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Man and Wife

Wilkie Collins


  by Wilkie Collins


  Part the First.



  ON a summer's morning, between thirty and forty years ago, two

  girls were crying bitterly in the cabin of an East Indian

  passenger ship, bound outward, from Gravesend to Bombay.

  They were both of the same age--eighteen. They had both, from

  childhood upward, been close and dear friends at the same school.

  They were now parting for the first time--and parting, it might

  be, for life.

  The name of one was Blanche. The name of the other was Anne.

  Both were the children of poor parents, both had been

  pupil-teachers at the school; and both were destined to earn

  their own bread. Personally speaking, and socially speaking,

  these were the only points of resemblance between them.

  Blanche was passably attractive and passably intelligent, and no

  more. Anne was rarely beautiful and rarely endowed. Blanche's

  parents were worthy people, whose first consideration was to

  secure, at any sacrifice, the future well-being of their child.

  Anne's parents were heartless and depraved. Their one idea, in

  connection with their daughter, was to speculate on her beauty,

  and to turn her abilities to profitable account.

  The girls were starting in life under widely different

  conditions. Blanche was going to India, to be governess in the

  household of a Judge, under care of the Judge's wife. Anne was to

  wait at home until the first opportunity offered of sending her

  cheaply to Milan. There, among strangers, she was to be perfected

  in the actress's and the singer's art; then to return to England,

  and make the fortune of her family on the lyric stage.

  Such were the prospects of the two as they sat together in the

  cabin of the Indiaman locked fast in each other's arms, and

  crying bitterly. The whispered farewell talk exchanged between

  them--exaggerated and impulsive as girls' talk is apt to be--came

  honestly, in each case, straight from the heart.

  "Blanche! you may be married in India. Make your husband bring

  you back to England."

  "Anne! you may take a dislike to the stage. Come out to India if

  you do."

  "In England or out of England, married or not married, we will

  meet, darling--if it's years hence--with all the old love between

  us; friends who help each other, sisters who trust each other,

  for life! Vow it, Blanche!"

  "I vow it, Anne!"

  "With all your heart and soul?"

  "With all my heart and soul!"

  The sails were spread to the wind, and the ship began to move in

  the water. It was necessary to appeal to the captain's authority

  before the girls could be parted. The captain interfered gently

  and firmly. "Come, my dear," he said, putting his arm round Anne;

  "you won't mind _me!_ I have got a daughter of my own." Anne's

  head fell on the sailor's shoulder. He put her, with his own

  hands, into the shore-boat alongside. In five minutes more the

  ship had gathered way; the boat was at the landing-stage--and the

  girls had seen the last of each other for many a long year to


  This was in the summer of eighteen hundred and thirty-one.


  Twenty-four years later--in the summer of eighteen hundred and

  fifty-five--there was a villa at Hampstead to be let, furnished.

  The house was still occupied by the persons who desired to let

  it. On the evening on which this scene opens a lady and two

  gentlemen were seated at the dinner-table. The lady had reached

  the mature age of forty-two. She was still a rarely beautiful

  woman. Her husband, some years younger than herself, faced her at

  the table, sitting silent and constrained, and never, even by

  accident, looking at his wife. The third person was a guest. The

  husband's name was Vanborough. The guest's name was Kendrew.

  It was the end of the dinner. The fruit and the wine were on the

  table. Mr. Vanborough pushed the bottles in silence to Mr.

  Kendrew. The lady of the house looked round at the servant who

  was waiting, and said, "Tell the children to come in."

  The door opened, and a girl twelve years old entered, lending by

  the hand a younger girl of five. They were both prettily dressed

  in white, with sashes of the same shade of light blue. But there

  was no family resemblance between them. The elder girl was frail

  and delicate, with a pale, sensitive face. The younger was light

  and florid, with round red cheeks and bright, saucy eyes--a

  charming little picture of happiness and health.

  Mr. Kendrew looked inquiringly at the youngest of the two girls.

  "Here is a young lady," he said, "who is a total stranger to me."

  "If you had not been a total stranger yourself for a whole year

  past," answered Mrs. Vanborough, "you would never have made that

  confession. This is little Blanche--the only child of the dearest

  friend I have. When Blanche's mother and I last saw each other we

  were two poor school-girls beginning the world. My friend went to

  India, and married there late in life. You may have heard of her

  husband--the famous Indian officer, Sir Thomas Lundie? Yes: 'the

  rich Sir Thomas,' as you call him. Lady Lundie is now on her way

  back to England, for the first time since she left it--I am

  afraid to say how many years since. I expected her yesterday; I

  expect her to-day--she may come at any moment. We exchanged

  promises to meet, in the ship that took her to India--'vows' we

  called them in the dear old times. Imagine how changed we shall

  find each other when we _do_ meet again at last!"

  "In the mean time," said Mr. Kendrew, "your friend appears to

  have sent you her little daughter to represent her? It's a long

  journey for so young a traveler."

  "A journey ordered by the doctors in India a year since,"

  rejoined Mrs. Vanborough. "They said Blanche's health required

  English air. Sir Thomas was ill at the time, and his wife

  couldn't leave him. She had to send the child to England, and who

  should she send her to but me? Look at her now, and say if the

  English air hasn't agreed with her! We two mothers, Mr. Kendrew,

  seem literally to live again in our children. I have an only

  child. My friend has an only child. My daughter is little

  Anne--as _I_ was. My friend's daughter is little Blanche--as

  _she_ was. And, to crown it all, those two girls have taken the

  same fancy to each other which we took to each other in the

  by-gone days at school. One has often heard of hereditary hatred.

  Is there such a thing as hereditary love as well?"

  Before the guest could answer, his attention was claimed by the

  master of the house.

  "Kendrew," said Mr. Vanborough, "when you have had enough of

  domestic sentiment, suppose you take a glass of wine?" />
  The words were spoken with undisguised contempt of tone and

  manner. Mrs. Vanborough's color rose. She waited, and controlled

  the momentary irritation. When she spoke to her husband it was

  evidently with a wish to soothe and conciliate him.

  "I am afraid, my dear, you are not well this evening?"

  "I shall be better when those children have done clattering with

  their knives and forks."

  The girls were peeling fruit. The younger one went on. The elder

  stopped, and looked at her mother. Mrs. Vanborough beckoned to

  Blanche to come to her, and pointed toward the French window

  opening to the floor.

  "Would you like to eat your fruit in the garden, Blanche?"

  "Yes," said Blanche, "if Anne will go with me."

  Anne rose at once, and the two girls went away together into the

  garden, hand in hand. On their departure Mr. Kendrew wisely

  started a new subject. He referred to the letting of the house.

  "The loss of the garden will be a sad loss to those two young

  ladies," he said. "It really seems to be a pity that you should

  be giving up this pretty place."

  "Leaving the house is not the worst of the sacrifice," answered

  Mrs. Vanborough. "If John finds Hampstead too far for him from

  London, of course we must move. The only hardship that I complain

  of is the hardship of having the house to let."

  Mr. Vanborough looked across the table, as ungraciously as

  possible, at his wife.

  "What have _you_ to do with it?" he asked.

  Mrs. Vanborough tried to clear the conjugal horizon b y a smile.

  "My dear John," she said, gently, "you forget that, while you are

  at business, I am here all day. I can't help seeing the people

  who come to look at the house. Such people!" she continued,

  turning to Mr. Kendrew. "They distrust every thing, from the

  scraper at the door to the chimneys on the roof. They force their

  way in at all hours. They ask all sorts of impudent

  questions--and they show you plainly that they don't mean to

  believe your answers, before you have time to make them. Some

  wretch of a woman says, 'Do you think the drains are right?'--and

  sniffs suspiciously, before I can say Yes. Some brute of a man

  asks, 'Are you quite sure this house is solidly built,

  ma'am?'--and jumps on the floor at the full stretch of his legs,

  without waiting for me to reply. Nobody believes in our gravel

  soil and our south aspect. Nobody wants any of our improvements.

  The moment they hear of John's Artesian well, they look as if

  they never drank water. And, if they happen to pass my

  poultry-yard, they instantly lose all appreciation of the merits

  of a fresh egg!"

  Mr. Kendrew laughed. "I have been through it all in my time," he

  said. "The people who want to take a house are the born enemies

  of the people who want to let a house. Odd--isn't it,


  Mr. Vanborough's sullen humor resisted his friend as obstinately

  as it had resisted his wife.

  "I dare say," he answered. "I wasn't listening."

  This time the tone was almost brutal. Mrs. Vanborough looked at

  her husband with unconcealed surprise and distress.

  "John!" she said. "What _can_ be the matter with you? Are you in


  "A man may be anxious and worried, I suppose, without being

  actually in pain."

  "I am sorry to hear you are worried. Is it business?"


  "Consult Mr. Kendrew."

  "I am waiting to consult him."

  Mrs. Vanborough rose immediately. "Ring, dear," she said, "when

  you want coffee." As she passed her husband she stopped and laid

  her hand tenderly on his forehead. "I wish I could smooth out

  that frown!" she whispered. Mr. Vanborough impatiently shook his

  head. Mrs. Vanborough sighed as she turned to the door. Her

  husband called to her before she could leave the room.

  "Mind we are not interrupted!"

  "I will do my best, John." She looked at Mr. Kendrew, holding the

  door open for her; and resumed, with an effort, her former

  lightness of tone. "But don't forget our 'born enemies!' Somebody

  may come, even at this hour of the evening, who wants to see the


  The two gentlemen were left alone over their wine. There was a

  strong personal contrast between them. Mr. Vanborough was tall

  and dark--a dashing, handsome man; with an energy in his face

  which all the world saw; with an inbred falseness under it which

  only a special observer could detect. Mr. Kendrew was short and

  light--slow and awkward in manner, except when something happened

  to rouse him. Looking in _his_ face, the world saw an ugly and

  undemonstrative little man. The special observer, penetrating

  under the surface, found a fine nature beneath, resting on a

  steady foundation of honor and truth.

  Mr. Vanborough opened the conversation.

  "If you ever marry," he said, "don't be such a fool, Kendrew, as

  I have been. Don't take a wife from the stage."

  "If I could get such a wife as yours," replied the other, "I

  would take her from the stage to-morrow. A beautiful woman, a

  clever woman, a woman of unblemished character, and a woman who

  truly loves you. Man alive! what do you want more?"

  "I want a great deal more. I want a woman highly connected and

  highly bred--a woman who can receive the best society in England,

  and open her husband's way to a position in the world."

  "A position in the world!" cried Mr. Kendrew. "Here is a man

  whose father has left him half a million of money--with the one

  condition annexed to it of taking his father's place at the head

  of one of the greatest mercantile houses in England. And he talks

  about a position, as if he was a junior clerk in his own office!

  What on earth does your ambition see, beyond what your ambition

  has already got?"

  Mr. Vanborough finished his glass of wine, and looked his friend

  steadily in the face.

  "My ambition," he said, "sees a Parliamentary career, with a

  Peerage at the end of it--and with no obstacle in the way but my

  estimable wife."

  Mr. Kendrew lifted his hand warningly. "Don't talk in that way,"

  he said. "If you're joking--it's a joke I don't see. If you're in

  earnest--you force a suspicion on me which I would rather not

  feel. Let us change the subject."

  "No! Let us have it out at once. What do you suspect?"

  "I suspect you are getting tired of your wife."

  "She is forty-two, and I am thirty-five; and I have been married

  to her for thirteen years. You know all that--and you only

  suspect I am tired of her. Bless your innocence! Have you any

  thing more to say?"

  "If you force me to it, I take the freedom of an old friend, and

  I say you are not treating her fairly. It's nearly two years

  since you broke up your establishment abroad, and came to England

  on your father's death. With the exception of myself, and one or

  two other friends of former days, you have presented your wife to

  nobody. Your new position has smoothed the way for you into th

  best society. You never take your wife with you. You go out as if

  you were a single man. I have reason to know that you are

  actually believed to be a single man, among these new

  acquaintances of yours, in more than one quarter. Forgive me for

  speaking my mind bluntly--I say what I think. It's unworthy of

  you to keep your wife buried here, as if you were ashamed of


  "I _am_ ashamed of her."


  "Wait a little! you are not to have it all your own way, my good

  fellow. What are the facts? Thirteen years ago I fell in love

  with a handsome public singer, and married her. My father was

  angry with me; and I had to go and live with her abroad. It

  didn't matter, abroad. My father forgave me on his death-bed, and

  I had to bring her home again. It does matter, at home. I find

  myself, with a great career opening before me, tied to a woman

  whose relations are (as you well know) the lowest of the low. A

  woman without the slightest distinction of manner, or the

  slightest aspiration beyond her nursery and her kitchen, her

  piano and her books. Is _that_ a wife who can help me to make my

  place in society?--who can smooth my way through social obstacles

  and political obstacles, to the House of Lords? By Jupiter! if

  ever there was a woman to be 'buried' (as you call it), that

  woman is my wife. And, what's more, if you want the truth, it's

  because I _can't_ bury her here that I'm going to leave this

  house. She has got a cursed knack of making acquaintances

  wherever she goes. She'll have a circle of friends about her if I

  leave her in this neighborhood much longer. Friends who remember

  her as the famous opera-singer. Friends who will see her

  swindling scoundrel of a father (when my back is turned) coming

  drunk to the door to borrow money of her! I tell you, my marriage

  has wrecked my prospects. It's no use talking to me of my wife's

  virtues. She is a millstone round my neck, with all her virtues.

  If I had not been a born idiot I should have waited, and married

  a woman who would have been of some use to me; a woman with high


  Mr. Kendrew touched his host's arm, and suddenly interrupted him.

  "To come to the point," he said--"a woman like Lady Jane


  Mr. Vanborough started. His eyes fell, for the first time, before

  the eyes of his friend.

  "What do you know about Lady Jane?" he asked.

  "Nothing. I don't move in Lady Jane's world--but I do go

  sometimes to the opera. I saw you with her last night in her box;

  and I heard what was said in the stalls near me. You were openly

  spoken of as the favored man who was singled out from the rest by

  Lady Jane. Imagine what would happen if your wife heard that! You

  are wrong, Vanborough--you are in every way wrong. You alarm, you

  distress, you disappoint me. I never sought this explanation--but

  now it has come, I won't shrink from it. Reconsider your conduct;

  reconsider what you have said to me--or you count me no longer

  among your friends. No! I

  want no farther talk about it now. We are both getting hot--we

  may end in saying what had better have been left unsaid. Once

  more, let us change the subject. You wrote me word that you

  wanted me here to-day, because you needed my advice on a matter

  of some importance. What is it?"

  Silence followed that question. Mr. Vanborough's face betrayed

  signs of embarrassment. He poured himself out another glass of

  wine, and drank it at a draught before he replied.

  "It's not so easy to tell you what I want," he said, "after the

  tone you have taken with me about my wife."

  Mr. Kendrew looked surprised.

  "Is Mrs. Vanborough concerned in the matter?" he asked.


  "Does she know about it?"


  "Have you kept the thing a secret out of regard for _her?_"