"By Word
of Mouth"

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 14 2003]



[Heading] Collected in Definitive Verse and Inclusive Verse without the title and with a capital “H” for “ house” T.S.Eliot includes it in his A Choice of Kipling’s Verse. It has a slight echo of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, and leaves one wishing for more:
Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye
That thou consum'st thyself in single life ?
Ah ! If thou issueless should hap to die,
The world will wail thee like a makeless wife ...
William Shakespeare
[Page 318, line 7] Meridki about eighteen miles north of Lahore, the site of manoeuvres of 1890.

[Page 318, line 12] bargee a man who lived and worked on a canal-barge in England - proverbially somewhat rough-and-ready.

[Page 318, line 15] the Berars an imaginary Mahratta regiment from Berar. Berar was also known as the 'Haidarabad Assigned Districts', and was transferred to Britain in 1861 in return for certain other Districts and in cancellation of a debt of £2 million sterling. [Harmsworth]

[Page 319, line 13] Civil Surgeon who never quarrels is a rarity a somewhat sweeping statement that may or may not be true. [ any comments from readers on this point would would be appreciated. Ed.]

[Page 319, line 15] Robinson Crusoe Hero of the famous novel of Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), which was a formative book of Kipling’s childhood. (See Something of Myself, p.9). Defoe was a prolific and gripping writer, a pamphleteer and probably a secret agent.

[Page 319, lines 20-25] typhoid Typhoid fever was endemic in India in Kipling's day. In those times more troops in the field were killed by this and other diseases than by enemy action.
Typhoid, or Enteric fever, also known by other names, is caused by the Bacillus Typhosus, discovered by Eberth in 1880, contaminating food and water supply, dust, milk and shellfish. In some cases it may be a week before the symptoms (headache, lassitude and discomfort, with the occasional nose-bleed) become obvious. Very careful diet and nursing is essential, despite which the disease is often fatal. [Black]
[Page 320, line 10] the Valley of the Shadow The valley of the shadow of death: Psalm 23.

[Page 320, line 23] Chini a district on the Upper Sutlej, north of the source of the Jumna River, mentioned in Kim (p. 320).

[Page 321, line 5] Bagi eight or ten marches from Simla and two from Kotgarh. Kipling was there in 1885 and encountered a family of bears in the middle of a thunderstorm. (See Lycett p.111).

[Page 321, line 11] dâk-bungalow a Government rest-house for the accommodation of travellers. “My own true Ghost Story” is probably Kipling's best description of rather a poor one.

[Page 321, line 28] Memsahib Madam-sahib - a polite way of addressing or referring to an Englishwoman.

[Page 322, line 2] Nuddea (or Nadia) a District of Bengal some 55 miles north of Calcutta near the site of the battle of Plassey (in 1756 when the British were taking control of Bengal).

[Page 322, line 31] locum tenens A substitute, from the Latin – locus a place, and tenens to hold.

[Page 323, line 1] Tuticorin a seaport in the Madras Presidency, some 65 miles north-east of Cape Cormorin, the most southerly point of India.

[Page 323, line 3] telegraph-peon a man who delivers telegrams; Portuguese peão. From a foot, meaning a foot-soldier; hence a messenger or orderly. This is the same word as peon in Spanish, and pawn in chess.

[Page 323, line 26] lamps These would probably be kerosene (paraffin) kept in a pantry or lamp-room and brought in at sunset in the days before electricity was available

[Page 323, line 33] character a written reference to show to potential employers. For example This is to certify that Ram Dass is honest, sober and industrious etc.


[J. McG.]