The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes

by Rudyard Kipling

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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 crater and its barrows are inhabited by people who, thought to be dead from cholera, had been taken away for hasty cremation. Some of them were not dead, and when they stirred, those who were to have cremated them plastered their noses and mouths with mud. Those who did not die from suffocation as a result of this ministration were set loose, and many of them, including Gunga Dass, who almost died, ended up in this crater. A gunboat cruises the Sutlej by daylight to make sure that no one escapes from the place.

Gunga Dass takes all of Morrowbie’s money and wants to take his boots as well. He tells Morrowbie that he will look after him for a while but suggests that in time Morrowbie should wait on him, a suggestion that Morrowbie rejects. All at once, however, Morrowbie finds himself in the middle of a role reversal. He is no longer master. Gunga Dass controls him. On Morrowbie’s first night in the crater, its residents kill his pony to use as food, a meat much better than the crow that they usually catch and roast for their daily meal.

Morrowbie learns that there is only one way out of the crater, an intricate course along the riverbank, most of which is composed of deadly quicksand. He also learns that one other Briton has stumbled into the crater and that Gunga Dass murdered him.

Morrowbie gets possession of the murdered man’s mummified body and buries it in the quicksand, but not before he has secured the man’s possessions, including his journal. Out of the journal’s binding falls a piece of paper on which the dead man has written the secret of how to escape from the crater. Just as Morrowbie discovers this piece of paper with its burned...

(This entire section contains 742 words.)

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edges, Gunga Dass appears, knows that Morrowbie has found the piece of paper for which he himself has been searching, and takes it from Morrowbie.

When Gunga Dass drops it, calculatedly, Morrowbie rushes to pick it up and Gunga Dass hits him in the head from behind. When he regains consciousness, Morrowbie is aware that someone is calling, “Sahib! Sahib!” He looks up to see the face of his dog boy, Dunnoo, staring down at him from a considerable distance. Dunnoo knots together a few leather punkah ropes with a loop at one end. He lowers them to Morrowbie, who puts the loop under his arms. Dunnoo hauls him up the side of the crater and tells him that he has followed Pornic’s hoof prints fourteen miles to this place to save his life.