Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"The Courting of Dinah Shadd"

Rudyard Kipling in about 1892 (Bourne and Shepherd)

[Image source: ]

Kipling's brilliant story of 1890, with its elaborate frame, beginning in a large-scale army exercise... as we edge our way gingerly and crabwise towards the inner story... and all is just an exercise, and high jinks and hilarity ...

Full text


‘How’s that, umpire?’ said the major commanding the attack, and with one voice the drivers and limber gunners answered ‘Hout!’ while the colonel of artillery sputtered.

‘All your scouts are charging our main body,’ said the major. ‘Your flanks are unprotected for two miles. I think we’ve broken the back of this division. And listen,—there go the Ghoorkhas!’

A weak fire broke from the rear-guard more than a mile away, and was answered by cheerful howlings. The Ghoorkhas, who should have swung clear of the second division, had stepped on its tail in the dark, but drawing off hastened to reach the next line of attack, which lay almost parallel to us five or six miles away.

Our column swayed and surged irresolutely,—three batteries, the divisional ammunition reserve, the baggage, and a section of the hospital and bearer corps. The commandant ruefully promised to report himself ‘cut up’ to the nearest umpire, and commending his cavalry and all other cavalry to the special care of Eblis, toiled on to resume touch with the rest of the division.

‘We’ll bivouac here to-night,’ said the major, ‘I have a notion that the Ghoorkhas will get caught. They may want us to re-form on. Stand easy till the transport gets away.’

A hand caught my beast’s bridle and led him out of the choking dust; a larger hand deftly canted me out of the saddle; and two of the hugest hands in the world received me sliding. Pleasant is the lot of the special correspondent who falls into such hands as those of Privates Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd.

‘An’ that’s all right,’ said the Irishman calmly. ‘We thought we’d find you somewheres here by. Is there anything av yours in the transport? Orth’ris’ll fetch ut out.’

Ortheris did ‘fetch ut out,’ from under the trunk of an elephant, in the shape of a servant and an animal both laden with medical comforts. The little man’s eyes sparkled.

‘If the brutil an’ licentious soldiery av these parts gets sight av the thruck,’ said Mulvaney, making practised investigation, ‘they’ll loot ev’rything. They’re bein’ fed on iron-filin’s an’ dog-biscuit these days, but glory’s no compensation for a belly-ache. Praise be, we’re here to protect you, sorr. Beer, sausage, bread (soft an’ that’s a cur’osity), soup in a tin, whisky by the smell av ut, an’ fowls! Mother av Moses, but ye take the field like a confectioner! ’Tis scand’lus.’

‘Ere’s a orficer,’ said Ortheris significantly. ‘When the sergent’s done lushin’ the privit may clean the pot.’

I bundled several things into Mulvaney’s haversack before the major’s hand fell on my shoulder and he said tenderly, ‘Requisitioned for the Queen’s service. Wolseley was quite wrong about special correspondents: they are the soldier’s best friends. Come and take pot-luck with us to-night.’

(from "The Courting of Dinah Shadd")


‘“An’ am I shameless?” sez she, bringin’ her hands up above her head. “Thin what are you, ye lyin’, schamin’, weak-kneed, dhirty-souled son av a sutler? Am I shameless? Who put the open shame on me an’ my child that we shud go beggin’ through the lines in the broad daylight for the broken word of a man? Double portion of my shame be on you, Terence Mulvaney, that think yourself so strong! By Mary and the saints, by blood and water an’ by ivry sorrow that came into the world since the beginnin’, the black blight fall on you and yours, so that you may niver be free from pain for another when ut’s not your own! May your heart bleed in your breast drop by drop wid all your friends laughin’ at the bleedin’! Strong you think yourself? May your strength be a curse to you to dhrive you into the divil’s hands against your own will! Clear-eyed you are? May your eyes see clear evry step av the dark path you take till the hot cindhers av hell put thim out! May the ragin’ dry thirst in my own ould bones go to you that you shall niver pass bottle full nor glass empty. God preserve the light av your onderstandin’ to you, my jewel av a bhoy, that ye may niver forget what you mint to be an’ do, whin you’re wallowin’ in the muck! May ye see the betther and follow the worse as long as there’s breath in your body; an’ may ye die quick in a strange land, watchin’ your death before ut takes you, an’ onable to stir hand or foot!”

‘I heard a scufflin’ in the room behind, and thin Dinah Shadd’s hand dhropped into mine like a rose-leaf into a muddy road. ‘“The half av that I’ll take,” sez she, “an’ more too if I can. Go home, ye silly talkin’ woman,—go home an’ confess.”

(from "The Courting of Dinah Shadd")


The tragedy of Mulvaney's life, figured in the magnificent Black Curse of Shielygh that is the climax of the story.  If it is not Dinah's quiet response.

The failure, and the drink, and the years, and Dinah.


‘Ay, listen to our little man now, singin’ an’ shoutin’ as tho’ trouble had niver touched him. D’ you remember when he went mad with the home-sickness?’ said Mulvaney, recalling a never-to-be-forgotten season when Ortheris waded through the deep waters if affliction and behaved abominably. ‘But he’s talkin’ bitter truth, though. Eyah!

‘My very worst frind from beginnin’ to ind
By the blood av a mouse was mesilf!’

When I woke I saw Mulvaney, the night-dew gemming his moustache, leaning on his rifle at picket, lonely as Prometheus on his rock, with I know not what vultures tearing his liver.

(from "The Courting of Dinah Shadd")


Surprising, given the vehemence of Kipling's anti-Home Rule sentiment in poems such as "Ulster" (1912),  his sympathetic presentation of Mulvaney and later of Kim (the son of an Irish soldier).

Kipling's fury, from 1902, was really political. He had grown to despise the Liberal government for, as he saw it, giving up to the Boers. The Home Rule bills seemed to promise the same  treatment for Ireland.

Kipling's response was emotive in ways we can all recognize now. It was not open to nuance or debate. Anyone who thought differently he accused of rapine or fraud or treason.

But after his son's death he wrote the history of the Irish Guards and, despite his violent unionism and anti-Catholicism, quotes plentifully and fondly from the soldiers. The lovely 'Dal Benzaguen (in "The Village That Voted...")  looks to be Irish too.


The Irish comprised a large part of the soldiery in British India. See this archived article:
Kipling's own son became an officer in the Irish Guards.

The "Soldiers Three" lay behind the 1939 Hollywood classic Gunga Din (Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Victor McLaglen) but none of the three Sergeants are Irish. In fact Mulvaney has never appeared on film and now perhaps isn't likely to,  as a stereotype Irishman (e.g. a regular binge drinker and skirt-chaser with plenty of blarney). His one chance, probably, was the 1951 film of Soldiers Three. Stewart Granger was originally supposed to play Mulvaney, but it was discovered (rather late in the day) that Granger couldn't do an Irish accent. So the Mulvaney character was transformed into a cockney called Archibald Ackroyd.


The "Soldiers Three", illustration for "On Greenhow Hill" by William Strang

[Image source:]



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger