"At the
Pit's Mouth"


(notes edited
by John McGivering)




notes on the text
[March 10th 2004]


Publication

This story was first published in India as story No. 7 in Under the Deodars, No. 4 of The India Railway Library, 1888 and collected in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories in 1895.

See also the Magazine Section of the New York Herald Tribune for 23 March 1924, for a description of the 1884 document, in two different hands – both believed to be Kipling’s – where this story and “The Hill of Illusion” (later in this volume) appear in draft, together with the name of the principal character in “The Dream of Duncan Parrenness “ (Life’s Handicap)

The Story

While her husband is away in the plains, a young wife is carrying on a passionate affair with another man. Her husband hears rumours of what is going on, and pleads with her to drop her lover, but they simply carry on in secret, and meet down in the cemetery. They notice that a new dug grave is half full of water, and the man feels a sense of chill. The next day, on a ride, his horse slips on the edge of a precipice, and he falls to his death. Three days later, he is buried in the same grave, and the water is even deeper.

Some critical comments

Norman Page in A Kipling Companion (p. 6) comments that "Kipling’s irony is genuinely chilling, and the story is told with economy and well-controlled drama.

Philip Mason (p.79) feels that this story "must be judged inferior to such a story as Maupassant’s "Boule de Suif", because Kipling half pretends that he is not condemning the 'Tertium Quid' and the 'Man’s Wife' – though he clearly is."

For Louis Cornell (p.160) "… two nameless and unpleasant people cross the narrow line from flirtation into adultery …… the contrived dénouement - a particularly nasty riding accident – is so vividly presented that we can forget that the ‘fate’ that overtakes the Tertuium Quid is merely the caprice of the author, at pains to dispose of an evil character by appropriately horrible means."

See Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., edited by John Whitehead, for a sketch-plan of Simla.