Mrs Hauksbee Sits Out

(notes edited by John Radcliffe and John McGivering)



ORG Volume 5, page 2483 records the first publication of this aa you you are a you are a you are apiece (No. 206) in the Illustrated London News Christmas Number, 1890 illustrated by A Forestier. It is collected in the Edition de Luxe (1900) , and Volume 5 of the Sussex Edition (1938).

The plot

This is in the form of a one-act play. As well as the cut and thrust of conversations it has many vivid little word-pictures of life in Simla  in the old days.

Mrs Hauksbee is keen to help a young woman, May Holt,  become engaged  to a young officer, Lieutenant Hawley,  for whom she has a high regard. May’s last chance before leaving Simla is to meet him at the Volunteer Ball that night, but she has to evade her chaperone, Mrs Scrimshaw,  a pious aunt who believes that dancing is wicked. May has various mishaps in getting illicitly to the ball  on horseback, but by a happy chance she meets Hawley outside and they quickly establish a perfect understanding.

At the dance. their plan is to’ sit out’ together, but they have to evade the ferocious chaperone. They manage this for much of the evening with the help of Mrs Hauksbee, who enlists a bulky and  impervious  Irish officer to dance with Brs Scrimshaw, and the suave and courteous Viceroy himself to flatter her.

When Mrs Scrimshaw finally catches up with the young couple, Hawley, with the encouragement of Mrs Hauksley bullies her into submission. (In the brutality of his demolition of a self-righteously pious woman, there may be an echo of Kipling’s feelings towards Mrs Holloway, who had oppressed him as a child in the ‘House of Desolation’ in Southsea) The Viceroy, who is hand in glove with Mrs Hauksbee, is impressed with the young man and offers to make him one of his ADCs.

When the curtain falls, the young couple are happily launched and Mrs Hauksbee is  triumphant.

Mrs Hauksbee

See “Three – and an Extra” in Plain Tales from the Hills page 9, line 20, and for an Essay on Mrs. Hauksbee, ORG Voume 1, page 5. It is reprinted in KJ131/05 with editorial matter. Also Mrs. Hauksbee & Co, ed. John Whitehead (Hearthstone Publications, 1998.) See also KJ 134/20, 135/06, and 136/06.

This is one of Kipling’s stories in dialogue form, which was probably not intended for the stage as it stands, as there are too many changes of scene, although, like The Light that Failed, it could be adapted.

See Charles Allen, Kipling Sahib, p. 75 passim for the origins and background of “Mrs. Hauksbee” and Carrington, p. 92.

The Kiplings were on good terms with Dufferin whose son and heir Lord Clandeboye paid attention to their daughter Trix. See Carrington, page 64 and Allen p. 175.


Mrs Hauksbee is also mentioned in two other stores: “Venus Annodomini” (Plain Tales frpm the Hills) and “The Last of the Stories” (Abaft the Funnel).

She was almost certainly based on Mrs Isabella Burton (the wife of Major F C Burton) who was a friend of the young Kipling, and acted with him in various theatricals. Andrew Lycett describes her (p. 182) as :

… a petite woman with a darting original intelligence. A warm Irtish smile lit up her rounded face, with its full lips, largish nose, and flashing violet eyes.

As Andrew Lycett explains (p. 183), she was an important source for Rudyard’s stories of life in Simla.

And Angus Wilson (p. 88) clearly approves of ‘Mrs Hauksbee’:

…her civilising compassionate mission, to repair broken marriages, and decure posts for gifted men instead of favourite nephews of big pots who might have git them, to prise young innocents out of the hands of deathly, predatory women, and to ward off snobbish or mercenary relatives from interferihng with the true love of their young …

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

The Hawley Boy is also menioned, as one of Mrs Hauksbee’s admirers, in A Second-Rate Woman”  (Plain Tales from the Hills), and “The Education of Otis Yeere” (Wee Willie Winkie).

Notes on the text

the imperial city of Simla the author exaggerates but there is a certain amount of truth in what he says. The town sprawled over several peaks in the foothills of the Himalayas, and was the headquarters of the Government of India during the hot weather, with a very active social life.

See also Gilmour,The Ruling Caste, Chapter 10, Marghanita Laski (p. 26), and British Life in India, ed. R.V Vernede, (OUP, 1995.) p. 68.

cachemire (the spelling varies) a province in the Western Himalays. Now divided between India, Pakistan and China, products include a famous cloth woven from the wool of goats.

Khokand (alternative spellings: Khokand, Khokend, etc.) a city in Fergana Province in Eastern Uzbekistan, at the
South-Western edge of the Fergana Valley.

terai a double felt hat

puggree from Hindi pagri, a turban but in this context a light scarf or veil wrapped round a hat or helmet.

Nevermore an echo of “The Raven” (XVII) by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849.)

Fair Eve knelt close to the guarded gate from “The Eden Rose” by Susan K. Phillips, American poet born in 1870.

Where the four great rivers meet
‘And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison ….. . And the name of the second river is Gihon … the name of the third river is Hiddekel: the fourth river is Euphrates’. (Genesis 2,10-14).

arpeggio chords the notes are played consecutively instead of together.

Volunteer ball a non-regular regiment of part-time soldiers, similar to today’s Territorial Army; a ball, in this context, is a dance on a large scale – perhaps to raise funds or just for entertainment. There was a 2nd Punjab Volunteer Corps which was also known as the Simla Volunteer Rifle Corps. Kipling belonged to the 1st Punjab Volunteers in Lahore but never attended a parade and was asked to resign (Angus Wilson, p. 106)

half-caste a person of mixed race – in this case British and Indian.

chaperon a married lady who supervises a young girl on social occasions.

Turning down lamp see the back cover of Mrs. Hawksbee and Co. for two lamps of the type probably in use..

Dandy also the name of a pony in “The Brushwood Boy” (The Day’s Work.)

I’ve ridden ten miles to a dance See
“William the Conqueror” Part I (The Day’s Work, page 187, line 11.)

God gie us a guid conceit of ourselves Possibly an echo of the lines by Robert Burns (1759-1796):

A set o’ dull, conceited hashes.
Confuse their brains in college classes! …
O Thou wha gies us each guid gift!
Gie me o’ wit an’ sense a lift, …

[“A True Story”, Death and Doctor Hornbook]

Mrs. Mallowe appears in several stories in this series.

Our King went forth to Normandie. See “Hal o’ the Draft” , (Puck of Pook’s Hill, page 246, line 9).

Deo Gratias (Latin) ‘By the grace of God.

Deccan Irregular Horse The 9th Royal Deccan Horse was formed un 1790 as ‘Asif Sah’s Irregular Cavalry’. Two Regiments were raised for service under the Nizam of Hyderabad in Berar, who was allied with the East India Company. Known by various titles over the years the Regiment was awarded the prefix Royal for distinguished service in the 1914-18 War and, in the Second World War became part of the 255th Indian Tank Brigade.

Pines of the Cemetery Only included with this story. ORG records it as No. 485

Earth to earth returning an echo of The Order for the Burial of the Dead in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes …’

for ever hold your peace an echo of The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘If any man can shew any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together , let him now speak, or else hereafter hold his peace.’

hanged for a sheep as a lamb ‘it mattered not which one stole in the days when the punishment was death.’ (John Ray’, 1628-1705) The implication is that if one is going to commit a crime, one might as well commit a large one !

Dolly Bobs short for Dorothea Darbishoff, the name of a pony once owned by Kipling. (Something of Myself, page 58.)

programme At a ball, each lady would have a programme with the dances listed, and possible partners would ask to dance with her for a particular dance; if she accepted, the lady would note them on her programme. See “Three –and an Extra” (Plain Tales from the Hills page 12, line 22.)

Lacing bodice after a fashion see the back cover of Mrs. Hauksbee and Co., Tales of Simla Life (Hearthstone Publications) for an illustration.

Don’t shy to conclusions ‘shy’ in this context is the sudden jump of a startled house; a neat variant of the usual ‘don’t jump to conclusions.’

the maid has forgotten her attire ‘Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire ? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.’ Jeremiah 2,32.

Before me the Deluge Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), mistress of Louis XV of France, is reported to have said: ‘Après nous le déluge’, ‘After us, the deluge’, a warning of impending disaster — but later.

backing and filling alternately filling a sail with wind. and spilling it, to keep a sailing vessel in more or less the same position – hesitating.

Windsor chair a stiff-looking but comfortable wooden chair (right), with a curved back, originally made in the late seventeenth century in the country near High Wycombe in Buckighamshire, but named after the nearby town of Windsor. .

Mothers in Israel ‘…thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel.’ 2 Samuel, 20, 19.

polyandrous One wife having several husbands, like the Woman of Shamlegh in Kim.

Now the serpent was more subtil ‘Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field/’ Genesis 3,1. See also “The Enemies to Each Other” (Debits and Credits, page 6, line 6).

feet of the young men see Kipling’s poem “The Feet of the Young Men” (The Five Nations).

Knighted on the field of battle it was once the custom for a king to knight an officer in the field for particularly good service.

Never look a gift tiger in the mouth a variation on the proverb: ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’.

Si la jeunesse savait – Si la vieillesse pouvait The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has: ‘Si jeunesse savoit, si vieillesse pouvoit..’ ‘If youth knew, if age could.’ [Henri Etienne (1531-1598)]

I thought was as the Gods ‘ye shalt be as gods, knowing good and evil’, Genesis 3,5.

God save our gracious Queen… Verse 1 of the National Anthem, played in honour of the Viceroy who represents Queen Victoria. See “The Edge of the Evening”, A Diversity of Creatures page 275 line 8.


[J.R.[J H McG]

© John Radcliffe  and John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved