Divorce Case by Rudyard Kipling
In the daytime, when she moved about me,
In the night, when she was sleeping at my side,--
I was wearied, I was wearied of her presence.
Day by day and night by night I grew to hate her--
Would to God that she or I had died!
There was a man called Bronckhorst--a three-cornered, middle-aged
man in the Army--gray as a badger, and, some people said, with a
touch of country-blood in him. That, however, cannot be proved. Mrs.
Bronckhorst was not exactly young, though fifteen years younger than
her husband. She was a large, pale, quiet woman, with heavy eyelids,
over weak eyes, and hair that turned red or yellow as the lights fell
Bronckhorst was not nice in any way. He had no respect for the
pretty public and private lies that make life a little less nasty
than it is. His manner towards his wife was coarse. There are many
things--including actual assault with the clenched fist--that a wife
will endure; but seldom a wife can bear--as Mrs. Bronckhorst bore--
with a long course of brutal, hard chaff, making light of her
weaknesses, her headaches, her small fits of gayety, her dresses, her
queer little attempts to make herself attractive to her husband when
she knows that she is not what she has been, and--worst of all-- the
love that she spends on her children. That particular sort of
heavy-handed jest was specially dear to Bronckhorst. I suppose that
he had first slipped into it, meaning no harm, in the honeymoon, when
folk find their ordinary stock of endearments run short, and so go to
the other extreme to express their feelings. A similar impulse make's
a man say:--"Hutt, you old beast!" when a favorite horse nuzzles his
coat-front. Unluckily, when the reaction of marriage sets in, the
form of speech remains, and, the tenderness having died out, hurts the
wife more than she cares to say. But Mrs. Bronckhorst was devoted to
her "teddy," as she called him. Perhaps that was why he objected to
her. Perhaps--this is only a theory to account for his infamous
behavior later on--he gave way to the queer savage feeling that
sometimes takes by the throat a husband twenty years' married, when he
sees, across the table, the same face of his wedded wife, and knows
that, as he has sat facing it, so must he continue to sit until day of
its death or his own. Most men and all women know the spasm. It only
lasts for three breaths as a rule, must be a "throw-back" to times
when men and women were rather worse than they are now, and is too
unpleasant to be discussed.
Dinner at the Bronckhorst's was an infliction few men cared to
undergo. Bronckhorst took a pleasure in saying things that made his
wife wince. When their little boy came in at dessert, Bronckhorst
used to give him half a glass of wine, and naturally enough, the poor
little mite got first riotous, next miserable, and was removed
screaming. Bronckhorst asked if that was the way Teddy usually
behaved, and whether Mrs. Bronckhorst could not spare some of her
time to teach the "little beggar decency." Mrs. Bronckhorst, who
loved the boy more than her own life, tried not to cry--her spirit
seemed to have been broken by her marriage. Lastly, Bronckhorst used
to say:--"There! That'll do, that'll do. For God's sake try to
behave like a rational woman. Go into the drawing-room." Mrs.
Bronckhorst would go, trying to carry it all off with a smile; and
the guest of the evening would feel angry and uncomfortable.
After three years of this cheerful life--for Mrs. Bronckhorst had
no woman-friends to talk to--the Station was startled by the news that
Bronckhorst had instituted proceedings ON THE CRIMINAL COUNT, against
a man called Biel, who certainly had been rather attentive to Mrs.
Bronckhorst whenever she had appeared in public. The utter want of
reserve with which Bronckhorst treated his own dishonor helped us to
know that the evidence against Biel would be entirely circumstantial
and native. There were no letters; but Bronckhorst said openly that
he would rack Heaven and Earth until he saw Biel superintending the
manufacture of carpets in the Central Jail. Mrs. Bronckhorst kept
entirely to her house, and let charitable folks say what they pleased.
Opinions were divided. Some two-thirds of the Station jumped at once
to the conclusion that Biel was guilty; but a dozen men who knew and
liked him held by him. Biel was furious and surprised. He denied the
whole thing, and vowed that he would thrash Bronckhorst within an inch
of his life. No jury, we knew, could convict a man on the criminal
count on native evidence in a land where you can buy a murder-charge,
including the corpse, all complete for fifty-four rupees; but Biel did
not care to scrape through by the benefit of a doubt. He wanted the
whole thing cleared: but as he said one night:--"He can prove anything
with servants' evidence, and I've only my bare word." This was about
a month before the case came on; and beyond agreeing with Biel, we
could do little. All that we could be sure of was that the native
evidence would be bad enough to blast Biel's character for the rest
of his service; for when a native begins perjury he perjures himself
thoroughly. He does not boggle over details.
Some genius at the end of the table whereat the affair was being
talked over, said:--"Look here! I don't believe lawyers are any
good. Get a man to wire to Strickland, and beg him to come down and
pull us through."
Strickland was about a hundred and eighty miles up the line. He
had not long been married to Miss Youghal, but he scented in the
telegram a chance of return to the old detective work that his soul
lusted after, and next night he came in and heard our story. He
finished his pipe and said oracularly:--we must get at the evidence.
Oorya bearer, Mussalman khit and methraniayah, I suppose, are the
pillars of the charge. I am on in this piece; but I'm afraid I'm
getting rusty in my talk."
He rose and went into Biel's bedroom where his trunk had been put,
and shut the door. An hour later, we heard him say:--"I hadn't the
heart to part with my old makeups when I married. Will this do?"
There was a lothely faquir salaaming in the doorway.
"Now lend me fifty rupees," said Strickland, "and give me your
Words of Honor that you won't tell my Wife."
He got all that he asked for, and left the house while the table
drank his health. What he did only he himself knows. A faquir hung
about Bronckhorst's compound for twelve days. Then a mehter
appeared, and when Biel heard of HIM, he said that Strickland was an
angel full-fledged. Whether the mehter made love to Janki, Mrs.
Bronckhorst's ayah, is a question which concerns Strickland
He came back at the end of three weeks, and said quietly:--"You
spoke the truth, Biel. The whole business is put up from beginning
to end. Jove! It almost astonishes ME! That Bronckhorst-beast
isn't fit to live."
There was uproar and shouting, and Biel said:--"How are you going
to prove it? You can't say that you've been trespassing on
Bronckhorst's compound in disguise!"
"No," said Strickland. "Tell your lawyer-fool, whoever he is, to
get up something strong about 'inherent improbabilities' and
'discrepancies of evidence.' He won't have to speak, but it will
make him happy. I'M going to run this business."
Biel held his tongue, and the other men waited to see what would
happen. They trusted Strickland as men trust quiet men. When the
case came off the Court was crowded. Strickland hung about in the
verandah of the Court, till he met the Mohammedan khitmatgar. Then
he murmured a faquir's blessing in his ear, and asked him how his
second wife did. The man spun round, and, as he looked into the eyes
of "Estreeken Sahib," his jaw dropped. You must remember that before
Strickland was married, he was, as I have told you already, a power
among natives. Strickland whispered a rather coarse vernacular
proverb to the effect that he was abreast of all that was going on,
and went into the Court armed with a gut trainer's-whip.
The Mohammedan was the first witness and Strickland beamed upon him
from the back of the Court. The man moistened his lips with his
tongue and, in his abject fear of "Estreeken Sahib" the faquir, went
back on every detail of his evidence--said he was a poor man and God
was his witness that he had forgotten every thing that Bronckhorst
Sahib had told him to say. Between his terror of Strickland, the
Judge, and Bronckhorst he collapsed, weeping.
Then began the panic among the witnesses. Janki, the ayah, leering
chastely behind her veil, turned gray, and the bearer left the Court.
He said that his Mamma was dying and that it was not wholesome for
any man to lie unthriftily in the presence of "Estreeken Sahib."
Biel said politely to Bronckhorst:--"Your witnesses don't seem to
work. Haven't you any forged letters to produce?" But Bronckhorst
was swaying to and fro in his chair, and there was a dead pause after
Biel had been called to order.
Bronckhorst's Counsel saw the look on his client's face, and
without more ado, pitched his papers on the little green baize table,
and mumbled something about having been misinformed. The whole Court
applauded wildly, like soldiers at a theatre, and the Judge began to
say what he thought.
. . . . . . . . .
Biel came out of the place, and Strickland dropped a gut trainer's-
whip in the verandah. Ten minutes later, Biel was cutting
Bronckhorst into ribbons behind the old Court cells, quietly and
without scandal. What was left of Bronckhorst was sent home in a
carriage; and his wife wept over it and nursed it into a man again.
Later on, after Biel had managed to hush up the counter-charge
against Bronckhorst of fabricating false evidence, Mrs. Bronckhorst,
with her faint watery smile, said that there had been a mistake, but
it wasn't her Teddy's fault altogether. She would wait till her
Teddy came back to her. Perhaps he had grown tired of her, or she
had tried his patience, and perhaps we wouldn't cut her any more, and
perhaps the mothers would let their children play with "little Teddy"
again. He was so lonely. Then the Station invited Mrs. Bronckhorst
everywhere, until Bronckhorst was fit to appear in public, when he
went Home and took his wife with him. According to the latest
advices, her Teddy did "come back to her," and they are moderately
happy. Though, of course, he can never forgive her the thrashing that
she was the indirect means of getting for him.
. . . . . . . . .
What Biel wants to know is:--"Why didn't I press home the charge
against the Bronckhorst-brute, and have him run in?"
What Mrs. Strickland wants to know is:--"How DID my husband bring
such a lovely, lovely Waler from your Station? I know ALL his
money-affairs; and I'm CERTAIN he didn't BUY it."
What I want to know is:--How do women like Mrs. Bronckhorst come to
marry men like Bronckhorst?"
And my conundrum is the most unanswerable of the three.