The Phantom 'rickshaw
"May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor Powers of Darkness me molest."
One of the few advantages that India has over England is a certain great
Knowability. After five years' service a man is directly or indirectly
acquainted with the two or three hundred Civilians in his Province, all
the Messes of ten or twelve Regiments and Batteries, and some fifteen
hundred other people of the non-official castes. In ten years his
knowledge should be doubled, and at the end of twenty he knows, or knows
something about, almost every Englishman in the Empire, and may travel
anywhere and everywhere without paying hotel-bills.
Globe-trotters who expect entertainment as a right, have, even within my
memory, blunted this open-heartedness, but, none the less, to-day if you
belong to the Inner Circle and are neither a bear nor a black sheep all
houses are open to you and our small world is very kind and helpful.
Rickett of Kamartha stayed with Polder of Kumaon, some fifteen years
ago. He meant to stay two nights only, but was knocked down by rheumatic
fever, and for six weeks disorganized Polder's establishment, stopped
Polder's work, and nearly died in Polder's bed-room. Polder behaves as
though he had been placed under eternal obligation by Rickett, and
yearly sends the little Ricketts a box of presents and toys. It is the
same everywhere. The men who do not take the trouble to conceal from you
their opinion that you are an incompetent ass, and the women who blacken
your character and misunderstand your wife's amusements, will work
themselves to the bone in your behalf if you fall sick or into serious
Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a
hospital on his private account--an arrangement of loose-boxes for
Incurables, his friends called it--but it was really a sort of
fitting-up shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather.
The weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is a
fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission to work
overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down and become as
mixed as the metaphors in this sentence.
Heatherlegh is the nicest doctor that ever was, and his invariable
prescription to all his patients is "lie low, go slow, and keep cool."
He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance of this
world justifies. He maintains that overwork slew Pansay who died under
his hands about three years ago. He has, of course, the right to speak
authoritatively, and he laughs at my theory that there was a crack in
Pansay's head and a little bit of the Dark World came through and
pressed him to death. "Pansay went off the handle," says Heatherlegh,
"after the stimulus of long leave at Home. He may or he may not have
behaved like a blackguard to Mrs. Keith-Wessington. My notion is that
the work of the Katabundi Settlement ran him off his legs, and that he
took to brooding and making much of an ordinary P. & O. flirtation. He
certainly was engaged to Miss Mannering, and she certainly broke off the
engagement. Then he took a feverish chill and all that nonsense about
ghosts developed itself. Overwork started his illness, kept it alight,
and killed him, poor devil. Write him off to the System--one man to do
the work of two-and-a-half men."
I do not believe this. I used to sit up with Pansay sometimes when
Heatherlegh was called out to visit patients and I happened to be within
claim. The man would make me most unhappy by describing in a low, even
voice the procession of men, women, children, and devils that was always
passing at the bottom of his bed. He had a sick man's command of
language. When he recovered I suggested that he should write out the
whole affair from beginning to end, knowing that ink might assist him to
ease his mind. When little boys have learned a new bad word they are
never happy till they have chalked it up on a door. And this also is
He was in a high fever while he was writing, and the blood-and-thunder
Magazine style he adopted did not calm him. Two months afterwards he was
reported fit for duty, but, in spite of the fact that he was urgently
needed to help an undermanned Commission stagger through a deficit, he
preferred to die; vowing at the last that he was hag-ridden. I secured
his manuscript before he died, and this is his version of the affair,
My doctor tells me that I need rest and change of air. It is not
improbable that I shall get both ere long--rest that neither the
red-coated orderly nor the mid-day gun can break, and change of air far
beyond that which any homeward-bound steamer can give me. In the
meantime I am resolved to stay where I am; and, in flat defiance of my
doctor's orders, to take all the world into my confidence. You shall
learn for yourselves the precise nature of my malady; and shall, too,
judge for yourselves whether any man born of woman on this weary earth
was ever so tormented as I.
Speaking now as a condemned criminal might speak ere the drop-bolts are
drawn, my story, wild and hideously improbable as it may appear, demands
at least attention. That it will ever receive credence I utterly
disbelieve. Two months ago I should have scouted as mad or drunk the man
who had dared tell me the like. Two months ago I was the happiest man in
India. To-day, from Peshawar to the sea, there is no one more wretched.
My doctor and I are the only two who know this. His explanation is that
my brain, digestion and eyesight are all slightly affected; giving rise
to my frequent and persistent "delusions." Delusions, indeed! I call him
a fool; but he attends me still with the same unwearied smile, the same
bland professional manner, the same neatly-trimmed red whiskers, till I
begin to suspect that I am an ungrateful, evil-tempered invalid. But you
shall judge for yourselves.
Three years ago it was my fortune--my great misfortune--to sail from
Gravesend to Bombay, on return from long leave, with one Agnes
Keith-Wessington, wife of an officer on the Bombay side. It does not in
the least concern you to know what manner of woman she was. Be content
with the knowledge that, ere the voyage had ended, both she and I were
desperately and unreasoningly in love with one another. Heaven knows
that I can make the admission now without one particle of vanity. In
matters of this sort there is always one who gives and another who
accepts. From the first day of our ill-omened attachment, I was
conscious that Agnes's passion was a stronger, a more dominant, and--if
I may use the expression--a purer sentiment than mine. Whether she
recognized the fact then, I do not know. Afterwards it was bitterly
plain to both of us.
Arrived at Bombay in the spring of the year, we went our respective
ways, to meet no more for the next three or four months, when my leave
and her love took us both to Simla. There we spent the season together;
and there my fire of straw burnt itself out to a pitiful end with the
closing year. I attempt no excuse. I make no apology. Mrs. Wessington
had given up much for my sake, and was prepared to give up all. From my
own lips, in August, 1882, she learnt that I was sick of her presence,
tired of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice. Ninety-nine
women out of a hundred would have wearied of me as I wearied of them;
seventy-five of that number would have promptly avenged themselves by
active and obtrusive flirtation with other men. Mrs. Wessington was the
hundredth. On her neither my openly-expressed aversion, nor the cutting
brutalities with which I garnished our interviews had the least effect.
"Jack, darling!" was her one eternal cuckoo-cry, "I'm sure it's all a
mistake--a hideous mistake; and we'll be good friends again some day.
_Please_ forgive me, Jack, dear."
I was the offender, and I knew it. That knowledge transformed my pity
into passive endurance, and, eventually, into blind hate--the same
instinct, I suppose, which prompts a man to savagely stamp on the spider
he has but half killed. And with this hate in my bosom the season of
1882 came to an end.
Next year we met again at Simla--she with her monotonous face and timid
attempts at reconciliation, and I with loathing of her in every fiber of
my frame. Several times I could not avoid meeting her alone; and on each
occasion her words were identically the same. Still the unreasoning wail
that it was all a "mistake"; and still the hope of eventually "making
friends." I might have seen, had I cared to look, that that hope only
was keeping her alive. She grew more wan and thin month by month. You
will agree with me, at least, that such conduct would have driven any
one to despair. It was uncalled for, childish, unwomanly. I maintain
that she was much to blame. And again, sometimes, in the black,
fever-stricken night watches, I have begun to think that I might have
been a little kinder to her. But that really _is_ a "delusion." I could
not have continued pretending to love her when I didn't; could I? It
would have been unfair to us both.
