The God from the Machine


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 fre


[Title of the Collection] Soldiers Three . This echoes the words of a Victorian ditty:

We be Soldiers Three —
Pardonnez-moi, je vous en prie
(Pardon me, I beg you)
Lately come from the low country
With never a penny of money



Here good fellow I drink to thee…


[Title] The God from the machine From the Latin Deus ex machina; this was a “god” lowered unexpectedly from on high by stage machinery as originally used in the ancient Greek theatre, as a way of resolving a problem in the action of the drama. (Rather like the last-minute arrival of the Cavalry to save the day in Hollywood Westerns.)

[Heading] Hit a man an’ help a woman and ye can’t be far wrong anyways The Maxims of Private Mulvaney have not been traced elsewhere.

[Page 3, line 1] The Inexpressibles nickname of an imaginary regiment

[Page 3, line 2] a seven-pounder a small field-gun

[Page 3, line 6] programme-cards used by the ladies and gentlemen at a ball to book their dances. See the notes on “Three – and an Extra” [page 12, line 22] in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 3, line 16] pâté-de–foie-gras a very rich and succulent concoction of the livers of geese that have been specially fattened – in essence a luxurious meat paste. The ‘black leather’ at line 8 overleaf is truffle – another luxurious ingredient – see the story “‘Teem’, a Treasure-Hunter”.

[Page 3, line 17] magnums half-gallon bottles (just over nine litres).

[Page 4, line 6] champagne believed by some to be the finest wine in the world, made only in the Champagne district of France. Very popular with the Victorians.

[Page 4, line 19] a danst Dance.

[Page 4, line 22] C.B. Confined to Barracks – a minor punishment in the Army – unless combined with Pack-Drill as described in the verse “Cells”.

[Page 4, line 25] the Fort Ditch this is presumably a wet ditch – many were filled in to prevent mosquitoes from breeding therein.

[Page 4, line 32] whip me on the peg A field punishment in which the delinquent was stretched out on the ground, secured with tent pegs. See “The Big Drunk Draf’” later in this volume. [However, Andrew Rutherford, the Editor of Early Verse (page 432, suggests that ‘whip me on a peg’ meant ‘put me a charge’. We are preserving an open mind; Ed.]

[Page 5, line 30] Buck normally the male of the deer and other animals, but in this instance a dashing young man with an eye for the ladies.

[Page 6, line 5] rig’mint regiment. ORG says Mulvaney was then in the Tyrone.

[Page 6, line 9] dhrill Drill. The Captain was obviously an incompetent officer who indeed turns out to be no gentleman !

[Page 6, line 26] candelabbrum Mulvaney means candelabrum (pl. candelabra) which is a candlestick with several branches, which he is confusing with a tray.

[Page 7, line 2] wet-nurse a woman who suckles a child if its mother cannot or will not feed it herself. A common practice at the time.

[Page 7, line 6] Gosport a town on the West side of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour once used for training the Militia, by which ‘back door’, it is implied, the Captain may well have entered the army. Many regular soldiers despised the Militia, as it was a volunteer force and usually not very well trained. (Today, however, the Territorial Army is an important and well-trained Reserve for the British Army) See the note to “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” (page 339, line 15).

[Page 7, line 7] combs to be cut to take down a person’s conceit – a reference to cutting the comb off the head of a cockerel when he is caponised, i.e. castrated to improve his flavour and weight when he is cooked.

[Page 7, lines 10-11] menowderin’… minanderin’ … blandandhering… blandandering is an Irish slang expression, meaning ‘attempting to talk someone into something by flattery’. By minandering Mulvaney may mean ‘meandering’, or wandering around. menowderin’ is probably an ‘Irishism’ invented by Kipling.

[Page 7, line 13] Comm’ssariat bullock Meat on the hoof provided by the Commissariat; see the notes to “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” (page 348, lines 8 and 11). The reference to the Company cook is not entirely clear – unless the bullock fears that he is to be slaughtered by the cook and so regards him with some trepidation.

[Page 7, line 18] over his belt up to his waist – deeply in debt.

[Page 7, line 21] oblitherate obliterate – but he really means omit.

[Page 7, line 26] amsure amateur.

[Page 8, line 1] Aggra Agra – a historic city in the United Provinces; important buildings include the famous Taj Mahal.

[Page 8, line 3] Sweethearts one of many non-musical plays by Sir William Schwenk Gilbert (1836–1911) first performed at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, London on 7 November 1874, and published in 1878.

[Page 8, line 6] Spread Broom the hero’s name was Spreadbarrow.

[Page 8, line 12] blue death an’ ivy Ivy is poisonous. Sick cocks have blue combs, healthy ones, red.

