Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act One

Scene One

Exterior of the Mannon house (as in the two preceding plays) on an evening of a clear day in summer a year later. It is shortly after sunset but the afterglow in the sky still bathes the white temple portico in a crimson light. The columns cast black bars of shadow on the wall behind them. All the shutters are closed and the front door is boarded up, showing that the house is unoccupied.

A group of five men is standing on the drive by the bench at left, front. Seth Beckwith is there and Amos Ames, who appeared in the first Act of “Homecoming.” The others are Abner Small, Joe Silva and Ira Mackel.

These four — Ames, Small, Silva and Mackel — are, as were the townsfolk of the first acts of “Homecoming” and “The Hunted,” a chorus of types representing the town as a human background for the drama of the Mannons.

Small is a wiry little old man of sixty-five, a clerk in a hardware store. He has white hair and a wispy goat’s beard, bright inquisitive eyes, ruddy complexion, and a shrill rasping voice. Silva is a Portuguese fishing captain — a fat, boisterous man, with a hoarse bass voice. He has matted gray hair and a big grizzled mustache. He is sixty. Mackel, who is a farmer, hobbles along with the aid of a cane. His shiny wrinkled face is oblong with a square white chin whisker. He is bald. His yellowish brown eyes are sly. He talks in a drawling wheezy cackle.

All five are drunk. Seth has a stone jug in his hand. There is a grotesque atmosphere of boys out on a forbidden lark about these old men.

Small — God A’mighty, Seth, be you glued to that jug?

Mackel — Gol durn him, he’s gittin’ stingy in his old age!

Silva —(bursts into song)

“A bottle of beer and a bottle of gin

And a bottle of Irish whiskey oh!

So early in the morning

A sailor likes his bottle oh!”

Ames —(derisively) You like your bottle ‘ceptin’ when your old woman’s got her eye on ye!

Silva — She’s visitin’ her folks to New Bedford. What the hell I care! (bursts into song again)

“Hurrah! Hurrah! I sing the jubilee

Hurrah! Hurrah! Her folks has set me free!”

Ames —(slapping him on the back) God damn you, Joe, you’re gittin’ to be a poet! (They all laugh.)

Small — God A’mighty, Seth, ain’t ye got no heart in ye? Watch me perishin’ fur lack o’ whiskey and ye keep froze to that jug! (He reaches out for it.)

Seth — No, ye don’t! I’m onto your game! (with a wink at the others) He’s aimin’ to git so full of Injun courage he wouldn’t mind if a ghost sot on his lap! Purty slick you be, Abner! Swill my licker so’s you kin skin me out o’ my bet!

Mackel — That’s it, Seth! Don’t let him play no skin games!

Joe — By God, if ghosts look like the livin’, I’d let Ezra’s woman’s ghost set on my lap! M’m! (He smacks his lips lasciviously.)

Ames — Me, too! She was a looker!

Small —(with an uneasy glance at the house) It’s her ghost folks is sayin’ haunts the place, ain’t it?

Seth —(with a wink at the others) Oh, hers and a hull passel of others. The graveyard’s full of Mannons and they all spend their nights to hum here. You needn’t worry but you’ll have plenty o’ company, Abner! (The others laugh, their mirth a bit forced, but Small looks rather sick.)

Small — It ain’t in our bet for you to put sech notions in my head afore I go in, be it? (then forcing a perky bravado) Think you kin scare me? There ain’t no sech thing as ghosts!

Seth — An’ I’m sayin’ you’re scared to prove there ain’t! Let’s git our bet set out plain afore witnesses. I’m lettin’ you in the Mannon house and I’m bettin’ you ten dollars and a gallon of licker you dasn’t stay there till moonrise at ten o’clock. If you come out afore then, you lose. An’ you’re to stay in the dark and not even strike a match! Is that agreed?

Small —(trying to put a brave face on it) That’s agreed — an’ it’s like stealin’ ten dollars off you!

Seth — We’ll see! (then with a grin) An’ you’re supposed to go in sober! But I won’t make it too dead sober! I ain’t that hard-hearted. I wouldn’t face what you’ll face with a gallon under my belt! (handing him the jug) Here! Take a good swig! You’re lookin’ a mite pale about the gills a’ready!

Small — No sech thing! (But he puts the jug to his lips and takes an enormous swallow.)

Mackel — Whoa thar! Ye ain’t drinkin’ for all on us! (Small hands the jug to him and he drinks and passes it around until it finally reaches Seth again. In the meantime Small talks to Seth.)

Small — Be it all right fur me to go in afore dark? I’d like to know where I’m at while I kin see.

Seth — Wal, I calc’late you kin. Don’t want you runnin’ into furniture an’ breakin’ things when them ghosts git chasin’ you! Vinnie an’ Orin’s liable to be back from Chiny afore long an’ she’d give me hell if anythin’ was broke. (The jug reaches him. He takes a drink — then sets it down on the drive.) Come along! I’ve took the screws out o’ that door. I kin let you right in. (He goes toward the portico, Small following him, whistling with elaborate nonchalance.)

Small —(to the others who remain where they are) So long, fellers. We’ll have a good spree on that ten dollars.

Mackel —(with a malicious cackle) Mebbe! Would you like me fur one o’ your pallbearers, Abner?

Ames — I’ll comfort your old woman — providin’ she’ll want comfortin’, which ain’t likely!

Silva — And I’ll water your grave every Sunday after church! That’s the kind of man I be, by God. I don’t forget my friends when they’re gone!

Seth —(from the portico) We’ll all jine in, Joe! If he ain’t dead, by God, we’ll drown him! (They all roar with laughter. Small looks bitter. The jest strikes him as being unfeeling. — All glow has faded from the sky and it is getting dark.)

Small — To hell with ye! (Seth pries off the board door and unlocks the inner door.)

Seth — Come on. I’ll show you the handiest place to say your prayers. (They go in. The group outside becomes serious.)

Ames —(voicing the opinion of all of them) Wal, all the same, I wouldn’t be in Abner’s boots. It don’t do to monkey with them thin’s .

Mackel — You believe in ghosts, Amos?

Ames — Mebbe. Who knows there ain’t?

Mackel — Wal, I believe in ’em. Take the Nims’ place out my way. Asa Nims killed his wife with a hatchet — she’d nagged him — then hung himself in the attic. I knew Ben Willett that bought the place. He couldn’t live thar — had to move away. It’s fallen to ruins now. Ben used to hear things clawin’ at the walls an’ winders and see the chairs move about. He wasn’t a liar nor chicken-hearted neither.

Silva — There is ghosts, by God! My cousin, Manuel, he seen one! Off on a whaler in the Injun Ocean, that was. A man got knifed and pushed overboard. After that, on moonlight nights, they’d see him a-settin’ on the yards and hear him moanin’ to himself. Yes, sir, my cousin Manuel, he ain’t no liar neither —‘ceptin’ when he’s drunk — and he seen him with his own eyes!

Ames —(with an uneasy glance around, reaching for the jug) Wal, let’s have a drink. (He takes a swig just as Seth comes out of the house, shutting the door behind him.)

Mackel — That’s Seth. He ain’t anxious to stay in thar long, I notice! (Seth hurries down to them, trying to appear to saunter.)

Seth —(with a forced note to his joking) God A’mighty, ye’d ought to see Abner! He’s shyin’ at the furniture covers an’ his teeth are clickin’ a’ready. He’ll come runnin’ out hell fur leather afore long. All I’m wonderin’ is, has he got ten dollars.

Mackel —(slyly) You seem a mite shaky.

Seth —(with a scowl) You’re a liar. What’re ye all lookin’ glum as owls about?

Mackel — Been talkin’ of ghosts. Do you really believe that there house is haunted, Seth, or are ye only jokin’ Abner?

Seth —(sharply) Don’t be a durned fool! I’m on’y jokin’ him, of course!

Mackel —(insistently) Still, it’d be only natural if it was haunted. She shot herself there. Do you think she done it fur grief over Ezra’s death, like the daughter let on to folks?

Seth —‘Course she did!

Mackel — Ezra dyin’ sudden his first night to hum — that was durned queer!

Seth —(angrily) It’s durned queer old fools like you with one foot in the grave can’t mind their own business in the little time left to ’em. That’s what’s queer!

Mackel —(angry in his turn) Wal, all I say is if they hadn’t been Mannons with the town lickin’ their boots, there’d have been queer doin’s come out! And as fur me bein’ an old fool, you’re older an’ a worse fool! An’ your foot’s deeper in the grave than mine be!

Seth —(shaking his fist in Mackel’s face) It ain’t so deep but what I kin whale the stuffin’ out o’ you any day in the week!

Silva —(comes between them) Here, you old roosters! No fightin’ allowed!

Mackel —(subsiding grumpily) This is a free country, ain’t it? I got a right to my opinions!

