First published in Harper’s Magazine on 23 August 1890 and in Macmillan’s Magazine in the following month; appeared with The Courting of Dinah Shadd and Other Stories in 1890, was collected in Mine Own People and Life’s Handicap in 1891.
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The ‘Soldiers Three’ are out on a hillside in the Himalayas. A deserter from an Indian regiment has been firing on his former comrades and on the ‘Ould Regiment’, and Ortheris has sworn to shoot him.
The bare hills remind John Learoyd of his native Yorkshire, and he tells a tragic tale of his youth. He was a lead miner, and one night had a fall on the way home from the pub, and broke his arm. He is nursed back to health by a young woman, ‘Liza Roantree, who comes from a strictly religious family. For love of her he joins the Methodists, sings in the chapel choir, and gives up drink and his former mates. He has a rival, a small man but fearless, a preacher with a clever way with words. The preacher asks Learoyd to take him down the mine, and as they go down into the darkness Learoyd dreams of murdering him – it would be easy to stage an accident. But when Learoyd demands to know which man will have ‘Liza, the preacher tells him that she is mortally ill, with only a few months to live.
Learoyd sees her on her deathbed, and she tells him that she loves him. ‘Thou was allus my own lad – my very own lad and none else’. Broken hearted he enlists as a soldier.
Meanwhile Ortheris has spotted the deserter, crawling up a water course 700 yards down the hill. He shoots him dead. ‘Happen there was a lass tewed up wi’ him too’, says John Learoyd.
Some critical responses
Charles Carrington (page160) commented:
Never before had Rudyard handled the tones of a composition with so sure a touch as in the bright hard foreground and the deftly suggested background of “On Greenhow Hill”, a demonstration of the progress he had made in his art during the previous year of enriched experience.
Walter Morris Hart [Kipling, the Story-Writer, University of California Press, Berkeley 1918] observes (page 135):
Whatever views we may hold in regard to individual stories, we must admit that Life’s Handicap marks a general advance in narrative art beyond the earlier volumes.
Hart, an early critic, appreciates the improvement in Kipling’s technique which Kingsley Amis (1975) also notices with approval:
“The Courting of Dinah Shadd” and this story reintroduce the Soldiers and make suffering human beings of two of them; the frame-device also reappears , but trimmed down in both and properly related to the main narrative in the latter.
Seymour-Smith (page 209) believes that this story shows Kipling at his best. Philip Mason (page 74) agrees: “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” (earlier in this volume) and this story are by some critics reckoned among the best stories Kipling ever wrote.
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved