And This is
Marriage by Rupert Hughes
His soul floated upward from the lowermost depths of oblivion,
slowly, as a water-plant, broken beneath, drifts to the surface. And
then he was awake and unutterably afraid.
His soul opened, as it were, its eyes in terror and his fleshly
eyelids went ajar. There was nothing to frighten him except his own
thoughts, but they seemed to have waited all ready loaded with despair
for the instant of his waking.
The room was black about him. The world was black. He had left the
window open, but he could not see outdoors. Only his memory told him
where the window was. Never a star pinked the heavens to distinguish
it. He could not tell casement from sky, nor window from wall, nor wall
from ceiling or floor. He was as one hung in primeval chaos before
light had been decreed.
He could not see his own pillow. He knew of it only because he felt
it where it was hot under his hot cheek. He could not see the hand he
raised to push the hair from his wet brow. He knew that he had a hand
and a brow only from their contact, from the sense of himself in them,
from the throb of his pulse at the surface of himself.
He felt almost completely disembodied, poised in space, in infinite
gloom, alone with complete loneliness. As the old phrase puts it, he
was all by himself.
The only sound in his universe, besides the heavy surf of his own
blood beating in his ears, was the faint, slow breathing of his wife,
asleep in the same bed, yet separated from him by a sword of hostility
that kept their souls as far apart as planets are.
He laughed in bitter silence to think how false she was to the
devoted love she had promised him, how harsh her last words had been
and how strange from the lips that used to murmur every devotion, every
love-word, every trust.
He wanted to whirl on her, shake her out of the cowardly refuge of
sleep, and resume the wrangle that had ended in exhaustion.
He wanted to gag her so that she would hear him out for once and not
break into every phrase. He wanted to tell her for her own good in one
clear, cold, logical, unbroken harangue how atrocious she was, how
futile, fiendish, heartless. But he knew that she would not listen to
him. Even if he gagged her mouth her mind would still dodge and buffet
him. How ancient was the experience that warned a man against argument
with a woman! And that wise old saw, Let sleeping dogs lie, referred
even better to wives. He would not let her know that he was
awakeawake, perhaps, for hours of misery.
This had happened often of late. It had been a hard week, day after
day of bitter toil wearing him down in body and fraying his every
His business was in a bad way, and he alone could save it, and he
could save it only by ingenuity and inspiration. But the inspiration,
he was sure, would not come to him till he could rest throughout.
Sleep was his hope, his passion, food, drink, medicine. He was
heavily pledged at the bank. He could borrow no more. The president had
threatened him if he did not pay what was overdue. Bigger businesses
than his were being left to crash. A financial earthquake was rocking
every tower in the world.
Though he needed cash vitally to further his business, there was a
sharper and sharper demand upon him from creditors desperately harried
by their own desperate creditors. He must find with his brain some new
source of cash. He must fight the world. But how could he fight without
rest? Even pugilists rested between rounds.
He had not slept a whole night for a week. To-night he had gone to
bed sternly resolved on a while of annihilation. Anything for the brief
sweet death with the morning of resurrection.
And then she had quarreled with him. And now he was awake, and he
felt that he would not sleep.
He wondered what the hour was. He was tempted to rise and make a
light and look at his watch, but he felt that the effort and the blow
of the glare on his eyes might confirm his insomnia. He lay and
wondered, consumed with curiosity as to the houras if that knowledge
could be of value.
By and by, out of the stillness and the widespread black came the
slumbrous tone of a far-off town clock. Three times it rumored in the
air as if distance moaned faintly thrice.
Three o'clock! He had had but two hours' sleep, and would have no
more! And he needed ten! To-morrow morningthis morning!he must join
battle for his very existence.
He lay supine, trying not to clench a muscle, seeking to force his
surrender to inanition; but he could not get sleep though he implored
his soul for it, prayed God for it.
At length he ceased to try to compel slumber. He lay musing. It is a
strange thing to lie musing in the dark. His soul seemed to tug and
waver outside his body as he had seen an elephant chained by one leg in
a circus tent lean far away from its shackles, and sway and put its
trunk forth gropingly. His soul seemed to be under his forehead,
pushing at it as against a door. He felt that if he had a larger, freer
forehead he would have more soul and more room for his mind to work.
Then the great fear came over him again. In these wakeful moods he
suffered ecstasies of fright.
He was appalled with life. He felt helpless, bodyless, doomed.
On his office wall hung a calendar with a colored picture showing
fishermen in a little boat in a fog looking up to see a great Atlantic
liner just about to run them down. So the universe loomed over him now,
rushed down to crush him. The other people of the world were asleep in
their places; his creditors, his rivals were resting, gaining strength
to overwhelm him on the morrow, and he must face them unrefreshed.
He dreamed forward through crisis after crisis, through bankruptcy,
disgrace, and mortal illness. He thought of his family, the children
asleep in their beds under the roof that he must uphold like an Atlas.
Poor little demanding, demanding things! What would become of them when
their father broke down and was turned out of his factory and out of
his home? How they would hamper him, cling to him, cry out to him not
to let them starve, not to let them go cold or barefoot, not to turn
Yet they did not understand him. They loved their mother infinitely
more. She watched over them, played with them, cuddled and kissed them,
while he had to leave the house before they were up, and came home at
night too fagged to play their games or endure their noise. And if they
were to be punished, she used him as a threat, and saved them up for
him to torment and denounce.
They loved her and were afraid of him. Yet what had she done for
them? She had conceived them, borne them, nourished them for a year at
most. Thereafter their food, their shelter, their clothes, their
education, their whole prosperity must come from their father. Yet the
very necessities of the struggle for their welfare kept him from giving
them the time that would win their favor. They complained because he
did not buy them more. They were discontented with what they had, and
covetous of what the neighbors' children had, even where it was less
than their own.
He busied himself awhile at figuring out how much, all told, his
children's upbringing had cost him. The total was astounding. If he had
half of that sum now he would not be fretting about his pay-roll or his
notes. He would triumph over every obstacle. Next he made estimate of
what the children would cost him in the future. As they grew their
expenses grew with them. He could not hope for the old comfort of sons,
when they made a man strong, for nowadays grown sons must be started in
business at huge cost with doubtful results and no intention of
repaying the investment. And daughters have to be dressed up like
holiday packages, expensive gifts that must be sent prepaid and may be
He could see nothing but vanity back of him and a welter of cost
ahead. He could see no hope of ever catching up, of ever resting. His
only rest would come when he died.
If he did not sleep soon he would assuredly die or go mad. Perhaps
he was going mad already. He had fought too long, too hard. He would
begin to babble and giggle soon and be led away to twiddle his fingers
and talk with phantoms. He saw himself as he had seen other witless,
slavering spectacles that had once been human, and a nausea of fear
crushed big sweat out of his wincing skin.
Better to die than to play the living burlesque of himself. Better
to die than to face the shame of failure, the shame of reproach and
ridicule; the epitaph of his business a few lines in the small type of
Business Troubles. Better to kill himself than risk the danger of
going mad and killing perhaps his own children and his wife. He knew a
man once, a faithful, devoted, gentle struggler with the world, whom a
sudden insanity had led to the butchery of his wife and three little
boys. They found him tittering among his mangled dead, and calling them
pet names, telling the shattered red things that he had wrought God's
will upon them.
What if this should come to him! Better to end all the danger of
that by removing himself from the reach of mania or shame. It would be
the final proof of his love for his flock. And they would not think
bitterly of him. All things are forgiven the dead. They would miss him
and remember the best of him.
They would appreciate what they had cost him, too, when they no
longer had him to draw on. He felt very sorry for himself. Grown man as
he was, he was driven back into infancy by his terrors, and like a
pouting, supperless boy, he wanted to die to spite the rest of the
family and win their apologies even if he should not hear them.
He wondered if, after all, his wife would not be happier to be rid
of him. No, she would regret him for one thing at least, that he left
her without means.
