Letters of Marque

Letter XV

(notes edited by David Page)

First Publication

10th February, 1888, in the Pioneer and 15th February, 1888, in the Pioneer Mail.

Notes on the Text

[Page 144, line 4] “this sanguinary down-mail a-stickin’ in the eye of the Khundwa down!” “This bloody down-mail train holding up the down slow train to Khandwa!”.

Evidently our author (“the Englishman”) on his way from Jodhpur to Nasirabad had reached Ajmir Junction and had only 15 or 16 miles to go, but was kept sitting waiting in the train at the station, for the mail train from Delhi and the north to arrive. It would be sure to have passengers for the other line.

Both trains were bound for Bombay and both were rightly described as “down” trains. The mail train ran from Delhi via Jeypore, Ajmir, Marwar, Baroda and Broach. The other one went via Nasirabad, Chitor, Neemuch (Nimuch or Nimmaach), Rutlam to Khundwa (Khandwa) and on quite slowly, this one, to Bombay via Nasik. Nearly all the places named have alternative spellings, sometimes three or four.

[Page 144, line 9] seven and eight hundred rupees a month rupees 800 a month would be a wage of about £12 6s. 3d. a week—very good pay in the 1850’s, i.e., thirty-one years before this chapter was written in 1887.

[Page 145, line 2] A thousand a month rupees 1,000 per month or some £15 a week. Kipling earned 600 rupees a month on the Pioneer.

[Page 145, line 10] an evil-looking tonga a light two-wheeled horse-drawn cart or carriage. [DP]

[Page 145, line 17] Deoli a town about 56 miles S.E. of Nasirabad and about 28 miles N.W. of Boondi. Nasirabad is about 16 miles S.E. of Ajmir Junction, which means it is 100 miles from Boondi to Ajmir, but in those days there was no railway to Deoli or Boondi.

[Page 145, line 19] shikar hunting game.

[Page 145, line 19] “shutin-tonga” a tonga for shooting — an implausible claim by Ram Baksh.

[Page 145, line 29] “mit a harp-like melodious twang.” quotation from one
of The Breitman Ballads by Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903), “Steinli von Slang”:

De liddle oldt veller hat fanished,
In a harp-like, melotious twang;

[Page 146, line 8] Stevenson . . . ‘invitation to the road’ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The quotation comes from Stevenson’s Prince Otto—A Romance (1885):

There is one of nature’s spiritual ditties, that has not yet been set to words or human music: ‘The Invitation to the Road’; an air continually sounding in the ears of gipsies, and to whose inspiration our nomadic fathers journeyed all their days. The hour, the season, and the scene, all were in delicate accordance. The air was full of birds of passage, steering westward and northward over Grunewald, an army of specks to the up-looking eye. And below, the great practicable road was
bound for the same quarter.

[Page 146, line 26] ’Stunt slang term for an Assistant Collector.

[Page 146, line 29] ‘little Boondi’ also spelt Bondi and Bundi.

[Page 147, line 5] Ganesh or Ganesha (right), the kindly elephant-headed god of wisdom, prudence, and good fortune.


[Page 147, line 13] Deoli Force see chapter XIX, page 194, line 2. [DP]

[Page 147, line 23] Gangra or Gangrar, about 140 miles south of Boondi, is on the Chambal River.

[Page 147, line 25] Now the Englishman knew Gangra slightly, having seen it on the way to Udaipur but he hadn’t been nearer to the place than Chitor, which is 80 miles north of Gangra.

[Page 148, line 12] station this does not mean a railway-station – just a place where it was possible for a ‘Resident’, or troops, to be stationed.

[Page 148, lines 24 and 25] the waste into which the scapegoat was sent a reference to Leviticus 16, 8-10, where Aaron was instructed to release a scapegoat to atone for the sins of Israel. [DP]

[Page 148, line 28] Simla the celebrated hill-station in the foothills of the western Himalayas, headquarters of the Indian Government in the hot season, and the location for many of Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills. It is about 500 miles north of Boondi.

[Page 149, line 9] Lieutenant McRannamack the officer’s name is a fictitious one, as is the name of the Regiment. Kipling used the pseudonym of the Tyneside Tailtwisters (with variants) in several of his stories – it was one of the regiments stationed at Mian Mir at Lahore from 1882 to 1887; either the East Lancashirs Regiment or the Northumberland Fusiliers, almost certainly the latter. [DP]

[Page 149, line 15] Banas river joins the Chambal river, having run N.E. from Udaipur past Deoli and Tonk.

[Page 149, line 18] ‘over golden sands with feet of silver,’ this editor has not been able to find this quotation. However, Kipling used the same phrase in a letter to W.E. Henley, in June (?) 1890. (Letters Vol.2, Ed. T. Pinney). The nearest that has been found is John Milton’s (1608-1684) “Elegy III: On the death of the Bishop of Winchester” (“In Obitium Praesulis Wintoniensis”) as translated by William Cowper (1731-1800):

A silver current, like the Tagus, roll’d
O’er golden sands, but sands of purer gold,
With dewy airs Favonius fann’d the flow’rs,

[see Project Gutenberg] [DP]

[Page 152, line 2] Nirvana In Buddhist theology, the attainment of nirvana breaks the otherwise endless rebirth cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists also consider nirvana as freedom from all worldly concerns such as greed, hate, and ignorance. [DP]

[Page 152, line 29] nullah-bed the bed of a watercourse. [DP]

[Page 152, line 31] Earth has nothing more . . . this is reminiscent of Wordsworth’s (1770-1850) opening line from his sonnet xxxvi, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”, 3 September 1802: ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’.

[Page 153, lines 3-9] the flight into Egypt see Matthew 2,14.

[Page 154, line 11] trunk Ganesh is the god with an elephant’s head. This passage describes an image of the god whose silver coating has been worn away by frequent touching by worshippers. [DP]

[Page 154, line 15] jhil it can be a lake, a pond, or a marsh – a very wet place, typical ground for snipe.

©A Mason and David Page 2008 All rights reserved