Ames —(suddenly looking off down left) Ssshh! Look, Seth! There’s someone comin’ up the drive.

Seth —(peering) Ayeh! Who the hell —? It’s Peter ‘n Hazel. Hide that jug, durn ye! (The jug is hidden under the lilacs. A moment later Hazel and Peter enter. They stop in surprise on seeing Seth and his friends. Seth greets them self-consciously.) Good evenin’. I was just showin’ some friends around —

Peter — Hello, Seth. Just the man we’re looking for. We’ve just had a telegram. Vinnie and Orin have landed in New York and —(He is interrupted by a muffled yell of terror from the house. As they all turn to look, the front door is flung open and Small comes tearing out and down the portico steps, his face chalky white and his eyes popping.)

Small —(as he reaches them — terrifiedly) God A’mighty! I heard ’em comin’ after me, and I run in the room opposite, an’ I seed Ezra’s ghost dressed like a judge comin’ through the wall — and, by God, I run! (He jerks a bill out of his pocket and thrusts it on Seth.) Here’s your money, durn ye! I wouldn’t stay in there fur a million! (This breaks the tension, and the old men give way to an hysterical, boisterous, drunken mirth, roaring with laughter, pounding each other on the back.)

Peter —(sharply) What’s this all about? What was he doing in there?

Seth —(controlling his laughter — embarrassedly) Only a joke, Peter. (then turning on Small — scornfully) That was Ezra’s picture hangin’ on the wall, not a ghost, ye durned idjut!

Small —(indignantly) I know pictures when I see ’em an’ I knowed him. This was him! Let’s get out o’ here. I’ve had enough of this durned place!

Seth — You fellers trot along. I’ll jine you later. (They all mutter good evenings to Peter and Hazel and go off, left front. Small’s excited voice can be heard receding as he begins to embroider on the horrors of his adventure. Seth turns to Peter apologetically.) Abner Small’s always braggin’ how brave he is — so I bet him he dasn’t stay in there —

Hazel —(indignantly) Seth! What would Vinnie say if she knew you did such things?

Seth — There ain’t no harm done. I calc’late Abner didn’t break nothin’. And Vinnie wouldn’t mind when she knew why I done it. I was aimin’ to stop the durned gabbin’ that’s been goin’ round town about this house bein’ haunted. You’ve heard it, ain’t ye?

Peter — I heard some silly talk but didn’t pay any attention —

Seth — That durned idjut female I got in to clean a month after Vinnie and Orin sailed started it. Said she’d felt ghosts around. You know how them things grow. Seemed to me Abner’s braggin’ gave me a good chance to stop it by turnin’ it all into a joke on him folks’d laugh at. An’ when I git through tellin’ my story of it round town tomorrow you’ll find folks’ll shet up and not take it serious no more.

Peter —(appreciatively) You’re right, Seth. That was a darned slick notion! Nothing like a joke to lay a ghost!

Seth — Ayeh. But —(He hesitates — then decides to say it.) Between you ‘n’ me ‘n’ the lamp-post, it ain’t all sech a joke as it sounds — that about the hauntin’, I mean.

Peter —(incredulously) You aren’t going to tell me you think the house is haunted too!

Seth —(grimly) Mebbe, and mebbe not. All I know is I wouldn’t stay in there all night if you was to give me the town!

Hazel —(impressed but forcing a teasing tone) Seth! I’m ashamed of you!

Peter — First time I ever heard you say you were afraid of anything!

Seth — There’s times when a man’s a darn fool not to be scared! Oh, don’t git it in your heads I take stock in spirits trespassin’ round in windin’ sheets or no sech lunatic doin’s . But there is such a thing as evil spirit. An’ I’ve felt it, goin’ in there daytimes to see to things — like somethin’ rottin’ in the walls!

Peter — Bosh!

Seth —(quietly) ‘Taint bosh, Peter. There’s been evil in that house since it was first built in hate — and it’s kept growin’ there ever since, as what’s happened there has proved. You understand I ain’t sayin’ this to no one but you two. An’ I’m only tellin’ you fur one reason — because you’re closer to Vinnie and Orin than anyone and you’d ought to persuade them, now they’re back, not to live in it. (He adds impressively) Fur their own good! (then with a change of tone) An’ now I’ve got that off my chest, tell me about ’em. When are they comin’?

Peter — Tomorrow. Vinnie asked us to open the house. So let’s start right in.

Seth —(with evident reluctance) You want to do it tonight?

Hazel — We must, Seth. We’ve got so little time. We can at least tidy up the rooms a little and get the furniture covers off.

Seth — Wal, I’ll go to the barn and git lanterns. There’s candles in the house. (He turns abruptly and goes off left between the lilacs and the house.)

Hazel —(looking after him — uneasily) I can’t get over Seth acting so strangely.

Peter — Don’t mind him. It’s rum and old age.

Hazel —(shaking her head — slowly) No. There is something queer about this house. I’ve always felt it, even before the General’s death and her suicide. (She shudders.) I can still see her sitting on that bench as she was that last night. She was so frightened of being alone. But I thought when Vinnie and Orin came back she would be all right. (then sadly) Poor Orin! I’ll never forget to my dying day the way he looked when we saw him at the funeral. I hardly recognized him, did you?

Peter — No. He certainly was broken up.

Hazel — And the way he acted — like someone in a trance! I don’t believe when Vinnie rushed him off on this trip to the East he knew what he was doing or where he was going or anything.

Peter — A long voyage like that was the best thing to help them both forget.

Hazel —(without conviction) Yes. I suppose it was — but —(She stops and sighs — then worriedly) I wonder how Orin is. Vinnie’s letters haven’t said much about him, or herself, for that matter — only about the trip. (She sees Seth approaching, whistling loudly, from left, rear, with two lighted lanterns.) Here’s Seth. (She walks up the steps to the portico. Peter follows her. She hesitates and stands looking at the house — in a low tone, almost of dread) Seth was right. You feel something cold grip you the moment you set foot —

Peter — Oh, nonsense! He’s got you going, too! (then with a chuckle) Listen to him whistling to keep his courage up! (Seth comes in from the left. He hands one of the lanterns to Peter.)

Seth — Here you be, Peter.

Hazel — Well, let’s go in. You better come out to the kitchen and help me first, Peter. We ought to start a fire. (They go in. There is a pause in which Peter can be heard opening windows behind the shutters in the downstairs rooms. Then silence. Then Lavinia enters, coming up the drive from left, front, and stands regarding the house. One is at once aware of an extraordinary change in her. Her body, formerly so thin and undeveloped, has filled out. Her movements have lost their square-shouldered stiffness. She now bears a striking resemblance to her mother in every respect, even to being dressed in the green her mother had affected. She walks to the clump of lilacs and stands there staring at the house.)

Lavinia —(turns back and calls coaxingly in the tone one would use to a child) Don’t stop there, Orin! What are you afraid of? Come on! (He comes slowly and hesitatingly in from left, front. He carries himself woodenly erect now like a soldier. His movements and attitudes have the statue-like quality that was so marked in his father. He now wears a close-cropped beard in addition to his mustache, and this accentuates his resemblance to his father. The Mannon semblance of his face in repose to a mask is more pronounced than ever. He has grown dreadfully thin and his black suit hangs loosely on his body. His haggard swarthy face is set in a blank lifeless expression.)

Lavinia —(glances at him uneasily — concealing her apprehension under a coaxing motherly tone) You must be brave! This is the test! You have got to face it! (then anxiously as he makes no reply) Do you feel you can — now we’re here?

Orin —(dully) I’ll be all right — with you.

Lavinia —(takes his hand and pats it encouragingly) That’s all I wanted — to hear you say that. (turning to the house) Look, I see a light through the shutters of the sitting-room. That must be Peter and Hazel. (then as she sees he still keeps his eyes averted from the house) Why don’t you look at the house? Are you afraid? (then sharply commanding) Orin! I want you to look now! Do you hear me?

Orin —(dully obedient) Yes, Vinnie. (He jerks his head around and stares at the house and draws a deep shuddering breath.)

Lavinia —(her eyes on his face — as if she were willing her strength into him) Well? You don’t see any ghosts, do you? Tell me!

Orin —(obediently) No.

Lavinia — Because there are none! Tell me you know there are none, Orin!

Orin —(as before) Yes.

Lavinia —(searches his face uneasily — then is apparently satisfied) Come. Let’s go in. We’ll find Hazel and Peter and surprise them —(She takes his arm and leads him to the steps. He walks like an automaton. When they reach the spot where his mother had sat moaning, the last time he had seen her alive [Act Five of “The Hunted”] he stops with a shudder.)

Orin —(stammers — pointing) It was here — she — the last time I saw her alive —

Lavinia —(quickly, urging him on commandingly) That is all past and finished! The dead have forgotten us! We’ve forgotten them! Come! (He obeys woodenly. She gets him up the steps and they pass into the house.)


Scene Two

Same as Act Two of “The Hunted”— The sitting-room in the Mannon house. Peter has lighted two candles on the mantel and put the lantern on the table at front. In this dim, spotty light the room is full of shadows. It has the dead appearance of a room long shut up, and the covered furniture has a ghostly look. In the flickering candlelight the eyes of the Mannon portraits stare with a grim forbiddingness.

Lavinia appears in the doorway at rear. In the lighted room, the change in her is strikingly apparent. At a first glance, one would mistake her for her mother as she appeared in the First Act of “Homecoming.” She seems a mature woman, sure of her feminine attractiveness. Her brown-gold hair is arranged as her mother’s had been. Her green dress is like a copy of her mother’s in Act One of “Homecoming.” She comes forward slowly. The movements of her body now have the feminine grace her mother’s had possessed. Her eyes are caught by the eyes of the Mannons in the portraits and she approaches as if compelled in spite of herself until she stands directly under them in front of the fireplace. She suddenly addresses them in a harsh resentful voice.

Lavinia — Why do you look at me like that? I’ve done my duty by you! That’s finished and forgotten! (She tears her eyes from theirs and, turning away, becomes aware that Orin has not followed her into the room, and is immediately frightened and uneasy and hurries toward the door, calling) Orin!

Orin —(His voice comes from the dark hall.) I’m here.

Lavinia — What are you doing out there? Come here! (Orin appears in the doorway. His face wears a dazed expression and his eyes have a wild, stricken look. He hurries to her as if seeking protection. She exclaims frightenedly) Orin! What is it?

Orin —(strangely) I’ve just been in the study. I was sure she’d be waiting for me in there, where —(torturedly) But she wasn’t! She isn’t anywhere. It’s only they —(He points to the portraits.) They’re everywhere! But she’s gone forever. She’ll never forgive me now!

Lavinia —(harshly) Orin! Will you be quiet!

Orin —(unheeding — with a sudden turn to bitter resentful defiance) Well, let her go! What is she to me? I’m not her son any more! I’m Father’s! I’m a Mannon! And they’ll welcome me home!

Lavinia —(angrily commanding) Stop it, do you hear me!

Orin —(shocked back to awareness by her tone — pitifully confused) I— I didn’t — don’t be angry, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(soothing him now) I’m not angry, dear — only do get hold of yourself and be brave. (leading him to the sofa) Here. Come. Let’s sit down for a moment, shall we, and get used to being home? (They sit down. She puts an arm around him — reproachfully) Don’t you know how terribly you frighten me when you act so strangely? You don’t mean to hurt me, do you?

Orin —(deeply moved) God knows I don’t, Vinnie! You’re all I have in the world! (He takes her hand and kisses it humbly.)

Lavinia —(soothingly) That’s a good boy. (then with a cheerful matter-of-fact note) Hazel and Peter must be back in the kitchen. Won’t you be glad to see Hazel again?

Orin —(dully now) You’ve kept talking about them all the voyage home. Why? What can they have to do with us — now?

Lavinia — A lot. What we need most is to get back to simple normal things and begin a new life. And their friendship and love will help us more than anything to forget.

Orin —(with sudden harshness) Forget? I thought you’d forgotten long ago — if you ever remembered, which you never seemed to! (then with somber bitterness) Love! What right have I— or you — to love?

Lavinia —(defiantly) Every right!

Orin —(grimly) Mother felt the same about —(then with a strange, searching glance at her) You don’t know how like Mother you’ve become, Vinnie. I don’t mean only how pretty you’ve gotten —

Lavinia —(with a strange shy eagerness) Do you really think I’m as pretty now as she was, Orin?

Orin —(as if she hadn’t interrupted) I mean the change in your soul, too. I’ve watched it ever since we sailed for the East. Little by little it grew like Mother’s soul — as if you were stealing hers — as if her death had set you free — to become her!

Lavinia —(uneasily) Now don’t begin talking nonsense again, please!

Orin —(grimly) Don’t you believe in souls any more? I think you will after we’ve lived in this house awhile! The Mannon dead will convert you. (He turns to the portraits — mockingly) Ask them if I’m not right!

Lavinia —(sharply) Orin! What’s come over you? You haven’t had one of these morbid spells since we left the Islands. You swore to me you were all over them, or I’d never have agreed to come home.

Orin —(with a strange malicious air) I had to get you away from the Islands. My brotherly duty! If you’d stayed there much longer —(He chuckles disagreeably.)

Lavinia —(with a trace of confusion) I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only went there for your sake.

