The story was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on April 30 1886 under the title “Section 420, I.P.C.“ (Indian Penal Code), in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. See David Alan Richards p. 17.
Suddhoo, an old man in an old wooden house in Lahore, is very anxious about his son, who is gravely ill with pleurisy in Peshawar. A seal-cutter, who lives in the house, sees this as a means of extorting money from Suddhoo. He secretly gets a friend in Peshawar to telegraph him daily accounts of the son's health, and undertakes to save him by magic, on payment of many rupees.
The narrator, who witnesses eerie and terrifying displays of 'magic' by the seal-cutter, sees the deception, but can do nothing about it. This is a light-hearted and probably fictitious look at the occult, in great contrast to Kipling's later poem "En-Dor", and "The Appeal" . See also "The Sending of Dana Da" in Soldiers Three, and “My own True Ghost Story“ in Wee Willie Winkie.
Section 420 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860, provided:
420. Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property.-- Whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the person deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.Critical comments
Norman Page, in A Kipling Companion [Macmillan 1984] quotes Louis Cornell's Kipling in India , in suggesting that Kipling has
penetrated to the heart of the Anglo-Indians' historical dilemma with amazing swiftness and economy. On one level Western technology ... has been perverted to the uses of fraud and superstition. On another, Western judicial institutions ...have been made impotent by a conspiracy of custom, ignorance, and malice.Norman Page also quotes The Times of 25 March, 1890 citing this story and “Beyond the Pale” as: 'almost the best of Mr. Kipling’s writings, perhaps because they appear to lift the veil from a state of society so immeasurably different from our own.'
[J H McG]
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