Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Four

The stern section of a clipper ship moored alongside a wharf in East Boston, with the floor of the wharf in the foreground. The vessel lies with her bow and amidships off left and only the part aft of the mizzenmast is visible with the curve of the stern at right. The ship is unloaded and her black side rises nine or ten feet above the level of the wharf. On the poop deck above, at right, is the wheel. At left is the chart room and the entrance to the companionway stairs leading below to the cabin. At extreme left is the mizzenmast, the lowest yard just visible above, the boom of the spanker extending out above the deck to the right. Below the deck the portholes show a faint light from the interior of the cabin. On the wharf the end of a warehouse is at left front.

It is a night two days after Act Two — the day following Ezra Mannon’s funeral. The moon is rising above the horizon off left rear, its light accentuating the black outlines of the ship.

Borne on the wind the melancholy refrain of the capstan chanty “Shenandoah,” sung by a chantyman with the crew coming in on the chorus, drifts over the water from a ship that is weighing anchor in the harbor. Half in and half out of the shadow of the warehouse, the chantyman lies sprawled on his back, snoring in a drunken slumber. The sound of the singing seems to strike a responsive chord in his brain, for he stirs, grunts, and with difficulty raises himself to a sitting position in the moonlight beyond the shadow.

He is a thin, wiry man of sixty-five or so, with a tousled mop of black hair, unkempt black beard and mustache. His weather-beaten face is dissipated, he has a weak mouth, his big round blue eyes are bloodshot, dreamy and drunken. But there is something romantic, a queer troubadour-of-the-sea quality about him.

Chantyman —(listens to the singing with critical disapproval) A hell of a chantyman that feller be! Screech owls is op’ry singers compared to him! I’ll give him a taste of how “Shenandoah” ought t’ be sung! (He begins to sing in a surprisingly good tenor voice, a bit blurry with booze now and sentimentally mournful to a degree, but still managing to get full value out of the chanty.)

“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 stops abruptly, shaking his head — mournfully) No good! Too drunk to do myself jestice! Pipe down, my John! Sleep it off! (He sprawls back on his elbows — confusedly) Where am I? What the hell difference is it? There’s plenty o’ fresh air and the moon fur a glim. Don’t be so damn pertic’lar! What ye want anyways? Featherbed an’ a grand piany? (He sings with a maudlin zest)

“A bottle o’ wine and a bottle o’ beer

And a bottle of Irish whiskey oh!

So early in the morning

The sailor likes his bottle oh!”

(He stops and mutters) Who’ll buy a drink fur the slickest chantyman on the Western or any other damn ocean? Go to hell then! I kin buy it myself! (He fumbles in his pants pocket.) I had it in this pocket — I remember I put it there pertic’lar — ten dollars in this pocket —(He pulls the pocket inside out — with bewildered drunken anger) By Christ, it’s gone! I’m plucked clean! (He struggles to a sitting position.) Where was I last? Aye, I remember! That yaller-haired pig with the pink dress on! Put her arm around me so lovin’! Told me how fine I could sing! (He scrambles unsteadily to his feet.) By Christ, I’ll go back an’ give her a seaboot in her fat tail that’ll learn her —! (He takes a step but lurches into the shadow and leans against the warehouse.) Hard down! Heavy gales around Cape Stiff! All is sunk but honor, as the feller says, an’ there’s damn little o’ that afloat! (He stands against the warehouse, waiting for the swaying world to subside. The companionway door on the poop deck of the vessel is opened and Adam Brant comes cautiously out. He looks around him quickly with an uneasy suspicious air. He is dressed in a merchant captain’s blue uniform. Satisfied that there is no one on the deck, he comes to the rail and stares expectantly up the wharf, off left. His attitude is tense and nervous and he keeps one hand in his coat pocket. The chantyman loses his balance, lurches forward, then back against the warehouse with a thump. Brant leaps back from the rail startledly, jerking a revolver from his coat pocket — then leans over the rail again and calls threateningly)

Brant — Who’s there? Come out and let me have a look at you or by God I’ll shoot!

Chantyman —(stares up, startled in his turn and momentarily sobered — hastily) Easy goes, shipmate! Stow that pistol! I’m doin’ you no harm. (He lurches out into the moonlight — suddenly pugnacious) Not that I’m skeered o’ you or your shooter! Who the hell are you to be threatenin’ the life of an honest chantyman? Tryin’ to hold me up, air ye? I been robbed once tonight! I’ll go to the police station and tell ’em there’s a robber here —

Brant —(hastily, with a placating air) No harm meant. I’m skipper of this vessel and there have been a lot of waterfront thieves around here lately. I’m lacking a watchman and I’ve got to keep my weather eye open.

Chantyman —(again momentarily sobered — touching his forehead) Aye — aye, sir. Mind your eye. I heer’d tell robbers broke in the “Annie Lodge’s “ cabin two nights back. Smashed everything and stole two hundred dollars off her skipper. Murderous, too, they be! Near beat the watchman’s brains out! (Then drunken pugnaciousness comes over him again.) Think I’m one o’ that gang, do ye? Come down out o’ that and I’ll show ye who’s a thief! I don’t give a damn if ye air a skipper! Ye could be Bully Watermann himself an’ I’d not let you insult me! I ain’t signed on your old hooker! You’ve got no rights over me! I’m on dry land, by Christ, and this is a free country and —(His voice has risen to a shout. Brant is alarmed that this uproar will attract someone. He puts the pistol back in his pocket hastily and peers anxiously down the wharf. Then he interrupts the chantyman’s tirade by a sharp command.)

Brant — Stow your damned jaw! Or, by the Eternal, I’ll come down and pound some sense in your head!

Chantyman —(automatically reacts to the voice of authority — quietly) Aye — aye, sir. (then inconsequentially) You ain’t needin’ a chantyman fur your next vi’ge, are ye, sir?

Brant — I’m not sailing for a month yet. If you’re still out of a job then —

Chantyman —(proudly) You don’t know me, that’s plain! I’m the finest damn chantyman that ever put a tune to his lip! I ain’t lookin’ fur berths — they’re lookin’ fur me! Aye! Skippers are on’y too glad to git me! Many’s a time I’ve seed a skipper an’ mates sweatin’ blood to beat work out of a crew but nary a lick could they git into ’em till I raised a tune — and then there’d be full sail on her afore ye knowed it!

Brant —(impatiently) I’m not doubting your ability. But I’d advise you to turn in and sleep it off.

Chantyman —(not heeding this — sadly) Aye, but it ain’t fur long, steam is comin’ in, the sea is full o’ smoky teakettles, the old days is dyin’, an’ where’ll you an’ me be then? (lugubriously drunken again) Everything is dyin’! Abe Lincoln is dead. I used to ship on the Mannon packets an’ I seed in the paper where Ezra Mannon was dead! (Brant starts guiltily. The chantyman goes on maudlinly.) Heart failure killed him, it said, but I know better! I’ve sailed on Mannon hookers an’ been worked t’ death and gotten swill fur grub, an’ I know he didn’t have no heart in him! Open him up an’ you’d find a dried turnip! The old skinflint must have left a pile o’ money. Who gits it, I wonder? Leave a widder, did he?

Brant —(harshly) How would I know? (changing the subject calculatingly) What are you doing here, Chantyman? I’d expect a man with your voice would be in a saloon, singing and making merry!

Chantyman — So I would! So I would! But I was robbed, sir — aye — an’ I know who done it — a yaller-haired wench had her arm around me. Steer clear o’ gals or they’ll skin your hide off an’ use it fur a carpet! I warn ye, skipper! They’re not fur sailormen like you an’ me, ‘less we’re lookin’ fur sorrow! (then insinuatingly) I ain’t got the price of a drink, that’s why I’m here, sir.

Brant —(reaches in his pocket and tosses him down a silver dollar) Here!

Chantyman —(fumbles around and finds the dollar) Thank ye, sir. (then flatteringly) It’s a fine ship you’ve got there, sir. Crack sail on her and she’ll beat most of ’em — an’ you’re the kind to crack sail on, I kin tell by your cut.

Brant —(pleased, glancing up at his ship’s lofty rig) Aye! I’ll make her go right enough!

Chantyman — All you need is a good chantyman to help ye. Here’s “Hanging Johnny” fur ye! (Brant starts at this. The chantyman suddenly begins to sing the chanty “Hanging Johnny” with sentimental mournfulness.)

“Oh, they call me Hanging Johnny

Away — ay — i — oh!

They says I hangs for money

Oh, hang, boys, hang!”

Brant —(harshly) Stop that damned dirge! And get out of here! Look lively now!

Chantyman —(starting to go) Aye — aye, sir. (then resentfully) I see ye ain’t got much ear fur music. Good night.

Brant —(with exasperated relief) Good night. (The chantyman goes unsteadily off left, between the warehouse and the ship. He bursts again into his mournful dirge, his voice receding.)

“They say I hanged my mother

Away — ay — i — oh!

They say I hanged my mother

Oh, hang, boys, hang!”

(Brant, standing by the rail looking after him, mutters a curse and starts pacing up and down the deck.) Damn that chanty! It’s sad as death! I’ve a foreboding I’ll never take this ship to sea. She doesn’t want me now — a coward hiding behind a woman’s skirts! The sea hates a coward! (A woman’s figure dressed in black, heavily veiled, moves stealthily out from the darkness between the ship and the warehouse, left. She sees the figure on the deck above her and shrinks back with a stifled gasp of fear. Brant hears the noise. Immediately his revolver is in his hand and he peers down into the shadows of the warehouse.) Who’s there?

Christine —(with a cry of relief) Adam!

Brant — Christine! (then quickly) Go back to the gangplank. I’ll meet you there. (She goes back. He hurries along the deck and disappears off left to meet her. Their voices are heard and a moment later they enter on the poop deck, from left. She leans against him weakly and he supports her with his arm around her.) I have to bring you this way. I bolted the door to the main deck.

Christine — I was so frightened! I wasn’t sure which ship! Some drunken man came along singing —

Brant — Aye. I just got rid of him. I fired the watchman this morning so I’d be alone at night. I was hoping you’d come soon. Did that drunk see you?

Christine — No. I hid behind some boxes. (then frightenedly) Why have you got that pistol?

Brant —(grimly) I was going to give them a fight for it — if things went wrong.

Christine — Adam!

Brant — By God, you don’t think I’ll ever let them take me alive, do you?

Christine — Please, please! Don’t talk of that for a moment! Only hold me close to you! Tell me you love me!

Brant —(harshly) It’s no time! I want to know what’s happened! (Then immediately repentant he kisses her — with rough tenderness) Don’t mind me! My nerves are gone from waiting alone here not knowing anything but what I read in the papers — that he was dead. These last days have been hell!

Christine — If you knew what they have been for me!

Brant — There’s something gone wrong! I can read that in your face! What is it, Christine?

Christine —(falteringly) Vinnie knows —! She came into the room when he was dying! He told her —

Brant —(harshly) God! What is she going to do? (Then, without giving her time to answer his question, he suddenly looks around uneasily.) Christine! How did you get away? She’d suspect you weren’t going to your father’s now. She followed you once before —

Christine — No. It’s all right. This morning Orin said his cousins, the Bradfords, had invited him and Vinnie to visit them overnight at Blackridge and he was taking Vinnie with him because he thought a change would bring her back to her senses. I’ve made him think she’s out of her head with grief — so he wouldn’t listen to her —

Brant —(eagerly) And he believes that?

Christine —(weakly) Yes — he does — now — but I don’t know how long —

Brant — Ah!

Christine — So I told him by all means to go. It gave me the chance I wanted to come to you. They went this morning. They don’t know I’ve gone and even after they’ve found out they can’t prove where I went. I can only stay a little while, Adam — we’ve got to plan — so many things have happened I couldn’t foresee — I came to warn you —

Brant — Ssshh! Come below in the cabin! We’re fools to be talking out here. (He guides her with his arm around her through the door to the companionway stairs and closes it quietly behind them. A pause in which the singing of the crew on the ship in the harbor comes mournfully over the water. Then Orin and Lavinia come in stealthily along the deck from the left. She is dressed in black as before. He wears a long cloak over his uniform and has a slouch hat pulled down over his eyes. Her manner is cold and grim. Orin is holding in a savage, revengeful rage. They approach the cabin skylight silently. Orin bends down by it to listen. His face, in the light from the skylight, becomes distorted with jealous fury. Lavinia puts a restraining hand on his arm.

(The scene fades out into darkness. Several minutes are supposed to elapse. When the light comes on again, a section of the ship has been removed to reveal the interior of the cabin, a small compartment, the walls newly painted a light brown. The skylight giving on the deck above is in the middle of the ceiling. Suspended in the skylight is a ship’s compass. Beneath it is a pine table with three chairs, one at rear, the other two at the table ends, left and right. On the table is a bottle of whiskey, half full, with a glass and a pitcher of water.

(Built against the right wall of the cabin is a long narrow couch, like a bunk, with leather cushions. In the rear wall, at right, is a door leading into the captain’s stateroom. A big sideboard stands against the left wall, center. Above it, a ship’s clock. Farther back is a door opening on the alleyway leading to the main deck. The companionway stairs lead down to this alleyway.

(There is a lighted lamp on the sideboard and a ship’s lantern, also lighted, at the right end of the table.

(In the cabin, Brant is seated at the right of table, Christine to the rear of it. Her face looks haggard and ageing, the mouth pinched and drawn down at the corners, and her general appearance, the arrangement of her hair and clothes, has the dishevelled touch of the fugitive. She is just finishing her story of the murder and the events following it. He is listening tensely.

(On the deck above, Orin and Lavinia are discovered as before, with Orin bending down by the transom, listening.)

Christine — When he was dying he pointed at me and told her I was guilty! And afterwards she found the poison —

Brant —(springing to his feet) For God’s sake, why didn’t you —

Christine —(pitifully) I fainted before I could hide it! And I had planned it all so carefully. But how could I foresee that she would come in just at that moment? And how could I know he would talk to me the way he did? He drove me crazy! He kept talking of death! He was torturing me! I only wanted him to die and leave me alone!

Brant —(his eyes lighting up with savage satisfaction) He knew before he died whose son I was, you said? By God, I’ll bet that maddened him!

Christine —(repeats pitifully) I’d planned it so carefully — but something made things happen!

Brant —(overcome by gloomy dejection, sinks down on his chair again) I knew it! I’ve had a feeling in my bones! It serves me right, what has happened and is to happen! It wasn’t that kind of revenge I had sworn on my mother’s body! I should have done as I wanted — fought with Ezra Mannon as two men fight for love of a woman! (with bitter self-contempt) I have my father’s rotten coward blood in me, I think! Aye!

Christine — Adam! You make me feel so guilty!

Brant —(rousing himself — shamefacedly) I didn’t mean to blame you, Christine. (then harshly) It’s too late for regrets now, anyway. We’ve got to think what to do.

Christine — Yes! I’m so terrified of Vinnie! Oh, Adam, you must promise me to be on your guard every minute! If she convinces Orin you are my lover — Oh, why can’t we go away, Adam? Once we’re out of her reach, she can’t do anything.

Brant — The “Flying Trades” won’t be sailing for a month or more. We can’t get cargo as soon as the owners thought.

Christine — Can’t we go on another ship — as passengers — to the East — we could be married out there —

Brant —(gloomily) But everyone in the town would know you were gone. It would start suspicion —

Christine — No. Orin and Vinnie would lie to people. They’d have to for their own sakes. They’d say I was in New York with my father. Oh, Adam, it’s the only thing we can do! If we don’t get out of Vinnie’s reach right away I know something horrible will happen!

Brant —(dejectedly) Aye. I suppose it’s the only way out for us now. The “Atlantis” is sailing on Friday for China. I’ll arrange with her skipper to give us passage — and keep his mouth shut. She sails at daybreak Friday. You’d better meet me here Thursday night. (then with an effort) I’ll write Clark and Dawson tonight they’ll have to find another skipper for the “Flying Trades.”

Christine —(noticing the hurt in his tone — miserably) Poor Adam! I know how it hurts you to give up your ship.

Brant —(rousing himself guiltily — pats her hand — with gruff tenderness) There are plenty of ships — but there is only one you, Christine!

Christine — I feel so guilty! I’ve brought you nothing but misfortune!

Brant — You’ve brought love — and the rest is only the price. It’s worth it a million times! You’re all mine now, anyway! (He hugs her to him, staring over her head with sad blank eyes.)

Christine —(her voice trembling) But I’m afraid I’m not much to boast about having — now. I’ve grown old in the past few days. I’m ugly. But I’ll make myself beautiful again — for you —! I’ll make up to you for everything! Try not to regret your ship too much, Adam!

Brant —(gruffly) Let’s not talk of her any more. (then forcing a wry smile) I’ll give up the sea. I think it’s through with me now, anyway! The sea hates a coward.

Christine —(trying pitifully to cheer him) Don’t talk like that! You have me, Adam! You have me! And we will be happy — once we’re safe on your Blessed Islands! (then suddenly, with a little shudder) It’s strange. Orin was telling me of an island —(On the deck above, Orin, who has bent closer to the transom, straightens up with a threatening movement. Lavinia grips his arm, restraining him.)

Brant —(with a bitter, hopeless yearning) Aye — the Blessed Isles — Maybe we can still find happiness and forget! (then strangely, as if to himself) I can see them now — so close — and a million miles away! The warm earth in the moonlight, the trade winds rustling the coco palms, the surf on the barrier reef singing a croon in your ears like a lullaby! Aye! There’s peace, and forgetfulness for us there — if we can ever find those islands now!

Christine —(desperately) We will find them! We will! (She kisses him. A pause. Suddenly she glances frightenedly at the clock.) Look at the time! I’ve got to go, Adam!

Brant — For the love of God, watch out for Vinnie. If anything happened to you now —!

Christine — Nothing will happen to me. But you must be on your guard in case Orin — Good-bye, my lover! I must go! I must! (She tears herself from his arms but immediately throws herself in them again — terrifiedly) Oh! I feel so strange — so sad — as if I’d never see you again! (She begins to sob hysterically.) Oh, Adam, tell me you don’t regret! Tell me we’re going to be happy! I can’t bear this horrible feeling of despair!

Brant — Of course we’ll be happy! Come now! It’s only a couple of days. (They start for the door.) We’ll go by the main deck. It’s shorter. I’ll walk to the end of the wharf with you. I won’t go further. We might be seen.

Christine — Then we don’t have to say good-bye for a few minutes yet! Oh, thank God! (They go out to the alleyway, Brant closing the door behind him. A pause. On the deck above Orin pulls a revolver from under his cloak and makes a move, as if to rush off left down to the main deck after them. Lavinia has been dreading this and throws herself in his way, grasping his arm.)

Orin —(in a furious whisper) Let me go!

Lavinia —(struggling with him) No! Be quiet! Ssshh! I hear them on the main deck! Quick! Come to his cabin! (She urges him to the companionway door, gets him inside and shuts the door behind them. A moment later the door on the left of the cabin below is opened and they enter.)

Lavinia — He’s going to the end of the wharf. That gives us a few minutes. (grimly) You wanted proof! Well, are you satisfied now?

Orin — Yes! God damn him! Death is too good for him! He ought to be —

Lavinia —(sharply commanding) Orin! Remember you promised not to lose your head. You’ve got to do everything exactly as we planned it, so there’ll be no suspicion about us. There would be no justice if we let ourselves —

Orin —(impatiently) You’ve said all that before! Do you think I’m a fool? I’m not anxious to be hanged — for that skunk! (then with bitter anguish) I heard her asking him to kiss her! I heard her warn him against me! (He gives a horrible chuckle.) And my island I told her about — which was she and I— she wants to go there — with him! (then furiously) Damn you! Why did you stop me? I’d have shot his guts out in front of her!

Lavinia —(scornfully) Outside on deck where the shot would be sure to be heard? We’d have been arrested — and then I’d have to tell the truth to save us. She’d be hanged, and even if we managed to get off, our lives would be ruined! The only person to come off lucky would be Brant! He could die happy, knowing he’d revenged himself on us more than he ever dared hope! Is that what you want?

Orin —(sullenly) No.

Lavinia — Then don’t act like a fool again. (looks around the cabin calculating — then in a tone of command) Go and hide outside. He won’t see you when he passes along the alleyway in the dark. He’ll come straight in here. That’s the time for you —

Orin —(grimly) You needn’t tell me what to do. I’ve had a thorough training at this game — thanks to you and Father.

Lavinia — Quick! Go out now! He won’t be long!

Orin —(goes to the door — then quickly) I hear him coming. (He slips out silently. She hurriedly hides herself by the sideboard at left, front. A moment later Brant appears in the doorway and stands just inside it blinking in the light. He looks around the cabin sadly.)

Brant —(huskily) So it’s good-bye to you, “Flying Trades”! And you’re right! I wasn’t man enough for you!

(Orin steps through the door and with the pistol almost against Brant’s body fires twice. Brant pitches forward to the floor by the table, rolls over, twitches a moment on his back and lies still. Orin springs forward and stands over the body, his pistol aimed down at it, ready to fire again.)

Lavinia —(stares fascinatedly at Brant’s still face) Is he — dead?

Orin — Yes.

Lavinia —(sharply) Don’t stand there! Where’s the chisel you brought? Smash open everything in his stateroom. We must make it look as if thieves killed him, remember! Take anything valuable! We can sink it overboard afterwards! Hurry! (Orin puts his revolver on the table and takes a chisel that is stuck in his belt under his cloak and goes into the stateroom. A moment later there is the sound of splintering wood as he pries open a drawer.)

Lavinia —(goes slowly to the body and stands looking down into Brant’s face. Her own is frozen and expressionless. A pause. Orin can be heard in the stateroom prying open Brant’s desk and scattering the contents of drawers around. Finally Lavinia speaks to the corpse in a grim bitter tone.) How could you love that vile old woman so? (She throws off this thought — harshly) But you’re dead! It’s ended! (She turns away from him resolutely — then suddenly turns back and stands stiffly upright and grim beside the body and prays coldly, as if carrying out a duty) May God find forgiveness for your sins! May the soul of our cousin, Adam Mannon, rest in peace! (Orin comes in from the stateroom and overhears the last of her prayer.)

Orin —(harshly) Rest in hell, you mean! (He comes to her.) I’ve pried open everything I could find.

Lavinia — Then come along. Quick. There’s your pistol. Don’t forget that. (She goes to the door.)

Orin —(putting it in his pocket) We’ve got to go through his pockets to make everything look like a burglary. (He quickly turns Brant’s pockets inside out and puts the revolver he finds, along with bills and coins, watch and chain, knife, etc., into his own.) I’ll sink these overboard from the dock, along with what was in his stateroom. (Having finished this, he still remains stooping over the body and stares into Brant’s face, a queer fascinated expression in his eyes.)

Lavinia —(uneasily) Orin!

Orin — By God, he does look like Father!

Lavinia — No! Come along!

Orin —(as if talking to himself) This is like my dream. I’ve killed him before — over and over.

Lavinia — Orin!

Orin — Do you remember me telling you how the faces of the men I killed came back and changed to Father’s face and finally became my own? (He smiles grimly.) He looks like me, too! Maybe I’ve committed suicide!

Lavinia —(frightenedly — grabbing his arm) Hurry! Someone may come!

Orin —(not heeding her, still staring at Brant — strangely) If I had been he I would have done what he did! I would have loved her as he loved her — and killed Father too — for her sake!

Lavinia —(tensely — shaking him by the arm) Orin, for God’s sake, will you stop talking crazy and come along? Do you want us to be found here? (She pulls him away forcibly.)

Orin —(with a last look at the dead man) It’s queer! It’s a rotten dirty joke on someone! (He lets her hustle him out to the alleyway.)

(Curtain)

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