Orin —(with another chuckle) Yes — but afterwards —

Lavinia —(sharply) You promised you weren’t going to talk any more morbid nonsense. (He subsides meekly. She goes on reproachfully.) Remember all I’ve gone through on your account. For months after we sailed you didn’t know what you were doing. I had to live in constant fear of what you might say. I wouldn’t live through those horrible days again for anything on earth. And remember this homecoming is what you wanted. You told me that if you could come home and face your ghosts, you knew you could rid yourself forever of your silly guilt about the past.

Orin —(dully) I know, Vinnie.

Lavinia — And I believed you, you seemed so certain of yourself. But now you’ve suddenly become strange again. You frighten me. So much depends on how you start in, now we’re home. (then sharply commanding) Listen, Orin! I want you to start again — by facing all your ghosts right now! (He turns and his eyes remain fixed on hers from now on. She asks sternly) Who murdered Father?

Orin —(falteringly) Brant did — for revenge because —

Lavinia —(more sternly) Who murdered Father? Answer me!

Orin —(with a shudder) Mother was under his influence —

Lavinia — That’s a lie! It was he who was under hers. You know the truth!

Orin — Yes.

Lavinia — She was an adulteress and a murderess, wasn’t she?

Orin — Yes.

Lavinia — If we’d done our duty under the law, she would have been hanged, wouldn’t she?

Orin — Yes.

Lavinia — But we protected her. She could have lived, couldn’t she? But she chose to kill herself as a punishment for her crime — of her own free will! It was an act of justice! You had nothing to do with it! You see that now, don’t you? (As he hesitates, trembling violently, she grabs his arm fiercely.) Tell me!

Orin —(hardly above a whisper) Yes.

Lavinia — And your feeling of being responsible for her death was only your morbid imagination! You don’t feel it now! You’ll never feel it again!

Orin — No.

Lavinia —(gratefully — and weakly because the strength she has willed into him has left her exhausted) There! You see! You can do it when you will to! (She kisses him. He breaks down, sobbing weakly against her breast. She soothes him.) There! Don’t cry! You ought to feel proud. You’ve proven you can laugh at your ghosts from now on. (then briskly, to distract his mind) Come now. Help me to take off these furniture covers. We might as well start making ourselves useful. (She starts to work. For a moment he helps. Then he goes to one of the windows and pushes back a shutter and stands staring out. Peter comes in the door from rear. At the sight of Lavinia he stops startledly, thinks for a second it is her mother’s ghost and gives an exclamation of dread. At the same moment she sees him. She stares at him with a strange eager possessiveness. She calls softly)

Lavinia — Peter! (She goes toward him, smiling as her mother might have smiled.) Don’t you know me any more, Peter?

Peter —(stammers) Vinnie! I— I thought you were —! I can’t realize it’s you! You’ve grown so like your —(checking himself awkwardly) I mean you’ve changed so — and we weren’t looking for you until —(He takes her hand automatically, staring at her stupidly.)

Lavinia — I know. We had intended to stay in New York tonight but we decided later we’d better come right home. (then taking him in with a smiling appreciative possessiveness) Let me look at you, Peter. You haven’t gone and changed, have you? No, you’re the same, thank goodness! I’ve been thinking of you all the way home and wondering — I was so afraid you might have.

Peter —(plucking up his courage — blurts out) You — you ought to know I’d never change — with you! (Then, alarmed by his own boldness, he hastily looks away from her.)

Lavinia —(teasingly) But you haven’t said yet you’re glad to see me!

Peter —(has turned back and is staring fascinatedly at her. A surge of love and desire overcomes his timidity and he bursts out) I— you know how much I—! (Then he turns away again in confusion and takes refuge in a burst of talk.) Gosh, Vinnie, you ought to have given us more warning. We’ve only just started to open the place up. I was with Hazel, in the kitchen, starting a fire —

Lavinia —(laughing softly) Yes. You’re the same old Peter! You’re still afraid of me. But you mustn’t be now. I know I used to be an awful old stick, but —

Peter — Who said so? You were not! (then with enthusiasm) Gosh, you look so darned pretty — and healthy. Your trip certainly did you good! (staring at her again, drinking her in) I can’t get over seeing you dressed in color. You always used to wear black.

Lavinia —(with a strange smile) I was dead then.

Peter — You ought always to wear color.

Lavinia —(immensely pleased) Do you think so?

Peter — Yes. It certainly is becoming. I—(then embarrassedly changing the subject) But where’s Orin?

Lavinia —(turning to look around) Why, he was right here. (She sees him at the window.) Orin, what are you doing there? Here’s Peter. (Orin closes the shutter he has pushed open and turns back from the window. He comes forward, his eyes fixed in a strange preoccupation, as if he were unaware of their presence. Lavinia watches him uneasily and speaks sharply.) Don’t you see Peter? Why don’t you speak to him? You mustn’t be so rude.

Peter —(good-naturedly) Give him a chance. Hello, Orin. Darned glad to see you back. (They shake hands. Peter has difficulty in hiding his pained surprise at Orin’s sickly appearance.)

Orin —(rousing himself, forces a smile and makes an effort at his old friendly manner with Peter) Hello, Peter. You know I’m glad to see you without any polite palaver. Vinnie is the same old bossy fuss-buzzer — you remember — always trying to teach me manners!

Peter — You bet I remember! But say, hasn’t she changed, though? I didn’t know her, she’s grown so fat! And I was just telling her how well she looked in color. Don’t you agree?

Orin —(in a sudden strange tone of jeering malice) Did you ask her why she stole Mother’s colors? I can’t see why — yet — and I don’t think she knows herself. But it will prove a strange reason, I’m certain of that, when I do discover it!

Lavinia —(making a warning sign to Peter not to take this seriously — forcing a smile) Don’t mind him, Peter.

Orin —(his tone becoming sly, insinuating and mocking) And she’s become romantic! Imagine that! Influence of the “dark and deep blue ocean”— and of the Islands, eh, Vinnie?

Peter —(surprised) You stopped at the Islands?

Orin — Yes. We took advantage of our being on a Mannon ship to make the captain touch there on the way back. We stopped a month. (with resentful bitterness) But they turned out to be Vinnie’s islands, not mine. They only made me sick — and the naked women disgusted me. I guess I’m too much of a Mannon, after all, to turn into a pagan. But you should have seen Vinnie with the men —!

Lavinia —(indignantly but with a certain guiltiness) How can you —!

Orin —(jeeringly) Handsome and romantic-looking, weren’t they, Vinnie? — with colored rags around their middles and flowers stuck over their ears! Oh, she was a bit shocked at first by their dances, but afterwards she fell in love with the Islanders. If we’d stayed another month, I know I’d have found her some moonlight night dancing under the palm trees — as naked as the rest!

Lavinia — Orin! Don’t be disgusting!

Orin —(points to the portraits mockingly) Picture, if you can, the feelings of the God-fearing Mannon dead at that spectacle!

Lavinia —(with an anxious glance at Peter) How can you make up such disgusting fibs?

Orin —(with a malicious chuckle) Oh, I wasn’t as blind as I pretended to be! Do you remember Avahanni?

Lavinia —(angrily) Stop talking like a fool! (He subsides meekly again. She forces a smile and a motherly tone.) You’re a naughty boy, do you know it? What will Peter think? Of course, he knows you’re only teasing me — but you shouldn’t go on like that. It isn’t nice. (then changing the subject abruptly) Why don’t you go and find Hazel? Here. Let me look at you. I want you to look your best when she sees you. (She arranges him as a mother would a boy, pulling down his coat, giving a touch to his shirt and tie. Orin straightens woodenly to a soldierly attention. She is vexed by this.) Don’t stand like a ramrod! You’d be so handsome if you’d only shave off that silly beard and not carry yourself like a tin soldier!

Orin —(with a sly cunning air) Not look so much like Father, eh? More like a romantic clipper captain, is that it? (As she starts and stares at him frightenedly, he smiles an ugly taunting smile.) Don’t look so frightened, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(with an apprehensive glance at Peter — pleading and at the same time warning) Ssshh! You weren’t to talk nonsense, remember! (giving him a final pat) There! Now run along to Hazel.

Orin —(looks from her to Peter suspiciously) You seem damned anxious to get rid of me. (He turns and stalks stiffly with hurt dignity from the room. Lavinia turns to Peter. The strain of Orin’s conduct has told on her. She seems suddenly weak and frightened.)

Peter —(in shocked amazement) What’s come over him?

Lavinia —(in a strained voice) It’s the same thing — what the war did to him — and on top of that Father’s death — and the shock of Mother’s suicide.

Peter —(puts his arm around her impulsively — comfortingly) It’ll be all right! Don’t worry, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(nestling against him gratefully) Thank you, Peter. You’re so good. (then looking into his eyes) Do you still love me, Peter?

Peter — Don’t have to ask that, do you? (He squeezes her awkwardly — then stammers) But do you — think now — you maybe — can love me?

Lavinia — Yes!

Peter — You really mean that!

Lavinia — Yes! I do! I’ve thought of you so much! Things were always reminding me of you — the ship and the sea — everything that was honest and clean! And the natives on the Islands reminded me of you too. They were so simple and fine —(then hastily) You mustn’t mind what Orin was saying about the Islands. He’s become a regular bigoted Mannon.

Peter —(amazed) But, Vinnie —!

Lavinia — Oh, I know it must sound funny hearing me talk like that. But remember I’m only half Mannon. (She looks at the portraits defiantly.) And I’ve done my duty by them! They can’t say I haven’t!

Peter —(mystified but happy) Gosh, you certainly have changed! But I’m darned glad!

Lavinia — Orin keeps teasing that I was flirting with that native he spoke about, simply because he used to smile at me and I smiled back.

Peter —(teasingly) Now, I’m beginning to get jealous, too.

Lavinia — You mustn’t. He made me think of you. He made me dream of marrying you — and everything.

Peter — Oh, well then, I take it all back! I owe him a vote of thanks! (He hugs her.)

Lavinia —(dreamily) I loved those Islands. They finished setting me free. There was something there mysterious and beautiful — a good spirit — of love — coming out of the land and sea. It made me forget death. There was no hereafter. There was only this world — the warm earth in the moonlight — the trade wind in the coco palms — the surf on the reef — the fires at night and the drum throbbing in my heart — the natives dancing naked and innocent — without knowledge of sin! (She checks herself abruptly and frightenedly.) But what in the world! I’m gabbing on like a regular chatterbox. You must think I’ve become awfully scatter-brained!

Peter —(with a chuckle) Gosh no! I’m glad you’ve grown that way! You never used to say a word unless you had to!

Lavinia —(suddenly filled with grateful love for him, lets herself go and throws her arms around him) Oh, Peter, hold me close to you! I want to feel love! Love is all beautiful! I never used to know that! I was a fool! (She kisses him passionately. He returns it, aroused and at the same time a little shocked by her boldness. She goes on longingly.) We’ll be married soon, won’t we, and settle out in the country away from folks and their evil talk. We’ll make an island for ourselves on land, and we’ll have children and love them and teach them to love life so that they can never be possessed by hate and death! (She gives a start — in a whisper as if to herself) But I’m forgetting Orin!

Peter — What’s Orin got to do with us marrying?

Lavinia — I can’t leave him — until he’s all well again. I’d be afraid —

Peter — Let him live with us.

Lavinia —(with sudden intensity) No! I want to be rid of the past! (then after a quick look at him — in a confiding tone) I want to tell you what’s wrong with Orin — so you and Hazel can help me. He feels guilty about Mother killing herself. You see, he’d had a quarrel with her that last night. He was jealous and mad and said things he was sorry for after and it preyed on his mind until he blames himself for her death.

Peter — But that’s crazy!

Lavinia — I know it is, Peter, but you can’t do anything with him when he gets his morbid spells. Oh, I don’t mean he’s the way he is tonight most of the time. Usually he’s like himself, only quiet and sad — so sad it breaks my heart to see him — like a little boy who’s been punished for something he didn’t do. Please tell Hazel what I’ve told you, so she’ll make allowances for any crazy thing he might say.

Peter — I’ll warn her. And now don’t you worry any more about him. We’ll get him all right again one way or another.

Lavinia —(again grateful for his simple goodness — lovingly) Bless you, Peter! (She kisses him. As she does so, Hazel and Orin appear in the doorway at rear. Hazel is a bit shocked, then smiles happily. Orin starts as if he’d been struck. He glares at them with jealous rage and clenches his fists as if he were going to attack them.)

Hazel —(with a teasing laugh) I’m afraid we’re interrupting, Orin. (Peter and Vinnie jump apart in confusion.)

Orin —(threateningly) So that’s it! By God —!

Lavinia —(frightened but managing to be stern) Orin!

Orin —(pulls himself up sharply — confusedly, forcing a sickly smile) Don’t be so solemn — Fuss Buzzer! I was only trying to scare you — for a joke! (turning to Peter and holding out his hand, his smile becoming ghastly) I suppose congratulations are in order. I— I’m glad. (Peter takes his hand awkwardly. Hazel moves toward Lavinia to greet her, her face full of an uneasy bewilderment. Lavinia stares at Orin with eyes full of dread.)


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59