The Haunted Horse

By Rudyard Kipling

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I don’t suppose that a Subaltern believes in anything except his chances of a Company; but Horrocks and Tesser were exceptions. They came to believe in their ghosts. They had reason.

Horrocks used to find himself, at about three o’clock in the morning, staring wide-awake, watching two white Things hopping about his room and jumping up to the ceiling. Horrocks was of a placid turn of mind. After a week or so spent in watching his servants, and lying in wait for strangers, and trying to keep awake all night, he came to the conclusion that he was haunted, and that, consequently, he need not bother. He wasn’t going to encourage these ghosts by being frightened of them. Therefore, when he woke—as usual—with a start and saw these Things jumping like kangaroos, he only murmured:—’Go on! Don’t mind me!’ and went to sleep again.

Tesser said:—’It’s all very well for you to make fun of your show. You can see your ghosts. Now I can’t see mine, and I don’t half like it.’

Tesser used to come into his room of nights, and find the whole of his bedding neatly stripped, as if it had been done with one sweep of the hand, from the top right-hand corner of the charpoy to the bottom left-hand corner. Also his lamp used to lie weltering on the floor, and generally his pet screw-head, inlaid, nickel-plated banjo was lying on the charpoy, with all its strings broken. Tesser took away the strings, on the occasion of the third manifestation, and the next night a man complimented him on his playing the best music ever got out of a banjo, for half an hour.

‘Which half hour?’ said Tesser.

‘Between nine and ten,’ said the man. Tesser had gone out to dinner at 7:30, and had returned at midnight.

He talked to his bearer and threatened him with unspeakable things. The bearer was grey with fear:—’I’m a poor man,’ said he. ‘If the Sahib is haunted by a Devil, what can I do?’
‘Who says I’m haunted by a Devil?’ howled Tesser, for he was angry.

‘I have seen It,’ said the bearer, ‘at night, walking round and round your bed; and that is why everything is ulta-pulta in your room. I am a poor man, but I never go into your room alone. The bhisti comes with me.’

Tesser was thoroughly savage at this, and he spoke to Horrocks, and the two laid traps to catch that Devil, and threatened their servants with dog-whips if any more ‘shaitan-ke-hanky-panky’ took place. But the servants were soaked with fear, and it was no use adding to their tortures. When Tesser went out at night, four of his men, as a rule, slept in the verandah of his quarters, until the banjo without the strings struck up, and then they fled.

One day, Tesser had to put in a month at a Fort with a detachment of ‘Inextinguishables’. The Fort might have been Govindghar, Jumrood, or Phillour; but it wasn’t. He left Cantonments rejoicing, for his Devil was preying on his mind; and with him went another Subaltern, a junior. But the Devil came too. After Tesser had been in the Fort about ten days he went out to dinner. When he came back he found his Subaltern doing sentry on a banquette across the Fort Ditch, as far removed as might be from the Officers’ Quarters.

‘What’s wrong?’ said Tesser.

The Subaltern said, ‘Listen!’ and the two, standing under the stars, heard from the Officers’ Quarters, high up in the wall of the Fort, the ‘strumty tumty tumty’ of the banjo; which seemed to have an oratorio on hand.

‘That performance,’ said the Subaltern, ‘has been going on for three mortal hours. I never wished to desert before, but I do now. I say, Tesser, old man, you are the best of good fellows, I’m sure, but…I say…look here, now, you are quite unfit to live with. ’Tisn’t in my Commission, you know, that I’m to serve under a…a…man with Devils.’

‘Isn’t it?’ said Tesser. ‘If you make an ass of yourself I’ll put you under arrest…and in my room!’

‘You can put me where you please, but I’m not going to assist at these infernal concerts. ’Tisn’t right. ’Tisn’t natural. Look here, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but—try to think now—haven’t you done something—committed some—murder that has slipped your memory—or forged something… ?’

‘Well! For an all-round, double-shotted, half-baked fool you are the…’

‘I dare say I am,’ said the Subaltern. ‘But you don’t expect me to keep my wits with that row going on, do you?’

The banjo was rattling away as if it had twenty strings. Tesser sent up a stone, and a shower of broken window-pane fell into the Fort Ditch; but the banjo kept on. Tesser hauled the other Subaltern up to the quarters, and found his room in frightful confusion—lamp upset, bedding all over the floor, chairs overturned, and table tilted sideways. He took stock of the wreck and said despairing:—‘Oh, this is lovely!’

The Subaltern was peeping in at the door.

‘I’m glad you think so,’ he said. ‘’Tisn’t lovely enough for me. I locked up your room directly after you had gone out. See here, I think you had better apply for Horrocks to come out in my place. He’s troubled with your complaint, and this business will make me a jabbering idiot if it goes on.’

Tesser went to bed amid the wreckage, very angry, and next morning he rode into Cantonments and asked Horrocks to arrange to relieve ‘that fool with me now.’

‘You’ve got ’em again, have you?’ said Horrocks. ‘So’ve I. Three white figures this time. We’ll worry through the entertainment together.’

—from ‘Haunted Subalterns’

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