Watches of the Night

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, 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 Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Heading] We have not been able to trace the origin of the proverb.

[The title] Watches of the Night Watches, in military service, at sea, and elsewhere, are times when you are on guard, and vigilant. There are several possible literary sources of Kipling’s use of the expression in this punning title. Francis Thompson (1859–1907) in Sister Songs; I had endured through watches of the dark/ The abashless inquisition of each star. Psalms 63,6 (Old Testament); When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Psalms 90,4 (Old Testament); For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Psalms 119,148 (Old Testament); Mine eyes prevent the night watches….

[Page 85, line 3] Subaltern a junior officer in the army.

Waterbury a mass-produced pocket-watch from Connecticut, in the United States, kept in a ‘fob’ pocket in one’s breeches or waistcoat, not on the wrist. (The Waterbury Clock Company was incorporated on March 27, 1857 with capital of $60,000 and became one of the largest producers in the country.) Occasionally, as in these cases, used with a leather strap instead of a watch-chain, Platte from poverty, the Colonel from affectation.

See also “Steam Tactics” ib Traffics abd Discoveries page 101 line 23, and “The Tour” in “The Muse among the Motors”.

[Page 85, line 6] lip-strap prevents the horse’s lip being chafed by the curb-chain.

[Page 85, line 19] Kismet fate, from the Turkish quisme and the Arabic qisma.

[Page 86, line 18] ayah a lady’s-maid or nursemaid for children.

[Page 87, line 1] saddle-pad A felt numnah or a folded blanket under the saddle to prevent it injuring the horse’s back. Whether it is used with driving harness is a bit of a moot point.

territs metal loops on the saddle through which the reins pass to the driver the ends must have worked through the leather and irritated the horse.

[Page 87, line 14] feu-de-joie strictly speaking, the French translates as a bonfire, but in the British army it signifies a rolling volley of rifle-fire with blank ammunition which runs from one end of the line of men to the other.

The most impressive feu-de-joie on record ran down the Western Front in the Great War from Belgium to Switzerland as a token of mourning on the death of Lord Roberts in 1914. As Kipling wrote in the poem “Lord Roberts“;“Three hundred miles of cannon spoke/ When the Master-Gunner died”. See also Julian Moore’s paper on “Kipling and Lord Roberts”.

[Page 87, line 16] handkerchief one wonders how he could do this in the dark and how he knew where it hurt ?

[Page 87, line 31] vessel of wrath “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” Romans 9, 22.

[Page 88, line 28] good holding-ground the sea-bed that will take an anchor and hold it securely – perhaps the nautical equivalent of ‘fertile soil’ that will accept a seed and nurture it.

[Page 89, line 5] Somebody in Revelation “… that woman, Jezebel which callest herself a prophetess” Revelations 2,20, or perhaps the scarlet woman of Chapter 17.

[Page 89, line 7] other Scripture people various prostitutes in both Old and New Testaments.

[Page 89, line 27] babies’ hearts ”Foolishness is found in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22,15.

[Page 90, line 10] chastening the stubborn heart an echo of 2 Samuel, 7, 14

[Page 90, line 11] ‘tail-twisting’

Bullock-cart drivers in India used to twist the tails of their beasts to make them go faster. The ‘Tyneside Tail-Twisters’ is the nickname of a regiment mentioned in “What it Comes to” in From Sea to Sea Vol.2, “The Army of a Dream” in Traffics and Discoveries and “Only a Subaltern” in Wee Willie Winkie.

[Page 90, line 14] Original Sin see Article Nine of the Articles of Religion in the 1562 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. “… man is very far gone from original righteousness , and is of his own nature inclined to evil…”

[Page 90, line 19] creed-suspicion her narrow interpretation of the tenets of her religion

[Page 90, line 24] profligate abandoned to vice – one shamelessly vicious.

[Page 91, line 11] penny-farthing not an old bicycle this time but worthless, being two of the smaller coins when we had Pounds, Shillings and Pence (twenty shillngs to the pound, twelve pence to the shilling). The farthing was a quarter of a penny.

[Page 91, line 12] Station this time it means the people in the place, see the notes to “False Dawn” Page 43, line 16.

[Page 91 line 18] I move the formal words used when proposing a motion in a debate.

[Page 91, line 26] run off the line a railway-train coming off the rails, or, perhaps, hounds losing the scent.

[Page 91, line 28] stand sentence Platte came to think that the Colonel had indeed gone astray that night but would not admit it to his wife, and preferred to accept the charge – stand sentence – of simply rambling into other people’s compounds by mistake.

[Page 91, line 29] compounds gardens, enclosures round a house; the derivation is obscure but may be from the Malay kampun or kampong. [see Hobson-Jobson for a fuller explanation.]

[Page 92, line 10] an Engineer … shelled by his own Battery

Kipling is referring here to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4; “For ‘tis the sport to have the enginer (sic) / Hoist with his own petar.” As Kipling says (line 13), Sappers (Engineers) and Gunners (Artillery) are indeed ‘perfectly different branches of the Service’. Engineers don’t have batteries, or guns. But a petar – more correctly a petard – was more in the nature of a bomb or mine used for blowing gates or walls of fortifications to make a breach for the infantry and so came under the Engineers rather than the Gunners. So Shakespeare wasn’t really wrong here.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved