Steam Tactics


Cape Station: H.M.S. Postulant

Dear Pyecroft, – This should reach you about the time you turn over to the Hierophant, and I hope finds you as fit as when we parted.

I always thought, as you said three years ago, that it would be a sin and a shame not to make a story out of some of the things that have happened between you and Hinchcliff and me, every time we met.

Now I have written out some of the tales. Of course, I ought to have stuck to what I knew would go down quietly; but one thing leading to another, I put it all in, and it made six Number One tales. I put in about the reply-telegram at Wool – when you and Cordery tried to help the dumb girl with the pig; I put in about the Plymouth baby – the night after the Belligerent paid off; and I put in about Portland Station and the Captain, and the penny-piece which we saw. Nevertheless, when it was all done, a man that I can trust in the literary line said that, to go down at all, those last three numbers would have to be translated into French; and he recommended me to hand them over to a captain in the French Navy called Loti . I did not care to accede to this, so I took them over and laid them by till happier times, and now people will never know what they have lost. However, enough residuum remains to amuse, if not to instruct; and I can always put the rest into a large fine book.

Hinchcliff had the Djinn at the Coronation Review . I met him on the beach afterwards, and I got him to check the story of our trips in the motors. He said he could guarantee your being agreeable to it, if I cut out all that happened on the Cramberhurst Road, as it would hurt Agg’s feelings. I know, from what you said at the time, that you didn’t care about Agg’s feelings; so I suppose Hinchcliff and Agg have made it up.

The other two tales you checked yourself, viva voce before last Manoeuvres; but I put some more to them on my own later, and it is very likely that I have not got all the Navy minutiae quite right. About Antonio, you were not then in a position to be accurate all through; and about No. 267, I was then in strange surroundings and rather excited myself. Therefore there may be much in them which is not technically true; but Hinchcliff says I have got the spirit all correct. You will see, as these stories come out, the care I have taken to disguise your name and rating, and everything else which might reflect upon you. Unless you care to give yourself away, which I have never known you to do yet, detection is quite impossible for you and Hinchcliff. Hence I am writing freely, and though accused of extravaganzas by some people, can rest confident that there is much more in these literary efforts of mine than meets the casual eye.

Yours as before,

P.S. – Since writing the above there has been a hitch about the Antonio tale and the proceedings of No. 267; it being freely alleged that Antonio won’t go down , because it is a bit too thick (this shows how much people know), and 267 would be subversive to discipline, as well as likely to annoy admirals. Consequently I have had to begin at the wrong end – with the motor trips – which is about the same as securing arms at the beginning of G.Q.’s, if I am right in my technical inferences.

Ediitor’s note
This ‘letter’ suggests that Kipling regarded technical errors in his stories, even if numerous, as being minutiae and unimportant, provided “I have got the spirit all correct”. This Editor, and most of his readers over the century since the tale was written, would say he did get the spirit correct.

©Rudyard Kipling 1902 All rights reserved