(notes by Isabel Quigly)

Publication history

The story was first published in The Windsor Magazine and McClure’s Magazine in December 1898. Three other ‘Stalky’ tales had already been published the previous year, “Slaves of the Lamp” Parts I and II in Cosmopolis and “In Ambush” in McClure’s. “Stalky” was not included in Stalky & Co. and was not collected until 1923, as one of the Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides.
At the head of the tale in that collection was a note by Kipling.

This happens to be the first story that was written concerning the adventures and performances of three schoolboys – “Stalky”, McTurk and “Beetle”. For some reason or other, it was never put into the book, called “Stalky & Co.” that was made out of the stories. A certain amount of it, I am sorry to say, is founded on fact, though that is no recommendation, and the only moral that I can see in it is, that when for any reason you happen to get into a tight place, you have a better chance of coming out of it comfortably if you keep your head than if you get excited and don’t stop to think.

The story

‘Beetle’ and his two close friends M’Turk and Corkran have been asked by some other boys to take part in a cattle ‘lift’ against a local farmer. They have declined, knowing that the others will make a muck of things. The three secretly follow to see what will happen, and sure enough, the raiders are captured, and locked up in a barn to await punishment. Corkran leads Turkey and Beetle up behind the barn, shows the raiders how to escape, ‘tweaks’ the cows with his catapult so that they run amuck, and locks up the farmhands. The three then show themselves, release the enraged farmhands, and return to school covered in glory. It has been a classic piece of ‘Stalkiness’, wily and ingenious. From then on Corkran has the nickname ‘Stalky’.

The verse heading

The magazine versions of the tale were headed by the following verse, quoted (rather inaccurately) from the Border Ballad, “Kinmont Willie”.

How they have taken Kinmont Willie
Against the peace of the bordertide,
And they’ve forgot that the Bauld Buccleuch
Was keeper here on the Scottish side.

Kinmont Willie was a notorious Scottish reiver (raider and cattle lifter) on the Anglo-Scottish border in the sixteenth century. He was captured by the English, locked up in Carlisle Castle, and awaited execution. However, according to the border law, he had been illegally arrested on a day of truce, so the Bauld Buccleuch, with a small band of men, forded the river Eden at peril to their lives, and stalkily snatched him out of the castle and away to safety.