An Uncommon View of It by W. C. Morrow
Mr. Clarke Randolph was stupefied by a discovery which he had just
madehis wife had proved unfaithful, and the betrayer was his nearest
friend, Henry Stockton. If there had been the least chance for a doubt,
the unhappy husband would have seized upon it, but there was none
Let us try to understand what this meant to such a man as Randolph.
He was a high-bred, high-spirited man of thirty, descended from a long
line of proud and chivalrous men; educated, refined, sensitive,
generous, and brave. His fine talents, his dash, his polished manner,
his industry, his integrity, his loftiness of character, had lifted him
upon the shoulders of popularity and prosperity; so that, in the city
of his home, there was not another man of his age, a member of his
profession, the law, who was so well known, so well liked, or wielded
such a power.
He had been married four years. His wife was beautiful, winning, and
intelligent; and she had always had from him the best devotion that a
husband could give his wife. He and Stockton had been friends for many
years. Next to his wife, Randolph had loved and trusted him above all
Such was the situation. At one stroke he had lost his wife, his
home, his best friend, his confidence in human nature, his spirit, his
ambition. Theseand essentially they were all that made up his life,
except the operation of purely animal functionshad gone all at once
without a moment's warning.
Well, there was something to be done. A keen sense of the betrayal,
a smarting under the gross humiliation, urged him to the natural course
of revenge. This, as he sat crouched down in a chair in his locked
office, he began systematically to prepare. The first ideaalways
first in such caseswas to kill. That, in the case of a man of his
spirit and temperament, was a matter of course. Fear of the legal
consequences found no place within him. Besides, suicide after the
killing would settle that exceedingly small part of the difficulty.
So it was first decided that as the result of this discovery three
persons had to die,his wife, his friend, and himself. Very well; that
took a load from his mind. An orderly and intelligent arrangement of
details now had to be worked out. A plan which would bring the largest
results in the satisfaction of a desire for revenge must be chosen. The
simple death of those two, the bare stoppage of breath, would be wholly
inadequate. First, the manner of taking their lives must have the
quality of strength and a force which in itself would have a large
element of satisfaction; hence it must be striking, deliberate, brutal
if you wish, revolting if you are particular. Second, it must be
preceded by exposure, denunciation, publication, scorn, contempt, and
That much was goodwhat next? There were various available means
for taking life. A revolver suggested itself. It makes a dark, red
spot; the very sight of the weapon, held steadily and longer than
necessary, levelled at the place where the spot is to appear, is
terrifying; there is a look of fright; then uplifted arms, an appeal
for mercy, a protest of innocence, a cry to God; after that the crash,
a white face, a toppling to the floor, eyes rolled upward, bluish lips
apart, a dark pool on the carpetall that was very good. The wretched
man felt better now that he was beginning to think so clearly.
But there was poison alsopoison in variety: arsenic, which burns
and corrodes, causing great pain, often for hours; strychnine, which
acts through the nerves, producing convulsions and sometimes a fixed
distortion of the features, which even the relaxation of death cannot
remove; corrosive sublimate, prussic acid, cyanide of potassiumtoo
quick and deadly. It must be a poison, if poison at all, which will
bring about a sensible progression through perceptible stages of
suffering, so that during this time the efficiency of physical pain may
be raised by the addition of mental suffering.
Were these all the methods? Yesenough for this purpose. Then,
which should it berevolver or poison? It was a difficult problem. Let
it first be settled that the three should be together, locked in a
room, and that the two guilty ones should suffer first, one at a time.
The revolver won.
Randolph was in the act of leaving his office to go and buy the
weapon, when he was startled by what he saw in his office-mirror. It
required a moment for him to recognize his own reflection. His face was
unnaturally white; a discoloration was under his eyes, which had a
glassy appearance; his lips were pressed tightly together, the corners
of his mouth drawn down, large dark veins standing out on his temples.
Fearing that if, while in this condition, he should apply to a gunsmith
for a revolver he would be refused, he stood for some time before the
mirror trying to restore the natural expression of his face. He kneaded
his lips to remove their stiffness, pinched his cheeks to bring back
their color, rubbed down the ridged veins, and scraped a little of the
white plaster from the wall and with it concealed the dark color under
his eyes. Then he went forth with a firm step, bought the revolver
without difficulty, tried it, satisfied himself that it was reliable,
loaded it, put it into his pocket, and returned to his office.
For there were certain matters of property to be attended to. He had
a considerable fortune, all his separate possession; his wife had
brought him nothing. He now felt sufficiently clear-minded to dispose
of his estate intelligently. He drew his willa holographic
instrumentdevising his wealth to various persons and benevolent
He glanced at his office-clock. There would be four long hours yet
before the time for going home to dinner. Fortunately for his plans,
Stockton was to dine with them that evening, and neither of the guilty
ones knew that they had been discovered. How should Randolph employ
these weary hours? There was nothing to do, nothing even to think of.
He tried to read a newspaper, then a book, and failed; looked out upon
the crowds which thronged the street; counted the passing cars awhile;
tried other things, failed at everything, and then sat down.
Something was beginning to work in the wretched man. Let us see: his
wife, while pretending the warmest affection for him, was receiving the
guilty attentions of a traitor in the house; she had betrayed her
husband, had wrecked his life, had driven him to his death. Really,
therefore, she had swept aside all the obligations which the marriage
relation imposed. In essence she was no longer his wife, but a criminal
enemy who, with deliberate and abounding malice, had destroyed him. He
could go to the grave with a willing heart, but he could not permit her
to live and enjoy his downfall and gloat over his destruction.
But would she really do that? And, then,God!she was a woman! In
spite of all that she had done, she was a woman! A strong man, his
strength reinforced by a revolver, employs deception to bring a woman
into a room, locks the door, insults, humiliates, and terrifies her,
brandishes a revolver, and then kills her like a rat in its hole. Can a
brave man, of mature judgment and in possession of his faculties, do
such a thing? Why, it would be not only murder, but cowardice as well!
No; it could not be done. She was still a woman, with all the weakness,
all the frailty which her sex imposed. It could not be done.
After all, it would be far sweeter revenge to let her live, bearing
through life a brand of infamy. That would be much better. She would
lose her high position and the respect of her friends; the newspapers
would publish her shame to the world, pointing her out by name as the
depraved woman who had betrayed her husband and driven him to murder
and suicide; they would have her portrait in their columns; her name
and crime would be hawked upon the street by loud-crying news-boys;
sermons denouncing her would be preached in all the churches; her shame
would be discussed everywherein homes, shops, hotels, and bar-rooms
in many cities.
Not only that, but she would be stripped of all the property which
she had enjoyed so much. She would be turned adrift upon the streets,
for no one would help her, none have a kind word for her, none give her
even the respect which money might command. Being thus turned out upon
the world all friendless and alone, and being naturally depraved, she
would seek the protection of fast and shady men. Thus started, and soon
taking to drink, as such women always do, down she would plunge into a
reckless and shameless career, sinking lower and lower, losing her
beauty; becoming coarse, loud, and vulgar; then, arriving at that stage
when her beauty no longer could be a source of revenue, drifting into
vile dens, consorting with the lowest and most brutal blackguards,
finding herself dragged often before police-magistrates, first for
drunkenness and then for theft, serving short terms in prison with
others as low; finally, one night brought shrieking with delirium
tremens to the police-station, bundled out to the hospital, strapped
firmly to an iron bed, and then dying with foul oaths on her lipssuch
a life would be infinitely worse than death; such revenge immeasurably
vaster than that of the pistol. Then it was finally decided that she
must live and suffer.
As to the friendas to Stockton, the betrayer, the sneak, the
cowardhe should die like a dog. That decision could not
be reconsidered. He should not be granted the privilege of a duel, for
not only was he wholly undeserving of such consideration, but by such
means his life might be spared. Undoubtedly she loved him;
perhaps he loved her. He living and the husband killed in a duel, their
satisfaction would be doubledhaving wrecked and humiliated him and
driven him to despair, they then killed him. After that they could
enjoy each other's society openly, unmolested, and without fear of
detection or punishment. Besides, they might marry and both be happy.
This was unthinkable. He must be killed, he must die like a dog, and he
must go to his death with a foul stain on his name.
These things being settled, the wretched man reread the will. As the
woman was to live, she must be mentioned in the document. He tore up
the will and wrote another, in which he bequeathed her one dollar,
setting forth her shame as the reason for so small a bequest. Then he
wrote out a separate statement of the whole affair, sealed it,
addressed it to the coroner, and placed it in his pocket. It would be
found there after awhile.
Well, why this trembling in every member, this unaccountable nausea,
this unconquerable feeling of horror and repugnance as the draft of the
picture was contemplated? Did instinct arise and dumbly plead for
mercy? What mercy had been shown that mercy could be expected? None
whatever. There was not only revenge to be satisfied, but justice also.
Still, it was horrible! Admit that she deserved it all, deserved even
more, she was a woman! No act of hers could deprive her of her natural
claims upon the stronger sex. As a woman she had inalienable rights
which even she could not forfeit, which men may not withhold. And then,
where could be the benefit of adding physical suffering to mental? One
surely would weaken the force of the other. The lower she should fall
and the deeper her degradation, the smaller would become the efficiency
of her mental agony; and yet mental suffering was the kind which it was
desired should fall upon her.
It would be well, therefore, to leave her some moneya considerable
amount of moneyin order that, holding herself above the want which,
in her case, would lead to degradation and a blunting of the
sensibilities, she might suffer all the more keenly; in order that the
memory of her shame might be forever poignant, forever a cause for the
sharpest regrets. This would be better in other ways: her shame
published, she could never associate with those fine characters who had
been her friends; her lover dead and his memory disgraced, he could not
be present to console her; for society she would have only those whom
her fortune would attract, and they were not of a kind to satisfy such
a woman as she; she would always be within sight of the old life and
its pleasures, but just beyond the palesufficiently near to see and
long for, but too far to reach, and forever kept back by the cold
glance of contempt and disdain from the high circle in which she had
Therefore, it were better to leave her the bulk of his fortune. So
he tore up the second will and wrote a third, in which, while naming
her as his principal legatee, he incorporated the story of her shame.
He felt better now than at any other time since his discovery. He
walked about the room, looked out the window, then fell into his chair
How strangely alike in many respects are all animals, including man!
he thought. There are qualities and passions common to them all,hate,
fear, anger, revenge, love, fondness for offspring. In what is man
superior to the others? Manifestly in self-control, a sense of justice,
the attribute of mercy, the quality of charity, the power to forgive,
the force of benevolence, the operation of gratitude; an appreciation
of abstractions; an ability to compare, contrast, and adjust;
consciousness of an inherent tendency to higher and better
achievements. To the extent that he lacks these does he approach more
closely to the lower orders. To the degree that the passions common to
all have mastery over him does he lack the finer qualities which
distinguish his species. The desire to kill when hurt, angered, or
threatened is the stronger the lower we descend in the scale of the
ordersthe lower we descend even among the members of the same order.
The least developed men are the most brutal. Revenge is the malice of
It is strange that his thoughts should have taken such a turn!
And then, the fundamental instinct which guards the perpetuation of
the species is common to all, and its manifestations are controlled by
a universal law, whose simple variations do not impair its integrity.
Love and matingthese are the broad lines upon which the perpetuation
of the species starts. What possible abstractions are there in them? Is
not their character concrete and visible? Whatever fine sentiments are
evolved, we know their source and comprehend their function. There is
no mystery here.
What is this jealousy, which all animals may have? It is an
instinctive resentment, by one of a mated pair, of something which
interferes with a pleasant established system, the basis of which is
perpetuation of the species. Higher mankind has the ability to dissect
it, analyze it, understand it, and guard against its harmful operation;
herein lie distinguishing qualities of superiority. If, when his
jealousy is roused, he is unable to act any differently from the lion,
the horse, or the dog, then, in that regard, he is not superior to
them. Man, being an eater of meat, is a savage animal, like the dog,
the tiger, the panther, the lion. His passions are strong, as are
theirs; but he has qualities which enable him to hold them in check. If
an animal have a strong attachment for his mate, he will fight if she
be taken from him; this is the operation of jealousy. If he be a savage
animal, he will kill if he can or dare. Few males among the animals
will kill their deserting mates; that is left for man, the noblest of
the animals. The others are content to kill the seducer. What
thankfulness there is for escape from an act, so recently contemplated,
which would have placed its perpetrator below the level of the most
savage of the brutes! In what, of all that was now proposed to be done,
was there any quality to distinguish the acts from those of the most
savage brute, except a more elaborate detail, the work of superior
malice and ferocity? Is it a wonder that Randolph shuddered when he
thought of it?
The broadest characteristic of all animals, including man, is
selfishness. In man it reaches its highest form and becomes vanity,
pride, and a ridiculous sense of self-importance. But man alone is
conscious of its existence, character, and purpose; he alone encourages
its rational development and suppresses the most evil of its abuses.
The animal which would fight or kill from jealousy is moved by a
selfish motive only. It proceeds to satisfy its anger or gratify its
revenge without any regard to the ethics, without any thought of its
obligations to nature, without the slightest wish to inquire whether
there may not be in the cause of its jealousy a natural purpose which
is proceeding upon the very lines that led to its mating. A man,
however, can think of these things, weigh them carefully, understand
them approximately, and then advance in the light of wisdom. If not, he
is no better, in this regard, than the animal which cannot so reason
This manner of thinking was bringing the unhappy man closer to
Then, having faced the proposition that he had been considering his
own case all along, he found the situation to be somewhat like this: He
had a certain understanding which should operate to remove him from
influences which with men of inferior conceptions would be more
powerful; not being a brute, he should rise above impulses which a
brute is constrained by its nature to obey. So much was clear. Then
what should he do? He pondered this long and seriously.
Was it possible to wipe out the past with exposure, humiliation,
shame, and blood? He had been proud of her; he had loved her; he had
been very, very happy with her. She had been his inspiration; a part of
his hopes, ambition, life. True, she had undone all this, but the
memory of it remained. Until this recent act of shame, she had been
kind, unselfish, gentle, and faithful. Who knows why she fell? Who
could sound the depths of this strange mystery; who measure the
capacity of her resistance; who judge her frailty with a righteous
mind; who say that at that very moment she was not suffering
unspeakable things? And then, was there any one so noble of character,
with integrity so unfailing and so far beyond temptation, that he might
say he was better than she? Her weaknessshould we presume to call it
depravity when we cannot know, and might we with intelligent knowledge
of our own conduct lay the whole responsibility upon her, and none upon
that which made her? If we are human, let us seek wherein we may
convince ourselves that we are not brutes. Compassion is an attribute
of a noble character. The test of manhood is the exercise of manly
What good would come from this revenge of humiliation and exposure?
It would not mend the wrong; it would not save life; it would be only
proof of the vanity, the sense of self-importance, of the injured one.
Would it be possible to spare her? Yes. That finally was settled. She
should live; she should have the property; she should be left to enjoy
life as best she could without the shadow of a stain upon her name.
That were the nobler part, the test of manhood. And then, the past
could not be forgotten!
Randolph felt so much better after arriving at this decision that he
marvelled at himself. He walked about the room feeling strong and
elastic. He tore up the will because it charged her crime upon her;
tore up the letter to the coroner; collected all the scraps of paper
and carefully burned them. Then he drew a new will, free from stain,
leaving all his property to his wife. He did not only that, but he
wrote her a letterformal, of coursemerely saying that he had found
his life a mistake; this he sealed, addressed, and placed in his
Stocktonthe false friend, the betrayer and destroyerhe should
die, he should die like a dog. But not with a stain on his namethat
were impossible, because it would reflect upon her.
Here was a new situation. The two men would be found dead, likely in
the same roomthe friend and the husband. What would people think? A
duel? For what reason? Murder and suicide? Who had handled the weapon,
and for what possible cause? The road which suspicion would travel was
too short and wide. The fair name of the wife was to be guardedthat
had been decided upon, and now it was the first consideration.
There were other matters to be thought of. Suppose that Stockton had
been the husband and Randolph the friend. God! let us think. Have
brutes, frenzied with rage and jealousy, the power to hold nature's
mirror before the heart, to feel compassion, to exercise charity, to
weigh with a steady hand the weaknesses and frailties of their kind, to
feel humility, to bow the head before the inscrutable ways of nature?
Have they not? No? Well, then, have men? If they have not, they are no
better in that regard than brutes. Besides, would it punish Stockton to
kill him? There can be no punishment in death; it can be only in dying;
but even dying is not unpleasant, and death is the absence of
suffering. There was no way under heaven to give him adequate
Nor was that all. She loved himthat must be so. What would
be the benefit of removing him from her life? It would be merely
revengerevenge upon both of them; and where lies the nobility of such
revenge? If they both should live, both go unexposed, they might be
After all, whom would that disturb, with whose pleasure interfere?
Surely no sound of their happiness could penetrate the grave; violence
would be done to none of nature's laws. Why should they not be happy?
If they could, why should they not? Was there any reason under the sun
that wisdom, charity, compassion, and a high manhood could give why
they should not be happy?
But suppose that she should suspect the cause of her husband's
suicide; this would likely poison her life, for the consciousness of
guilt would give substance to suspicion. The result would be an
abhorrence of self, a detestation of the participant in her sin, a
belief that the blood of her husband was upon her head, and a long
train of evils which would seriously impair, if not wholly destroy, the
desired serenity of her life. Was there any way to prevent the birth of
such a suspicion?
Yes; there was a way. As soon as Randolph had worked it out he felt
as if an enormous load had been removed from him. His eyes shone
brightly, his cheeks were flushed, and a look of pride and triumph
lighted up his face.
He returned to his chair, removed the revolver from his pocket, and
laid it on the table; wrote his wife an affectionate letter, in which
he told her that he had just become aware of an incurable ailment which
he had not the courage to face through months or years of suffering,
and begged her to look to Stockton for friendship and advice; wrote to
Stockton, charging him with her protection; burned the last will that
he had made and drew a new one, in which he left them the property
jointly, on condition that they marry within two years. Then, with a
perfectly clear head, he laid down his pen and sighed, but his face was
bright and tranquil. He picked up the revolver, cocked it, placed the
muzzle against his temple, and without the tremor of a nerve he pressed