First published in the authorized edition of Mine Own People, United States Book Company, New York, March 1891, followed by its inclusion in Life’s
Handicap published in the United States and England later in the same year.
A secret Irish republican organisation, based in America, aims to foment mutiny against the British among Irish soldiers of the British army. They send an agent, Mulcahy, who joins up in the ‘Mavericks’ and does all he can to stir up feeling against the authorities. The soldiers, who enjoy soldiering, particularly if it involves fighting, recognise Mulcahy for what he is, and have little sympathy for his views. They are deeply loyal to the Regiment and its traditions, and the battle honours inscribed on its Colours. But they realise that he is a plentiful source of beer, and encourage him to think they are with him.
When the news comes that the regiment is off on active service on the frontier, there is a great commotion. Mulcahy thinks that the promised mutiny has come, but finds that the men are overjoyed, and can’t wait to get into battle. He tries to report sick, but is sent off nonetheless. It is made clear by his comrades that he is going to his death, at their hands or those of the enemy. He dies fighting.
Some critical comments
This story has not been noticed by many biographers and commentators – of the thirty-five or so consulted, only the following were found.
Dr Tompkins observes:
He spoilt the grim farce of “The Mutiny of the Mavericks” by an (to me) incredible episode with the regimental colours; but the tale is not an important one. Changing social habits throw an unsympathetic light on some passages.
Roger Ayers comments:
Kipling’s description of Dan leading the other soldiers into the (officers’) mess in order to show them the battle honours on the colours does not ring
true. For the cased colours to have been kept in the mess was normal practice, generally in a special stand in the mess entrance hall, an anteroom or behind the Mess President’s seat at the dinner table. Much less
probable is that a group of soldiers, on the sudden impulse of one of their number, would have entered the mess and uncased the regimental colour which
bore the battle honours. The colours were and are held in very special esteem, so much so that it is most unlikely that any soldier would have behaved in this way. However, long serving members of the regiment would
almost certainly have been able to have repeated the list of inscribed honours from memory.
I think that Kipling has introduced the honours displayed on the colour as a more dramatic way of going through this list of battles, a record of the regiment’s service venerated by its members, which would be totally dishonoured by Mulcahy’s proposed mutiny.
Kipling seems to have been aware of the improbability of the action which he described since the scene setting is deliberately vague, the men suddenly moving from an uncertain and undescribed location into the ‘mess-room’ and as quickly
leaving it on the approach of the mess-sergeant. The use of ‘mess-room’ itself is imprecise, since a regimental officers’ mess in a permanent station would at least have anterooms and a dining room, wherever possible in a building of its own. ‘Mess-room’ smacks of a sub-unit mess in a fort or minor station.
It should also be remembered that this story was first published in the authorised Mine Own People, (US Book Co., New York, 1891) and Kipling may well have introduced the colours just to give the American public some idea of the significance of the battle honours. He may subsequently have felt that such a treatment was equally necessary for the British public and left
it in. [R.A.]
Knowles (p. 150) quotes a rather unlikely review in an undated Athenæum:
… this story and “Namgay Doola” ( later in this volume) are pure comedy …. Charmingly good-natured satires upon the inhabitants of the sister isle …
[The latter is indeed a happier story with an Irish flavour but we would not look upon the former as anything but rather sinister; Ed.]
Francis Adams writing in The Fortnightly Review of November,1891 sees this story as:
… for the most part a worthless piece of special pleading , but which ends with the admirable portrayal of the madness of a coward … and quotes the text from page 236, line 12 onwards.
[Quoted in Green, Kipling, the Critical Heritage, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971, p. 148]
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved