An Error in the Fourth Dimension

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The late Mr. W.H. Hazard, an American, was good enough to report for the ORG on aspects of this story; his contributions are identified by his initials.The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Day’s Work, as published and frequently reprinted between 1898 and 1950.


[Page 317, line 13] eye-glass meaning a single eye-glass, or monocle. The wearing of a monocle was an affectation of the English upper classes, carried over from the days of the Regency dandy and his ‘quizzing-glass’.

[Page 317, line 16] and the press of his abiding city cursed him … for two consecutive days Wilton Sargent seems to be a somewhat sensitive soul: his foibles are substantially less than a nine-days’ wonder to the New York press. Kipling was being, perhaps, unsympathetic to his creation – he’d had some trouble with the press himself! When the tale was written, the USA and Great Britain were mutually suspicious of one another in foreign policy; in Britain American usage and goods were regarded as being inferior, while in the USA, the British were seen as effete and undemocratic.

[Page 317, line 21] Piccadilly One of the great streets of London, the western end of the main thoroughfare from the City to Hyde Park Corner, and thence on to the main road to the west. The name probably derived from the fact that one of the earliest landowners in the 17th century on what later became the street was a tailor who made his money by the manufacture of piccadillas – a form of neck-ruff.

[Page 318, line 1 et seq] He took his cheque-book and accumulated things… A picture of the easy life of the rich, cultured man in London, and in England generally, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when servants were plentiful and wages low.

[Page 318, line 17-18] In England, the servant educates the master An interesting observation, and probably true. (P.G. Wodehouse illustrated this – ‘my man, Jeeves’ undoubtedly educated his employer, Bertie Wooster.) English society until the mid 20th century was extremely hierarchical – traces still remain – and very conformist; one just did not do what was not done. And the tone of a large household might well be set by the servants who, after all, were responsible for organising it: where the master or mistress of the house was uncertain of him – or herself, then much fell on the senior member of the household staff, the steward (in a grand house) or the butler, or housekeeper.

[Page 318, line 19] as ardently as his father had striven to wreck, before capture, the railways of his native land In the USA, in the 1880s and 1890s, such men as Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Jay Gould, financiers, had made their money by trading railroad stocks and shares in a thoroughly unscrupulous manner, frequently to the detriment of the railroad concerned, without any consideration of the economic consequences to the country as a whole.

[Page 318, line 22] the old bandit railway blood a reference back to line 19: he has bought the estate at a knock-down price, possibly by sharp(ish) practice.

[Page 318, line 23] Holt Hangars the name ‘Holt Hangars’ is fictional, but it would be interesting to know quite what Kipling had in mind here. Although English place names are idiosyncratic, with spelling frequently not in accordance with accepted usage, the use of “Hangars” as a place name would have been unusual at that date. The Oxford English Dictionary cites its meaning as ‘a covered space, shed or shelter, especially for carriages’, and it dates only from 1852. What is more likely is that he was thinking of the word Hangers, a south country word meaning hanging woodland, clothing the sides of a hill.

[Page 318, line 25] Great Buchonian Railway There are five lines on which this fictional railway could have been based.

  • The Great Northern Railway
  • The Midland Railway
  • The London and North Western Railway
  • The Great Western Railway
  • The London and South Western Railway

These were the only lines having quadruple main lines out to 40 miles or so from London. The line which Kipling knew was the last, which took him from London to his parents’ house at Tisbury in Wiltshire, but since he had said, in the letter to Robert Barr quoted in the introduction, that it was ‘the York express’, and since he refers later to the train which was stopped as the ‘three-forty Northern up’; and since the Great Northern was the only line which served York directly, it would seem that it was the Great Northern that he had in mind.

On the other hand, as we shall later note, the train apparently had a name, the “Induna” (which means a Zulu chieftain), and one of the ‘crack’ expresses on the Great Western Railway at that time was named the “Zulu”. Kipling was dissembling – and not for the first, nor last, time.

[Page 318, line 31] track – not permanent way Kipling is pointing up the difference between American and English language: in each case, the word(s) used refer to the road-bed and rails on which the train runs.

‘The track is what the train runs on, that is (in America), two rails spiked to ties (sleepers) and ballasted according to circumstances. As Kipling points out more than once the United States’ tracks were not then up to the standard of the English permanent way. Owing to the great distances all that could be done was to get something down on which trains could run, however precariously’. (W.H.H.)

Actually, by the time this tale was written, the above was much less true: it applied until the 1880s, but by 1894, particularly in the north-eastern corridor, Washington-New York City-Boston, American tracks were fully up to British mainline standards. They had to be, or else .007 could not have hauled his ‘seven vestibuled cream-white cars’ [page 251, line 15] at an average speed of 42.5 m.p.h over 156 miles.

[Page 318, line 33] grade-crossings
‘Much the same as level-crossings – the spot where road and rail cross each other on the same level. In the U.S.A. there are no gates except in rare instances, but nearly all crossings now have automatic warning signals (either flashing lights or swinging arms) to warn of approaching trains. Remember that we Americans have always been pretty casual about railroads: they are practically never fenced in or on embankments, but go unguarded across country or even through the streets of cities. All these conditions are being improved bit by bit. I crossed one yesterday that had no signals at all, merely warning signs.’ (W.H.H. 1958)

[Page 318, line 33] parlour cars George M. Pullman (1831-1897) was an early constructor, in the U.S.A., of railway coaches which went beyond the original concept of a stage-coach body/ies, or omnibus saloon, mounted on a framework with railway wheels. The earliest Pullmans were dining and sleeping cars, but later he introduced ‘parlor cars’, or ‘day saloons’, which offered a higher degree of comfort for monied passengers on long journeys. He introduced them to British railways in 1874, but they were never really successful, the British first-class passenger preferring his or her seclusion in a compartment, even if it did not have lavatory facilities. Kipling has used the British spelling of ‘parlour’, although referring to American equipment. (See also the note to ‘.007’, page 230, line 16.)

[Page 318/319, lines 33/1] of fabulous expense and unrestful design certainly, there were some gorgeously expensive vehicles running in America, but the unrestful design, ornate and heavily gilded, could apply just as aptly to luxury coaching stock on British railways of the period. It would be interesting to know what Kipling’s own railway experience in Britain was. Did he always travel first-class? At this stage of his career, quite possibly not. Twenty years earlier, it would not have been respectable for a middle-class person to travel in the third class. If you could not afford to go first class, you travelled in the second class. But from 1874 onwards, many railways abolished second class, improving the third class to the previous second class standard, and third class travel became respectable. The point here is that the narrator is displaying all the British prejudice against things American, without perceiving the ‘beam in his own eye’.

The ORG quoted Mr. Hazard:

‘I object to the ‘u’ [in ‘parlour’] because when a thing has a definite technical name it seems incorrect to vary the spelling because of local (English!) custom. (I am always annoyed when U.S. papers refer to your ‘Labor Party’). A parlor-car is a long car with a row of easy chairs, each swivelling on a fixed base, down each side of a central corridor, a total of 20 to 30 chairs. There are toilet rooms, a smoking room and a dressing room for women. I haven’t been in one for years, so maybe smoking is done all over now – I don’t know. The early cars were very ornate, presumably to impress the passengers that they were getting their money’s-worth in ostentatious luxury for the extra fare paid. Anyway, it was an ornate age and the cars were pretty comfortable.’

[Page 319, lines 1-3] curves that the Great Buchonian would have condemned a much sharper bend, i.e. of a smaller radius, than would have been permitted in Great Britain. British railways were laid out for speed from the beginning: gradients were kept to the minimum, and curves were as gentle as possible. As Mr. Hazard indicated above (Page 318, line 31), in the U.S.A. the aim originally was to open up communication – speed was secondary, and so more severe gradients and curves of tighter radius were used to get the rails through. Much later on, the alignment could be improved. The English London and North Western Railway (London to Manchester, Liverpool, and Carlisle) made a positive feature of its track in its advertising, describing it as ‘the finest permanent way in the world’.

[Page 319, line 3] construction-line a temporary railway line laid down to facilitate the building of the permanent-way.

[Page 319, line 4] chaired metals on British railways, up to the 1960s, the rails, or ‘metals’, had been carried in cast-iron ‘chairs’, of substantial weight, which added to the stability of the track. In the USA the rails were of flat-bottomed section (the invention of a British engineer, Charles Vignoles), and were spiked directly to the sleeper. Today, virtually all British main-line track is of flat-bottomed section.

[Page 319, line 5] valley of the Prest a fictional location. The ORG noted that: It is … a reasonable supposition that while the author was writing he had in mind the lovely Wiltshire countryside where his parents lived and which he knew so well, and he must be allowed the writer’s privilege of situating the product of his imagination where he pleases, if only to disguise the exact locality.

[Page 319, line 7] block-signals every mile of railway in Great Britain is divided into ‘blocks’ of varying lengths. Under all normal conditions, no more than one train can be in any block at any one time. Entry to each block is governed by a signal, controlled by a signalman in his signal box. Today, that control is electrical, and the signalman may be many miles away. This system, which is inherently safe, had been imposed on the railway companies by the Board of Trade in the 1870s. Except in the north eastern Metropolitan corridor, it was much less used in the U.S.A.

[Page 319, line 8] high above all possible risk, on a forty-foot embankment Kipling makes it seem that this was the purpose of the embankment. However, the prime purpose of the embankment would have been to level out the gradient, and to absorb the excavated material from a nearby tunnel or cutting: one of the aims of a railway engineer (or motorway engineer, come to that), is to make the amount of material cut out equal the amount of material required to fill, thus minimising the cost of disposal, or of acquiring additional material.

[Page 319, line 10] a private car in America, it was not unusual for a rich man to own his personal railroad car, which he would keep in a siding near his home, making arrangements to have it hitched to service trains, or on its own as a special, whenever he wanted to travel. [see Captains Courageous, and Harvey Cheyne, Senior’s, private car, “Constance”.] In Great Britain, the private car was unknown, except for the Duke of Sutherland’s. Rich men, and railway magnates, would hire a special saloon from the railway company if they wanted private travel. Sir Edward Watkin, probably the nearest equivalent to the great American railroad magnates in Britain, had one built, but he kept it at Calais, for continental travel.

[Page 319, line 29 a ditcher more properly hedger and ditcher: a man who maintained the hedges and ditches of a farm. To the layman, perhaps an unimportant cog in the farming machine, but if he did not do his work well the land would not be properly drained, and the hedges, which kept the livestock in their fields, would become overgrown. It was he, as much as anyone, who was responsible for the ordered appearance of the countryside which today we say is one of the glories of England. Jabez and Jesse, the protagonists of “Friendly Brook” (A Diversity of Creatures) were hedgers and ditchers.

[Page 319, line 33] golf golf was just starting to become popular in England and the U.S.A.

[Page 320, line 2] Don’t press … eye on the ball the first simple instruction given by the instructor to the learner. The phrase will be found frequently in P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing stories (which were written after Kipling used the phrase).

[Page 320, line 6] in heaven above … under the earth part of the Second Commandment (see Exodus 20,4).

[Page 320, line 12] scarabs the scarabeus, literally a beetle, and derivatively an Egyptian symbol. The Egyptian hieroglyphs picture a dung-beetle (Scarabeus sacer) which lays its eggs in a ball of dung. The insect was sacred to the sun-god. The scarab(s) mentioned in the story is one of the representations in semi-precious stones or clay, used as funerary ornaments, or as seals.

[Page 320, line 13] cartouches the oval figures in Egyptian tombs, enclosing royal or divine names or titles: hence ancient writings found in Egypt on pottery, etc.

[Page 320, line 14] toxicologists persons versed in the science of poisons. It is not clear why Sargent as a collector of art and antiquities should have needed the services of a toxicologist.

[Page 320, line 17] Renaissance music the Renaissance (or re-birth), was a western European phenomenon, a great revival of art, architecture and letters which started in Italy, among the jumble of city states, in the 14th century and was so named as marking the re-birth of culture. Palestrina (1526-1594) was one of the greatest masters of Renaissance music.

[Page 320, line 23] There were also women. This is a curious sentence. It relates to nothing earlier or later in the tale, but given that Kipling did not use words unnecessarily, it must be there for a purpose. This Editor would suggest that the statement is included to indicate that Sargent’s interests included the physical as well as the mental side of life (no mention is made of a sporting side to his make-up, at a time when an English country gentleman’s life largely revolved round sport – horses, shooting or fishing). In other words, he was totally ‘normal’ – an important factor when, as we shall see, the suggestion is made that he is mentally unhinged.

[Page 320, line 28] down the Hudson ‘I think that the last paragraph of the story gives the picture very well. Wealthy men had country estates on the banks of the Hudson river, north of New York City and came down river in their yachts. After landing it would seem they went by bus or trolley car (tramcar) or subway to the vicinity of their offices – vide the remark about hanging on a strap: there is a Bleeker Street, but I cannot think of any particular significance attached to it: perhaps it was some sort of (commercial) centre in those days, or Kipling wished to be deliberately vague about the kind of business engaged in.’ (W.H.H.)

There is a deliberate contrast made between the luxury of the steam yacht, with the ‘democratic’ use of the streetcar or subway. In England, the millionaire travelling in to the city from his country home would have made the journey in a 1st class carriage, and a cab, probably a private one, from the terminus to his office.

[Page 321, line 6] The Shibboleth a password or secret sign, by which members of an organisation may recognise each other: also used for a worn-out or discredited doctrine. The word originated in the fact that the Ephraimites could not pronounce sh (see Judges 12,1-16), and when fleeing from Jephthah were made to say shibboleth (meaning ‘a stream in flood’) when apprehended at the ford of Jordan. The fact that they pronounced it sibboleth betrayed them.

[Page 321, line 7] Worcestershire Sauce a world-famous English bottled sauce which has long been on the market, and has had a host of imitators. Before the First World War each bottle bore a label stating that the sauce was prepared from the recipe of a nobleman of that county. The label today still states that the product is named Worcestshire (pronounced ‘Woostershire’) Sauce, but no true-born Englishman ever refers to it other than as Worcester (Wooster) Sauce: so Sargent’s insistence on saying Worcestershire Sauce marked him down as an alien at once!

[Page 321, line 22] seven-foot dog-cart a dog-cart, in English usage, is a four-wheeled one-horse vehicle for use in the country, particularly for the conveyance of sporting dogs. In many countries in Europe, a dog-cart is, or was, a small, often two-wheeled, cart, drawn by a dog, or dogs. In England it was a general-purpose vehicle; what a later generation, referring to cars, would have called a run-about. The ‘seven-foot’ refers to the height of the driver’s seat: the others were lower.

[Page 322, line 6] tie-ring the ORG wrote: ‘in former days men’s tie-rings were more usual ornaments than they are today (1963). The purpose of the tie-ring is to hold the tie in place below a loose overhand knot.’ John McGivering recalls that Roger Lancelyn Green, Editor of the Kipling Journal between 1957 and 1979, always wore one. In 2007, this Editor has to confess that he has never seen a tie-ring, nor seen one illustrated in the books and magazines of the 1890s and later. The nearest he has come to seeing one is the Boy Scout’s ‘woggle’, a leather (usually) ring performing the function described above.

More usually, gentlemen of the 1890s, up to the 1950s, used a tie-pin, to secure the tie, which itself was tied with a four-in-hand knot. The ORG continued ‘It may be taken that this is an undetected printer’s error for ‘key-ring’, which is invariably carried in a trousers pocket: so the author wrote ‘on his key-ring or loose in his trousers pockets’ – probably.’

[Page 322, line 8] Boulak Museum the first museum of antiquities to be established in Egypt was at Bulak, or Bulaq. Later, following the greatly increased rate of archaeological discovery, it had to move to Gizeh, Cairo, and later to a great new building at Kasr el-Nil: in 2007, it is the Egyptian National Museum.

[Page 322, line 9] Amen-Hotep the name of four Egyptian kings of the 18th Dynasty. The colossal figures at Thebes were carved during these reigns. The reference to the Fourth Dynasty seems to be in error, but the text remains the same in the Sussex Edition.

[Page 322, line 10] Cassavetti a (fictional) dealer in curios and antiquities. The name is also given to one of the war correspondents who assembled at Dick Heldar’s chambers on the Embankment, London, in The Light that Failed, Chapter XII, page 202.

[Page 322, line19] up to town up to London. To the English upper classes ‘town’ meant London, even if one lived at the extremities of the country.

[Page 322, line 24 putting in of horses harnessing a horse or horses to a vehicle.

[Page 322, line 25/26] told Howard …to signal the next train to stop Such an idea is totally unthinkable today, but in the 1890s it was not quite so unthinkable. At that time, there still remained isolated instances where an individual landowner had the privilege of stopping any train he wished for his own purposes. This was a hangover of the very earliest days of railways, when, in return for selling his land to the railway company, the landowner might also negotiate the right to stop trains – but only at a recognised station, not at any point along the line of rail.

[Page 322, line 26-30] Howard … had, with the red flag of the ninth hole … signalled vehemently to the first up-train, and it had stopped. Any red signal displayed to a train indicates danger, and all drivers, on seeing any unusual red object on or near the railway, would stop their train, as soon as possible, to investigate the cause. Until the 1980s or thereabouts, many, if not most, railwaymen, wore a red neck tie, to have such a signal to hand in an emergency.

[Page 322, line 30] up-train a train to London. In early editions it was given as a down-train, and so made for confusion. All trains going to London, whether from north, south, east or west, are up trains.

[Page 322, line 32] to get into that highly indignant express Kipling is telling the story in a facetious manner: clearly the train, an object, could not be indignant, though its custodians, the Guard and Enginemen, no doubt were. Nor would it really have been feasible for him to have attempted to board the train in the manner described. British railway carriages have always had to be boarded from a platform some three feet high, unlike American ones, where the platform, if it existed, was at ground level, with steps built into the carriage. Nor, again, would the carriage doors have been locked, unless the compartment concerned was out of use. Ever since a disastrous fire in a derailed train at Versailles, near Paris, in 1842, when many passengers, unable to get out of the locked carriages, burned to death, occupied carriages were always unlocked. However, the tale is written as a near-farce, and the most improbable events occur in farces.

[Page 323, line 3] struck the gravel many railways were still ballasted with gravel or shingle or ashes at this period, though a first class railway, as the Great Buchonian apparently was, would have had better.

[Page 323, line 16] incognito a person who does not wish to be identified is said to be incognito (unrecognised).

[Page 323, line 17] St. Botolph terminus again, a fictional place name – there was (and is) a St. Pancras terminus in London.

[Page 323, line 32] forty shillings or a month the standard summary punishment meted out by Magistrate’s courts at this time for many petty misdemeanours (see Stalky & Co, “A Little Prep”: ‘Forty shillin’s or a month for hackin’ the chucker-out of the Pavvy on the shins.’) Either you paid your fine of forty shillings (two pounds) or, if you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay, you went to prison for one month. Bearing in mind that a labourer’s wage at that time would have been no more than one pound a week, forty shillings was a substantial fine for a working man. References to this penalty may still be found on old cast-iron notices around railway property, warning persons not to trespass on the line.

[Page 324, line 12] came up here Sargent still hasn’t fully mastered English idiom. The narrator has, on p. 322, line 19, said that Sargent had felt it necessary to go ‘up to town’. For an Englishman, the corollary would be that, on quitting London, he ‘came down here’. In saying ‘up’, it is possible that Sargent was thinking geographically: if Holt Hangars (in Kipling’s mind) were north of London (see our discussion above on the Great Northern Railway, the York express, etc.) then it might be natural for an American to refer to travelling northwards as ‘up’, in the way which an American goes ‘up’ to New England from New York. All this is a subtle indication that Wilton Sargent, for all his anglophilia, still hasn’t fully assimilated the subtleties of the (British) English language.

[Page 324, line 30] The flagging of the train is civil In struggling with the guard (conductor) of the train, Sargent has committed a technical assault, a criminal offence, punishable on conviction by a set penalty determined by the appropriate law (in this case the punishment mentioned above ‘forty shillings or a month’. But the flagging-down of the train is a civil offence, against the property of another person or corporation. As such, the civil courts examine the case, and if the case for the plaintiff (in this case the Great Buchonian Railway) is proved, then the court may award damages against the defendant.

[Page 325, line 14] New York Yacht Club vies with the Royal Yacht Squadron for the distinction of being the most famous yacht club in the world. It was founded in 1844 (rather later than the Squadron – the latter’s base being at Cowes, in the Isle of Wight).
The America’s Cup, won by the schooner America in 1851 under the burgee of the New York Yacht Club, was given by the winner’s owner to the N.Y.Y.C. to be held as an international yacht racing trophy, and all subsequent contests for the cup (it is always a two-yacht race, between the yacht representing the holder, and the yacht representing the challenger) have been held under the auspices of the club to the present day.

Thus the ORG in 1963. But in 1983, the cup passed out of American hands for the first time, and since then the race has been held in the waters of the country or yacht club currently holding the trophy. At the time of writing this note, the present holders (a Swiss consortium) are about to meet another challenge. There being no open sea under Swiss jurisdiction, the races are being held off Spain.

[Page 325, line 14-14] New York Yacht Club, Storm King, Restigouche Mr Hazard wrote in 1954: ‘I think that these three names summarise a way of life. The yachts of all the wealthy men flew the burgee of the N.Y.Y.C.. Storm King is a mountain 1,530 feet high on the north shore of the Hudson near West Point and would be a symbol of the big estates along that river. The Restigouche is a river forming part of the boundary between New Brunswick and the province of Quebec, in Canada, and is famous for its salmon fishing. The implication is of great wealth and position in society. (W.H.H.)

[Page 325, line 18] green mint a name for crème de menthe a green liqueur made by the distillation of peppermint. At its best it comes from the mint grown at Mitcham in Surrey, and good cognac brandy is incorporated in it. Thus the ORG in 1963. Mitcham black peppermint is still grown, and the oil distilled, but the drink is now mostly manufactured abroad, and the mint comes from Corsica.

[Page 325, line 22] Pandemonium Mr. Hazard wrote: ‘I imagine this to be a derisive nickname invented as descriptive of a certain type of hotel bar. Such places are national gathering places for men, as we have nothing like that excellent English institution, the pub. As the newly-rich tended to be noisy and ostentatious, it follows that their favourite hotel bars would be the same.’ (W.H.H.) Kipling himself expressed a desire to find himself back in such surroundings, albeit somewhat simpler, in another letter to Robert Barr (see Letters Vol 3, Ed. Pinney (p. 143), letter of 28 July 1894).

[Page 325, line 24] chimney … began to smoke: [line 26] that’s another meaning another reason for not living in an old English house.

[Page 325, line 33] Seidlitz-powders-coloured correspondence letters on blue or white paper. At the time of this story, and even now (2007), Seidlitz powders were taken as a mild laxative. Two separate papers made up the dose, one in blue and the other in white paper. They were mixed in water and drunk while effervescing. The present day equivalent is something like Andrews Liver Salts. Seidlitz powders last appeared on the British Pharmaceutical Register in 1973.

[Page 326, lines 4-9] take a chair and a red flag allowing for exaggeration, this is true, and unless a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned, such speaking may take place without molestation by the police. It can be witnessed any fine Sunday afternoon, at the special place reserved for the purpose, at the north side of Hyde Park, close to Marble Arch. It has acquired the name of “Speakers’ Corner” and is one of the sights of London. (ORG)

This still remains broadly true in 2007, with the addition that one can listen to what has been said through the Internet, but absolute freedom of speech has been curtailed by present legislation against incitement to various forms of hatred.

[Page 326, line 25] the three-forty – the “Induna” – see note on page 318, line 24. At the time this story was written, there were very few officially named expresses on British railways, but as has been indicated, there were a number of unofficial names. Such names sometimes derived from a historical event associated with the date of the train’s introduction, or from its passengers, or from its destination. Even the world-famous “Flying Scotsman” was not, at this date, an official name. Other such names were “The Wild Irishman”, “The Paddy” (both associated with trains to ports for crossings to Ireland) and the “Beeswing”.

[Page 327, lines 11-12] Empire State Express or the Western Cyclone The former was probably the most famous named train in the Americas, from New York to Chicago, via the valley of the Hudson, and along the southern shore of Lake Erie: in its day it was noted both for its speed, and its luxury. (It is mentioned in ‘.007’.) The “Western Cyclone” is a fictional name.

[Page 327, line 15] a ground-hog case the Oxford English Dictionary says that this means “something that has to be settled immediately”; “a desperate or urgent affair”, but does not give any derivation. The OED cites the earliest use as 1885, and also Kipling’s use of the phrase in Captains Courageous. The phrase is undoubtedly American in origin, the ground-hog being the name for the ‘wood-chuck’, or North American marmot. The ORG was unable to offer a derivation, other than to note that caisson workers (men working under air pressure in a chamber under water) were known as ‘ground-hogs’, and that their job was extremely uncomfortable and dangerous. Today, the omniscient ‘Google’ can only say that it is an old country saying from the days of the pioneers in what is now the mid-west of the USA.

[Page 327, line 27/8] The stationmaster … grovels before me, as a rule. The patronage of a rich landowner was important to the railway company. Goods for the house and estate would be received, and the produce of the estate despatched to market, by railway. Guests and household members would travel by railway – usually with the mountain of luggage without which no Victorian traveller could move, which would be the source of tips to the porters – while the stationmaster could expect to receive presents of game, etc.

[Page 327, line 29] sachem the supreme chief of some American Indian tribes, and, in politics, one of a body of high officials of the Tammany Society (1786) of New York. In this case, he means the General Manager of the railway, a person of very considerable importance in those days – the equivalent of the Chief Executive of a big multi-national company today.

[Page 328, line 19 et seq] There was no chance now of mistaking the man’s nationality… Here Kipling seems to be letting rip with his prejudices against some aspects of American mannerisms, as he had observed them during his two years (so far) in Vermont. Yet at the same time, he was writing (in the letter cited above in the note to page 322, line 25) that he wanted to be back again in Brattleboro, Vt., USA, talking with the clerk in the drugstore, and having a lager in the basement of the Brooks house, and having local farmers come up to him to say ‘Bin in Yurope, h’ain’t ye?’

[Page 329, line 19] cable-tracks the reference is to street-car, or tramway, tracks, in America.
‘In some cities where overhead wires were not wanted (I think of San Francisco and Washington) motive power was furnished by a heavy cable moving continuously under the street. The car had pincer-like arrangements called “dogs” reaching down to this cable through a slot in the street: when this was tightened the car was pulled along, and when it was released the car stopped.’ (W.H.H.)

The San Francisco street-cars remain, but Washington saw its last in 1962. There is a similar system in Great Britain, at Llandudno in north Wales.

