The Hill of Illusion

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 Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Heading] This is slightly misquoted from “Switzerland, 5: To Marguerite – continued ” by Matthew Arnold (1822–1888). The final stanza runs:

Who order’d, that their longings fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool’d?
Who renders vain their deep desire? –
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb’d , salt, estranging sea

[Page 60, line 1] jhampanies ‘rickshaw men. They appear in many of the Indian stories, including Plain Tales from the Hills and Kim.

[Page 60, line 7] Jakko a pleasant ride on the outskirts of Simla.

[For a sketch-plan of Simla see Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., ed. John Whitehead, (p. xxxvi). For excellent pictures of the place, see Jan Morris with Simon Winchester’s Stones of Empire, the Buildings of the Raj (Oxford University Press, 1983) p. 199, with a good description of Simla in modern times.]

[Page 61, line 7] prickly heat a troublesome skin condition affecting Europeans in tropical climates caused by the blocking of the outlet of the sweat glands in the skin, accompanied by intolerable itching. (Black)

[Page 61, lines 10-12] Tonga… Kalka … Umballa Kalka was the railhead nearest to Simla, and to a number of hill stations, including Kasauli (see “Garm, a hostage” . From there one could go by train anywhere on the Indian railway system, including – in this case – Bombay. Nowadays there is a precipitous little railway-line which runs right up to Simla.

[Page 61, line 22] Blessington Road not identified

[Page 62, lines 9 & 10] … Lancelot … Guinevere Sir Lancelot du Lac, a knight of the Round Table, was the lover of King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere. The writings of Malory, Tennyson and others have made this legend of adultery familiar to modern readers.

[Page 62, line 22] outer darkness where there is… But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8,12.

[Page 62, line 28] outcasting, the loss of my appointment Presumably he had private means and could afford to lose his job. See the note to “Miss Youghal’s Sais” [p.29, line 22] for the penalties of eloping in Victorian India.)

[Page 63, line 4] Annandale the polo-ground and racecourse on the North side of Simla.

[Page 63, line 17] the drop the condemned man stood on a trap-door with the noose about his neck. The hangman pulled the bolt and that was that. See “The Debt” in Limits and Renewals and the poem “Danny Deever.”

[Page 63, lines 22–28] Sanjaoli … Ladies’ Mile … Elysium Hill … the Mall … the Convent These were well-known places in and around Simla

[Page 64, lines 10-13] Kind Sir, o’ your courtesy, etc. Author not traced. [ Suggestions welcomed: Ed.]

[Page 64, line 14] ‘Keek into the draw-well Janet, Janet‘ from an old folk-song “My Jo Janet” collected in Ritson’s Scottish Song (1792).

[Page 64, line 25] Shaifazehat An invented name for a down-country station.

[Page 64, line 28] Amitollah Not traced – probably another imaginary place

[Page 64, line 29] kutcha from the Hindi kachcha meaning ‘raw, crude, unripe, uncooked’, and signifying, in this context, ‘unmade’, the opposite of pucka.

[Page 65, line 15] dust and ashes an echo of part of “The Order for the Burial of the Dead” in The Book of Common Prayer: We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

[Page 65, line 29] stand under the chandelier remain in the full light of the ballroom – she is sarcastic !

[Page 68, line 20] dagger bonnet-skewers hatpins, often up to a foot long used to secure the large hats of the period to the ample hair which was also fashionable. They were, as implied, formidable weapons !

[Page 69, line 20] Mrs. Buzgago She sounds either French or Spanish, and was probably an invented inhabitant of Simla. Of the song David Page writes:

“It comes from a comedy-operetta “La Femme a Papa”,
first performed on 3 December 1879 in Paris at the
Théâtre de Variéties. The song appears in the middle
of the second act, sung by Anna, Baronne de la
Boukanière, and in its entirety is distinctly saucy
(if my French has construed it properly!). I gathered
from another source that this song
‘…a obtenue un grand succés
puisqu’on la chante dans beaucoup de salons.’

“RK’s memory must have been remarkably
accurate since there are very few differences between
his version and the original (which might have been
changed between 1880 and 1888. The RK quote is from
verse three. We have included some more details of the production for interested readers”.


An English version of the opening lines of verse three is as follows:

During a whole year
The regiment did not reappear
The Ministry of War
Reported it missing


They were giving up finding their track
When suddenly on a morning,
There it was to be seen on the mall
The Colonel still at its head


[Page 70, line 8] Keene Probably Henry George Keene the Elder (1781–1864), Persian scholar, soldier and civil servant; professor of Arabic and Persian at Haileybury, author of many works on India in prose and verse.

[Page 70, line 25] French and rave about my mother To be ‘French’ was to be expressively emotional. The English saw themselves as having more self-control than their neighbours across the English Channel.

[Page 71, lines 20, 21] Honour…eat his salt He is saying that to carry on an illicit affair while accepting hospitality from the lady’s husband is something he can’t bring himself to do.

[Page 72, line 31] Peliti’s “Peliti’s Grand Hotel” in The Mall – a popular rendezvous in Simla.

[Page 73, line 7] con. molt. exp An Italian musical term, con molto expressione, meaning ‘with much expression’. We have not traced the Old Library.

[Page 73, line 9] See-saw ! Margery Daw ! In Scottish dialect an idle person or sluggard. This is a nursery-rhyme which in several versions has been in print since the 1780s.

[J. McG.]