The Tents of Kedar

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 Soldiers Three and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Title] see the note to “The World Without” above and the suggestion that Psalm 20, verse 5 indicated the dwellers in the tents of Kedar were cut off from the worship of the true God. Psalms 120, 4 has:

I am constrained to dwell with Mesech:
and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar.

[Heading] The verse is by Robert Browning (1812–1889), who was a strong poetic influence on Kipling’s writing.

[Page 144, lines 1 – 5] A Naini Tal dinner for thirty-four Naini Tal was a pleasant hill-station in the United Provinces, the summer residence of the lieutenant-governor.
Thirty-four implies thirty-two guests, plus the host at one end of the table with the senior lady guest on his right, and the hostess at the other end with the senior male guest on her right. It is possible that a party of this size might have host and hostess opposite each other in the centre of the table. [See Roy Strong, Feast – A History of Grand Eating (Jonathan Cape, 2002) page 300]

For an excellent and highly readable examination of the social scene of the time in England (which was, generally speaking, duplicated in India) see Leonore Davidoff, The Best Circles, Society, Etiquette and The Season (Croom Helm, 1973)
Rs. 6000 per mensem (month) was the pay of a very senior officer and the modern equivalent of £100,000 per annum.– Kipling was on Rs.700 a month at the time (Something of Myself page 75). [See the notes to “A Germ-Destroyer” in Plain Takes from the Hills]
less Exchange here means ‘less the cost of currency conversion’. Any reduction in the price of silver agaianst gold would affect his pay. [See the notes to “The World Without”]

[Page 144, line 8] Sotto voce ‘below the voice’ (Italian) meaning ‘speaking softly’.

[Page 144, line 10] turning from regularly-ordained dinner partner he would have been appointed by the host to take this lady into dinner (Strong, p. 301) and the table-plan (by accident or design) placed Mrs. Herriott on his other side. This is the last time he takes notice of his partner – a shocking exhibition of bad manners.

[Page 145, line 4] Monday Pop a concert of popular music.

[Page 145, line 26] the twelve o’clock gun a gun fires a blank charge at noon.

[Page 146, line 5] PARTNER ON LEFT the host would have appointed him to take Mrs Herriott into dinner.

[Page 146, line 16] a paper frill chops are still occasionally served with a small paper cuff cut in a frilly pattern covering the end of the bone.

[Page 146, line 23] Han ! Simpkin do oh yes – Champagne please (Hindi).

[Page 147, lines 10 – 15] crosses his left leg over his right…. I’ll never do it again It should probably be understood here that she presses her leg against his or touches his left foot with her right.

[Page 147, line 19] Thorah ur Simpkin do a little more Champagne pink or white (Hindi).

[Page 147, lines 28 – 33] Rehearse your several Christian names… etc probably a parody of the ‘Catechism’ in The Book of Common Prayer.

[Page 149, line 5] oleanders Nerium Oleander – an evergreen shrub with lance-like leaves and beautiful red or white flowers.

[Page 149, line 16] fans slowly: rim of fan level with face the fan was an accessory made of ivory, silk and other materials, beautifully decorated and used to create a current of air to cool the owner.

There was a generally understood code of signals that must have varied over the years, and from place to place, so the exact significance cannot be determined; fanning slowly is said to have meant ‘I don’t care about you’ and/or ‘I am married’. Covering part of the face with an open fan indicated ‘We have finished’.

[Page 150, line 2] (Fan-guard as before) See above. [ any further information will be welcomed; Ed.]

[Page 151, line 11] Bayard Chevalier Pierre du Terrail, (1475–1524) a celebrated French knight and national hero usually called le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. The lady is sarcastic.

[Page 151, line 15] Mafisch the end – it is over.

[Page 151, line 16] a Cairene Dragoman an Egyptian interpreter / guide from Cairo.

[Page 152, line 16] cry my name on the housetops an echo of Luke12, 3: that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. There is a similar quotation in Matthew 10, 27.

[Page 152, line 21] blasé used up, surfeited, indifferent.

[Page 155, line 10] Old ground means fresh trouble ORG believes this to be a proverb, but it has not been traced.

[Page 156, line 29] hostess beginning to collect eyes after the fruit-course the hostess would catch the eye of the senior lady guest, and they would both stand up as the signal for all the ladies to withdraw to another room for coffee, etc; the gentlemen standing to assist them with their chairs, would join them later. (See the note to page 157 line 19 below)

[Page 157, line 12] a girl it seems to have been the custom in those days in India for gentlemen to have affairs with married ladies or widows and treat marriageable young ladies with great respect and, as will be seen in this case, occasionally marry them !

Kipling’s pretty sister Trix exuded a coldness that frightened off suitors of her own age (apart from Lord Clandeboye, son of the Viceroy), … but brought a host of admirers aged fifty or more ( Andrew Lycett page 112).

This was reflected by Kipling in the verse “My Rival” where a maiden of seventeen bemoans her lack of suitors and looks at a woman of forty-nine who might well have been her mother and is surrounded by admirers !

Trix is quoted by Andrew Lycett (page 132) as saying: “I have always liked Irishmen, but I drew the line against marrying them (sic) somehow”,

[Page 157, line 19] the men redistribute themselves With the ladies gone, the gentlemen would move up to the host’s end of the table for conversation, cigars and liqueurs or claret. They would rejoin the ladies later.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved