"A Friend's Friend"

(notes edited
by John McGivering)




notes on the text
[October 25th 2003]


Publication

This story was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on May 2nd 1887 and collected in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of this collection.

The story

The narrator has been asked by a friend to be hospitable to Jevon, a 'TG' (Travelling Gent.) who is on a visit to India. He seems pleasant enough, and the narrator takes him to a ball. Unfortunately he gets extremely drunk, and behaves very badly, infuriating a number of the narrator's friends. At the end of the ball, they decide together to administer savage punishment to the unconscious man, corking his face, filling his hair with cream, rolling him up helpless in a greatr roll of red cloth, and throwing him onto a departing bullock-cart. He is never seen again. 'Perhaps he died and was thrown into the river.'

Background

Angus Wilson in The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling places this story in the Lahore Club before the young Kipling arrived in the city. A drunken Englishman, the tutor to a native prince, was misbehaving, and was lifted into a gari (carriage), presumably with a view to sending him home, but he escaped and ran back into the Club shouting for champagne. In all, rather a non-event in which Kipling senior was involved and is supposed to have related to his son who, with an enthusiasm worthy of a better cause, produced this unpleasant tale. With “The Tie" and “Beauty-Spots” in Limits and Renewals it probably qualifies as one of his worst. All three are farcical revenge stories with a strong element of cruelty.

Some critical comments

While not ranking with “Beyond the Pale” ( earlier in this volume) for horror, this is a story of kidnap, assault and possibly manslaughter, surprisingly enough not much noticed by other commentators, although J.I.M. Stewart’s comment on “The Tie” in Rudyard Kipling p. 168, might well apply to this tale as well: "It is not easy to find merit in this story."

Norman Page observes in A Kipling Companion p. 89, "…there seems to be something excessive, almost hysterical and sadistic, about the punishment: one wonders why, at an early stage of the evening, the drunken man was not simply led off home." Angus Wilson notes, though, that "for a visitor from England to treat the white society of Lahore with light contempt, should show insufficient respect for the white ladies, and, though Kipling doesn't say it, all this before the native servants, is a very high offence in a community that must treat its own rituals very seriously or fall apart. The story fails, but the almost hysteric sense of fragility and menace still comes across."