Read CHAPTER TEN - HUSBAND AND WIFE of The Just and the Unjust, free online book, by Vaughan Kester, on ReadCentral.com.

Marshall Langham paused on the court-house steps; he was shaking as with an ague. He passed a tremulous hand again and again across his eyes, as though to shut out something, a memory a fantasy he wanted to forget; but he well knew that at no time could he forget. Gilmore, coming from the building, stepped to his side.

“Well, Marsh, what do you think?” he said.

“What do I think?” the lawyer, repeated dully.

“Doesn’t it seem to you that Jack North has been rather unlucky in his movements?”

“Oh, they make me tired!” cried Langham, with sudden passion.

Gilmore stared at him, coldly critical. The lawyer moved away.

“Going to your office, Marsh?” the gambler asked.

“No, I’m going home,” Langham said shortly, and went down the steps into the street.

Home until he could pull up and get control of himself, that was the best place for him!

He turned into the Square, and from the Square into High Street, and ten minutes later paused before his own door. After a brief instant of irresolution he entered the house. Evelyn was probably down-town at that hour, on one of the many errands she was always making for herself.

Without removing his hat or overcoat he dropped into a chair before the library fire. A devastating weariness possessed him, but he knew he could not hide there in his home. To-day he might, to-morrow even, but the time would come when he must go out and face the world, must listen to the endless speculation concerning Mount Hope’s one great sensation, the McBride murder. Five minutes passed while he sat lost in thought, then he quitted his chair and went to a small cabinet at the other side of the room, which he unlocked; from it he took a glass and a bottle. With these he returned to his place before the fire and poured himself a stiff drink.

“I was mad!” he said with quivering lips. “Mad!” he repeated, and again he passed his shaking hand across his eyes. Once more he filled his glass and emptied it, for the potent stuff gave him a certain kind of courage. Placing the bottle and glass on the table at his elbow, he resumed his seat.

The bottle was almost empty when, half an hour later, he heard the house door open and close. It was Evelyn. Presently she came into the room, still dressed as if for the street.

“Why, what’s the matter, Marsh?” she asked in surprise.

“Matter? Nothing,” he said shortly.

She glanced at the bottle and then at her husband.

“Aren’t you well?” she demanded.

“I’m all right.”

“I hope you aren’t going to start that now!” and she nodded toward the bottle.

He made an impatient gesture.

“Marshall, I am going to speak to the judge; perhaps if he knew he could do or say something; I am not going to bear this burden alone any longer!”

“Oh, what’s the use of beginning that; can’t you see I’m done up?” he said petulantly.

“I don’t wonder; the way you live is enough to do any one up, as you call it; it’s intolerable!” she cried.

“What does it matter to you?”

“It makes a brute of you; it’s killing you!”

“The sooner the better,” he said.

“For you, perhaps; but what about me?”

“Don’t you ever think of any one but yourself?” he sneered.

“Is that the way it impresses you?” she asked coldly.

She slipped into the chair opposite him and began slowly to draw off her gloves. Langham was silent for a minute or two; he gazed intently at her and by degrees the hard steely glitter faded from his heavy bloodshot eyes. Fascinated, his glance dwelt upon her; nothing of her fresh beauty was lost on him; the smooth curve of her soft white throat, the alluring charm of her warm sensuous lips, the tiny dimple that came and went when she smiled, the graceful pliant lines of her figure, the rare poise of her small head his glance observed all. For better or for worse he loved her with whatever of the man there was in him; he might hate her in some sudden burst of fierce anger because of her shallowness, her greed, her utter selfishness; but he loved her always, he could never be wholly free from the spell her beauty had cast over him.

“Look here, Evelyn,” he said at last. “What’s the use of going on in this way, why can’t we get back to some decent understanding?” He was hungry for tenderness from her; acute physical fear was holding him in its grip. He leaned back in his chair and found support for his head. “You’re right,” he went on, “I can’t stand this racket much longer this work and worry; we are living beyond our means; we’ll have to slow up, get down to a more sane basis.” The words came from his blue lips in jerky disjointed sentences. “What’s the use, it’s too much of a struggle! I do a thousand things I don’t want to do, shady things in my practice, things no reputable lawyer should stoop to, and all to make a few dollars to throw away. I tell you, I am sick of it! Why can’t we be as other people, reasonable and patient that’s the thing, to be patient, and just bide our time. We can’t live like millionaires on my income, what’s the use of trying I tell you we are fools!”

“Are matters so desperate with us?” Evelyn asked. “And is it all my fault?”

“I can’t do anything to pull up unless you help, me,” Langham said.

“Well, are matters so desperate?” she repeated.

He did not answer her at once.

“Bad enough,” he replied at length and was silent.

A sense of terrible loneliness swept over him; a loneliness peopled with shadows, in which he was the only living thing, but the shadows were infinitely more real than he himself. He had the brute instinct to hide, and the human instinct to share his fear. He poured himself a drink. Evelyn watched him with compressed lips as he drained the glass. He drew himself up out of the depths of his chair and began to tramp the floor; words leaped to his lips but he pressed them back; he was aware that only the most intangible barriers held between them; an impulse that grew in his throbbing brain seemed driving him forward to destroy these barriers; to stand before her as he was; to emerge from his mental solitude and claim her companionship. What was marriage made for, if not for this?

“Look here,” he said, wheeling on her suddenly. “Do you still love me; do you still care as you once did?” He seized one of her hands in his.

“You hurt me, Marsh!” she said, drawing away from him.

He dropped her hand and with a smothered oath turned from her.

“You women don’t know what love is!” he snarled. “Talk about a woman giving up; talk about her sacrifices it’s nothing to what a man does, where he loves!”

“What does he do that is so wonderful, Marsh?” she asked coldly.

He paused and regarded her with a wolfish glare.

“It’s no damned anemic passion!” he burst out.

“Thank you,” she mocked. “Really, Marsh, you are outdoing yourself!”

“You have never let me see into your heart, never once!”

“Perhaps it’s just as well I haven’t; perhaps it is a forbearance for which you should be only grateful,” she jeered.

“If you were the sort of woman I once thought you, I’d want to hide nothing from you; but a woman she’s secretive and petty, she always keeps her secrets; the million little things she won’t tell, the little secrets that mean so much to her and a man wastes his life in loving such a woman, and is bitter when he finds he’s given all for nothing!”

His heavy tramping went on.

“Is that the way you feel about it?” she asked.

“Yes!” he cried. “I’m infinitely more lonely than when I married you! Look here; I came to you, and in six months’ time you knew a thousand things you had no right to know, unless you, too, were willing to come as close! But I’m damned if I know the first thing about you sometimes you are one thing, sometimes another. I never know where to find you!”

“And I am to blame that we are unhappy? Of course you live in a way to make any woman perfectly happy you are never at fault there!”

“You never really loved me!”

“Didn’t I?” she sighed with vague emotion.

“No.”

“Then why did I marry you, Marsh?”

“Heaven knows I don’t!”

“Then why did you marry me?” She gave him a fleeting smile.

“Because I loved you because you had crept into my heart with your pretty ways, your charm, and the fascination of you. I hadn’t any thought but you; you seemed all of my life, and I was going to do such great things for you. By God, I was going to amount to something for your sake! I was going to make you a proud and happy woman, but you wouldn’t have it! You never got past the trivial things; the annoyances, the need of money, the little self-denials, the little inconveniences; you stopped there and dragged me back when I wanted to go on; you wouldn’t have it, you couldn’t or wouldn’t understand my hopes my ambitions!”

“Marsh, I was only a girl!” she said.

He put out his hand toward the bottle.

“Don’t, Marsh!” she entreated.

He turned away and fell to pacing the floor again.

“What happiness do we get out of life, what good? We go on from day to day living a life that is perfectly intolerable to us both; what’s the use of it I wonder we stand it!”

“I have sometimes wondered that, too,” Evelyn half whispered.

“You had it in your power to make our life different, but you wouldn’t take the trouble; and see where we have drifted; you don’t trust me and I don’t trust you ” She started. “What sort of a basis is that for a man and wife, for our life together?”

“It’s what we what you have made it!” she answered.

“No, it isn’t; it’s what you have made it! I tell you, you were bored to death; you wanted noise and world! Remember how I used to come home from the office every night, and begrudged the moments when any one called? I wanted only you; I talked over my cases with you, my hopes and my ambitions; but you mighty soon got sick of that you yawned, you were sleepy, and you wanted to go about; you thought it was silly staying cooped up like that, and seeing no one, going nowhere! It was stupid for you, you were bored to death, you wanted noise and excitement, to spend money, to see and be seen, as if that game was worth the candle in a God-forsaken hole of a place like Mount Hope! You killed my ambition then and there; I saw it was no use. You wanted the results, but you wouldn’t pay the price in self-denial and patience, and so we rushed into debt and it’s been a scramble ever since! I’ve begged and borrowed and cheated to keep afloat!”

“And I was the cause of it all?” she demanded with lazy scorn of him.

“There was a time when I stood a chance of doing something, but I’ve fooled my opportunities away!”

“What of the promises you made me when we were married what about them?” she asked.

“You created conditions in which I could not keep them!” he said.

“I seem to have been wholly, at fault; at least from your point of view; but don’t you suppose there is something I could say? Do you suppose I sit here silent because I am convinced that it is all my fault?”

He did not answer her at once but continued to pace the floor; at length he jerked out:

“No, I was at fault too. I’ve a nasty temper. I should have had more patience with you, Evelyn but it was so hard to deny you anything you wanted that I could possibly give you I’d have laid the whole world at your feet if I could!”

“I believe you would, Marsh then!” she said.

“It’s a pity you didn’t understand me,” he answered indifferently.

Nothing he could say led in the direction he would have had it lead, for he wanted her to realize her part in what had happened, to know that the burden beneath which he had gone down was in a measure the work of her hands. His instinct was as primitive as a child’s fear of the dark; he must escape from the horror of his isolation; his secret was made doubly terrifying because he knew he dared not share it with any living creature. Yet his mind played strange tricks with him; he was ready to risk much that he might learn what part of the truth he could tell her; he was even ready to risk all in a dumb brute impulse to gather up the remnants of his strength of heart and brain, and be the center of some widespread catastrophe; to put his fear in her soul just as it was in his own. How was she ever to comprehend the horror that held him in its cruel grasp, the thousand subtle shades of thought and feeling that had led up to this thing, from the memory of which he revolted! He turned his bloodshot eyes upon her, something of the old light was there along with the new; he had indeed loved her, but the fruit of this love had been rotten. He was silent, and again his heavy tread resounded in the room as he dragged himself back and forth.

The force in him was stirring her. Sensation of any sort had always made its strong appeal to her. Without knowing what was passing in his mind she yet understood that it was some powerful emotion, and her pliant nerves responded. For the moment she forgot that she no longer loved him. She rose and went to his side.

“Is it all my fault, Marsh?” she said.

“What is your fault?” he asked, pausing.

“That we are so unhappy; am I the only one at fault there?”

He looked down into her face relentingly.

“I don’t know I swear I don’t know!” he said hoarsely.

“What is it, Marsh why are you so unhappy? Just because you love me?
What an unkind thing to say!”

He turned to the table to pour himself a drink, but she caught his hand.

“For my sake, Marsh!” she entreated.

Again he looked down into her eyes.

“For my sake,” she repeated softly.

“By God, I’ll never touch another drop!” he said.

“Oh, you make me so happy!” she exclaimed.

He crushed her in his arms until his muscles were tense. She did not struggle for release, but abandoned herself without a word to the emotion of the moment. Her head thrown back, her cheeks pale, her full lips smiling, she gazed up into his face with eyes burning with sudden fire.

“How I love you!” he whispered.

She slipped her arms about his neck with a little cry of ecstasy.

“Oh, Marsh, I have been foolish, too, but this is the place for me my place against your very heart!” she said softly.

For a long minute Langham held her so, and then tortured by sudden memory he came back sharply to the actualities. His arms dropped from about her.

“What is it, dear?” she asked.

She was not yet ready to pass from the passion of that moment.

“It’s too late ” he muttered brokenly.

“No, dear, it’s not too late, we have only been a little foolish. Of course we can go back; of course we can begin all over, and we know now what to avoid; that was it, we didn’t know before, we were ignorant of ourselves of each other. Why, don’t you see, we are only just beginning to live, dear you must have faith!” and again her arms encircled him.

“But you don’t know ” he stammered.

“Don’t know what, dear?”

He dropped into his chair, and she sank on her knees at his side. A horrible black abyss into which he was falling, seemed to open at his feet. Her hands were the only ones that could draw him back and save him.

“Don’t know what?” she repeated.

The mystery of his man’s nature, with its mingled strength and weakness, was something she could not resist.

“Does it ever do any good to pray, I wonder?” he gasped.

“I wonder, too!” she echoed breathlessly.

He laughed.

“What rot I’m talking!” he said.

“What is it that is wrong, Marsh?”

“Nothing nothing I can’t tell you ”

“You can tell me anything, I would always understand always, dear. Prove to me that our love is everything; take me back into your confidence!”

“No,” he gasped hoarsely. “I can’t tell you you’d hate me if I did; you’d never forget you couldn’t!”

She turned her eyes on him in breathless inquiry.

“I would I promise you now! Marsh, I promise you, can’t you believe ?”

He shook his head and gazed somberly into her eyes. She rested her cheek against the back of his hand where it lay on the arm of his chair. There was a long silence.

“But what is it, Marsh? What has happened?”

“Nothing’s happened,” he said at last. “I’m a bit worried, that’s all, about myself my debts my extravagance; isn’t that enough to upset me? Every one’s crowding me!”

There was another long pause. Evelyn sighed softly; she felt that they were coming back too swiftly to the every-day concerns of life.

“I’m worried, too, about North!” Langham said presently.

“About North what about North?”

“They are going to bring him back; didn’t you know he had gone West? He went last night.”

“But who is going to bring him back?”

“They want him as a witness in the McBride case. They Moxlow, that is seems to think he knows something that may be of importance. He’s a crazy fool, with his notions!”

“But North ” Evelyn began.

“It may make a lot of trouble for him. They are going to bring him back as a witness, and unless he gives a pretty good account of himself, Moxlow’s scheme is to try and hold him ”

“What do you mean by a good account of himself?”

“He’ll, have to be able to tell just where he was between half past five and six o’clock last night; that’s when the murder was committed, according to Taylor.”

“Do you mean he’s suspected, Marsh? But he couldn’t have done it!” she cried.

“How do you know?” he asked quickly.

“Why, I was there ”

“Where?”

“With him ”

“Here was he here?” A great load seemed lifted from him.

She was silent.

“He was here between five and six?” he repeated. He glanced at her sharply. “Why don’t you answer me?”

“No, he was not here,” she said slowly.

“Where was he, then?” he demanded. “What’s the secret, anyhow?”

“Marsh, I’m going to tell you something,” she said slowly. “Nothing shall stand between our perfect understanding, our perfect trust for the future. You know I have been none too happy for the last year I don’t reproach you but we had gotten very far apart somehow. I’ve never been really bad I’ve been your true and faithful wife, dear, always always, but you had made me very unhappy ” She felt him shiver. “And I am not a very wise or settled person and we haven’t any children to keep me steady ”

“Thank God!” the man muttered hoarsely under his breath.

“What do you say?” she asked.

“Nothing go on; what is it you want to tell me?”

“Something and then perhaps you will trust me more fully with the things that are oppressing you. I believe you love me, I believe it absolutely ” she paused.

The light died out of his eyes.

“Marsh,” she began again. “Could you forgive me if you knew that I’d thought I cared for some one else? Could you, if I told you that for a moment I had the thought the silly thought, that I cared for another man?” She was conscious that his hand had grown cold beneath her cheek. “It was just a foolish fancy, quite as innocent as it was foolish, dear; you left me so much alone, and I thought you really didn’t care for me any more, and so and so ”

“Go on!”

“Well, that is all, Marsh.”

“All?”

“Yes, it went no further than that, just a silly fancy, and I’d known him all my life ”

“Of whom are you speaking?”

“Of John North ”

“Damn him!” he cried. “And so that’s what brought him here and you were with him last night!” He sprang to his feet, his face livid. “What do you take me for? Do you expect me to forgive you for that ”

“But Marsh, it was just a silly sentimental fancy! Oh, why did I tell you!”

“Yes, why did you tell me!” he stormed.

“Because I thought it would make it easier for you to confess to me

“Confess to you? I’ve nothing to confess I’ve loved you honestly! Did you think I’d been carrying on some nasty sneaking intrigue with a friend’s wife did you think I was that sort of a fellow the sort of a fellow North is? Do you take me for a common blackguard?”

“Marsh, don’t! Marshall, please for my sake ” and she clung to him, but he cast her off roughly.

“Keep away from me!” he said with sullen repression, but there was a murderous light in his eyes. “Don’t touch me!” he warned.

“But say you forgive me!”

“Forgive you ” He laughed.

“Yes, forgive me Marsh!”

“Forgive you no, by God!”

He reached for the bottle.

“Not that not that, Marsh; your promise only a moment ago your promise, Marsh!”

But he poured himself half a tumbler of whisky and emptied it at a swallow.

“To hell with my promise!” he said, and strode from the room.