Victorian Short Stories: Troubled Marriages
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