The House Surgeon

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 Actions and Reactions, as published and frequently reprinted between 1907 and 1950.


[Title] a ‘house surgeon’ is a resident surgeon who lives in the hospital and is therefore available day and night at short notice.

[Page 263 line 2] smoking-room a comfortably-furnished room with a bar once provided in hotels, liners and large houses where women were not admitted and men could relax with a drink and a smoke.

[Page 263 line 4] Patience in this context, a card-game for one player.

[Page 264 line 6] old maids unmarried ladies, spinsters.

[Page 264 line 10] five thousand Kipling bought “Bateman’s” with thirty-three acres of land for £9,300 in 1902, (Andrew Lycett, p. 344) so the £5,000 is probably the cost of the new servants’ wing.

[Page 264 line 20] hydros hydropathic establishments where (usually) spa water was used to cure various complaints.

[Page 265 line 15] City in this context the City of London, at that time the business centre of the world.

[Page 265 line 26] rhododendrons an evergreen flowering shrub, genus Rhododendron, family Ericaceæ.

[Page 265 line 30] narwhal the whale Monodon monocerios; the male has a spiral tusk up to 9 feet long (2·7 metres).

[Page 266 line 9 onwards] an hour and a half a high-class residential district probably some 40/50 miles from London – the impression is carefully given here and elsewhere that M’Leod (usually pronounced ‘McCloud’) is not quite a ‘gentleman’. At that time a Jewish business-man, however wealthy, would have been perceived by the English upper classes as their social inferior.

[Page 266 line 15] Queen Anne in this context refers to an elegant style of architecture fhat originated during te reign of Queen Anne who ruled Great Britain from 1702 to 1714.

pavilion an unusual use of a word usually applied to the building on a cricket-field rather than the club-house on a golf-course.

[Page 266 line 29] pink not, perhaps, an appropriate colour for a tennis-dress.

[Page 266 line 32] parquet-floored an expensive form of flooring consisting of polished hardwood arranged in herring-bone pattern.

[Page 266 line 33] cloisonné objects decorated with coloured enamels separated by very thin wire and fired – a costly process described on page 387 of From Sea to Sea Volume I.

[Page 267 lines 1-5] an ebonised and gold grand piano… etc To the narrator this furniture is too ornate for the house.

Benares brass bowls ornamental brasswork from an important manufacturing city in India which features in Kim and other stories.

[Page 268 line 5] horror of great darkness ‘And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. Genesis 15,12.

[Page 268 line 14] diving-bell an apparatus enabling men to work under water; the pressure increases the further they descend.

[Page 269 line 11] She was a fat woman Mrs. M’Leod is shown in illustrations in the magazine versions which, according to ORG, Volume 6, page 2876, are not fair representations of her as described in the text; she is not even ‘stout’ in one of them.

[Page 271 line 3] the dressing gong roared In houses where it was the custom to change into evening clothes, the butler or one of the other servants would sound the gong which usually hung in the hall, an hour or so before dinner, to remind the ladies and gentlemen to go and dress for dinner.

[Page 272 line 4] burning-glass a lens used to focus the sun’s rays onto flammable material.

[Page 273 line 13] De Quincy Thomas De Quincy (1785-1859) English essayist and author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822).

[Page 273 line 15 & onwards] I fell into the most terrible of all dreams… See C A Bodelsen (p. 4, passim ): The dreams suggest sinister powers somewhere at the back of normal life, that threaten to break through to the dreamer and deprive him of his reason or his life. [Bodelsen then refers to the unfortunate Hummil who kept a spur in his bed to prevent himself falling asleep as he feared terrible dreams, in “At the End of the Passage” in Life’s Handicap.]

[Page 273 line 32] Psychological Society The British Psychological Society, Founded in 1901 and still flourishing.

[Page 274 lines 4 and 7] Perseus in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Danae who cut off the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons, whose glance turned the unfortunate object of her regard to stone.

[Page 274 line 16] Sherlock Holmes the celebrated detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). Doyle was a friend of Kipling’s, who played golf with him in Vermont (Harry Ricketts, p. 209) and was also a client of Kipling’s agent, A.P. Watt. (Andrew Lycett, p. 198.)

[Page 274 line 21] two poles of a discharge received an electric shock

[Page 277 line 3] Doctor Watson fictional companion, assistant and foil to Sherlock Holmes (above).

[Page 277 line 5] plover’s egg colour usually reddish-brown.

[Page 277 line 29] Droitwich a spa with brine springs in Worcestershire.

[Page 278 lines 1-2] I shall be a good Jew I shall be scrupulous, business-like, and exacting.

[Page 278 line 21] spelicans usually ‘spillikins’, a parlour-game played with small slips of wood or ivory a few inches long which are placed in a heap on the table. Each competitor endeavours, in turn, to withdraw one without disturbing the others. A somewhat sarcastic reference to golf-clubs.

Page 278 line 26] our divoted way a divot is the piece of turf hit out of the ground by an unhandy golfer. In this context perhaps a play upon the word ‘devoted’.

[Page 279 line 20] circumstantial evidence indirect evidence from circumstances affording a certain presumption or capable of only one explanation, but – as implied in he text – not infallible.

[Page 280 line 24] Burry Mills not traced – probably fictitious

[Page 281 line 9] power of attorney a legal document authorising one person to act for another in legal and business matters.

[Page 281 line 25] “With mirth thou pretty bird” described as “an old English song” at the end of the story on pp. 298 and 299. ORG (Verse) p. 5424, suspects it might be one of Kipling’s own poems not collected elsewhere and draws our attention to the Sussex Edition, volume 8, p.286, and the Burwash Edition, Volume 8.

A setting of the poem for mezzo-soprano or baritone with piano accompaniment by Dr. Stephen Lias was first performed in 1991, and described on his website as a ‘text by Rudyard Kipling.’

[Page 282 line 28] chained to my rock In Greek mythology Andromeda was to be sacrificed to save her country from being ravaged by a sea-monster, and chained to a rock to await his arrival. Perseus ( see p.274 line 4 above) slew the monster and married her. [ORG (p.2878, vol. 6) believes this may be a reference to Rock House, the house Kipliung lived in briefly in Torquay, which was also afflicted by a sense of depression.]

[Page 282 line 30] young gentleman … South American rails a stockbroker who dealt in railway shares from that part of the world.

[Page 282 line 32] a ring on the third finger they are engaged to be married.

[Page 283 line 7] bath chair a three-wheeled vehicle with a hood originally used in Bath to transport invalids

[Page 283 line 11] caste-mark a small sign painted on the forehead of some people in India to indicate their social status.

[Page 283 line 12] chronic bronchitis inflammation of the air-passages of the lungs usually caused by infection.

[Page 284 line 4] bronchitis-kettle an appliance for administering Friar’s Balsam (see below) and other medicaments to patients.

[Page 284 line 5] Arthurs domestic servants, both male and female, were often addressed by their surnames at that time.

[Page 284 line 26] ulster an overcoat made from tweed produced in the Province of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

[Page 285 line 2] Friar’s balsam a compound tincture of benzoin used for several purposes, including inhalation by bronchitis sufferers.

[Page 285 line 16] crowed and whistled She was struggling for breath.

[Page 286 line 12] Aggie Elizabeth believed that her sister Agnes had committed suicide by jumping out of the window at Holmescroft. The spirit of the deceased sister haunted Holmescroft in a vain attempt to convince the others that it was an accident, as indeed it had been.

[Page 290 line 29] Shetland wool a particularly fine wool from the sheep of the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland.

[Page 290, line 32] secrecy believing the Narrator to be a doctor, she reminds him of the Hippocratic Oath of secrecy taken by those who qualify as doctors (from the celebrated physician of Greek antiquity.)

[Page 292 line 7] I warn you we are Evangelicals. We don’t believe in prayers for the dead. “As the tree falls——” Jan Montefiore writes: when she quotes Ecclesiastes 11.3: ’if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be’ she means Agnes is damned. Evangelical doctrine taught that suicides could not be saved. The sternly Evangelical Miss Moultrie thinks her suicidal sister must be irretrievably damned. No wonder she broods.

As he was writing this tale Kipling must have recalled the sternly Evangelical Mrs Holloway, who had blighted his childhood in the ‘House of Desolation’ at Southsea, see “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (1888). [J.M.]

[Page 292 line 18] Master – Mister John Arthurs must have known them all since childhood, as it was then the custom for servants to address boys as Master until their late teens when they became Mister.

[Page 293 line 19] fly in this context, a cab drawn by one horse which was obviously past its best.

[Page 296 line 11] a cup of tea for myself Some prosperous middle-class people then believed doctors to be their social inferiors.

[Page 296 line 31] Blind Man’s Buff a parlout-game where one person is blindfolded, turned round three times and then let loose to catch and identify one of the participants.

[Page 297 line 10] cold fried fish considered by some to be a delicacy.

[Page 298 line 30 & onwards.] With mirth, thou pretty bird, rejoice etc see the Note to page 281 line 25 and R L Green (p. 146.)
“The Rabbi’s Song”