My Sunday at Home

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Day’s Work, as published and frequently reprinted between 1898 and 1950.

[Title] When this Editor first read the story, in his teens, some fifty-five years ago, he could not see the connection between the narrator’s “Sunday at home”, and what he understood by “Sunday at home”: Church – Matins (morning service) of course – family Sunday lunch – a walk in the afternoon – cold supper). It was much later in life that he realised that Kipling was speaking of ‘home’ with the voice of the returned colonial: so he might well have said: “My Sunday in England” (had he considered himself an American – and it is interesting to speculate what he might have become, and how he might have seen himself had he and Carrie not fled from ‘Naulakha’ after the humiliating argument with her brother Beatty the following year)

[Page. 341 line 3] A New Yorker from New York. Peter Havholm, an American who recently lived in New York City, writes:

New York City is in the state of New York. The ‘New Yorker from New York’ comes from New York City. Most frequently, a “New York” accent is some slight variation on the Brooklyn accent. Brooklyn is a borough within New York City. Upstate New Yorkers do not sound like New Yorkers from New York City, and a Brooklyn accent would strike an American from (say) California as a pronounced (often risible—like Welsh in Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”) dialect of American English. It has recently been made famous by television shows like The Sopranos and films like Goodfellas. According to H. L. Mencken’s American Language the accent was first scientifically documented in the 1890s. It would have been equally distinct during Kipling’s residence in the United States a few years earlier.

Kipling’s ‘It was the unreproducible slid r, as he said this was his ‘fy-ist’ visit to England” strikes a person who has recently lived in New York City as demonstrating the difficulty of getting subtle sound differences into the English language. The descriptions “slid r “ and “fy-ist” do not capture the Brooklyn accent to which the passage must refer.

The best demonstration of this is a YouTube video of an Englisman discussing and demonstrating the Brooklyn accent using British terminology. It is to be found here. What Kipling calls ‘the slid r’ is discussed beginning at 1:44 minutes into the video.

The significance of the choice of Brooklyn on Kipling’s part (he might have made the character a native of Brattleboro like the home horses or “Western,” like the labor organizing horse in “A Walking Delegate”) is less clear. The train guard’s message to passengers is ‘Has any gentleman here a bottle of medicine? A gentleman has taken a bottle of poison (laudanum) by mistake.’

The New York City man, a doctor, responds ‘After the manner of his countrymen’—as an American, not particularly as a New Yorker—and races to save the life of a man he believes to be in mortal danger.

Since the narrator later encourages (as a practical joke) an English doctor to make the same mistake the American makes, the reader is not asked to think the harm caused by the American doctor’s misunderstanding as anything more than humorously ridiculous. Ultimately, the mistake is attributed to the English (not the American) language: ‘There is nothing, unless, perhaps, the English language, more terrible than …’ This is not an anti-American story, despite the American’s amusing ignorance of British life and customs.

Perhaps the repetition in ‘New Yorker from New York.’ is meant to indicate that this American is especially American and therefore likely to make all of the mistakes the doctor makes with the Navvy. Or perhaps a Brooklyn accent is what shows at once that he is American—prompting the narrator not to mention his own familiarity with the United States, the familiarity that allows him to know the man’s city as soon as he speaks. Kipling’s narrator has long been a man who prefers to do nothing to affect the behavior of exotic characters in exotic situations in the hope that something interesting or amusing will happen. Perhaps something as interesting as the conversation between Wilton Sargent and the psychiatrist in “An Error in the Fourth Dimension,” another practical joke story in The Day’s Work. See also “The Vortex” in A Diversity of Creatures.
J M S Tompkins calls these stories “Kipling’s farces,” and the set-up is always key. [P.H.]

[Page 341, line 5] Waterloo the (then) London and South Western Railway main line from the great terminus of Waterloo in London ran to the west country through Surrey, with a branch to Portsmouth at Woking; Hampshire, with a branch (the original main line) to Southampton and Weymouth at Basingstoke; Wiltshire, calling at Salisbury, and with a wayside station at Tisbury where Kipling’s parents lived; and on through Dorset, Somerset and in to Devon, where it crossed the other main line to the west, the Great Western Railway, and thence round the great northern flank of Dartmoor via Okehampton and Tavistock to Plymouth. Click here for a lyrical description of a journey down the main line of the London and South Western Railway in the first decade of the 20th century.

The Waterloo station at the time of the tale had been lampooned (with some justification) in Jerome
K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat published six years earlier. Like Topsy, it had just growed, until it was a positive rabbit-warren of odd platforms here and there. It took its name only indirectly from the great battle against the French in 1815: it fronted on to the Waterloo Bridge Road, which led to Waterloo Bridge, which had been completed in 1817, two years after the battle: the station was opened in 1848.

[Page 341, line 6] professing ignorance Kipling is playing the innocent observer. See the notes on “An Error in the Fourth Dimension”.

[Page 341, line 8] a shilling 20 cents at the then rate of exchange, and a generous tip for such a small service in those days. Twopence or threepence would have been normal for one bag carried such a short distance in the 1890s. Today, the porter has disappeared, and you carry your own bag.

[Page 341, line 10] thoroughly investigated the first-class lavatory compartment, which the London and South Western sometimes supply without extra charge Coaching stock on all British railways at this date lacked internal corridors, so the provision of lavatory accommodation was rare: in the event of inadequate preparation for your journey, you relieved yourself at intermediate stations. (In fact, the Great Western Railway had introduced the first all-corridor train the year before, 1893.) But the very best carriages at this date sometimes provided two lavatories sandwiched between two first-class compartments, accessible from each compartment. The third-class passenger was rarely so lucky. In America, with longer distances to be covered, coaching stock consisted almost universally of open saloons, with toilet provision at one end.

[Page 341, line 18] cars note the use of this Americanism (for freight cars), in place of ‘truck’ or ‘wagon’ to further indicate that the speaker is American and new to England. Later, at page 343, line 14, he starts to say ‘conductor’ instead of ‘guard’. British goods wagons were universally short four-wheeled vehicles at this time, and came in a variety of types: they remained so until the 1960s and the end of the provision of freight facilities at virtually every station, from the smallest halt, with a single siding, to the large goods stations and warehouses through which all the merchandise for a large city passed. American freight cars, on the other hand, were much longer, carried on two bogies (trucks), and, other than specialist vehicles, were covered boxcars.

[Page 341, line 19] a tarpaulin most British merchandise was carried in open wagons: if weather protection was needed, then a wagon-sheet was placed over it and tied down. British wagons were therefore more versatile in their use than American – an open wagon could be used to carry bulk goods, e.g. sand and gravel, one day, and a load of packing cases, under a tarpaulin, the next, in a way that a box-car could not.

[Page 342, line 1] engineer In England an ‘engine-driver’. [The answer is: somewhere between £2 10s 0d and £4 0s 0d, or $10 – $16, per week.]

[Page 342, line 3] what was the rank of all those men on tricycles an interesting question/observation on at least two counts. In using the word ‘rank’, the speaker means ‘class’: and it may be suggested that it would have been unusual for an American to have been concerned about ‘class’. And the fact that he had seen ‘tricycles’ indicates that the new ‘safety’ bicycle had not yet caught on. Cycling, whether on the old-fashioned ‘penny-farthing’ bicycle or one of the many forms of tricycle or quadricycle had become popular in England in the 1880s, and at week-ends members of cycling clubs would go for a communal ‘spin’ in the countryside.

The ‘penny-farthing’ was a dangerous beast to ride, and the tricycle was more stable: the latter was also frequently constructed to carry a passenger in front, or for two people side-by-side (a ‘sociable’), so young men could take their girls with them. The ‘safety’ bicycle, in appearance and construction essentially the same as today’s bicycles, was introduced in about 1887, and was soon adapted to be ridden by ladies. Cycling was a middle-class pastime.

