Meeting up with Kipling
Further on in „The Valley of Bones“, volume seven from „The Music of Time“ by Anthony Powell, the army has moved to new quarters, still back in Great Britain. Nicholas Jenkins shares the room with Captain Gwatkin who wakes him in the night because he himself was startled out of sleep by the thought that he might have forgotten to put the new codeword order into the safebox.
»He began to sort out the top layer of papers, arranging them in separate piles over the foot of my bed, all over my greatcoat, which was serving as eiderdown. I sat up in bed, watching him strew my legs with official forms and instructional leaflets of one kind or another. He dealt them out with great care, as if diverting himself with some elaborate form of Patience, military pamphlets doing duty for playing cards. The deeper he delved into the cashbox, the more meticulously he arranged the contents. Among other items, he turned out a small volume bound in faded red cloth. This book, much tattered, was within reach. I picked it up. Opening at the fly-leaf: I read: R. Gwatkin, Capt.’, together with the designation of the Regiment.The title-page was that of a pocket edition of Puck of Pook’s Hill. Gwatkin gave a sudden grunt. He had found whatever he was seeking.
‘Here it is,’ he said. ‘Thank God. I remember now. I put it in a envelope in a special place at the bottom of the box.’
He began to replace the papers, one by one, in the elaborate sequence he had ordained for them. I handed him Puck of Pook’s Hill. He took the book from me, still apparently pondering the fearful possibilities consequent on failure to trace the codeword. Then he suddenly became aware I had been looking at the Kipling stories. He took the little volume from me, and pushed it away under a Glossary of Military Terms and Organization in the Field. For a second he seemed a shade embarrassed.
‘That’s a book by Rudyard Kipling,’ he said defensively, as if the statement explained something.
‘So I see.’
‘Ever read anything by him?’
‘Read this one?’
‘What did you think of it?’
‘I liked it.’
‘You’ve read a lot of books, haven’t you, Nick?’
‘I have to in my profession.’
Gwatkin locked the tin box and replaced it in the cupboard.‘Turn the light out,’ he said. […]«
(Penguin edition, 1968. p. 56)
It is only „The Jungle Book“ I ever have read by Kipling so far, and it was back in the late Seventies at the Diavolezza mountain hut above the mighty Morteratsch glacier, the day before our little rope team crossed the three summits of Piz Palü – a much nicer prospect than battling the Huns.