[April 27th 2011]
This story was first published in the Strand Magazine of September 1906, and McClure's Magazine for the same month. It was collected in Puck of Pook's Hill in 1906 and in numerous subsequent editions of that collection. It was accompanied by the poems "The Bee Boy's Song" and "A Three-part Song" .
The story is set in the strange uncanny landscape of Romney Marsh, on the borders of Kent and Sussex. Puck - in the guise of Tom Shoesmith, a long-dead friend of Ralph Hobden - tells how the 'people of the hills' flitted out of England In the 1530s. They were much troubled by the cruelty and suffering caused by the religious conflicts of the day, and decided they would have to go. They crowded onto the Marsh, on the edge of England, and the air was full of their discontents. They called on the Widow Whitgift to help them, and lend them her two sons to carry them over the sea. They did so, and since one was blind, and the other dumb. they could tell nothing of what they had seen.
The germ of the story can be located in "Farewell Rewards and Fairies" already quoted in "Weland's Sword". J.M.S. Tompkins (p. 226) suggests points of contact with Walter Besant's Titania's Farewell, and "The Elfin-Grove" in Grimm's Tales.
[Page 257, line 2] hop-pickers Hops were, and are, used for flavouring bitter beer. In England they are grown mainly in Kent, They were dried in Oast Houses, like the one at Bateman's, as described in this story.
[Page 258, line 10] Old Mother Laidinwool Songs from Books and DV give a full version.
[Page 258, line 123] hem of great deal of.
[Page 259, line 16] I've bin to Plymouth from a Sussex drinking song.
[Page 263, line 8] odd-gates strange.
[Page 263, line 26] cut away a little piece It was 'lucky' to throw a piece of potato out the door for the fairies.
[Page 263, line 31] nigromancin' magic, specifically dealings with the dead as a means of divination.
[Page 264, line 11] Pharisees fairies; the word is formed by the reduplicated plural, characteristic of Sussex dialect.
[Page 264, line 19] out-gate paranormal.
[Page 265, line 24] steeples settin' beside churches ORG notes that Brookland Church, five miles north-east of Rye, has a steeple which `stands separately on the ground beside the church'.
[Page 266, line 3] witch yarn yarn tangled up, supposedly by the influence of witches.
[Page 267, line 6] Queen Bess's father Henry VIII, under whom the break with the Catholic Church and the despoliation of the monasteries, with much destruction of religious images, took place in the 1530s. A cluster of Acts of Parliament, culminating in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, provided the legal undergirding for these revolutionary events.
[Page 268, line 15] Canterbury Bells ringin' to Bulverhithe the bells would ring to signal the death, at the stake, of a heretic. Bulverhithe, between Bexhill and St Leonards, is mentioned as a port in 1500. By the end of the seventeenth century most of it had been washed away by the sea.
[Page 268, line 16] cruel Canterbury Bells Kipling is referring here to the religious conflicts that followed England's break with the Roman Catholic Church, under Henry VIII (1509-1547) in the early 1530s. Acceptance of the changes in church doctrine and practice that followed became a test of political loyalty, and the monasteries were dissolved in an atmosphere of considerable turmoil. When Mary I, Henry's daughter, came to the throne (1553-1558), she restored Catholicism, and a number of churchmen and common people were burned at the stake as 'heretics' - people who held false doctrines.
[Page 269, line 28] the Plague Bubonic plague, spread by rats, was endemic in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and into the seventeenth century, and much feared. In the fourteenth century it killed a third of the people of Europe, and was known as the Black Death.
[Page 268, line 33] squat infection.
[Page 269, line 6] stenched up packed together, frightened ORG.
[Page 269, line 10] wildfire will o' the wisps.
[Page 269, line 27] Old Winchelsea village on the Sussex coast, submerged by the sea in 1287.
[Page 270, line 19] This woman was a Seeker the Seekers were one of the radical Puritan sects of the seventeenth century.
[Page 272, line 32] aps-tree The aspen tree, whose leaves quiver in the wind.
[Page 273, line 9] dunt bang or thump.
[Page 273, line 11] raklin' Rattling
(Notes by Philip Holberton)
First published in Puck of Pook's Hill in association with "Dymchurch Flit". Collected also in Songs from Books", the Inclusive and Definitive Versions of Kipling's verse, and in the Sussex and Burwash editions.
[Verse 2] Tell ‘em coming in and out/ Where the Fanners fan Bees station some workers at the entrance to a hive to ventilate it and control the temperature by beating their wings. See "The Mother Hive" in Actions and Reactions (p. 89 line 10):
Melissa …. fanned obediently at the regulation stroke – three hundred beats to the second.In "The Vortex" (A Diversity of Creatures), in which a swarm of bees creates chaos in a crowded village, Kipling describes himself as 'an apiarist of experience' (p. 390 line 27). Charles Carrington (p. 407) confirms this, noting that 'Rudyard had become an enthusiastic bee-keeper at Bateman's'
Bees also figure in "Red Dog" in The Second Jungle Book.
[D. M./ P.H.]
©Donald Mackenzie and Philip Hplberton 2011 All rights reserved