This anthology of short stories gives an excellent picture of the works of a Member of the British Empire. Rudyard Kipling had a partisan view on the British colonial enterprise which was based on a well-organized army machine. But, as George Orwell said: he didn't understand that `an empire is primarily a money-making concern'.
Army and war
Those who fight under the British flag are mightily admired and incensed for their courage and self-sacrifice, but woe for those who seek their own kingdom.
In `The Drums of Fore and Aft' two orphans of fourteen years of age (!), who serve as Regiment drummers, are highly praised for offering their lives in a skirmish with Afghan rebels.
In `Only a Subaltern', a new recruit is himself attacked by fever after having physically and morally supported a soldier friend.
But, in `The Man Who Would be King', two solitary fortune seekers fall shamelessly from their throne.
In the heartrending masterpiece of this collection, `Baa Baa Black Sheep', R. Kipling lambastes the ravages of religion: `the Fear of the Lord was so often the beginning of falsehood ... for when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge.'
In `The Education of Otis Yeere', two would-be prick teasers warm the heart of a bachelor, only to be mightily offended when he tries to give one of them a kiss.
`At the Pit's Month' and `A Wayward Comedy' are variations on the theme of `a Man and his Wife and a Tertium Quid'. Only, the friendship among men stays above the shame of cuckolding.
`Wee Willie Winkie' praises the courage of a young boy.
`A Second Rate Woman' attacks people's prejudice. An allegedly `tainted' lady saves the day when the foul speakers `collapse in an hour of need'.
In `His Majesty the King', a child King is too young to moralize on the deceitfulness of this world and the uncertainty of human things.
The nightmarish `The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes' and `The Phantom `Rickshaw' are two excellent ghost stories.
A very worth-while read.