[October 4th 2006]
First published in The Week’s News, 19 May 1888. Collected in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Mrs Hauksbee and her friends and rivals
Lucy Hauksbee is one of Kipling’s best known characters and appears in a number of stories. She was a 'grass-widow' (a wife whose husband was away) in Simla, as was her friend Mrs Polly Mallowe, like so many other Anglo-Indian ladies at that time, including their bitterest rival, Mrs Reiver.
In “Three—and an Extra” Mrs Hauksbee is described as being:
a little, brown, thin, almost skinny, woman, with big, rolling, violet-blue eyes, and the sweetest manners in the world. You had only to mention her name at afternoon teas for every woman in the room to rise up and call her not blessed. She was clever, witty, brilliant, and sparkling beyond most of her kind; but possessed of many devils of malice and mischievousness. She could be nice, though, even to her own sex.She is thought to have been based on Isabella Burton, described by Andrew Lycett in his Rudyard Kipling, as "the fiery Irish-born wife of an intelligence officer attached to the Ist Bengal Lancers, better known as Skinners Horse...a petite woman with a darting, original intelligence."
In “The Rescue of Pluffles” it is written:
There was nothing good about Mrs. Reiver, unless it was her dress. She was bad from her hair—which started life on a Brittany 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 businesslike 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 Mallowe is the ‘one bosom friend’ of Mrs Hauksbee – she is of a comfortable if indolent nature, distinctly fond of chocolates, and of her fox-terrier Tim, an easygoing person, and, unlike Mrs Hauksbee, inclined to think the best of everyone.
Mrs Hauksbee and her friends and rivals appear, or are mentioned in eleven of Kipling’s stories, all of which - apart from the last - are located in Simla.
Mrs Hauksbee figures in all these stories, apart from "In Error" (which concerns Mrs Reiver), though in "Venus Annodomini" and "The Last of the Stories" she is only mentioned by name.
In 1998, John Whitehead, one of our members, published Mrs Hauksbee & Co: Tales of Simla Life, with the ten Simla stories, an Introduction, Notes and a Glossary. He permitted the Introduction to be reprinted in the Kipling Journal 287 and 288.
This story is in some measure a sequel to “The Education of Otis Yeere” (Wee Willie Winkie) wherein, as our notes on the story describe it, Mrs Hauksbee takes up Otis Yeere, a hard-working middle-ranking administrator from a swampy difficult district of Bengal, and flatters him into greater confidence and higher ambition. But he falls in love with her, which was not the plan at all, and the project founders.
In “A Supplementary Chapter”, Mrs Mallowe tries a similar experiment over a three-year period at being an ‘Influence’ with Trewinnard. Then at a Fancy Dress Ball, Mrs Hauksbee, out of mischief, introduces Trewinnard to Mrs Reiver. Under Polly Mallowe’s ministrations, Trewinnard has developed an overweening sense of self-satisfaction, exacerbated by vanity which leads him to fall under the influence of Mrs Reiver.
It so happened that a battle royal develops that year between Trewinnard’s department and that of another man, Hatchett, who is aptly named. Trewinnard turns to Mrs Reiver for advice, and she, knowing nothing of the case and even less of Civil Service methods, tells him to ‘fight’.
Mrs Mallowe hears about it on the Simla ‘grapevine’, and putting her pride in her pocket, calls on Mrs Reiver to extract from her as much as she can about the situation. Then, after returning home, thinks about it for a while, and then decides to extricate Trewinnard from the mess in which he has been entrapped by Mrs Reiver’s bad advice. This time she puts her reputation in her pocket, and that evening calls on Trewinnard, the bachelor, at his house. There she demands to see what he has prepared as a response, tears it up, dictates a new version to him, and administers a suitable tongue-lashing. When she is ready to leave, she sums up the matter with:
'Will you be good enough to tell them to bring my horse? I do not trust your honour—you have none—but I believe your sense of shame will keep you from speaking of my visit.'
©David Page 2006 All rights reserved