Part 4 out of 18
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
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 come home."
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 bad 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
The 'rickshaw kept steady in front; and my red-whiskered friend seemed to
derive great pleasure from my account of its exact whereabouts.
"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 badly."
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
injunction' 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 me short.
"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
"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 ghora lao."
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
Heatherlegh's face, even in my abject misery, moved me to laughter.
"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
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 phenomenon."
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 further."
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 expressionless 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
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 hounds 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
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 he 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 of 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 today.
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
* * * * * * *
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 Indian one.
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 dak-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 thoroughfares.
Some of the dak-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 dak-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 dak-
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 dak-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 dak-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 dak-
bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that would voluntarily
hang about a dak-bungalow would be mad of course; but so many men have died
mad in dak-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
We will call the bungalow Katmal dak-bungalow. But THAT was the smallest part
of the horror. A man with a sensitive hide has no right to sleep in dak-
bungalows. He should marry. Katmal dak-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
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 dak-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 dak-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
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
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
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 dak-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
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
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 dak-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 dak-bungalows has this disadvantage--it breeds infinite
credulity. If a man said to a confirmed dak-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 dak-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 below.
"Has this place always been a dak-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 dak-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--c1ick! 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
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
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-of-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 shouting
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 horse-shoe 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 what follows.
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
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 telegraph-master."
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 had
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
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 thankful--an English-speaking
native who might at least tell me the meaning of all that I had gone through
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 crate. 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
neatly 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
ghat to be burned you come here."
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 too absurd!
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
"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
"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 village.
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 observations."
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 marriage."
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
"Very well," was the unmoved reply. "Perhaps not tomorrow, 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
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
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 quicksand!
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 protected foreshore.
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 something.
"You will live here till you die like the other Feringhi," he said, coolly,
watching me over the fragment of gristle that he was gnawing.
"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 ta 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 die."
"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 indicated.
"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
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 examined it.
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 ear was gone. On the second finger of the left hand was
a ring--a shield-shaped bloodstone set in gold, with a monogram that might
have been either "B.K." or "B.L." On the third finger of the right hand was a
silver ring in the shape of a coiled cobra, much worn and tarnished. Gunga
Dass deposited a handful of trifles he had picked out of the burrow at my
feet, and, covering the face of the body with my handkerchief, I turned to
examine these. I give the full list in the hope that it may lead to the
identification of the unfortunate man:
1. Bowl of a briarwood pipe, serrated at the edge; much worn and blackened;
bound with string at the crew.
2. Two patent-lever keys; wards of both broken.
3. Tortoise-shell-handled penknife, silver or nickel name-plate, marked with
4. Envelope, postmark Undecipherable, bearing a Victorian stamp, addressed to
"Miss Mon-" (rest illegible) -"ham"-"nt."
5. Imitation crocodile-skin notebook with pencil. First forty-five pages
blank; four and a half illegible; fifteen others filled with private memoranda
relating chiefly to three persons--a Mrs. L. Singleton, abbreviated several
times to "Lot Single," "Mrs. S. May," and "Garmison," referred to in places as
"Jerry" or "Jack."
6.Handle of small-sized hunting-knife. Blade snapped short. Buck's horn,
diamond cut, with swivel and ring on the butt; fragment of cotton cord
It must not be supposed that I inventoried all these things on the spot as
fully as I have here written them down. The notebook first attracted my
attention, and I put it in my pocket with a view of studying it later on.
The rest of the articles I conveyed to my burrow for safety's sake, and there
being a methodical man, I inventoried them. I then returned to the corpse and
ordered Gunga Dass to help me to carry it out to the river-front. While we
were engaged in this, the exploded shell of an old brown cartridge dropped out
of one of the pockets and rolled at my feet. Gunga Dass had not seen it; and I
fell to thinking that a man does not carry exploded cartridge-cases,
especially "browns," which will not bear loading twice, about with him when
shooting. In other words, that cartridge-case had been fired inside the
crater. Consequently there must be a gun somewhere. I was on the verge of
asking Gunga Dass, but checked myself, knowing that he would lie. We laid the
body down on the edge of the quicksand by the tussocks. It was my intention to
push it out and let it be swallowed up--the only possible mode of burial that
I could think of. I ordered Gunga Dass to go away.
