Black Jack

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG, with additional material on medical matters by Dr Gillian Sheehan, and on military matters by Lt-Colonel Roger Ayers (RCA). The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Soldiers Three and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.


[Title] Black Jack is the Ace of Spades in a pack of playing cards.

[Heading] These are the first four lines of “The Wake of Tim O’Hara” by Robert Williams Buchanan (1841-1901) published in his London Poems (1866) O’Hara was killed by Rafferty – see “The Solid Muldoon” earlier in this volume (page 45, line 30)

A wake, in this context, is the custom – which continues to this day in country areas of Ireland – of family and friends sitting with a corpse the night before the funeral, usually with ample refreshment.

[Page 89, line 1] the Three Musketeers The name of a celebrated novel by the French author Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870). Kipling first used it of the ‘Soldiers Three’ as the title of the ninth story in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 89, line 6] cells usually adjacent to the Guardroom for the accommodation of minor offenders or those awaiting court-martial etc. See the verses “Cells”.

[Page 89, line 7] run amok from the Javanese amuk – to make a furious onset or charge.

[Page 89, line 13] Orderly Room the centre of regimental organisation and discipline.

[Page 89, line 14] Corner Shop here defined by ORG as ‘Cells’, and as ‘canteen’ in “The Solid Muldoon” earlier in this volume (Page 52, line 17).

[Page 89, line 15] wild oats youthful dissipation before a man settles down to be a solid citizen.

[Page 89, lines 17-19, and Page 90, lines 1-2] sitting on the drawbridge … lying at full length etc. It seems surprising to this editor that soldiers would be lounging about at the main entrance of an important fort.

[Page 90, line 7] bloomin’ camel Camels were famously ill-tempered. [See “How the Camel Got his Hump” (Just-So Stories) and the verses “Oonts”.]

[Page 90, line 8] flags in this context, paving-stones.

[Page 90, line 12] crescendo … diminuendo musical terms (Italian) for louder as footsteps approach and softer as they recede. The “About Turns” would be silent as the Drill Manual of 1877 introduced turning with the words:

In going through the turnings, the left heel must never quit the ground; but the soldier must turn on it as a pivot, the right foot being drawn back to turn the body to the right, and carried forward to turn it to the left…

The present-day five stamping movements were introduced in the 1914 War when recruits did not have the time to learn the rather difficult footwork. (R.C.A.)

[Page 90, line 16] Harkangel Archangel.

[Page 90, line 29] whip ‘im on the peg possibly a reference to a field punishment. See “The God from the Machine” [Page 4, line 32] and “The Big Drunk Draf” [Page 33, line 24] earlier in this volume – or, perhaps, another version of ‘put on the hook’ – being charged with an offence.

I have always understood that ‘to whip on the peg’ was to keep on hammering or harping away on some point in the same way that a pegtop had to be continually whipped to keep it spinning. In this sense that would mean that Mullins was always picking on Mulvaney.

[Page 91, line 12] three hours can an’ kit Pack-drill.

[Page 91, lines 15-16] I do not believe etc a most improper remark and bad for discipline – the Colonel should not so refer to a Sergeant in the presence of a Private.

[Page 91, line 23] Board School established by an Act of Parliament of 1870 for free education and administered by local authorities,

[Page 91, line 32] kiddy in this context, a variation of kit, a small wooden tub (from the Middle Dutch), a hooped wooden beer-can; what would now be called a mess-tin.

[Page 92, line 2] ‘arf Rampore a State in the United Provinces with particularly good hounds:

There is another breed of large, strong-limbed, big-boned dogs, called Rampore hounds. They are a cross breed from the original upcountry dog and the Persian greyhound. Some call them the Indian greyhound. They seem to be bred principally in the Rampore-Bareilly district, but one or more are generally to be found in every planter’s pack. They are fast and strong enough, but I have often found them bad at tackling, and they are too fond of their keeper ever to make an affectionate faithful dog to the European. [Sport and work on the Nepaul frontier; or twelve years sporting reminiscences of an Indigo Planter by ‘Maori’. (James Inglis, London, Macmillan & Co., 1878) Chapter 5.

Inglis here is talking about a ‘bobbery pack’ for hunting, such a pack being made up of a mix of local types of dog. The ‘keeper’, to whom a hound would show its first allegiance, was the native kennel-man (R.C.A.)

[Page 92, line 15] braass brass – in this context, a Yorkshire dialect term for money.

[Page 92, line 18] one rupee eight annas about twenty pence.

[Page 92, line 31] as horses lean upon the pole Pairs of horses harnessed to a carriage or gun with a central pole and traces are inclined to lean towards each other

[Page 93, line 4] bastions towers at the corners of a fort to provide fire along the faces of the walls.

[Page 93, line 15] Forest Reserve A section of Government Forest with shooting rights controlled in order to preserve selected game animals and birds and encourage breeding.

I have no direct quote to give you but this was culled from Indian Shikar Notes by J. Best, The Pioneer Press, Allahabad, 1922. Best was a retired long-service Forestry Officer. Despite being published more than 30 years after Kipling left India, it seems that little had changed in game shooting over that period and

[Page 93, line 15] Bridge of Boats see Jan Morris and Simon Winchester’s Stones of the Raj (page 204) for a plan of Lahore showing the Fort and cantonements. A photograph of Lahore’s “Bridge of Boats” from J.H. Furneaux’s Glimpses of India published in 1895 in Bombay is reproduced in Lahore Recollected, an Album by F. S. Aijazuddin, Sang-e-Meel Publishers, Pakistan.

A British map of 1867 is said to show the Bridge of Boats across the Ravi and that this bridge, in existence before the Punjab was annexed, was used as a model for subsequent British versions.
In the ‘Mutiny’ campaigns of 1857, bridges of boats figured in the Siege of Delhi and in the reliefs of both Cawnpore and Lucknow. Some bridges of boats on military routes remained in use in later years until permanent bridges were constructed.

[Page 93, line 28] a peg in this context, a measure of spirits – usually whisky or brandy.

[Page 93, line 26] the mess-man The Indian Railway Library version has khansamah. [Hobson-Jobson defines this, with a variant spelling, as ‘house-steward’; the khitmagar (butler) would work under his direction] Kipling probably made the alteration for English readers unfamiliar with Indian terms.

[Page 94, line 6] the Black Dog said of an ill-tempered person; in ancient superstition the Devil is often represented by a black dog (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)

[Page 94, lines 8 – 9] shquealin’ on a counterpin… Squealing on a counterpane (a bed-cover). Mulvaney is suggesting that Mullins had been a bastard (illegitimate) baby whose impoverished mother, at his birth, had expected five shillings (twenty-five pence) a week maintenance from the putative father, which was not forthcoming.

[Page 94, line 11] ‘Wot’s the odds so long as you’re ‘appy ? a catch-phrase that appears in “Trilby” (1894) by George du Maurier (1834-1896) artist and novelist. It must, however, have originated earlier as Kipling is writing in 1888. It is also quoted in “In Ambush” (Stalky & Co page 18, line 1) where – in this Guide – our Editor, Isabel Quigly, notes the apparent anachronism of a quotation from a play of 1894 appearing in a story set in the period 1878-1882.

[Page 95, lines 26-33] all your buttons took orf etc This is a hanging, with the regiment fallen in on three sides of a square with the gallows on the fourth side. The condemned man has his buttons and marks of rank removed; the drop (line 31) is the trap-door on which he stands with the noose round his neck.
“The Lord giveth an’ the Lord taketh away” Ortheris is quoting from The Order for the Burial of the Dead. The phrase comes from Job, 1, 21, and Timothy, 6, 7.

See the powerful ballad “Danny Deever” which describes such a hanging and the feelings of the men who are obliged to witness it.
[Notes by R.C.A. and Carrington page 154, and Braybrooke pp. 134-5.]

See also Holmes, pp. 425 ff. for the dangers of keeping rifles in barrack-rooms and
a graphic description of a regimental hanging .
[Richard Holmes Sahib – The British Soldier in India 1750- 1914,
Harper Collins, 2005]

[Page 96, line 6] the Tyrone …. O’Hara ‘The Tyrone’ was Mulvaney’s first regiment. For ‘O’Hara’ see the note to “The Solid Muldoon” Page 45, line 30 earlier in this volume.

