By Word of Mouth

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on June 10th 1887, and collected in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in successive later editions of this collection. It is the last of the thirty-nine stories published in the paper between November 1886 and June 1887.

The story

Dumoise, a Civil Surgeon in a small station, marries and lives in happy delight for a year. Then his wife dies of typhoid, the idyll is destroyed, and Dumoise is a broken man. He goes on a walking tour up in the hills, and one evening his bearer rushes to him in terror, saying that he had ‘seen the Memsahib’. She has left a message for Dumoise that she will ‘meet him at Nuddea’, a place he had never heard of. On his return he is posted to Nuddea, twelve hundred miles away in Bengal, to help with a cholera epidemic. Within eleven days he had joined his wife.

Kipling and the supernatural

Carrington (p. 93) calls this a convincing ghost-story, while Cornell (p. 127) thinks it is one of Kipling’s best.

Kipling wrote a number of stories touching on the supernatural or paranormal, including “The House Surgeon” in Actions and Reactions, “The Tomb of his Ancestors” in The Day’s Work, “The Wish House” and “A Madonna of the Trenches” in Debits and Credits, “In the Same Boat”, ”The Dog Hervey” and “Swept and Garnished” in A Diversity of Creatures, “The Dream of Duncan Parrenness in Life’s Handicap, “The Lost Legion”, and “The Children of the Zodiac” in Many Inventions, “They” in Traffics and Discoveries, and “My Own True Ghost Story” in Wee Willie Winkie. This last, like “The Sending of Dana Da” in Soldiers Three, and “In the House of Suddhoo” (earlier in this volume), turns out to have a perfectly rational explanation. See also the poem “En-Dor” which warns against dabbling in the occult.

Kipling insisted in Something of Myself:

…there is a type of mind that dives after what it calls ‘psychical experiences’. I am in no way psychic. Dealing as I have done with large, superficial areas of incident and occasion, one is bound to make a few lucky hits or happy deductions. But there is no need to drag in the ‘clairvoyance,’ or the rest of the modern jargon. I have seen too much evil and sorrow and wreck of good minds on the road to Endor to take one step along that perilous track…

Yet in the same passage he goes on to describe a dream he had had which foreshadowed in detail an event six weeks later, and asks the reader: “…how, and why, had I been shown an unreleased roll of my life-film ?”