In Ambush

Notes on the text

These notes are based on those written by Isabel Quigly for the OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS edition of The Complete Stalky & Co. (1987) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. The page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Stalky & Co. (1899), the collection in which this story first appeared.


[Page 1, line 22] pugs from the Hindustani word `pag’, the track of a beast.

[Page 3, line 3] `Bother! Likewise blow!’ Slightly misquoted from W. S. Gilbert, The Bab Ballads, `The Bishop of Rum-ti-foo’. The original reads: ` “Bother!”, also “Blow”.’

[Page 3, line 21] His rebus infectis not having accomplished these things.

[Page 3, line 23] destricto ense with drawn sword.

[Page 4, line 7] Pax literally `peace’ in Latin. Colloquially used to mean: `Stop it, Let’s make a truce’; even: `I apologize’.

[Page 4, line 14] fags are dabs at Natural History In Kipling’s day and for many years after, a ‘fag’ was slang for an unwelcome wearisome task, drudgery. In British ‘Public Schools’ from the 19th Century on, there was a practice by which juniors did service for seniors, as their ‘fags’.

In Something of Myself Kipling writes (p. 29):

`Oddly enough, ‘fagging’ did not exist, though the name ‘fag’ was regularly used as a term of contempt and sign of subordination against the Lower School. If one needed a ‘varlet’ to clean things in a study or run errands, that was a matter for private bargaining in our only currency – food. Sometimes such service gave protection, in the sense that it was distinct cheek to oppress an accredited ‘varlet’.

The word had no implication of homosexuality, as it does in North America today.
dab is another slang expression which has largely fallen out of use. To be a ‘dab’ or a ‘dab hand’ at something meant that one was expert at it.

[Page 5, line 5] Jorrocks the sporting hero of R. S. Surtees’s hunting stories, which first appeared in the New Sporting Magazine and were collected into a book in 1838 as Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities, followed by other books of Jorrocks stories. On p. 7 we learn that Handley Cross (1843) is the book Stalky has with him that day. Surtees is often quoted or referred to, especially by Stalky.

[Page 5, line 33] you blind lunatic! this is one of several references to Beetle’s poor sight, some kindly or at least friendly, because they come from friends, like this one; but in one case (in “The Moral Reformers”) rousing Beetle into one of his few powerful rages.

[Page 6, line 17] a tergo from behind.

[Page 7, line 20] Handley Cross see note to p. 5.

[Page 9, line 29] do you shoot foxes In a hunting country to shoot a fox was (and is today) among the worst crimes against good breeding.

[Page 10, line 9] the Castle Dublin Castle, the seat of government in Ireland.

[Page 11, line 4] deep calling to deep echo of Psalm 42: 7: `Deep calleth unto deep’.

[Page 11, line 7] the Old Country Ireland, whence both Turkey and Col. Dabney came.

[Page 11, line 31] Out of the mouths of – Psalm 8: 2. Colonel Dabney omits `babes and sucklings’.

[Page 12, line 32] `Oh, Paddy dear . . .’ first line of the Irish nationalist song `The Wearin’ o’ the Green’.

[Page 13, line 26] young-eyed cherubims The Merchant of Venice, V.i.

[Page 16, line 4] the Pleasant Isle of Aves from Charles Kingsley’s poem `The Last Buccaneer’, 1857:

And such a port for mariners I ne’er shall see again
As the pleasant Isle of Aves, beside the Spanish main.

[Page 17, line 1] Chingangook sc. Chingachgook: a Red Indian chief, skilled in fieldcraft and stalking, who figures in Fenimore Cooper’s novels The Last of the Mohicans, The Path-Finder, The Deerslayer, and The Pioneer.

[Page 17, line 28] in loco parentis in the place of a parent; responsible for the boys.

[Page 17, line 21] cachuca sc. cachucha: a Spanish dance.

[Page 18, line 1] `But what’s the odds, as long as you’re ‘appy? there seems to be something of an anachronism here. George du Maurier quoted this line (origin unknown) in Trilby, which appeared in 1894. Thus, it was obviously too late for Stalky to quote it in the early 1880s, but not, of course, for Kipling, who wrote “In Ambush” in 1898.

Edward Conklin in Honolulu, writing in August 2022, comments:

In fact there is no anachronism.  This was a very common phrase in most of the 19th century, and long predates the 1880s.  The earliest printed reference I have found (in Google Books) is from Blackwood’s Magazine in May 1847, page 196: [E.C.]

Different men place happiness in the pursuit of different objects, or the gratification of different wishes; and this diversity of taste is the axis on which the moral world revolves.  “What’s the odds, so long as you’re happy?” is a common and vulgar saying; but nevertheless, like a great many of these vulgar sayings, as they are called, it contains within it the very concentrated essence of sound practical wisdom.

[Page 18, line 16] vice in place of., as in Vice-Chairman.

[Page 20, line 4] flagrante delicto in the very act of crime.

[Page 21, line 28] linhay a shed, open in front.

[Page 24, line 10] ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347-8: `Who will guard the guards themselves?’

[Page 24, line 22] `. . . Zeal, all zeal Mr Easy’ a reference to one of their favourite books, Captain Marryat’s Mr Midshipman Easy, 1836. In the first edition the text reads ‘…Zeal, all zeal Mr Simple’Peter Simple (1834) was another Marryat novel about another Midshipman—but Kipling corrected this in later editions from 1914.

[Page 24, line 24] I did boil the exciseman from Surtees Handley Cross Chapter 48.

[Page 25, line 14] Hounds choppin’ foxes … vice quotation from Handley Cross.

[Page 25, line 32] paddy-wack As in the old nursery rhyme ‘Nick nack paddywack, give a dog a bone…’. A paddy is a rage or fit of temper. The word `paddy’ is used in the same sense today.

[Page 27, line 19] evil-speakers, liars, slow-bellies cf. Titus 1: 12.

[Page 27, line 31] ‘Thou hast appealed to Caesar: unto Caesar shalt thou go’ Acts 25: 12.

[Page 28, line 23] the Caudine Toasting fork the Caudine Forks was a narrow pass in the mountains near Capua, where in the second Samnite war the Roman army was surrounded in 321 BC and made to pass under the yoke, the greatest humiliation that could be inflicted upon it. Stalky was obviously referring to the phrase `We’ve got him on toast’, i.e. ‘We’ve got him’.

[Page 28, line 27] `Too much ticklee, him bust’ a reference to the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, in which Mr Buzzard could not stand being tickled. Uncle Remus, once a slave, tells stories from Negro folklore to a little boy, the son of the house in which he is now a valued servant. Uncle Remus and his Legends of the Old Plantation and Uncle Remus or Mr Fox, Mr Rabbit and Mr Terrapin were published in England in 1881, and one of the Stalky stories, “The United Idolators”, is about the craze for the Uncle Remus stories which swept the school.

[Page 30, line 3] `Wine is a mocker, strong drink is ragin’ Proverbs 20: 1.

[Page 31, line 7] quodded imprisoned. First used about 1700, origin unknown. Quod means prison; to quod, to imprison.

[Page 31, line 11] Chingangook see note to p. 17.

[Page 32, line 20] `Take not out your ‘ounds on a werry windy day’ R. S. Surtees, Handley Cross, chapter 38. Surtees was quoting from Peter Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting, 1781.

[Page 32, line 23] Heffy is my only joy reference to ‘Phyllis is my only joy’ by Sir Charles Sedley (c. 1639-1701).

[Page 35, line 32] Monte Cristo The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-5) by Alexandre Dumas (père).

[Page 36, line 1] Gating Confinement to the school, as a punishment.

[Page 36, line 15] suppressio veri and suggestio falsi suppression of the truth and suggestion of the false.

[I. Q.]