(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on June 3rd 1887, and collected in the first edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888 and in subsequent editions of this collection.

The story

Pinecoffin has sold Nafferton an ill-tempered horse, which turns out to be a very bad bargain. Nafferton is angry, Pinecoffin laughs at him, and Nafferton is determined to pay him back. He invents a scheme for feeding troops in India on pork, and bombards Pinecoffin’s department with requests for information about pigs. For months Pinecoffin is forced to do immense amounts of work on the subject, which he does with much industry. When, in weariness, he refers an enquiry back to an earlier letter he had sent, Nafferton complains to the department about the paucity of information he has received, and Pinecoffin is reprimanded. When he next meets Nafferton he protests that all this has been ‘too bad’. Nafferton points out how bad it is to be ‘stuck’ with a horse, and asks him to dinner.

Some critical comments

This is one of a great many Kipling stories on the theme of revenge and retribution. Dr. Tompkins (The Art of Rudyard Kipling pp. 126/7) puts this in her Chapter 5 – ‘Hatred and Revenge’ – but remarks that Nafferton bears no malice once he considers the account squared. She goes on to make the interesting observation that in Limits and Renewals, Manallace in “Dayspring Mishandled”, and Jemmy Gravell in “Beauty Spots”, are also Northeners, while ‘the wordless Queensland drover named either Hickmer or Hickmott in “A Friend of the Family”
in Debits and Credits is also a ‘good hater’. (One character (Bevin) puts this down to the Australian habit of drinking stewed tea four times a day.)

Shamsul Islam (Kipling’s Law, Macmillan, 1975) discusses this story and others with a similar theme of civil servants who are ignorant of the conditions and problems faced by the people they are supposed to govern.(See the poems “The Masque of Plenty”, “Public Waste”, “The Post that Fitted”, and, in this volume, “Tods’ Amendment”. Also other stories concerning Mrs. Hauksbee.)

This story is not as far-fetched as might be thought. Once the machinery of a bureaucracy begins to move, it is often difficult to stop as can be seen today in many commercial and other transactions.