In many of Rudyard Kipling's works, his background and love of India is apparent and he is perhaps best known for The Jungle Book and his tales of Mowgli and Baloo the bear. "The Mark Of The Beast" is a short story by Kipling and concerns what happens when Fleete, an...
In many of Rudyard Kipling's works, his background and love of India is apparent and he is perhaps best known for The Jungle Book and his tales of Mowgli and Baloo the bear. "The Mark Of The Beast" is a short story by Kipling and concerns what happens when Fleete, an Englishman, comes into an inheritance and travels to India. With no apparent understanding or respect for Indian culture, Fleete desecrates a holy statue in the temple. When there is no other explanation for Fleete's peculiar behavior and apparent hydrophobia, his companions, Strickland, a policeman and resident of the area, and the narrator, conclude that Fleete is "bewitched" by a "Silver Man," a leper, for "polluting the image of Hanuman."
The problems start when Fleete gets drunk on New Year's Eve and his friends dutifully escort him back to Strickland's house, where he is staying. However, along the way, he becomes unruly and, without regard for his surroundings, puts out his cigar on the head of the statue of Hanuman, the monkey-god, angering the locals. Strickland expects the men to overwhelm the three of them for Fleete's actions but, strangely, the Silver Man leans against Fleete's chest and momentarily rests his head there before the friends can wrench him away from Fleete. A temple elder warns Strickland that Hanuman is "not done with" Fleete.
Fleete's strange behavior begins shortly after they leave the temple and it is morning before the men can get Fleete to bed, after which they reflect on the events and Strickland is surprised that the men were not physically harmed. He feels very uneasy about it. Fleete's strange behavior continues and he is obsessed with eating chops. The horses are clearly uneasy in his presence and even Strickland begs the narrator to stay over and not return to his own home. After leaving Fleete at home and going to race the horses, Strickland and the narrator find Fleete in front of the house where he has evidently been rolling in the soil and gravel, commenting that "the smell of the earth is delightful." Later, the men wait for Fleete to come down to dinner when they hear the howl of a wolf from his room, terrifying them both. They overpower Fleete and acknowledge that they are dealing with "a beast." Not knowing what else to do, they call the doctor and wait. The mewing sound outside is unnerving and the narrator tries to convince himself that it is the cat.
The doctor confirms that Fleete has "hydrophobia." Strickland tells the narrator that he thinks it is the curse of the Silver Man that is to blame and sets about planning how to capture the man. Having done so, they approach Fleete and demand that the Silver Man cure him. Apparently they torture the Silver Man although they refuse to put in print what they did. The reader makes the assumption, however. It seems that their efforts work and Fleete is cured; the leper leaves and the doctor is suitably shocked at the recovery. Strickland goes to the temple to apologize and Fleete thinks he just slept for twenty-four straight hours, unaware of anything.
Strickland and the narrator retain their secret and years later they discuss it again, the narrator encouraged by Strickland to relate the story to "the public." He can only maintain that there is no real explanation for the incidents of that New Year's Eve.