This story was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 28 September 1887 and in The Week’s News on 21 April 1888. It was the fourth story in Under the Deodars (No. 4 in the Indian Railway Library, in 1888) It was collected in the first edition of Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories in 1890 and in numerous editions thereafter.
This is one of Kipling’s few stories told as a dialogue; others include “The Story of the Gadsbys“ in Soldiers Three, and “Mrs Hauksbee Sits Out” (Outward Bound, Burwash editions, etc. and in Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., ed. John Whitehead, Hearthstone Publications, 1998). There is also “The Harbour Watch” a playlet of no particular merit which Kipling wrote with his daughter Elsie (Mrs. George Bambridge). A number of his stories, including The Light that Failed and “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap) have been adapted for the stage by other writers, and some, including “The Man who Would be King”, made into films. (See Norman Page , pp. 192 ff.)
‘HE’ and ‘SHE’, a married woman, have been carrying on an illicit love affair, and he has come to see her in Simla, planning to elope. They are out on a ride. He has worked out all the details of their journey back to England, and is ready for anything, but she has been having second thoughts. She is aware of the dreadful scandal that will ensue, she wonders whether he will tire of her, and – a frivolous creature – would prefer to continue the affair in secret. He will have none of it, and wonders privately whether she has been dallying with another man. By the end of the ride there is no trust between them, although both pretend otherwise.
Some critical opinions
Louis Cornell, (p. 160), comments:
Kipling … allows his characters to expose one another for what they are. He is not at his best in this artificial form … dialogue … but I doubt whether any other Englishman writing in 1888 could have exposed so coldly and neatly the itch of mutual distrust that afflicts a couple on the eve of an adulterous elopement.
André Maurois, (p. 24) maintains that this story is truly tragic, as fully charged with real sorrow as certain scenes in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. A contemporary review in Blackwood’s Magazine quoted by Norman Page , p.94. called it a masterpiece.