The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Ghost Stories
Part 1 out of 3
Prepared by David Reed firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
THE PHANTOM 'RICKSHAW AND OTHER GHOST STORIES
by Rudyard Kipling
* * * * *
The Phantom 'Rickshaw
My Own True Ghost Story
The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes
The Man Who Would Be King
"The Finest Story in The World"
* * * * *
THE PHANTOM 'RICKSHAW
May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor Powers of Darkness me molest.
One of the few advantages that India has over England is a great
Knowability. After five years' service a man is directly or
indirectly acquainted with the two or three hundred Civilians in his
Province, all the Messes of ten or twelve Regiments and Batteries,
and some fifteen hundred other people of the non-official caste. In
ten years his knowledge should be doubled, and at the end of
twenty he knows, or knows something about, every Englishman in
the Empire, and may travel anywhere and everywhere without
Globe-trotters who expect entertainment as a right, have, even
within my memory, blunted this open-heartedness, but none the
less to-day, if you belong to the Inner Circle and are neither a Bear
nor a Black Sheep, all houses are open to you, and our small world
is very, very kind and helpful.
Rickett of Kamartha stayed with Polder of Kumaon some fifteen
years ago. He meant to stay two nights, but was knocked down by
rheumatic fever, and for six weeks disorganized Polder's
establishment, stopped Polder's work, and nearly died in Polder's
bedroom. Polder behaves as though he had been placed under
eternal obligation by Rickett, and yearly sends the little Ricketts a
box of presents and toys. It is the same everywhere. The men who
do not take the trouble to conceal from you their opinion that you
are an incompetent ass, and the women who blacken your
character and misunderstand your wife's amusements, will work
themselves to the bone in your behalf if you fall sick or into
Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a
hospital on his private account--an arrangement of loose boxes for
Incurables, his friend called it--but it was really a sort of fitting-up
shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather. The
weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is
always a fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission
to work overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down
and become as mixed as the metaphors in this sentence.
Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable
prescription to all his patients is, "lie low, go slow, and keep cool."
He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance
of this world justifies. He maintains that overwork slew Pansay,
who died under his hands about three years ago. He has, of course,
the right to speak authoritatively, and he laughs at my theory that
there was a crack in Pansay's head and a little bit of the Dark
World came through and pressed him to death. "Pansay went off
the handle," says Heatherlegh, "after the stimulus of long leave at
Home. He may or he may not have behaved like a blackguard to
Mrs. Keith-Wessington. My notion is that the work of the
Katabundi Settlement ran him off his legs, and that he took to
brooding and making much of an ordinary P. & O. flirtation. He
certainly was engaged to Miss Mannering, and she certainly broke
off the engagement. Then he took a feverish chill and all that
nonsense about ghosts developed. Overwork started his illness,
kept it alight, and killed him poor devil. Write him off to the
System--one man to take the work of two and a half men."
I do not believe this. I used to sit up with Pansay sometimes when
Heatherlegh was called out to patients, and I happened to be within
claim. The man would make me most unhappy by describing in a
low, even voice, the procession that was always passing at the
bottom of his bed. He had a sick man's command of language.
When he recovered I suggested that he should write out the whole
affair from beginning to end, knowing that ink might assist him to
ease his mind. When little boys have learned a new bad word they
are never happy till they have chalked it up on a door. And this
also is Literature.
He was in a high fever while he was writing, and the blood-and-thunder
Magazine diction he adopted did not calm him. Two
months afterward he was reported fit for duty, but, in spite of the
fact that he was urgently needed to help an undermanned
Commission stagger through a deficit, he preferred to die; vowing
at the last that he was hag-ridden. I got his manuscript before he
died, and this is his version of the affair, dated 1885:
My doctor tells me that I need rest and change of air. It is not
improbable that I shall get both ere long--rest that neither the
red-coated messenger nor the midday gun can break, and change
of air far beyond that which any homeward-bound steamer can
give me. In the meantime I am resolved to stay where I am; and,
in flat defiance of my doctor's orders, to take all the world into my
confidence. You shall learn for yourselves the precise nature of
my malady; and shall, too, judge for yourselves whether any man
born of woman on this weary earth was ever so tormented as I.
Speaking now as a condemned criminal might speak ere the
drop-bolts are drawn, my story, wild and hideously improbable as
it may appear, demands at least attention. That it will ever receive
credence I utterly disbelieve. Two months ago I should have
scouted as mad or drunk the man who had dared tell me the like.
Two months ago I was the happiest man in India. Today, from
Peshawur to the sea, there is no one more wretched. My doctor
and I are the only two who know this. His explanation is, that my
brain, digestion, and eyesight are all slightly affected; giving rise
to my frequent and persistent "delusions." Delusions, indeed! I
call him a fool; but he attends me still with the same unwearied
smile, the same bland professional manner, the same neatly
trimmed red whiskers, till I begin to suspect that I am an
ungrateful, evil-tempered invalid. But you shall judge for
Three years ago it was my fortune--my great misfortune--to sail from
Gravesend to Bombay, on return from long leave, with one Agnes
Keith-Wessington, wife of an officer on the Bombay side. It does
not in the least concern you to know what manner of woman she
was. Be content with the knowledge that, ere the voyage had
ended, both she and I were desperately and unreasoningly in love
with one another. Heaven knows that I can make the admission
now without one particle of vanity. In matters of this sort there is
always one who gives and another who accepts. From the first day
of our ill-omened attachment, I was conscious that Agnes's
passion was a stronger, a more dominant, and--if I may use the
expression--a purer sentiment than mine. Whether she recognized
the fact then, I do not know. Afterward it was bitterly plain to both
Arrived at Bombay in the spring of the year, we went our
respective ways, to meet no more for the next three or four
months, when my leave and her love took us both to Simla. There
we spent the season together; and there my fire of straw burned
itself out to a pitiful end with the closing year. I attempt no
excuse. I make no apology. Mrs. Wessington had given up much
for my sake, and was prepared to give up all. From my own lips,
in August, 1882, she learned that I was sick of her presence, tired
of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice. Ninety-nine
women out of a hundred would have wearied of me as I wearied of
them; seventy-five of that number would have promptly avenged
themselves by active and obtrusive flirtation with other men. Mrs.
Wessington was the hundredth. On her neither my openly
expressed aversion nor the cutting brutalities with which I
garnished our interviews had the least effect.
"Jack, darling!" was her one eternal cuckoo cry: "I'm sure it's all a
mistake--a hideous mistake; and we'll be good friends again some
day. _Please_ forgive me, Jack, dear."
I was the offender, and I knew it. That knowledge transformed my
pity into passive endurance, and, eventually, into blind hate--the
same instinct, I suppose, which prompts a man to savagely stamp
on the spider he has but half killed. And with this hate in my
bosom the season of 1882 came to an end.
Next year we met again at Simla--she with her monotonous face
and timid attempts at reconciliation, and I with loathing of her in
every fibre of my frame. Several times I could not avoid meeting
her alone; and on each occasion her words were identically the
same. Still the unreasoning wail that it was all a "mistake"; and
still the hope of eventually "making friends." I might have seen
had I cared to look, that that hope only was keeping her alive. She
grew more wan and thin month by month. You will agree with
me, at least, that such conduct would have driven any one to
despair. It was uncalled for; childish; unwomanly. I maintain that
she was much to blame. And again, sometimes, in the black,
fever-stricken night-watches, I have begun to think that I might
have been a little kinder to her. But that really is a "delusion." I
could not have continued pretending to love her when I didn't;
could I? It would have been unfair to us both.
Last year we met again--on the same terms as before. The same
weary appeal, and the same curt answers from my lips. At least I
would make her see how wholly wrong and hopeless were her
attempts at resuming the old relationship. As the season wore on,
we fell apart--that is to say, she found it difficult to meet me, for I
had other and more absorbing interests to attend to. When I think it
over quietly in my sick-room, the season of 1884 seems a confused
nightmare wherein light and shade were fantastically intermingled--my
courtship of little Kitty Mannering; my hopes, doubts, and
fears; our long rides together; my trembling avowal of attachment;
her reply; and now and again a vision of a white face flitting by in
the 'rickshaw with the black and white liveries I once watched for
so earnestly; the wave of Mrs. Wessington's gloved hand; and,
when she met me alone, which was but seldom, the irksome
monotony of her appeal. I loved Kitty Mannering; honestly,
heartily loved her, and with my love for her grew my hatred for
Agnes. In August Kitty and I were engaged. The next day I met
those accursed "magpie" _jhampanies_ at the back of Jakko, and,
moved by some passing sentiment of pity, stopped to tell Mrs.
Wessington everything. She knew it already.
"So I hear you're engaged, Jack dear." Then, without a moment's
pause: "I'm sure it's all a mistake--a hideous mistake. We shall
be as good friends some day, Jack, as we ever were."
My answer might have made even a man wince. It cut the dying
woman before me like the blow of a whip. "Please forgive me,
Jack; I didn't mean to make you angry; but it's true, it's true!"
And Mrs. Wessington broke down completely. I turned away and
left her to finish her journey in peace, feeling, but only for a
moment or two, that I had been an unutterably mean hound. I
looked back, and saw that she had turned her 'rickshaw with the
idea, I suppose, of overtaking me.
The scene and its surroundings were photographed on my memory.
The rain-swept sky (we were at the end of the wet weather), the
sodden, dingy pines, the muddy road, and the black powder-riven
cliffs formed a gloomy background against which the black and
white liveries of the _jhampanies_, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw and
Mrs. Wessington's down-bowed golden head stood out clearly.
She was holding her handkerchief in her left hand and was leaning
hack exhausted against the 'rickshaw cushions. I turned my horse
up a bypath near the Sanjowlie Reservoir and literally ran away.
Once I fancied I heard a faint call of "Jack!" This may have been
imagination. I never stopped to verify it. Ten minutes later I came
across Kitty on horseback; and, in the delight of a long ride with
her, forgot all about the interview.
A week later Mrs. Wessington died, and the inexpressible burden
of her existence was removed from my life. I went Plainsward
perfectly happy. Before three months were over I had forgotten all
about her, except that at times the discovery of some of her old
letters reminded me unpleasantly of our bygone relationship. By
January I had disinterred what was left of our correspondence from
among my scattered belongings and had burned it. At the
beginning of April of this year, 1885, I was at Simla--semi-deserted
Simla--once more, and was deep in lover's talks and walks with
Kitty. It was decided that we should be married at the end of June.
You will understand, therefore, that, loving Kitty as I did, I am not
saying too much when I pronounce myself to have been, at that
time, the happiest man in India.
Fourteen delightful days passed almost before I noticed their flight.
Then, aroused to the sense of what was proper among mortals
circumstanced as we were, I pointed out to Kitty that an
engagement ring was the outward and visible sign of her dignity as
an engaged girl; and that she must forthwith come to Hamilton's to
be measured for one. Up to that moment, I give you my word, we
had completely forgotten so trivial a matter. To Hamilton's we
accordingly went on the 15th of April, 1885. Remember
that--whatever my doctor may say to the contrary--I was then in
perfect health, enjoying a well-balanced mind and an absolute
tranquil spirit. Kitty and I entered Hamilton's shop together, and
there, regardless of the order of affairs, I measured Kitty for the
ring in the presence of the amused assistant. The ring was a
sapphire with two diamonds. We then rode out down the slope
that leads to the Combermere Bridge and Peliti's shop.