[Page 96, line 25] wishful for to desert see “The Madness of Private Ortheris” (Plain Tales from the Hills)

[Page 96, line 28] Dinah Shadd Mulvaney’s wife – see “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 97, line 23] Corp’ril Corporal – the non-commissioned officer below Sergeant.

[Page 97, line 32] woman at Devizes Devizes is a market town in Wiltshire, 25 miles north of Salisbury. Legend has it that one Ruth Pierce, engaged in a corn deal, asked God to strike her dead if she was lying. She dropped dead instantly.

[Page 98, line 1] Victor A Father Victor plays an important part in Kim.

[Page 98, line 6] Connemara a district in Ireland to the west of Co. Galway with wild and beautiful scenery.

[Page 98, line 7] Portsmouth city and seaport in Hampshire, England. The home of the Royal Navy. Nelson’e flagship HMS Victory is to be seen in the Royal Dockyard there.

[Page 98, line 7] Kerry a county in the west of Ireland.

[Page 98, line 12] clog together in pieces an example of an Irish Bull – a ludicrous contradiction in terms, perhaps from one Obadiah Bull, an Irish lawyer in London in the reign of Henry VII who was notorious for such blunders. (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)

[Page 98, line 23] before I was married single men would live in barrack rooms like this one, married men would live with their wives in the Married Lines

[Page 98, line 32] Colour-Sergeant the Senior Sergeant of a Company at this period. (R.C.A.)

[Page 99, line 2] my tongue in my cheek a humorous warning that something just said was insincere.

[Page 99, line 29] Artillery troughs water-troughs for the Royal Artillery horses.

[Page 99, line 30] thryin’ for my shtripes he is hoping for promotion to Lance-Corporal.

[Page 99, line 32] blood-dhrawn calf It was the custom to bleed calves to produce white veal. To call a man a ‘blood-dhrawn calf’ implied that he was a weakling, or a coward.

[Page 100, line 18] presarve my formation Much emphasis was placed in the drill manual on squads or companies ‘preserving formation’ while executing drill manoevres.(R.C.A.)

[Page 101, line 5] guard-room gong a disc of metal, suspended so that it will give out a loud note when struck – used as an alarm.

[Page 101, line 22] paragins perhaps paragons – “ models of excellence”, or maybe paladins – “knights-errant” – used sarcastically.

[Page 101, line 29] crackin’ on cracking on – swearing.

[Page 102, line 7] long-shtocked, cross-eyed bitch
‘long stocked’ In an attempt to suit men of differing heights, the standard issue Martini-Henry rifle came in two butt sizes, the long butt being half an inch longer than the short butt. They were supplied to the army in the proportions two thirds long, one third short.

‘Cross-eyed’ implies that the sights are not correctly aligned with the barrel. (R.C.A.)

[Page 102, line 20] Coort-Martial Court-Martial – a military court with the power to sentence a man to death if he is found guilty.

[Page102, line 27] an unruly mimber A misquotation from James 3, verses 5 and 8. … the tongue is a little member (v. 5) and … the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (v. 8)

[Page 103, line 13] Shpoil Five Spoil Five – an old Irish card-game similar to Nap or Napoleon in which the player winning three tricks takes the pool; if he wins all five, the other players pay him a bonus.

[Page 103, line 15] palammers playing-cards. [Not traced – information would be appreciated; Ed.]

[Page 103, line 18] the Black Curse of Shielygh This fearsome malediction figures in “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” in Life’s Handicap (pp. 64-66), but it is not known whether Kipling invented it.

[Page 103, line 23] battle, murdher and suddin death an echo of the Litany in The Book of Common Prayer:

The Priest says or sings:
From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death…
and the congregation replies: Good Lord, deliver us.

[Page 103, line 28] the mess av an egg the uncooked white of an egg,

[Page 104, line 1] duty thrippence three pence in pre-decimal days – a tax abolished in the 1960 Budget.