[Page 342, line 5/6] when were we due at Plymouth? it would have taken about six hours on a week-day, but more like seven-and-a-half on Sunday (in 1898, the fastest weekday train was the 3 p.m. from Waterloo, taking five hours and twenty-five minutes to Plymouth). Today, one cannot travel from Waterloo to Plymouth without changing trains, nor is the route round the north side of Dartmoor available: there are two trains out of Waterloo on a Sunday via Salisbury, and by changing at Exeter one can reach Plymouth in six hours and twenty minutes. However from London (Paddington) one can reach Plymouth in three and a quarter hours.

[Page 342, line 9] The Hoe a green eminence overlooking Plymouth Sound, the sea and the Hamoaze into which the river Tamar flows. Here, Drake is reputed to have played his historic game of bowls as the Spanish Armada was sighted moving up the Channel in July 1588. There are also some late Georgian residences around the Hoe, to one of which, no doubt, the American doctor’s friend had been called.

[Page 342, line 23] pink and white may may is the blossom of the hawthorn, so called because it is in bloom in the month of May.

[Page 342, line 30] Framlynghame Admiral unidentified, but there are sufficient clues, if one must try to place the setting exactly. Firstly, the name is fictitious: there is a small town called Framlingham, in Suffolk, and there is a Hinton Admiral on the Bournemouth line of the London and South Western Railway, but these are diversions. We do know that the train is west of Andover, because (page 344, line 10) the guard put a bottle of medicine off when they stopped there: they are in Wiltshire – the Kipling narrator says so (page 343, line 9): and they are on ‘Salisbury Plain, unshaded for mile after mile’ (page 347, line 32). Therefore they are east of Salisbury (west of Salisbury, the railway moves into the rolling countryside of the Dorset downs and the valley of the Nadder, leaving the Plain to the north, and the narrator’s vis-à-vis is unlikely to have passed Salisbury without remarking on the spire, so they have not yet reached Salisbury).

This suggests, if we must fix on a place, that Kipling had Grately or Porton in his mind when he created Framlynghame Admiral: and of the two, Grately is the more likely, since the village lies about a mile from the station, whereas Porton station was in the village (the porter was a ‘dot in the distance … returning to Framlynghame Admiral, if such a place existed’ (page 347, line 33).

[Page 342, lines 30-32] made up entirely of the nameboard, two platforms and an overhead bridge, without even the usual siding In railway terms, and following the rest of the story, this cannot be literally true. We are later told that there is a lamp-room, and the guard evidently receives a telegram, so there must be a telegraph office, and a signal box: and if those were there, then there must have been station buildings, however minimal: a shelter on one side, and a booking office and waiting room on the other, with a station clock (a compulsory item in the Board of Trade inspection of any railway station).

The facilities which are described are those of a ‘Halt’; a stopping place for passenger trains only; but there were no Halts on the London and South Western Railway at this date (and very few on any other British railway – they were a feature of the early 1900s and later.) Kipling is basing his description on a ‘flag station’, such as might be found in rural parts of the USA. Nor, later in Great Britain, was it likely that a Halt would possess a footbridge. If the traffic offering was insufficient to warrant full station facilities, then it was unlikely to warrant the expense of a footbridge.

None of the above comments affect the story, but in a collection of tales which are full of esoteric technical detail, it is sad to have to suggest that ‘Homer sometimes nods’.

[Page 343, line 11] with his left hand an expression meaning ‘it ought to be a simple matter”: most of us write with our right hand, but here the countryside and atmosphere is so appropriate that it would be a simple matter to write a novel with one’s left hand.

[Page 343, line 12] about Tess’s country the American doctor is well-read, and up-to-date. Thomas Hardy (1849-1928) lived in south Dorsetshire and wrote novels, the scenes of which were set in that part of the country and in Wiltshire: one of the most famous was Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which had only recently been published, in 1891. In fact, ‘Tess’s country’ would have been further west, her home village of Marlott, being based on Marnhull, some thirty miles further on.

[Page 343, line 16] The splendid badged and belted guard the guard of a train was a senior official, responsible for the running of the train. At this date, guards on the more important railways wore a formal uniform of a frock coat with a leather cross-belt and pouch, with a distinctly military look.

[Page 343, line 20] bottle of medicine to summarize the mystery briefly, a telegram from Woking came into the hands of the guard while the train was at Framlynghame Admiral (it may be assumed that the train was stopped specially for that purpose). Its import was that some unknown person, who had left the train at Woking, had taken (received) by mistake a bottle of poison (laudanum), and that the bottle he should have taken (of some unspecified medicine) was still on the train; and that enquiries were to be made on the train to find that other bottle so that it could be sent back to him as soon as possible.

It transpires that the guard was nearly sure he had put off another bottle of medicine at Andover, which would have been the previous stop. Whatever confusion between bottles of medicine may have occurred, it is clear that the bottle which had been put off at Andover had been consigned as a ‘Passenger Train Parcel’, which was a common method of despatch for small packages in the days before motor transport, and where the ordinary delay of the postal services was not acceptable.

There are a number of implausibilities in the tale: for there to have been confusion at Woking, the bottle of medicine put off there must also have been in the charge of the guard, who would surely say “I remember giving him a package of medicine which I thought was the right one, it was labelled for Woking” – or something along those lines: but this is a farce, and such improbabilities need to occur to make the farce work. However that may be, by the time the train stopped at Framlynghame Admiral, it may be taken that there was no bottle of medicine (poisonous or otherwise) on board the train in the possession of the guard or any other person. The navvy (we are about to be introduced to the navvy) had clearly been imbibing from some other form of bottle.

[Page 343, line 27] snap-shutter this word, a compound word, does not appear in the Oxford English Dicionary (OED), but may be taken to be a word newly invented by Kipling. ‘Snapshot’ photography had arrived in 1888, with the first Kodak camera (slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest”), and the OED gives the first use of the word ‘snap’, meaning a simple photograph, as 1895. But it would seem probable that Kipling had encountered the word in the USA before that date, and had invented this word to mean camera-shutter.

[Page 344, line 25] ’E’s been wirin’ He’s been telegraphing – sending a telegram, or ‘wire’. The use of ‘to wire’ in this meaning was originally American, but had been in English usage for about 20 years at this date.

[Page 345, line 3] Right be’ind!’ the more normal call of the railway guard to start the train was ‘Right away’, but although this is the 1890s, the guard might well have been a mail-coach guard in his youth, and their call was ‘Right behind’; some mail coaches ran until the 1870s, or even later in the remoter parts, particularly of Scotland.

[Page 345, line 12] navvy a labourer, one mainly employed on excavation and similar work. The word in full is ‘navigator’, the name given to the labourers employed on the excavation of the early navigation canals, and taken with them when the age of canals gave way to the railway age. In the Royal Navy, a ‘shovel, navigator’s’ was still included in the Authorised List of Naval Stores until 1954 at least, and this has at times given rise to the question “What does the navigator of one of HM Ships need a shovel for?” [This Editor detects the hand of the late Rear-Admiral Brock in that entry.]

[Page 345, line 28] but there’s a heap to him he’s a big man.

[Page 346, line 2] I asked him if he’d have a drink Navvies were notorious for their drinking habits: at the end of a working day, they would drink prodigious quantities of beer, and carried the habit over to non-working days (see page 356, lines 16-18 below). At this date, Public Houses, Ale-houses and Beer shops were unregulated as to their hours – our present concept of licensing hours was introduced with the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914, to prevent munitions workers from getting drunk, and thus imperilling the war effort by absenteeism. The navvy has, presumably, been drinking bottled beer during his journey.

[Page 346, line 26] Constitution see the definition given in the notes to An Error in the Fourth Dimension.

[Page 347, lines 2/3] silk-faced collar this is not so strange as it may seem. At that time, a light grey spring overcoat might well have had a silk facing on its lapels.

[Page 347, line 15] I saw his hand travel backwards to his right hip, clutch at something, and come away empty this is before prohibition, so it wasn’t a hip-flask he was reaching for, to offer the navvy a drink. Kipling is suggesting that the New York doctor might have been accustomed to carrying a pistol – as is suggested by the narrator’s next remark: ‘He won’t kill you’.

[Page 347, line 22] 193 ‘Steenth Street, Corner of Madison and – 116th Street at the corner of Madison Avenue is an actual crossing in Harlem, New York City.