Then I gingerly put the corpse out on the quicksand. In doing so--it was lying
face downward--I tore the frail and rotten khaki shooting-coat open,
disclosing a hideous cavity in the back. I have already told you that the dry
sand had, as it were, mummified the body. A moment's glance showed that the
gaping hole had been caused by a gun-shot wound; the gun must have been fired
with the muzzle almost touching the back. The shooting-coat, being intact, had
been drawn over the body after death, which must have been instantaneous. The
secret of the poor wretch's death was plain to me in a flash. Some one of the
crater, presumably Gunga Dass, must have shot him with his own gun--the gun
that fitted the brown cartridges. He had never attempted to escape in the face
of the rifle-fire from the boat.
I pushed the corpse out hastily, and saw it sink from sight literally in a few
seconds. I shuddered as I watched. In a dazed, half-conscious way I turned to
peruse the notebook. A stained and discolored slip of paper bad been inserted
between the binding and the back, and dropped out as I opened the pages. This
is what it contained:--"Four out from crow-clump: three left; nine out; two
right; three back; two left; fourteen out; two left; seven out; one left; nine
back; two right; six back; four right; seven back." The paper had been burned
and charred at the edges. What it meant I could not understand. I sat down on
the dried bents turning it over and over between my fingers, until I was aware
of Gunga Dass standing immediately behind me with glowing eyes and
"Have you got it?" he panted. "Will you not let me look at it also? I swear
that I will return it."
"Got what? Return what?" asked.
"That which you have in your hands. It will help us both." He stretched out
his long, bird-like talons, trembling with eagerness.
"I could never find it," he continued. "He had secreted it about his person.
Therefore I shot him, but nevertheless I was unable to obtain it."
Gunga Dass had quite forgotten his little fiction about the rifle-bullet. I
received the information perfectly calmly. Morality is blunted by consorting
with the Dead who are alive.
"What on earth are you raving about? What is it you want me to give you?"
"The piece of paper in the notebook. It will help us both. Oh, you fool! You
fool! Can you not see what it will do for us? We shall escape!"
His voice rose almost to a scream, and he danced with excitement before me. I
own I was moved at the chance of my getting away.
"Don't skip! Explain yourself. Do you mean to say that this slip of paper will
help us? What does it mean?"
"Read it aloud! Read it aloud! I beg and I pray you to read it aloud."
I did so. Gunga Dass listened delightedly, and drew an irregular line in the
sand with his fingers.
"See now! It was the length of his gun-barrels without the stock. I have those
barrels. Four gun-barrels out from the place where I caught crows straight
out; do you follow me? Then three left--Ah! how well I remember when that man
worked it out night after night Then nine out, and so on. Out is always
straight before you across the quicksand. He told me so before I killed him."
"But if you knew all this why didn't you get out before?"
"I did not know it. He told me that he was working it out a year and a half
ago, and how he was working it out night after night when the boat had gone
away, and he could get out near the quicksand safely. Then he said that we
would get away together. But I was afraid that he would leave me behind one
night when he had worked it all out, and so I shot him. Besides, it is not
advisable that the men who once get in here should escape. Only I, and I am a
The prospect of escape had brought Gunga Dass's caste back to him. He stood
up, walked about and gesticulated violently. Eventually I managed to make him
talk soberly, and he told me how this Englishman had spent six months night
after night in exploring, inch by inch, the passage across the quicksand; how
he had declared it to be simplicity itself up to within about twenty yards of
the river bank after turning the flank of the left horn of the horseshoe. This
much he had evidently not completed when Gunga Dass shot him with his own gun.
In my frenzy of delight at the possibilities of escape I recollect shaking
hands effusively with Gunga Dass, after we had decided that we were to make an
attempt to get away that very night. It was weary work waiting throughout the
About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge, when the Moon had just risen above
the lip of the crater, Gunga Dass made a move for his burrow to bring out the
gun-barrels whereby to measure our path. All the other wretched inhabitants
had retired to their lairs long ago. The guardian boat drifted downstream some
hours before, and we were utterly alone by the crow-clump. Gunga Dass, while
carrying the gun-barrels, let slip the piece of paper which was to be our
guide. I stooped down hastily to recover it, and, as I did so, I was aware
that the diabolical Brahmin was aiming a violent blow at the back of my head
with the gun-barrels. It was too late to turn round. I must have received the
blow somewhere on the nape of my neck. A hundred thousand fiery stars danced
before my eyes, and I fell forwards senseless at the edge of, the quicksand.
When I recovered consciousness, the Moon was going down, and I was sensible of
intolerable pain in the back of my head. Gunga Dass had disappeared and my
mouth was full of blood. I lay down again and prayed that I might die without
more ado. Then the unreasoning fury which I had before mentioned, laid hold
upon me, and I staggered inland toward the walls of the crater. It seemed that
some one was calling to me in a whisper--"Sahib! Sahib! Sahib!" exactly as my
bearer used to call me in the morning I fancied that I was delirious until a
handful of sand fell at my feet. Then I looked up and saw a head peering down
into the amphitheatre--the head of Dunnoo, my dog-boy, who attended to my
collies. As soon as he had attracted my attention, he held up his hand and
showed a rope. I motioned. staggering to and fro for the while, that he should
throw it down. It was a couple of leather punkah-ropes knotted together, with
a loop at one end. I slipped the loop over my head and under my arms; heard
Dunnoo urge something forward; was conscious that I was being dragged, face
downward, up the steep sand slope, and the next instant found myself choked
and half fainting on the sand hills overlooking the crater. Dunnoo, with his
face ashy grey in the moonlight, implored me not to stay but to get back to my
tent at once.
It seems that he had tracked Pornic's footprints fourteen miles across the
sands to the crater; had returned and told my servants, who flatly refused to
meddle with any one, white or black, once fallen into the hideous Village of
the Dead; whereupon Dunnoo had taken one of my ponies and a couple of punkah-
ropes, returned to the crater, and hauled me out as I have described.
To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a gold mohur a
month--a sum which I still think far too little for the services he has
rendered. Nothing on earth will induce me to go near that devilish spot again,
or to reveal its whereabouts more clearly than I have done. Of Gunga Dass I
have never found a trace, nor do I wish to do. My sole motive in giving this
to be published is the hope that some one may possibly identify, from the
details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse of the man in
the olive-green hunting-suit.
* * * * * * * *
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not easy to
follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again under circumstances
which prevented either of us finding out whether the other was worthy. I have
still to be brother to a Prince, though I once came near to kinship with what
might have been a veritable King, and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom-
-army, law-courts, revenue, and policy all complete. But, today, I greatly
fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go hunt it for myself.
The beginning of everything was in a railway-train upon the road to Mhow from
Ajmir. There had been a Deficit in the Budget, which necessitated travelling,
not Second-class, which is only half as dear as First-Class, but by
Intermediate, which is very awful indeed. There are no cushions in the
Intermediate class, and the population are either Intermediate, which is
Eurasian, or native, which for a long night journey is nasty, or Loafer, which
is amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not buy from refreshment-
rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and buy sweets from the
native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the roadside water. This is why in hot
weather Intermediates are taken out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers
are most properly looked down upon.
My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached Nasirabad, when
the big black-browed gentleman in shirt-sleeves entered, and, following the
custom of Intermediates, passed the time of day. He was a wanderer and a
vagabond like myself, but with an educated taste for whisky. He told tales of
things he had seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into
which he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for a
few days' food.
"If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more than the crows
where they'd get their next day's rations, it isn't seventy millions of
revenue the land would be paying--it's seven hundred millions," said he; and
as I looked at his mouth and chin I was disposed to agree with him.
We talked politics,--the politics of Loaferdom that sees things from the under
side where the lath and plaster is not smoothed off,--and we talked postal
arrangements because my friend wanted to send a telegram back from the next
station to Ajmir, the turning-off place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as
you travel westward. My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he wanted
for dinner, and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in the Budget before
mentioned. Further, I was going into a wilderness where, though I should
resume touch with the Treasury, there were no telegraph offices. I was,
therefore, unable to help him in any way.
"We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on tick," said
my friend, "but that'd mean inquiries for you and for me, and I've got my
hands full these days. Did you say you were travelling back along this line
within any days?"
"Within ten," I said.
"Can't you make it eight?" said he. "Mine is rather urgent business."
"I can send your telegrams within ten days if that will serve you," I said.
"I couldn't trust the wire to fetch him, now I think of it. It's this way. He
leaves Delhi on the 23rd for Bombay. That means he'll be running through Ajmir
about the night of the 23rd."
"But I'm going into the Indian Desert," I explained.
"Well and good," said he. "You'll be changing at Marwar Junction to get into
Jodhpore territory,--you must do that,--and he'll be coming through Marwar
Junction in the early morning of the 24th by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at
Marwar Junction on that time? 'T won't be inconveniencing you, because I know
that there's precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India
States--even though you pretend to be correspondent of the 'Backwoodsman.' "
"Have you ever tried that trick?" I asked.
"Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get escorted to
the Border before you've time to get your knife into them. But about my friend
here. I must give him a word o' mouth to tell him what's come to me, or else
he won't know where to go. I would take it more than kind of you if you was to
come out of Central India in time to catch him at Marwar Junction, and say to
him, 'He has gone South for the week.' He'll know what that means. He's a big
man with a red beard, and a great swell he is.
You'll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage round him in a
Second-class apartment. But don't you be afraid.
Slip down the window and say, 'He has gone South for the week,' and he'll
tumble. It's only cutting your time of stay in those parts by two days. I ask
you as a stranger--going to the West," he said, with emphasis.
"Where have you come from?" said I.
"From the East," said he, "and I am hoping that you will give him the message
on the square--for the sake of my Mother as well as your own."
Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of their mothers;
but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, I saw fit to agree.
"It's more than a little matter," said he, "and that's why I asked you to do
it--and now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A Second-class carriage
at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man asleep in it. You'll be sure to
remember. I get out at the next station, and I must hold on there till he
comes or sends me what I want."
"I'll give the message if I catch him," I said, "and for the sake of your
Mother as well as mine I'll give you a word of advice. Don't try to run the
Central India States just now as the correspondent of the 'Backwoodsman.'
There's a real one knocking about here, and it might lead to trouble."
"Thank you," said he, simply; "and when will the swine be gone? I can't starve
because he's ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of the Degumber Rajah down
here about his father's widow, and give him a jump."
"What did he do to his father's widow, then?"
"Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she hung from a
beam. I found that out myself, and I'm the only man that would dare going into
the State to get hush-money for it. They'll try to poison me, same as they did
in Chortumna when I went on the loot there. But you'll give the man at Marwar
Junction my message?"
He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard, more
than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers and bleeding small
Native States with threats of exposure, but I had never met any of the caste
before. They lead a hard life, and generally die with great suddenness. The
Native States have a wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw
light on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to choke
correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their mind with four-in-
hand barouches. They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the
internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are
kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased
from one end of the year to the other. They are the dark places of the earth,
full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the Telegraph on one
side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid. When I left the train I
did business with divers Kings, and in eight days passed through many changes
of life. Sometimes I wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and
Politicals, drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out
upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made of leaves,
and drank the running water, and slept under the same rug as my servant. It
was all in the day's work.
Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as I had
promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar Junction, where a funny
little, happy-go-lucky, native managed railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay
Mail from Delhi makes a short halt at Marwar. She arrived just as I got in,
and I had just time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There
was only one Second-class on the train. I slipped the window and looked down
upon a flaming-red beard, half covered by a railway-rug. That was my man, fast
asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs.
He woke with a grunt, and I saw his face in the light of the lamps.
It was a great and shining face.
"Tickets again?" said he.
"No," said I. "I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week. He has
gone South for the week!"
The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes.
"He has gone South for the week," he repeated. "Now that's just like his
impidence. Did he say that I was to give you anything? 'Cause I won't."
"He didn't," I said, and dropped away, and watched the red lights die out in
the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was blowing off the sands. I
climbed into my own train--not an Intermediate carriage this time--and went to
If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept it as a
memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of having done my
duty was my only reward.
Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not do any good
if they foregathered and personated correspondents of newspapers, and might,
if they blackmailed one of the little rat-trap States of Central India or
Southern Rajputana, get themselves into serious difficulties. I therefore took
some trouble to describe them as accurately as I could remember to people who
would be interested in deporting them; and succeeded, so I was later informed,
in having them headed back from the Degumber borders.
Then I became respectable, and returned to an office where there were no Kings
and no incidents outside the daily manufacture of a newspaper. A newspaper
office seems to attract every conceivable sort of person, to the prejudice of
discipline. Zenana-mission ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will
instantly abandon all his duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a
back slum of a perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been
overpassed for command sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten,
twelve, or twenty- four leading articles on Seniority versus Selection;
missionaries wish to know why they have not been permitted to escape from
their regular vehicles of abuse, and swear at a brother missionary under
special patronage of the editorial We. Stranded theatrical companies troop up
to explain that they cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return
from New Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent
punka-pulling machines, carriage couplings, and unbreakable swords and
axletrees call with specifications in their pockets and hours at their
disposal; tea companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses with the office
pens; secretaries of ball committees clamour to have the glories of their last
dance more fully described; strange ladies rustle in and say, "I want a
hundred lady's cards printed at once, please," which is manifestly part of an
Editor's duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the Grand Trunk
Road makes it his business to ask for employment as a proof-reader. And, all
the time, the telephone-bell is ringing madly, and Kings are being killed on
the Continent, and Empires are saying, "You're another," and Mister Gladstone
is calling down brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black
copyboys are whining, "kaa-pi chay-ha-yeh" ("Copy wanted"), like tired bees,
and most of the paper is as blank as Modred's shield.
But that is the amusing part of the year. There are six other months when none
ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by inch up to the top of the
glass, and the office is darkened to just above reading-light, and the press-
machines are red-hot to touch, and nobody writes anything but accounts of
amusements in the Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone
becomes a tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men
and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly heat covers you with a
garment, and you sit down and write: "A slight increase of sickness is
reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The outbreak is purely sporadic
in its nature, and, thanks to the energetic efforts of the District
authorities, is now almost at an end. It is, however, with deep regret we
record the death," etc.
Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and reporting the
better for the peace of the subscribers. But the Empires and the Kings
continue to divert themselves as selfishly as before, and the Foreman thinks
that a daily paper really ought to come out once in twenty-four hours, and all
the people at the Hill-stations in the middle of their amusements say, "Good
gracious! why can't the paper be sparkling? I'm sure there's plenty going on
That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say, "must be
experienced to be appreciated."
It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper began
running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which is to say Sunday
morning, after the custom of a London paper. This was a great convenience, for
immediately after the paper was put to bed the dawn would lower the
thermometer from 96 degrees to almost 84 degrees for half an hour, and in that
chill--you have no idea how cold is 84 degrees on the grass until you begin to
pray for it--a very tired man could get off to sleep ere the heat roused him.
One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed alone. A
King or courtier or a courtesan or a Community was going to die or get a new
Constitution, or do something that was important on the other side of the
world, and the paper was to be held open till the latest possible minute in
order to catch the telegram.
It was a pitchy-black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and the loo,
the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among the tinder-dry trees and
pretending that the rain was on its heels.
Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the dust with the
flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was only pretence. It was a
shade cooler in the press-room than the office, so I sat there, while the type
ticked and clicked, and the night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but
naked compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for water.
The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would not come off,
though the loo dropped and the last type was set, and the whole round earth
stood still in the choking heat, with its finger on its lip, to wait the
event. I drowsed, and wondered whether the telegraph was a blessing, and
whether this dying man, or struggling people, might be aware of the
inconvenience the delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the
heat and worry to make tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to three
o'clock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three times to see that
all was in order, before I said the word that would set them off, I could have
Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little bits. I
rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front of me. The first
one said, "It's him!" The second said, "So it is!" And they both laughed
almost as loudly as the machinery roared, and mopped their foreheads. "We seed
there was a light burning across the road, and we were sleeping in that ditch
there for coolness, and I said to my friend here, "The office is open. Let's
come along and speak to him as turned us back from Degumber State," said the
smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in the Mhow train, and his fellow
was the red-bearded man of Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the
eyebrows of the one or the beard of the other.
I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble with
loafers. "What do you want?" I asked.
"Half an hour's talk with you, cool and comfortable, in the office," said the
red-bearded man. "We'd like some drink,--the Contrack doesn't begin yet,
Peachey, so you needn't look,--but what we really want is advice. We don't
want money. We ask you as a favour, because we found out you did us a bad turn
about Degumber State."
I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on the walls,
and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. "That's something like," said he.
"This was the proper shop to come to.
"Now, Sir, let me introduce you to Brother Peachey Carnehan, that's him, and
Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about our professions the
better, for we have been most things in our time--soldier, sailor, compositor,
photographer, proof-reader, street-preacher, and correspondents of the
'Backwoodsman' when we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so
am I. Look at us first, and see that's sure. It will save you cutting into my
talk. We'll take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light up."
I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them each a tepid
"Well and good," said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth from his
moustache. "Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over India, mostly on foot.
We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty contractors, and all that,
and we have decided that India isn't big enough for such as us."
They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot's beard seemed to fill half
the room and Carnehan's shoulders the other half, as they sat on the big
table. Carnehan continued: "The country isn't half worked out because they
that governs it won't let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in
governing it, and you can't lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil,
nor anything like that, without all the Government saying, 'Leave it alone,
and let us govern.' Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go
away to some other place where a man isn't crowded and can come to his own. We
are not little men, and there is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink,
and we have signed a Contrack on that.
Therefore we are going away to be Kings."
"Kings in our own right," muttered Dravot.
"Yes, of course," I said. "You've been tramping in the sun, and it's a very
warm night, and hadn't you better sleep over the notion? Come tomorrow."
"Neither drunk nor sunstruck," said Dravot. "We have slept over the notion
half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and we have decided that
there is only one place now in the world that two strong men can Sar-a-whack.
They call it Kafiristan. By my reckoning it's the top right-hand corner of
Afghanistan, not more than three hundred miles from Peshawar. They have two
and thirty heathen idols there, and we'll be the thirty-third and fourth. It's
a mountaineous country, the women of those parts are very beautiful."
"But that is provided against in the Contrack," said Carnehan. "Neither Women
nor Liquor, Daniel."
"And that's all we know, except that no one has gone there, and they fight,
and in any place where they fight a man who knows how to drill men can always
be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find, 'D' you
want to vanquish your foes?' and we will show him how to drill men; for that
we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize
his Throne and establish a Dy-nasty."
"You'll be cut to pieces before you're fifty miles across the Border," I said.
"You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to that country. It's one mass
of mountains and peaks and glaciers, and no Englishman has been through it.
The people are utter brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn't do
"That's more like," said Carnehan. "If you could think us a little more mad we
would be more pleased. We have come to you to know about this country, to read
a book about it, and to be shown maps. We want you to tell us that we are
fools and to show us your books." He turned to the bookcases.
"Are you at all in earnest?" I said.
"A little," said Dravot, sweetly. "As big a map as you have got, even if it's
all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books you've got. We can read, though
we aren't very educated."
I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India and two smaller
Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica,"
and the men consulted them.
"See here!" said Dravot, his thumb on the map. "Up to Jagdallak, Peachey and
me know the road. We was there with Robert's Army. We'll have to turn off to
the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann territory. Then we get among the
hills--fourteen thousand feet--fifteen thousand--it will be cold work there,
but it don't look very far on the map."
I handed him Wood on the "Sources of the Oxus." Carnehan was deep in the
"They're a mixed lot," said Dravot, reflectively; "and it won't help us to
know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more they'll fight, and
the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang. H'mm!"
"But all the information about the country is as sketchy and inaccurate as can
be," I protested. "No one knows anything about it really. Here's the file of
the 'United Services' Institute.' Read what Bellew says."
"Blow Bellew!" said Carnehan. "Dan, they're a stinkin' lot of heathens, but
this book here says they think they're related to us English."
I smoked while the men poured over Raverty, Wood, the maps, and the
"There is no use your waiting," said Dravot, politely. "It's about four
o'clock now. We'll go before six o'clock if you want to sleep, and we won't
steal any of the papers. Don't you sit up. We're two harmless lunatics, and if
you come tomorrow evening down to the Serai we'll say goodbye to you."
"You are two fools," I answered. "You'll be turned back at the Frontier or cut
up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you want any money or a
recommendation down-country? I can help you to the chance of work next week."
"Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you," said Dravot. "It
isn't so easy being a King as it looks. When we've got our Kingdom in going
order we'll let you know, and you can come up and help us govern it."
"Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that?" said Carnehan, with subdued
pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of notepaper on which was written the
following. I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity.
This Contrack between me and you persuing witnesseth in the name of God--
Amen and so forth.
(One) That me and you will settle this matter together; i.e., to be Kings of
(Two)That you and me will not, while this matter is being settled, look at
any Liquor, nor any Woman, black, white, or brown, so as to get mixed
up with one or the other harmful.
(Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity and Discretion, and if one of
us gets into trouble the other will stay by him.
Signed by you and me this day.
Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
Both Gentlemen at Large.
"There was no need for the last article," said Carnehan, blushing modestly;
"but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that loafers are,--we are