Last year we met again--on the same terms as before. The same weary
appeals, and the same curt answers from my lips. At least I would make
her see how wholly wrong and hopeless were her attempts at resuming the
old relationship. As the season wore on, we fell apart--that is to say,
she found it difficult to meet me, for I had other and more absorbing
interests to attend to. When I think it over quietly in my sick-room,
the season of 1884 seems a confused nightmare wherein light and shade
were fantastically intermingled--my courtship of little Kitty Mannering;
my hopes, doubts and fears; our long rides together; my trembling avowal
of attachment; her reply; and now and again a vision of a white face
flitting by in the 'rickshaw with the black and white liveries I once
watched for so earnestly; the wave of Mrs. Wessington's gloved hand;
and, when she met me alone, which was but seldom, the irksome monotony
of her appeal. I loved Kitty Mannering, honestly, heartily loved her,
and with my love for her grew my hatred for Agnes. In August Kitty and I
were engaged. The next day I met those accursed "magpie" _jhampanies_ at
the back of Jakko, and, moved by some passing sentiment of pity, stopped
to tell Mrs. Wessington everything. She knew it already.
"So I hear you're engaged, Jack dear." Then, without a moment's pause:
"I'm sure it's all a mistake--a hideous mistake. We shall be as good
friends some day, Jack, as we ever were."
My answer might have made even a man wince. It cut the dying woman
before me like the blow of a whip. "Please forgive me, Jack; I didn't
mean to make you angry; but it's true, it's true!"
And Mrs. Wessington broke down completely. I turned away and left her to
finish her journey in peace, feeling, but only for a moment or two, that
I had been an unutterably mean hound. I looked back, and saw that she
had turned her 'rickshaw with the idea, I suppose, of overtaking me.
The scene and its surroundings were photographed on my memory. The
rain-swept sky (we were at the end of the wet weather), the sodden,
dingy pines, the muddy road, and the black powder-riven cliffs formed a
gloomy background against which the black and white liveries of the
_jhampanies_, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw and Mrs. Wessington's
down-bowed golden head stood out clearly. She was holding her
handkerchief in her left hand and was leaning back exhausted against the
'rickshaw cushions. I turned my horse up a bypath near the Sanjowlie
Reservoir and literally ran away. Once I fancied I heard a faint call of
"Jack!" This may have been imagination. I never stopped to verify it.
Ten minutes later I came across Kitty on horseback; and, in the delight
of a long ride with her, forgot all about the interview.
A week later Mrs. Wessington died, and the inexpressible burden of her
existence was removed from my life. I went Plainsward perfectly happy.
Before three months were over I had forgotten all about her, except that
at times the discovery of some of her old letters reminded me
unpleasantly of our bygone relationship. By January I had disinterred
what was left of our correspondence from among my scattered belongings
and had burnt it. At the beginning of April of this year, 1885, I was at
Simla--semi-deserted Simla--once more, and was deep in lover's talks and
walks with Kitty. It was decided that we should be married at the end of
June. You will understand, therefore, that, loving Kitty as I did, I am
not saying too much when I pronounce myself to have been, at the time,
the happiest man in India.
Fourteen delightful days passed almost before I noticed their flight.
Then, aroused to the sense of what was proper among mortals
circumstanced as we were, I pointed out to Kitty that an engagement-ring
was the outward and visible sign of her dignity as an engaged girl; and
that she must forthwith come to Hamilton's to be measured for one. Up to
that moment, I give you my word, we had completely forgotten so trivial
a matter. To Hamilton's we accordingly went on the 15th of April, 1885.
Remember that--whatever my doctor may say to the contrary--I was then in
perfect health, enjoying a well-balanced mind and an absolutely tranquil
spirit. Kitty and I entered Hamilton's shop together, and there,
regardless of the order of affairs, I measured Kitty's finger for the
ring in the presence of the amused assistant. The ring was a sapphire
with two diamonds. We then rode out down the slope that leads to the
Combermere Bridge and Peliti's shop.
While my Waler was cautiously feeling his way over the loose shale, and
Kitty was laughing and chattering at my side--while all Simla, that is
to say as much of it as had then come from the Plains, was grouped round
the Reading-room and Peliti's veranda--I was aware that some one,
apparently at a vast distance, was calling me by my Christian name. It
struck me that I had heard the voice before, but when and where I could
not at once determine. In the short space it took to cover the road
between the path from Hamilton's shop and the first plank of the
Combermere Bridge I had thought over half-a-dozen people who might have
committed such a solecism, and had eventually decided that it must have
been some singing in my ears. Immediately opposite Peliti's shop my eye
was arrested by the sight of four _jhampanies_ in black and white
livery, pulling a yellow-paneled, cheap, bazar 'rickshaw. In a moment my
mind flew back to the previous season and Mrs. Wessington with a sense
of irritation and disgust. Was it not enough that the woman was dead and
done with, without her black and white servitors re-appearing to spoil
the day's happiness? Whoever employed them now I thought I would call
upon, and ask as a personal favor to change her _jhampanies'_ livery.
I would hire the men myself, and, if necessary, buy their coats from off
their backs. It is impossible to say here what a flood of undesirable
memories their presence evoked.
"Kitty," I cried, "there are poor Mrs. Wessington's _jhampanies_ turned
up again! I wonder who has them now?"
Kitty had known Mrs. Wessington slightly last season, and had always
been interested in the sickly woman.
"What? Where?" she asked. "I can't see them anywhere."
Even as she spoke, her horse, swerving from a laden mule, threw himself
directly in front of the advancing 'rickshaw. I had scarcely time to
utter a word of warning when, to my unutterable horror, horse and rider
passed _through_ men and carriage as if they had been thin air.
"What's the matter?" cried Kitty; "what made you call out so foolishly,
Jack? If I _am_ engaged I don't want all creation to know about it.
There was lots of space between the mule and the veranda; and, if you
think I can't ride--There!"
Whereupon willful Kitty set off, her dainty little head in the air, at a
hand-gallop in the direction of the Band-stand; fully expecting, as she
herself afterwards told me, that I should follow her. What was the
matter? Nothing, indeed. Either that I was mad or drunk, or that Simla
was haunted with devils. I reined in my impatient cob, and turned round.
The 'rickshaw had turned too, and now stood immediately facing me, near
the left railing of the Combermere Bridge.
"Jack! Jack, darling." (There was no mistake about the words this time:
they rang through my brain as if they had been shouted in my ear.) "It's
some hideous mistake, I'm sure. _Please_ forgive me, Jack, and let's be
The 'rickshaw-hood had fallen back, and inside, as I hope and daily pray
for the death I dread by night, sat Mrs. Keith-Wessington, handkerchief
in hand, and golden head bowed on her breast.
How long I stared motionless I do not know. Finally, I was aroused by my
groom taking the Waler's bridle and asking whether I was ill. I tumbled
off my horse and dashed, half fainting, into Peliti's for a glass of
cherry-brandy. There two or three couples were gathered round the
coffee-tables discussing the gossip of the day. Their trivialities were
more comforting to me just then than the consolations of religion could
have been. I plunged into the midst of the conversation at once;
chatted, laughed and jested with a face (when I caught a glimpse of it
in a mirror) as white and drawn as that of a corpse. Three or four men
noticed my condition; and, evidently setting it down to the results of
over many pegs, charitably endeavored to draw me apart from the rest of
the loungers. But I refused to be led away. I wanted the company of my
kind--as a child rushes into the midst of the dinner-party after a
fright in the dark. I must have talked for about ten minutes or so,
though it seemed an eternity to me, when I heard Kitty's dear voice
outside inquiring for me. In another minute she had entered the shop,
prepared to roundly upbraid me for failing so signally in my duties.
Something in my face stopped her.
"Why, Jack," she cried, "what _have_ you been doing? What _has_
happened? Are you ill?" Thus driven into a direct lie, I said that the
sun had been a little too much for me. It was close upon five o'clock of
a cloudy April afternoon, and the sun had been hidden all day. I saw my
mistake as soon as the words were out of my mouth: attempted to recover
it; blundered hopelessly and followed Kitty, in a regal rage, out of
doors, amid the smiles of my acquaintances. I made some excuse (I have
forgotten what) on the score of my feeling faint; and cantered away to
my hotel, leaving Kitty to finish the ride by herself.
In my room I sat down and tried calmly to reason out the matter. Here
was I, Theobald Jack Pansay, a well-educated Bengal Civilian in the year
of grace 1885, presumably sane, certainly healthy, driven in terror from
my sweetheart's side by the apparition of a woman who had been dead and
buried eight months ago. These were facts that I could not blink.
Nothing was further from my thought than any memory of Mrs. Wessington
when Kitty and I left Hamilton's shop. Nothing was more utterly
commonplace than the stretch of wall opposite Peliti's. It was broad
daylight. The road was full of people; and yet here, look you, in
defiance of every law of probability, in direct outrage of Nature's
ordinance, there had appeared to me a face from the grave.
Kitty's Arab had gone _through_ the 'rickshaw: so that my first hope
that some woman marvelously like Mrs. Wessington had hired the carriage
and the coolies with their old livery was lost. Again and again I went
round this treadmill of thought; and again and again gave up baffled and
in despair. The voice was as inexplicable as the apparition. I had
originally some wild notion of confiding it all to Kitty; of begging her
to marry me at once; and in her arms defying the ghostly occupant of the
'rickshaw. "After all," I argued, "the presence of the 'rickshaw is in
itself enough to prove the existence of a spectral illusion. One may see
ghosts of men and women, but surely never of coolies and carriages. The
whole thing is absurd. Fancy the ghost of a hill-man!"
Next morning I sent a penitent note to Kitty, imploring her to overlook
my strange conduct of the previous afternoon. My Divinity was still very
wroth, and a personal apology was necessary. I explained, with a fluency
born of night-long pondering over a falsehood, that I had been attacked
with a sudden palpitation of the heart--the result of indigestion. This
eminently practical solution had its effect; and Kitty and I rode out
that afternoon with the shadow of my first lie dividing us.
Nothing would please her save a canter round Jakko. With my nerves still
unstrung from the previous night I feebly protested against the notion,
suggesting Observatory Hill, Jutogh, the Boileaugunge road--anything
rather than the Jakko round. Kitty was angry and a little hurt, so I
yielded from fear of provoking further misunderstanding, and we set out
together towards Chota Simla. We walked a greater part of the way, and,
according to our custom, cantered from a mile or so below the Convent to
the stretch of level road by the Sanjowlie Reservoir. The wretched
horses appeared to fly, and my heart beat quicker and quicker as we
neared the crest of the ascent. My mind had been full of Mrs. Wessington
all the afternoon; and every inch of the Jakko road bore witness to our
old-time walks and talks. The boulders were full of it; the pines sang
it aloud overhead; the rain-fed torrents giggled and chuckled unseen
over the shameful story; and the wind in my ears chanted the iniquity
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
all a mistake, a hideous mistake!"
I spurred my horse like a man possessed. When I turned my head at the
Reservoir works the black and white liveries were still
waiting--patiently waiting--under the gray 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 afterwards 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. Spoilt 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
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 fullness 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 Dr. Heatherlegh of
Simla, volunteered to bear me company as far as our roads lay together.
I accepted his offer with gratitude.
My instinct had not deceived me. It lay in readiness in the Mall, and,
in what seemed devilish mockery of our ways, with a lighted head-lamp.
The red-whiskered man went to the point at once, in a manner that showed
he had been thinking over it all dinner time.
"I say, Pansay, what the deuce was the matter with you this evening on
the Elysium road?" The suddenness of the question wrenched an answer
from me before I was aware.
"That!" said I, pointing to It.