[Page 347, line 31] the white road the almost ubiquitous grey-black tar-macadam which forms road surfaces today, was not generally introduced in Britain until the 1920s. So at this time, a country road might be macadamised – that is with a surface of water-bound small stones over a base of bigger stones, or just gravel, or merely beaten and rutted earth, Whichever it was, in a dry summer the surface became dry and white, and extremely dusty; this is why, ten years’ later, when Kipling started motoring, goggles and dust veils were an absolute necessity, and punctures (from sharp flints and the like) were commonplace.

[Page 348, line 7] Nirvana The following quotation is taken from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The term that has become famous in the West is nirvana, translated as passing away or dying out—that is, the dying out in the heart of the fierce fires of lust, anger, and delusion. But nirvana is not extinction, and indeed the craving for annihilation or non-existence was expressly repudiated by the Buddha. Buddhists search for salvation, not just nonbeing. Although nirvana is often presented negatively as ‘release from suffering’, it is more accurate to describe it in a more positive fashion: as an ultimate goal to be sought and cherished.

In some early texts the Buddha left unanswered certain questions regarding the destiny of persons who have reached this ultimate goal. He even refused to speculate as to whether fully purified saints, after death, continued to exist or ceased to exist. Such questions, he maintained, were not relevant to the practice of the path and could not in any event be answered from within the confines of ordinary human existence. Indeed, he asserted that any discussion of the nature of nirvana would only distort or misrepresent it. But he also asserted with even more insistence that nirvana can be experienced—and experienced in the present existence—by those who, knowing the Buddhist truth, practice the Buddhist path.

A more concise, and perhaps more appropriate, definition for this case, is taken from the current Merriam-Webster Dictionary: ‘a place or state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality’.

[Page 348, line 9] forty-shilling fine As observed in the note on “An Error in the Fourth Dimension”, a forty-shilling fine was the standard penalty for all sorts of petty misdemeanours at this date. In this case, it was the by-laws of the railway company, justified under Parliamentary authority in the Act which created the company, which gave authority for the penalty. The power to take a person to court for crossing the railway at rail level when a bridge was provided was rarely exercised, but it could be a useful power in the hands of the stationmaster at times.

[Page 349, line 9] that fell which fell the doctor has administered a powerful emetic to the navvy, and he has been violently sick.

[Page 349, line 10] Hell Gate originally called Hoellgat (whirling-gut) by the Dutch settlers, this was a dangerous passage between Great Barn Island, and Long Island, New York. Flood Rock, its most dangerous reef, was blown up, using some 300,000 lbs of explosive, in the interests of safe navigation in 1885 – so Kipling was relying on hearsay. But the eruption of rock and water must, indeed, have been remarkable. The Hell Gate Bridge, across the East River has a single span of 1,017 feet and was opened in 1917.

[Page 349, line 10] geysers in the Yellowstone Park Yellowstone Park was the first National Park established anywhere in the world, in 1872. It lies mostly in the state of Wyoming, and is 3,400 square miles in extent (in comprehensible figures, that is about 60 miles by 60 miles, or twice the size of the English County of Sussex). There are a number of geothermal features there, amongst which is ‘Old Faithful’, a geyser which erupts with great regularity at intervals of 91 minutes. Kipling had visited Yellowstone on his way across America in 1889, and wrote about it in letters XXIX, XXX and XXXI, to be found in Vol. II of From Sea to Sea.

[Page 349, line 10] Jonah and his whale See the Book of Jonah, in the Old Testament.

[Page 349, line 19] “scream of a maddened beach dragged down by the tide” frequently, Kipling quotes a little inaccurately when relying on memory – the last word should be “wave”. It is a line from the poem “Maud”, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).
Giles Caldin points out: The line itself is a free translation of Homer’s polyphloisboio thalassesIliad I.34; Odyssey XIII.220 – which was a well-known Greek tag in the nineteenth century. Schoolboys were taught it as an onomatopoeia: the noise of shingle being dragged seawards between the onshore crashes of successive waves. It seems Kipling remembered the line (inaccurately) and made metaphorical use of it to indicate the navvy’s intakes of breath between paroxysms, best left to the imagination. [G.C.]

[Page 349, line 26] the caryatid French of Victor Hugo Hugo’s bad qualities, vulgarity, bombast, blatant egoism, have obscured his remarkable gifts, for he is historically one of the greatest figures in French literature and the greatest literary influence on 19th century France. This influence was on technique, but technique in French poetry is of primary importance. His verse, say the critics, will always retain not only its beauty but also its strength, and it is doubtless this combination that Kipling appreciated by the use of the word ‘caryatid’ to describe it. A caryatid is a sculptured draped female figure used as a support in Greek, Roman and Renaissance architecture. Some of the finest examples form the front of the Erectheum of the Acropolis at Athens, and one of these is to be seen in the British Museum.

[Page 350, line 14] you damned anarchist anarchism is a political philosophy based on the rejection of any form of compulsory government: its origins may be said to go back to the 17th century, but at the date of this tale the common perception was that anarchists destroyed for destruction’s sake – the common portrayal was the furtive cloaked figure with a bomb: so the navvy believes that the doctor has poisoned him for no good reason.

[Page 350, line 19] the great teaching hospital in Southwark, in London south of the Thames, which was founded by Thomas Guy (1644-1724). He was a bookseller and later one of the Oxford University printers. The hospital cost £18,000 and he left £220,000 (a simply astronomical sum in those days) for its endowment.

[Page 350, line 26] body-snatcher (sometimes called a resurrectionist or resurrection-man). One who in former days disinterred dead bodies to sell them for the purpose of anatomical dissection. In the early 19th century, previous to the passing of the Anatomy Act, 1832, many precautions were taken to prevent graves being looted: in some graveyards, watch-towers were erected so that the supply of corpses obtained by this means was discouraged. Two scoundrels, Burke and Hare, then took to murder by strangulation as an alternative method. Burke was hanged in 1829. The price of a corpse is said to have averaged £8 to £14.

[Page 350, line 29] Union an early reference to Trade Unions. In 1895, 170 trade unions with membership of 1,000,000 were affiliated to the Trade Union Congress, and 1,340 trade unions were in existence with a million-and-a-half membership.

[Page 350, line 33] physickin’ furriner physic – an obsolete word meaning medicine; hence ‘to physic’ meant to administer a dose of medicine. And ‘furriner’ is ‘foreigner’.

[Page 351, line 10] -fif- the doctor was about to say ‘fifteen dollars’ – at five dollars to the pound.

[Page 351, line 12] twenty – cold – on the plates the navvy’s corpse would fetch twenty pounds for anatomical dissection, having been disposed of lawfully.

[Page 352, line 6-7] cocoanut: golden gorse the association of smells constantly occurs in Kipling’s work, occasioned perhaps by memories of Indian smells.

[Page 352, line 8] Linnaeus Carl von Linné (1707-1778), the great Swedish naturalist and botanist and founder of the modern science of systematic botany. His greatest work, however, was in the devising of classifications, and he was the first to enunciate the principles for defining genera and species, and to provide a uniform system of specific names.

[Page 352, line 14-16] I supposed the navvy was now dead. If that were the case it would be time for me to go Professor Tompkins (see the headnote ) speaks of the Demon of Irresponsibility. It may be suggested that the canons of respectability would indicate the desirability of distancing oneself from such an unfortunate occurrence, but the duties of hospitality towards a guest in our country (Kipling is ‘at home’, isn’t he?), and of responsibility as a citizen for law and order would require one to stay. But the philosopher takes over, and putting his trust in Circumstance, the narrator stays to see the farce played out to the end.

[Page 352, line 27] fly one of the various names given to a one-horse hackney cab; a closed, four-wheel vehicle which would ply for hire – either from the local inn, or the local railway station. The expression dates from 1816 (OED).

