THE BRONCKHORST DIVORCE-CASE
By Rudyard Kipling
(Civil and Military Gazette, 26 September 1884)
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 God that she or I had died!
There was a man called Bronckhorst—a three-cornered, middle-aged man in
the Army—grey 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 on it.
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 gaiety, 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 makes a man say, 'Hutt, you old beast!'
when a favourite 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 behaviour 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, same
face of his wedded wife, and knows that, as he has sat facing it, so
must he continue to sit until the 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 Bronckhorsts' 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
After three years of this cheerful life—for Mrs. Bronckhorst had no
women-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 dishonour 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, would 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 almost 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 time he came in and heard our story. He finished his pipe and
said oracularly, 'We must get at the evidence. Oorya bearer, Mussulman
khit and sweeper ayah, 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 make-ups when I married. Will this do?' There was a
loathly fakir salaaming in the doorway.
'Now lend me fifty rupees,' said Strickland, 'and give me your Words of
Honour 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 fakir hung about
Bronckhorst's compound for twelve days. Then a sweeper appeared, and
when Biel heard of him, he said that Strickland was an angel
full-fledged. Whether the sweeper made love to Janki, Mrs. Bronckhorst's
ayah, is a question which concerns Strickland exclusively.
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 veranda of the
Court, till he met the Mohammedan khitmutgar. Then he murmured a
fakir'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 'Estreekin
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 'Estreekin Sahib', the fakir went back on
every detail of his evidence—said he was a poor man, and God was his
witness that he had forgotten everything 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 grey, 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 'Estreekin 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
* * * * *
Biel came out of the Court, and Strickland dropped a gut trainer's-whip
in the veranda. 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 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.