Letters on Leave

Notes on the text

(by David Page. The verse and line numbers
below refer to pages 193-196 of the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909.)


[Page 197, line 1 and page 212, line 19] John McHail the fictional name of an army officer.

[Page 197, line 2 and page 212, line 20] 151st (Kumharsen) P.N.I. 151st (Kumharsen) Punjab Native Infantry, a fictional army unit. Kipling used the fictional name ‘Kumharsen’ in several of his stories; the district ‘Kot-Kumharsen’ in “Without Benefit of Clergy” and “The Head of the District”; the ‘State of Kot-Kumharsen’ in a header verse to chapter VI of The Naulahka; the ‘Kumharsen Serai’ in “The Man who would be King”; and the ‘Kumharsen Gate’ in “On the City Wall”, these last two being located in Lahore. See also NRG notes to these stories by John McGivering.

[Page 197, line 3 and pages 212, line 21 and 216, line 23] Hakaiti via Tharanda Probably fictional place-names. Kipling also used Tharanda in “The World Without” (The Story of the Gadsbys). John McGivering’s notes to that story record that the ORG believes Tharanda to be a place in Burma which has not been traced.

[Page 197, line 4] Assam a State in NE India at the foot of the Himalayas. Burma [Myanmar] lies to the east and south. The general geographic area of NE India has undergone major changes in names, borders, and populations since 1890, with major events taking place in 1947, 1972-3, and 1987. Until 1947, Burma was part of British India.

[Page 197, line 14] the Chins there is now a Chin State in Burma [Myanmar] that borders with India and Bangladesh. The Chins are a mountain people, belonging to the Tibet-Burma group; they are also to be found in the neighbouring Indian and Bangladeshi States.

[Page 197, line 15] Ouless Kipling also used this name for a Lieutenant in “His Private Honour”, first published in 1891 and collected in Many Inventions.

[Page 197, line 17] billet job or position. It is usually means a place where a soldier is assigned to sleep when not in barracks.

[Page 197, line 17] Rs 700 (Monthly) This was a little more than the Rs 600 salary that Kipling received when he was appointed to the Pioneer as Special Correspondent. In the 1960s, the ORG equated it to £560 p.a., commenting that this was better pay than a subaltern got in either the British Army or in an Indian Army Regiment.

[Page 197, line 18] chased by writters chased by people with writs to whom he owed money.

[Page 198, line 1] Shillong the capital of Assam in NE India.

[Page 198, line 10] dehat countryside.

[Page 198, line 12] khubber news.

[Page 198, line 18] Naogong This may be Nawgong in Assam, or Naogaon in Bengal, or Nowgong which is the same as Nawgong. [ORG]

[Page 199, line 2] Neva The river which flows from Lake Ladoga through St. Petersburg into the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea).

[Page 199, line 9] burra-choop great stillness.

[Page 199, line 10] shovel with a spade the London streets were so covered with horse manure from the cabs and ’buses, that you could shovel it up with a spade.

[Page 199, line 14] A Reform man at the Savage The Reform and the Savage were – and still are – two of the leading London Clubs for gentlemen (although in recent years some, including the Reform, now admit women). It has long been the custom to close these clubs for a month or more in alternate years for cleaning and redecorating. During that awful period the members are made Temporary Honorary Members of one of the other clubs in the West End (central London). [ORG]

[Page 200, line 6] Jakko Hill behind Simla – mentioned in many of Kipling’s Simla stories as well as some verse.

[Page 200, line 8] punkah a large fixed and swinging fan, formed of cloth stretched on a rectangular frame, and suspended from the ceiling, which is used to agitate the air in hot weather. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 200, line 9] Umballa or Ambala, a hot city with cantonments in the plains of India, 115 miles NNW of Delhi, and about 53 miles SW of Simla.

[Page 200, line 10] dak-gharry an Indian ‘stage-coach’, carrying passengers for a fee, like a modern bus.

[Page 200, line 12] tonga a two-wheeled carriage.

[Page 200, line 13] Kalka on the road to Simla from Umballa, halfway up from the plains.

[Page 200, line 14] Dugshai a hill station in the same district – more usually Dagshai. Also mentioned in “The Taking of Lungtungpen” (Plain Tales from the Hills).

[Page 200, line 16] Solon or Solan is between Kalka and Simla, about 27 miles from the latter.

[Page 200, line 18] tonga-bar bar of the old fashioned curricle, or two-wheeled carriage, that took men up to Simla before the railroad was made.

[Page 200, line 23] sausage-shop Kipling was living in Villiers Street near the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross Station in central London. In Something of Myself, Chap IV he describes how:

My rooms were above an establishment of Harris the Sausage King, who, for tuppence, gave as much sausage and mash as would carry one from breakfast to dinner when one dined with nice people who did not eat sausage for a living.

[Page 201, line 5] smuts particles of soot generated by the coal-burning fires in London.

[Page 201, line 6] sobbled an obsolete dialect word, meaning ‘soaked’ or ‘saturated’. Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) in The Life of the Fields (1884), a collection of his previously published essays, “Village Miners” records:

If the labourer gets his clothes soaked, he says they are “sobbled.” The sound of boots or dress saturated with rain very nearly approximates to sobbled.

[Page 201, line 7] corn-shocks wheat (not maize) that has been cut and bound into bundles which – before the days of combine-harvesters – were then stood on end, usually in groups of six or eight, to dry the corn before it could be threshed. An alternative name is ‘corn-stooks’.

[Page 201, line 12] “Oh, what a happy land is England!” A song composed by Charles Godfrey II (1839-1919) who was Bandmaster of the Royal Horse Guards from 1868 to 1904. See the Classical Music web-site.

[Page 201, line 15] Apollo Bunder the landing place in Bombay. [ORG]

[Page 201, line 16] Watson’s Hotel (right) was situated in Bombay’s Kala Ghoda Art District. Also referred to as ‘Esplanade Mansion’, it may be the earliest surviving example of cast-iron architecture in India. Named for its initial owner John Watson, the building was fabricated in England and erected on site between 1867 and 1869. The five-story building housed 130 guest rooms as well as a lobby, restaurant, bar, and atrium at ground level.

It finally closed as a hotel in the 1960s and was subdivided by the private owner into multiple residences and commercial space. The building has not been kept in good repair, and suffered a serious collapse of part of the structure in July 2005. It is on the World Monuments Foundation’s list of the
“100 Endangered Monuments” .

[Page 201, line 19] Eight years ago this fixes the day clearly—it was in the autumn of 1882 when Kipling landed back in India to work on the Civil and Military Gazette—so this is late in 1890 which is quite correct as it first appeared in September of that year. [ORG]

[Page, 202, line 12] Hallatt a fictional character.

[Page, 202, line 13] he went out died.

[Page, 202, line 18] trumpets of Jericho See the story of the fall of that city in the Old Testament; Joshua 6,4-20.

[Page, 203, line 9] bat words

[Page, 203, line 18] chaff teasing, banter, or badinage.

[Page, 204, lines 13 & 14] M.A. degree Master of Arts degree .

[Page, 204, line 21] battalions and brigades military units. The phrase indicates that there are thousands upon thousands of these men.

[Page, 205, line 13] helots were the serfs of the Spartans in Ancient Greece.

[Page, 205, line 19] “skibbo” by trade–a painter of sorts The Amalgamated Society of House Decorators and Painters was established in 1872. It emerged from the struggle over amalgamation versus local independence of several London societies which had formed a loose federation, the General Council or General Association, in 1865. Others in the building trade called the painters’ society the “Skibbo’s Union”. No derivation for the word “skibbo” has been found. Throughout his life Kipling was very much against Trade Unions (See the headnote. See also the
Graham Stevenson web-site.

[Page, 205, line 23] Raj-mistri head-carpenter or mason.

