Thursday, December 25, 2014

"The Phantom Rickshaw"

"The Phantom

(notes edited
by John McGivering)

notes on the text 
[May 19 2004]


This story was first published in Quartette, the Christmas Annual of the Civil and Military Gazette for 1885, which included four stories by the nineteen-year-old Kipling with other items of prose and verse by his parents and sister. It was revised before being collected in The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Tales, Volume 5 of the Indian Railway Library, of 1888. It was included in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, published in 1890, and in numerous later editions of that collection.

The story 

Jack Pansay has had a passionate ship-board romance with Agnes Keith-Wessington, the golden-haired wife of an officer. He wearies of her and tells her so, but she refuses to accept his rejection, insisting that it is all "a hideous mistake". She grows wan and thin, but he continues to respond curtly and brutally. He becomes engaged to Kitty Mannering, a lively young woman, whom he deeply loves, and - not long after - Agnes dies of a broken heart. Soon after, his rides out with Kitty around Simla are disrupted by the ghost of Agnes, in her familiar yellow-panelled rickshaw, which only he can see. She is still insisting that it is all "a hideous mistake". His friends think he is mad or drunk, his doctor is mystified, and Kitty breaks off the engagement. His life is ruined, and he goes to his death, still haunted by the golden-haired ghost. 
Some critical comments

Cornell (p. 105) likens this story to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat”, finding it only better in that it takes place in Kipling’s Simla and not a Gothic (or perhaps 'Gothick') setting at some time in the past. See also “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes“ later in this volume.

Tompkins (pp. 120 and 198-9) discusses this story in her chapters entitled “Hatred and Revenge” and “Man and the Abyss”, taking the view that:

The young writer had neither the tact nor the self-denying consistency to carry such a difficult mode to complete success…..He managed better in …. “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes”.
Carrington (pp. 68-9) observes that: "...this story has some claim to a study of hallucination, the first and not the weakest of the many tales of psychopathic states which he was to publish...It is well worth reading today.

Harry Ricketts (pp. 81-2) sees this story as expressing some of Kipling's feeling of being abandoned, and haunted, by Flo Garrard, who had rejected him. Ricketts notes that in Something of Myself Kipling refers to "The Phantom Rickshaw" as one of the first fruits of his 'Personal Daemon', the compelling force outside himself which influenced his most deeply felt writing. In Something of Myself he said of it (page 209):

"Some of it was weak, much was bad and out of key, but it was my first serious attempt to think in another man's skin."
See also Mary Hamer's essay "Kipling and Dreams" 

Kipling and the Supernatural

Kipling's other stories of the supernatural include “By Word of Mouth” and “The Bisara of Pooree” in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), “At the End of the Passage”, “The Mark of the Beast” and “The Dream of Duncan Parrenness" inLife’s Handicap (1891), “The Lost Legion” in Many Inventions (1893), “The House Surgeon” in Actions and Reactions(1909), “In the Same Boat” in A Diversity of Creatures (1917), “The Wish House” and “A Madonna of the Trenches” inDebits and Credits (1926), and “Unprofessional” in Limits and Renewals (1932).

A visit to the Cow’s Mouth (Gau-Mukh/Gye-Mukh), a very sinister place, with a strong aura of the supernatural, is described in Letters of Marque No.XI (From Sea to Sea, Vol I) and elaborated in Chapter 12 of The Naulahka
[Page 126, line 20] the drop-bolts are drawn A man about to be hanged stood on a trap-door with the noose about his neck: the bolts were drawn and that was that. See the poem “Danny Deever”, and “The Debt” in Limits and Renewals
[Page 136, line 3] Arab A beautiful, intelligent and spirited horse - The whole effect is one of symmetry and grace, carried with pride and full of life, and the action straight, free and airy. (Caroline Silver, pp. 132 ff.) See “The Maltese Cat” inThe Day’s Work and the poem “The Moral.” 
[Page 138, line 31] cholera see Dr. Sheehan’s "Kipling and Medicine". 
Kipling's experience of cholera 

In November, 1905, Kipling advised a man going to work in Northern Nigeria, to “keep a spare and dry belly-band (cholera belt or whatever they call it) about change into after a wetting or a sweating and it just fortifies the lower intestines and the kidneys.” [Information from Thomas Pinney, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol.3.] In a letter to Edith Macdonald, 2-7 June 1884, Kipling called cholera “the Abominable”, and said he saw it “knock a man down ... he died in a trifle under two hours”. He blamed “rotten melons and bad arrack”. But, surprisingly, he went on to assure her that “an English East wind is more deadly than most epidemics of Asiatic cholera.” [Information from Thomas Pinney, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol.1, p.63]

In 1889, when Kipling was in Hong Kong, he was mistaken for a doctor by an intoxicated woman terrified that she had cholera. A neighbour had died of cholera in 6 hours the previous week. He had to reassure her that cholera never attacks a person twice. In the circumstances he did his best to reassure and comfort her. But getting cholera once does not give enough immunity to guarantee against possible later infection. [Information from Philip D Curtin, Death By Migration, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.71.]

Fresh air was thought to be very important in the prevention of cholera. A regiment struck by cholera would leave their barracks and set up a 'cholera camp' in the countryside until the disease had run its course. [Information from George and Christopher Newark, Kipling’s Soldiers, The Pompadour Gallery, 1996, p.118]

Cholera in the stories 

In “The World Without”, (1888), Curtiss of the Royal Artillery says they had two cases of cholera, one of which died, and if they had another they would be ordered into camp. In the same story “Miggy”(Mingle), was so fearful of catching the disease that he “dies of cholera once a week in the Rains and gets drunk on chlorodyne in between.”

“Only A Subaltern”, (1888), gives an excellent description of life and death in a cholera-camp.

In “My Lord The Elephant”,(1892), cholera was hanging round the cells used by the Ould Regiment “like mildew on wet boots, an’ ’twas murdher to confine in ut.”

When Kipling arrived in San Francisco in May 1889, he wrote: “but for the blessed sea-breezes San Francisco would enjoy cholera every season.” [Information from From Sea To Sea, Vol.1, p.487.]

In “The Daughter Of The Regiment”, (1887), Kipling described the trains overcrowded with soldiers - 870 troops, 12 women and 13 children in two trains - told to move to new quarters 600 miles away during very hot weather. He described the panic at “Ludianny”:
“ivry sowl av the followers ran for dear life as soon as the thrain stopped”. The telegraph clerk had to be physically restrained from bolting while he sent a telegraph 300 miles up the line asking for help. He describes the men “fallin’ over, arms an’ all” and the Doctor “dropped on to the platform from the door av a carriage where we was takin’ out the ead.”

The women were “huddled up anyways, screamin’ wid fear”. Presumably they and the children had travelled in a separate carriage and had so far escaped the infection. Ould Pummeloe knew that the men needed water and got all the women “wid horse-buckets and cookin’ pots” to carry water to them from a nearby well. She literally worked herself to death. Mulvaney said she died because of the sun “she misremembered she was only wearin’ her ould black bonnet”. That night there was a lot of wind and “it blew the cholera away”.
This could not have happened as cholera is not spread by the wind. It is water-borne. The well from which they were drawing water must have remained uninfected during the time they were quarantined there.

In “Cholera Camp”,(1896) :
“Though they’ve ‘ad us out by marches
an’ they’ve ad’ us back by rail;
But it runs as fast as troop trains,
and we cannot get away,.....”
The troops in question must have been using contaminated water or food all the time, and carrying the disease with them as they travelled.

In “A Germ Destroyer” (1887), E S Mellish had spent 15 years in Lower Bengal studying cholera and held the theory that cholera was “a germ that propagated itself as it flew through a muggy atmosphere and stuck in the branches of trees like a wool flake”. The germ could be rendered sterile by Mellish’s Own Invincible Fumigatory - a heavy violet-black powder containing nitrate of strontia, baryta, and bone meal.

In Kim (1901), the lama believed that the dung of a black horse, mixed with sulphur and carried in a snake-skin was a sound remedy for cholera.

The doctor in “At The End Of The Passage” (1890), was having about fifteen deaths a day among the cholera-stricken coolies building the Gaudhari State Line. He said:

“And the worst of it is that the poor devils look at you as though you ought to save them....My last attempt was empirical, but it pulled an old man through. He was brought to me apparently past hope, and I gave him gin and Worcester sauce with cayenne. It cured him; but I don’t recommend it.”
In “William The Conqueror” (1895), Raines, the editor of the daily paper told Scott he would be put on relief-works “with a horde of Madrassis dying like flies; one native apothecary and half a pint of cholera-mixture among the ten thousand of you”. 

William had previously been through a very bad cholera year, “seeing sights unfit to be told”. One of Martyn’s loaned policemen died of cholera when the Rains came, but there was no mention of a major cholera epidemic.

The “cholera-mixture” referred to in “William The Conqueror” may have been a mixture of tincture of ginger, aromatic spirits of ammonia, spirits of nitrous ether and brandy, or it may have consisted of a mixture of chloroform, aromatic spirits of ammonia, chlorodyne and brandy. Chlorodyne was a mixture of chloroform and morphine. [Information from William Moore, A Manual of Family Medicine & Hygiene for India, reprinted Delhi, 1989, 6th edition 1893, p.637-8]

The verses at the beginning of “At The End Of The Passage” (1890), mention “the blasts they blow on the cholera-horn”. According to Hobson-Jobson’s Anglo-Indian Dictionary this was really a “Collery Horn” - “a long brass horn of hideous sound, often used at native funerals”.

In “Without Benefit Of Clergy”, (1890), during a cholera epidemic, the conches used in the Hindu temples “screamed and bellowed, for the gods were inattentive in those days”.

After death from cholera there is sometimes a contraction of the muscles of the limbs “which has led to stories of persons being removed to the dead-house while yet alive”. Possibly hearing of such a story gave Kipling the idea for ‘The Strange Ride Of Morrowbie Jukes’, (1885). [Information from William Moore, A Manual of Family Medicine & Hygiene for India, reprinted Delhi, 1989, 6th edition 1893, p.103]

[Page 155, line 20] Powers of Darkness An echo of Luke 22, 53: ...This your hour and the power of darkness... The phrase is also used in Kim at - for example - page 257, line 10, and in the fifth verse of Hymn 23 Hymns Ancient and Modern ("Glory to Thee, my God this night")

Let no ill dreams disturb my rest
No powers of darkness me molest.

[Page 152, line 10] ’I seemed to move amid a world of ghosts’ from Tennyson’s poem “The Princess” Canto 1, line 17.

[Page 152, line 29] chimera Also spelt chimaera. Both words signify a fabulous monster, or any wild or idle fancy.