The American Civil War is over, and in their New England home Christine and Lavinia Mannon await the homecoming of Ezra Mannon and his son, Orin. Lavinia, who adores her father, detests Christine because of Ezra’s love for his wife. For her part, Christine is jealous of Orin’s love and hates her husband and daughter. In this house of hidden hatred, Seth, the watchful gardener of the old mansion, sees that Lavinia also despises Captain Brant, a regular caller at the Mannon home.
The Mannons, descended from old New England stock, have their family skeleton. Dave Mannon, Ezra’s brother, had run off with an American Indian woman named Marie Brantome. Seth, seeing the antagonism between Lavinia and her mother, discloses to Lavinia that Captain Brant is the son of Marie and Dave Mannon.
Embittered by her mother’s illicit romance with Brant and jealous of her hold on Ezra, Lavinia forces Christine to send her lover away. Christine is too strong a woman to give in entirely to her daughter’s dominance. She urges Brant to send her some poison. It is common knowledge that Ezra has heart trouble, and Christine plans to rid herself of the husband so that she will be free to marry Brant. Lavinia cruelly reminds her mother that Orin, her favorite child, had been born while Ezra was away during the Mexican War.
When Ezra, a kind and just man, comes home, he realizes that Christine shrinks from him while pretending concern for his health. That night in their bedroom, Ezra and Christine quarrel over their failing marriage. Ezra has a heart attack, and when he gasps for his medicine Christine gives him the poison instead. As he lay dying in Lavinia’s arms, the helpless man feebly but incoherently accuses Christine of his murder. Lavinia has no proof, but she does suspect that her mother had a part in her father’s death.
After Ezra’s death, Peter and Hazel Niles, cousins of the Mannons, visit the mansion. Peter is a rejected suitor of Lavinia, and Hazel is in love with Orin. Lavinia spies on her mother constantly. When Orin comes home, the two women vie for his trust, Lavinia trying to raise suspicion against her mother and Christine attempting to regain her son’s close affection. Uncomfortable under her daughter’s looks of silent, sneering accusation, Christine finally realizes that Lavinia found the box of poison. While Hazel, Peter, and Christine try to make a warm welcome for Orin, Lavinia hovers over the group like a specter of gloom. Able to get Orin alone before Lavinia can speak to him, Christine tells her son about Lavinia’s suspicions concerning Captain Brant and Ezra’s death, and she tries to convince him that Lavinia’s distraction over Ezra’s death has warped her mind.
Orin, whose affection for his mother makes him dislike Ezra, believes Christine, but the returned...
(The entire section is 1162 words.)