[Page 206, line 6] Ishmael The outcast, the son of Abraham by Hagar his wife’s (Sarai’s) Egyptian maid. Sarai not having any children herself had suggested to her husband that he should have a child by Hagar. The two women quarrelled when it was clear that Hagar was going to have a child and Hagar was driven out. When the child was born the name was given him because his “hand should be against every man” (see Genesis 16). [ORG]

[Page 206, lines 24 & 25] Board-school a type of publicly funded school for young children, under the control of locally elected School Boards (of governors), established by the Education Act of 1870.

[Page 206, line 25] Wellington Barracks are located at the Buckingham Palace end of Birdcage Walk in London. In the years 1889 and 1890 there were many union strikes in the UK, and the 2nd Grenadier Guards billeted in the Wellington Barracks were recorded as having “refused duty” in July 1890.

[Page 207, line 11] Mian Mir Mian Mir appears in several of Kipling’s stories including “In the Presence”, “Garm—a Hostage”, Kim, “The Army of a Dream Part I”, and “My Own True Ghost Story”. It was the army cantonments just outside Lahore on the Amritsar road.

[Page 208, line 6] D it would have been nice to think this meant ‘Dunsterville’ (‘Stalky’) but he was in an Indian Infantry Regiment and not a Gunner Officer. [ORG]

[Page 208, line 10] Black Mountains Hazara on the old N.W. Frontier. The 1888 expedition against the Hassauzais was generally referred to as the Black Mountain Expedition. [ORG]

[Page 208, line 24] bunnia corn or seed merchant.
havildar from the Hindi – a Sergeant.

[Page 209, line 12] bundobast agreement or arrangement/

[Page 209, line 13] caste of Menu as it stands, this phrase cannot be identified. However, if Menu is a typographical error and the reference is to the “caste of Manu” then the reference makes sense. Some of the “The Laws of Manu” codify the Hindu caste system and set out the duties of the four castes. The outcastes, by definition, are not covered. [See Wikipedia.

shetts goldsmiths

mahajuns money-lenders. Also mentioned by Kipling in “The Bridge Builders”, “Gemini”, and in Letters of Marque, chapters XIII and XVII (From Sea to Sea, Vol.1)

[Page 209, line 25] punchayats spelt ‘punchayet’ in “The Bridge Builders”. It means a meeting of a particular group or society.

[Page 210, line 6] Bow Street One of the busiest of the London Police Courts is in Bow Street, near Covent Garden.

[Page 210, line 7] G.P.O. the General Post Office was situated in the City of London, near St. Paul’s Cathedral.

[Page 210, line 24] Stunts the Indian way of saying ‘Assistant’ (-Collector or -Magistrate).

[Page 211, line 6] chukkered from the Hindustani meaning ‘encircled’ or ‘surrounded’.

[Page 211, line 7] gabraowed from the Hindustani gabra or ghabra meaning ‘afraid’ or ‘frightened’ in the sense of being panicked.

[Page 212, line 1] DeVitre The name gives us the opportunity to supply particulars of one source of Kipling’s names, an 1810 copy of the ‘East India Directory and Register’, which he had at Bateman’s. [ORG]

(As De Vitré, Kipling also used the name in “Stalky” for one of the other U.S.C. boys, collected in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, and again in Chapter X of Captains Courageous. )

[Page 212, line 1] Poona Irregular Moguls Another imaginary military unit. Poona (Pune) is about 80 miles ESE of Bombay (Mumbai).

[Page 212, line 11] Torquemada Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498) was Inquisitor General for the Spanish Inquisition.

[Page 212, line 11] Alipur or Alipore a district in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata) in West Bengal.


[Page 212, line 20] Captain Sahib Bahadur Captain is the army rank above Lieutenant; ‘Sahib’ means ‘Sir’ or ‘Master’; ‘Bahadur’ is an honorific title, literally ‘brave’.

[Page 212, line 21] Pi The Pioneer, the paper on which Kipling had served for 18 months or so at Allahabad.

