At the Pit’s Mouth

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 1899 and 1950.


[Page 34, Title] This has echoes of the Old Testament, including “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.” (Proverbs, 26, 27) and should not be confused with “The Perils of the Pits” which is Part III of “In the Giridih Coalfields” (From Sea to Sea, Vol. 2)

[Heading] These lines are from verses two and eighteen of “The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire” by Jean Ingelow (1820–97) (slightly amended). See “My Son’s Wife” (A Diversity of Creatures) where it is quoted by Connie Sperrit

[Page 34, line 2] Tertium Quid (Latin) ‘a third something’.
Can also be used to signify an adulterer. Appears in “The Ring and the Book”, a long poem by Browning, one of Kipling’s favourite poets, whom he also parodies. Also in “King of the Khyber Rifles” by Talbot Mundy (1879-1940) who has been compared with Kipling and Haggard. It is also an important case in American law.

[Page 34, line 8] Jakko… Observatory Hill pleasant rides on the outskirts of Simla

[Page 34, line 14] Staff appointments considered by some to be better than regimental soldiering.

[Page 35, line 5] four hundred rupee bracelets An expensive bracelet, worth some £30 in the 1960s and probably £600 today. (More than a month’s pay for Kipling when he started on the CMG.)

[Page 35, lines 13 – 33] Simla is a strange place etc a somewhat ambiguous statement calculated to lead the reader to suspect that there may well be something amiss !

[Page 36, lines 1 – 8) the sanctity of the marriage bond etc. A curious statement for those days implying that some couples in open adulterous relationships would be received in society at Simla and some would not. Men were dependent on their professions for their income, while women without private means were utterly dependent on their fathers or husbands for support as discussed in the notes on “A Wayside Comedy” next in this volume and in “Miss Youghal’s Sais” (Page 29, line 22).

There was, in India, nowhere for Europeans to hide unless they ‘went native’ like MacIntosh Jellaludin in “To be Filed for Reference”, or had special knowledge of languages and culture like Kim or Strickland and it is doubtful if Strickland could have earned his living as a groom ! It would be a most uncomfortable existence. like that of MacIntosh, even if he did marry the woman with whom he lived.

[Page 36,, line 15] muff a female fashion accessory usually of fur for keeping the hands warm

[Page 36, line 27] Elysium North of the Mashobra Tunnel

[Page 36, line 29] the Cart Road the old road from Kalka to Simla. See “Garm – a Hostage” p.75, in “Actions and Reactions” for the journey by train to Umballa and then horse-drawn carriage to Kalka and thence by tonga or curricle to Simla. See also Kipling’s India p. 163 for a description of the journey; also the verses “As the Bell Clinks”

[Page 36, line 29] the Tara Devi gap about four miles south of Simla.

[Page 37, lines 9–11] Rs. 1050 a month Saumarez, in “False Dawn” in Plain Tales from the Hills who ‘carried enough conceit to stock a Viceroy’s Council …’ had nearly Rs 1400 per month which was a very good salary at the time.

[Page 37, line 30] the Cemetery There is one shown on the plan just under a mile south of Christ Church, by Chota Simla: it would probably have been unfrequented except for the occasional funeral, and so a good rendezvous for the lovers. It may have been suggested by Kipling’s article in the Civil and Military Gazette in July 1885. which we have not traced. But Pinney in Kipling’s India p. 170, reprints an article from the Pioneer of 14 August 1886 which tells of the Old Cemetery of 1828 or thereabouts , “just above the Chota Simla dip”. It is not clear which cemetery is the scene of this story. See the poem “The Undertaker’s Horse”.

[Page 38, line 5] Rockcliffe Hotel later Clarke’s Hotel, on the Mall almost opposite the Bandstand.

[Page 38, line 32] ayahs nursemaids

[Page 38, line 33] Cantonments (Pronounced ‘cantoonments’) Permanent military settlements usually outside existing towns. (From Old French canton, meaning ‘corner’ or ‘district’).

[Page 39, line 18] ulster in this context, a long loose overcoat first produced in Northern Ireland.

[Page 39, line 21] … a goose had walked over my grave This is an old superstition, occasionally mentioned when a person has a slight shiver and perhaps ‘gooseflesh’ or pimples on the skin due to cold or fright. (Any information on the origin would be welcomed. Ed.)

[Page 39, line 33] the Mashobra Tunnel Mashobra is five miles to the east of Christ Church and Fagu is five miles further on the way to Narkanda – 30 miles from Simla and mentioned in “Lispeth”. (Plain Tales from the Hills).

[Page 40, line 10] snaffle in this context, a jointed bit, less severe than the usual curb.

[Page 40, line 23] shod with satin stepping very delicately.

[Page 42, line 6] Indian corn maize.

[Page 42, line 12} Medusa one of the Gorgons of ancient Greek legend – she had been a beautiful maiden, but the goddess Athena changed her hair into snakes as a punishment for having two sons by Poseidon, the sea-god. Medusa was so hideous that all who saw her face were turned to stone.

[J. McG.]