The Rout of the White Hussars

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 Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

 [Title] Hussars were originally Hungarian mounted troops raised by Matthias Corvinus in 1458 to fight the Turks. The name, meaning “twenty” indicated that one man in every twenty inhabitants was pressed into the service. The demand in the British Army for light cavalry with greater mobility than Dragoons led to the formation of several Hussar regiments. See “The Man Who Was” in Life’s Handicap.

[Heading] Collected in Definitive Verse, Inclusive Verse and the Sussex Edition, Vol.XXXIV.

[Page 232, line 3] sabres heavy single-edged cavalry swords with thick-backed blades, usually curved. It was the custom to count soldiers by the arms they bore, as so many sabres or lances for cavalry and rifles for infantry.

[Page 232, line 11] ‘side’ conceit, an irritating air of effortless superiority.

[Page 232, line 12] roster a list showing the order of rotation for army duties, from the Dutch rooster – a gridiron, from the ruled lines.

[Page 232, line 14] Mess where the officers took their meals, entertained, and spent much of their leisure time.

[Page 232, line 15] ’McGaire’ old brandy we are awaiting guidance on whether this was an invented name or a genuine old brandy. [Ed.]

[Page 233, line 11] Colonel this is another even more incompetent and unpleasant colonel than those already met in previous stories in this volume.

[Page 233, line 18] cast the Drum-Horse ordered him to be sold. Such a horse would carry the Drums and lead the Band on ceremonial occasions.

It may seem unlikely that a regular cavalry officer would cast a perfectly sound horse still capable of performing his duties which are fairly light anyway. But the young Kipling never held back from irreverent gibes at arbitrary decisions by figures of authority, which would have been appreciated by young officers of his own age.

[Page 233, line 24] a big piebald Waler a horse from New South Wales in Australia, usually about 16 hands high, marked in irregular patches of black and white

[Page 233, line 27] laws of casting a Drum-Horse might well remain in service longer than usual. Young officers were glad to buy cavalry “casters” as they knew the drill.

[Page 233, line 31] the Adjutant an officer responsible to the Commanding officer for the administration of a regiment. Like the First Lieutenant of a ship in the Royal Navy, he presents the commanding officer with a unit in full working order, ready to carry out whatever duties are required.

[Page 234, line 1] eighteen years old a horse is “aged” when he is nine years old by which time his teeth begin to develop various characteristics such as Galvayne’s groove which increases in length over the years and then disappears; a horse may live for 30 years. [Caroline Silver, Guide to the Horses of the World, Treasure Press, 1976. p. 29)]

[Page 234, line 4] a Drum-Major of the Guards the marching leader of a military band – those of the Household Brigade in the British Army being particularly magnificently uniformed.

[Page 234, line 5] Rs.1,200 A substantial sum, over three months’ salary for Kipling at the Civil and Military Gazette.

[Page 234, line 7] a washy bay beast etc a poor watery-brownish animal of grotesque appearance that no horseman would select for anything except slaughter and feeding to hounds. Kipling is exaggerating for effect,

[Page 234, line 10] Band-horses put back their ears .. whites of their eyes typical signs of fright , dislike and uneasiness in horses.

[Page 234, line 16] regular parade movements these would include wheeling into line and back into column with variations and maintaining formation amongst obstacles.

[Page 234, line 20] ’ Keel Row’ a jolly quick-step with a good tune from Northumberland.

[Page 234, line 32 ] bought, perhaps by a Parsee and put into a cart a Parsee could be expected to be a good businessman. (See also the note to “In the Pride of His Youth” p. 217, line 28, earlier in this volume.) It would be the ultimate degradation to make an ex-cavalry horse pull a cart.

[Page 235, line 1] the Mess Plate the silver belonging to the Officers’ Mess, usually worth a lot of money but also of great sentimental value, as it was the custom for officers to present a piece of silver, perhaps a statuette, when they left the regiment. The Mess Plate often included models of weapons and men in uniform.

[Page 235, line 2] selling the Mess Plate To sell the Mess Plate for the money would have been the deepest possible affront to the regiment.

[Page 235, line 8] Hogan-Yale also appears in “Only a Subaltern” (Wee Willie Winkie”) and the White Hussars also feature in “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 235, line 9] Rs. 160 Less than a seventh of his value as a young horse.

[Page 235, line 24] boot-trees a pair of wooden ‘feet’, the same size as those of the owner, that fit into boots to keep them in shape when they are not being worn.

[Page 235, line 33] Waler See the note to page 233 line 24 above.

[Page 236, line 9] anthrax a very serious disease occurring in some sheep and cattle and in those who tend them or work with their hides and fleeces. [Black]

[Page 236, line 11] The Place where the old Horse died A song by George John Whyte-Melville (1821–1878), a Scottish novelist whose books are full of freshness and charm, dealing mainly with field sports and country pursuits. His Songs and Verses was published in 1869. He served in the army in the Crimea and elsewhere. [Harmsworth]

[Page 236, line 15] Farrier-Sergeant the senior shoeing-smith in the Regiment. Having shod the horse every four to six weeks, and probably inspected his feet daily for years, he would – as indeed he says below – obviously recognise its hooves when he saw them. He nearly gives the game away, but is stopped in time.

[Page 236, line 22] regimental number branded on a front hoof. In action, the farriers carried a pole-axe for dispatching wounded horses and cutting off the hoof with the number as proof of death.

[Page 237, line 8] skeleton-enemy the author knows what is coming.

[Page 237, line 22] Fontenoy a village in Belgium, some 5 miles south-east of Tournay, and the scene of the defeat of the British and their allies, under the Duke of Cumberland, by the French under Marshal Saxe, in 1745.

[Page 238, line 1] Take me to London again A tune we have not yet traced – any help will be appreciated. [Ed.]

[Page 238, line 6] stables the horses are cleaned, mucked out, inspected and fed, talked to and generally made much of – a very important part of the daily routine of a cavalry unit.

[Page 238, line 11] easing girths and curbs slacking off harness to make the horse more comfortable.

[Page 238, line 21] en échelon a “herring-bone” or “stepwise” formation.

[Page 239 , line 7] withers see illustration. [to come. Ed.]

[Page 239, line 33] carbine-buckets large leather holsters attached to the saddle to carry carbines (small-arms which were shorter and lighter than rifles).

[Page 240, line 24] doubled like a hare made a rapid acute turn, as hares do when chased.

[Page 241, line 19] cantle the raised hind part of a saddle.

[Page 241, line 33] saddle-bow the arched front of a saddle.

[Page 242, line 21] mule-headed obstinate.

[Page 243, line 8] “Fly-by-Nights” a very suitable but most uncomplimentary nickname. The Second-in-Command is obviously trying to convince the Colonel that it would be most unwise to take disciplinary against anybody as the regiment would become a laughing-stock. Many British regiments had nicknames, and some were not very complimentary.

[Page 243, line 24] broke in this context, “broken” – court-martialled and dismissed the service.

[Page 245, line 3] ‘ Charity and Zeal, 3709, E.C.’ a Masonic Lodge belonging to the English Constitution with headquarters in London. They would have used the skeleton for some of their Ritual for the Third Degree. This appears to be Kipling’s first reference to Freemasonry in his writings. He was Secretary of “Hope and Perseverance” No. 782, E.C., the largest of four Masonic Lodges in Lahore.

For stories related to Freemasonry, see “In the Interests of the Brethren”, “The Janeites”, “A Madonna of the Trenches”, and “A Friend of the Family”, all in Debits and Credits; “The Man who Would be King” in Wee Willie Winkie and “The Wrong Thing” in Rewards and Fairies. See also the poems “Banquet Night” and “The Mother-Lodge”.

[J. McG.]