"The Madness of
Private Ortheris"

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.






[Dec 2 2003]



[Heading] this is another “Barrack-Room Ballad” which has not been collected elsewhere but is mentioned in Kipling’s letter to Sir Hubert Stephen of 25 October 1913 (Pinney, p. 206.) As background to the Mulvaney stories see also McClure (p. 42) for an interesting examination of the behaviour of Ortheris and how his 'cure' was brought about.

[Page 285, line 3] fever picked up in Burma that country notorious for cerebral malaria.

[Page 286, line 7] Line infantry regiments.

[Page 286, line 13] a file o’ Dooks two Dukes – in this instance a file consists of the front and rear rank men. Ortheris is saying that there's nothing grand about himself and Mulvaney. They are ordinary Tommies and only too glad to accept the beer.

[Page 287, line 1] pariah-dogs stray mongrel dogs.

[Page 287, line 2] kite a bird of prey of the genus Milvus: a very miscellaneous feeder which acts as a scavenger in India and elsewhere. The Kite in The Jungle Books is named Chil.

[Page 287, line 3] burning-ghaut where the bodies of the dead are cremated. Hindi ghat, a path of descent from a mountain or to a river etc.

[Page 287, line 3] one snake flying not identified – suggestions would be appreciated. [Ed.]

[Page 287, line 4] game was plentiful a touch of sarcasm.

[Page 287, line 5] tiffin was ‘bull-mate an’ bran-bread lunch was beef and bread.

[Page 287, line 6] the river the nearest river to Lahore is the Chota (small) Ravi which enters the main river just above the old Fort.

[Page 287, line 19] Tott’nim Court Road The Tottenham Court Road, an important thoroughfare in central London, runs North from St. Giles’s Circus at the junction of Oxford Street and the Charing Cross Road.

[Page 287, line 20] sodgerin’ soldiering.

[Page 287, line 27] Tommy – eight-anna Thomas Atkins was the traditional name for a private soldier. Eight annas was a day’s pay - about a shilling (there were twenty shillings to the pound sterling, a shilling would be five pence in today's currency.) See the poems "Shillin’ a Day", "‘Birds of Prey’ March", and other Barrack-Room Ballads. [I started at two shillings a day in the Royal Navy in 1941. Ed.]

[Page 287, line 31] shorp shop.

[Page 287, line 31] ‘Ammersmith ‘Igh Today there is no High Street, so Kipling must mean what is now Hammersmith Broadway in west London, the continuation northwards of Hammersmith Bridge Road, which runs into Brook Green Road. (Brook Green, Hammersmith is the scene of the climax of the story "Brugglesmith", in Many Inventions)

[Page 287, line 32] Prac-tical Taxi-der-mist one who prepares, stuffs and mounts the skins of animals , birds, etc.

[Page 287, line 33] Haylesbury Dairies Aylesbury Dairies – a chain of milk-shops which had unusual figures in their windows as sales promotions.

[Page 288, lines 5 – 10] “Rest on your harms ... Funeral Parties’ Orders 'Rest on your arms – reversed'; 'Stand at ease'; 'Attention'; 'Reverse Arms'. The blank cartridge is for the three volleys over the grave referred to in line 12. (See "In the Presence" in A Diversity of Creatures for some of this drill.)

[Page 288, line 14] whistlin’ the Dead March the slow march from Handel’s Saul (1739), which was played at military funerals. Whistling it is bad luck, like singing the last verse of It’s six-an’-twenty Sundays sence las’ we saw the land before all the salt is wet. (See Captains Courageous, page 105 line 19).

[Page 288, line 15] full as a tick any of the larger blood-sucking acarids, more common in India than in England. In this context it implies that Ortheris is full of beer.

[Page 288, line 17] Pagin Pagan

[Page 289, line 5] bullswools grey Army socks

[Page 289, line 5] blandanderin’ a portmanteau “Irish” word not in the dictionary – perhaps blandishment and blarney – the latter being the art of flattery achieved by kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, near Cork in Ireland.

[Page 289, line 8] Bass an excellent beer, also drunk by some of the characters in "Mrs. Bathurst" in Traffics and Discoveries.

[Page 289, line 12] Sherapis Serapis – a troopship alternated with Crocodile to and from India. See the poems "Troopin’" and "Soldier an’ Sailor Too".

[Page 289, line 28] ‘ The Ramrod Corps’ From the context this would appear to be an unidentified ballad or genuine soldiers’ song. [Information would be welcomed. Ed.]

[Page 290, line 6] answer for me answer his name at roll-call to conceal his absence.

[Page 290, line 9] on the books on charges for fighting. They would be given punishment-drill (see "Cells"). The offence - and the punishment - would be entered on their Regimental record, and held against them throughout their service.

[Page 290, line 15] loose on me Shoot me. (See "Black Jack" in Soldiers Three.)

[Page 290, line 23] Irriwaddi Irrawaddy – the chief river of Myanmar which used to be known as Burma. See "The Taking of Lungtungpen" earlier in this volume.

[Page 290, line 25] Ahmid Kheyl a battle of the Second Afghan War of 1878–1881.

[Page 291, line 9] orange-peel and hasphalte an’ gas Asphalt was the tar-like substance used for surfacing main roads, and London was lit by gas-lamps in those times. [It was still lit by gas in my childhood in the 1920s, and I don’t remember any particular smell in the streets except horses and horse manure. But maybe the gas forty years earlier was smellier ? Ed.]

[Page 291, line 10] Vaux’all Bridge Vauxhall, but pronounced as Ortheris said it. It crosses the Thames in South-West London.

[Page 291, line 11] Box ‘Ill Box Hill in Surrey, a favourite resort of Londoners.

[Page 291, line 12] clay pipe see note to "The Taking of Lungtungpen" earlier in this volume.

[Page 291, line 13] the Stran’ The Strand – an important thoroughfare running from Trafalgar Square and the top of Villiers Street (where Kipling was to live a few years later) to the Royal Courts of Justice at the beginning of Fleet Street. As its name implies, it is a made-up section of what was the shore of the River Thames and was a great centre of London’s night–life at the time. ('Let’s All Go Down the Strand' was a well-known song on the music-halls).

[Page 291, line 14] the Copper a policeman: see "Brugglesmith" in Many Inventions for the advantages of being on good terms with the police in time of trouble.

[Page 291, line 16] smitchy snivelling.

[Page 291, line 16] the Temple a delightful self-governing legal enclave in London, where lawyers have their chambers, consisting of the 'Inner Temple', the 'Middle Temple', and the Gardens on the Thames riverside.

[Page 291 line 17] Dark Harches the Dark Arches – the Adelphi, an area of some three acres built on arches by the Adam brothers on the mud bank of the Thames and the Strand in the late 18th Century, with elegant dwellings above, whose residents included Sir J.M.Barrie and George Bernard Shaw. There was a vast complex of workshops and cellars below where homeless people collected. The area was redeveloped in the 1930s. (See Chapter vi of James Bone’s London Echoing (Jonathan Cape, 1948).

[Page 291, line 18] rotten-stone a decomposed limestone used for polishing metal.

[Page 291, line 19] Humaners the Royal Humane Society, established in 1774, who maintained life-saving apparatus around London and had a boathouse on the Serpentine (line 21) in Hyde Park in cebtral London.

[Page 291, line 22] serve the Widder beyond the seas Serving Queen Victoria beyond the seas. Victoria had been widowed since the death of her Consort, Prince Albert, in 1861. She was said not to have greatly appreciated Kipling's poem "The Widow of Windsor" .

[Page 291, line 32] a six-shot Anglo-Vernacular oath presumably long and complicated bilingual cursing, like shots from a revolve

[Page 292, line 3] Rawal Pindi an important military station 160 miles from Lahore. Now the capital city of Pakistan.

[Page 292, line 6] slake off quench or extinguish.

[Page 292, line 15] cracking-on swearing.

[Page 292, line 16] slip it desert.

[Page 293, line 15] twenty-eight days ... or fifty-six the period of detention he would probably get.

[Page 295, line 10] dusk shut down Night falls very suddenly in the tropics.

[Page 295, line 27] ‘grayback’ shirt an army issue of roughish wool. [Information welcomed. Ed.]

[Page 296, line 5] fish-backed round-shouldered, slouching.

[Page 296, line 8] belt … badges it was the custom for some soldiers to exchange cap-badges with members of other regiments they served with.

[Page 296, line 11] mill in this instance, to fight with the fists – somewhat rougher than boxing.

[Page 296 line 8] he unslung his belt The belt with its heavy metal buckle was a dangerous weapon, sometimes used in fights between regiments when off duty - see "Belts" and "With the Main Guard" in Soldiers Three.


[J. McG.]