The Mark of the Beast
by Rudyard Kipling
Your Gods and my Gods—do you or I know which are the
East of Suez, some hold, the direct control of Providence
ceases; Man being there handed over to the power of the Gods
and Devils of Asia, and the Church of England Providence
only exercising an occasional and modified supervision in
the case of Englishmen.
This theory accounts for some of the more unnecessary horrors
of life in India: it may be stretched to explain my story.
My friend Strickland of the Police, who knows as much of
natives of India as is good for any man, can bear witness
to the facts of the case. Dumoise, our doctor, also saw what
Strickland and I saw. The inference which he drew from the
evidence was entirely incorrect. He is dead now; he died
in a rather curious manner, which has been elsewhere described.
When Fleete came to India he owned a little money and some
land in the Himalayas, near a place called Dharmsala. Both
properties had been left him by an uncle, and he came out
to finance them. He was a big, heavy, genial, and inoffensive
man. His knowledge of natives was, of course, limited, and
he complained of the difficulties of the language.
He rode in from his place in the hills to
spend New Year in the station, and he stayed with Strickland.
On New Year’s Eve there was a big dinner at the club,
and the night was excusably wet. When men foregather from
the uttermost ends of the Empire they have a right to be
riotous. The Frontier had sent down a contingent o’ Catch-’em-Alive-O’s
who had not seen twenty white faces for a year, and were
used to ride fifteen miles to dinner at the next Fort at
the risk of a Khyberee bullet where their drinks should lie.
They profited by their new security, for they tried to play
pool with a curled-up hedgehog found in the garden, and one
of them carried the marker round the room in his teeth. Half
a dozen planters had come in from the south and were talking ‘horse’ to
the Biggest Liar in Asia, who was trying to cap all their
stories at once. Everybody was there, and there was a general
closing up of ranks and taking stock of our losses in dead
or disabled that had fallen during the past year. It was
a very wet night, and I remember that we sang ‘Auld
Lang Syne’ with our feet in the Polo Championship Cup,
and our heads among the stars, and swore that we were all
dear friends. Then some of us went away and annexed Burma,
and some tried to open up the Soudan and were opened up by
Fuzzies in that cruel scrub outside Suakim, and some found
stars and medals, and some were married, which was bad, and
some did other things which were worse, and the others of
us stayed in our chains and strove to make money on insufficient
Fleete began the night with sherry and bitters, drank champagne
steadily up to dessert, then raw, rasping Capri with all
the strength of whisky, took Benedictine with his coffee,
four or five whiskies and sodas to improve his pool strokes,
beer and bones at half-past two, winding up with old brandy.
Consequently, when he came out, at half-past three in the
morning, into fourteen degrees of frost, he was very angry
with his horse for coughing, and tried to leapfrog into the
saddle. The horse broke away and went to his stables; so
Strickland and I formed a Guard of Dishonour to take Fleete
Our road lay through the bazaar, close
to a little temple of Hanuman, the Monkey-god, who is a
leading divinity worthy of respect. All gods have good
points, just as have all priests. Personally, I attach
much importance to Hanuman, and am kind to his people—the
great gray apes of the hills. One never knows when one
may want a friend.
There was a light in the temple, and as we passed we could
hear voices of men chanting hymns. In a native temple the
priests rise at all hours of the night to do honour to their
god. Before we could stop him, Fleete dashed up the steps,
patted two priests on the back, and was gravely grinding
the ashes of his cigar-butt in to the forehead of the red
stone image of Hanuman. Strickland tried to drag him out,
but he sat down and said solemnly:
‘Shee that? ’Mark of the B—beasht! I made
it. Ishn’t it fine?’
In half a minute the temple was alive
and noisy, and Strickland, who knew what came of polluting
gods, said that things might occur. He, by virtue of his
official position, long residence in the country, and weakness
for going among the natives, was known to the priests and
he felt unhappy. Fleete sat on the ground and refused to
move. He said that ‘good
old Hanuman’ made a very soft pillow.
Then, without any warning, a Silver
Man came out of a recess behind the image of the god. He
was perfectly naked in that bitter, bitter cold, and his
body shone like frosted silver, for he was what the Bible
calls ‘a leper as white as
snow.’ Also he had no face, because he was a leper
of some years’ standing, and his disease was heavy
upon him. We two stooped to haul Fleete up, and the temple
was filling and filling with folk who seemed to spring from
the earth, when the Silver Man ran in under our arms, making
a noise exactly like the mewing of an otter, caught Fleete
round the body and dropped his head on Fleete’s breast
before we could wrench him away. Then he retired to a corner
and sat mewing while the crowd blocked all the doors.
The priests were very angry until the Silver Man touched
Fleete. That nuzzling seemed to sober them.
At the end of a few minutes’ silence one of the priests
came to Strickland and said, in perfect English, ‘Take
your friend away. He has done with Hanuman but Hanuman has
not done with him.’ The crowd gave room and we carried
Fleete into the road.
Strickland was very angry. He said that we might all three
have been knifed, and that Fleete should thank his stars
that he had escaped without injury.
Fleete thanked no one. He said that he wanted to go to bed.
He was gorgeously drunk.
We moved on, Strickland silent and
wrathful, until Fleete was taken with violent shivering
fits and sweating. He said that the smells of the bazaar
were overpowering, and he wondered why slaughter-houses
were permitted so near English residences. ‘Can’t
you smell the blood?’ said Fleete.
We put him to bed at last, just as the dawn was breaking,
and Strickland invited me to have another whisky and soda.
While we were drinking he talked of the trouble in the temple,
and admitted that it baffled him completely. Strickland hates
being mystified by natives, because his business in life
is to overmatch them with their own weapons. He has not yet
succeeded in doing this, but in fifteen or twenty years he
will have made some small progress.
‘They should have mauled us,’ he said, ‘instead
of mewing at us. I wonder what they meant. I don’t
like it one little bit.’
I said that the Managing Committee
of the temple would in all probability bring a criminal
action against us for insulting their religion. There was
a section of the Indian Penal Code which exactly met Fleete’s offence. Strickland said
he only hoped and prayed that they would do this. Before
I left I looked into Fleete’s room, and saw him lying
on his right side, scratching his left breast. Then I went
to bed cold, depressed, and unhappy, at seven o’clock
in the morning.
At one o’clock I rode over to Strickland’s house
to inquire after Fleete’s head. I imagined that it
would be a sore one. Fleete was breakfasting and seemed unwell.
His temper was gone, for he was abusing the cook for not
supplying him with an underdone chop. A man who can eat raw
meat after a wet night is a curiosity. I told Fleete this
and he laughed.
‘You breed queer mosquitoes in these parts,’ he
said. ‘I’ve been bitten to pieces, but only in
‘Let’s have a look at the bite,’ said
Strickland. ‘It may have gone down since this morning.’
While the chops were being cooked,
Fleete opened his shirt and showed us, just over his left
breast, a mark, the perfect double of the black rosettes—the five or six irregular
blotches arranged in a circle—on a leopard’s
hide. Strickland looked and said, ‘It was only pink
this morning. It’s grown black now.’
Fleete ran to a glass.
‘By Jove!’ he said, ‘this
is nasty. What is it?’
We could not answer. Here the chops
came in, all red and juicy, and Fleete bolted three in
a most offensive manner. He ate on his right grinders only,
and threw his head over his right shoulder as he snapped
the meat. When he had finished, it struck him that he had
been behaving strangely, for he said apologetically, ‘I don’t think I ever felt
so hungry in my life. I’ve bolted like an ostrich.’
After breakfast Strickland said to
me, Don’t go. Stay
here, and stay for the night.’
Seeing that my house was not three
miles from Strickland’s,
this request was absurd. But Strickland insisted, and was
going to say something, when Fleete interrupted by declaring
in a shame-faced way that he felt hungry again. Strickland
sent a man to my house to fetch over my bedding and a horse,
and we three went down to Strickland’s stables to pass
the hours until it was time to go out for a ride. The man
who has a weakness for horses never wearies of inspecting
them; and when two men are killing time in this way they
gather knowledge and lies the one from the other.
There were five horses in the stables,
and I shall never forget the scene as we tried to look
them over. They seemed to have gone mad. They reared and
screamed and nearly tore up their pickets; they sweated
and shivered and lathered and were distraught with fear.
used to know him as well as his dogs; which made the matter
more curious. We left the stable for fear of the brutes throwing
themselves in their panic. Then Strickland turned back and
called me. The horses were still frightened, but they let
us ‘gentle’ and make much of them, and put their
heads in our bosoms.
‘They aren’t afraid of us,’ said Strickland. ‘D’ you
know, I’d give three months’ pay if Outrage here
But Outrage was dumb, and could only
cuddle up to his master and blow out his nostrils, as is
the custom of horses when they wish to explain things but
can’t. Fleete came
up when we were in the stalls, and as soon as the horses
saw him, their fright broke out afresh. It was all that we
could do to escape from the place unkicked. Strickland said, ‘They
don’t seem to love you, Fleete.’
‘Nonsense, said Fleete; ‘my mare will follow
me like a dog.’ He went to her; she was in a loose-box;
but as he slipped the bars she plunged, knocked him down,
and broke away into the garden. I laughed, but Strickland
was not amused. He took his moustache in both fists and pulled
at it till it nearly came out. Fleete, instead of going off
to chase his property, yawned, saying that he felt sleepy.
He went to the house to lie down, which was a foolish way
of spending New Year’s Day.
Strickland sat with me in the stables
and asked if I had noticed anything peculiar in Fleete’s manner. I said
that he ate his food like a beast; but that this might have
been the result of living alone in the hills out of the reach
of society as refined and elevating as ours for instance.
Strickland was not amused. I do not think that he listened
to me, for his next sentence referred to the mark on Fleete’s
breast, and I said that it might have been caused by blister-flies,
or that it was possibly a birth-mark newly born and now visible
for the first time. We both agreed that it was unpleasant
to look at, and Strickland found occasion to say that I was
‘I can’t tell you what I think now,’ said
he, ‘because you would call me a madman; but you must
stay with me for the next few days, if you can. I want you
to watch Fleete, but don’t tell me what you think till
I have made up my mind.’
‘But I am dining out to-night,’ I
‘So am I,’ said Strickland, ‘and so is
Fleete. At least if he doesn’t change his mind.’
We walked about the garden smoking,
but saying nothing—because
we were friends, and talking spoils good tobacco—till
our pipes were out. Then we went to wake up Fleete. He was
wide awake and fidgeting about his room.
‘I say, I want some more chops,’ he said. ‘Can
I get them?’
We laughed and said, ‘Go and
change. The ponies will be round in a minute.’
‘All right,’ said Fleete. ‘I’ll
go when I get the chops—underdone ones, mind.’
He seemed to be quite in earnest.
It was four o’clock,
and we had had breakfast at one; still, for a long time,
he demanded those underdone chops. Then he changed into riding
clothes and went out into the verandah. His pony—the
mare had not been caught—would not let him come near.
All three horses were unmanageable—mad with fear—and
finally Fleete said that he would stay at home and get something
to eat. Strickland and I rode out wondering. As we passed
the temple of Hanuman the Silver Man came out and mewed at
‘He is not one of the regular priests of the temple,’ said
Strickland. ‘I think I should peculiarly like to lay
my hands on him.’
There was no spring in our gallop on the racecourse that
evening. The horses were stale, and moved as though they
had been ridden out.
‘The fright after breakfast has been too much for
them,’ said Strickland.
That was the only remark he made through the remainder of
the ride. Once or twice, I think, he swore to himself; but
that did not count.
We came back in the dark at seven
o’clock, and saw
that there were no lights in the bungalow. ‘Careless
ruffians my servants are!’ said Strickland.
My horse reared at something on the carriage drive, and
Fleete stood up under its nose.
‘What are you doing, grovelling about the garden?’ said
But both horses bolted and nearly threw us. We dismounted
by the stables and returned to Fleete, who was on his hands
and knees under the orange-bushes.
‘What the devil’s wrong with you?’ said
‘Nothing, nothing in the world,’ said Fleete,
speaking very quickly and thickly. ‘I’ve been
gardening—botanising, you know. The smell of the earth
is delightful. I think I’m going for a walk—a
long walk—all night.’
Then I saw that there was something
excessively out of order somewhere, and I said to Strickland, ‘I
am not dining out.’
‘Bless you!’ said Strickland. ‘Here, Fleete,
get up. You’ll catch fever there. Come in to dinner
and let’s have the lamps lit. We’ll all dine
Fleete stood up unwillingly, and said, ‘No lamps—no
lamps. It’s much nicer here. Let’s dine outside
and have some more chops—lots of ’em and underdone—bloody
ones with gristle.’
Now a December evening in Northern
India is bitterly cold, and Fleete’s suggestion was
that of a maniac.
‘Come in,’ said Strickland sternly. ‘Come
in at once.’
Fleete came, and when the lamps were
brought, we saw that he was literally plastered with dirt
from head to foot. He must have been rolling in the garden.
He shrank from the light and went to his room. His eyes
were horrible to look at. There was a green light behind
them, not in them, if you understand, and the man’s
lower lip hung down.
Strickland said, ‘There is going to be trouble—big
trouble—to-night. Don’t you change your riding-things.’
We waited and waited for Fleete’s
reappearance, and ordered dinner in the meantime. We could
hear him moving about his own room, but there was no light
there. Presently from the room came the long- drawn howl
of a wolf.
People write and talk lightly of blood running cold and
hair standing up, and things of that kind. Both sensations
are too horrible to be trifled with.
My heart stopped as though a knife had been driven through
it, and Strickland turned as white as the tablecloth.
The howl was repeated, and was answered by another howl
far across the fields.
That set the gilded roof on the horror.
Strickland dashed into Fleete’s room. I followed,
and we saw Fleete getting out of the window. He made beast-noises
in the back of his throat. He could not answer us when
we shouted at him. He spat.
I don’t quite remember what
followed, but I think that Strickland must have stunned
him with the long boot-jack, or else I should never have
been able to sit on his chest. Fleete could not speak,
he could only snarl, and his snarls were those of a wolf,
not of a man. The human spirit must have been giving way
all day and have died out with the twilight. We were dealing
with a beast that had once been Fleete.
The affair was beyond any human and
rational experience. I tried to say ‘Hydrophobia,’ but the word wouldn’t
come, because I knew that I was lying.
We bound this beast with leather thongs
of the punkah-rope, and tied its thumbs and big toes together,
and gagged it with a shoe-horn, which makes a very efficient
gag if you know how to arrange it. Then we carried it into
the dining-room, and sent a man to Dumoise, the doctor,
telling him to come over at once. After we had despatched
the messenger and were drawing breath, Strickland said, ‘It’s no good.
This isn’t any doctor’s work.’ I, also,
knew that he spoke the truth.
The beast’s head was free, and it threw it about from
side to side. Any one entering the room would have believed
that we were curing a wolf’s pelt. That was the most
loathsome accessory of all.
Strickland sat with his chin in the heel of his fist, watching
the beast as it wriggled on the ground, but saying nothing.
The shirt had been torn open in the scuffle and showed the
black rosette mark on the left breast. It stood out like
In the silence of the watching we
heard something without mewing like a she-otter. We both
rose to our feet, and, I answer for myself, not Strickland,
and physically sick. We told each other, as did the men in
Pinafore, that it was the cat.
Dumoise arrived, and I never saw a little man so unprofessionally
shocked. He said that it was a heart- rending case of hydrophobia,
and that nothing could be done. At least any palliative measures
would only prolong the agony. The beast was foaming at the
mouth. Fleete, as we told Dumoise, had been bitten by dogs
once or twice. Any man who keeps half a dozen terriers must
expect a nip now and again.
