by Dr Gillian Sheehan
and John McGivering)
|notes on the text|
The best way to tackle it is, first of all, to pick the thread of the actual story out of the mass of Argument, Talk, Description, Mechanics, etc., that almost engulf the reader. It's none too easy to do this, but the tale is, in fact, that of two high-born mortals, whom for simplicity's sake we'll call Lord and Lady. Both are fated to come to a bad end should they ever meet. In Part One of the story they do meet, and their Guardian Spirits, Kalka'il and Ruya'il, are put under arrest for allowing it. But it turns out, on enquiry, that the meeting of Lord and Lady was inevitable, because their Guardian Spirits, when on Earth, had suffered exactly the same fate: disaster through knowing each other. Then, when they'd both been through Hell and 'reconditioned' for useful work, they were allowed to meet in Heaven, which meant that automatically their charges met—so their story was repeated. A bad mistake by Gabriel's Department, in allotting Kalka'il and Ruya'il to Lord and Lady. End of Part One.See also KJ 109/17, KJ 129/16, KJ 169/06, KJ 077/03, and KJ 250/11.
Part Two traces, sketchily but grimly, the downfall of Lord and Lady after their first meeting. Both are rich, both are highly-placed, and both are utterly wretched. It's not quite clear whether they fell into squalid poverty while still on Earth or after they'd left it, but by the time we see them again—at Hell's Railway Terminus—they're both pretty nasty sights: seedy, dirty, and babbling of their past distinctions. Each is desperately searching for the other, suffering agony in the process, but—and here, surely, is the Diamond in the Clay—agonising though their memories are, each fights like mad to keep them. They utterly refuse to be drugged into forgetfulness. And that must be because, at the bottom of it all, they've still got HOPE. So this story has a cheering message, too, though it's buried much deeper than in "On the Gate."
And then at last, crudely and accidentally as they did on Earth, they're allowed to bump into each other again—and all the horror drops away with: " What does it matter now, Dear ! "
The mode of “Uncovenanted Mercies,” the companion-piece to “On the Gate,” does not allow of this sort of stroke. It is not a tale of the War, and the tendrils that hold it to contemporary life are not sensitive to such a tug. Yet the weight of human pain is conveyed, in a different fashion, when Gabriel, Azrael and Satan wait in the casualty-room in Hell during an endless interval and submit themselves to the agony that creeps in from outside … This is the myriad dust of suffering mortality which obscures these shining figures, and Azrael groans ‘How long…?’Bonamy Dobrée (in Elliott Gilbert (Ed.), page 56) writes of redemption in “The Gardener”:
[See also KJ 169/06]
Though Kipling may not have been in any ordinary sense of the word a Christian, it would seem clear that this Gospel reference to Mary Magdalene meeting Christ at the Tomb is profoundly revealing of his attitude. If this were an isolated case, it would not perhaps count for much: but the attitude is evident again and again, as in “Uncovenanted Mercies”.Dobrée also notes that the choruses of “The Supports”, the verse that follows “On the Gate” include 'Glories, Powers and Toils', but also - and this one ought to notice – 'of Patiences, Faiths and Loves'. This is, Dobrée believes, confirmed by the remark at page 375 line 27 of "Uncovenanted Mercies", 'even Evil itself shall pity'.
These were his final comments on the First World War: to every man his own private terror, his own vein of courage, his own breaking-strain, his own salvation by a loving attachment to life; and the other aspect of the picture may be seen in the strange, elaborate – not quite successful – allegories of the after-life, “On the Gate” and “Uncovenanted Mercies”. The reader is not expected to believe in them unreservedly.But Dr Tompkins sees a profound message in this final tale from Kipling's final collection:
What is indicated here is the generation of a positive spiritual force in despair and degradation; and the requirement of the test for Breaking Strain is that the subject shall resist the offer of oblivion and persist in self-acceptance, with the painful consciousness of all he has lost and discarded. He is then, in the language of the Infernal industry, reconditioned for re-issue. This is a heavy burden for a fantasy to carry, and its gait, in consequence, is lopsided. The mercies that are outside the Covenant ... derive from the belief, natural to an artist if he believes at all, that nothing can break the bond between creature and creator, that God is God not only of those who acknowledge him but of those who do not, and for these mercies it is difficult to find satisfactory images.