The Bronckhorst Divorce Case

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 2 2003]

[Heading] In the daytime, when she moved about me collected in Definitive Verse, without “Confessions”. See also the poem “A Parallel”, (Early Verse ed. Rutherford; “A has a wife who loves him much/ And clings to him with fervour great/ But A’s perversity is such/ He really seems to loath his mate…”.)

[Page 246, line 1] three-cornered a reference to Dick Deadeye, a deformed and villainous sailor in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera H.M.S. Pinafore (1878). The quotation is from Act I and provides the only touch of humour in this story. (See also the note to “On the Strength of a Likeness” later in this volume.)

Dick I’m ugly, too, ain’t I ?
Buttercup You are certainly plain.
Dick And I’m three-cornered, ain’t I?
Buttercup You are rather triangular.
Dick Ha! Ha! That’s it. I’m ugly and they hate me for it ! For you all hate me, don’t you ?
All We do…..

Kipling was clearly familiar with Pinafore; he may have seen the show in London in his childhood, or perhaps attended an amateur or professional touring show in India.

The Gilbert and Sullivan light operas were tremendously popular in England in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and there are a number of other references to them in the tales. The ship’s company in “The Bonds of Discipline” put on Pinafore, there are references to Patience and Pinafore in “The United Idolaters”, Mrs. Landys-Haggert hums “Poor Wandering One !” from The Pirates of Penzance in “On the Strength of a Likeness”, and Kipling misquotes Don Alambra’s song in Act I of The Gondoliers in “A Conference of the Powers”. His poem “The Absent-minded Beggar” was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan to a tune Kipling described in Something of Myself as ‘guaranteed to pull teeth out of barrel-organs.’

[Page 246, line 3] a touch of country-blood Many Europeans look somewhat Eurasian when the Indian sun has coloured them for some years; Kipling was falsely accused of having Indian blood, and so were several other distinguished people, including Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher. Generations before this saw many equally distinguished men who were the fruit of unions between Englishmen and Indian women and nobody thought anything of it. One good example is James Skinner (1778–1841) who raised and commanded the famous regiment Skinner’s Horse in the days when British India was administered by the East India Company.

[Page 247, line 20] savage feeling It seems remarkably perceptive for a single man of twenty-three to record this dreadful aspect of married life.

[Page 247, line 19] on the criminal count Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.) of 1860 reads as follows:

Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is the wife of another
man, without the consent or connivance of that man…. is guilty of the
offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine or
with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.

So the four words were in italics to emphasise the point of difference between the I.P.C. and English law, and because criminal proceedings at the instance of Europeans in India was comparatively rare.

[Page 248, line 25] circumstantial and native such evidence is not positive or direct but gathered inferentially from the circumstances of the case and would be highly unsafe as a basis for a court decision.

[Page 248, line 28] manufacture of carpets one of the activities for prisoners in gaol in India in those days.

[Page 249, line 7] fifty-four rupees a modest sum for such a serious matter.

[Page 249, line 8] scrape through he wanted to be acquitted without a shadow of doubt rather than merely on account of unsafe evidence.

[Page 249, line 22] wire to Strickland send a telegram to the policeman who could pass himself off as an Indian, first encountered in
“Miss Youghal’s Sais” earlier in this volume.

[Page 249, line 30] Oorya bearer a man from Orissa (Sanskrit Odrashtra the land of the Odras) a former Hindu kingdom which became a Province of S W Bengal [Hobson-Jobson] There are four Ooryas in the retinue of the Old Lady of Kulu in Kim.

[Page 249, line 31] Mussulman khit and sweeper ayah a Muslim butler (khitmagar) and, possibly a female sweeper, members of the household who would provide the false evidence. The khitmagar Janki, the ayah and an un-named bearer appear in court.

[Page 250, line 5] lothley faquir usually spelt loathly – a hideous religious mendicant, (fakir in Hindi meaning ‘poor’. [Hobson-Jobson]

[Page 250, line 6] salaaming a word and gesture of salutation from the Arabic salam – ‘peace’ : it is made with bending of the body, and laying of the right hand upon the head. [Hobson-Jobson]

[Page 250, line 9] won’t tell my wife Strickland married his wife on the strict understanding that he ‘should drop his old ways.’ (See “Miss Youghal’s Sais” earlier in this volume at Page 34, line 15)

[Page 250, line 21] put-up falsified – ‘a put-up job’

[Page 251, line 13] vernacular a native language.

[Page 251, line 16] gut trainer’s whip a whip with the lash made of gut from an animal – not used today, as being too sharp and probably illegal.

[Page 252, line 6] pitched his papers on the …. table perhaps the
legal equivalent of throwing in the towel in a boxing match, showing that the fighter has had enough.

[Page 252, line 18] hush up the counter-charge see the note below

[Page 252, line 30] Home the U.K.

[Page 253, line 4 to the end] What Biel wants to know, etc. This seems rather an unsatisfactory end to the tale, leaving an irritating bundle of loose ends, as does “In the Pride of his Youth” earlier in this volume. Bronckhorst was obviously in the wrong in that he attempted to pervert the course of justice, but he should, strictly-speaking, have been punished by due process of law and not assaulted with the connivance of a police officer.

This is, of course, a work of fiction, but Carrington (p.91) does mention the author’s ‘gift for working up the merest trifles, the tritest anecdotes’, into stories, contes, that reminded well-read reviewers of Maupassant, and local readers – sometimes – of court-cases in Lahore. It seems unlikely that Kipling ran out of space and was obliged to cut short the story, since this was not one of those first written for the Civil and Military Gazette, and it is a good deal shorter than some others in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[J. McG.]