While my Waler was cautiously feeling his way over the loose
shale, and Kitty was laughing and chattering at my side--while all
Simla, that is to say as much of it as had then come from the
Plains, was grouped round the Reading-room and Peliti's
veranda,--I was aware that some one, apparently at a vast distance,
was calling me by my Christian name. It struck me that I had heard
the voice before, but when and where I could not at once
determine. In the short space it took to cover the road between the
path from Hamilton's shop and the first plank of the Combermere
Bridge I had thought over half a dozen people who might have
committed such a solecism, and had eventually decided that it
must have been singing in my ears. Immediately opposite Peliti's
shop my eye was arrested by the sight of four _jhampanies_ in
"magpie" livery, pulling a yellow-paneled, cheap, bazar 'rickshaw.
In a moment my mind flew back to the previous season and Mrs.
Wessington with a sense of irritation and disgust. Was it not
enough that the woman was dead and done with, without her black
and white servitors reappearing to spoil the day's happiness?
Whoever employed them now I thought I would call upon, and ask
as a personal favor to change her _jhampanies'_ livery. I would hire
the men myself, and, if necessary, buy their coats from off their
backs. It is impossible to say here what a flood of undesirable
memories their presence evoked.
"Kitty," I cried, "there are poor Mrs. Wessington's _jhampanies_
turned up again! I wonder who has them now?"
Kitty had known Mrs. Wessington slightly last season, and had
always been interested in the sickly woman.
"What? Where?" she asked. "I can't see them anywhere."
Even as she spoke her horse, swerving from a laden mule, threw
himself directly in front of the advancing 'rickshaw. I had scarcely
time to utter a word of warning when, to my unutterable horror,
horse and rider passed through men and carriage as if they had
been thin air.
"What's the matter?" cried Kitty; "what made you call out so
foolishly, Jack? If I _am_ engaged I don't want all creation to know
about it. There was lots of space between the mule and the
veranda; and, if you think I can't ride--There!"
Whereupon wilful Kitty set off, her dainty little head in the air, at a
hand-gallop in the direction of the Bandstand; fully expecting, as
she herself afterward told me, that I should follow her. What was
the matter? Nothing indeed. Either that I was mad or drunk, or
that Simla was haunted with devils. I reined in my impatient cob,
and turned round. The 'rickshaw had turned too, and now stood
immediately facing me, near the left railing of the Combermere
"Jack! Jack, darling!" (There was no mistake about the words this
time: they rang through my brain as if they had been shouted in my
ear.) "It's some hideous mistake, I'm sure. _Please_ forgive me, Jack,
and let's be friends again."
The 'rickshaw-hood had fallen back, and inside, as I hope and pray
daily for the death I dread by night, sat Mrs. Keith-Wessington,
handkerchief in hand, and golden head bowed on her breast.
How long I stared motionless I do not know. Finally, I was
aroused by my syce taking the Waler's bridle and asking whether I
was ill. From the horrible to the commonplace is but a step. I
tumbled off my horse and dashed, half fainting, into Peliti's for a
glass of cherry-brandy. There two or three couples were gathered
round the coffee-tables discussing the gossip of the day. Their
trivialities were more comforting to me just then than the
consolations of religion could have been. I plunged into the midst
of the conversation at once; chatted, laughed, and jested with a
face (when I caught a glimpse of it in a mirror) as white and drawn
as that of a corpse. Three or four men noticed my condition; and,
evidently setting it down to the results of over-many pegs,
charitably endeavoured to draw me apart from the rest of the
loungers. But I refused to be led away. I wanted the company of
my kind--as a child rushes into the midst of the dinner-party after a
fright in the dark. I must have talked for about ten minutes or so,
though it seemed an eternity to me, when I heard Kitty's clear
voice outside inquiring for me. In another minute she had entered
the shop, prepared to roundly upbraid me for failing so signally in
my duties. Something in my face stopped her.
"Why, Jack," she cried, "what _have_ you been doing? What has
happened? Are you ill?" Thus driven into a direct lie, I said that
the sun had been a little too much for me. It was close upon five
o'clock of a cloudy April afternoon, and the sun had been hidden
all day. I saw my mistake as soon as the words were out of my
mouth: attempted to recover it; blundered hopelessly and followed
Kitty in a regal rage, out of doors, amid the smiles of my
acquaintances. I made some excuse (I have forgotten what) on the
score of my feeling faint; and cantered away to my hotel, leaving
Kitty to finish the ride by herself.
In my room I sat down and tried calmly to reason out the matter.
Here was I, Theobald Jack Pansay, a well-educated Bengal
Civilian in the year of grace, 1885, presumably sane, certainly
healthy, driven in terror from my sweetheart's side by the
apparition of a woman who had been dead and buried eight
months ago. These were facts that I could not blink. Nothing was
further from my thought than any memory of Mrs. Wessington
when Kitty and I left Hamilton's shop. Nothing was more utterly
commonplace than the stretch of wall opposite Peliti's. It was
broad daylight. The road was full of people; and yet here, look
you, in defiance of every law of probability, in direct outrage of
Nature's ordinance, there had appeared to me a face from the
Kitty's Arab had gone _through_ the 'rickshaw: so that my first hope
that some woman marvelously like Mrs. Wessington had hired the
carriage and the coolies with their old livery was lost. Again and
again I went round this treadmill of thought; and again and again
gave up baffled and in despair. The voice was as inexplicable as
the apparition. I had originally some wild notion of confiding it all
to Kitty; of begging her to marry me at once; and in her arms
defying the ghostly occupant of the 'rickshaw. "After all," I
argued, "the presence of the 'rickshaw is in itself enough to prove
the existence of a spectral illusion. One may see ghosts of men and
women, but surely never of coolies and carriages. The whole thing is
absurd. Fancy the ghost of a hillman!"
Next morning I sent a penitent note to Kitty, imploring her to
overlook my strange conduct of the previous afternoon. My
Divinity was still very wroth, and a personal apology was
necessary. I explained, with a fluency born of night-long pondering
over a falsehood, that I had been attacked with sudden palpitation
of the heart--the result of indigestion. This eminently practical
solution had its effect; and Kitty and I rode out that afternoon with
the shadow of my first lie dividing us.
Nothing would please her save a canter round Jakko. With my
nerves still unstrung from the previous night I feebly protested
against the notion, suggesting Observatory Hill, Jutogh, the
Boileaugunge road--anything rather than the Jakko round. Kitty
was angry and a little hurt: so I yielded from fear of provoking
further misunderstanding, and we set out together toward Chota
Simla. We walked a greater part of the way, and, according to our
custom, cantered from a mile or so below the Convent to the
stretch of level road by the Sanjowlie Reservoir. The wretched
horses appeared to fly, and my heart beat quicker and quicker as
we neared the crest of the ascent. My mind had been full of Mrs.
Wessington all the afternoon; and every inch of the Jakko road
bore witness to our oldtime walks and talks. The bowlders were
full of it; the pines sang it aloud overhead; the rain-fed torrents
giggled and chuckled unseen over the shameful story; and the
wind in my ears chanted the iniquity aloud.
As a fitting climax, in the middle of the level men call the Ladies'
Mile the Horror was awaiting me. No other 'rickshaw was in
sight--only the four black and white _jhampanies_, the yellow-paneled
carriage, and the golden head of the woman within--all
apparently just as I had left them eight months and one fortnight
ago! For an instant I fancied that Kitty _must_ see what I saw--we
were so marvelously sympathetic in all things. Her next words
undeceived me--"Not a soul in sight! Come along, Jack, and I'll
race you to the Reservoir buildings!" Her wiry little Arab was off
like a bird, my Waler following close behind, and in this order we
dashed under the cliffs. Half a minute brought us within fifty yards
of the 'rickshaw. I pulled my Waler and fell back a little. The
'rickshaw was directly in the middle of the road; and once more the
Arab passed through it, my horse following. "Jack! Jack dear!
_Please_ forgive me," rang with a wail in my ears, and, after an
interval:--"It's a mistake, a hideous mistake!"
I spurred my horse like a man possessed. When I turned my head
at the Reservoir works, the black and white liveries were still
waiting--patiently waiting--under the grey hillside, and the wind
brought me a mocking echo of the words I had just heard. Kitty
bantered me a good deal on my silence throughout the remainder
of the ride. I had been talking up till then wildly and at random.
To save my life I could not speak afterward naturally, and from
Sanjowlie to the Church wisely held my tongue.
I was to dine with the Mannerings that night, and had barely time
to canter home to dress. On the road to Elysium Hill I overheard
two men talking together in the dusk.--"It's a curious thing," said
one, "how completely all trace of it disappeared. You know my
wife was insanely fond of the woman ('never could see anything in
her myself), and wanted me to pick up her old 'rickshaw and
coolies if they were to be got for love or money. Morbid sort of
fancy I call it; but I've got to do what the _Memsahib_ tells me.
Would you believe that the man she hired it from tells me that all
four of the men--they were brothers--died of cholera on the way to
Hardwar, poor devils, and the 'rickshaw has been broken up by the
man himself. 'Told me he never used a dead _Memsahib's_
'rickshaw. 'Spoiled his luck. Queer notion, wasn't it? Fancy poor
little Mrs. Wessington spoiling any one's luck except her own!" I
laughed aloud at this point; and my laugh jarred on me as I uttered
it. So there _were_ ghosts of 'rickshaws after all, and ghostly
employments in the other world! How much did Mrs. Wessington
give her men? What were their hours? Where did they go?
And for visible answer to my last question I saw the infernal Thing
blocking my path in the twilight. The dead travel fast, and by short
cuts unknown to ordinary coolies. I laughed aloud a second time
and checked my laughter suddenly, for I was afraid I was going
mad. Mad to a certain extent I must have been, for I recollect that
I reined in my horse at the head of the 'rickshaw, and politely
wished Mrs. Wessington "Good-evening." Her answer was one I
knew only too well. I listened to the end; and replied that I had
heard it all before, but should be delighted if she had anything
further to say. Some malignant devil stronger than I must have
entered into me that evening, for I have a dim recollection of
talking the commonplaces of the day for five minutes to the Thing
in front of me.
"Mad as a hatter, poor devil--or drunk. Max, try and get him to
Surely _that_ was not Mrs. Wessington's voice! The two men had
overheard me speaking to the empty air, and had returned to look
after me. They were very kind and considerate, and from their
words evidently gathered that I was extremely drunk. I thanked
them confusedly and cantered away to my hotel, there changed,
and arrived at the Mannerings' ten minutes late. I pleaded the
darkness of the night as an excuse; was rebuked by Kitty for my
unlover-like tardiness; and sat down.
The conversation had already become general; and under cover of
it, I was addressing some tender small talk to my sweetheart when
I was aware that at the further end of the table a short red-whiskered
man was describing, with much broidery, his encounter
with a mad unknown that evening.
A few sentences convinced me that he was repeating the incident
of half an hour ago. In the middle of the story he looked round for
applause, as professional story-tellers do, caught my eye, and
straightway collapsed. There was a moment's awkward silence,
and the red-whiskered man muttered something to the effect that
he had "forgotten the rest," thereby sacrificing a reputation as a
good story-teller which he had built up for six seasons past. I
blessed him from the bottom of my heart, and--went on with my fish.
In the fulness of time that dinner came to an end; and with genuine
regret I tore myself away from Kitty--as certain as I was of my own
existence that It would be waiting for me outside the door. The
red-whiskered man, who had been introduced to me as Doctor
Heatherlegh, of Simla, volunteered to bear me company as far as
our roads lay together. I accepted his offer with gratitude.
My instinct had not deceived me. It lay in readiness in the Mall,
and, in what seemed devilish mockery of our ways, with a lighted
head-lamp. The red-whiskered man went to the point at once, in a
manner that showed he had been thinking over it all dinner time.
"I say, Pansay, what the deuce was the matter with you this
evening on the Elysium road?" The suddenness of the question
wrenched an answer from me before I was aware.
"That!" said I, pointing to It.
"_That_ may be either D. T. or Eyes for aught I know. Now you
don't liquor. I saw as much at dinner, so it can't be D. T. There's
nothing whatever where you're pointing, though you're sweating
and trembling with fright like a scared pony. Therefore, I
conclude that it's Eyes. And I ought to understand all about them.
Come along home with me. I'm on the Blessington lower road."
To my intense delight the 'rickshaw instead of waiting for us kept
about twenty yards ahead--and this, too whether we walked, trotted,
or cantered. In the course of that long night ride I had told my
companion almost as much as I have told you here.
"Well, you've spoiled one of the best tales I've ever laid tongue to,"
said he, "but I'll forgive you for the sake of what you've gone
through. Now come home and do what I tell you; and when I've
cured you, young man, let this be a lesson to you to steer clear of
women and indigestible food till the day of your death."
The 'rickshaw kept steady in front; and my red-whiskered friend
seemed to derive great pleasure from my account of its exact
"Eyes, Pansay--all Eyes, Brain, and Stomach. And the greatest of
these three is Stomach. You've too much conceited Brain, too little
Stomach, and thoroughly unhealthy Eyes. Get your Stomach
straight and the rest follows. And all that's French for a liver pill.
I'll take sole medical charge of you from this hour! for you're too
interesting a phenomenon to be passed over."
By this time we were deep in the shadow of the Blessington lower
road and the 'rickshaw came to a dead stop under a pine-clad,
over-hanging shale cliff. Instinctively I halted too, giving my
reason. Heatherlegh rapped out an oath.
"Now, if you think I'm going to spend a cold night on the hillside
for the sake of a stomach-_cum_-Brain-_cum_-Eye illusion.... Lord,
ha' mercy! What's that?"
There was a muffled report, a blinding smother of dust just in front
of us, a crack, the noise of rent boughs, and about ten yards of the
cliff-side--pines, undergrowth, and all--slid down into the road
below, completely blocking it up. The uprooted trees swayed and
tottered for a moment like drunken giants in the gloom, and then
fell prone among their fellows with a thunderous crash. Our two
horses stood motionless and sweating with fear. As soon as the
rattle of falling earth and stone had subsided, my companion
muttered:--"Man, if we'd gone forward we should have been ten
feet deep in our graves by now. 'There are more things in heaven
and earth.' ... Come home, Pansay, and thank God. I want a peg
We retraced our way over the Church Ridge, and I arrived at Dr.
Heatherlegh's house shortly after midnight.
His attempts toward my cure commenced almost immediately, and
for a week I never left his sight. Many a time in the course of that
week did I bless the good-fortune which had thrown me in contact
with Simla's best and kindest doctor. Day by day my spirits grew
lighter and more equable. Day by day, too, I became more and
more inclined to fall in with Heatherlegh's "spectral illusion"
theory, implicating eyes, brain, and stomach. I wrote to Kitty,
telling her that a slight sprain caused by a fall from my horse kept
me indoors for a few days; and that I should be recovered before
she had time to regret my absence.
Heatherlegh's treatment was simple to a degree. It consisted of
liver pills, cold-water baths, and strong exercise, taken in the dusk
or at early dawn--for, as he sagely observed: "A man with a
sprained ankle doesn't walk a dozen miles a day, and your young
woman might be wondering if she saw you."
At the end of the week, after much examination of pupil and pulse,
and strict injunctions as to diet and pedestrianism, Heatherlegh
dismissed me as brusquely as he had taken charge of me. Here is
his parting benediction: "Man, I can certify to your mental cure,
and that's as much as to say I've cured most of your bodily
ailments. Now, get your traps out of this as soon as you can; and
be off to make love to Miss Kitty."
I was endeavoring to express my thanks for his kindness. He cut
"Don't think I did this because I like you. I gather that you've
behaved like a blackguard all through. But, all the same, you're a
phenomenon, and as queer a phenomenon as you are a blackguard.
No!"--checking me a second time--"not a rupee, please. Go out and
see if you can find the eyes-brain-and-stomach business again. I'll
give you a lakh for each time you see it."
Half an hour later I was in the Mannerings' drawing-room with
Kitty--drunk with the intoxication of present happiness and the
fore-knowledge that I should never more be troubled with Its
hideous presence. Strong in the sense of my new-found security, I
proposed a ride at once; and, by preference, a canter round Jakko.
Never had I felt so well, so overladen with vitality and mere
animal spirits, as I did on the afternoon of the 30th of April. Kitty
was delighted at the change in my appearance, and complimented
me on it in her delightfully frank and outspoken manner. We left
the Mannerings' house together, laughing and talking, and cantered
along the Chota Simla road as of old.
I was in haste to reach the Sanjowlie Reservoir and there make my
assurance doubly sure. The horses did their best, but seemed all
too slow to my impatient mind. Kitty was astonished at my
boisterousness. "Why, Jack!" she cried at last, "you are behaving
like a child. What are you doing?"
We were just below the Convent, and from sheer wantonness I was
making my Waler plunge and curvet across the road as I tickled it
with the loop of my riding-whip.
"Doing?" I answered; "nothing, dear. That's just it. If you'd been
doing nothing for a week except lie up, you'd be as riotous as I."
"'Singing and murmuring in your feastful mirth,
Joying to feel yourself alive;
Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible Earth,
Lord of the senses five.'"
My quotation was hardly out of my lips before we had rounded the
corner above the Convent; and a few yards further on could see
across to Sanjowlie. In the centre of the level road stood the black
and white liveries, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw, and Mrs.
Keith-Wessington. I pulled up, looked, rubbed my eyes, and, I
believe must have said something. The next thing I knew was that
I was lying face downward on the road with Kitty kneeling above
me in tears.
"Has it gone, child!" I gasped. Kitty only wept more bitterly.
"Has what gone, Jack dear? what does it all mean? There must be a
mistake somewhere, Jack. A hideous mistake." Her last words
brought me to my feet--mad--raving for the time being.
"Yes, there is a mistake somewhere," I repeated, "a hideous
mistake. Come and look at It."
I have an indistinct idea that I dragged Kitty by the wrist along the
road up to where It stood, and implored her for pity's sake to speak
to It; to tell It that we were betrothed; that neither Death nor Hell
could break the tie between us; and Kitty only knows how much
more to the same effect. Now and again I appealed passionately to
the Terror in the 'rickshaw to bear witness to all I had said, and to
release me from a torture that was killing me. As I talked I suppose
I must have told Kitty of my old relations with Mrs. Wessington,
for I saw her listen intently with white face and blazing eyes.
"Thank you, Mr. Pansay," she said, "that's _quite_ enough. _Syce
The syces, impassive as Orientals always are, had come up with
the recaptured horses; and as Kitty sprang into her saddle I caught
hold of the bridle, entreating her to hear me out and forgive. My
answer was the cut of her riding-whip across my face from mouth
to eye, and a word or two of farewell that even now I cannot write
down. So I judged, and judged rightly, that Kitty knew all; and I
staggered back to the side of the 'rickshaw. My face was cut and
bleeding, and the blow of the riding-whip had raised a livid blue
wheal on it. I had no self-respect. Just then, Heatherlegh, who must
have been following Kitty and me at a distance, cantered up.
"Doctor," I said, pointing to my face, "here's Miss Mannering's
signature to my order of dismissal and ... I'll thank you for that
lakh as soon as convenient."
Heatherlegh's face, even in my abject misery, moved me to
"I'll stake my professional reputation"--he began.
"Don't be a fool," I whispered. "I've lost my life's
happiness and you'd better take me home."
As I spoke the 'rickshaw was gone. Then I lost all knowledge of
what was passing. The crest of Jakko seemed to heave and roll
like the crest of a cloud and fall in upon me.
Seven days later (on the 7th of May, that is to say) I was aware that
I was lying in Heatherlegh's room as weak as a little child.
Heatherlegh was watching me intently from behind the papers on
his writing-table. His first words were not encouraging; but I was
too far spent to be much moved by them.
"Here's Miss Kitty has sent back your letters. You corresponded a
good deal, you young people. Here's a packet that looks like a ring,
and a cheerful sort of a note from Mannering Papa, which I've
taken the liberty of reading and burning. The old gentleman's not
pleased with you."
"And Kitty?" I asked, dully.
"Rather more drawn than her father from what she says. By the
same token you must have been letting out any number of queer
reminiscences just before I met you. 'Says that a man who would
have behaved to a woman as you did to Mrs. Wessington ought to
kill himself out of sheer pity for his kind. She's a hot-headed little
virago, your mash. 'Will have it too that you were suffering from
D. T. when that row on the Jakko road turned up. 'Says she'll die
before she ever speaks to you again."
I groaned and turned over to the other side.
"Now you've got your choice, my friend. This engagement has to
be broken off; and the Mannerings don't want to be too hard on
you. Was it broken through D. T. or epileptic fits? Sorry I can't
offer you a better exchange unless you'd prefer hereditary insanity.
Say the word and I'll tell 'em it's fits. All Simla knows about that
scene on the Ladies' Mile. Come! I'll give you five minutes to
think over it."
During those five minutes I believe that I explored thoroughly the
lowest circles of the Inferno which it is permitted man to tread on
earth. And at the same time I myself was watching myself faltering
through the dark labyrinths of doubt, misery, and utter despair. I
wondered, as Heatherlegh in his chair might have wondered,
which dreadful alternative I should adopt. Presently I heard myself
answering in a voice that I hardly recognized,--
"They're confoundedly particular
about morality in these parts. Give 'em fits, Heatherlegh, and my
love. Now let me sleep a bit longer."
Then my two selves joined, and it was only I (half crazed,
devil-driven I) that tossed in my bed, tracing step by step the
history of the past month.
"But I am in Simla," I kept repeating to myself. "I, Jack Pansay, am
in Simla and there are no ghosts here. It's unreasonable of that
woman to pretend there are. Why couldn't Agnes have left me
alone? I never did her any harm. It might just as well have been
me as Agnes. Only I'd never have come hack on purpose to kill
_her_. Why can't I be left alone--left alone and happy?"