[Page 104, line 26] Arm’rer – Sargint Armourer-Sergeant – the technician who maintained the weapons ; he would actuslly not use the same canteen as the private soldiers, but must do so here to give him an opportunity of explaining the mechanism to Mulvaney.

[Page 104, line 28] the Martini-Henry see the Note to “In the Matter of a Private” earlier in this volume. (Page 77, line 12)

[Page 104, line 32] turnin’ her over after firin’ turning her over after firing. The Snider, the rifle that was replaced by the Martini-Henry did not eject the used case after firing and had to be turned over to allow it to fall out.

[Page 105, line 9] shtrippin’ a ‘Tini stripping a Martini-Henry rifle, taking it to pieces for cleaning and maintenance.

[Page 105, line 11] blow-pit a hole in the ground where dangerous explosives could safely accumulate. See “A Friend of the Family” (Debits and Credits page 324, line 21) where there is a ‘dud-hole’ for unexploded grenades.
dirt hung on the groovin’ the grooving – the spirals in the barrel that imparted a rotary action to the projectile – had become fouled.

[Page 105, line 13] the pin av the fallin’-block This rifle has a pivoted block moving vertically instead of a bolt working horizontally in the Lee-Enfield. If the pivot or pin is missing one might be forgiven for thinking that the block will naturally blow out with great force when the weapon is fired – but see note below.

[Page 105, line 16] wud ha’ cut his oi out would have cut his eye out. ORG maintains that the block would not have been thrown out until the breech was opened, which destroys the central point of the story. However, it seems to us most unlikely that Kipling would have based a story on a technical point like this without expert advice, and even more unlikely that – if he was incorrect – his military readers in India at the time would not have pointed this out.

[Page 105, line 21] Waster action A rifle with the breech cut away to reveal the mechanism, a useful teaching aid.

[Page 105. line 29] clanin’-rod cleaning-rod – usually of metal, some three feet long, used with pieces of flannel 4 inches by 2 inches for cleaning the barrel of the rifle. A most unwieldly tool (see Page 106, lines 10-14) later replaced by a flexible ‘pull-through’.

[Page 106, lines 8-15 etc] a kyartridge a cartridge; a brass case containing the charge (propellant) with a bullet secured in the end. Mulvaney would have had some difficulty in extracting the bullet with his teeth.

[Page 106, line 21] cheated halter avoided being hanged.

[Page 106, line 29] jackals wild members of the dog family.

[Page 106, line 31] the room lamp this would probably be a paraffin-lamp hanging on chains from the ceiling . similar in principle to those illustrated on the back cover of Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., ed Whitehead.

[Page 107, line 10] Father Constant the regiment must have two priests – see Page 98, line 1 above.

[Page 107, line 17] The fallin’block had sprung free see page 105, line 16 above,

[Page 107, line 18] powther gunpowder – probably cordite.

[Page 107, line 33] doolie the litter carried by two or four men, used for transporting wounded.

[Page 108, line 11] powther see line 18 above

[Page 108, line 16] stoppages for four fifteen his pay would be stopped in the sum of four rupees and fifteen annas for the damage to the rifle.

[Page 108, line 23] umbrageous shady or forming a shade from umbrage – suspicion of injury – offence. The word is misused and it is not clear what it is intended to convey. See the last verse of “The Legends of Evil”: The Devil cursed outrageous , but Noah said umbrageous…

[Page 110, line 16] the pull the pressure needed to pull the trigger – a gentle squeeze in necessary, so as not to shake the rifle and spoil the aim.

[Page 111, line 15] lip in this context, impertinence.

[Page 112, line 21] may the Lord have mercy on his sowl from the words of a judge condemning a man to death and an echo of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 4, 5, 196: God ha’ mercy on his soul.

[Page 112, line 33] Jimmy O an early version of Billy-O – in this context meaning ‘like anything’ or ‘very quickly’.

[Page 113, line 1] The Three Musketeers See the note on Page 89, line 1 above.

[J H McG/G.S.]

©John McGivering and Gillian Sheehan 2005 All rights reserved