"The Wish House"

Notes on the text

These notes, by George Engle, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Debits and Credits, as published and frequently reprinted between 1926 and 1950.



[Apr 9 2003]

[Page 113, Line 15] quilt-patches Pieces of cloth for making a patchwork quilt, patchwork being “work consisting of small pieces of various kinds of cloth, differing in colour and pattern, and sometimes in size and shape, sewed together by the edges, generally with ornamental effect, so as to form one article, as a counterpane, cushion, tea-cosy etc.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

[Page 113, line 21] she do just-about bounce ye The coaches of those days were not well sprung.

[Page 113, line 24] brittle by agein' The elderly, especially women, tend to develop “brittle bone disease” (osteoporosis). Mrs Fettley (“Liz”) has always been thin (never “round”) and would probably have broken a bone years before, had she “brittled”.

[Page 114, line 7] list-bound rush Made of rushes bound together with strips of cheap cloth-material

[Page 114, line 19] Ourn Ours.

[Page 114, line 22] clacks Chatters

[Page 114, line 24] High Church nuns “High Church” refers to a movement or tendency within the Church of England that favours aspects of Roman Catholicism in liturgy, ceremonial and dogma. Its adherents (generally known as Anglo-Catholics) maintain a number of English convents.

[Page 114, line 28] cherubim A malapropism for charabanc (a motor-coach).

[Page 114, line 33] the county’s capital Assuming we are in Sussex, this would be Lewes if in the eastern part, and Chichester if in West Sussex. In addition to the greater likelihood of Kipling writing about East Sussex, the description of the village in which Mrs Ashcroft lives fits East rather than West Sussex. On page 113 line 16, the description is of "the window commanding the garden, and the football ground in the valley below". This is consistent with a village up on a ridge, like Burwash itself, or one of the string of settlements along the ridge westward to Heathfield and Cross-in-Hand. Then there's the parallel ridge on which places like Mayfield stand. On the other hand, there appears to be no village in West Sussex within reach of Chichester which lies on such a ridge. So "the county's capital" probably meant Lewes.

[Page 115, line 10] Arthur — my Jane’s eldest He is her sixteen-year-old grandson (page 116, line 6), and strongly resembles Jim Batten (page 117, lines 14-15), the man Mrs Ashcroft “stole” from Polly Batten (page 116, line 29). So Jane must be Jim Batten’s child, though she doesn’t resemble him ; Your Jane never showed it… (page 117, line 13).

[Page 115, line 14] aireated wash-poles Outdoor aerials (essential for wireless (radio) reception in 1924), suspended like washing-lines between two tall poles.

[Page 115, line 21] 'No odds No difference.

[Page 115, line 33] whisk-drives Whisk was the earlier name of the card-game whist, a “drive” being an afternoon or evening of competitive whist. It was still played in some country districts as late as the 1960s, but had by then been generally superseded by bridge.

[Page 116, line 18] arter After.

[Page 117, line 1] spang through Right through

[Page 117, line 4] shruck Shrieked, screamed(dialect)

[Page 117, line 21] draw up Draw up your chair to the table.

[Page 117, lines 22-24] This fairly substantial meal, served in the late afternoon or evening, was known as “high tea”, and usually included some solid fare such as Mrs Ashley’s cold boiled pig’s tail.

[Page 117, line 25] proper compliments To her hostess on the quality of the food and tea.

[Page 118, line 1] a long-standing ulcer on her shin. On page 212 of Something of Myself, his unrevised autobiography published after his death, Kipling says: “…I wrote a tale (“The Wish House”)…The review [in the Manchester Guardian] came to me with a gibe in the margin from a faithful friend: ‘You threw up a catch that time’. The review said that I had revived Chaucer’s Wife of Bath even to the ‘mormal [ulcer] on her shinne’. And it looked just like that too! There was no possible answer, so, breaking my rule not to have commerce with any paper, I wrote to the Manchester Guardian and gave myself ‘out—caught to leg’. The reply came from an evident human being…who was pleased with the tribute to his knowledge of Chaucer.”

Kipling obviously cared little about being accused of plagiarism, and enjoyed the joke. But in fact the reviewer was in error, since it is the Cook, not the Wife of Bath, who has a mormal on the shin; and if truth be told, Mrs Ashcroft has no detectable similarity to the Wife of Bath except perhaps that, like her, she "knew the remedies for loves mischances, An art in which she knew the oldest dances." (The Canterbury Tales in Neville Coghill’s translation.

[Page 118, line 12] eend End.

[Page 118, line 13] back-lookin’s Memories.

[Page 118, line 30] becomin’ Proper. Mrs Fettley too has had a love-affair; and as this was outside marriage, she couldn’t go to her lover’s funeral, show any emotion over his death, or even visit his grave.

[Page 119, line 4] stay Sustain, comfort.

[Page 119, line 9] cast-up Complain.

[Page 119, line 14] undraped Leafless, not yet showing signs of spring.

[Page 120, line 15] six months [imprisonment] at Chichester. Evidently Mrs Ashcroft’s husband had been set upon by the husband of a woman he was pursuing, and had defended himself all too well. Since there appears never to have been a prison of any sort at Chichester, Mrs Fettley must mean that was tried at Chichester Quarter Sessions in West Sussex, and "got" a sentence of six months imprisonment. So the offence and the resulting trial probably took place in West Sussex. But it does not follow from this, as the ORG seems to suggest, that Mrs Ashcroft lives in West rather than East Sussex (
see the note on Page 114, line 33, above).

[Page 120, line 23] and be called with a handle to me name And to be called Mrs Ashcroft. As a farm worker she would have been called Grace.

[Page 120, line 25] Portsmouth A city in Hampshire.

[Page 120, line 26] Cosham A village near Portsmouth.

[Page 120, line 27] a middlin’ lot A moderately large amount.

[Page 121, line 7] cheap-dog pride (colloq.) Literally, being too proud to own a cheap dog. She means that working people in those days were only too glad to take on any job for quite a modest payment.

[Page 121, line 11] peaked up Looking pale and wan.

[Page 121, line 14] stubbin’ hens Plucking chickens clean after the large feathers have been removed (dialect).

[Page 121, line 24] backwent Backward (dialect).

[Page 121, line 29] Bert Mockler’s son! Harry’s father is of the same generation as Grace and Liz; if he were older, they would call him “Mr Mockler”.

[Page 121, line 32] beleft Believed (dialect).

[Page 122, lines 10-11] I’d found me master... For the first time in her life she was deeper in love with a man than he with her. Mrs Fettley agrees that, with men, they’re your master, or you’re theirs. She prefers the former (“the right way”), Grace the latter.

[Page 122, line 17] dollop a large quantity. This seems to be the usual meaning in Sussex dialect, but the word is often used to mean as much as a spoon or ladle will hold.

[Page 123, line 10] mortal extremely (dialect form of the adverb“mortally”).

[Page 123, line 21] na’un Nothing.

[Page 124, line 6] most arrantest Since “arrant” means to the greatest possible extent, it can have no comparative or superlative. For emphasis, Mrs Ashcroft gives it both forms of the superlative — adding “most” as well as the suffix “est”.

[Page 124, line 7] I went through the hoop I had a bad time of it (slang).

[Page 124, line 13] rugg Tug violently, tear (dialect).

[Page 124, line 22] she come to be crazy-fond o’ me etc Craig Raine notes the “adolescent Sapphism” of Sophy Ellis.

[Page 124, line 26] scutchel up To gather hurriedly (dialect).

[Page 124, line 31] in two-twos In a very short time (the time taken to say “two” twice).

[Page 124, line 33] tech Touch

[Page 125, line 32] in’abit Inhabit.

[Page 126, line 4] Gippos Gipsies.

[Page 126, line 14] a Token (see note above).

[Page 127, line 3] You o’ny ’ear gigglin’ (see note above).

[Page 127, line 17] ’stid o’ instead of.

[Page 127, lines 25-27] streets stinkin’ ’o dried ’orse-dung…lyin’ level with the kerb. In the days of horse-drawn traffic the smell of horse-dung pervaded the London streets; but Mrs Ashford must have been living in a neglected part of London for the dung to pile up to kerb level. In more important districts street sweepers swept it up almost immediately at busy times of day.

[Page 127, line 28] ’ol’day. Holiday. hoppin’.
Hop-picking (RK's note). Hops were, and still are, grown in Kent and parts of Sussex. Until 1959 or so they were all picked by hand. Groups of families came down by train from London and set up camps at the larger farms, some of which had permanent camps. The job usually lasted for two or three weeks, the same families returning year after year to the same farms.

[Page 127, line 30] poochy. Pouchy (dialect).

[Page 128, lines 22-33] “What…’s come to ’Arry Mockler?” He had developed septicaemia (blood poisoning) from bacteria which entered his system when he cut his foot with a spade. In the days before antibiotics, such an infection could be serious, or even fatal. didn’t…eat nor sleep,… sweated…spit terrible o’ mornings. These, together with loss of weight (lines 16-17) are the classic symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis.

[Page 130, line 5] jam-pot Often used as a vase when cut flowers are placed on a grave.

[Page 130, line 15] There was nothin’ front of me but my own shame an’ God’s croolty. She had no fear of visiting the Wish House since, knowing she could never get Harry back, she was facing a life of shame and suffering.

[Page 130, line 28] I made me bed…Me bed to lie upon!. As she speaks, Mrs Ashford realises the relevance of the old proverb “As you make your bed, you must lie on it.”

[Page 131, line 2] tiddy Little.

[Page 131, line 9] cheer Chair.

[Page 131, line 11] like…a heavy woman in slippers (see note above).

[Page 133, lines 1-16] Mrs Ashford suffers from the occupational disease of cooks and others whose work involves standing still for long periods—varicose veins,. Valves in the veins of the leg normally prevent blood from draining back down the leg under the force of gravity. If too much standing-still causes the valves to fail, the weight of the column of blood stretches the vein wall and causes the knotty, swollen veins seen in this condition. The circulation of the blood in the leg becomes stagnant and, starved of oxygen and nourishment, the skin becomes blue or purplish.

Because of the poor circulation, a trivial injury to such a leg may refuse to heal and may develop into a “varicose ulcer”, as happened to Mrs Ashcroft. The treatment is to elevate the limb so as to drain the blood out of it. When a normal circulation is restored, the ulcer will heal,, but is likely to return if the conditions which predispose towards it recur. As the story unfolds, it will be seen that Mrs Ashcroft has discovered this “cure”, and is able to regulate the healing or otherwise of her ulcer by the amount she was prepared to elevate and rest her leg.
[Most of this note comes from the ORG, but it owes something to the entry on varicose veins in the 1995 edition of the BMA’s Complete Family Health Encyclopedia.]

[Page 133, line 18] Wet dressin’s to wet wounds. This was general nursing practice at the time the story was written, and still holds for leg ulcers.

[Page 134, line 3] ’Arry ’ad never looked after any woman Grace Ashford of course knew better.

[Page 134, line 4] atop the mowlds Above the ground, still alive. Mould is the topsoil of cultivated land.

[Page 135, line 2] at my commandments Under my control.

[Page 136, line 17] turned i.e. from a varicose ulcer, which elevation and rest would heal, to a cancerous ulcer (a form of skin cancer) which could only be healed by surgery. One of the classic causes of skin cancer is the continued irritation of a varicose ulcer, as described in the story.

[Page 136, line 33] when the edges are all heaped up, like — same as a collar. Heaped-up edges are a classic sign that a benign ulcer has become malignant.

[Page 137, line 3] ’ad it under the armpit, like. i.e. cancer of the breast, ulcerating through the skin.

[Page 137, line 12] dey wont be troubled They won’t care.

[Page 137, lines 13-15] blindin’ up See page 114, lines 13-14, where we are told that told that Mrs Fetley, being “very short-sighted”, had almost bumped into the Church Visitor — a hint that something more serious was wrong with her eyesight.

[Page 138, line 6] flogged out Very tired.



[G.E.]