Stalky and The Brushwood Boy

(by Roger Lancelyn Green, written originally  for the ORG)

HOW many readers of ” The Brushwood Boy ” realise that not only was George Cottar educated at the United Services College, Westward Ho !, but that his period there overlapped, if it did not actually coincide, with that of Stalky, Beetle and M’Turk?

The story first appeared in The Century Magazine of December, 1895, and contains more, and more definite, Westward Ho ! references than in its final form. Kipling may have tried to cut these out when he included ” The Brushwood Boy ” in The Day’s Work (1898), since by then Stalky & Co. was nearly all written—but he did not quite succeed. Take the description of Cottar: ‘when he stepped forth in the black jersey, white knickers and black stockings of the First Fifteen’, and the assertion that the School expected its boys ‘to enter the Army direct, without the help of the expensive London crammer’, and any careful reader of Stalky & Co. will need no further proof—even without reference to the more factual evidence in “An English School,” the essay published in 1893 and collected in Land and Sea Tales thirty years later.

The Original Version

But the original version of “The Brushwood Boy” is far more definite. Consider the statement that Cottar grew:

…under a system of compulsory cricket, football and paper-chases, from four to five days a week, which provided for three lawful cuts of a ground-ash if any boy absented himself from these entertainments without medical certificate or master’s written excuse…

and that he

… was transplanted to the world of three hundred boys in the big dormitories below the hill… (where, in due time, he) … sat at the Prefects’ table with the right to carry a cane and, under re- strictions, to use it.

To clinch the matter, however, we are told, after the description of his responsibility ‘for that thing called the tone of the school’ , with his unconscious debt to the Head for his ability to control boys, that:

… on the other side—Georgie did not realise this till later—was the wiry drill-sergeant, contemptuously aware of all the tricks of ten generations of boys, who ruled the gymnasium through the long winter evenings when the squads were at work. There, among the rattle of the single-sticks, the click of the foils, the jar of the spring-bayonet sent home on the plaston, and the incessant bat- bat of the gloves, little Schofield would cool off on the vaulting-horse, and explain to the head of the School by what mysterious ways the worth of a boy could be gauged between half-hut eyes.

George Cottar, then, was educated at Westward Ho !—he was there indeed for ten years, since he began in the junior house. The next question is to discover when he was there.

From The Day’s Work we can learn only that Cottar was in India for at least seven years, and returned to England in the summer. Reference to the story in The Century Magazine tells us, to begin with, that his return cannot have been later than 1895, since the story first appeared in December of that year. Already we know that his schooldays overlapped those of Stalky & Co. : he left school not later than the end of 1886, spent a year at Sandhurst, and then at least seven years in India. The Stalky chronology gives the end of 1883 for their “Last Term”: the date is deduced mainly from “The United Idolators”, but even using the early stories alone, they cannot have left earlier than 1882.

Georgie’s Map

It is, however, possible to date Cottar’s seven years in India almost exactly. In The Century Magazine we are given a reproduction of Georgie’s map:

So thoroughly had he come to know the place of his dreams that even waking he accepted it as a real country, and made a rough sketch of it … the dreams would come in batches of five or six, and next morning the map that he kept in his writing-case would be written up to date, for Georgie was a most methodical person”: (in the magazine is added) A still rougher copy of the sketch is given in this place for the better understanding of geography.

The map is carefully dated, and the last of the many, many dates entered upon it is 9 September, 1891. After this Cottar went on his winter campaign in the Border, and returned to England in the Spring ; the memorable night in the Bay of Biscay when Mrs. Zuleika kissed him through his dream is given in the text : ‘It was the 26th of May’, says Miriam (even in the book version), and Georgie agrees : therefore, that date was in 1892. We can confidently assume that he went to India not later than the beginning of 1885—the length of time is given by Mrs. Cottar’s remark that Miriam and her mother ‘came after you went to India. . . . They bought The Firs on the Bassett Road,’ and Georgie’s rather supercilious reflection about them as ‘pushing persons who had been only seven years in the county.’

Even at the latest, then, Cottar must have spent most of 1884 at Sandhurst, and therefore have left Westward Ho ! about the end of the previous year—exactly as did Stalky, who had won his commission and departed for India by the end of 1884 (according to “Slaves of the Lamp” Part II).

If Cottar left Westward Ho! the same term as Stalky and his companions, it is obvious that he appears in Stalky & Co. (“The Last Term”) under the alias of ‘Carson, the head of the school, a simple, straightminded soul, and a pillar of the First Fifteen.’

If, as may perhaps be argued, he left at the beginning of that year, there is no alternative but to equate him with Flint : ‘and Flint was then Head of the Games’. But Flint had spent six months with a London crammer, which Cottar almost certainly had not. This is the earliest date possible, by the way, since the United Services College was only founded in September 1874—and Cottar was there for ten years, as is stated explicitly in the story.

But perhaps we may prefer to believe that Georgie Cottar was counting the year 1892, which was scarcely half gone, as one of the Indian seven, in which case it is just possible that he left Westward Ho ! anything up to a year later than Stalky. In this case he is either not mentioned at all in Stalky & Co., even under an alias, or else was still but a minor character at the school — appearing perhaps under the guise of that ‘young Carter’ whose potted-ham sustained Stalky, Beetle and M’Turk on a certain memorable occasion.