At the age of just twelve Rudyard was sent to a public school, United Services College in North Devon, as a boarder. It was a tough school but after a year or so he made an alliance with two other boys, Dunsterville and Beresford, they shared a study and became a force in the school. Kipling loved USC and its Head ever after. In these tales he is ‘Beetle’, Dunsterville (‘Corkran’) is ‘Stalky’, and Beresford (‘M’Turk) ‘Turkey’. See our notes about it all.
A group of boys are planning a cattle raid against a local farmer. Corkran, with his two close comrades Beetle and Turkey, think it’s bound to go wrong. They stay out of it, though they follow the raiders to see what will happen. As predicted the raiders are caught and trapped in a barn awaiting painful punishment. Corkran finds a way of secretly getting them out. From then on he is called ‘Stalky’–an honourable title, meaning that he is clever and wily. (notes)
Stalky, Beetle, and Turkey want somewhere to hide up, to read and smoke their pipes. Their hut has been detected, so they find another along the cliffs on Colonel Dabney’s estate. They are tracked down by Mr King and the school sergeant. However, landowner’s son to landowner, Turkey has made friends with the Colonel, who sees off their pursuers, making fools of them. (notes)
The three comrades feel humiliated by their old enemy Mr King, the classics master, They have been rehearsing a pantomime, hence the title, but deliberately get themselves thrown out of their study, immediately above King’s room. Stalky secretly stays behind, and when a local carrier comes by in the dark, Stalky fires stinging buckshot at him from a catapult. The drunken carrier hurles back jagged flints at him, wrecking King’s study. (notes)
Stalky Beetle and Turkey are in Prout’s House at the ‘Coll’. After a loose word from Mr King, the rival Housemaster, the word goes round that Prout’s don’t wash–they are stinkers. Beetle has discovered from local builders how ceilings are made, and the three stuff a dead cat above the ceiling of King’s dormitory. It rots, with a powerful smell, and King’s are now the ones called stinkers. (notes)
In the Common-room, the college chaplain (above) happens to mention that Stalky & Co. often help each other with their school work. Their Housemaster, accusing them of cribbing, turns them out of their study and returns them to the form-rooms with the younger boys. They respond by making his life, and that of the prefects, such a misery that he gives in and sends them back. (notes)
The Chaplain, a wise and friendly figure, points out to Stalky & Co. that a small boy is being badly bullied, and asks them to do something about it. They identify the bullies, trick them into being trussed up for ‘cock-fighting’, and proceed to bully the bullies, to good effect. (notes)
The USC boys have a new craze for the stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, by Joel Chandler Harris, in his book Uncle Remus. One party acquire a tortoise as “Brer Terrapin” suspend it from a pole as a totem, and march around holding it aloft. Stalky, Beetle and Turkey create a rival “Tar Baby” totem, and the school divides between the two, like warring tribes. Much hilarious conflict ensues. (notes)
King (above), the brilliant, if unpleasant, Classics master, has been taking a class through an Ode of Horace, in which Regulus, a Roman general, goes bravely to his death at the hands of his enemies.
Afterwards Winton, a senior boy, in a momentary lapse, behaves very rudely to another master, and stoically accepts a beating for missing football practice. At the end of the tale Stalky calls him ‘Regulus’. As King observes, some of Horace’s message seemed to have gone home.(notes)
Stalky and Co. have been caught out of bounds by the Head himself (above), and banned from going out. Soon after Stalky discovers that the Head had saved a boy with diptheria at the risk of his life.
Later, the school is full of young officers who have recently left USC. They sleep in their old dormitories, and one tells a stirring tale of a skirmish in India. Boys have crowded in to hear it, King is furious, and in punishment the whole school are made to stay in and do ‘prep’ on the last night of term. At a strategic moment Stalky and Co. reveal the Head’s bravery, the whole school cheers him, joined by the Old Boys, and the prep. breaks up in confusion. (notes)
Stalky and others who are going into the army form a cadet corps, as a way of learning their drill before they go on to military college at Sandhurst. Then a visiting MP addresses the school on ‘Patriotism’ with condescending rhetoric, offending the boys deeply. These things are too private to be talked of openly. Next day when the corps assembles for drill, they abandon it. (notes)
Beetle falls asleep in Mr King’s literature class. King compares him to Macaulay’s description of Samuel Johnson, a grotesque twirching grunting figure, with untied shoe-laces. Beetle retaliates with a rude limerick, and is punished for impertinence.