[Page 212, line 22] Step promotion from Lieutenant to Captain (see page 197).

[Page 213, line 1] Eight years and your company! Eight years was the length of the fictional McHail’s service in India as an army officer. Probably one year at least would have been spent with a British Infantry Battalion in India before his transfer to an Indian Infantry Regiment. [ORG]

The phrase, together with the previous ‘cavalry quick’, suggests that McHail had achieved his promotion to the command of a company (approximately 200 men) very quickly.

[Page 213, line 7] Woking a town in Surrey, about 26 miles from London.

[Page 213, line 11] Necropolis or graveyard. The London Necropolis and Mausoleum Company was formed in 1852 and bought 2,000 acres of land outside Brookwood near Woking. The object was to provide one site as a burial ground for the whole of London since the various parish graveyards were insufficient to cope with the demand. A private railway was built to run from Waterloo, in London, direct to the Necropolis where there were two termini. The London Necropolis Company was dissolved around 1975 and although the grounds have changed hands several times since then, the cemetery remains privately owned, still functions, and is administered as the Brookwood Cemetery. See the Brookwood Cemetery on the web and the Brookwood Cemetery site.

Kipling also used this setting in his story “In the Same Boat”, first published in 1911 and then collected in A Diversity of Creatures.

[Page 213, line 23] Plymouth a port and city in South Devon, about 210 miles from London. The naval part of the city is known as Devonport, and Kipling set some of his tales of Petty Officer Pyecroft there.

[Page 213, line 24] the Hoe an open area on the sea-front in Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake is reputed to have played bowls there as the Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel.

[Page 214, line 9] out with you meaning ‘out in India’.

[Page 214, line 10] crêche a nursery for the care of young children.

[Page 214, line 23] Hungerford Bridge is a railway bridge with a pedestrian footbridge running from Charing Cross Station over the Thames. Villiers Street, where Kipling was living, is very close to it. The bridge is constructed from iron girders.

[Page 215, line 11] Rule Britannia the author of the lyrics to this song was almost certainly James Thomson (1700-1748), although he had collaborated with David Mallet (1705-1765) in the masque Alfred, which has the words:

When Britain first at Heav’n’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain;


Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.

(The tune was composed by Thomas Arne (1710-78).)

[Page 215, line 11] some funny tunes Kipling was not thinking of a band playing music, but of the troubles that an unprepared England would face when the next conflict took place.

[Page 215, line 13] Tighe A well-known name (Irish) in the British Army. Kipling used it again in “Love o’ Women” , a story collected in Many Inventions.

[Page 215, lines 13 & 14] Deccan Lancers Although this would be a fictitious military unit, a unit named the “20th Deccan Horse” was formed in 1903 from the 1st Lancers, Hyderabad Contingent.

[Page 215, line 18] Poona or Pune A city 80 miles ESE of Bombay (Mumbai).

[Page 216, line 23] Hakaiti see note to page 197, line 3. There it sounded like a place-name; here it sounds like the name of a tribe or perhaps the occupants of a place. [Any suggestions will be welcome; Ed.]

[Page 217, lines 5 & 6] bathing machine a Victorian device to protect the modesty of sea-bathers. It was a compartment on wheels on the beach in which the bathers could change in privacy, and be moved into or out of the sea without displaying themselves in their bathing costumes.

[Page 217, line 10] Ollendorfian this reference also occurs in “”Griffiths the Safe Man”. It is to Dr Heinrich Godefroy Ollendorff whose ‘New Method of Learning to Read, Write and Speak a Language in Six Months’ had been adapted to French, Italian and other languages, and enjoyed a wide vogue from the 1840s. (Kipling’s Japan: Collected Writings, ed. Hugh Cortazzi & George Webb, Athlone Press, 1988, p.114, note 4.)

[Page 217, lines 14 & 15] of such I fervently hope will the Kingdom of Heaven be slightly modified biblical quotation from Mark 10,14.

[Page 217, lines 24 & 25] “Mon Dieu! Je suis mort!” literally “My God! I am dead!” (French), (from a three-year old!).

In a letter postmarked 17 September 1890 to William Canton, Kipling recounts this anecdote in virtually the same words. (Letters, Ed. Pinney, Vol II p. 21).

[Page 219, line 23] bicycle a slight inconsistency here when compared to page 218, line 21 where the ‘destroyer of delights’ was described as a tricycle, or three-wheeler.

[Page 220, line 2] breakwater structures built on coasts to make a harbour or to protect a shore from the action of the sea.

[Page 220, line 25] Anglo-Indian Before 1918 this referred to British people resident in India or British people who had lived most of their working life in India and had retired to England. (After 1918 it officially meant people who were of mixed European and Asiatic blood who until then were called ‘Eurasians’.)

[Page 221, line 3] Accountant-General The Accountant-General and his Department dealt with the comprehensive and systematic recording of receipts and disbursements first by the East India Company and later by the India Office, with the staff of the home establishment and their salaries, with the estates and wills of persons dying in India, and with the leave and furlough pay and pensions of members of the Indian civil and military services.
(From a Brief Description on the website of the British Library.)

[Page 221, line 13] rezai a quilt.

[Page 221, line 16] Green Park a triangular park in central London, bounded on the north by Piccadilly, on the south by Constitution Hill and Buckingham Palace, with St James’s on the east.

[Page 221, line 20] chaprassies unformed office messengers.

[Page 221, line 20] battledore and shuttlecock the forerunner of the game of badminton. It used to be played with plain bats in the shape of a badminton racquet, not strung but possibly covered in vellum (produced from calfskin). As in badminton, the object struck is the shuttlecock, originally of cork with a ring of feathers attached.

[Page 221, line 24] jehad jihad or jehaud. Hobson-Jobson defines it as a sacred war of Mussulmans against the infidel.

[Page 222, line 7] duftar book, journal or record. Sometimes used instead of duftar khana for “the office”. (Glossary to Departmental Ditties, by Rudyard Kipling).

[Page 223, line 6] gorge-tackle for pike a hook so designed that it could be swallowed by the fish and would hook into the gorge, or throat.

[Page 223, line 10] Lea and Chertsey Piscatorial Angler’s The River Lea flows through Hertfordshire and into the Thames in the East End of London. Chertsey is a town on the River Thames to the west of London in the general direction of Woking. Thus this angler’s club covered a 25 to 30 mile stretch of the Thames through the heart of London.

Kipling was a keen fisherman, and describes in From Sea to Sea Chap. XXVII “How I caught Salmon in the Clackamas” in North America. He also contributed an amusing story to the Fishing Gazette, published on 13 December 1890 with the title “On Dry-Cow Fishing as a Fine Art”.

[Page 223, line 18] ten and five shilling prizes or in post-decimalisation terms, prizes of 50 and 25 new pence. In 1890 these were significant sums of money where the sausage shop in Villiers Street would, for tuppence (0.8 new pence), give ‘as much sausage and mash as would carry one from breakfast to dinner. Thus a ten shilling prize would buy 60 helpings of sausage and mash. (See the note on page 200, line 23 above).

[Page 223, line 22] dace and roach … fingerlings freshwater fish, as is the pike. ‘Fingerlings’ are young fish.

[Page 224, line 8] Serpentine a lake in Hyde Park in central London.

Green Park water Green Park lies southeast of Hyde Park, but there is, in fact, no lake in it.

[Page 225, line 12] the Infant This young officer appears in “The Honours of War” (A Diversity of Creatures), “A Deal in Cotton” (Actions and Reactions), “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions), and “Slaves of the Lamp – Part II” (Stalky & Co.). This appears to be the first occasion on which he is mentioned, but the character has all of the attributes that are displayed in the later stories, and is probably based on a contemporary of Kipling’s at United Services College.

[Page 225, line 15] O.P. Opposite to Prompter—a stage term for one side of the stage.

[D. P.]
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