Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Morrowbie Jukes’s strange ride occurs when he is weakened by a fever. Baying dogs disturb his sleep. He kills one of them and displays its body, hoping to deter the other dogs from their baying. Instead, they devour the body “and, as it seemed to me, sang their hymns of thanksgiving afterwards with renewed energy.” Morrowbie tries to shoot the loudest of the dogs, but the lightheadedness that accompanies his fever makes him miss the offending dog even though he unloads both barrels of his shotgun in its direction.
Finally, Morrowbie decides to go after the dog with his boar spear. He has his pony, Pornic, saddled and sets out. The pony runs at breakneck speed in a straight line, galloping past the baying dog and running for several miles beyond it. Suddenly Morrowbie sees the waters of the river Sutlej before him; then his pony stumbles and the two roll down a slope. Morrowbie loses consciousness.
When he awakes, he is inside a horseshoe-shaped crater, three sides of which are enclosed by high slopes slanting at about sixty-five degrees. The river provides the remaining boundary. Morrowbie tries to ride out of the crater, but he cannot conquer its steep slopes. Then he hears a gunshot from across the river, and a bullet lands close to Pornic’s head.
Some time passes before Morrowbie becomes aware that other people inhabit this wilderness. Slowly, about sixty-five people emerge from badger holes that Morrowbie thought were untenanted. Among them is Gunga Dass, a Brahman and a former telegraph master, whom Morrowbie once knew. Gunga Dass cries, “Sahib! Sahib!” Morrowbie recognizes him only by a scar on his cheek for which Morrowbie was apparently responsible. Gunga Dass commences to tell Morrowbie about this city of the living dead on which he has stumbled.
(The entire section is 742 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” is based on a conventional type of gothic story popular during the early part of the nineteenth century. It is a form that Edgar Allan Poe adapted for his own use and thus made part of the foundation of the short-story form. Kipling’s treatment of this genre begins with the familiar literary convention of being presented as a true story; the central character and storyteller, Jukes, was a civil engineer and thus not a man to take the trouble to invent imaginary tales. When Jukes’s story begins, the motivation for his journey to the mysterious realm is supplied in a typically ambiguous gothic way: Jukes has a fever and is light-headed and hallucinatory. When he madly chases a dog into the desert, his horse stumbles and falls. When Jukes regains consciousness, he finds himself in a horseshoe-shaped crater of sand so steep that he cannot climb out. The only way out is across the river where the horseshoe opens out, but that way is guarded by an invisible sentry with a rifle and by a bed of quicksand.
Jukes discovers that he is not alone in the crater; a small band of ragged natives appear, one of whom he recognizes as a telegraph master, Gunga Dass. It is from Gunga Dass that he learns where he is—a sort of wasteland holding place where those who have been in a cataleptic trance are taken until they die in actuality. In existence for at least a century, the hidden village is legendary; no one ever escapes...
(The entire section is 589 words.)