First published in The Week’s News, 12 May 1888. Collected in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
This is a tale of British-Indian race courses and of a horse, Divorce, and rider killed in a steeplechase. Jale, the dying man gave a mare, Thurinda, to Hordene who had shown him hospitality before the racing and ridden down to help him after the smash. The mare was haunted by the spirit of the horse that was killed, whose footsteps could be heard following her.
At the next race meeting at Ghoriah, Hordene begins to suspect the truth of what is happening, and decides to scratch Thurinda from the last race, but stays to see the polo match. A man, Marish, borrows Thurinda to get to the game, and is killed in a scrimmage.
Hordene decides to sell Thurinda and finally succeeds in doing so to a subaltern nicknamed “Guj”. When he realises her peculiarity, he changes her name to Sleipner, after the eight-legged grey horse of Norse Legend, despite Sleipner being a stallion. Although he keeps winning races on Thurinda, Guj becomes absolutely tired of the ghost interfering, and after he stops racing her, by the ghost horse fooling around his quarters and on the Mall. And so, although he will be 1,000 rupees out of pocket, he shoots Thurinda and has her cremated. Hordene then tells him the full story behind Jale’s gift.
Comments on Horse-Racing
Racing rules and the Rules for Lotteries have changed considerably since 1888 so that some of the details in this story now read incorrectly. However, it is not intended to be pedantic on these points – it is clear enough that Kipling had, as usual, acquainted himself with the general rules at the time. [ORG]
Lotteries One can assume from this and other Kipling stories that lotteries were regularly run at race meetings in India, and without doubt in many other countries as well. The lotteries would be held in addition to the placing of bets by individuals. Although a description of the lottery process has not been found, it is thought that it would be run on the following lines:
The names of declared runners in a race would be auctioned to the highest bidder in the lottery-tent. Whatever was bid would be paid into a common pool, and after the race the lottery winners who held the name of the appropriate horse would be paid a pre-determined percentage of the pool. See Page 133, lines 10-15.
See also “The Broken-link Handicap” [Plain Tales from the Hills].
Horses were as central to the lives of Anglo-Indians as motor cars are to us today, and horse-racing was enthusiastically followed, as it was in England. However, Kipling was not a born rider, and was wary of the sport. In 1897, for “An Almanac of Twelve Sports” he wrote:
The horse is ridden—the jockey rides—
The backers back—the owners own.
But … there are lots of things besides,
And I should leave this play alone.The story
Critical Comment on the story
This is one of the few stories from Abaft the Funnel that has attracted any critical comment. Professor J M S Tompkins discusses it in her chapter “Man and the Abyss” on pages 198-201 together with some of Kipling’s other ghost stories:
As it stands, the tale is not only queer but illogical and confusing, and the assumptions that seem to lie behind the apparent confusions could hardly have been brought out more clearly without the bizarre lapsing into the ludicrous. It is evidence that the difficulty inherent in complexity of premise and severe compression is not confined to Kipling’s later work. Even as it stands, however, I think it is a better and more alarming suggestion of the darkness that lies
A stone’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread,
than the stoked horrors of “At the End of the Passage”.
©David Page 2006 All rights reserved