The Marriage of William Durrant

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The Marriage of
William Durrant

by Ray Cummings

MY marriage has been a failure. I am one of those unfortunate men with whom fate deals unjustly. I tried my best. I started with plenty of opportunity, with what I thought was every chance of success. I worked the whole thing out carefully—I knew what was necessary for our happiness and I went after it, sanely and unswervingly. I lacked neither ambition nor purpose; I did not shirk hard work.

I did my best always—the best both for her and for me. And I lost. The woman I loved and trusted—trusted too much, I know now—deceived me. My honor has been trampled under foot—my marriage wrecked in spite of the fact I did every thing I could to make it a success.

I shall tell you about it plainly, just as it occurred.

 

My name is William Durrant; I was born in Philadelphia thirty-two years ago. My family was prominent in Philadelphia society; my mother a woman of superior culture and a very great social ambition.

I received a university education and then entered my father’s business—wholesale neckwear. My mother died soon after this, and as I had no brothers or sisters—or in fact any near relatives—my father and I were drawn very close together.

It was then I learned for the first time the true state of my father’s affairs. I can remember perfectly that evening when he had his first intimate talk with me; it was about two months after my mother died.

“Sit down, Will,” he began. We were in the library of the old Durrant mansion on Arch Street. “I want to talk to you—seriously.”

We drew our chairs together before the fire and I lighted a cigarette.

“You’re not a child any more, Will,” he went on. “You’re nearly twenty-six—a man.” He laid his hand on mine with more evidence of affection than I had ever had from him before. “We’re all alone now—you and I. There are many things you don’t understand—and I want you to—for we must be very close to each other now.”

I waited, wondering.

“You think we’re rich, don’t you? Your mother did, and God knows I was not the one to undeceive her.” He laughed a little bitterly, glancing around the luxuriously furnished room.

“We have always had luxury. Your mother demanded it, Will—it was her life. The Philadelphia Durrants! Luxury—social prestige—I have maintained them, all these years—at what a cost!” He passed his hand across his eyes wearily.

“It’s all a sham, Will—a sham. But now it’s over—there’s only you and me to please. The bubble is broken. Only you and me—and the wreck of a business for us to save.” He raised his hand to check my sharp exclamation.

“I have hidden this from you, Will. But we won’t go into that now—it’s unimportant.

“I want to talk of you. For twenty-six years you have been scarcely under my guidance. I cannot blame your mother—only myself. I’ve known the sort of life you’ve been leading away from home—the sort of friends you have—the women—” He raised his hand again, and his voice rose sharply.

“Did you think I didn’t know about the money you lost at cards, and your mother gave you, time and time again? Do you think I’m ignorant of the fact that you—my son—are to-day in the way of becoming a wastrel? Do you think so?”

I laughed. “You’re crazy.”

His face softened; he put his hand again over mine. “I cannot blame you—only myself. It is the way you were brought up. But I want you to change, Will. I want you to see yourself and me as we are—1 want you to love me. We will work together, you and I—work to find some of the good things in life—the real things. I know we’ll find them if we try—if we really pull together.”

Three weeks later he was dead.

This talk with my father, and one or two others we had subsequently, made a great impression on me. When he died of pneumonia, after an illness of only a few days, leaving me utterly alone in the world, I resolved to take his advice, for my own good, and act differently. The business he left me was indeed in a precarious condition. He had drawn from it heavily during the last ten years to meet my mother’s demands—and more lately, mine—and handicapped thus by a depleted capital it was going down-hill rapidly.

I realized then that life was not worth living unless one were rich—really rich—for money held everything desirable. My father was right—the social prestige my mother had maintained was a sham. With out the solidity of real wealth it could never be anything but a bubble that might burst at any moment. I resolved then to settle down; to work untiringly at this business that had been left me.

I found, when my father’s affairs had been settled up, a truly astounding number of debts. It has never been my way to do things by halves; I sold the Arch Street house, settled the debts, and moved the business and myself to New York for a fresh start.

The two years that followed I devoted exclusively to work and saw myself in a fair way, ultimately, to succeed in my ambition. I lived for business during these two years—I did nothing else—I thought of nothing else. The pleasures of life that I had given up I did not begrudge. They were only postponed. This was my big chance—my only chance for wealth and happiness through life—and I was unwilling to do even the smallest thing to jeopardize it.

Then I met Ruth Wilson, and six months later we were married. She was five years younger than I—a girl with beauty, of a family nearly the equal of the Durrants, and with all the social graces—in a word, a girl of whom any man might be proud. I knew she would make me a good wife; it was a safe, satisfactory step for me to take. I was glad of this, for I was now as cautious of the things I did as formerly I had been careless.

We took an apartment on Riverside Drive, and were very happy. We had no children. I do not like children; I cannot stand their crying. And besides they are difficult and expensive to bring up properly—father’s arraignment of me in my younger days showed me that—and it was obvious that no girl of the grace and beauty of Ruth should be so handicapped. That she disagreed with me did not alter my opinion, for I realized that she was hardly more than a child and could not understand things as I did.

Our life during these first years of marriage was very satisfactory. I worked all day at the office, and two or three nights a week played in a game of cards which we held regularly at the club. I did not introduce these men to Ruth—they were not her kind—she would not have understood them. Indeed I should not have played in the game at all, except that I found the mental relaxation stimulating and helpful to me, for I was at this time working very hard, my luck, too, seemed to have changed permanently for the better. Whereas in Philadelphia I had frequently lost, I now won steadily—sums sufficiently large to justify in themselves, the amount of time I gave to the pursuit.

Once or twice a week Ruth and I would go to the theater—to musical shows generally, for I liked them best—and occasionally we would play cards with friends. This latter diversion interested me not at all. I was having enough of card playing outside, and the people to whom Ruth introduced me were particularly uninteresting. I had no time then for their chatter about art or music, or the books or plays or operas they seemed determined to discuss. The whole thing bored me immensely, and probably, because I do not believe in hypocrisy, I did not hesitate to let them see how I felt.

We did not leave New York for the summer months, except twice we spent a week or two at one of the big Atlantic City hotels. My business would have permitted me to leave for longer periods, but I did not feel that we should spend so much money.

One summer Ruth thoughtlessly suggested that we get away into the Maine woods and ramble, or to take a canoe trip somewhere. I explained to her how foolish that was—how she particularly, a girl of breeding, used to luxury, would not care for that in the way we could afford to do it. Camping was all right, if it were done properly. We Durrants once had a big camp in the Adirondacks—my grandfather had established it. There, with the proper staff of servants and with guests of the right kind one might rough it comfortably. But my father had given up that camp, and such things were, as yet, quite beyond my means.

I pointed out all this to Ruth, showing her plainly how illogical she was. And so we stayed in town.

These years, as I have said, were working out very satisfactorily to Ruth and me. I was getting my business on its feet and the time when we could enjoy some of the real luxuries of life did not now seem so very far distant. That Ruth should be so impatient at the delay had never occurred to me until one day, when we had been married about three years, she spoke of it.

“Are you going to keep on indefinitely this way, Will?” she asked quietly.

This was apropos of the fact that she wanted me to take her that evening to the opera. I disliked opera intensely—it seems to me an extremely morbid—not to say boring—form of amusement. And besides this was one of the nights our card game was on. I could not explain that to Ruth—she would not have realized how much more important to our ultimate good my evening’s winnings would be than a mere evening at the opera—which in itself was expensive.

“I’m going to the club,” I answered.

“Then I shall call up Gerald Rolf and ask him to take me,” she said.

She still spoke quietly. That was one of Ruth’s peculiarities, I was soon to discover; she concealed her feelings beneath a quiet, dignified reserve. I would rather a woman came right out plainly with what was in her mind. Then you can meet her with logic.

“That’s agreeable to me,” I rejoined, and went to the club.

I have not mentioned Gerald Rolf. He was a good-natured sort of boy—at least I considered him so at that time—a year or so older than Ruth. He was an artist, painted weird-looking landscapes, and to make his living, did magazine illustrating. When Ruth first introduced him to me I thought he was a nice enough boy, except that his interminable piano-playing was a nuisance.

I was soon undeceived about Gerald Rolf, soon made to realize how uncertain is happiness and how even the most innocent circumstances may become a menace to a married man so easy-going, so tolerant as I.

Ruth seemed to like Rolf immensely, although why I could not imagine. I had one or two long talks with him. He knew nothing about business—indeed even the simplest things seemed quite beyond his mental capacity.

I tried to get him to discuss poker—he said he played it a little. But the mathematical laws of chance that govern the game he did not grasp at all.

“I’m afraid you’ve got me out of my depth, Durrant,” he said, and laughed.

Then he wanted me to play a game of chess, which I cannot conceive any rational-minded person being interested in.

Gerald Rolf came to our home frequently after that, often on the evenings I was out. I should have objected to this; but I did not. I admit this fault freely. I saw their intimacy growing, but I was so trustful, so confident of Ruth, I did nothing to prevent it.

He was teaching her chess, he said. And she sang a little to his piano accompaniment, weird sort of songs—nothing bright or lively of the kind I liked. And they went to the opera together sometimes—“in the gallery,” as he laughingly told me, for like all artists he had no money. Then later, they took to horseback riding. But this was expensive, and they rode infrequently.

I saw all this going on, as I have said, and I did nothing to prevent it. I suppose because Ruth, curiously enough, seemed to enjoy such things, and her happiness was always uppermost in my mind. It was for the attainment of that I was working so hard—to be able, some day, to give her the things that really would make her happy.

Then, when this had been going on nearly a year, came the climax; and I learned, with a shock that was all the greater because of its suddenness, how unjust fate may be to a man who unreservedly trusts one he loves and who always tries to do the best he can in every way.

The morning of the particular day I have to tell of, I remember, I went to the office feeling miserably ill. I had taken a sudden chill the night before, and rose with a slight fever and the start of the grip or something of the kind.

About four o’clock in the afternoon I felt so badly, I left the office and went home. Ruth was out and I went into the library, planning to sleep for an hour or two before dinner. I sat down in a large easy-chair in a darkened corner of the room, partly sheltered from the window-light by a screen which stood near by. I was feeling really very miserable and soon fell into a troubled slumber.

I was awakened by the sound of voices and realized that my wife and Gerald Rolf were in the room. Evidently they had not seen me. They were sitting over by the windows and Ruth was serving him tea; I could just see them from my chair, around the corner of the screen.

The first words that I heard, as soon as I was fully awake, electrified me. And yet I remained silent, did not make my presence known then. I do not know why, for I am not one who believes in eaves-dropping.

It was Rolf’s voice.

“We must face it,” he said. “There is no avoiding it now.”

Ruth did not answer at once. I saw her face was very pale, and her hand trembled as she poured him a cup of tea.

“You should not have told me you loved me, too,” he went on. “That would have made it easier. You should have rebuked me—sent me away.”

Another silence.

“I’m going anyhow,” he added.

“Gerald!” She put her hand on his arm.

“There’s no other way, is there?” He met her eyes steadily. “I love you too much to do anything else but go away. You can understand that, can’t you? After to-day—after what we’ve confessed to each other.”

I held myself back with an effort. My brain was whirling. That this impudent boy should dare talk to Ruth—to my wife—like this!

There was another silence. Then I saw Ruth slide her hand down his forearm until her fingers touched his.

“Have you thought it all over carefully Gerald? Are you sure, quite sure, that for you to go away—alone—is the best thing—the right thing?”

She spoke quietly. Even now she seemed to maintain that reserve I disliked in her so intensely.

“Yes,” he said; his voice sounded very tired. “It’s the only thing to do now—with honor.”

Honor! He could prate of-honor, when by their very words, their thoughts, they were dragging my honor in the mire!

“I’m not sure.” She spoke softly—so softly I could hardly hear the words. “I’m not sure, Gerald. I’ve thought about this, too. I’ve seen it coming—oh yes, I have—for a very long time. I’ve known what was in your heart—and in mine.

“For you to go away—never to see me again—that may be the best thing—the right thing for you. It will hurt you, of course—terribly—for a while. And then, inevitably you—you will find some one else—some other woman who will make you happy.” Her voice trembled a little but she still spoke evenly.

“That is what the future holds for you, Gerald. Are you sure you are not thinking only of yourself when you say we must never see each other again? What about me?”

“You! Why, Ruth—”

“What does the future hold for me? You haven’t thought of that, have you, Gerald? Not another love like ours—that is open to you—but not to me.

“You have known me now two years. You know Will—the sort of man he is—”

I took a new grip on myself at this mention of my name; I would hear them out.

“You know Will,” she repeated; a new note of passion came into her voice. “You know how empty, how utterly devoid of everything that makes a life worth living mine was until you came into it. All that is in the past. But the future—have you thought what you are condemning me to in the future? Have you thought of that, Gerald?”

He avoided her eyes. “I love you,” he said. “There will be no other love for me. I have thought it all over—I have faced it—and I cannot—will not—take our happiness in dishonor.”

She leaned over the tea-tray and put both her hands on his shoulders, forcing him to look at her.

“I love you, Gerald,” she said. “Look at me. I love you with all the love I once thought I felt for him—the love he did not—could not—understand. Do you realize that you have brought me with your love? How you have filled that emptiness that was killing me? How you have—have made my dreams—all those vague little ideals that fill every girl’s heart—do you realize how you have made them all come true?

“You have won my love, Gerald. Are you going to cast it away—and leave me nothing—because you say that to take it Would be dishonorable?”

Dishonorable! They could talk thus of dishonor! They did not think of my honor—the honor of William Durrant—that they were dragging about in the slime of their words. I felt a sudden impulse to leap to my feet and confront them; but I held myself firm.

“We must think of him, too,” he said. “We cannot build our happiness upon the wreck of his life. We cannot do that, Ruth—we would lose out in the end.”

She dropped her hands from his shoulders.

“His life wrecked?” She laughed bitterly. “You do not understand him, Gerald. Do you think losing me would wreck his life? It would not be loss of me, but the loss of his wife that would hurt. His wife—his honor—the honor of William Durrant—that would be attacked. You do not understand him if you think that.”

Again she put her hands on his shoulders.

“I’m fighting, Gerald,” she went on softly. “Fighting for the only thing worth while that life holds for me. Are you going to let me go down beaten—a woman who has lost the only good things—real things—a woman ever can hope for. The love of a real man. And—and children. To have children—oh, Gerald, you don’t understand—you don’t understand!”

Her voice broke suddenly and she ended with a sob. I saw his arms go around her. I pushed my chair back violently and sprang to my feet.

How it must have surprised them to be so abruptly confronted by me, the one person in the world they had injured, I can imagine. They both started guiltily at my sudden appearance. Gerald Rolf rose to his feet; Ruth sat quiet with her eyes fixed upon my face.

I strode across the room. I made up my mind then that there would be no heroics—no melodrama. The Durrants did not have to descend to that to protect their honor.

“I have heard all you said,” I began sternly; I looked at each of them in turn. “I could not help it—sitting there.”

They met my eyes brazenly. There was a moment of silence; I wondered which of them would dare address me. Then Gerald Rolf spoke.

“What you have heard, Mr. Durrant, is all true—every word of it. Perhaps it is better that you did hear—for now you can see things as they really are.” He spoke quite quietly, evidently suppressing with an effort his agitation and fear of the consequences of his folly.

“Yes, I think now I understand you as you really are—you two. Since that is so—what do you think you’re going to do about it?” I permitted myself a veiled sneer with this question.

“You heard me say what I was going to do,” Gerald Rolf answered.

Ruth gave a low exclamation and I turned on her sternly.

“Be quiet,” I said. “We will settle this.” I faced Gerald Rolf again.

“Your decision is very wise,” I said sarcastically. “It is fortunate that—”

“I said I was going away," he broke in. “Neither of you will ever again see or hear of me.”

Again I heard Ruth give a low exclamation.

“I’m leaving her happiness with you.”

I took a menacing step toward him as he said this. He faced me with an assumption of bravery.

“I’m leaving her to you,” he went on, “What has happened has been—unfortunate—” His voice faltered, but he drew his lips tightly together and continued.

“Perhaps it has been for the best—perhaps the future may hold more happiness for you both than the past gave you.”

I could listen to no more of this.

“Go,” I said sharply.

He picked up his hat and coat which were lying near by. Then, avoiding Ruth’s eyes, he turned again to me.

“I will,” he said. He hesitated. Then: “For her sake I hope you will become a man,” he added.

He met Ruth’s tearful eyes in good-by and before I could answer this last insult, he had left the room.

I sent Ruth to her bedroom immediately; she was sobbing hysterically, in no fit mental condition for me to talk with then. Some hours later—after I had dined alone, I went in to see her.

I suffered greatly during those hours—how greatly no one but myself will ever know. The whole thing came so unexpectedly; I had always trusted Ruth so implicitly. The fact that a thing so unsavory, so sordid, should come to me, of all people, almost unnerved me. A marriage of one of the Durrants to be so besmirched! It was almost unbelievable.

Such things had happened to others. That I could understand. But when I had selected Ruth for my wife, I had been confident of her worth—her breeding, her very manner seemed to make such a catastrophe as this impossible. Yet it had come and I had to face it—make the best of it—hide it from the world as my mother would have done. Our marriage must go on, of course, but it would never be for me that it had been.

I found Ruth sitting on her bed staring blankly before her.

“Well?” I said; I felt that in justice to myself I should be harsh in this interview. “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”

She stared at me with a light in her eyes that made me doubt her sanity.

“Nothing,” she said, in that irritating, soft voice of hers. “I don’t know—I cannot think—what to do.”

I leaned against the wall just inside the doorway. I was quite calm; I even permitted myself to smile.

“Won’t you go away now?” she added, almost in a whisper. “You must leave me alone—I must think—decide—”

She seemed to be still on the verge of hysteria and I concluded it would be useless for me to go on talking then.

“It is a great shock to me,” I said deliberately, “to find that of all the women in the world I should have chosen one who was bad.”

With that I turned and left her.

I spent that evening at the club—trying to forget in the card-playing the trouble that had come upon me so abruptly.

The next morning when I went to see Ruth in her room, I found she had gone, taking with her only a few personal effects! I called up Gerald Rolf immediately after breakfast; they told me he had left the city.

That was six months ago. She did not come back and she has asked me now to divorce her. She says she has found happiness, and I suppose she thinks she has. I shall divorce her, of course. I have always tried to do the right thing. But the unavoidable publicity will hurt me terribly.

 

I have told you what occurred, plainly. I have nothing to add. I tried my best. Yet, in spite of that—and the injustice of it sometimes makes me very bitter—my marriage has been a failure.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1957, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.