her lips open as if to speak but she closes them again. Christine seems drunk with her own defiant recklessness.) Go on! Try and convince Orin of my wickedness! He loves me! He hated his father! He’s glad he’s dead! Even if he knew I had killed him, he’d protect me! (Then all her defiant attitude collapses and she pleads, seized by an hysterical terror, by some fear she has kept hidden) For God’s sake, keep Orin out of this! He’s still sick! He’s changed! He’s grown hard and cruel! All he thinks of is death! Don’t tell him about Adam! He would kill him! I couldn’t live then! I would kill myself! (Lavinia starts and her eyes light up with a cruel hatred. Again her pale lips part as if she were about to say something but she controls the impulse and about-faces abruptly and walks with jerky steps from the room like some tragic mechanical doll. Christine stares after her — then as she disappears, collapses, catching at the table for support — terrifiedly) I’ve got to see Adam! I’ve got to warn him! (She sinks in the chair at right of table.)

(Curtain)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/oneill/eugene/o5m/act6.html

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