[Page 8, line 22] Corp’ril Corporal – a non-commissioned officer just below the rank of sergeant.

[Page 8, line 32] elopemint elopement. A perilous step for a girl to take. See the notes to “Miss Youghal’s Sais” in Plain Tales from the Hills (page 29, line 22).

[Page 9, line 3] Sergint … Comm’ssariat Sergeant … Commissariat; Ortheris’s use of the word ‘low’ in line 7 below implies that they were looked upon with suspicion (and perhaps envy) for their opportunities of making money by selling stores. (see the notes to “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” (page 348, lines 8 and 11)

[Page 9, line 4] I’ll tell you about that – We do not believe he ever did; suggestions will be welcomed. Ed.

[Page 9, line 16] oblitherated obliterated – but he probably means censored !

[Page 9, line 28] Mulvaney pitched his pouch over, and filled his pipe afresh This is not clear, since presumably it was Ortheris who filled his pipe.

[Page 10, line 4] manewvers manoeuvres – military exercises or evolutions. See “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 10, line 13] ayah a lady’s maid or child’s nurse

[Page 10, line 18] Muskthry musketry – rifle-practice was so called until about the middle of the 20th Century the reference is to the flight of the bullet as well as the elopement. See the note to “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” in Wee Willie Winkie (page 370, line 8).

[Page 10, line 21] Couples possibly A Cozy Couple, a farce in one act by Slingsby Lawrence – the nom-de-plume of George Henry Lewes (1817–1878), produced at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1854

[Page 10, line 27] truso trousseau – a bride’s outfit.

[Page 10, line 28] easin’ the flag Not traced – an explanation will be welcomed; Ed.

[Page 10, line 33] ‘coutrements Accoutrements – part of the soldier’s equipment.

[Page 11, line 9] the Gaff Slang for a theatre or music-hall – usually a disreputable one.

[Page 11, line 15] the divil … Athlone the Devil … Athlone. The latter is a market town on the River Shannon in Ireland where there may be a legend of some natural feature formed by the devil – unless Kipling has invented one ! Suggestions will be welcomed. Ed.

[Page 11, line 19] Jezebel the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, a woman of loose morals. See the Second Book of Kings, 9, 30

[Page 11, line 24] schamin’ scheming.

[Page 11, line 25] Bote achy bahut accha very good. (Hindi)

[Page 12, line 1] thrap Trap – a light two-wheeled cart and an example of Mulvaney’s inability to pronounce the letter ‘t’ like an Englishman.

[Page 12, line 5] baito sit down.

[Page 12, line 5] pechy pichhe, meaning ‘behind’ (Hindi).

[Page 12, line 6] sart along with me.

[Page 12, line 6] maraudin’ marauding – plundering.

[Page 12, line 19] Hitherao come here

[Page 12, line 23] guggle … beer-engine gurgle – the sucking sound made by the beer-pumps on the bar.

[Page 12, line 27] sais groom

[Page 12, line 29] dekkoed seen

[Page 12, line 30] marrow beat.

[Page 12, line 30] sumjao understand – here meaning ‘recognise’.

[Page 12, line 32] let down the curtain he cut it a bit fine – the curtain in the theatre usually begins to come down just as the last word of the dialogue is uttered, otherwise the whole effect might be ruined.

[Page 13, line 20] thrunks trunks.

[Page 13, line 25] bukshish a tip.

[Page 13, line 25] dhruv tremenjus drove tremendously (fast).

[Page 13, line 32] Hutt! go away !

[Page 14, line 2] gharri…tikka a tikka-gharri is usually a four-wheeled cart.

[Page 14, line 3] owin an’ fere-owin’ whether this is a variation on ‘coming and going’ or a version of Hindi meaning much the same thing, is open to question !

[Page 14, line 4] mut-walla as Davey’s sow Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, quoting Grose (Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue) tells of one Davy (with no ‘e’) Lloyd, a Welshman who owned a sow with six legs which a party came to inspect. Lloyd’s wife, however, lay down in the sty to sleep off a drunken bout and when her husband said “Here is a sow for you” , one of the visitors observed “It is the drunkenest sow I ever beheld !”

[Page 14, line 13] cantonmints cantonments (pronounced ‘cantoonments’) were military stations in India, usually built on the outskirts of cities, with quarters for soldiers, officers, and usually civilians.

[Page 14, line 25] Blazes hell.

[Page 14, line 33] iverlastin’ dishgrace everlasting disgrace. Striking an officer was a court-martial offence and might have led to the death penalty.

[Page 15, line 13] blazin’ copped very drunk.

[Page 14, line 16] shuparfluous an’ impert’nint superfluous and impertinent.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2004 All rights reserved