The Rout of the White Hussars

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published in the first edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888 and was included in subsequent editions of this collection.

The story

The White Hussars were a first class cavalry regiment, who ‘knew that they could walk round any Horse and through any Guns and over any Foot on the face of the earth.’ They were particularly proud of their Regimental Band and of their Drum Horse who carried the silver kettle-drums. A new colonel takes over as Commanding Officer, and to the fury of the whole regiment insists on replacing the Drum Horse with what they see as a much inferior beast. One of the subalterns buys the horse, pretends to have it slaughtered, and mounts a skeleton on its back. One evening, while the horses are being watered after manoeuvres, the spectral-looking Drum Horse is seen riding towards his old comrades, and the regiment flees in disorder across the countryside. The Colonel, after much argument, is persuaded to bring the old horse back.

Some critical comments

Dr Tompkins, in The Art of Rudyard Kipling observes (pp. 46/47) that ‘Kipling was a ruminative writer. If the early farces grew out of the unexamined hilarity of the schoolboy, perpetuated by the communal mirth of army messes and professional groups, he had plenty of time since then to consider laughter.’

This engaging romp owes something to the author’s schoolboy enthusiasm for a practical joke (a trait that never left him) and the caricature of the colonel may well upset the purists; but it is an amusing glimpse of a vanished world that may be founded on a certain amount of fact.[Ed.]

See also “The Story of the Gadsbys” in Soldiers Three, also “Her Majesty’s Servants” in The Jungle Book. “The Horse Marines” in A Diversity of Creatures tells a farcical story about the purported issue of mechanical horses to the Army and what happens when a rocking-horse is exhibited to troops on manoeuvres at Portsmouth. Also “The Lost Legion” in Many Inventions, which tells of a cavalry regiment that was hunted to death by Pathans on the North-West Frontier, during the Indian Mutiny, and had haunted the hillside ever after. Also the poem “Ford o’ Kabul River.”

See also “The Last of the Light Brigade” – an extra verse by Kipling published in the St. James’s Gazette of 28 April, 1890. (This was not collected in Kipling’s Inclusive Verse or the Sussex or Burwash editions.)

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog,
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog.
And they sent (you may call me a liar) when rebel and beast were paid,
A cheque for – enough to live on , to the last of the Light Brigade.