Watches of the
Night by Rudyard Kipling
What is in the Brahmin's books that is in the Brahmin's heart.
Neither you nor I knew there was so much evil in the world.
This began in a practical joke; but it has gone far enough now, and
is getting serious.
Platte, the Subaltern, being poor, had a Waterbury watch and a
plain leather guard.
The Colonel had a Waterbury watch also, and for guard, the lip-
strap of a curb-chain. Lip-straps make the best watch guards. They
are strong and short. Between a lip-strap and an ordinary leather
guard there is no great difference; between one Waterbury watch and
another there is none at all. Every one in the station knew the
Colonel's lip-strap. He was not a horsey man, but he liked people to
believe he had been on once; and he wove fantastic stories of the
hunting-bridle to which this particular lip-strap had belonged.
Otherwise he was painfully religious.
Platte and the Colonel were dressing at the Club--both late for
their engagements, and both in a hurry. That was Kismet. The two
watches were on a shelf below the looking-glass--guards hanging down.
That was carelessness. Platte changed first, snatched a watch,
looked in the glass, settled his tie, and ran. Forty seconds later,
the Colonel did exactly the same thing; each man taking the other's
You may have noticed that many religious people are deeply
suspicious. They seem--for purely religious purposes, of course-- to
know more about iniquity than the Unregenerate. Perhaps they were
specially bad before they became converted! At any rate, in the
imputation of things evil, and in putting the worst construction on
things innocent, a certain type of good people may be trusted to
surpass all others. The Colonel and his Wife were of that type. But
the Colonel's Wife was the worst. She manufactured the Station
scandal, and--TALKED TO HER AYAH! Nothing more need be said. The
Colonel's Wife broke up the Laplace's home. The Colonel's Wife
stopped the Ferris-Haughtrey engagement. The Colonel's Wife induced
young Buxton to keep his wife down in the Plains through the first
year of the marriage. Whereby little Mrs. Buxton died, and the baby
with her. These things will be remembered against the Colonel's Wife
so long as there is a regiment in the country.
But to come back to the Colonel and Platte. They went their
several ways from the dressing-room. The Colonel dined with two
Chaplains, while Platte went to a bachelor-party, and whist to
Mark how things happen! If Platte's sais had put the new saddle-
pad on the mare, the butts of the territs would not have worked
through the worn leather, and the old pad into the mare's withers,
when she was coming home at two o'clock in the morning. She would
not have reared, bolted, fallen into a ditch, upset the cart, and
sent Platte flying over an aloe-hedge on to Mrs. Larkyn's well-kept
lawn; and this tale would never have been written. But the mare did
all these things, and while Platte was rolling over and over on the
turf, like a shot rabbit, the watch and guard flew from his
waistcoat--as an Infantry Major's sword hops out of the scabbard when
they are firing a feu de joie--and rolled and rolled in the moonlight,
till it stopped under a window.
Platte stuffed his handkerchief under the pad, put the cart
straight, and went home.
Mark again how Kismet works! This would not happen once in a
hundred years. Towards the end of his dinner with the two Chaplains,
the Colonel let out his waistcoat and leaned over the table to look at
some Mission Reports. The bar of the watch-guard worked through the
buttonhole, and the watch--Platte's watch--slid quietly on to the
carpet. Where the bearer found it next morning and kept it.
Then the Colonel went home to the wife of his bosom; but the driver
of the carriage was drunk and lost his way. So the Colonel returned
at an unseemly hour and his excuses were not accepted. If the
Colonel's Wife had been an ordinary "vessel of wrath appointed for
destruction," she would have known that when a man stays away on
purpose, his excuse is always sound and original. The very baldness
of the Colonel's explanation proved its truth.
See once more the workings of Kismet! The Colonel's watch which
came with Platte hurriedly on to Mrs. Larkyn's lawn, chose to stop
just under Mrs. Larkyn's window, where she saw it early in the
morning, recognized it, and picked it up. She had heard the crash of
Platte's cart at two o'clock that morning, and his voice calling the
mare names. She knew Platte and liked him. That day she showed him
the watch and heard his story. He put his head on one side, winked
and said:--"How disgusting! Shocking old man! with his religious
training, too! I should send the watch to the Colonel's Wife and ask
Mrs. Larkyn thought for a minute of the Laplaces--whom she had
known when Laplace and his wife believed in each other--and
answered:--"I will send it. I think it will do her good. But
remember, we must NEVER tell her the truth."
Platte guessed that his own watch was in the Colonel's possession,
and thought that the return of the lip-strapped Waterbury with a
soothing note from Mrs. Larkyn, would merely create a small trouble
for a few minutes. Mrs. Larkyn knew better. She knew that any
poison dropped would find good holding-ground in the heart of the
The packet, and a note containing a few remarks on the Colonel's
calling-hours, were sent over to the Colonel's Wife, who wept in her
own room and took counsel with herself.
If there was one woman under Heaven whom the Colonel's Wife hated
with holy fervor, it was Mrs. Larkyn. Mrs. Larkyn was a frivolous
lady, and called the Colonel's Wife "old cat." The Colonel's Wife
said that somebody in Revelations was remarkably like Mrs. Larkyn.
She mentioned other Scripture people as well. From the Old
Testament. [But the Colonel's Wife was the only person who cared or
dared to say anything against Mrs. Larkyn. Every one else accepted
her as an amusing, honest little body.] Wherefore, to believe that
her husband had been shedding watches under that "Thing's" window at
ungodly hours, coupled with the fact of his late arrival on the
previous night, was . . . . .
At this point she rose up and sought her husband. He denied
everything except the ownership of the watch. She besought him, for
his Soul's sake, to speak the truth. He denied afresh, with two bad
words. Then a stony silence held the Colonel's Wife, while a man
could draw his breath five times.
The speech that followed is no affair of mine or yours. It was
made up of wifely and womanly jealousy; knowledge of old age and
sunken cheeks; deep mistrust born of the text that says even little
babies' hearts are as bad as they make them; rancorous hatred of Mrs.
Larkyn, and the tenets of the creed of the Colonel's Wife's
Over and above all, was the damning lip-strapped Waterbury, ticking
away in the palm of her shaking, withered hand. At that hour, I
think, the Colonel's Wife realized a little of the restless
suspicions she had injected into old Laplace's mind, a little of poor
Miss Haughtrey's misery, and some of the canker that ate into Buxton's
heart as he watched his wife dying before his eyes. The Colonel
stammered and tried to explain. Then he remembered that his watch had
disappeared; and the mystery grew greater. The Colonel's Wife talked
and prayed by turns till she was tired, and went away to devise means
for "chastening the stubborn heart of her husband." Which translated,
means, in our slang, "tail-twisting."
You see, being deeply impressed with the doctrine of Original Sin,
she could not believe in the face of appearances. She knew too much,
and jumped to the wildest conclusions.
But it was good for her. It spoilt her life, as she had spoilt the
life of the Laplaces. She had lost her faith in the Colonel, and--
here the creed-suspicion came in--he might, she argued, have erred
many times, before a merciful Providence, at the hands of so unworthy
an instrument as Mrs. Larkyn, had established his guilt. He was a bad,
wicked, gray-haired profligate. This may sound too sudden a revulsion
for a long-wedded wife; but it is a venerable fact that, if a man or
woman makes a practice of, and takes a delight in, believing and
spreading evil of people indifferent to him or her, he or she will end
in believing evil of folk very near and dear. You may think, also,
that the mere incident of the watch was too small and trivial to raise
this misunderstanding. It is another aged fact that, in life as well
as racing, all the worst accidents happen at little ditches and
cut-down fences. In the same way, you sometimes see a woman who would
have made a Joan of Arc in another century and climate, threshing
herself to pieces over all the mean worry of housekeeping. But that
is another story.
Her belief only made the Colonel's Wife more wretched, because it
insisted so strongly on the villainy of men. Remembering what she
had done, it was pleasant to watch her unhappiness, and the penny-
farthing attempts she made to hide it from the Station. But the
Station knew and laughed heartlessly; for they had heard the story of
the watch, with much dramatic gesture, from Mrs. Larkyn's lips.
Once or twice Platte said to Mrs. Larkyn, seeing that the Colonel
had not cleared himself:--"This thing has gone far enough. I move we
tell the Colonel's Wife how it happened." Mrs. Larkyn shut her lips
and shook her head, and vowed that the Colonel's Wife must bear her
punishment as best she could. Now Mrs. Larkyn was a frivolous woman,
in whom none would have suspected deep hate. So Platte took no
action, and came to believe gradually, from the Colonel's silence,
that the Colonel must have "run off the line" somewhere that night,
and, therefore, preferred to stand sentence on the lesser count of
rambling into other people's compounds out of calling hours. Platte
forgot about the watch business after a while, and moved down-country
with his regiment. Mrs. Larkyn went home when her husband's tour of
Indian service expired. She never forgot.
But Platte was quite right when he said that the joke had gone too
far. The mistrust and the tragedy of it--which we outsiders cannot
see and do not believe in--are killing the Colonel's Wife, and are
making the Colonel wretched. If either of them read this story, they
can depend upon its being a fairly true account of the case, and can
"kiss and make friends."
Shakespeare alludes to the pleasure of watching an Engineer being
shelled by his own Battery. Now this shows that poets should not
write about what they do not understand. Any one could have told him
that Sappers and Gunners are perfectly different branches of the
Service. But, if you correct the sentence, and substitute Gunner for
Sapper, the moral comes just the same.