Well, she deserved to be penniless. Why should she expect a man to
kill himself for her sake and leave her a wealthy widow to buy some
other man? Let her practise then some of the economies he had vainly
begged of her before. If she had been worthy of his posthumous
protection she would not have treated him so outrageously at a time of
such stress as this.
She knew he was dog-tired, yet she allowed him to be angered, and
she knew just what themes were sure to provoke his wrath. So she had
harped on these till she had rendered him to a frenzy.
They had stood about or paced the floor or dropped in chairs and
fought as they flung off their clothes piecemeal. She had combed and
brushed her hair viciously as she raged, weeping the unbeautiful tears
of wrath. But he had not had that comfort of tears; his tears ran down
the inside of his soul and burned. She goaded him out of his ordinary
self-controlknew just how to do it and reveled in it.
No doubt he had said things to her that a gentleman does not say to
a lady, that hardly any man would say to any woman. He was startled to
remember what he had said to her. He abhorred the thought of such
things coming from his lipsand to the mother of his children. But the
blame for these atrocities was also hers. She had driven him frantic;
she would have driven a less-dignified man to violence, to blows,
perhaps. And she had had the effrontery to blame him for driving her
frantic when it was she that drove him.
Finally they had stormed themselves out, squandered their
vocabularies of abuse, and taken resort to silence in a pretended
dignity. That is, she had done this. He had relapsed into silence
because he realized how impervious to truth or justice she was. Facts
she would not deal in. Logic she abhorred. Reasoning infuriated her.
And then in grim, mutual contempt they had crept into bed and lain
as far apart as they could. He would have gone into another room, but
she would have thought he was afraid to hear more of her. Or she would
have come knocking at the door and lured him back only to renew the war
at some appeal of his to that sense of justice he was forever hoping to
find in her soul.
He was aligned now along the very edge of the mattress. It was
childish of her to behave so spitefully, but what could he do except
repay her in kind? She would not have understood any other behavior.
She had turned her back on him, too, and stretched herself as thin as
she could as close to the edge as she could lie without falling out.
What a vixen she was! And at this time of all when she should have
been gentle, soothing. Even if she had thought him wrong and
misinterpreted his natural vehemence as virulence, she should have been
patient. What was a wife for but to be a helpmeet? She knew how easily
his temper was assuaged, she knew the very words. Why had she avoided
And she was to blame for so many of his problems. Her bills and her
children's bills were increasing. She took so much of his time. She
needed so much entertaining, so much waiting on, so much listening to.
Neither she nor the children produced. They simply spent. In a crisis
they never gave help, but exacted it.
In business, as in a shipwreck, strong and useful men must step back
and sacrifice themselves that the women and children might be
savedfor other men to take care of. And what frauds these women were!
All allurement and gentleness till they had entrapped their victims,
then fiends of exaction, without sympathy for the big work of men,
without interest in the world's problems, alert to ridiculous
suspicions, reckless with accusations, incapable of equity, and
impatient of everything important.
Marriage was a trap, masking its steel jaws and its chain under
flowers. What changelings brides were! A man never led away from the
altar the woman he led thither. Before marriage, so interested in a
man's serious talk and the business of his life! After marriage,
unwilling to listen to any news of import, sworn enemies of
achievement, putting an ingrowing sentiment above all other nobilities
of the race.
And his wife was of all women the most womanish. She had lost what
early graces she had. In the earlier days they had never quarreled.
That is, of course, they had quarreled, but differently. They had left
each other several times, but how rapturously they had returned. And
then she had craved his forgiveness and granted hers without asking.
She had always forgiven him for what he had not done, said, or thought,
or for the things he had done and said most justly. But there had been
a charm about her, a sweet foolishness that was irresistible.
In the dark now he smiled to think how dear and fascinating she had
been then. Oh, she had loved him then, had loved the very faults she
had imagined in him. Perhaps after he was dead she would remember him
with her earlier tenderness. She would blame herself for making him the
irascible, hot-tempered brute he had beenperhapsat times.
And now he had slain and buried himself, and his woe could burrow no
farther down. His soul was at the bottom of the pit. There was no other
way to go but upward, and that, of course, was impossible.
As he wallowed in the lugubrious comfort of his own post-mortem
revenge he wished that he had left unsaid some of the things he had
said. Quelled by the vision of his wife weeping over him and repenting
her cruelties, they began to seem less cruel. She was absolved by
He heard her sobbing over his coffin and heard her recall her
ferocious words with shame. His white, set face seemed to try to
console her. He heard what he was trying to tell her in all the gentle
understanding of the tomb:
I said worse things, honey. I don't know how I could have used such
words to you, my sweetheart. A longshoreman wouldn't have called a
fishwife what I called you, you blessed child. But it was my love that
tormented me. If a man had quarreled with me, we'd have had a
knock-down and drag-out and nothing more thought of it. If any woman
but you had denounced me as you did I'd have shrugged my shoulders and
not cared aat all.
It was because I loved you, honey, that your least frown hurt me
so. But I didn't really mean what I said. It wasn't true. You're the
best, the faithfulest, the prettiest, dearest woman in all the world,
and you were a precious wife to meso much more beautiful, more
tender, more devoted than the wives of the other men I knew. I will
pray God to bring you to me in the place I'm going to. I could not live
without you anywhere.
This was what he was trying to tell her, and could not utter a word
of it. He seemed to be lying in his coffin, staring up at her through
sealed eyelids. He could not purse his cold lips to kiss her warm
mouth. He could not lift an icy hand to bless her brow. They would come
soon to lay the last board over his face and screw down the lid. She
would scream and fight, but they would drag her away. And he could not
answer her wild cries. He could not go to her rescue. He would be
lifted in the box from the trestles and carried out on the shoulders of
other men, and slid into the waiting hearse; and the horses would trot
away with him, leaving her to penury, with her children and his at the
mercy of the merciless world, while he was lowered into a ditch and
hidden under shovelfuls of dirt, to lie there motionless, useless,
hideously idle forever.
This vision of himself dead was so vivid that his heart jumped in
his breast and raced like a propeller out of water. The very pain and
the terror were joyful, for they meant that he still lived.
Whatever other disasters overhung him, he was at least not dead.
Better a beggar slinking along the dingiest street than the wealthiest
Rothschild under the stateliest tomb. Better the sneers and pity of the
world in whispers about his path than all the empty praise of the most
The main thing was to be alive. Before that great good fortune all
misfortunes were minor, unimportant details. And, after all, he was not
so pitiable. His name was still respected. His factory was still
running. Whatever his liabilities, he still had some assets, not least
of them health and experience and courage.
But where had his courage been hiding that it left him whimpering
alone? Was he a little girl afraid of the dark, or was he a man?
There were still men who would lend him money or time. What if he
was in trouble? Were not the merchant princes of the earth sweating
blood? There had been a rich men's panic before the poor were reached.
Now everybody was involved.
After all, what if he failed? Who had not failed? What if he fell
bankrupt?that was only a tumble down-stairs. Could he not pick
himself up and climb again? Some of the biggest industries in the world
had passed through temporary strain. The sun himself went into eclipse.
If his factory had to close, it could be opened again some day. Or
even if he could not recover, how many better men than he had failed?
To be crushed by the luck of things was no crime. There was a glory of
defeat as well as of victory.
The one great gleaming truth was that he was still alive, still in
the ring. He was not dead yet. He was not going to die. He was going to
get up and win.
There was no shame in the misfortunes he had had. There was no
disgrace in the fears he had bowed to. All the nations and all the men
in them were in a night of fear. But already there was a change of
feeling. The darker the hour, the nearer the dawn. The worse things
were, the sooner they must mend.
People had been too prosperous; the world had played the spendthrift
and gambled too high. But economy would restore the balance for the
toilers. What had been lost would soon be regained.
Fate could not down America yet. And he was an American. What was it
Jim Hill had said to the scare-mongers: The man who sells the United
States short is a damned fool. And the man who sells himself short is
a damneder fool.
* * * * *
Thus he struggled through the bad weather of his soul. The clouds
that had gathered and roared and shuttled with lightnings had emptied
their wrath, and the earth still rolled. The mystery of terror was
subtly altered to a mystery of surety.
Lying in the dark, motionless, he had wrought out the miracle of
meditation. Within the senate chamber of his mind he had debated and
pondered and voted confidence in himself and in life.
His eyes, still open, still battling for light, had found none yet.
The universe was still black. He could not distinguish sky from window,
nor casement from ceiling. Yet the gloom was no longer terrible. The
universe was still a great ship rushing on, but he was no longer a
midget in a little cockleshell about to be crushed. He was a passenger
on the ship. The night was benevolent, majestic, sonorous with music.
The sea was glorious and the voyage forward.
And now that his heart was full of good news, he had a wild desire
to rush home with it to her who was his home. How often he had left her
in the morning after a wrangle, and hurried back to her at night
bearing glad tidings, the quarrel forgotten beyond the need of any
treaty. And she would be there among their children, beaming welcome
from her big eyes.
And she was always so glad when he was glad. She took so much blame
on herself; though how was she to blame for herself? Yet she took no
credit to herself for being all the sweet things she was. She was the
flowers and the harvest, and the cool, amorous evening after the hard
day was done. And he was the peevish, whining, swearing imbecile that
chose a woman for wife because she was a rose and then clenched her
thorns and complained because she was not a turnip.
He felt a longing to tell her how false his croakings had been in
that old dead time so long ago as last night. But she was asleep. And
she needed sleep. She had been greatly troubled by his troubles. She
had been anxious for him and the children. She had so many things to
worry over that never troubled him. She had wept and been angry because
she could not make him understand. Her very wrath was a way of crying:
I love you! You hurt me!
He must let her sleep. Her beauty and her graces needed sleep. It
was his blessed privilege to guard her slumbers, his pride to house her
well and to see that she slept in fabrics suited to the delicate fabric
of her exquisite body.
But if only she might chance to be awake that he might tell her how
sorry he was that he had been weak and wicked enough to torment her
with his baseless fears and his unreasonable ire. At least he must
touch her with tenderness. Even though she slept, he must give her the
benediction of one light caress.
He put his hand out cautiously toward her. He laid his fingers
gently on her cheek. How beautiful it was even in the dark! But it was
wet! with tears! Suddenly her little invisible fingers closed upon his
hand like grape tendrils.
But this did not prove her awake. So habited they were to each other
that even in their sleep their bodies gave or answered such
He waited till his loneliness for her was unendurable, then he
Are you asleep, honey?
For answer she whirled into his bosom and clenched him in her arms
and weptin whispers lest the children hear. He petted her tenderly
and kissed her hair and her eyelids and murmured:
Did I wake you, honey?
No, no! she sobbed. I've been awake for hours.
But you didn't move!
I was afraid to waken you. You need your rest so much. I've been
thinking how hard you work, how good you are. I'm so ashamed of myself
But it was all my fault, honey.
Oh no, no, my dear, my dear!
He let her have the last word; for an enormous contentedness filled
his heart. He drew the covers about her shoulder and held her close and
breathed deep of the companionship of the soul he had chosen. He
breathed so deeply that his head drooped over hers, his cheek upon her
hair. The night seemed to bend above them and mother them and say to
them, Hush! hush! and sleep!
There are many raptures in the world, and countless beautiful
moments, and not the least of them is this solemn marriage in sleep of
the man and woman whose days are filled with cares, and under whose
roof at night children and servants slumber aloof secure.
While these two troubled spirits found repose and renewal, locked
each in the other's arms, the blackness was gradually withdrawn from
the air. In the sky there came a pallor that grew to a twilight and
became a radiance and a splendor. And night was day. It would soon be
time for the father to rise and go forth to his work, and for the
mother to rise to the offices of the home.