A Second-rate Woman

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.

[Heading] Verse by Robert Browning (1812 –1889) a favourite poet of Kipling’s. whom he occasionally parodies. See “The Beginner”: and “Lady Geraldine’s Hardship” which is after Browning’s wife Elizabeth.

Browning’s “Waring” is quoted in “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I” in (Stalky & Co. p. 51), and there are a number of other Browning quotes in the passages which follow. See also Early Verse (ed. Rutherford) for other examples, which include “His Consolation” (p. 145) and “The Jam-Pot” (p. 151).

[Page 74, line 3] ayah lady’s maid.

[Page 74, line 6] flue in this context, fluff, dust etc.

[Page 74, lines 10 & 11] Stay me with fondants, comfort me with chocolates. This is an echo of “The Song of Solomon”, Chapter 2, verse 5: “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” A ‘fondant’ is a sweetmeat that melts in the mouth, from the French fondre, to melt.

[Page 74, line 12] Peliti’s see the note to p. 72, line 31 in “The Hill of Illusion”.

[Page 74, line 18] “Shady” in this context, somewhat disreputable.

[Page 75, line 1] of that ilk of that name, or place. Used in Scotland when the family name is the same as that of the estate.

[Page 75, line 5] Shigramitish woman a word coined by Kipling from the Hindi shigram – quick – a kind of hack mail-cart of clumsy design, (like a shed on wheels) drawn by bullocks or camels, and an echo of the Midianitish woman mentioned in Numbers, 25, 6 and 15, thus implying untidily dressed. (Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., ed John Whitehead, Hearthstone Publications 1998)

[Page 75, line 10] hooks and eyes A pun – a method of fastening dresses before the invention of the zip-fastener in 1891 and Velcro, for which a patent was applied in 1951. Hooks and eyes are still occasionally seen on the waist-band of skirts.

[Page 75, line 16] Rabelaisian somewhat indecent, like some of the works of François Rabelais (c. 1490–1553) French cleric, physician and author, some of whose robust and outspoken works were banned by the Sorbonne despite his profound learning and bold philosophy.

[Page 75, line 21] Otis Yeere see “The Education of Otis Yeere” (Plain Tales from the Hills)

[Page 75, line 28] The Dancing-Master A derogatory nickname for an unpleasant man as will be seen later in the story. (Cf Boswell’s report of Samuel Johnson’s remark about Lord Chesterfield’s Letters; They teach the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master).

[Page 76, line 14] femme incomprise a woman misunderstood or unappreciated.

[Page 76, line 26] of the most old possible a curious expression that appears to be translated literally from the French. (Not traced – suggestions welcomed. – Ed)

[Page 77, line 28] Higher Standard an examination in languages and professional matters, essential for promotion in the Indian Civil Service.

[Page 77, line 32] “Whom Mrs. Hauksbee hath joined together…” This is an echo of ‘The Form of Solemnation (sic) of Matrimony’ in The Book of Common Prayer: Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

[Page 78, lines 1 & 2] May Holt …. notorious detrimental… It is not clear who this is, as on the previous page she intends Miss Holt for young Hawley .

[Page 78, line 4] Dispenser of the Destinies of the Universe (This sounds like Fitzgerald or Flecker but we can’t find it. It may be an echo of a speech by Thomas Jefferson in 1801).

[Page 78, line 14] “sleeping on ale-house benches, and snoring in the sun” As Christopher Goodland has pointed out, this is an echo of Shakespear’s Henry IV, Part I (Act I Scene ii. Lines 2-5) in which Prince Henry addresses Falstaff thus:

‘Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack,
and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon,
that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldest truly


[Page 78, line 22] going to Phelp’s to get it let out Phelp’s was the dress shop in the Mall – implying she is putting on weight; a dreadful insult, even in jest !

[Page 80, line 11] a girl bred in the country usually applied to a daughter of British parents who had not been sent Home for her education despite the dangers from climate, speech and behaviour. “Country-bred” is also used for a horse born and bred in India See the note to Page 198, line 13 of “Tods’ Amendment” in Plain Tales from the Hills for the perils of bringing up children in India.

[Page 80, line 15] the Doon a valley on the Indian side of the Himalayas, known to Kipling.

[Page 80, line 16] Mussoorie hill-station and sanatorium 78 miles east of Umballa.

[Page 81, line 4] answer him according to his folly see Proverbs, 26, 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. But see also verse 4 which seems to contradict this assertion.

[Page 81, line 14] her dress bewrays her an echo of Matthew 26, 73: Surely thou art also one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.

[Page 81, line 15] supplément a bust-improver, or padded bodice.

[Page 82, line 9] What shall he have who killed the Deer ? This is a quotations from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (Act 4, Sc. 2, line 10) which seems to imply that the Dancing Master is making a cuckold of Delville.

[Page 82, line 30] lace tucker into her habit a cloth arranged at the neck of a woman’s garment to avoid showing too much bosom – the riding-habit has a very full skirt and a jacket, the latter usually worn over a shirt or blouse. (Any information on why a tucker would be considered inappropriate would be welcomed; Ed.)

[Page 83, line 1] Jakko a pleasant ride on the outskirts of Simla.

[Page 83, line 3] terai A wide-brimmed hat with a double crown and ventilation-holes, then worn by Europeans in the tropics. The word terai is Hindi, meaning ‘moist’ or ‘below’, and refers to a tract of marshy jungle at the foot of the Himalayas. (Hobson-Jobson).

