“Would some one mind explaining to me the meaning of every other word you’ve used,” I said. “What’s a trackless ‘heef’? What’s an Area? What’s everything generally?” I asked. (“The Army of a Dream,” 276)
I think, maybe I should write about the good Kipling stories – take a run at the puzzle of “Mrs. Bathurst” or something. Then I think, good is so overrated.
“The Army of a Dream” is the one story in Traffics and Discoveries that is easily classified as bad. Kipling dreams himself into a world where England has become highly militarized, with universal conscription and a kind of permanent rotating global militia. Some of his friends in the militia lead him through its logistics, including a climactic war game in which the scouts rout the regulars. Or something like that. I was a couple of steps behind the narrator, and that’s him up above, plenty confused.
Although presented as fiction, as a dream, the ideas for military reform are apparently meant seriously. Kipling wants peace, so he prepares for war. The proto-fascist nature of the ideas is blinding, now, painful, in a way that no one in 1904 could have seen, and my impression is that a decade later England would prove that it was all too prepared for war, although the Kiplingist counter-argument would be “Not in the way I meant.” The story ends with Kipling realizing that the soldiers who have been his guides are all dead, killed in South Africa.
Then it came upon me, with no horror, but a certain mild wonder, that we had waited, Vee and I, for the body of Boy Bailey; and that Vee himself had died of typhoid in the spring of 1902. The rustling of the papers continued, but Bayley, shifting slightly, revealed to me the three-day old wound on his left side that had soaked the ground around him. (335)
The end is strangely moving; it’s good. “The Army of a Dream” is propaganda disguising grief. A failure, but fascinating.
To return to that first quotation, the method Kipling is pushing harder in T&D than he had before, perhaps harder than is wise, is a radical excision of explanatory material. Or at his friendliest, a rearrangement. “A Sahibs’ War” (and this is one of the good stories) begins:
Pass? Pass? Pass? I have one pass already, allowing me to go by the rêl from Kroonstadt to Eshtellenbosch, where the horses are, where I am to be paid off, and whence I return to India. I am a—trooper of the Gurgaon Rissala (cavalry regiment), the One Hundred and Forty-ﬁrst Punjab Cavalry. Do not herd me with these black Kafﬁrs. I am a Sikh—a trooper of the State. (85)
He is a Sikh, former servant to “Kurban Sahib, now dead,” etc. An enormous amount of information here – names of South African cities and Indian military units, plus a large dose of the character’s voice and state of mind, his pride and anger (“Pass? Pass? Pass?”) which I can see now, since I have read the story, but the first time, who knows. I didn’t know what to keep, or since the answer is everything, I was not sure how to keep everything. It took a long while, for example, for me to understand that Kurban (Corbyn) Sahib was English. Kipling teaches me the cipher to his code while telling the story. Yes, as with all significant art, I object, but Kipling now moves faster and skips more steps. He assumes I can handle it.
Everything in this book, difficult or less so, was originally published as popular magazine fiction.