"At Twenty-Two"

Notes edited
by John McGivering







[September 23 2005]

Publication history

This story was first published in The Week’s News of 18 February 1888. It was collected in “In Black and White”, No. 3 in The Indian Railway Library, and in Soldiers Three in 1895.

The story

Janki Meah is an old blind white-haired coal miner who has married, rather ill-advisedly, a beautiful young woman, Unda. She plans to steal his savings and run away with her young lover, Kundoo, who is also a miner in Janki Meah's gang. One day, after weeks of rain, the mine is flooded, and their gang is trapped. Janki Meah, blind though he is, knows the mine galleries intimately, and leads the trapped men - including Kundoo - to a place where they can cut through to safety. He claims a pension from the company. But Unda promptly elopes with Kundoo.

Critical comments

In his Foreword to the R.S.Surtees Society reprint of In Black and White (1987) Philip Mason remarks:

“At Twenty-Two” is an entirely convincing story and I am informed by someone with experience of Indian coal-mines that the mining technicalities are correct for certain coal-mines of Bihar, which are free from gas and where an open lamp may be carried. These Kipling had visited.
[As most coal-mines produced a highly flammable gas the safety-lamp invented in 1815 by George Stevenson (1781–1848), which had its flame enclosed by gauze, was used in the days before electric torches were in general use; Ed.]

Norman Page (page 67) quotes the Athenaeum’s opinion of this story as a 'gem of the first water'. This may not mean much to those who are unaware that first-class diamonds are so described; the remark may have been inspired by the fact that coal and diamonds are similar in physical structure, and are both mined.

Andrew Lycett (page 153) refers to Kipling's tour of the Giridih coalfields described in Vol. 2 of From Sea to Sea, and observes that he was sympathetic to the plight of the Indian masses.


Notes on the text

These notes are partly new and partly based on those written for the ORG. The page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Soldiers Three.


[Title] Twenty-Two is the number of the shaft, as explained on the next page at Line 11.

[Heading] It would be interesting to know if this is a genuine proverb, or one of Kipling’s invention; Ed.

A Sonthal was a member of a tribe also known as Santals, a branch of the Kolarian people from the right bank of the Ganges. [See the article by George Smith on “Dalhousie” in Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th Ed. 1887, and From Sea to Sea, Vol. 2, p. 321.]

[Page 278, lines 1-3] A WEAVER went out…etc This may be a real quotation, or an invention of Kipling’s.

[Page 278, line 7] to make love in this context, and in those days, merely verbal expressions of affection.

[Page 278, line 14] Jimahari ORG believes this to be a made-up name.

[Page 279, line 23] proprietary rights the occupier would acquire title to the land after this period.

[Page 279, line 31] the Jolaha one of the alternative names for a dialect of the Maithili language spoken in parts of Northern India and Nepal.

[Page 280, line 17] Home Great Britain.

[Page 280, line 27] a fool who could be managed an echo of Mrs. Hauksbee’s observation in “Three – and an Extra,” (Plain Tales from the Hills): … the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever woman to manage a fool. (Page 14, line 18)

[Page 281, line 3] milch-buffalo one kept for its milk.

[Page 281. line 22] Babuji usually Babu or Baboo, an English-speaking clerk. See Hobson-Jobson for an interesting examination of its implications and Kim for Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, perhaps the most famous babu of them all.

[Page 282, line 16] beck in this context, a brook or stream.

[Page 282, lines 31 –32] one inch of water on land etc. This amount of rain does indeed exert a pressure of just over one hundred tons per acre

[Page 283, line 9] pillars of coal left in situ by the miners to support the roof – see pages 315-6 of Vol 2 of From Sea to Sea.

[Page 285, lines 7 – 10] the high workings reached by inclines … a certain amount of air etc The air would be trapped like that in an inverted glass in a bowl of water. (See page 289, lines 17-19)

[Page 285, line 14] the Holy Grove [this reference has not been traced, and information will be appreciated; Ed.]

[Page 286, line 6] huqas the classic hubble-bubble pipes of India.

[Page 286, line 8] Mehas We have not traced these people, who may have been invented by Kipling. In the next line he suggests that they had Muslim affiliations, though not very strong ones.

[Page 288, line 2] Musahr not traced.

[Page 288, line 10] thill in this context, the floor of a mine.

[Page 289, line 1] the Song of the Pick not traced.[this may be Kipling’s invention, but information will be appreciated; Ed.]

[Page 290. line 6] draught-furnace a fire at the bottom of a shaft to make an up-draught to ventilate the mine. [See From Sea to Sea, Vol. 2, page 315. ]

[Page 291, line 13] pump-beam this would be the classic beam-engine for draining mines as developed by James Watt (1736-1819) from the atmospheric engine of Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729)

[Page 292, line 2] Geordie a native of Tyneside – the Newcastle area – in the north-east of England.

[Page 292, line 15] salt “salt rations” salarium (from the Latin sal) served to the soldiers in ancient times and later replaced by money but still known as salary today. (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)

[Page 292, line 20] Germinal the seventh month of the French revolutionary calendar, and a celebrated novel, published in 1885, by Emile Zola, (1840-1902) the principal figure in the French school of 19th Century naturalistic fiction. It tells of a mining community and a fearsome strike for better conditions.

[J.McG.]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved