The Education of Otis Yeere

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published in The Week’s News, 10 and 17 March 1888. It was included in Under the Deodars the fourth of the paperback Indian Railway Library published later that year in Allahabad by A H Wheeler & Co., and in London in 1890 by Sampson Low. It was subsequently collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories in 1895, and in numerous later reprints of the same collection.

The story

Mrs Hauksbee and Mrs Mallowe, two clever attractive Simla society women of a certain age, are gossiping together. They talk about their conquests and their strategies, and the weaknesses of the men, soldiers and civilians, who rule the Anglo-Indian world. Mrs Hauksbee, who is rather bored, decides to find a man that she can make something of, not as a lover, but to satisfy her need for power and influence.

She 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.
Norman Page in A Kipling Companion quotes the verdict of The Athenaeum that this story left ‘a disagreeable taste in the mouth.’

Mrs Hauksbee

In “Three—and an Extra” Mrs Hauksbee is described as :

‘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.‘ (Plain Tales, p. 10 l.3)

Thomas Pinney writes (Letters vol I . p. 144)

Mrs Burton (d. 1916), the wife of Major Francis Charles Burton, is identified with Mrn Hauksbee, the clever, witty, and cynical heroine of a number of RK’s Simla stories. She must have been wholly a Simla acquaintance, for the Major was never stationed at Lahore in RK’s day. Major Burton was a staff officer with the 1st Bengal Cavalry ui’ Peshawar in 1887; he later commanded the 2nd Bengal Lancers, and returned to England in 1901.

Mrs Burton was Irish, dressed by preference (it is said) in yellow ol black, and was the mother of four sons and two daughters, none of whom surviw,1 her. RK acted with her and her husband in A Scrap of Paper (an adaptation from Sardou) at Simla in September 1887, the earliest documented evidence of RK’s acqua.intafu•,, with Mrs Burton. But that acquaintance must precede 17 November 1886, when ti”‘ first of the Mrs Hauksbee stories (“Three and – an Extra”) was published.

See also pp. 231-232 in the paperback edition of Kipling Sahib, by Charles Allan.

Mrs Hauksbee figures in seven other Simla stories

A Second-rate Wooman
Three and an Extra
The Rescue of Pluffles
A Supplementary Chapter.
Mrs Hauksbe Sits Out.

She is also mentioned in a number of other stories. See ORG vol;1 pp. 5-6