"_That_ may be either _D.T._ or eyes for aught I know. Now you don't
liquor. I saw as much at dinner, so it can't be _D.T._ There's nothing
whatever where you're pointing, though you're sweating and trembling
with fright like a scared pony. Therefore, I conclude that it's eyes.
And I ought to understand all about them. Come along home with me. I'm
on the Blessington lower road."
To my intense delight the 'rickshaw instead of waiting for us kept about
twenty yards ahead--and this, too, whether we walked, trotted, or
cantered. In the course of that long night ride I had told my companion
almost as much as I have told you here.
"Well, you've spoilt one of the best tales I've ever laid tongue to,"
said he, "but I'll forgive you for the sake of what you've gone through.
Now come home and do what I tell you; and when I've cured you, young
man, let this be a lesson to you to steer clear of women and
indigestible food till the day of your death."
The 'rickshaw kept steadily 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, overhanging
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
cliffside--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 drink
We retraced our way over the Church Ridge, and I arrived at Dr.
Heatherlegh's house shortly after midnight.
His attempts towards my cure commenced almost immediately, and for a
week I never left his sight. Many a time in the course of that week did
I bless the good fortune which had thrown me in contact with Simla's
best and kindest doctor. Day by day my spirits grew lighter and more
equable. Day by day, too, I became more and more inclined to fall in
with Heatherlegh's "spectral illusion" theory, implicating eyes, brain,
and stomach. I wrote to Kitty, telling her that a slight sprain caused
by a fall from my horse kept me indoors for a few days; and that I
should be recovered before she had time to regret my absence.
Heatherlegh's treatment was simple to a degree. It consisted of
liver-pills, cold-water baths and strong exercise, taken in the dusk or
at early dawn--for, as he sagely observed: "A man with a sprained ankle
doesn't walk a dozen miles a day, and your young woman might be
wondering if she saw you."
At the end of the week, after much examination of pupil and pulse and
strict injunctions as to diet and pedestrianism, Heatherlegh dismissed
me as brusquely as he had taken charge of me. Here is his parting
benediction: "Man, I 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
"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. Now, 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
foreknowledge that I should never more be troubled with It's 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 have 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
We were just below the Convent, and from sheer wantonness I was making
my Waler plunge and curvet across the road as I tickled it with the loop
of my riding-whip.
"Doing," I answered, "nothing, dear. That's just it. If you'd been doing
nothing for a week except lie up, you'd be as riotous as I.
'Singing and murmuring in your feastful mirth,
Joying to feel yourself alive;
Lord over nature, Lord of the visible Earth,
Lord of the senses five.'"
My quotation was hardly out of my lips before we had rounded the corner
above the Convent; and a few yards further on could see across to
Sanjowlie. In the center 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. Bring my
The grooms, 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 weal on it. I had no self-respect.
Just then, Heatherlegh, who must have been following Kitty and me at a
distance, cantered up.
"Doctor," I said, pointing to my face, "here's Miss Mannering's
signature to my order of dismissal and . . . I'll thank you for that
lakh as soon as convenient."
Heatherlegh's face, even in my abject misery, moved me to laugh.
"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
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 very 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
"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 on 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
"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 back on purpose to kill _her_. Why can't I be left
alone--left alone and happy?"
It was high noon when I first awoke: and the sun was low in the sky
before I slept--slept as the tortured criminal sleeps on his rack, too
worn to feel further pain.
Next day I could not leave my bed. Heatherlegh told me in the morning
that he had received an answer from Mr. Mannering, and that, thanks to
his (Heatherlegh's) friendly offices, the story of my affliction had
traveled through the length and breadth of Simla, where I was on all
sides much pitied.
"And that's rather more than you deserve," he concluded pleasantly,
"though the Lord knows you've been going through a pretty severe mill.
Never mind; we'll cure you yet, you perverse 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, gray hills themselves but vain shadows devised to
torture me. From mood to mood I tossed backwards and forwards for seven
weary days, my body growing daily stronger and stronger, until the
bed-room 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 bazaar, Kitty and a man on horseback overtook and passed us. For any
sign she gave I might have been a dog in the road. She did not even pay
me the compliment of quickening her pace; though the rainy afternoon had
served for an excuse.
So Kitty and her companion, and I and my ghostly Light-o'-Love, crept
round Jakko in couples. The road was streaming with water; the pines
dripped like roof-pipes on the rocks below, and the air was full of
fine, driving rain. Two or three times I found myself saying to myself
almost aloud: "I'm Jack Pansay on leave at Simla--_at Simla!_ Everyday,
ordinary Simla. I mustn't forget that--I mustn't forget that." Then I
would try to recollect some of the gossip I had heard at the Club; the
prices of So-and-So's horses--anything, in fact, that related to the
work-a-day 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 card-case in her left. (A
woman eight months dead with a card-case!) 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 leant forward, with that odd, quick turn of the head I used
to know so well, and spoke.
If my story had not already so madly overleaped the bounds of all human
belief I should apologize to you now. As I know that no one--no, not
even Kitty, for whom it is written as some sort of justification of my
conduct--will believe me, I will go on. Mrs. Wessington spoke and I
walked with her from the Sanjowlie road to the turning below the
Commander-in-Chief's house as I might walk by the side of any living
woman's 'rickshaw, deep in conversation. The second and most tormenting
of my moods of sickness had suddenly laid hold upon me, and like the
prince in Tennyson's poem, "I seemed to move amid a world of ghosts."
There had been a garden-party at the Commander-in-Chief's, and we two
joined the crowd of homeward-bound folk. As I saw them then it seemed
that _they_ were the shadows--impalpable fantastic shadows--that divided
for Mrs. Wessington's 'rickshaw to pass through. What we said during the
course of that weird interview I cannot--indeed, I dare not--tell.
Heatherlegh's comment would have been a short laugh and a remark that I
had been "mashing a brain-eye-and-stomach chimera." It was a ghastly and
yet in some indefinable way a marvelously dear experience. Could it be
possible, I wondered, that I was in this life to woo a second time the
woman I had killed by my own neglect and cruelty?
I met Kitty on the homeward road--a shadow among shadows.
If I were to describe all the incidents of the next fortnight in their
order, my story would never come to an end; and your patience would be
exhausted. Morning after morning and evening after evening the ghostly
'rickshaw and I used to wander through Simla together. Wherever I went,
there the four black and white liveries followed me and bore me company
to and from my hotel. At the theater 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 learnt that the "fit" theory
had been discarded in favor of insanity. However, I made no change in my
mode of life. I called, rode, and dined out as freely as ever. I had a
passion for the society of my kind which I had never felt before; I
hungered to be among the realities of life; and at the same time I felt
vaguely unhappy when I had been separated too long from my ghostly
companion. It would be almost impossible to describe my varying moods
from the 15th of May up to to-day.
The presence of the 'rickshaw filled me by turns with horror, blind
fear, a dim sort of pleasure, and utter despair. I dared not leave
Simla; and I knew that my stay there was killing me. I knew, moreover,
that it was my destiny to die slowly and a little every day. My only
anxiety was to get the penance over as quietly as might be. Alternately
I hungered for a sight of Kitty and watched her outrageous flirtations
with my successor--to speak more accurately, my successors--with amused
interest. She was as much out of my life as I was out of hers. By day
I wandered with Mrs. Wessington almost content. By night I implored
Heaven to let me return to the world as I used to know it. Above all
these varying moods lay the sensation of dull, numbing wonder that the
seen and the unseen should mingle so strangely on this earth to hound
one poor soul to its grave.
_August 27th._--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 gentlemen should die;
or, in one last walk on the Mall, will my soul be wrenched from me to
take its place for ever 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 towards 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
even now upon me.
Previous: The Woman's Ghost Story