Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Five

SceneThe same as Act Three of “Homecoming”— exterior of the Mannon house. It is the following night. The moon has just risen. The right half of the house is in the black shadow cast by the pine trees but the moonlight falls full on the part to the left of the doorway. The door at center is open and there is a light in the hall behind. All the shutters of the windows are closed.

Christine is discovered walking back and forth on the drive before the portico, passing from moonlight into the shadow of the pines and back again. She is in a frightful state of tension, unable to keep still.

She sees someone she is evidently expecting approaching the house from up the drive, off left, and she hurries down as far as the bench to meet her.

Hazel —(enters from left — with a kindly smile) Here I am! Seth brought your note and I hurried right over.

Christine —(kissing her — with unnatural effusiveness) I’m so glad you’ve come! I know I shouldn’t have bothered you.

Hazel — It’s no bother at all, Mrs. Mannon. I’m only too happy to keep you company.

Christine — I was feeling so terribly sad — and nervous here. I had let Hannah and Annie have the night off. I’m all alone. (She sits on the bench.) Let’s sit out here. I can’t bear it in the house. (Hazel sits beside her.)

Hazel —(pityingly) I know. It must be terribly lonely for you. You must miss him so much.

Christine —(with a shudder) Please don’t talk about — He is buried! He is gone!

Hazel —(gently) He is at peace, Mrs. Mannon.

Christine —(with bitter mockery) I was like you once! I believed in heaven! Now I know there is only hell!

Hazel — Ssshh! You mustn’t say that.

Christine —(rousing herself — forcing a smile) I’m not fit company for a young girl, I’m afraid. You should have youth and beauty and freedom around you. I’m old and ugly and haunted by death! (then, as if to herself — in a low desperate tone) I can’t let myself get ugly! I can’t!

Hazel — You’re only terribly worn out. You ought to try and sleep.

Christine — I don’t believe there’s such a thing on this earth as sleep! It’s only in the earth one sleeps! One must feel so at peace — at last — with all one’s fears ended! (then forcing a laugh) Good heavens, what a bore it must be for you, listening to my gloomy thoughts! I honestly didn’t send for you to — I wanted to ask if you or Peter had heard anything from Orin and Vinnie.

Hazel —(surprised) Why, no. We haven’t seen them since the funeral.

Christine —(forcing a smile) They seem to have deserted me. (then quickly) I mean they should have been home before this. I can’t imagine what’s keeping them. They went to Blackridge to stay overnight at the Bradfords’.

Hazel — Then there’s nothing to worry about. But I don’t see how they could leave you alone — just now.

Christine — Oh, that part is all right. I urged them to go. They left soon after the funeral, and afterwards I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to go to New York and see my father. He’s sick, you know, but I found him so much better I decided to come home again last night. I expected Vinnie and Orin back this noon, but here it’s night and no sign of them. I— I must confess I’m worried — and frightened. You can’t know the horror of being all night — alone in that house! (She glances at the house behind her with a shudder.)

Hazel — Would it help you if I stayed with you tonight — I mean if they don’t come?

Christine —(eagerly) Oh, would you? (Hysterical tears come to her eyes. She kisses Hazel with impulsive gratitude.) I can’t tell you how grateful I’d be! You’re so good! (then forcing a laugh) But it’s an imposition to ask you to face such an ordeal. I can’t stay still. I’m terrified at every sound. You would have to sit up.

Hazel — Losing a little sleep won’t hurt me any.

Christine — I mustn’t sleep! If you see me falling asleep you must promise to wake me!

Hazel — But it’s just what you need.

Christine — Yes — afterwards — but not now. I must keep awake. (in tense desperation) I wish Orin and Vinnie would come!

Hazel —(worriedly) Perhaps Orin got so sick he wasn’t able to. Oh, I hope that isn’t it! (then getting up) If I’m going to stay all night I’ll have to run home and tell Mother, so she won’t worry.

Christine — Yes — do. (then frightenedly) You won’t be long, will you? I’m afraid — to be alone.

Hazel —(kisses her — pityingly) I’ll be as quick as I possibly can. (She walks down the drive, off left, waving her hand as she disappears. Christine stands by the bench — then begins to pace back and forth again.)

Christine —(her eyes caught by something down the drive — in a tense whisper) She’s met someone by the gate! Oh, why am I so afraid! (She turns, seized by panic, and runs to the house — then stops at the top of the steps and faces around, leaning against a column for support.) Oh, God, I’m afraid to know! (A moment later Orin and Lavinia come up the drive from the left. Lavinia is stiffly square-shouldered, her eyes hard, her mouth grim and set. Orin is in a state of morbid excitement. He carries a newspaper in his hand.)

Orin —(speaking to Vinnie as they enter — harshly) You let me do the talking! I want to be the one —(He sees his mother — startledly) Mother! (then with vindictive mockery) Ah! So this time at least you are waiting to meet me when I come home!

Christine —(stammers) Orin! What kept you —?

Orin — We just met Hazel. She said you were terribly frightened at being alone here. That is strange — when you have the memory of Father for company!

Christine — You — you stayed all this time — at the Bradfords’?

Orin — We didn’t go to the Bradfords’!

Christine —(stupidly) You didn’t go — to Blackridge?

Orin — We took the train there but we decided to stay right on and go to Boston instead.

Christine —(terrifiedly) To — Boston —?

Orin — And in Boston we waited until the evening train got in. We met that train.

Christine — Ah!

Orin — We had an idea you would take advantage of our being in Blackridge to be on it — and you were! And we followed you when you called on your lover in his cabin!

Christine —(with a pitiful effort at indignation) Orin! How dare you talk —! (then brokenly) Orin! Don’t look at me like that! Tell me —

Orin — Your lover! Don’t lie! You’ve lied enough, Mother! I was on deck, listening! What would you have done if you had discovered me? Would you have gotten your lover to murder me, Mother? I heard you warning him against me! But your warning was no use!

Christine —(chokingly) What —? Tell me —!

Orin — I killed him!

Christine —(with a cry of terror) Oh — oh! I knew! (then clutching at Orin) No — Orin! You — you’re just telling me that — to punish me, aren’t you? You said you loved me — you’d protect me — protect your mother — you couldn’t murder —!

Orin —(harshly, pushing her away) You could murder Father, couldn’t you? (He thrusts the newspaper into her hands, pointing to the story.) Here! Read that, if you don’t believe me! We got it in Boston to see whom the police would suspect. It’s only a few lines. Brant wasn’t important — except to you! (She looks at the paper with fascinated horror. Then she lets it slip through her fingers, sinks down on the lowest step and begins to moan to herself, wringing her hands together in stricken anguish. Orin turns from her and starts to pace up and down by the steps. Lavinia stands at the left of the steps, rigid and erect, her face mask-like.)

Orin —(harshly) They think exactly what we planned they should think — that he was killed by waterfront thieves. There’s nothing to connect us with his death! (He stops by her. She stares before her, wringing her hands and moaning. He blurts out) Mother! Don’t moan like that! (She gives no sign of having heard him. He starts to pace up and down again — with savage resentment) Why do you grieve for that servant’s bastard? I know he was the one who planned Father’s murder! You couldn’t have done that! He got you under his influence to revenge himself! He hypnotized you! I saw you weren’t yourself the minute I got home, remember? How else could you ever have imagined you loved that low swine! How else could you ever have said the things —(He stops before her.) I heard you planning to go with him to the island I had told you about — our island — that was you and I! (He starts to pace up and down again distractedly. She remains as before except that her moaning has begun to exhaust itself. Orin stops before her again and grasps her by the shoulders, kneeling on the steps beside her — desperately pleading now) Mother! Don’t moan like that! You’re still under his influence! But you’ll forget him! I’ll make you forget him! I’ll make you happy! We’ll leave Vinnie here and go away on a long voyage — to the South Seas —

Lavinia —(sharply) Orin!

Orin —(not heeding her, stares into his mother’s face. She has stopped moaning, the horror in her eyes is dying into blankness, the expression of her mouth congealing to one of numbed grief. She gives no sign of having heard him. Orin shakes her — desperately) Mother! Don’t you hear me? Why won’t you speak to me? Will you always love him? Do you hate me now? (He sinks on his knees before her.) Mother! Answer me! Say you forgive me!

Lavinia —(with bitter scorn) Orin! After all that’s happened, are you becoming her crybaby again? (Orin starts and gets to his feet, staring at her confusedly, as if he had forgotten her existence. Lavinia speaks again in curt commanding tone that recalls her father.) Leave her alone! Go in the house! (as he hesitates — more sharply) Do you hear me? March!

Orin —(automatically makes a confused motion of military salute — vaguely) Yes, sir. (He walks mechanically up the steps — gazing up at the house — strangely) Why are the shutters still closed? Father has gone. We ought to let in the moonlight. (He goes into the house. Lavinia comes and stands beside her mother. Christine continues to stare blankly in front of her. Her face has become a tragic death mask. She gives no sign of being aware of her daughter’s presence. Lavinia regards her with bleak, condemning eyes.)

Lavinia —(finally speaks sternly) He paid the just penalty for his crime. You know it was justice. It was the only way true justice could be done. (Her mother starts. The words shatter her merciful numbness and awaken her to agony again. She springs to her feet and stands glaring at her daughter with a terrible look in which a savage hatred fights with horror and fear. In spite of her frozen self-control, Lavinia recoils before this. Keeping her eyes on her, Christine shrinks backward up the steps until she stands at the top between the two columns of the portico before the front door. Lavinia suddenly makes a motion, as if to hold her back. She calls shakenly as if the words were wrung out of her against her will) Mother! What are you going to do? You can live!

Christine —(glares at her as if this were the last insult — with strident mockery) Live! (She bursts into shrill laughter, stops it abruptly, raises her hands between her face and her daughter and pushes them out in a gesture of blotting Lavinia forever from her sight. Then she turns and rushes into the house. Lavinia again makes a movement to follow her. But she immediately fights down this impulse and turns her back on the house determinedly, standing square-shouldered and stiff like a grim sentinel in black.)

Lavinia —(implacably to herself) It is justice! (From the street, away off right front, Seth’s thin wraith of a baritone is raised in his favorite mournful “Shenandoah,” as he nears the gateway to the drive, returning from his nightly visit to the saloon.)

“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 —”

(There is the sharp report of a pistol from the left ground floor of the house where Ezra Mannon’s study is. Lavinia gives a shuddering gasp, turns back to the steps, starts to go up them, stops again and stammers shakenly) It is justice! It is your justice, Father! (Orin’s voice is heard calling from the sitting-room at right “What’s that”! A door slams. Then Orin’s horrified cry comes from the study as he finds his mother’s body, and a moment later he rushes out frantically to Lavinia.)

Orin — Vinnie! (He grabs her arm and stammers distractedly) Mother — shot herself — Father’s pistol — get a doctor —(then with hopeless anguish) No — it’s too late — she’s dead! (then wildly) Why — why did she, Vinnie? (with tortured self-accusation) I drove her to it! I wanted to torture her! She couldn’t forgive me! Why did I have to boast about killing him? Why —?

Lavinia —(frightenedly, puts her hand over his mouth) Be quiet!

Orin —(tears her hand away — violently) Why didn’t I let her believe burglars killed him? She wouldn’t have hated me then! She would have forgotten him! She would have turned to me! (in a final frenzy of self-denunciation) I murdered her!

Lavinia —(grabbing him by the shoulders) For God’s sake, will you be quiet?

Orin —(frantically — trying to break away from her) Let me go! I’ve got to find her! I’ve got to make her forgive me! I—! (He suddenly breaks down and weeps in hysterical anguish. Lavinia. puts her arm around him soothingly. He sobs despairingly.) But she’s dead — She’s gone — how can I ever get her to forgive me now?

Lavinia —(soothingly) Ssshh! Ssshh! You have me, haven’t you? I love you. I’ll help you to forget. (He turns to go back into the house, still sobbing helplessly. Seth’s voice comes from the drive, right, close at hand:

“She’s far across the stormy water

Way-ay, I’m bound away —”

He enters right, front. Lavinia turns to face him.)

Seth —(approaching) Say, Vinnie, did you hear a shot —?

Lavinia —(sharply) I want you to go for Doctor Blake. Tell him Mother has killed herself in a fit of insane grief over Father’s death. (then as he stares, dumbfounded and wondering, but keeping his face expressionless — more sharply) Will you remember to tell him that?

Seth —(slowly) Ayeh. I’ll tell him, Vinnie — anything you say. (His face set grimly, he goes off, right front. Lavinia turns and, stiffly erect, her face stern and mask-like, follows Orin into the house.)


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