[Page 84 , line 1] card-case usually an ornamental leather or precious metal container for the visiting-cards then essential in polite society

[Page 84, line 27] peace with honour echo of a speech by Disraeli in 1874 after the Congress of Berlin which settled a dispute between Russia and Turkey.

[Page 84, line 28] seat facing the window Not flattering for a lady of mature years. (See the note to “Venus Annodomini” in Plain Tales from the Hills page 258, line 9).

[Page 85, line 19] stumbling-block “…thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind. Leviticus, 19, 14. There are a dozen other biblical references to the expression.

[Page 85, line 22] tikka dhurzie an itinerant tailor.

[Page 85, line 23] lilies of the field Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not neither do they spin … yet … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6, 28-29.

[Page 86, line 3] Tête-fêlée crack-brained.

[Page 86, line 10] “God gie us a guid conceit of oorselves” Robert Burns’s letter to Clarinda, 7 March, 1788 (Whitehead), See also Romans 12, 16.

[Page 86, line 20] I am old who was young I have been young, and now am old. Psalm 37, 25.

[Page 86, line 22] my parting is gauze She is wearing a wig.

[Page 86, line 33] pervaded Either Kipling is using this word ironically or it could be a misprint for paraded ?

[Page 87, line 32] “If in his life some trivial errors fall… etc a parody of Alexander Pope’s “Rape of the Lock”.

[Page 88, line 22] unlace me she is wearing a corset (then known as stays – see line 26 below).

[Page 89, line 3] kala juggah “dark place” for sitting out a dance and flirtation.

[Page 89, line 5] loose-boxes in kanats a loose-box is a stable in which a horse can, as the name implies, be left loose. A kanat is the “wall” of a tent, and so another possible enclosure for dalliance. See “The Education of Otis Yeere” earlier in this volume, and the poem “Pink Dominoes”.

[Page 89, line 19] drops her final g’s At one time an affectation of very well-bred English people, or those aspiring to be – huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ ! Still occasionally to be heard today.

[Page 89, line 20] blue-blooded aristocratic, Spanish sangre azul, from the blue veins of the descendants of the Visigoths.
Aide-de-Camp a young officer – usually of good family – who originally galloped over the battlefield with orders, but developed into the Social Secretary of Viceroys, Commanders-in-Chief and other senior officers.

[Page 90, line 30] Lord High Warden an echo of Gilbert and Sullivan’s characters in his light operas The Mikado and The Gondoliers, but not an appointment we have traced, the nearest being the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

[Page 91, line 28] life was not a happy one an echo of the Sergeant’s song from Act 2 of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance – “A Policeman’s lot is not a happy one !”

[Page 92, line 14] diphtheria Infectious epidemic disease with a powerful effect on the nervous system and usually fatal to children until the injection of an anti-toxin was pioneered in 1894. Yellow points appear on the tonsils and spread as a membrane which may block the air passages. Heart failure and paralysis are also possible. The membrane must be removed and the throat washed out with antiseptics. The authorities consulted do not mention sucking out the membrane as the Head did in “A Little Prep” (Stalky & Co.). For a more detailed account see the section on diptheria in the article on “Kipling and Medicine by Dr Gillian Sheehan, specially written for this Guide.

[Page 92, line 15] smallpox an acute infectious disease with fever and eruptions on the body which eventually leave disfiguring scars.– see “The Tomb of his Ancestors” (The Day’s Work) for young Chinn vaccinating the Bhils against the disease.
For a more detailed account see the section on smallpox in the article on “Kipling and Medicine by Dr Gillian Sheehan, specially written for this Guide.

[Page 92, line 20] “set her five young on the rail”

The swallow has set her six young on the rail
And looks to sea-ward..

(Robert Browning – “James Lee’s Wife”)

‘set on the rail’ can also mean ‘put on the train’, perhaps a pun, when one imagines the birds sitting on a fence ready to migrate.

[Page 92, line 25] croup commences as a sore throat and can easily be mistaken for the onset of diphtheria.

[Page 93, line 20] taken my fringe off Polly Mallowe evidently embraces Lucy Hauksbee who remonstrates – suggesting she might be wearing an artificial fringe which would come adrift.

[Page 94, lines 13-15] more quickly caught than the plague… We have not traced this reference. [suggestions are welcomed. Ed.]

[Page 94, line 16] the Elysium the hotel to the north-east of the the church in Simla.

[Page 94, line 25] Condy’s Fluid a powerful disinfectant

[Page 94, line 27] chlorine-water a solution of chlorine gas in water used as a gargle etc.

[Page 94, line 27] carbolic acid Phenol – a poisononous fluid to be used with great care as an antiseptic.

[Page 96, line 25] caustic Caustic Soda or Caustic Potash a powerful alkali, which can be used to destroy warts and small tumours etc., also to clear blocked drains.

[Page 97, line 26] Goddess from the Machine normally the ‘God from the Machine’, expressed in Latin as deus ex machina, meaning an unexpected event which resolves a difficult situation. In early Greek drama, when a god was required to appear, he was brought on by stage machinery to perform an important part of the action, as indeed Mrs. Delville has just done here. (This is not to be confused with the story of the same name in Soldiers Three)

[Page 98, line 33] Valley of Humiliation a quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1628–1688). His Holy War is quoted over Kipling’s poem of the same name. Mrs Hauksbee is humiliated by her own inability to cope with the child’s illness.

[Page 99, lines 26–33] American-heiress-globe-trotter etc The ORG quotes an undated letter from Kipling, believed to be in the Library of Congress, describing this incident in rather vague terms.

[J. McG.]