Private Learoyd’s Story

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This tale was first published in “The Week’s News” on 14 July, 1888, and collected in the Indian Railway Library No 1 and Soldiers Three in the same year.

The story

Mrs DeSussa, a wealthy Eurasian lady, has taken a fancy to the Colonel’s wife’s dog, ‘Rip’, an engaging terrier. She offers Learoyd 350 rupees if he will steal the dog for her, so that she can take it home at the end of the cold season. The three soldiers steal another dog from the Canteen Sergeant, dye its coat so that it looks like Rip, and hand it over to her at the railway station. They hasten away before she discovers the deception – and the dog’s bad temper- and divide the 350 rupees between them.

Some critical comments

Norman Page (page 116) quotes the Athenaeum reviewer calling this story nothing short of a masterpiece, but Seymour-Smith (page 91) takes exception to the various dialects,
which he finds tiresome and not authentic. He does, however, temper this by saying (page 78):

…Kipling, as a major writer, is unique in that he refused to be literary, in the sense that he deliberately avoided what he thought of as the habits of literary writers…His refusal is a part of his strange achievement. If it should not be so considered, then he would not be the subject of serious criticism today, and his works would have vanished into oblivion along with those of the other writers of popular fiction of his day.

Philip Mason, likewise (page 75):

I find Mulvaney’s stage Irish hard to bear; it does not sound like any Irish I have ever heard and the effect could be achieved with much greater art by an occasional turn of phrase. It is a convention of the period and a bad one But by the end of this story (“Love –o’-Women” (Many Inventions) I have forgotten the irritation.

Angus Wilson (page 142) quotes a critic who picked up Soldiers Three or Life’s Handicap – probably the former – and said:

…then the conviction grew upon me that here at last was the man I had long been expecting, and that the life of the Englishman in India was revealed by the touch of the new enchanter’s wand. I need hardly say that the enchanter was Rudyard Kipling. (Justin McCarthy, Reminiscences, vol 2 (Chatto, 1899).

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2004 All rights reserved