Dumoise could offer no help. He could
only certify that Fleete was dying of hydrophobia. The
beast was then howling, for it had managed to spit out
the shoe-horn. Dumoise said that he would be ready to certify
to the cause of death, and that the end was certain. He
was a good little man, and he offered to remain with us;
but Strickland refused the kindness. He did not wish to
poison Dumoise’s New Year.
He would only ask him not to give the real cause of Fleete’s
death to the public.
So Dumoise left, deeply agitated;
and as soon as the noise of the cart-wheels had died away,
Strickland told me, in a whisper, his suspicions. They
were so wildly improbable that he dared not say them out
aloud; and I, who entertained all Strickland’s beliefs,
was so ashamed of owning to them that I pretended to disbelieve.
‘Even if the Silver Man had
bewitched Fleete for polluting the image of Hanuman, the
punishment could not have fallen so quickly.’
As I was whispering this the cry outside the house rose
again, and the beast fell into a fresh paroxysm of struggling
till we were afraid that the thongs that held it would give
‘Watch!’ said Strickland. ‘If
this happens six times I shall take the law into my own
hands. I order you to help me.’
He went into his room and came out in a few minutes with
the barrels of an old shot-gun, a piece of fishing-line,
some thick cord, and his heavy wooden bedstead. I reported
that the convulsions had followed the cry by two seconds
in each case, and the beast seemed perceptibly weaker.
Strickland muttered, ‘But he can’t take away
the life! He can’t take away the life!’
I said, though I knew that I was arguing
against myself, ‘It
may be a cat. It must be a cat. If the Silver Man is responsible,
why does he dare to come here?’
Strickland arranged the wood on the hearth, put the gun-barrels
into the glow of the fire, spread the twine on the table,
and broke a walking stick in two. There was one yard of fishing
line, gut lapped with wire, such as is used for mahseer-fishing,
and he tied the two ends together in a loop.
Then he said, ‘How can we catch
him? He must be taken alive and unhurt.’
I said that we must trust in Providence, and go out softly
with polo-sticks into the shrubbery at the front of the house.
The man or animal that made the cry was evidently moving
round the house as regularly as a night-watchman. We could
wait in the bushes till he came by and knock him over.
Strickland accepted this suggestion, and we slipped out
from a bath-room window into the front verandah and then
across the carriage drive into the bushes.
In the moonlight we could see the
leper coming round the corner of the house. He was perfectly
naked, and from time to time he mewed and stopped to dance
with his shadow. It was an unattractive sight, and thinking
of poor Fleete, brought to such degradation by so foul
a creature, I put away all my doubts and resolved to help
Strickland from the heated gun-barrels to the loop of twine—from the loins to
the head and back again—with all tortures that might
The leper halted in the front porch for a moment and we
jumped out on him with the sticks. He was wonderfully strong,
and we were afraid that he might escape or be fatally injured
before we caught him. We had an idea that lepers were frail
creatures, but this proved to be incorrect. Strickland knocked
his legs from under him and I put my foot on his neck. He
mewed hideously, and even through my riding- boots I could
feel that his flesh was not the flesh of a clean man.
He struck at us with his hand and feet-stumps. We looped
the lash of a dog-whip round him, under the arm-pits, and
dragged him backwards into the hall and so into the dining-room
where the beast lay. There we tied him with trunk-straps.
He made no attempt to escape, but mewed.
When we confronted him with the beast the scene was beyond
description. The beast doubled backwards into a bow as though
he had been poisoned with strychnine, and moaned in the most
pitiable fashion. Several other things happened also, but
they cannot be put down here.
‘I think I was right,’ said Strickland. ‘Now
we will ask him to cure this case.’
But the leper only mewed. Strickland
wrapped a towel round his hand and took the gun-barrels
out of the fire. I put the half of the broken walking stick
through the loop of fishing-line and buckled the leper
comfortably to Strickland’s
bedstead. I understood then how men and women and little
children can endure to see a witch burnt alive; for the beast
was moaning on the floor, and though the Silver Man had no
face, you could see horrible feelings passing through the
slab that took its place, exactly as waves of heat play across
red-hot iron—gun-barrels for instance.
Strickland shaded his eyes with his hands for a moment and
we got to work. This part is not to be printed.
The dawn was beginning to break when the leper spoke. His
mewings had not been satisfactory up to that point. The beast
had fainted from exhaustion and the house was very still.
We unstrapped the leper and told him to take away the evil
spirit. He crawled to the beast and laid his hand upon the
left breast. That was all. Then he fell face down and whined,
drawing in his breath as he did so.
We watched the face of the beast,
and saw the soul of Fleete coming back into the eyes. Then
a sweat broke out on the forehead and the eyes—they were human eyes—closed.
We waited for an hour, but Fleete still slept. We carried
him to his room and bade the leper go, giving him the bedstead,
and the sheet on the bedstead to cover his nakedness, the
gloves and the towels with which we had touched him, and
the whip that had been hooked round his body. He put the
sheet about him and went out into the early morning without
speaking or mewing.
Strickland wiped his face and sat
down. A night-gong, far away in the city, made seven o’clock.
‘Exactly four-and-twenty hours!’ said Strickland. ‘And
I’ve done enough to ensure my dismissal from the service,
besides permanent quarters in a lunatic asylum. Do you believe
that we are awake?’
The red-hot gun-barrel had fallen on the floor and was singeing
the carpet. The smell was entirely real.
That morning at eleven we two together
went to wake up Fleete. We looked and saw that the black
leopard-rosette on his chest had disappeared. He was very
drowsy and tired, but as soon as he saw us, he said, ‘Oh! Confound you fellows. Happy
New Year to you. Never mix your liquors. I’m nearly
‘Thanks for your kindness, but you’re over time,’ said
Strickland. ‘To-day is the morning of the second. You’ve
slept the clock round with a vengeance.’
The door opened, and little Dumoise put his head in. He
had come on foot, and fancied that we were laying out Fleete.
‘I’ve brought a nurse,’ said Dumoise. ‘I
suppose that she can come in for … what is necessary.’
‘By all means,’ said Fleete cheerily, sitting
up in bed. ‘Bring on your nurses.’
Dumoise was dumb. Strickland led him out and explained that
there must have been a mistake in the diagnosis. Dumoise
remained dumb and left the house hastily. He considered that
his professional reputation had been injured, and was inclined
to make a personal matter of the recovery. Strickland went
When he came back, he said that he
had been to call on the Temple of Hanuman to offer redress
for the pollution of the god, and had been solemnly assured
that no white man had ever touched the idol, and that he
was an incarnation of all the virtues labouring under a
delusion. ‘What do
you think?’ said Strickland.
I said, “‘There are more things …”’
But Strickland hates that quotation. He says that I have
worn it threadbare.
One other curious thing happened which
frightened me as much as anything in all the night’s work. When Fleete
was dressed he came into the dining-room and sniffed. He
had a quaint trick of moving his nose when he sniffed. ‘Horrid
doggy smell, here,’ said he. ‘You should really
keep those terriers of yours in better order. Try sulphur,
But Strickland did not answer. He
caught hold of the back of a chair, and, without warning,
went into an amazing fit of hysterics. It is terrible to
see a strong man overtaken with hysteria. Then it struck
me that we had fought for Fleete’s
soul with the Silver Man in that room, and had disgraced
ourselves as Englishmen for ever, and I laughed and gasped
and gurgled just as shamefully as Strickland, while Fleete
thought that we had both gone mad. We never told him what
we had done.
Some years later, when Strickland
had married and was a church-going member of society for
his wife’s sake,
we reviewed the incident dispassionately, and Strickland
suggested that I should put it before the public.
I cannot myself see that this step is likely to clear up
the mystery; because, in the first place, no one will believe
a rather unpleasant story, and, in the second, it is well
known to every right-minded man that the gods of the heathen
are stone and brass, and any attempt to deal with them otherwise
is justly condemned.