It was high noon when I first awoke:
and the sun was low in the sky before I slept--slept as the tortured
criminal sleeps on his rack, too worn to feel further pain.
Next day I could not leave my bed. Heatherlegh told me in the
morning that he had received an answer from Mr. Mannering, and
that, thanks to his (Heatherlegh's) friendly offices, the story of
my affliction had traveled through the length and breadth of Simla,
where I was on all sides much pitied.
"And that's rather more than you deserve," he concluded,
pleasantly, "though the Lord knows you've been going through a
pretty severe mill. Never mind; we'll cure you yet, you perverse
I declined firmly to be cured. "You've been much too good to me
already, old man," said I; "but I don't think I need trouble you
In my heart I knew that nothing Heatherlegh could do would
lighten the burden that had been laid upon me.
With that knowledge came also a sense of hopeless, impotent
rebellion against the unreasonableness of it all. There were scores
of men no better than I whose punishments had at least been
reserved for another world; and I felt that it was bitterly, cruelly
unfair that I alone should have been singled out for so hideous a
fate. This mood would in time give place to another where it
seemed that the 'rickshaw and I were the only realities in a world
of shadows; that Kitty was a ghost; that Mannering, Heatherlegh,
and all the other men and women I knew were all ghosts; and the
great, grey hills themselves but vain shadows devised to torture
me. From mood to mood I tossed backward and forward for seven
weary days; my body growing daily stronger and stronger, until
the bedroom looking-glass told me that I had returned to everyday
life, and was as other men once more. Curiously enough my face
showed no signs of the struggle I had gone through. It was pale
indeed, but as expression-less and commonplace as ever. I had
expected some permanent alteration--visible evidence of the
disease that was eating me away. I found nothing.
On the 15th of May, I left Heatherlegh's house at eleven o'clock in
the morning; and the instinct of the bachelor drove me to the Club.
There I found that every man knew my story as told by
Heatherlegh, and was, in clumsy fashion, abnormally kind and
attentive. Nevertheless I recognized that for the rest of my natural
life I should be among but not of my fellows; and I envied very
bitterly indeed the laughing coolies on the Mall below. I lunched
at the Club, and at four o'clock wandered aimlessly down the Mall
in the vague hope of meeting Kitty. Close to the Band-stand the
black and white liveries joined me; and I heard Mrs. Wessington's
old appeal at my side. I had been expecting this ever since I came
out; and was only surprised at her delay. The phantom 'rickshaw
and I went side by side along the Chota Simla road in silence.
Close to the bazar, Kitty and a man on horseback overtook and
passed us. For any sign she gave I might have been a dog in the
road. She did not even pay me the compliment of quickening her
pace; though the rainy afternoon had served for an excuse.
So Kitty and her companion, and I and my ghostly Light-o'-Love,
crept round Jakko in couples. The road was streaming with water;
the pines dripped like roof-pipes on the rocks below, and the air
was full of fine, driving rain. Two or three times I found myself
saying to myself almost aloud: "I'm Jack Pansay on leave at
Simla--_at Simla_! Everyday, ordinary Simla. I mustn't forget that--I
mustn't forget that." Then I would try to recollect some of the
gossip I had heard at the Club: the prices of So-and-So's
horses--anything, in fact, that related to the workaday Anglo-Indian
world I knew so well. I even repeated the multiplication-table
rapidly to myself, to make quite sure that I was not taking leave of
my senses. It gave me much comfort; and must have prevented my
hearing Mrs. Wessington for a time.
Once more I wearily climbed the Convent slope and entered the
level road. Here Kitty and the man started off at a canter, and I was
left alone with Mrs. Wessington. "Agnes," said I, "will you put
back your hood and tell me what it all means?" The hood dropped
noiselessly, and I was face to face with my dead and buried
mistress. She was wearing the dress in which I had last seen her
alive; carried the same tiny handkerchief in her right hand; and the
same cardcase in her left. (A woman eight months dead with a
cardcase!) I had to pin myself down to the multiplication-table,
and to set both hands on the stone parapet of the road, to assure
myself that that at least was real.
"Agnes," I repeated, "for pity's sake tell me what it all means."
Mrs. Wessington leaned forward, with that odd, quick turn of the
head I used to know so well, and spoke.
If my story had not already so madly overleaped the bounds of all
human belief I should apologize to you now. As I know that no
one--no, not even Kitty, for whom it is written as some sort of
justification of my conduct--will believe me, I will go on. Mrs.
Wessington spoke and I walked with her from the Sanjowlie road
to the turning below the Commander-in-Chief's house as I might
walk by the side of any living woman's 'rickshaw, deep in
conversation. The second and most tormenting of my moods of
sickness had suddenly laid hold upon me, and like the Prince in
Tennyson's poem, "I seemed to move amid a world of ghosts."
There had been a garden-party at the Commander-in-Chief's, and
we two joined the crowd of homeward-bound folk. As I saw them
then it seemed that _they_ were the shadows--impalpable, fantastic
shadows--that divided for Mrs. Wessington's 'rickshaw to pass
through. What we said during the course of that weird interview I
cannot--indeed, I dare not--tell. Heatherlegh's comment would have
been a short laugh and a remark that I had been "mashing a
brain-eye-and-stomach chimera." It was a ghastly and yet in some
indefinable way a marvelously dear experience. Could it be
possible, I wondered, that I was in this life to woo a second time
the woman I had killed by my own neglect and cruelty?
I met Kitty on the homeward road--a shadow among shadows.
If I were to describe all the incidents of the next fortnight in their
order, my story would never come to an end; and your patience
would be exhausted. Morning after morning and evening after
evening the ghostly 'rickshaw and I used to wander through Simla
together. Wherever I went there the four black and white liveries
followed me and bore me company to and from my hotel. At the
Theatre I found them amid the crowd or yelling _jhampanies_;
outside the Club veranda, after a long evening of whist; at the
Birthday Ball, waiting patiently for my reappearance; and in broad
daylight when I went calling. Save that it cast no shadow, the
'rickshaw was in every respect as real to look upon as one of wood
and iron. More than once, indeed, I have had to check myself from
warning some hard-riding friend against cantering over it. More
than once I have walked down the Mall deep in conversation with
Mrs. Wessington to the unspeakable amazement of the passers-by.
Before I had been out and about a week I learned that the "fit"
theory had been discarded in favor of insanity. However, I made
no change in my mode of life. I called, rode, and dined out as
freely as ever. I had a passion for the society of my kind which I
had never felt before; I hungered to be among the realities of life;
and at the same time I felt vaguely unhappy when I had been
separated too long from my ghostly companion. It would be almost
impossible to describe my varying moods from the 15th of May
up to to-day.
The presence of the 'rickshaw filled me by turns with horror, blind
fear, a dim sort of pleasure, and utter despair. I dared not leave
Simla; and I knew that my stay there was killing me. I knew,
moreover, that it was my destiny to die slowly and a little every
day. My only anxiety was to get the penance over as quietly as
might be. Alternately I hungered for a sight of Kitty and watched
her outrageous flirtations with my successor--to speak more
accurately, my successors--with amused interest. She was as much
out of my life as I was out of hers. By day I wandered with Mrs.
Wessington almost content. By night I implored Heaven to let me
return to the world as I used to know it. Above all these varying
moods lay the sensation of dull, numbing wonder that the Seen and
the Unseen should mingle so strangely on this earth to hound one
poor soul to its grave.
* * * * *
_August 27._--Heatherlegh has been indefatigable in his attendance
on me; and only yesterday told me that I ought to send in an
application for sick leave. An application to escape the company
of a phantom! A request that the Government would graciously
permit me to get rid of five ghosts and an airy 'rickshaw by going
to England. Heatherlegh's proposition moved me to almost
hysterical laughter. I told him that I should await the end quietly
at Simla; and I am sure that the end is not far off. Believe me that I
dread its advent more than any word can say; and I torture myself
nightly with a thousand speculations as to the manner of my death.
Shall I die in my bed decently and as an English gentleman should
die; or, in one last walk on the Mall, will my soul be wrenched
from me to take its place forever and ever by the side of that
ghastly phantasm? Shall I return to my old lost allegiance in the
next world, or shall I meet Agnes loathing her and bound to her
side through all eternity? Shall we two hover over the scene of our
lives till the end of Time? As the day of my death draws nearer,
the intense horror that all living flesh feels toward escaped spirits
from beyond the grave grows more and more powerful. It is an
awful thing to go down quick among the dead with scarcely
one-half of your life completed. It is a thousand times more awful
to wait as I do in your midst, for I know not what unimaginable
terror. Pity me, at least on the score of my "delusion," for I
know you will never believe what I have written here. Yet as
surely as ever a man was done to death by the Powers of Darkness
I am that man.
In justice, too, pity her. For as surely as ever woman was killed by
man, I killed Mrs. Wessington. And the last portion of my
punishment is ever now upon me.
MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY
As I came through the Desert thus it was--
As I came through the Desert.
--_The City of Dreadful Night._
Somewhere in the Other World, where there are books and
pictures and plays and shop windows to look at, and thousands of
men who spend their lives in building up all four, lives a
gentleman who writes real stories about the real insides of people;
and his name is Mr. Walter Besant. But he will insist upon
treating his ghosts--he has published half a workshopful of them--with
levity. He makes his ghost-seers talk familiarly, and, in some
cases, flirt outrageously, with the phantoms. You may treat
anything, from a Viceroy to a Vernacular Paper, with levity; but
you must behave reverently toward a ghost, and particularly an
There are, in this land, ghosts who take the form of fat, cold,
pobby corpses, and hide in trees near the roadside till a traveler
passes. Then they drop upon his neck and remain. There are also
terrible ghosts of women who have died in child-bed. These
wander along the pathways at dusk, or hide in the crops near a
village, and call seductively. But to answer their call is death in
this world and the next. Their feet are turned backward that all
sober men may recognize them. There are ghosts of little children
who have been thrown into wells. These haunt well curbs and the
fringes of jungles, and wail under the stars, or catch women by the
wrist and beg to be taken up and carried. These and the corpse
ghosts, however, are only vernacular articles and do not attack
Sahibs. No native ghost has yet been authentically reported to
have frightened an Englishman; but many English ghosts have
scared the life out of both white and black.
Nearly every other Station owns a ghost. There are said to be two
at Simla, not counting the woman who blows the bellows at Syree
dāk-bungalow on the Old Road; Mussoorie has a house haunted of
a very lively Thing; a White Lady is supposed to do night-watchman
round a house in Lahore; Dalhousie says that one of her
houses "repeats" on autumn evenings all the incidents of a horrible
horse-and-precipice accident; Murree has a merry ghost, and, now
that she has been swept by cholera, will have room for a sorrowful
one; there are Officers' Quarters in Mian Mir whose doors open
without reason, and whose furniture is guaranteed to creak, not
with the heat of June but with the weight of Invisibles who come
to lounge in the chairs; Peshawur possesses houses that none will
willingly rent; and there is something--not fever--wrong with a big
bungalow in Allahabad. The older Provinces simply bristle with
haunted houses, and march phantom armies along their main
Some of the dāk-bungalows on the Grand Trunk Road have handy
little cemeteries in their compound--witnesses to the "changes and
chances of this mortal life" in the days when men drove from
Calcutta to the Northwest. These bungalows are objectionable
places to put up in. They are generally very old, always dirty,
while the _khansamah_ is as ancient as the bungalow. He either
chatters senilely, or falls into the long trances of age. In both
moods he is useless. If you get angry with him, he refers to some
Sahib dead and buried these thirty years, and says that when he
was in that Sahib's service not a _khansamah_ in the Province could
touch him. Then he jabbers and mows and trembles and fidgets
among the dishes, and you repent of your irritation.
In these dāk-bungalows, ghosts are most likely to be found, and
when found, they should be made a note of. Not long ago it was
my business to live in dāk-bungalows. I never inhabited the same
house for three nights running, and grew to be learned in the breed.
I lived in Government-built ones with red brick walls and rail
ceilings, an inventory of the furniture posted in every room, and an
excited snake at the threshold to give welcome. I lived in
"converted" ones--old houses officiating as dāk-bungalows--where
nothing was in its proper place and there wasn't even a fowl for
dinner. I lived in second-hand palaces where the wind blew
through open-work marble tracery just as uncomfortably as
through a broken pane. I lived in dāk-bungalows where the last
entry in the visitors' book was fifteen months old, and where they
slashed off the curry-kid's head with a sword. It was my good luck
to meet all sorts of men, from sober traveling missionaries and
deserters flying from British Regiments, to drunken loafers who
threw whisky bottles at all who passed; and my still greater good
fortune just to escape a maternity case. Seeing that a fair
proportion of the tragedy of our lives out here acted itself in
dāk-bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that
would voluntarily hang about a dāk-bungalow would be mad of
course; but so many men have died mad in dāk-bungalows that
there must be a fair percentage of lunatic ghosts.
In due time I found my ghost, or ghosts rather, for there were two
of them. Up till that hour I had sympathized with Mr. Besant's
method of handling them, as shown in "The Strange Case of Mr.
Lucraft and Other Stories." I am now in the Opposition.
We will call the bungalow Katmal dāk-bungalow. But THAT was the
smallest part of the horror. A man with a sensitive hide has no
right to sleep in dāk-bungalows. He should marry. Katmal dāk-bungalow
was old and rotten and unrepaired. The floor was of worn brick,
the walls were filthy, and the windows were nearly black with
grime. It stood on a bypath largely used by native Sub-Deputy
Assistants of all kinds, from Finance to Forests; but real
Sahibs were rare. The _khansamah_, who was nearly bent double
with old age, said so.
When I arrived, there was a fitful, undecided rain on the face of
the land, accompanied by a restless wind, and every gust made a
noise like the rattling of dry bones in the stiff toddy palms outside.
The _khansamah_ completely lost his head on my arrival. He had
served a Sahib once. Did I know that Sahib? He gave me the
name of a well-known man who has been buried for more than a
quarter of a century, and showed me an ancient daguerreotype of
that man in his prehistoric youth. I had seen a steel engraving of
him at the head of a double volume of Memoirs a month before,
and I felt ancient beyond telling.
The day shut in and the _khansamah_ went to get me food. He did
not go through the pretense of calling it "_khana_"--man's victuals.
He said "_ratub_," and that means, among other things, "grub"--dog's
rations. There was no insult in his choice of the term. He had
forgotten the other word, I suppose.
While he was cutting up the dead bodies of animals, I settled
myself down, after exploring the dāk-bungalow. There were three
rooms, beside my own, which was a corner kennel, each giving
into the other through dingy white doors fastened with long iron
bars. The bungalow was a very solid one, but the partition walls of
the rooms were almost jerry-built in their flimsiness. Every step or
bang of a trunk echoed from my room down the other three, and
every footfall came back tremulously from the far walls. For this
reason I shut the door. There were no lamps--only candles in long
glass shades. An oil wick was set in the bathroom.
For bleak, unadulterated misery that dāk-bungalow was the worst
of the many that I had ever set foot in. There was no fireplace, and
the windows would not open; so a brazier of charcoal would have
been useless. The rain and the wind splashed and gurgled and
moaned round the house, and the toddy palms rattled and roared.
Half a dozen jackals went through the compound singing, and a
hyena stood afar off and mocked them. A hyena would convince a
Sadducee of the Resurrection of the Dead--the worst sort of Dead.
Then came the _ratub_--a curious meal, half native and half English
in composition--with the old _khansamah_ babbling behind my chair
about dead and gone English people, and the wind-blown candles
playing shadow-bo-peep with the bed and the mosquito-curtains.
It was just the sort of dinner and evening to make a man think of
every single one of his past sins, and of all the others that he
intended to commit if he lived.
Sleep, for several hundred reasons, was not easy. The lamp in the
bath-room threw the most absurd shadows into the room, and the
wind was beginning to talk nonsense.
Just when the reasons were drowsy with blood-sucking I heard the
regular--"Let-us-take-and-heave-him-over" grunt of doolie-bearers
in the compound. First one doolie came in, then a second,
and then a third. I heard the doolies dumped on the ground, and
the shutter in front of my door shook. "That's some one trying to
come in," I said. But no one spoke, and I persuaded myself that it
was the gusty wind. The shutter of the room next to mine was
attacked, flung back, and the inner door opened. "That's some
Sub-Deputy Assistant," I said, "and he has brought his friends with
him. Now they'll talk and spit and smoke for an hour."
But there were no voices and no footsteps. No one was putting his
luggage into the next room. The door shut, and I thanked
Providence that I was to be left in peace. But I was curious to
know where the doolies had gone. I got out of bed and looked into
the darkness. There was never a sign of a doolie. Just as I was
getting into bed again, I heard, in the next room, the sound that no
man in his senses can possibly mistake--the whir of a billiard ball
down the length of the slates when the striker is stringing for
break. No other sound is like it. A minute afterwards there was
another whir, and I got into bed. I was not frightened--indeed I
was not. I was very curious to know what had become of the
doolies. I jumped into bed for that reason.
Next minute I heard the double click of a cannon and my hair sat
up. It is a mistake to say that hair stands up. The skin of the head
tightens and you can feel a faint, prickly, bristling all over the
scalp. That is the hair sitting up.
There was a whir and a click, and both sounds could only have
been made by one thing--a billiard ball. I argued the matter out at
great length with myself; and the more I argued the less probable it
seemed that one bed, one table, and two chairs--all the furniture of
the room next to mine--could so exactly duplicate the sounds of a
game of billiards. After another cannon, a three-cushion one to
judge by the whir, I argued no more. I had found my ghost and
would have given worlds to have escaped from that dāk-bungalow.
I listened, and with each listen the game grew clearer.
There was whir on whir and click on click. Sometimes there was a
double click and a whir and another click. Beyond any sort of
doubt, people were playing billiards in the next room. And the
next room was not big enough to hold a billiard table!
Between the pauses of the wind I heard the game go forward--stroke
after stroke. I tried to believe that I could not hear voices;
but that attempt was a failure.
Do you know what fear is? Not ordinary fear of insult, injury or
death, but abject, quivering dread of something that you cannot
see--fear that dries the inside of the mouth and half of the throat--fear
that makes you sweat on the palms of the hands, and gulp in
order to keep the uvula at work? This is a fine Fear--a great
cowardice, and must be felt to be appreciated. The very
improbability of billiards in a dāk-bungalow proved the reality of
the thing. No man--drunk or sober--could imagine a game at
billiards, or invent the spitting crack of a "screw-cannon."
A severe course of dāk-bungalows has this disadvantage--it
breeds infinite credulity. If a man said to a confirmed
dāk-bungalow-haunter:--"There is a corpse in the next room, and there's a
mad girl in the next but one, and the woman and man on that camel
have just eloped from a place sixty miles away," the hearer would
not disbelieve because he would know that nothing is too wild,
grotesque, or horrible to happen in a dāk-bungalow.
This credulity, unfortunately, extends to ghosts. A rational person
fresh from his own house would have turned on his side and slept.
I did not. So surely as I was given up as a bad carcass by the
scores of things in the bed because the bulk of my blood was in my
heart, so surely did I hear every stroke of a long game at billiards
played in the echoing room behind the iron-barred door. My
dominant fear was that the players might want a marker. It was an
absurd fear; because creatures who could play in the dark would
be above such superfluities. I only know that that was my terror;
and it was real.
After a long, long while the game stopped, and the door banged. I
slept because I was dead tired. Otherwise I should have preferred
to have kept awake. Not for everything in Asia would I have
dropped the door-bar and peered into the dark of the next room.
When the morning came, I considered that I had done well and
wisely, and inquired for the means of departure.
"By the way, _khansamah_," I said, "what were those three doolies
doing in my compound in the night?"
"There were no doolies," said the _khansamah_.
I went into the next room and the daylight streamed through the
open door. I was immensely brave. I would, at that hour, have
played Black Pool with the owner of the big Black Pool down
"Has this place always been a dāk-bungalow?" I asked.
"No," said the _khansamah_. "Ten or twenty years ago, I have
forgotten how long, it was a billiard room."
"A how much?"
"A billiard room for the Sahibs who built the Railway. I was
_khansamah_ then in the big house where all the Railway-Sahibs
lived, and I used to come across with brandy-_shrab_. These three
rooms were all one, and they held a big table on which the Sahibs
played every evening. But the Sahibs are all dead now, and the
Railway runs, you say, nearly to Kabul."
"Do you remember anything about the Sahibs?"
"It is long ago, but I remember that one Sahib, a fat man and
always angry, was playing here one night, and he said to me:--'Mangal
Khan, brandy-_pani do_,' and I filled the glass, and he bent
over the table to strike, and his head fell lower and lower till it hit
the table, and his spectacles came off, and when we--the Sahibs
and I myself--ran to lift him. He was dead. I helped to carry him
out. Aha, he was a strong Sahib! But he is dead and I, old Mangal
Khan, am still living, by your favor."
That was more than enough! I had my ghost--a firsthand,
authenticated article. I would write to the Society for Psychical
Research--I would paralyze the Empire with the news! But I
would, first of all, put eighty miles of assessed crop land between
myself and that dāk-bungalow before nightfall. The Society might
send their regular agent to investigate later on.
I went into my own room and prepared to pack after noting down
the facts of the case. As I smoked I heard the game begin
again,--with a miss in balk this time, for the whir was a short one.
The door was open and I could see into the room. _Click--click!_
That was a cannon. I entered the room without fear, for there was
sunlight within and a fresh breeze without. The unseen game was
going on at a tremendous rate. And well it might, when a restless
little rat was running to and fro inside the dingy ceiling-cloth, and
a piece of loose window-sash was making fifty breaks off the
window-bolt as it shook in the breeze!
Impossible to mistake the sound of billiard balls! Impossible to
mistake the whir of a ball over the slate! But I was to be excused.
Even when I shut my enlightened eyes the sound was marvelously
like that of a fast game.
Entered angrily the faithful partner of my sorrows, Kadir Baksh.
"This bungalow is very bad and low-caste! No wonder the
Presence was disturbed and is speckled. Three sets of doolie-bearers
came to the bungalow late last night when I was sleeping
outside, and said that it was their custom to rest in the rooms set
apart for the English people! What honor has the _khansamah_?
They tried to enter, but I told them to go. No wonder, if these
_Oorias_ have been here, that the Presence is sorely spotted. It is
shame, and the work of a dirty man!"
Kadir Baksh did not say that he had taken from each gang two
annas for rent in advance, and then, beyond my earshot, had beaten
them with the big green umbrella whose use I could never before
divine. But Kadir Baksh has no notions of morality.
There was an interview with the _khansamah_, but as he promptly
lost his head, wrath gave place to pity, and pity led to a long
conversation, in the course of which he put the fat Engineer-Sahib's
tragic death in three separate stations--two of them fifty
miles away. The third shift was to Calcutta, and there the Sahib
died while driving a dogcart.
If I had encouraged him the _khansamah_ would have wandered all
through Bengal with his corpse.
I did not go away as soon as I intended. I stayed for the night,
while the wind and the rat and the sash and the window-bolt
played a ding-dong "hundred and fifty up." Then the wind ran out
and the billiards stopped, and I felt that I had ruined my one
genuine, hall-marked ghost story.
Had I only stopped at the proper time, I could have made _anything_
out of it.
That was the bitterest thought of all!
THE STRANGE RIDE OF MORROWBIE JUKES
Alive or dead--there is no other way.
There is, as the conjurers say, no deception about this tale.
Jukes by accident stumbled upon a village that is well known to
exist, though he is the only Englishman who has been there. A
somewhat similar institution used to flourish on the outskirts of
Calcutta, and there is a story that if you go into the heart of
Bikanir, which is in the heart of the Great Indian Desert, you shall
come across not a village but a town where the Dead who did not
die but may not live have established their headquarters. And,
since it is perfectly true that in the same Desert is a wonderful city
where all the rich money lenders retreat after they have made their
fortunes (fortunes so vast that the owners cannot trust even the
strong hand of the Government to protect them, but take refuge in
the waterless sands), and drive sumptuous C-spring barouches, and
buy beautiful girls and decorate their palaces with gold and ivory
and Minton tiles and mother-n'-pearl, I do not see why Jukes's tale
should not be true. He is a Civil Engineer, with a head for plans
and distances and things of that kind, and he certainly would not
take the trouble to invent imaginary traps. He could earn more by
doing his legitimate work. He never varies the tale in the telling,
and grows very hot and indignant when he thinks of the
disrespectful treatment he received. He wrote this quite
straightforwardly at first, but he has since touched it up in places
and introduced Moral Reflections, thus:
In the beginning it all arose from a slight attack of fever. My work
necessitated my being in camp for some months between
Pakpattan and Muharakpur--a desolate sandy stretch of country as
every one who has had the misfortune to go there may know. My
coolies were neither more nor less exasperating than other gangs,
and my work demanded sufficient attention to keep me from
moping, had I been inclined to so unmanly a weakness.
On the 23d December, 1884, I felt a little feverish. There was a
full moon at the time, and, in consequence, every dog near my tent
was baying it. The brutes assembled in twos and threes and drove
me frantic. A few days previously I had shot one loud-mouthed
singer and suspended his carcass _in terrorem_ about fifty yards from
my tent-door. But his friends fell upon, fought for, and ultimately
devoured the body; and, as it seemed to me, sang their hymns of
thanksgiving afterward with renewed energy.
The light-heartedness which accompanies fever acts differently on
different men. My irritation gave way, after a short time, to a
fixed determination to slaughter one huge black and white beast
who had been foremost in song and first in flight throughout the
evening. Thanks to a shaking hand and a giddy head I had already
missed him twice with both barrels of my shot-gun, when it struck
me that my best plan would be to ride him down in the open and
finish him off with a hog-spear. This, of course, was merely the
semi-delirious notion of a fever patient; but I remember that it
struck me at the time as being eminently practical and feasible.
I therefore ordered my groom to saddle Pornic and bring him
round quietly to the rear of my tent. When the pony was ready, I
stood at his head prepared to mount and dash out as soon as the
dog should again lift up his voice. Pornic, by the way, had not been
out of his pickets for a couple of days; the night air was crisp and
chilly; and I was armed with a specially long and sharp pair of
persuaders with which I had been rousing a sluggish cob that
afternoon. You will easily believe, then, that when he was let go he
went quickly. In one moment, for the brute bolted as straight as a
die, the tent was left far behind, and we were flying over the
smooth sandy soil at racing speed.
In another we had passed the wretched dog, and I had almost
forgotten why it was that I had taken the horse and hogspear.
The delirium of fever and the excitement of rapid motion through
the air must have taken away the remnant of my senses. I have a
faint recollection of standing upright in my stirrups, and of
brandishing my hog-spear at the great white Moon that looked
down so calmly on my mad gallop; and of shout-log challenges to
the camel-thorn bushes as they whizzed past. Once or twice I
believe, I swayed forward on Pornic's neck, and literally hung on
by my spurs--as the marks next morning showed.
The wretched beast went forward like a thing possessed, over what
seemed to be a limitless expanse of moonlit sand. Next, I
remember, the ground rose suddenly in front of us, and as we
topped the ascent I saw the waters of the Sutlej shining like a
silver bar below. Then Pornic blundered heavily on his nose, and
we rolled together down some unseen slope.
I must have lost consciousness, for when I recovered I was lying
on my stomach in a heap of soft white sand, and the dawn was
beginning to break dimly over the edge of the slope down which I
had fallen. As the light grew stronger I saw that I was at the
bottom of a horseshoe-shaped crater of sand, opening on one side
directly on to the shoals of the Sutlej. My fever had altogether left
me, and, with the exception of a slight dizziness in the head, I felt
no had effects from the fall over night.
Pornic, who was standing a few yards away, was naturally a good
deal exhausted, but had not hurt himself in the least. His saddle, a
favorite polo one was much knocked about, and had been twisted
under his belly. It took me some time to put him to rights, and in
the meantime I had ample opportunities of observing the spot into
which I had so foolishly dropped.
At the risk of being considered tedious, I must describe it at
length: inasmuch as an accurate mental picture of its peculiarities
will be of material assistance in enabling the reader to understand
Imagine then, as I have said before, a horseshoe-shaped crater of
sand with steeply graded sand walls about thirty-five feet high.
(The slope, I fancy, must have been about 65 degrees.) This crater
enclosed a level piece of ground about fifty yards long by thirty at
its broadest part, with a crude well in the centre. Round the bottom
of the crater, about three feet from the level of the ground proper,
ran a series of eighty-three semi-circular ovoid, square, and
multilateral holes, all about three feet at the mouth. Each hole on
inspection showed that it was carefully shored internally with
drift-wood and bamboos, and over the mouth a wooden drip-board
projected, like the peak of a jockey's cap, for two feet. No sign of
life was visible in these tunnels, but a most sickening stench
pervaded the entire amphitheatre--a stench fouler than any which
my wanderings in Indian villages have introduced me to.
Having remounted Pornic, who was as anxious as I to get back to
camp, I rode round the base of the horseshoe to find some place
whence an exit would be practicable. The inhabitants, whoever
they might be, had not thought fit to put in an appearance, so I was
left to my own devices. My first attempt to "rush" Pornic up the
steep sand-banks showed me that I had fallen into a trap exactly on
the same model as that which the ant-lion sets for its prey. At each
step the shifting sand poured down from above in tons, and rattled
on the drip-boards of the holes like small shot. A couple of
ineffectual charges sent us both rolling down to the bottom, half
choked with the torrents of sand; and I was constrained to turn my
attention to the river-bank.
Here everything seemed easy enough. The sand hills ran down to
the river edge, it is true, but there were plenty of shoals and
shallows across which I could gallop Pornic, and find my way back
to _terra firma_ by turning sharply to the right or left. As I led Pornic
over the sands I was startled by the faint pop of a rifle across the
river; and at the same moment a bullet dropped with a sharp "_whit_"
close to Pornic's head.
There was no mistaking the nature of the missile--a regulation
Martini-Henry "picket." About five hundred yards away a
country-boat was anchored in midstream; and a jet of smoke
drifting away from its bows in the still morning air showed me
whence the delicate attention had come. Was ever a respectable
gentleman in such an _impasse_? The treacherous sand slope
allowed no escape from a spot which I had visited most
involuntarily, and a promenade on the river frontage was the signal
for a bombardment from some insane native in a boat. I'm afraid
that I lost my temper very much indeed.
Another bullet reminded me that I had better save my breath to
cool my porridge; and I retreated hastily up the sands and back to
the horseshoe, where I saw that the noise of the rifle had drawn
sixty-five human beings from the badger-holes which I had up till
that point supposed to be untenanted. I found myself in the midst
of a crowd of spectators--about forty men, twenty women, and one
child who could not have been more than five years old. They were
all scantily clothed in that salmon-colored cloth which one
associates with Hindu mendicants, and, at first sight, gave me the
impression of a band of loathsome _fakirs_. The filth and
repulsiveness of the assembly were beyond all description, and I
shuddered to think what their life in the badger-holes must be.
Even in these days, when local self-government has destroyed the
greater part of a native's respect for a Sahib, I have been
accustomed to a certain amount of civility from my inferiors, and
on approaching the crowd naturally expected that there would be
some recognition of my presence. As a matter of fact there was;
but it was by no means what I had looked for.
The ragged crew actually laughed at me--such laughter I hope I may
never hear again. They cackled, yelled, whistled, and howled as
I walked into their midst; some of them literally throwing
themselves down on the ground in convulsions of unholy mirth. In
a moment I had let go Pornic's head, and, irritated beyond
expression at the morning's adventure, commenced cuffing those
nearest to me with all the force I could. The wretches dropped
under my blows like nine-pins, and the laughter gave place to
wails for mercy; while those yet untouched clasped me round the
knees, imploring me in all sorts of uncouth tongues to spare them.
In the tumult, and just when I was feeling very much ashamed of
myself for having thus easily given way to my temper, a thin, high
voice murmured in English from behind my shoulder: "Sahib!
Sahib! Do you not know me? Sahib, it is Gunga Dass, the
I spun round quickly and faced the speaker.
Gunga Dass, (I have, of course, no hesitation in mentioning the
man's real name) I had known four years before as a Deccanee
Brahmin loaned by the Punjab Government to one of the Khalsia
States. He was in charge of a branch telegraph-office there, and
when I had last met him was a jovial, full-stomached, portly
Government servant with a marvelous capacity for making bad
puns in English--a peculiarity which made me remember him
long after I had forgotten his services to me in his official capacity.
It is seldom that a Hindu makes English puns.
Now, however, the man was changed beyond all recognition.
Caste-mark, stomach, slate-colored continuations, and unctuous
speech were all gone. I looked at a withered skeleton, turban-less
and almost naked, with long matted hair and deep-set codfish-eyes.
But for a crescent-shaped scar on the left cheek--the result of an
accident for which I was responsible I should never have known
him. But it was indubitably Gunga Dass, and--for this I was
thankfull--an English-speaking native who might at least tell me
the meaning of all that I had gone through that day.
The crowd retreated to some distance as I turned toward the
miserable figure, and ordered him to show me some method of
escaping from the crater. He held a freshly plucked crow in his
hand, and in reply to my question climbed slowly on a platform of
sand which ran in front of the holes, and commenced lighting a
fire there in silence. Dried bents, sand-poppies, and driftwood burn
quickly; and I derived much consolation from the fact that he lit
them with an ordinary sulphur-match. When they were in a bright
glow, and the crow was nearly spitted in front thereof, Gunga Dass
began without a word of preamble:
"There are only two kinds of men, Sar. The alive and the dead.
When you are dead you are dead, but when you are alive you live."
(Here the crow demanded his attention for an instant as it twirled
before the fire in danger of being burned to a cinder.) "If you die at
home and do not die when you come to the ghāt to be burned you
The nature of the reeking village was made plain now, and all that
I had known or read of the grotesque and the horrible paled before
the fact just communicated by the ex-Brahmin. Sixteen years ago,
when I first landed in Bombay, I had been told by a wandering
Armenian of the existence, somewhere in India, of a place to
which such Hindus as had the misfortune to recover from trance or
catalepsy were conveyed and kept, and I recollect laughing heartily
at what I was then pleased to consider a traveler's tale.
Sitting at the bottom of the sand-trap, the memory of Watson's
Hotel, with its swinging punkahs, white-robed attendants, and the
sallow-faced Armenian, rose up in my mind as vividly as a
photograph, and I burst into a loud fit of laughter. The contrast was
Gunga Dass, as he bent over the unclean bird, watched me
curiously. Hindus seldom laugh, and his surroundings were not
such as to move Gunga Dass to any undue excess of hilarity. He
removed the crow solemnly from the wooden spit and as solemnly
devoured it. Then he continued his story, which I give in his own
"In epidemics of the cholera you are carried to be burned almost
before you are dead. When you come to the riverside the cold air,
perhaps, makes you alive, and then, if you are only little alive, mud
is put on your nose and mouth and you die conclusively. If you are
rather more alive, more mud is put; but if you are too lively they
let you go and take you away. I was too lively, and made
protestation with anger against the indignities that they endeavored
to press upon me. In those days I was Brahmin and proud man.
Now I am dead man and eat"--here he eyed the well-gnawed breast
bone with the first sign of emotion that I had seen in him since we
met--"crows, and other things. They took me from my sheets when
they saw that I was too lively and gave me medicines for one
week, and I survived successfully. Then they sent me by rail from
my place to Okara Station, with a man to take care of me; and at
Okara Station we met two other men, and they conducted we three
on camels, in the night, from Okara Station to this place, and they
propelled me from the top to the bottom, and the other two
succeeded, and I have been here ever since two and a half years.
Once I was Brahmin and proud man, and now I eat crows."
"There is no way of getting out?"
"None of what kind at all. When I first came I made experiments
frequently and all the others also, but we have always succumbed
to the sand which is precipitated upon our heads."
"But surely," I broke in at this point, "the river-front is open,
and it is worth while dodging the bullets; while at night"--I had
already matured a rough plan of escape which a natural instinct of
selfishness forbade me sharing with Gunga Dass. He, however,
divined my unspoken thought almost as soon as it was formed;
and, to my intense astonishment, gave vent to a long low chuckle
of derision--the laughter, be it understood, of a superior or at
least of an equal.
"You will not"--he had dropped the Sir completely after his
opening sentence--"make any escape that way. But you can try.
I have tried. Once only."
The sensation of nameless terror and abject fear which I had in
vain attempted to strive against overmastered me completely. My
long fast--it was now close upon ten o'clock, and I had eaten
nothing since tiffin on the previous day--combined with the violent
and unnatural agitation of the ride had exhausted me, and I verily
believe that, for a few minutes, I acted as one mad. I hurled myself
against the pitiless sand-slope I ran round the base of the crater,
blaspheming and praying by turns. I crawled out among the
sedges of the river-front, only to be driven back each time in an
agony of nervous dread by the rifle-bullets which cut up the sand
round me--for I dared not face the death of a mad dog among that
hideous crowd--and finally fell, spent and raving, at the curb of the
well. No one had taken the slightest notion of an exhibition which
makes me blush hotly even when I think of it now.
Two or three men trod on my panting body as they drew water, but
they were evidently used to this sort of thing, and had no time to
waste upon me. The situation was humiliating. Gunga Dass,
indeed, when he had banked the embers of his fire with sand, was
at some pains to throw half a cupful of fetid water over my head,
an attention for which I could have fallen on my knees and
thanked him, but he was laughing all the while in the same
mirthless, wheezy key that greeted me on my first attempt to force
the shoals. And so, in a semi-comatose condition, I lay till noon.
Then, being only a man after all, I felt hungry, and intimated as
much to Gunga Dass, whom I had begun to regard as my natural
protector. Following the impulse of the outer world when dealing
with natives, I put my hand into my pocket and drew out four
annas. The absurdity of the gift struck me at once, and I was about
to replace the money.
Gunga Dass, however, was of a different opinion. "Give me the
money," said he; "all you have, or I will get help, and we will kill
you!" All this as if it were the most natural thing in the world!
A Briton's first impulse, I believe, is to guard the contents of his
pockets; but a moment's reflection convinced me of the futility of
differing with the one man who had it in his power to make me
comfortable; and with whose help it was possible that I might
eventually escape from the crater. I gave him all the money in my
possession, Rs. 9-8-5--nine rupees eight annas and five pie--for I
always keep small change as bakshish when I am in camp. Gunga
Dass clutched the coins, and hid them at once in his ragged loin
cloth, his expression changing to something diabolical as he
looked round to assure himself that no one had observed us.
"_Now_ I will give you something to eat," said he.
What pleasure the possession of my money could have afforded
him I am unable to say; but inasmuch as it did give him evident
delight I was not sorry that I had parted with it so readily, for
I had no doubt that he would have had me killed if I had refused.
One does not protest against the vagaries of a den of wild beasts;
and my companions were lower than any beasts. While I devoured
what Gunga Dass had provided, a coarse _chapatti_ and a cupful of
the foul well-water, the people showed not the faintest sign of
curiosity--that curiosity which is so rampant, as a rule, in an Indian
I could even fancy that they despised me. At all events they treated
me with the most chilling indifference, and Gunga Dass was nearly
as bad. I plied him with questions about the terrible village, and
received extremely unsatisfactory answers. So far as I could
gather, it had been in existence from time immemorial--whence I
concluded that it was at least a century old--and during that time no
one had ever been known to escape from it. [I had to control
myself here with both hands, lest the blind terror should lay hold
of me a second time and drive me raving round the crater.] Gunga
Dass took a malicious pleasure in emphasizing this point and in
watching me wince. Nothing that I could do would induce him to
tell me who the mysterious "They" were.
"It is so ordered," he would reply, "and I do not yet know any one
who has disobeyed the orders."
"Only wait till my servants find that I am missing," I retorted, "and
I promise you that this place shall be cleared off the face of the
earth, and I'll give you a lesson in civility, too, my friend."
"Your servants would be torn in pieces before they came near this
place; and, besides, you are dead, my dear friend. It is not your
fault, of course, but none the less you are dead and buried."
At irregular intervals supplies of food, I was told, were dropped
down from the land side into the amphitheatre, and the inhabitants
fought for them like wild beasts. When a man felt his death
coming on he retreated to his lair and died there. The body was
sometimes dragged out of the hole and thrown on to the sand, or
allowed to rot where it lay.
The phrase "thrown on to the sand" caught my attention, and I
asked Gunga Dass whether this sort of thing was not likely to
breed a pestilence.
"That," said he with another of his wheezy chuckles, "you may see
for yourself subsequently. You will have much time to make
Whereat, to his great delight, I winced once more and hastily
continued the conversation: "And how do you live here from day
to day? What do you do?" The question elicited exactly the same
answer as before--coupled with the information that "this place is
like your European heaven; there is neither marrying nor giving in
Gunga Dass had been educated at a Mission School, and, as he
himself admitted, had he only changed his religion "like a wise
man," might have avoided the living grave which was now his
portion. But as long as I was with him I fancy he was happy.
Here was a Sahib, a representative of the dominant race, helpless
as a child and completely at the mercy of his native neighbors. In
a deliberate lazy way he set himself to torture me as a schoolboy
would devote a rapturous half-hour to watching the agonies of an
impaled beetle, or as a ferret in a blind burrow might glue himself
comfortably to the neck of a rabbit. The burden of his
conversation was that there was no escape "of no kind whatever,"
and that I should stay here till I died and was "thrown on to the
sand." If it were possible to forejudge the conversation of the
Damned on the advent of a new soul in their abode, I should say
that they would speak as Gunga Dass did to me throughout that
long afternoon. I was powerless to protest or answer; all my
energies being devoted to a struggle against the inexplicable terror
that threatened to overwhelm me again and again. I can compare
the feeling to nothing except the struggles of a man against the
overpowering nausea of the Channel passage--only my agony was
of the spirit and infinitely more terrible.
As the day wore on, the inhabitants began to appear in full strength
to catch the rays of the afternoon sun, which were now sloping in
at the mouth of the crater. They assembled in little knots, and
talked among themselves without even throwing a glance in my
direction. About four o'clock, as far as I could judge Gunga Dass
rose and dived into his lair for a moment, emerging with a live
crow in his hands. The wretched bird was in a most draggled and
deplorable condition, but seemed to be in no way afraid of its
master. Advancing cautiously to the river front, Gunga Dass
stepped from tussock to tussock until he had reached a smooth
patch of sand directly in the line of the boat's fire. The occupants
of the boat took no notice. Here he stopped, and, with a couple of
dexterous turns of the wrist, pegged the bird on its back with
outstretched wings. As was only natural, the crow began to shriek
at once and beat the air with its claws. In a few seconds the
clamor had attracted the attention of a bevy of wild crows on a
shoal a few hundred yards away, where they were discussing
something that looked like a corpse. Half a dozen crows flew over
at once to see what was going on, and also, as it proved, to attack
the pinioned bird. Gunga Dass, who had lain down on a tussock,
motioned to me to be quiet, though I fancy this was a needless
precaution. In a moment, and before I could see how it happened,
a wild crow, who had grappled with the shrieking and helpless bird,
was entangled in the latter's claws, swiftly disengaged by Gunga Dass,
and pegged down beside its companion in adversity. Curiosity, it seemed,
overpowered the rest of the flock, and almost before Gunga Dass
and I had time to withdraw to the tussock, two more captives were
struggling in the upturned claws of the decoys. So the chase--if I
can give it so dignified a name--continued until Gunga Dass had
captured seven crows. Five of them he throttled at once, reserving
two for further operations another day. I was a good deal
impressed by this, to me, novel method of securing food, and
complimented Gunga Dass on his skill.
"It is nothing to do," said he. "Tomorrow you must do it for me.
You are stronger than I am."
This calm assumption of superiority upset me not a little, and I
answered peremptorily: "Indeed, you old ruffian! What do you
think I have given you money for?"
"Very well," was the unmoved reply. "Perhaps not to-morrow, nor
the day after, nor subsequently; but in the end, and for many years,
you will catch crows and eat crows, and you will thank your
European God that you have crows to catch and eat."
I could have cheerfully strangled him for this; but judged it best
under the circumstances to smother my resentment. An hour later
I was eating one of the crows; and, as Gunga Dass had said,
thanking my God that I had a crow to eat. Never as long as I live
shall I forget that evening meal. The whole population were
squatting on the hard sand platform opposite their dens, huddled
over tiny fires of refuse and dried rushes. Death, having once laid
his hand upon these men and forborne to strike, seemed to stand
aloof from them now; for most of our company were old men, bent
and worn and twisted with years, and women aged to all
appearance as the Fates themselves. They sat together in knots and
talked--God only knows what they found to discuss--in low equable
tones, curiously in contrast to the strident babble with which
natives are accustomed to make day hideous. Now and then an
access of that sudden fury which had possessed me in the morning
would lay hold on a man or woman; and with yells and
imprecations the sufferer would attack the steep slope until,
baffled and bleeding, he fell back on the platform incapable of
moving a limb. The others would never even raise their eyes when
this happened, as men too well aware of the futility of their
fellows' attempts and wearied with their useless repetition. I saw
four such outbursts in the course of the evening.
Gunga Dass took an eminently business-like view of my
situation, and while we were dining--I can afford to laugh at the
recollection now, but it was painful enough at the time--propounded
the terms on which he would consent to "do" for me.
My nine rupees eight annas, he argued, at the rate of three annas a
day, would provide me with food for fifty-one days, or about seven
weeks; that is to say, he would be willing to cater for me for that
length of time. At the end of it I was to look after myself. For a
further consideration--_videlicet_ my boots--he would be willing to
allow me to occupy the den next to his own, and would supply me
with as much dried grass for bedding as he could spare.
"Very well, Gunga Dass," I replied; "to the first terms I cheerfully
agree, but, as there is nothing on earth to prevent my killing you as
you sit here and taking everything that you have" (I thought of the
two invaluable crows at the time), "I flatly refuse to give you my
boots and shall take whichever den I please."
The stroke was a bold one, and I was glad when I saw that it had
succeeded. Gunga Dass changed his tone immediately, and
disavowed all intention of asking for my boots. At the time it did
not strike me as at all strange that I, a Civil Engineer, a man of
thirteen years' standing in the Service, and, I trust, an average
Englishman, should thus calmly threaten murder and violence
against the man who had, for a consideration it is true, taken me
under his wing. I had left the world, it seemed, for centuries. I was
as certain then as I am now of my own existence, that in the
accursed settlement there was no law save that of the strongest;
that the living dead men had thrown behind them every canon of
the world which had cast them out; and that I had to depend for my
own life on my strength and vigilance alone. The crew of the
ill-fated _Mignonette_ are the only men who would understand my
frame of mind. "At present," I argued to myself, "I am strong and
a match for six of these wretches. It is imperatively necessary that
I should, for my own sake, keep both health and strength until the
hour of my release comes--if it ever does."
Fortified with these resolutions, I ate and drank as much as I could,
and made Gunga Dass understand that I intended to be his master,
and that the least sign of insubordination on his part would be
visited with the only punishment I had it in my power to
inflict--sudden and violent death. Shortly after this I went to bed.
That is to say, Gunga Dass gave me a double armful of dried bents
which I thrust down the mouth of the lair to the right of his, and
followed myself, feet foremost; the hole running about nine feet
into the sand with a slight downward inclination, and being neatly
shored with timbers. From my den, which faced the river-front, I
was able to watch the waters of the Sutlej flowing past under the
light of a young moon and compose myself to sleep as best I
The horrors of that night I shall never forget. My den was nearly
as narrow as a coffin, and the sides had been worn smooth and
greasy by the contact of innumerable naked bodies, added to which
it smelled abominably. Sleep was altogether out of question to one
in my excited frame of mind. As the night wore on, it seemed that
the entire amphitheatre was filled with legions of unclean devils
that, trooping up from the shoals below, mocked the unfortunates
in their lairs.
Personally I am not of an imaginative temperament,--very few
Engineers are,--but on that occasion I was as completely prostrated
with nervous terror as any woman. After half an hour or so,
however, I was able once more to calmly review my chances of
escape. Any exit by the steep sand walls was, of course,
impracticable. I had been thoroughly convinced of this some time
before. It was possible, just possible, that I might, in the uncertain
moonlight, safely run the gauntlet of the rifle shots. The place was
so full of terror for me that I was prepared to undergo any risk in
leaving it. Imagine my delight, then, when after creeping stealthily
to the river-front I found that the infernal boat was not there. My
freedom lay before me in the next few steps!
By walking out to the first shallow pool that lay at the foot of the
projecting left horn of the horseshoe, I could wade across, turn the
flank of the crater, and make my way inland. Without a moment's
hesitation I marched briskly past the tussocks where Gunga Dass
had snared the crows, and out in the direction of the smooth white
sand beyond. My first step from the tufts of dried grass showed
me how utterly futile was any hope of escape; for, as I put my foot
down, I felt an indescribable drawing, sucking motion of the sand
below. Another moment and my leg was swallowed up nearly to
the knee. In the moonlight the whole surface of the sand seemed to
be shaken with devilish delight at my disappointment. I struggled
clear, sweating with terror and exertion, back to the tussocks
behind me and fell on my face.
My only means of escape from the semicircle was protected with a
How long I lay I have not the faintest idea; but I was roused at last
by the malevolent chuckle of Gunga Dass at my ear "I would
advise you, Protector of the Poor" (the ruffian was speaking
English) "to return to your house. It is unhealthy to lie down here.
Moreover, when the boat returns, you will most certainly be rifled
at." He stood over me in the dim light of the dawn, chuckling and
laughing to himself. Suppressing my first impulse to catch the
man by the neck and throw him on to the quicksand, I rose sullenly
and followed him to the platform below the burrows.
Suddenly, and futilely as I thought while I spoke, I asked: "Gunga
Dass, what is the good of the boat if I can't get out _anyhow_?" I
recollect that even in my deepest trouble I had been speculating
vaguely on the waste of ammunition in guarding an already well
Gunga Dass laughed again and made answer: "They have the boat
only in daytime. It is for the reason that _there is a way_. I hope
we shall have the pleasure of your company for much longer time.
It is a pleasant spot when you have been here some years and eaten
roast crow long enough."
I staggered, numbed and helpless, toward the fetid burrow allotted
to me, and fell asleep. An hour or so later I was awakened by a
piercing scream--the shrill, high-pitched scream of a horse in pain.
Those who have once heard that will never forget the sound. I
found some little difficulty in scrambling out of the burrow. When
I was in the open, I saw Pornic, my poor old Pornic, lying dead on
the sandy soil. How they had killed him I cannot guess. Gunga
Dass explained that horse was better than crow, and "greatest
good of greatest number is political maxim. We are now Republic,
Mister Jukes, and you are entitled to a fair share of the beast. If
you like, we will pass a vote of thanks. Shall I propose?"
Yes, we were a Republic indeed! A Republic of wild beasts
penned at the bottom of a pit, to eat and fight and sleep till we
died. I attempted no protest of any kind, but sat down and stared at
the hideous sight in front of me. In less time almost than it takes
me to write this, Pornic's body was divided, in some unclear way
or other; the men and women had dragged the fragments on to the
platform and were preparing their normal meal. Gunga Dass
cooked mine. The almost irresistible impulse to fly at the sand
walls until I was wearied laid hold of me afresh, and I had to
struggle against it with all my might. Gunga Dass was offensively
jocular till I told him that if he addressed another remark of any
kind whatever to me I should strangle him where he sat. This
silenced him till silence became insupportable, and I bade him say
"You will live here till you die like the other Feringhi," he said,
coolly, watching me over the fragment of gristle that he was
"What other Sahib, you swine? Speak at once, and don't stop to
tell me a lie."
"He is over there," answered Gunga Dass, pointing to a
burrow-mouth about four doors to the left of my own. "You can
see for yourself. He died in the burrow as you will die, and I will
die, and as all these men and women and the one child will also
"For pity's sake tell me all you know about him. Who was he?
When did he come, and when did he die?"
This appeal was a weak step on my part. Gunga Dass only leered
and replied: "I will not--unless you give me something first."
Then I recollected where I was, and struck the man between the
eyes, partially stunning him. He stepped down from the platform
at once, and, cringing and fawning and weeping and attempting to
embrace my feet, led me round to the burrow which he had
"I know nothing whatever about the gentleman. Your God be my
witness that I do not. He was as anxious to escape as you were,
and he was shot from the boat, though we all did all things to
prevent him from attempting. He was shot here." Gunga Dass laid
his hand on his lean stomach and bowed to the earth.
"Well, and what then? Go on!"
"And then--and then, Your Honor, we carried him in to his house
and gave him water, and put wet cloths on the wound, and he laid
down in his house and gave up the ghost."
"In how long? In how long?"
"About half an hour, after he received his wound. I call Vishnu to
witness," yelled the wretched man, "that I did everything for him.
Everything which was possible, that I did!"
He threw himself down on the ground and clasped my ankles. But
I had my doubts about Gunga Dass's benevolence, and kicked him
off as he lay protesting.
"I believe you robbed him of everything he had. But I can find out
in a minute or two. How long was the Sahib here?"
"Nearly a year and a half. I think he must have gone mad. But hear
me swear Protector of the Poor! Won't Your Honor hear me swear
that I never touched an article that belonged to him? What is Your
Worship going to do?"
I had taken Gunga Dass by the waist and had hauled him on to the
platform opposite the deserted burrow. As I did so I thought of my
wretched fellow-prisoner's unspeakable misery among all these
horrors for eighteen months, and the final agony of dying like a rat
in a hole, with a bullet-wound in the stomach. Gunga Dass
fancied I was going to kill him and howled pitifully. The rest of
the population, in the plethora that follows a full flesh meal,
watched us without stirring.
"Go inside, Gunga Dass," said I, "and fetch it out."
I was feeling sick and faint with horror now. Gunga Dass nearly
rolled off the platform and howled aloud.
"But I am Brahmin, Sahib--a high-caste Brahmin. By your soul, by
your father's soul, do not make me do this thing!"
"Brahmin or no Brahmin, by my soul and my father's soul, in you
go!" I said, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I crammed his head
into the mouth of the burrow, kicked the rest of him in, and, sitting
down, covered my face with my hands.
At the end of a few minutes I heard a rustle and a creak; then
Gunga Dass in a sobbing, choking whisper speaking to himself;
then a soft thud--and I uncovered my eyes.
The dry sand had turned the corpse entrusted to its keeping into a
yellow-brown mummy. I told Gunga Dass to stand off while I
The body--clad in an olive-green hunting-suit much stained and
worn, with leather pads on the shoulders--was that of a man
between thirty and forty, above middle height, with light, sandy
hair, long mustache, and a rough unkempt beard. The left canine
of the upper jaw was missing, and a portion of the lobe of the right
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