So I read this short story by Rudyard Kipling because I came across The Guardian’s podcast featuring Neil Gaiman.
If you want to listen to this short story you can check it out here
The story is about Helen who is unmarried and is taking care of her brother’s “supposedly” bastard child. She allows the child to address her as mummy but only at bedtime. That’s their secret but she herself goes out and reveals about this secret. Years later, Michael grows up and is sent to the World War I. Times passes and soon Helen gets a letter that Michael is missing. “Missing always means dead,” the author writes. Later Helen is informed as to where Michael’s grave is. And that’s how she travels to Hagenzeele. Here she meets a particular Mrs. Searsworth. The night before Helen is to visit the grave Mrs. Searsworth tells Helen that she has been lying all her life and that she (Mrs. Searsworth) has been with someone for the longest time. She had to unburden herself and so she came to meet Helen to confess her little secret because she herself may be unworthy but the person she is with is worthy and hence the truth needed to be told. The next day Helen visits the cemetery. However, the address given to her was wrong. She seems confused. Then she sees a Gardener who helps her find the grave of her “son”
“Who are you looking for?”
“Lieutenant Michael Turrell – my nephew”, said Helen slowly …..
“Come with me”, he said, “and I will show you where your son lies.”
The fact that’s unsaid here is that Michael was indeed Helen’s son born out of wedlock. Her attitude towards her son has been very cold. Even after she is told of Michael missing all she does is,
Helen, presently, found herself pulling down the house-blinds one after one with great care, and saying earnestly to each: “Missing always means dead.”
But when she is sent the address to Michael’s grave she travels all the way and she hasn’t ever done that before.
“It’s all new to me. This is the first time I’ve been over.”
This only proves it that Michael is her son and not the bastard child of her brother. As also the fact that she allowed him to call her mummy only at bedtime is yet another proof.
Kipling was quite religious man and so we see that he has sort of retold the story of Resurrection of Christ here. Remember, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize the resurrected Christ and mistakes him for being a Gardener? That’s what the author is trying to retell here.
The Gardener is in fact Jesus Christ, according to me, because he easily sees through Helen’s lie, a lie she has believed all her life, and points out the grave as “where your son lies.”
The fact that Mrs. Searsworth comes in to meet Helen and confess just a night before Helen is to visit the cemetery is foretelling of what’s to follow in the story.
Again, a thing to notice here is the name of Mrs. Searsworth. Seared literally means burnt or scorched.
Also the author makes the narrative quote cold and unattached to show how very reserved or rather controlled the British society of the time was.
If you want to read the short story alongside reading the story you may visit the following link.