[Page 329, line 33] the House of Lords this reference to the second chamber of the Houses of Parliament is to its function as the final court of appeal in the Kingdom; in these circumstances only the senior judges, the Law Lords, sit.

[Page 330, line 3] the British Constitution Unlike the United States and many other nations, the United Kingdom has no written constitution. The term can be taken to
mean the whole structure of British political society, its legislative and executive organs, and also the rights and duties of the people in relation to the supreme power of the state.

[Page 330, line 10] took out his papers applied for naturalisation. It may be noted that, in “An Habitation Enforced”, despite Sophie Chapin’s greater connection with England than is suggested for Wilton Sargent, there is no suggestion that she and her husband might become naturalised Britons.

[Page 330, line 33] Tophet Hell

[Page 331, line 1] way-train in America, a slow passenger train, in Britain a ‘local’; a stopping train.

[Page 331, line 3] slugging striking violently (slang).

[Page 331, line 16] the striped flag of rebellion the first flag of the United States was raised by George Washington on 2nd June 1776 – with thirteen stripes alternately red and white, symbolising the thirteen states extant at that date.

[Page 331, line 23/4] as plain as mud Sargent is again getting his English idiom mixed up. He means to imply that all is now clear to him, but the English phrase is ‘as clear as mud’, meaning precisely the opposite. ‘Is that clear?’ ‘Clear as mud’, means ‘I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.’

[Page 331, line 24] laying their pipes to skin me making plans to ruin me.

[Page 332, line 6] for a pipe-opener as an athlete takes a run in the country before breakfast to let fresh air into his lungs and windpipe, so Merton Sargent would have ruined a few rival railways to muster an appetite for breakfast.

[Page 332, line 7] bulldose the Oxford English Dictionary gives as the second of two meanings ‘To coerce by violence, intimidate’, and its origins as being ‘US colloquial’ – also that it is now usually spelt ‘bulldoze’. It originally meant to whip, to give a ‘dose fit for a bull’.

[Page 333, line 9] Has he suffered much … ? the second man, evidently a doctor, mistook the narrator for a fellow-practitioner. The railway company thought that Sargent must be mad, and that he had a medical man in attendance.

[Page 333, line 18] Observation, after all, is my trade In misleading the railway company’s doctor, the Kipling-narrator is being mischievous, as he sometimes is in other tales.

[Page 336, line 1] towers of Babylon a deliberate confusion with the Tower of Babel, referred to in Genesis 11,4-9.

[Page 337, line 5] Western Senator the Legislature of the United States consists of two houses – the upper House being the Senate. Each State in the Union sends two elected senators to this body. But why should Kipling attribute an almost bombastic national pride to a Western Senator, as opposed to any other? Mr Hazard wrote:
‘I do not believe that R.K. had the Pacific Coast in mind. At that time, the so-called Rocky Mountain States (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, etc.) were developing great wealth, especially in minerals, and persons from that area were likely to exaggerate the normal American feeling that everything in the United States is better than anything anywhere else in the world. And a senator (there are only two from each State) is likely to feel that he is a pretty important person.’ (WHH).

[Page 339, line 25] the mint-sauce lawns lawns, the rich dark green colour of freshly-made mint sauce.

[Page 339, line 30] Haverstraw an industrial town on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of New York Harbour. The tug would be taking the barge with its locally-made bricks down river to New York City.

[Page 340, line 1] calliope Calliope in Greek mythology was the Muse of Epic Poetry, and the name means ‘beautiful-voiced’. The calliope attachment to the whistle was a series of organ pipes giving out a melodious tune. The same arrangement was common on roundabouts and other fairground rides, but in those cases a complete song, march, or other piece of music was produced. In the 1960s, but only among the vulgar, it was considered very modern to have a car-horn which played a musical phrase. In the 21st century, the equivalent, perhaps, is to have a personalised ring-tone on your mobile ‘phone. The point is that, from the rather patronising viewpoint of the narrator, Wilton Sargent has reverted to type!.


©Alastair Wilson 2005 All rights reserved