MAN AND WIFE
MAN AND WIFE
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