[Page 353, line 1] machine from the machine a play upon words. A horse-drawn passenger vehicle was often referred to as a machine (cf handbills for stage-coaches in the 18th century – “The Flying Machine” – from Edinburgh to London in four days (God willing)!!) The reference is to the phrase Deus ex machina, which means the intervention of some unlikely event in order to extricate a person from difficulties. It comes from the ‘machine’ which was part of the mechanics of the Greek theatre, by which a god could be let down upon the stage during the action of the play.

[Page 353, line 31 collops slice of meat, fried or otherwise. Its Biblical meaning was ‘fold of skin or fat’. Collop Monday was in the North country, the day before the Lenten fast, when collops and fried eggs were eaten. In Scotland, minced meat is called minced collops.

[Page 354, line 1] cock-nosed shears a pair of surgical scissors with bent blades.

[Page 354, line 2 vandyking to cut or shape with deep angular indentations or points, as in the shape of the lace collars affected by the sitters in some of the portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), the great Flemish portrait painter.

[Page 354, line 12] demilune in the shape of a half-moon.

[Page 354, line 16] splines the slats which formed the back of the seat.

[Page 354, line 19] box-turtle the North American Box Turtles (terrapene), which can withdraw completely into their shell and close both openings, by means of a transverse hinge across the plastron, or shell covering the underparts of the body. These animals are water tortoises and have the high domed shell of the exclusively land tortoises such as Kinixys, Pyxis and Testudo.

[Page 354, lines 30/31] to bring home from church this editor, as he has previously remarked, has a ‘son of Martha’ habit of asking questions, and wondering why. The time is approximately four-thirty, p.m. It is too early for Evensong, so the person (it later transpires it is the squire) has been to Matins – 11 a.m. Why did he drive five miles to attend Morning Service? His own parish church was probably within yards of his manor house. Perhaps he had been invited to lunch after church with a neighbouring landowner (cf the Chapins in “An Habitation Enforced”, who are invited by the Conants to come to lunch after their first attendance at church after buying Pardons).
If that were not the case, why had it taken so long for the fly to start out? – when the squire discovered that his carriage horses were lame (and how did both get lamed at the same time?) he would have sent the coachman, or footman, on foot or a borrowed horse to his home village to get the village fly as a substitute. At the latest, the message ought to have reached the village inn where the fly was kept at about 2 p.m. But probably the jarvey was not immediately available – it is, after all, Sunday.

None of this is, perhaps, relevant to the tale, except that, following the above train of thought, it indicates the unhurried pace of life in rural England at that time, which Kipling has been signalling in sparser prose. Nor do the answers to the queries posed matter – the fly is, after all, ‘the machine from the machine’, and not subject to the normal rules of logic.

[Page 355, line 3] Helen Blazes ‘Hell and Blazes’, a useful expletive which seems to have been first used regularly in America. It may be doubted whether it is in use in Britain today.

[Page 355, line 20] flog to urge the horse on with the whip. The ‘untold gold’ (line 2 above) offered to the driver had had its effect

[Page 356, line 1] Foresters The Ancient Order of Foresters (dating from 1834, but with 18th century roots) was one of the earliest of the ‘Friendly Societies’, mutual associations whose object was to provide the members with money allowances during incapacity for work, or on the death of a member or his wife. Most of the friendly societies have, since 1912, undergone some change of function by association with the administration of National Insurance schemes (these latter dating from Lloyd George’s 1909 budget) and they are now known as ‘Approved Societies’.

[Page 356, line 6] the perfect smoke that followed Kipling was an inveterate smoker, as were very many of his generation – and as had been their forebears for several centuries. There seems to be no doubt that, setting aside any form of addiction, there was consolation to be found in tobacco, (‘‘but a good cigar is a Smoke’ – “The Betrothed” in (Departmental Ditties), and one may wonder what will be the long-term effects of the current, or about-to-be-current, legislation forbidding smoking in public places – apart, that is, from the hoped-for improvement in public health. This Editor makes the comment as a life-long non-smoker.

[Page 356, line 8] Arabian Nights the tales told by the Princess Scheherazade to the ancient Persian King Shahryar: sometimes known as the 1001 nights, or variants. These tales date back to 800-900 A.D., but there is no one original manuscript: they include such stories as “Aladdin”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, etc. To the narrator, the ‘real’ world, the outside world of trains and timetables and telegrams seems unreal, compared to the peace of the English countryside.

[Page 356, line 10] moleskins moleskin was a special cloth, strong, soft, fine-piled cotton fustian – nothing to do with ‘the little gentleman in black velvet’ who digs up my lawn. In those days it was much used by labourers, particularly for trousers, but jackets and waistcoats of the same material were worn. They were as much a trademark of the labourer as are jeans, and brown, reinforced toecap calf-length boots today.

[Page 356, line 15] Valley of the Shadow see the 23rd Psalm: ‘Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil’. The phrase is commonly quoted to indicate the imminence of death.

[Page 356, line 24] packed road metal not to be taken literally – ‘road metal’ referred to the hard-packed surface of small stones of a macadamised road (see the note on page 347, line 31 above).

[Page 356, line 26] smell of white dust, bruised nettles and smoke another appreciation of the smells of the countryside. It is also worth remarking that, of course, despite it being high summer, there would be smoke from at least one chimney in every cottage, since cooking in most cases would have been over an open fire: a few houses might have had a patent cooking-range, the precursor of today’s ‘Aga’, but few among the labourers’ cottages.

[Page 357, line 1] a truckload of lamps Here again, we have a slight case of ‘Homer nodding’ – see the note on page 342, lines 30-32 above. At this date, all main line trains would be lighted by compressed oil gas, a system invented by Julius Pintsch: some, but very few, were even lit by electricity (the Brighton line had introduced the first electrically-lit carriages in 1882). Many branch line trains were still lit by oil lamps. But the truckload of lamps here mentioned is for the station and the signal-box.

If the station were, indeed, just two platforms, as described earlier, then there would have been probably no more than one lamp on each platform. If it were bigger, with the buildings described in the earlier note, then there might have been half-a-dozen, perhaps eight, lamps in all (at line 7 the narrator “abode in obscurity at the end of the platform”)

[Page 358, line 4] Squire the custom of entitling the principal landowner in a parish ‘the Squire’ survives from the title of honour ‘Esquire’, implying a rank between that of a knight and valet, or gentleman, as technically it still remains. Originally the esquire was the attendant on a knight, whose helm, shield and lance he carried on the field of battle or at a tournament. His rank was immediately below that of knight bachelor, and his office was regarded as the apprentice stage of knighthood. The title was one of function, not of birth, and was not hereditary.

[Page 358, line 16] lamp-room where there were oil lamps, there was paraffin oil, and a risk of fire. So the lamps and the oil were kept in a small building, often of corrugated iron, separate from all other buildings. This contained the lamps for the station when not in use, and the spare lamps for the signals (signal lamps were designed to burn for a week at a time). It was the job of the junior porter to attend to all the lamps, trimming or replacing the wicks and refilling the oil reservoirs.

[Page 358, line 20] Berserk Berserker in Scandinavian mythology was the name of the twelve sons of Berserk (from the ‘sark’ or shirt of bearskin worn by them cf’Cutty Sark’, meaning ‘short shift, or shirt’). Berserk was famed for the reckless fury with which he fought, going into battle without armour.

[Page 359, line 18]Asiatic Cholera cholera is the name formerly given to two distinct diseases, acute infective enteritis and Asiatic Cholera, but the name is now restricted to the latter alone. Asiatic Cholera is still one of the world’s most severe and fatal diseases.

Cholera is endemic in the east, from Mumbai to Southern China, but its chief home is within the present India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the great pandemics, it spread westward to Europe and America. London’s last major epidemic was in 1854, so Kipling’s parents would have been all too aware of the disease before they went to India. It was the work of an unknown doctor, John Snow, which proved that the contamination was waterborne, rather than airborne as medical theory said at the time. Kipling wrote about cholera as it affected the army in India (“Cholera Camp” in Barrack Room Ballads). The narrator, in suggesting the cause, is being downright mischievous!

[Page 359, line 33] master of his fate an echo of the poem (by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)) Invictus, which ends:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Henley was editor of the National Observer, in which appeared Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads.


©Alastair Wilson 2005 All rights reserved