The Rescue of
Pluffles by Rudyard Kipling
Thus, for a season, they fought it fair--
She and his cousin May--
Tactful, talented, debonnaire,
Decorous foes were they;
But never can battle of man compare
With merciless feminine fray.
Two and One.
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
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
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
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' fiancee was to come
out, under the chaperonage of an aunt, in October, to be married to
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
Then she went forth to capture Pluffles under the guns of the
enemy; just as Mrs. Cusack-Bremmil carried away Bremmil under Mrs.
This particular engagement lasted seven weeks--we called it the
Seven Weeks' War--and was fought out inch by inch on both sides. A
detailed account would fill a book, and would be incomplete then. Any
one who knows about these things can fit in the details for himself.
It was a superb fight--there will never be another like it as long as
Jakko stands--and Pluffles was the prize of victory. People said
shameful things about Mrs. Hauksbee. They did not know what she was
playing for. Mrs. Reiver fought, partly because Pluffles was useful
to her, but mainly because she hated Mrs. Hauksbee, and the matter was
a trial of strength between them. No one knows what Pluffles thought.
He had not many ideas at the best of times, and the few he possessed
made him conceited. Mrs. Hauksbee said:--"The boy must be caught; and
the only way of catching him is by treating him well."
So she treated him as a man of the world and of experience so long
as the issue was doubtful. Little by little, Pluffles fell away from
his old allegiance and came over to the enemy, by whom he was made
much of. He was never sent on out-post duty after 'rickshaws any
more, nor was he given dances which never came off, nor were the
drains on his purse continued. Mrs. Hauksbee held him on the snaffle;
and after his treatment at Mrs. Reiver's hands, he appreciated the
Mrs. Reiver had broken him of talking about himself, and made him
talk about her own merits. Mrs. Hauksbee acted otherwise, and won
his confidence, till he mentioned his engagement to the girl at Home,
speaking of it in a high and mighty way as a "piece of boyish folly."
This was when he was taking tea with her one afternoon, and
discoursing in what he considered a gay and fascinating style. Mrs.
Hauksbee had seen an earlier generation of his stamp bud and blossom,
and decay into fat Captains and tubby Majors.
At a moderate estimate there were about three and twenty sides to
that lady's character. Some men say more. She began to talk to
Pluffles after the manner of a mother, and as if there had been three
hundred years, instead of fifteen, between them. She spoke with a
sort of throaty quaver in her voice which had a soothing effect,
though what she said was anything but soothing. She pointed out the
exceeding folly, not to say meanness, of Pluffles' conduct, and the
smallness of his views. Then he stammered something about "trusting
to his own judgment as a man of the world;" and this paved the way for
what she wanted to say next. It would have withered up Pluffles had
it come from any other woman; but in the soft cooing style in which
Mrs. Hauksbee put it, it only made him feel limp and repentant--as if
he had been in some superior kind of church. Little by little, very
softly and pleasantly, she began taking the conceit out of Pluffles,
as you take the ribs out of an umbrella before re-covering it. She
told him what she thought of him and his judgment and his knowledge of
the world; and how his performances had made him ridiculous to other
people; and how it was his intention make love to herself if she gave
him the chance. Then she said that marriage would be the making of
him; and drew a pretty little picture--all rose and opal-- of the Mrs.
Pluffles of the future going through life relying on the "judgment"
and "knowledge of the world" of a husband who had nothing to reproach
himself with. How she reconciled these two statements she alone knew.
But they did not strike Pluffles as conflicting.
Hers was a perfect little homily--much better than any clergyman
could have given--and it ended with touching allusions to Pluffles'
Mamma and Papa, and the wisdom of taking his bride Home.
Then she sent Pluffles out for a walk, to think over what she had
said. Pluffles left, blowing his nose very hard and holding himself
very straight. Mrs. Hauksbee laughed.
What Pluffles had intended to do in the matter of the engagement
only Mrs. Reiver knew, and she kept her own counsel to her death. She
would have liked it spoiled as a compliment, I fancy.
Pluffles enjoyed many talks with Mrs. Hauksbee during the next few
days. They were all to the same end, and they helped Pluffles in the
path of Virtue.
Mrs. Hauksbee wanted to keep him under her wing to the last.
Therefore she discountenanced his going down to Bombay to get
married. "Goodness only knows what might happen by the way!" she
said. "Pluffles is cursed with the curse of Reuben, and India is no
fit place for him!"
In the end, the fiancee arrived with her aunt; and Pluffles, having
reduced his affairs to some sort of order--here again Mrs. Hauksbee
helped him--was married.
Mrs. Hauksbee gave a sigh of relief when both the "I wills" had
been said, and went her way.
Pluffies took her advice about going Home. He left the Service,
and is now raising speckled cattle inside green painted fences
somewhere at Home. I believe he does this very judiciously. He
would have come to extreme grief out here.
For these reasons if any one says anything more than usually nasty
about Mrs. Hauksbee, tell him the story of the Rescue of Pluffles.