A Friend’s Friend

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.

[Heading] attributed to ‘Hadramauti’. This means an inhabitant of the Hadramaut on the south coast of Arabia, which is now part of the Yemen. This verse is not mentioned in the Martindell bibliography, the first full bibliography of Kipling’s works. However, it was collected in Songs from Books (1912) and in Definitive Verse and Inclusive Verse with a slight variation.

[Line 3] He bared me to laughter he exposed me to ridicule

[Page 269, line 3] the Bombay side there was considerable rivalry between the commercial centres of Calcutta and Bombay – men from the former would have been more often encountered by Kipling’s CMG readers in Lahore. The ‘Bombay side’ was the more remote.

[Page 269, line 4] black-balled Clubs such as this commonly had a rule whereby any member who misbehaved or acted in a manner offensive to other members could be brought before the committee to explain himself, after which a vote could be taken to decide whether to expel him. Such a vote could be taken in a secret ballot by members putting a black or white ball into a cabinet. A black ball and he is out ! A similar method was adopted when the committee considered an application for membership. The author wishes to punish Tranter for sending him the drunken Jevon.

[Page 269, line 13] T.G.’s ‘Travelling Gents’ were commercial travellers, who were not regarded as ‘gentlemen’ by the military and civil classes of Anglo-Indians. Several appear in Chapter 6 of The Naulahka; they would not have been received in society or at Government House. There seems to be some confusion here as Jevon is treated as a ‘Globetrotter’ and not a ‘T.G.’ See “The Three Musketeers” earlier in this volume and the poem “Pagett, M.P.”, together with Kipling’s travels in Letters of Marque when he becomes a self-confessed ‘Globe-trotter’.

[Page 269, line 16] ‘Anglo-Indian Society’ the Civil Service and Army classes, who looked down on commercial people as indicated above. Those who did not understand the system would tend to say and do ‘the wrong thing’, ie behave in what was seen as an inappropriate manner.

[Page 270, line 18] the Afghan Ball it does not seem to be a fancy-dress affair, but perhaps had an Afghan theme to it.

[Page 271, line 1] programme this is explained in “Three and – an Extra” earlier in this volume.

[Page 272, line 2] chaperone a married or widowed lady who accompanied an unmarried girl to a ball or other function to ensure that she behaved herself and was not subjected to undue male attention. See the early poems “With a Fan to the Mother” and “New Year Resolutions”, and “My Rival”.

[Page 272, line 10] loconial Jevon’s drunken spoonerism for “colonial”. Getting drunk at a ball and using such an expression shows him to be ‘no gentleman’.

[Page 272, line 13] Benares brassware bought by globe-trotters in Victorian days everywhere East of Delhi. It was not long after this that masses of similar brassware made in Birmingham was sold in India as “Genuine Benares work.”

[Page 272, line 18] Benedictine a delicious and very strong liqueur first made by the Benedictine monks, too sweet to be an appetiser and too potent to improve a man’s dancing.

[Page 272, line 21] wall-prop a non-dancer who leans against the wall. (A non-dancing lady was a ‘wallflower’).

[Page 272, line 26] five-year-old teak-baulks Teak is a tropical Asian timber tree, very hard, with wood which will not shrink or crack. Kipling implies that the young man has a hard head and can carry his liquor. (This is an early example of Kipling’s addiction to the hyphen ! Ed.)

[Page 273, line 1] peg a measure of spirit.

[Page 273, line 4] “The Roast Beef of Old England” a jolly song with words by Henry Fielding (1707–1754} from The Grub Street Opera, usually played at balls etc. to announce that dinner is ready. ‘Grub’ in this instance is not slang for food, but the former name of a street in London inhabited by booksellers’ hacks and shabby writers.

[Page 273, line 13] sat out Instead of dancing, the couple agree to sit in the ballroom and talk, or retire to a dark corner for discreet flirtation. (See the poem “Pink Dominoes.”)

[Page 273, line 16] whist-room equipped with tables and chairs for those who preferred cards to dancing.

[Page 273, line 33] Hakodate Hakodate, in the South of Yezo Island, Japan, had a splendid harbour. It was one of the ‘Treaty Ports’ in the China Seas occupied by European powers, which also included Hong Kong and Shanghai. See Letters of Travel, From Sea to Sea vol I, and Kipling’s Japan by Cortazzi & Webb (The Athlone Press, Ltd., 1988.)

[Page 274, line 4] Society a more-or-less joking suggestion that Jevon deserved death for his ungentlemanly behaviour.

[Page 274, line 21] libel a written defamation – he means slander.

[Page 274, line 25] apoplexy a stroke of sudden insensibility or of bodily disablement connected with some diseased condition of the brain. (Black) He would probably be more inclined to vomit and then choke to death on it

[Page 274, line 26] eaten my salt Amongst the Arabs, to eat salt with a man created a sacred bond between host and guest (Brewer)

(This did not prevent the murder in the Heading to this story. Ed.)

[ Page 275, line 1] Board of Punishment a mock trial

[Page 275, lines 11 & 12] man in the Ordnance Department luted experienced in explosives, he cemented the cap in place as if laying an explosive charge. (Royal Engineer readers may be able to suggest a more explicit account of what is meant here. Ed.)

[Page 275, line 15] gelatine a glue prepared from bones, etc. usually part of jellies and other foodstuffs.

[Page 275, line 18] gold-beaters’ skin an animal membrane used like the pages of a book to keep gold-leaf used for decorating furniture, etc.

[Page 275, line 20] ham-frill corrugated white paper like an Elizabethan ruff decorating the end of the bone of a ham.

[Page 275, line 21] nodded like a mandarin a porcelain ornament in the shape of a Chinese official with the head on a pivot with a counterweight; when touched, the head nods for a while.

[Page 275, line 23] burnt-corked a cork, when burned, produces a black powder occasionally used as make-up and camouflage for soldiers’ faces.

[Page 275, line 23] cutlet-frills similar to ham-frills above, but smaller.

[Page 275, line 26] isinglass a material, mainly gelatine, obtained from the air bladders of sturgeon and other materials.

[Page 276, line 5] bullock-carts Wooden two-wheeled carts pulled by pairs of bullocks.

[Page 276, line 16] Perhaps he died Like the thrashing of Bronckhorst in “The Bronckhorst Divorce Case” earlier in this volume, this seems an extraordinarily irresponsible affair that no doubt raises a chuckle at first, but on reflection, looks like manslaughter, or even murder.

It is interesting to a modern reader that in Victorian society a social solecism could inspire such a savage response . The answer lies in an anonymous book called How to Behave – A Pocket Manual of Etiquette, (Glasgow, c. 1860) quoted in Leonore Davidoff ‘s The Best Circles – Society, Etiquette and The Season (Croom Helm Ltd., 1973) at page 41:

It is neither necessary nor desirable to introduce everybody to everybody … for ‘an introduction is a social endorsement’, and you become, to a certain extent, responsible for the person you introduce. If he disgraces himself in any way … you share in his disgrace.

This helps to explain why the narrator of the story wants “Tranter of the Bombay side” severely punished, why Mrs. Deemes cancels all her dances with the narrator, and why Jervons was probably murdered.

[J. McG.]