Format: Single

‘… I saw them miles ahead along the straight, waiting in the teak…There wasn’t much I could do, except bury ’em. There’d been a bit of a thunderstorm in the teak, you see, and they were both stone dead and as black as charcoal. That’s what they really were, you see – charcoal. They fell to bits when we tried to shift ’em…’


This is from ‘Mrs Bathurst’ in ‘Traffics and Discoveries’, one of Kipling’s most enigmatic tales.

Three men in a railway siding in South Africa are reminiscing about times past. They remember Vickery, a naval warrant-officer who had been obsessed by Mrs Bathurst, a young widow they had all known years ago in New Zealand, where she kept a hotel. She ‘always wore black silk’, ‘never scrupled to feed a lame duck’, and was the sort of woman who’d ‘stay in a man’s memory if they once walked down the street’. Vickery had jumped ship in Capetown, and was later found dead in a teak forest beyond Bulawayo.

Readers have argued ever since about whether his companion was Mrs Bathurst…