Man and WifeWilkie Collins
MAN AND WIFE
by Wilkie Collins
PROLOGUE.--THE IRISH MARRIAGE.
Part the First.
THE VILLA AT HAMPSTEAD.
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
"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
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?_"