False Dawn

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in 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.


[Page 42, Title] False Dawn There comes a moment an hour or so before dawn when the sky seems to lighten for a moment and then all goes dark again; that is the false dawn. See the poem “The Dawn Wind”.

[Page 42, Heading] Collected in Definitive Verse (p. 506) with ‘fain’ for ‘faint’ in the second line. (Glad , joyful or content for want of better). An obscure little verse made even more obscure.
Philip Holberton writes: It seems to mean that the Earth feels as if something is threatening: ‘the night was fearfully hot’ and a dust-storm is brewing – ‘I saw that the horizon to the north carried a faint, dun-coloured feather’. And human emotions echo the weather: ‘The social atmosphere was heavily charged and wanted clearing’. [P.H.]

[Page 42, Line 3] putting up their hair I was under the impression that in those days ladies with long hair wore it “Up” in the daytime and let down into braids / pigtails / loose at night. [another opinion would be helpful, if you please: JHMcG, Ed.]

[Page 43, line 1] Civilian in this context, a member of the Indian Civil Service as distinct from the more usual meaning of a man not in the Navy or Army.

[Page 43, line 16] Station not, in this instance, a railway station (see Page 44, line 27 – off the line of rail) but the usual name given to the part of the area where the British officials and army officers – if not in a fortress – lived; also the general society of the place.

[Page 43, line 16] Behar the buffer Province between commercial Calcutta and the North-West was, at the time, better known for the production of indigo.

[Page 43, Line 18] She was two-and-twenty, and he was thirty-three a Frenchman has suggested that the optimum bride / groom ratio is when the woman is seven years more than half the age of the groom.

[Page 43, line 20] fourteen hundred rupees a month over £1,100 per annum – an excellent salary at that time.

[Page 43, Line 24] Resolution … Select Committee a play of words on civil service procedure.

[Page 44, line 18] hot April days when the women should be heading for the Hills.

[Page 44, Line 30] a day’s journey an echo of an expression used many times in the Bible.

[Page 45, line 5] ‘Noah’s Ark’ picnic ” There went in two and two unto Noah into the Ark, the male and the female…” (Genesis 7, verse 9.)

[Page 45, line 9.] chaperones older ladies who accompany unmarried girls to prevent uncalled for male attention.

[Page 45,line 11] understandings the stage before an engagement to marry.

[Page 45,line 15] Pop from the slang “to pop the question” – to propose marriage.

[Page 45,, line 20] heavily charged an oppressive atmosphere .

[Page 45,line 32] tank in this context a brick or stone-built reservoir to collect water for irrigation or cattle; variously ascribed to the Portuguese anquet or Old French estang. [Hobson-Jobson]

[Page 46, line 15] supper presumably brought to the site by the servants of the party in a bullock-cart or some such vehicle.

[Page 46,line 27] picketed tied to pegs or posts, but in this instance probably trees.

[Page 47, line 14] puggree Hind. pagre – a turban; used also for a light scarf tied round the sun-helmet. [Hobson–Jobson]

[Page 47, line 17] corn a sore spot on a toe caused by pressure from the boot.

[Page 47, line 20] leeward the sheltered side – the direction in which the wind is blowing. (Pronounced loo’ard)

[Page 47, line 21] Day of Judgement after the end of the world, the Lord will judge each soul as good or evil and send it to heaven or hell. Revelations 20, 11-15

[Page 49 line 21] the air is full of trumpets perhaps an echo of Tennyson’s “The Princess” – “A moment, while the trumpets blow…”

[Page 49,line 27] brown holland habit a riding-dress made of a hard-wearing linen, usually dyed brown or left unbleached. One cannot help wondering , however, how the narrator was able to distinguish the colour in the darkness.

[Page 50 line 5] curb-chain connects the ends of the bit under the horse’s chin.

[Page 50, line 29] the Pit Hell.

[J. McG.]