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Lessons for Mrs Hauksbee

By Rudyard Kipling

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The Rescue of Pluffles

Mrs Hauksbee was sometimes nice to her own sex. Here is a story to prove this; and you can believe just as much as ever you please.

Pluffles was a subaltern in the ‘Unmentionables’. He was callow, even for a subaltern. He was callow all over—like a canary that had not finished fledging itself. The worst of it was he had three times as much money as was good for him; Pluffles’ Papa being a rich man and Pluffles being the only son. Pluffles’ Mamma adored him. She was only a little less callow than Pluffles and she believed everything he said.

Pluffles’ weakness was not believing what people said. He preferred what he called ‘trusting to his own judgment.’ He had as much judgment as he had seat or hands; and this preference tumbled him into trouble once or twice. But the biggest trouble Pluffles ever manufactured came about at Simla—some years ago, when he was four-and-twenty.

He began by trusting to his own judgment, as usual, and the result was that, after a time, he was bound hand and foot to Mrs Reiver’s ’rickshaw wheels.

There was nothing good about Mrs Reiver, unless it was her dress. She was bad from her hair—which started life on a Brittany’s girl’s head—to her boot-heels, which were two and three-eighth inches high. She was not honestly mischievous like Mrs Hauksbee; she was wicked in a business-like way.

There was never any scandal—she had not generous impulses enough for that. She was the exception which proved the rule that Anglo–Indian ladies are in every way as nice as their sisters at Home. She spent her life in proving that rule.

Mrs Hauksbee and she hated each other fervently. They heard far too much to clash; but the things they said of each other were startling—not to say original. Mrs Hauksbee was honest—honest as her own front teeth—and, but for her love of mischief, would have been a woman’s woman. There was no honesty about Mrs Reiver; nothing but selfishness. And at the beginning of the season, poor little Pluffles fell a prey to her. She laid herself out to that end, and who was Pluffles, to resist? He went on trusting to his judgment, and he got judged.

I have seen Hayes argue with a tough horse—I have seen a tonga-driver coerce a stubborn pony—I have seen a riotous setter broken to gun by a hard keeper—but the breaking-in of Pluffles of the ‘Unmentionables’ was beyond all these. He learned to fetch and carry like a dog, and to wait like one, too, for a word from Mrs Reiver. He learned to keep appointments which Mrs Reiver had no intention of keeping. He learned to take thankfully dances which Mrs Reiver had no intention of giving him. He learned to shiver for an hour and a quarter on the windward side of Elysium while Mrs Reiver was making up her mind to come for a ride. He learned to hunt for a ’rickshaw, in a light dress-suit under a pelting rain, and to walk by the side of that ’rickshaw when he had found it. He learned what it was to be spoken to like a coolie and ordered about like a cook. He learned all this and many other things besides. And he paid for his schooling.

Perhaps, in some hazy way, he fancied that it was fine and impressive, that it gave him a status among men, and was altogether the thing to do. It was nobody’s business to warn Pluffles that he was unwise. The pace that season was too good to inquire; and meddling with another man’s folly is always thankless work. Pluffles’ Colonel should have ordered him back to his regiment when he heard how things were going. But Pluffles had got himself engaged to a girl in England the last time he went home; and if there was one thing more than another which the Colonel detested, it was a married subaltern. He chuckled when he heard of the education of Pluffles, and said it was ‘good training for the boy.’ But it was not good training in the least. It led him into spending money beyond his means, which were good: above that, the education spoilt an average boy and made it a tenth-rate man of an objectionable kind. He wandered into a bad set, and his little bill at Hamilton’s was a thing to wonder at.

Then Mrs Hauksbee rose to the occasion. She played her game alone, knowing what people would say of her; and she played it for the sake of a girl she had never seen. Pluffles’ fiancée was to come out, under the chaperonage of an aunt, in October, to be married to Pluffles.

At the beginning of August, Mrs Hauksbee discovered that it was time to interfere. A man who rides much knows exactly what a horse is going to do next before he does it. In the same way, a woman of Mrs Hauksbee’s experience knows accurately how a boy will behave under certain circumstances—notably when he is infatuated with one of Mrs Reiver’s stamp. She said that, sooner or later, little Pluffles would break off that engagement for nothing at all—simply to gratify Mrs Reiver, who, in return, would keep him at her feet and in her service just so long as she found it worth her while. She said she knew the signs of these things. If she did not, no one else could.

Then she went forth to capture Pluffles under the guns of the enemy;

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