The Betrayal of Confidences

Notes on the Text

By David Page. The page and line numbers below refer to the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909.


[Page 274, line 2] but what else could I do? This phrase, and variants of it, occur in many of Kipling’s tales, and is the bedrock of the stories in Rewards and Fairies (1910). In Something of Myself (p.190), Kipling wrote of this collection:

My doubt cleared itself with the first tale, ‘Cold Iron,’ which gave me my
underwood; ‘What else could I have done?’—the plinth of all structures.

[Page 274, lines 4 & 5] the housemaid with the fan-teeth Fan-teeth refers almost certainly to ‘buck teeth’ or ‘overbite’ where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth and, in bad cases, can look like the sticks of a partially opened fan.

[Page 274, line 7] old Gothic letters this is the typeface or font – other examples are ‘Roman’ or ‘Arial’ – in which German would be printed.

[Page 274, lines 15 & 16] brown billycock Billycock hats were bowler hats, named after William Coke.

[Page 274, line 17] Latakia Fine Turkish tobacco, shipped from Latakia (the ancient Laodicea) in Syria. [ORG]

[Page 277, line 17] He unearthed his tragedy see the headnote for a full discussion of this. In a letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill, Kipling relates how on 13 November 1889 he went round to the Poynters and on leaving, his cousin Ambrose insisted on giving him ‘his M.S. volume of poems and A FIVE ACT TRAGEDY IN BLANK VERSE!’ ( Letters 1, p. 364).

[Page 278, lines 1-2, etc.] The Roman Sentry of Pompeii We have no way of discovering what Ambrose Poynter’s tragedy was really about, but it does sound as though Kipling had kept fairly close to what it could have been like.

One of the most famous of the paintings by Ambo’s father, Edward John Poynter (1836-1919), is ‘Faithful Unto Death’, which has been in The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool since 1874. This work illustrated the epitome of devotion to duty for the Victorians. The Roman sentry stands at his post whilst Pompeii and its citizens are destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Scattered on the ground can be seen coins and other valuables, whilst in the background people try to save themselves and their possessions from the debris. Despite this and his obvious trepidation, the soldier still stands firm.

Poynter’s source was the excavation at Pompeii of the remains of a soldier in full armour. This was used as the basis for an imaginary incident in Bulwer-Lytton’s popular historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii. See the Liverpool Museums website.

[Page 278, lines 3-4] S.P.Q.R.R.I.P.R.S.V.P. This consists of three common abbreviations strung together: “S.P.Q.R.” for “Senatus Populus Que Romanus” – the Senate and the People of Rome; “R.I.P.” for “Requiescat in pace” – may he rest in peace; “R.S.V.P.” is the French for “Repondez s’il vous plait” – reply if you please – found on invitations. (One might crudely translate it as: ‘goodye to Rome, may it rest in peace’, or as nothing in particular.)

[Page 278, line 11] Tarporley Mews cannot be found in the modern maps of London. However, it could have existed in 1889 and been destroyed either in a road-widening scheme or during the London blitz. It is not listed in The Pocket Atlas and Guide to London, 1900, J. Bartholomew.

[Page 278, line 16] Holywell Street was known as ‘Bookseller’s Row’ because it was full of print and book shops, many of them pornographic, before the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. Afterwards, it was known for its second hand booksellers. In Westminster, the street ran parallel to the Strand from St Clement Danes to St Mary-le-Strand just south of Wych Street. Demolished in 1903, the site is now known as Aldwych.

It can be seen
on the 1860 map. It was approximately half-a-mile from Villiers Street.

[D. P. ]
©David Page 2007 All rights reserved