First published in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides in 1923 where it is followed by the verse “Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale” which is also known as “The Master-Cook”. See the headnote to “Winning the Victoria Cross”, the first story in this volume.
The story is also collected in the Sussex Edition, Volume 16, page 71; the Burwash Edition, Volume 14 and Scribners Edition, Volume 35.
William Glasse Sawyer is a hopeless Boy Scout, untidy, feckless, grubby, and no good at scouting. While the others are out on adventurous and constructive ploys, he is left in camp, doing menial tasks as Camp Orderly.
Then one day, the local baker, Mr Marsh, a skilled cook from Merchant Navy days, visits the camp, and does some cooking over the camp fire, producing a delicious meal. He shows an interest in William, who helps him, and they make friends. He notices that William shares a name with a famous cook of history, that he is – as cooks should be – ‘Eavy in the run, oily in the skin, broad in the beam, short in the arm, but, mark you, light on the feet.’ He has a Gift for cooking.
Inspired by Mr Marsh, and dreaming of future triumphs, William becomes the much respected Camp Cook, and his future is assured.
One of the few reviews we have found is by Gillian Avery, in a piece called “The Children’s Writer,” in Rudyard Kipling, the man, his work and his world, edited by John Gross (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972) p. 113. She notices this volume, but not very favourably, observing:
… Even his Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides. where he is described on the title-page as ‘Commissioner, Boy Scouts’, contains much that is hardly in the spirit of the Scout and Guide laws…
Gillian Avery does not like “Stalky” and dismisses the rest as completely irrelevant to Baden-Powell’s movement, and comments that “His Gift”, which alone does treat of Scouts:
…shows that the Commissioner has not really grasped all the technicalities of the organisation. It also turns on one of his favourite themes, hatred…. (which] … at last stirs the buffoon of the troop out of his torpor.
J M S Tompkins, however, takes a more charitable view (p. 129) even though she calls it: ‘not a very good tale … although it has a pleasant idea.’
Hugh Brogan on the other hand, is very appreciative. He writes (p. 59):
I really cannot overstate the pleasure I derive from “His Gift” … The manner in which William Glasse Sawyer turns the tables on his world – on his persecutor The Prawn, on his Scout Troop, and even on his uncle, who is probably the source of half his unhappiness – must give joy to every unregenerate heart (the regenerate never get much out of Kipling).
Angus Wilson (p. 243) somewhat cynically remarks: ‘the unathletic boy of uneducated background can serve the nation better than many others, for he turns out to be a skilled cook’.
See KJ 313/34 for William B. Dillingham on “Bacon and Eggs, Kipling’s Calling”, and KJ 332/40 for Jan Montefiore’s paper “Food and Cookery in Kipling.”
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved