Wee Willie Winkie by Rudyard Kipling
"An officer and a gentleman."
His full name was Percival William Williams, but he picked up the other
name in a nursery-book, and that was the end of the christened titles. His
mother's ayah called him Willie-Baba, but as he never paid
the faintest attention to anything that the ayah said, her wisdom
did not help matters.
His father was the Colonel of the 195th, and as soon as Wee Willie
Winkie was old enough to understand what Military Discipline meant,
Colonel Williams put him under it. There was no other way of managing the
child. When he was good for a week, he drew good-conduct pay; and when he
was bad, he was deprived of his good-conduct stripe. Generally he was bad,
for India offers so many chances to little six-year-olds of going
Children resent familiarity from strangers, and Wee Willie Winkie was a
very particular child. Once he accepted an acquaintance, he was graciously
pleased to thaw. He accepted Brandis, a subaltern of the 195th, on sight.
Brandis was having tea at the Colonel's, and Wee Willie Winkie entered
strong in the possession of a good-conduct badge won for not chasing the
hens round the compound. He regarded Brandis with gravity for at least ten
minutes, and then delivered himself of his opinion.
"I like you," said he, slowly, getting off his chair and coming over to
Brandis. "I like you. I shall call you Coppy, because of your hair. Do you
mind being called Coppy? it is because of ve hair, you know."
Here was one of the most embarrassing of Wee Willie Winkie's
peculiarities. He would look at a stranger for some time, and then,
without warning or explanation, would give him a name. And the name stuck.
No regimental penalties could break Wee Willie Winkie of this habit. He
lost his good-conduct badge for christening the Commissioner's wife
"Pobs"; but nothing that the Colonel could do made the Station forego the
nickname, and Mrs. Collen remained Mrs. "Pobs" till the end of her stay.
So Brandis was christened "Coppy," and rose, therefore, in the estimation
of the regiment.
If Wee Willie Winkie took an interest in any one, the fortunate man was
envied alike by the mess and the rank and file. And in their envy lay no
suspicion of self-interest. "The Colonel's son" was idolized on his own
merits entirely. Yet Wee Willie Winkie was not lovely. His face was
permanently freckled, as his legs were permanently scratched, and in spite
of his mother's almost tearful remonstrances he had insisted upon having
his long yellow locks cut short in the military fashion. "I want my hair
like Sergeant Tummil's," said Wee Willie Winkie, and, his father abetting,
the sacrifice was accomplished.
Three weeks after the bestowal of his youthful affections on Lieutenant
Brandis—henceforward to be called "Coppy" for the sake of
brevity—Wee Willie Winkie was destined to behold strange things and
far beyond his comprehension.
Coppy returned his liking with interest. Coppy had let him wear for
five rapturous minutes his own big sword—just as tall as Wee Willie
Winkie. Coppy had promised him a terrier puppy; and Coppy had permitted
him to witness the miraculous operation of shaving. Nay, more—Coppy
had said that even he, Wee Willie Winkie, would rise in time to the
ownership of a box of shiny knives, a silver soap-box and a silver-handled
"sputter-brush," as Wee Willie Winkie called it. Decidedly, there was no
one except his father, who could give or take away good-conduct badges at
pleasure, half so wise, strong, and valiant as Coppy with the Afghan and
Egyptian medals on his breast. Why, then, should Coppy be guilty of the
unmanly weakness of kissing—vehemently kissing—a "big girl,"
Miss Allardyce to wit? In the course of a morning ride, Wee Willie Winkie
had seen Coppy so doing, and, like the gentleman he was, had promptly
wheeled round and cantered back to his groom, lest the groom should also
Under ordinary circumstances he would have spoken to his father, but he
felt instinctively that this was a matter on which Coppy ought first to be
"Coppy," shouted Wee Willie Winkie, reining up outside that subaltern's
bungalow early one morning—"I want to see you, Coppy!"
"Come in, young 'un," returned Coppy, who was at early breakfast in the
midst of his dogs. "What mischief have you been getting into now?"
Wee Willie Winkie had done nothing notoriously bad for three days, and
so stood on a pinnacle of virtue.
"I've been doing nothing bad," said he, curling himself into a long
chair with a studious affectation of the Colonel's languor after a hot
parade. He buried his freckled nose in a tea-cup and, with eyes staring
roundly over the rim, asked:—"I say, Coppy, is it pwoper to kiss big
"By Jove! You're beginning early. Who do you want to kiss?"
"No one. My muvver's always kissing me if I don't stop her. If it isn't
pwoper, how was you kissing Major Allardyce's big girl last morning, by ve
Coppy's brow wrinkled. He and Miss Allardyce had with great craft
managed to keep their engagement secret for a fortnight. There were urgent
and imperative reasons why Major Allardyce should not know how matters
stood for at least another month, and this small marplot had discovered a
great deal too much.
"I saw you," said Wee Willie Winkie, calmly. "But ve groom didn't see.
I said, 'Hut jao.'"
"Oh, you had that much sense, you young Rip," groaned poor Coppy, half
amused and half angry. "And how many people may you have told about
"Only me myself. You didn't tell when I twied to wide ve buffalo ven my
pony was lame; and I fought you wouldn't like."
"Winkie," said Coppy, enthusiastically, shaking the small hand, "you're
the best of good fellows. Look here, you can't understand all these
things. One of these days—hang it, how can I make you see
it!—I'm going to marry Miss Allardyce, and then she'll be Mrs.
Coppy, as you say. If your young mind is so scandalized at the idea of
kissing big girls, go and tell your father."
"What will happen?" said Wee Willie Winkie, who firmly believed that
his father was omnipotent.
"I shall get into trouble." said Coppy, playing his trump card with an
appealing look at the holder of the ace.
"Ven I won't," said Wee Willie Winkie, briefly. "But my faver says it's
un-man-ly to be always kissing, and I didn't fink you'd do vat,
"I'm not always kissing, old chap. It's only now and then, and when
you're bigger you'll do it too. Your father meant it's not good for little
"Ah!" said Wee Willie Winkie, now fully enlightened. "It's like ve
"Exactly," said Coppy, gravely.
"But I don't fink I'll ever want to kiss big girls, nor no one, 'cept
my muvver. And I must vat, you know."
There was a long pause, broken by Wee Willie Winkie,
"Are you fond of vis big girl, Coppy?"
"Awfully!" said Coppy.
"Fonder van you are of Bell or ve Butcha—or me?"
"It's in a different way," said Coppy. "You see, one of these days Miss
Allardyce will belong to me, but you'll grow up and command the Regiment
and—all sorts of things. It's quite different, you see."
"Very well," said Wee Willie Winkie, rising. "If you're fond of ve big
girl, I won't tell any one. I must go now."
Coppy rose and escorted his small guest to the door, adding: "You're
the best of little fellows, Winkie. I tell you what. In thirty days from
now you can tell if you like—tell any one you like."
Thus the secret of the Brandis-Allardyce engagement was dependent on a
little child's word. Coppy, who knew Wee Willie Winkie's idea of truth,
was at ease, for he felt that he would not break promises. Wee Willie
Winkie betrayed a special and unusual interest in Miss Allardyce, and,
slowly revolving round that embarrassed young lady, was used to regard her
gravely with unwinking eye. He was trying to discover why Coppy should
have kissed her. She was not half so nice as his own mother. On the other
hand, she was Coppy's property, and would in time belong to him. Therefore
it behooved him to treat her with as much respect as Coppy's big sword or
The idea that he shared a great secret in common with Coppy kept Wee
Willie Winkie unusually virtuous for three weeks. Then the Old Adam broke
out, and he made what he called a "camp-fire" at the bottom of the garden.
How could he have foreseen that the flying sparks would have lighted the
Colonel's little hayrick and consumed a week's store for the horses?
