In Error

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The medical notes have been contributed by Dr. Gillian Sheehan, M.B., B.Ch.,B.A.O. 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.


[Heading] They burnt a corpse upon the sand— Collected as a ‘Chapter Heading’ in Definitive Verse and Inclusive Verse, slightly amended, with ‘dhows’ for ‘boats’ in Line 3.

beat tacking against the wind – a zig-zag course in the general direction one wants to travel.

Salsette An island north of Bombay. A light on the beach, however, may be more of a danger to the navigator than assistance; wreckers used to display a light when a vessel was seen in the offing, especially on a stormy night, so that she might steer for what was believed to be the harbour entrance, and run ashore to have the cargo looted and the survivors murdered.

[Page 180, line 7] Moriarty Also the name of the arch-villain and enemy of Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir ArthurConan Doyle, whose stories, like Kiplings, first appeared in magazine serialisation and were later collected. Both Kipling and Doyle were clients of A.P. Watt, the literary agent, and Doyle and his brother visited Kipling when he lived at Naulakha, his house in Vermont (Lycett, pp. 198, 279, etc. ) In later years, Doyle lived at Crowborough, some fourteen miles from Burwash, where the Kiplings lived from 1902.

[Page 180, line 8] Civil Engineer one who works for civilian companies on such projects as roads and bridges, as opposed to a Royal Engineer in the army (a ‘Sapper’) who goes in for all manner of civilian and military activities; see the poem “Sappers” and “The Bridge-Builders” in The Day’s Work.

[Page 181, line 5] plinth in this context, the base of a column or statue, implying that Moriarty had a promising career ahead of him.

[Page 181, line 9] L.L.L. and Christopher Christopher and Grant’s Cherry Brandy. This is also mentioned in an uncollected story “X squared R.H.A.” printed in the Kipling Journal 41/26. This tells of a section of Royal Horse Artillery charging the enemy and breaking through defenses, fortified by a similar mixture of various liquors. See also the poem “The Jacket”, and “Wireless” in Traffics and Discoveries.

[Page 181, line 16] Mrs. Reiver appears in several stories in this volume and in “A Supplementary Chapter” in Abaft the Funnel. (A reiver is one who loots or forcibly deprives others of their property, which sums up her predatory character very well.)

[Page 182, line 2] set in this context a social group of like-minded people, a clique.

[Page 182, line 3] fell down not literally, but he obviously worshipped her. An echo of the many variations on ‘fall down and worship’ in the Old Testament, as in Daniel 3.6.

[Page 182, line 18] train in this context, a retinue or party of followers.

(Page 183, line 20) delirium tremens is a severe withdrawal reaction in a chronic alcoholic following a drinking bout. It is usually evident 72-96 hours after cessation of drinking. It is seldom seen before 3 or 4 years of chronic alcoholism and is often precipitated by injury or acute illness. Features include hallucinations which are usually visual and induce intense fear, sleeplessness, restlessness, agitation and delirium. Epileptic fits occur in 10%. It usually runs its entire course in less than three days. Then the patient falls into a deep sleep to awaken clear in mind. It is a serious medical emergency and requires expert supervision; mortality has been estimated at 5-15%. For some weeks prior to the onset of delirium tremens, which is usually sudden, the patient is tense, anxious, jumpy, and suffers from terrifying illusions and hallucinations at night. From Treatment of Common Acute Poisonings Matthew & Lawson 3rd edition 1975; Manual of Medical Therapeutics 22nd edition 1978; Merck Manual 11th edition 1966. [G.S.]

[Page 183, line 28] P.W.D. Public Works Department which looked after roads and government buildings.

[Page 184, line 1] the Doctor It is not entirely clear from the text if Moriarty really saw the Doctor, or was too confused to do so and managed to cure himself by sheer will-power, but I really think Moriarty was seen by the Doctor. In Kipling’s time he would probably have been given an injection of morphia or possibly potassium bromide and chloral by mouth to put him to sleep. I don’t think Moriarty could have cured himself by sheer will-power. People in delirium tremens are too frightened to use will power for anything. It’s a pity Kipling didn’t mention a few visual hallucinations as these are one of the most striking features of the condition. Maybe the `downright raving’ implies hallucinations. Kipling did give him illusions about Mrs Reiver, but these were present by day as well as by night and continued afterwards `when the trouble was over’. When he has recovered from the bad attack of ‘jungle-fever’, Kipling has Moriarty drink only at dinner and never when alone, and he is right when he says it is `the hardest thing that a man who has drunk heavily can do’. But he gives him good insight into his condition, not a common finding in alcoholics, so that he never drinks alone or in sufficient quantity to `have the least hold on him’.

[Page 184, line 14] errors of his estimates this presumably refers to his calculations of materials needed and costs incurred in his construction works, the accuracy of which may well have deteriorated because of his drinking.

[Page 184, line 23] hacking in this context, riding an (occasionally) somewhat inferior horse as a means of transport, without any sporting or recreational connotation.

[Page 185, line 15] cut him dead ignored him, pretended she did not know him.

[J. McG.]