Friday, January 29, 2016

The Haunted Rickshaw

“May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor powers of Darkness me molest.”

                                    --Evening Hymn

A young Rudyard Kipling.
Many of Rudyard Kipling’s stories are set in India. This is not surprising for he spend his early childhood in Bombay and later was a newspaper reporter in Lahore.

Kipling’s stories often center on the relationships between men and women. He was a misogynist, for his male characters, often in the military, blame women for their own and others shortcomings and misfortunes.

Considering the above statement it goes without saying that Kipling’s stories are told from the male’s point of view.

But despite this, it should be mentioned that both men and women enjoy reading his stories.

Cover of collection
published in 1888
in India.
A favorite short story, The Phantom Rickshaw was originally published in 1885 in a military Christmas annual. In the 1890s it was published again in several popular collections.

Like many of his stories this tale has a male narrator and includes a phantom or ghost. When the reader begins this story they should not give up for it starts out slow but it quickly builds once the narrator begins his self-serving tale of woe.

The story then firmly grips the reader and takes them on an ever quickening ride that spirals into an inevitable end. For this reason Rickshaw is sometimes compared to Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, which is shared here.

The story begins with Jack Pansey, the main character who is found under the care of a doctor. He appears to be suffering from delusions caused by overwork—which Jack most adamantly denies.

He retells his story to convince his doctor of the true cause.

Three years earlier, while sailing back to India from extended leave, Jack-- a British Indian official-- meets an officer’s wife, the golden-haired Mrs. Agnes Keith-Wessington from Bombay. The two fall in love and start a torrid affair.

But by the spring Jack’s interest begins to wan. In Kipling’s words, his passion quickly dies, "his fire of straw burnt itself out to a pitiful end.” So he goes about freeing himself from her.

He is callus and brutal in the way he informs Agnes that he is tired of their relationship. He basically tells her he can’t stand her. He tells the doctor, “I was sick of her presence, tired of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice.”

Their future encounters are even worse.

However, Agnes doesn't take the hint and refuses to believe they can’t live happily ever after. Jack meets and falls in love with a younger woman, Kitty Mannering but the spurned Mrs. Wessington continues to appear in his life--always insisting their parting was all just a "hideous mistake."

Kitty and Jack become engaged and Agnes now distraught, dies of a “broken heart,” as many women in Victorian stories were wont to do.

At first Jack is relieved at this news—for by this time he hates her.

But as they say: all's fair in love and war. There are many more twists and turns before this story ends. Read it and enjoy.

Rickshaws in Colonial India
The complete text of The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Tales—1st edition, in a nice format, can be read at the Internet Archive.

The following is a classic radio show that highlights this Kipling story. It takes some dramatic license with the original tale but is well worth the listener’s time.

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