His Majesty the King

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 Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1895 and 1950.


[Page 311 Heading] Ecclesiastes 8,4.

[Page 311, line 12] a ‘young person …’ This implies that Miss Biddums was from the lower classes, rather than being a ‘young lady’.

[Page 311, line 17] mehter a sweeper, from the Persian mihtar a prince or great personage – a sarcastic reference to a very humble occupation.(Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 311, line 18] the Commissioner’s daughter the Commissioner would be the most senior man on the Station and so unlikely to have a young child unless he had married late in life.– the little boy mixed happily with all grades of society.

[Page 312, line 4] ‘with cursuffun caps – reel ones’ with percussion caps, real ones Probably a toy gun with explosive caps on a paper reel or perhaps a more advanced model with copper caps containing fulminate of mercury with potassium chlorate which detonate when struck.

[Page 312, line 13] pigeon-holes compartments in a desk for storing documents.

[Page 312 line 14] red tape stout red ribbon used for securing bundles of documents in government offices which has become a derogatory term for petty bureaucratic procedures.

[Page 312, line 18] ‘duftar-room’ office

[Page 312, line 23] ‘hanafitch-bags’ handkerchief-bags,

[Page 313, line 3] gods and devils see Something of Myself (pages 1-2) for the young Kipling visiting Roman Catholic churches and Hindu shrines with his ayah and bearer.

[Page 313, line 12] there was no Ark ready … the ravens see Genesis 6-8 for the story of the Flood. Noah sent a raven to see if the flood had subsided and when it did not return sent a dove which came back with an olive-leaf in her beak.

[Page 313, lines 19–20] her husband’s papers … the intemperate letter of a foolish woman The papers ought to have been in a safe and the letter destroyed.
See “Certain Maxims of Hafiz” XV:

“If She have written a letter, delay not an instant but burn it
Tear it in pieces, O Fool, and the wind to her mate shall return it !”

[Page 313, line 29] skeleton in the cupboard a concealed domestic horror or shame.

[Page 314, line 3] the Sirkar Hindi, from the Persian sarkar – ‘head (of) affairs’ and so the State.

[Page 314, line 4] Nautch from the Sanskrit nityra – a ballet performed by women, a stage entertainment, but in this instance probably an European ball.

[Page 314, line 4] Burrakhana Hindi. bard khana means ‘a big dinner’. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 315, lines 4, 5] Great Unknown … Home it looks as if Miss Biddums was of mixed race and had never been to Europe, since her ancestral home is stated to be in Calcutta (lines 12 and 13 below) See also “Kidnapped” and “His Chance in Life” in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 316, line 8] bewy bury.

[Page 316, line 10] toofanhonour truth and honour.

[Page 318, line 24] mahseer-rod a rod for catching mahasir – Hindi, various spellings; a large game fish found in several Indian rivers

[Page 318, line 25] chu-chu the Gecko – a lizard that casts its tail when in danger.

[Page 318, line 26] chick a blind or screen, often made of bamboo. John Chinn adjusts one that hangs askew in “The Tomb of his Ancestors”. (The Day’s Work)

[Page 319, line 22] the art of war normally exactly what it says, but in this context it is the spoken and unspoken war of words between women in which Mrs. Hauksbee (Plain Tales from the Hills) was an expert.

[Page 320, line 7] sleek-haired subalterns young officers who used hair-oil.

[Page 320, line 8] ‘Mother Bunch’ the subject of a once–popular book which, as ORG noted: possessed the mouth-filling title of Mother Bunch’s Closet newly broken open, containing Rare Secrets of Art and Nature, tried and experimented by Learned Philosophers, and recommended to all Ingenious Young Men and Maids, teaching them in a Natural Way, how to get Good Wives and Husbands (1760).

The name ‘Mother Bunch’ was also used for a 16th Century ale-wife, who told “Merry Tales”, so that her name found its way into nursery lore as a minor “Mother Goose”, the author of Mother Bunch’s Fairy Tales. Her name was so well-known in Victorian times that Mrs. Mary Louisa Molesworth (1839–1921) author of 101 books, including many for children, could call a book and its heroine ‘Little Mother Bunch’ (1889) without any explanation. Thus this would have been a credible nickname for a wise and kindly woman.

[Page 321, line 5] a most beautiful Star probably the insignia of one of the Orders of the Indian Empire – open-work jam-tart jewels often so-called by those who had not been awarded one ! See “Cupid’s Arrows” (Page 62, line 8) in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 321, line 8] ‘parkle cwown’ sparkling crown.

[Page 322, line 32] tank in this context, a reservoir or artificial lake. Hobson-Jobson has a long and involved account of the derivation from the Portuguese, Gujerati, Mahratti, and French.

[Page 324, line 1] portière door-curtain.

[Page 324, line 23] dooly-box it is made of ‘paper’ (line 27) so one wonders if it would be robust enough to travel in a dooly with its owner. [suggestions will be welcomed; Ed.]

[Page 324, line 27] almirah wardrobe, cupboard, chest of drawers

[Page 325, line 29] the uncertainty of things human this rings a very small bell but it has not been identified. [suggestions will be welcomed; Ed.]

[J. McG.]