In the Head’s library Beetle has discovered a book, Curiosities of Literature which refers to the theory that Shakepeare’s plays were written by Francis Bacon. Realising that this will infuriate King, Beetle persuades Turkey to use it in an essay. King’s explosive reaction occupies an entire lesson and delights the class. On the day of the exam, they try the Baconian theory on the visiting examiner, and find that he agrees with it. He gives the class high marks, and assuming that King is responsible, warmly congratulates him. King, who thinks the theory is nonsense, is outraged, but is too embarrassed to respond. (notes)
Stalky & Co. are at war with Dick Four and his friends. Skirmishes, involving congealed bacon fat on study windows, lead to a full scale duel with saloon pistols on the golf course. Beetle is drilled from behind, falls into a bunker on top of an elderly golfer, swears at him, and flees.
Soon after, Stalky & Co. and Dick Four are summoned by the Head, given a loud ticking off for ‘brewing up’ on the gas in their studies, and soundly beaten. It is only revealed some years later that the elderly golfer had been a member of the School Board, angry at the mis-use of gas, infuriated at being sworn at by Beetle, and demanding that the culprits be punished severely. The Head had been playing up to pacify him, while the Board-member listened in the next room. (notes)
It is their last term. Stalky is off to Military College, Turkey to Engineering College, and Beetle to journalism in India. They have not been made prefects, and they think little of the ‘Sixth’, which is full of clever boys of little character.
The three go down to town to say farewell to Mother Yeo in the dairy, and her pretty daughter Mary. On the way they are challenged by Tulke, a sixth-former, for being out of bounds. They ignore him, and when–from the dairy–they see him in the street, they persuade Mary to go out and give him a kiss. She does so, and Tulke flees in embarrassment. On their return they are summoned by the prefects, but make fools of them with the help of the story of Tulke’s ‘amours’. Meanwhile Beetle has made a nonsense of King’s Latin exam paper by altering the type at the printers. They are leaving the Coll. on a high note. (notes)
Beetle and Turkey, with several of their old friends from the Coll., have foregathered some twelve years after leaving, They remember old times, and reminisce about Stalky.
Several have encountered him in India, where he is now rising in the Army, after various adventures. Two of them had been involved with him in a little frontier war against two wild tribes. Stalky, with a platoon of ferocious and devoted Sikh soldiers, was heavily out-numbered, but in his element, setting the enemy tribes against each other, just as he’d done with King and the carrier in “Slaves of the Lamp”.
The message is clear–Stalkiness in life, and especially in war, is built on Stalkiness at school. (notes)
This is an unfinished story, only published in the Kipling Journal for March 2004. Kipling never completed it.
Three twelve year old schoolboys, Corkran, ‘of the dancing eyes’, McTurk, ‘bony and sallow, black haired, black lashed, with a distinct Irish accent’, and Beetle, ‘fat and unhandy … (rubbing)… the wet from his spectacles’, are out for a game of golf on the ‘Burrows’, the waste of sandhills between Westward Ho! and the sea.
The boys are told, very rudely, to get off the links by a red-coated stranger, a retired army Major. The Major quickly shows himself to be an incompetent golfer. Hidden under the lip of a bunker, they watch him lose his ball, and cheat by dropping a new one. Soon after, he sees the boys, and boxes Beetle’s ears (or in another version strikes McTurk with his club) but departs hurriedly when they cover him with their catapults and pepper his retreating legs. On their way back to College they are caught and called to account by the Club Secretary. But when they tell a group of club Members that they have caught the Major playing very badly–and cheating–they are quickly released, scot free. (notes)
The illustrations are by L. Raven-Hill, from The Complete Stalky & Co. (1929)