Sudden and swift was the punishment—deprivation of the good-conduct
badge and, most sorrowful of all, two days confinement to
barracks—the house and veranda—coupled with the withdrawal of
the light of his father's countenance.
He took the sentence like the man he strove to be, drew himself up with
a quivering under-lip, saluted, and, once clear of the room, ran to weep
bitterly in his nursery—called by him "my quarters," Coppy came in
the afternoon and attempted to console the culprit.
"I'm under awwest," said Wee Willie Winkie, mournfully, "and I didn't
ought to speak to you."
Very early the next morning he climbed on to the roof of the
house—that was not forbidden—and beheld Miss Allardyce going
for a ride.
"Where are you going?" cried Wee Willie Winkie.
"Across the river," she answered, and trotted forward.
Now the cantonment in which the 195th lay was bounded on the north by a
river—dry in the winter. From his earliest years, Wee Willie Winkie
had been forbidden to go across the river, and had noted that even
Coppy—the almost almighty Coppy—had never set foot beyond it.
Wee Willie Winkie had once been read to, out of a big blue book, the
history of the Princess and the Goblins—a most wonderful tale of a
land where the Goblins were always warring with the children of men until
they were defeated by one Curdie. Ever since that date it seemed to him
that the bare black and purple hills across the river were inhabited by
Goblins, and, in truth, every one had said that there lived the Bad Men.
Even in his own house the lower halves of the windows were covered with
green paper on account of the Bad Men who might, if allowed clear view,
fire into peaceful drawing-rooms and comfortable bedrooms. Certainly,
beyond the river, which was the end of all the Earth, lived the Bad Men.
And here was Major Allardyce's big girl, Coppy's property, preparing to
venture into their borders! What would Coppy say if anything happened to
her? If the Goblins ran off with her as they did with Curdie's Princess?
She must at all hazards be turned back.
The house was still. Wee Willie Winkie reflected for a moment on the
very terrible wrath of his father; and then—broke his arrest! It was
a crime unspeakable. The low sun threw his shadow, very large and very
black, on the trim garden-paths, as he went down to the stables and
ordered his pony. It seemed to him in the hush of the dawn that all the
big world had been bidden to stand still and look at Wee Willie Winkie
guilty of mutiny. The drowsy groom handed him his mount, and, since the
one great sin made all others insignificant, Wee Willie Winkie said that
he was going to ride over to Coppy Sahib, and went out at a foot-pace,
stepping on the soft mould of the flower-borders.
The devastating track of the pony's feet was the last misdeed that cut
him off from all sympathy of Humanity, He turned into the road, leaned
forward; and rode as fast as the pony could put foot to the ground in the
direction of the river.
But the liveliest of twelve-two ponies can do little against the long
canter of a Waler. Miss Allardyce was far ahead, had passed through the
crops, beyond the Police-post when all the guards were asleep, and her
mount was scattering the pebbles of the river bed as Wee Willie Winkie
left the cantonment and British India behind him. Bowed forward and still
flogging, Wee Willie Winkie shot into Afghan territory, and could just see
Miss Allardyce a black speck, flickering across the stony plain. The
reason of her wandering was simple enough. Coppy, in a tone of
too-hastily-assumed authority, had told her over night, that she must not
ride out by the river. And she had gone to prove her own spirit and teach
Coppy a lesson.
Almost at the foot of the inhospitable hills, Wee Willie Winkie saw the
Waler blunder and come down heavily. Miss Allardyce struggled clear, but
her ankle had been severely twisted, and she could not stand. Having thus
demonstrated her spirit, she wept copiously, and was surprised by the
apparition of a white, wide-eyed child in khaki, on a nearly spent
"Are you badly, badly hurted?" shouted Wee Willie Winkie, as soon as he
was within range. "You didn't ought to be here."
"I don't know," said Miss Allardyce, ruefully, ignoring the reproof.
"Good gracious, child, what are you doing here?"
"You said you was going acwoss ve wiver," panted Wee Willie Winkie,
throwing himself off his pony. "And nobody—not even Coppy—must
go acwoss ve wiver, and I came after you ever so hard, but you wouldn't
stop, and now you've hurted yourself, and Coppy will be angwy wiv me,
and—I've bwoken my awwest! I've bwoken my awwest!"
The future Colonel of the 195th sat down and sobbed. In spite of the
pain in her ankle the girl was moved.
"Have you ridden all the way from cantonments, little man? What
"You belonged to Coppy. Coppy told me so!" wailed Wee Willie Winkie,
disconsolately. "I saw him kissing you, and he said he was fonder of you
van Bell or ve Butcha or me. And so I came. You must get up and come back.
You didn't ought to be here. Vis is a bad place, and I've bwoken my
"I can't move, Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, with a groan. "I've hurt
my foot. What shall I do?"
She showed a readiness to weep afresh, which steadied Wee Willie
Winkie, who had been brought up to believe that tears were the depth of
unmanliness. Still, when one is as great a sinner as Wee Willie Winkie,
even a man may be permitted to break down,
"Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, "when you've rested a little, ride back
and tell them to send out something to carry me back in. It hurts
The child sat still for a little time and Miss Allardyce closed her
eyes; the pain was nearly making her faint. She was roused by Wee Willie
Winkie tying up the reins on his pony's neck and setting it free with a
vicious cut of his whip that made it whicker. The little animal headed
toward the cantonments.
"Oh, Winkie! What are you doing?"
"Hush!" said Wee Willie Winkie. "Vere's a man coming—one of ve
Bad Men. I must stay wiv you. My faver says a man must always look
after a girl. Jack will go home, and ven vey'll come and look for us.
Vat's why I let him go."
Not one man but two or three had appeared from behind the rocks of the
hills, and the heart of Wee Willie Winkie sank within him, for just in
this manner were the Goblins wont to steal out and vex Curdie's soul. Thus
had they played in Curdie's garden, he had seen the picture, and thus had
they frightened the Princess's nurse. He heard them talking to each other,
and recognized with joy the bastard Pushto that he had picked up from one
of his father's grooms lately dismissed. People who spoke that tongue
could not be the Bad Men. They were only natives after all.
They came up to the bowlders on which Miss Allardyce's horse had
Then rose from the rock Wee Willie Winkie, child of the Dominant Race,
aged six and three-quarters, and said briefly and emphatically
"Jao!" The pony had crossed the river-bed.
The men laughed, and laughter from natives was the one thing Wee Willie
Winkie could not tolerate. He asked them what they wanted and why they did
not depart. Other men with most evil faces and crooked-stocked guns crept
out of the shadows of the hills, till, soon, Wee Willie Winkie was face to
face with an audience some twenty strong, Miss Allardyce screamed.
"Who are you?" said one of the men.
"I am the Colonel Sahib's son, and my order is that you go at once. You
black men are frightening the Miss Sahib. One of you must run into
cantonments and take the news that Miss Sahib has hurt herself, and that
the Colonel's son is here with her."
"Put our feet into the trap?" was the laughing reply. "Hear this boy's
"Say that I sent you—I, the Colonel's son. They will give you
"What is the use of this talk? Take up the child and the girl, and we
can at least ask for the ransom. Ours are the villages on the heights,"
said a voice in the background.
These were the Bad Men—worse than Goblins—and it
needed all Wee Willie Winkie's training to prevent him from bursting into
tears. But he felt that to cry before a native, excepting only his
mother's ayah, would be an infamy greater than any mutiny.
Moreover, he, as future Colonel of the 195th, had that grim regiment at
"Are you going to carry us away?" said Wee Willie Winkie, very blanched
"Yes, my little Sahib Bahadur," said the tallest of the men,
"and eat you afterward."
"That is child's talk," said Wee Willie Winkie. "Men do not eat
A yell of laughter interrupted him, but he went on firmly,—"And
if you do carry us away, I tell you that all my regiment will come up in a
day and kill you all without leaving one. Who will take my message to the
Speech in any vernacular—and Wee Willie Winkie had a colloquial
acquaintance with three—was easy to the boy who could not yet manage
his "r's" and "th's" aright.
Another man joined the conference, crying:—"O foolish men! What
this babe says is true. He is the heart's heart of those white troops. For
the sake of peace let them go both, for if he be taken, the regiment will
break loose and gut the valley. Our villages are in the valley, and
we shall not escape. That regiment are devils. They broke Khoda Yar's
breast-bone with kicks when he tried to take the rifles; and if we touch
this child they will fire and rape and plunder for a month, till nothing
remains. Better to send a man back to take the message and get a reward. I
say that this child is their God, and that they will spare none of us, nor
our women, if we harm him."
It was Din Mahommed, the dismissed groom of the Colonel, who made the
diversion, and an angry and heated discussion followed. Wee Willie Winkie,
standing over Miss Allardyce, waited the upshot. Surely his "wegiment,"
his own "wegiment," would not desert him if they knew of his
* * * * *
The riderless pony brought the news to the 195th, though there had been
consternation in the Colonel's household for an hour before. The little
beast came in through the parade ground in front of the main barracks,
where the men were settling down to play Spoil-five till the afternoon.
Devlin, the Color Sergeant of E Company, glanced at the empty saddle and
tumbled through the barrack-rooms, kicking up each Room Corporal as he
passed. "Up, ye beggars! There's something happened to the Colonel's son,"
"He couldn't fall off! S'elp me, 'e couldn't fall off,"
blubbered a drummer-boy, "Go an' hunt acrost the river. He's over there if
he's anywhere, an' maybe those Pathans have got 'im. For the love o' Gawd
don't look for 'im in the nullahs! Let's go over the river."
"There's sense in Mott yet," said Devlin. "E Company, double out to the
So E Company, in its shirt-sleeves mainly, doubled for the dear life,
and in the rear toiled the perspiring Sergeant, adjuring it to double yet
faster. The cantonment was alive with the men of the 195th hunting for Wee
Willie Winkie, and the Colonel finally overtook E Company, far too
exhausted to swear, struggling in the pebbles of the river-bed.
Up the hill under which Wee Willie Winkie's Bad Men were discussing the
wisdom of carrying off the child and the girl, a look-out fired two
"What have I said?" shouted Din Mahommed. "There is the warning! The
pulton are out already and are coming across the plain! Get away!
Let us not be seen with the boy!"
The men waited for an instant, and then, as another shot was fired,
withdrew into the hills, silently as they had appeared.
"The wegiment is coming," said Wee Willie Winkie, confidently, to Miss
Allardyce, "and it's all wight. Don't cwy!"
He needed the advice himself, for ten minutes later, when his father
came up, he was weeping bitterly with his head in Miss Allardyce's
And the men of the 195th carried him home with shouts and rejoicings;
and Coppy, who had ridden a horse into a lather, met him, and, to his
intense disgust, kissed him openly in the presence of the men.
But there was balm for his dignity. His father assured him that not
only would the breaking of arrest be condoned, but that the good-conduct
badge would be restored as soon as his mother could sew it on his
blouse-sleeve. Miss Allardyce had told the Colonel a story that made him
proud of his son.
"She belonged to you, Coppy," said Wee Willie Winkie, indicating Miss
Allardyce with a grimy forefinger. "I knew she didn't ought to go
acwoss ve wiver, and I knew ve wegiment would come to me if I sent Jack
"You're a hero, Winkie," said Coppy—"a pukka hero!"
"I don't know what vat means," said Wee Willie Winkie, "but you mustn't
call me Winkie any no more, I'm Percival Will'am Will'ams."
And in this manner did Wee Willie Winkie enter into his manhood.