Watches of the Night

(notes edited by John McGivering)


The story was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on March 25th 1887, in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. See David Alan Richards p. 17, passim.

The story

The Colonel’s Wife is trouble. She spreads scandal, breaks engagements, and ruins people’s lives, all for the highest motives. Then Chance takes a hand. The Colonel and Platte, a young fellow officer, both have similar – if not identical – Waterbury watches. Dressing for dinner they switch watches by mistake. Platte, on his way home in the small hours, takes a tumble from his horse, and drops the Colonel’s watch outside a lady’s window. Meanwhile the Colonel – by coincidence – has lost Platte’s watch and come home very late. From then on the Colonel’s wife is eaten up with jealousy and suspicion, and her life is ruined. The wheel has come full circle.

This repellent woman may have beeen modelled on ‘the Woman’ of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in Wee Willie Winkie who treats young ‘Punch’ so badly, a powerful recollection from Kipling’s own childhood.

Angus Wilson (p. 336) relates this story to a much later (1928) and more substantail tale :

“Dayspring Mishandled” is … a picture of a life wasted in hoarded-up hatred and complicated revenge. It is a new and significant extra twist in Kipling’s concern for forgiveness in his last years – or almost new, for, long ago, in an
Indian story of 1887, “The Watches of the Night”, the practical joke revenge on a self-righteous scandal-mongering colonel’s wife goes too far and destroys the wellbeing not only of her but of her amiable husband. In that story we are told that the implacable author of the vengeful practical joke, Mrs Larkyn, “was a frivolous woman in whom none could have suspected deep hate … She never forgot.” The story, like many of Kipling’s slighter Indian stories, is more profound than it seems at first glance.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved