First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 29 January 1890. Collected Volume IX, No. 62 of Turn-overs, 1890, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Kipling had been living in Villiers Street, London for three months before this story was first published, after his return to England from India in 1889.
The narrator hears the news from several acquaintances of the death of an architect who lived near them. Mr Strangeways, the deceased, was almost 70 years old; died after a brief illness in the comfort of his own home surrounded by his family; left a wife who was well-provided for; and knew that his latest designs had been accepted by the Burgoyne Cathedral.
As the details come out, the narrator contrasts the life and death of Mr Strangeways with those of his Anglo-Indian acquaintances who tend to die young and alone; leave their families, if they should have any, unprovided for; don’t have time to arrange their affairs; and leave work unfinished.
The narrator concludes that the expressions of shock and dismay expressed by his acquaintances are anything but grief for the death of a man, but fear as a result of the reminder that they are not immortal and will return to dust in due course.
This is an essay that contrasts the easy deaths of the English with that of the Colonial, epitomised by Yardley-Orde in “The Head of the District”. He dies on one side of the flooded river Indus whilst his wife waits for him on the other. To his assistant Tallantyre:
‘It isn’t that I mind dying,’ he said. ‘It’s leaving Polly and the district. Thank God! we have no children. Dick, you know, I’m dipped—awfully dipped—debts in my first five years’ service. It isn’t much of a pension, but enough for her. She has her mother at home. Getting there is the difficulty. And—and—you see, not being a soldier’s wife—’
‘We’ll arrange the passage home, of course,’ said Tallantire quietly.
‘It’s not nice to think of sending round the hat; but, good Lord! how many men I lie here and remember that had to do it! Morten’s dead—he was of my year. Shaughnessy is dead, and he had children; I remember he used to read us their school-letters; what a bore we thought him! Evans is dead—Kot-Kumharsen killed him! Ricketts of Myndonie is dead—and I’m going too. “Man that is born of a woman is small potatoes and few in the hill.”
(see the Notes on “The Head of the District”).
“The Head of the District” first appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine for January 1890, in the same month and year as “A Death in the Camp”, although in a different continent.
Angus Wilson, in The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, is the only critic that this Editor has found who summarises the story of “A Death in the Camp”, commenting that:
. . . in a score or more of his stories of Indian life that he gave to the English reading public in the early nineties he tells them of Death ever present, death of children, death of young men on the edge of attainment or at the peak of their powers … the refusal to face death as inevitable is something that strikes him most forcibly, in contrast to India. (pp.150-151).
©David Page 2007 All rights reserved