These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on Admiral Brock's notes for the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Traffics and Discoveries as published and frequently reprinted between 1904 and 1950.
Notes on the text
the story (part II)
“The wind fell dead with the midnight –The 'Whitehead' in the last line is a torpedo, whose inventor, in 1869-70, was a Briton, Robert Whitehead (1823-1905). This allusion removes any doubt about the meaning of these verses.
The fog shut down like a sheet,
When the Witch of the North heard the Egg-shell
Feeling by hand for a fleet.
‘Get!’ she said, ‘or you’re gone,’ she said,
But the little Blue Devil said ‘No!’
The sights are just coming on,’ he said,
And he let the Whitehead go.”
The Trues in the verses are - well, the Trues – the old original four or five head-deities of the Red Man’s mind –the old Beast Gods I think they were – Buffalo –Beaver – Elk – Fox/Coyote –or something of that nature. At any rate they are the Red Gods of the hunting grounds – earth spirits waking man up in the spring.’
“Her mate was skipper of a chapel in Wales,[Page 136, line 3] sea-boots, and a comforter not particularly naval, but an interesting change of use of a word. In Warrior at Portsmouth, we show a sailor’s kit of the 1860s – which included a ‘comforter’ (a scarf). But to most of our visitors under the age of 50, a comforter is a baby’s dummy!
And so he fights in topper and tails,
Religi-ous tho’ rovin’, etc.”)
“incidentally, if Pyecroft could clearly remember the General Election of 1874 (see note on The Bonds of Discipline, page 71, lines 11-13), he would almost certainly be too old for warrant rank, which had to be attained, with both professional and educational qualifications, by the age of 35. Kipling erred in making Pyecroft imply that the rank could be expected automatically, like a good conduct badge.”This compiler, while conceding that Admiral Brock has a valid point, would suggest that he’s going over the top slightly in expecting absolute fidelity to the Navy’s ephemeral and changing advancement rules in a piece of fiction, whose precise date will never be determined. “When I’m a warrant(-)officer” may equally be taken to be a figure of speech, as, in today’s terms, “when I win the Lottery”. The fact remains that although nit-pickers can easily find petty errors in Kipling’s specialist talk, in spirit he is absolutely true to his characters and the setting in which he puts them.
“Nix Mangiare Steps, Malta.This name was given to some steps in Valetta, Malta, by bluejackets as a consequence of the large number of beggars who used to frequent (them) and whine, Oh Signore! mi povero! Miserabile! Nix padre, nix madre, nix mangiare for sixteen days per Jesu Christo.”The steps led up from the Customs House, used by all ship’s boats. Nix meant 'nothing', (from the German nichts) and mangiare was the Italian for 'to eat'. Admiral Wells adds that the “sixteen days” were always in English and “the statement was contradicted by the chubby faces of the children of the party.”
"it now (1963, and still is in 2004) seems to be generally understood by the British public that a “make-and-mend” is a holiday (or more commonly a half-holiday) in the Navy, and is so-called because it was once devoted to getting men’s clothing up-to-date."[Page 155, line 6] naked barometer a mercurial barometer, consisting basically of a glass tube filled with mercury. The tube was some 33 inches long, but since atmospheric pressure varies, roughly, from 28 inches of mercury to 31½ inches of mercury, very often the lower two feet or so was more-or-less bare, with only the upper nine inches or so having a scale associated with it.