Imray Came Back by Rudyard Kipling

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Imray Came Back

from The Return of Imray by Rudyard Kipling, 1891)

One day Imray was there, in the little town in the north of India where he lived and worked, and the next day he was not. He disappeared. One day he was with his friends, having a drink at the bar, laughing with them, friendly, happy, and then the next morning he was not at his office, his house was quiet, and nobody could find him.

‘Where did he go?’ his friends asked each other at the bar. ‘And why so suddenly? Why did he say nothing to us?’

They looked in the rivers near the town, and along the roads, but they found nothing. They telephoned all the hotels in the nearest big city, but nobody there knew anything about Imray. Days went by and Imray did not come back. His friends in the town slowly stopped talking about him at the bar and at the office; they began to forget about him. They sold his old car, his guns and all his other things, and his boss wrote a letter to Imray’s mother, back in England, and told her that her son was dead. Disappeared.

Imray’s house stood unlived-in and quiet for three or four long, hot summer months. The hottest weather was finished when my friend Strickland, a policeman, moved to live in it. People said that Strickland was a very strange man but I always went to see him and have dinner with him when I was in the town working for a day or two. He had one or two other friends too; he liked his guns, he liked fishing and he liked his dog – a very big dog, called Tietjens. Tietjens always went to work with Strickland and often helped him in his police work, so the people of the town were quite afraid of her. Tietjens moved into the house with Strickland and she took the room next to Strickland’s, where she had her food and where she slept. 

One day, some weeks after Strickland went to live in Imray’s house, I arrived in the town at about five o’clock one afternoon and found that there were no rooms at the hotel, so I went round to Strickland’s place. Tietjens met me at the door, showing her teeth, not moving. She knew me quite well by this time but she did not want me to go in. She waited for Strickland to come and say a friendly ‘Hello’ to me before she moved away. Strickland was happy to give me a room for two or three days, and I went to get my bag from my car.

It was a nice house, with a big garden. Inside, there were eight rooms, all white and clean. Strickland gave me a good room and at six o’clock his Indian servant, Bahadur Khan, brought us an early dinner.

‘I must go back to the police station for an hour or two after dinner, I’m afraid. My men are questioning a man down there, and I want to know what answers they’re getting,’ Strickland said.

He left me at the house with a good cigar, and with Tietjens, the dog. It was a very hot, late-summer evening. Soon after the sun went down, the rain came. I sat near the window of the living-room, watched the rain and thought about my family and friends back home in England. Tietjens came and sat next to me and put her head on my leg, looking sad. The room was dark behind me and the only noise was the noise of the rain driving down out of the night sky.

Suddenly, without a sound, Strickland’s servant was there, standing next to me. His coat and shirt were wet from the rain.

‘Sorry, sir. There’s a man here, sir. He’s asking to see somebody,’ the servant said.

I asked him to bring a light and I went to the front door, but when the light came, there was nobody there. When I turned, I thought I saw a face looking in through one of the windows from the garden. It disappeared quickly.

‘Perhaps he went round to the back door,’ I said to the servant,

so we went through the living-room and the quiet, dark kitchen to the back door. But there was nobody there. I went back to my chair and my thoughts by the window, not very happy with Strickland’s servant and not very happy about the face at the window, the strange visitor in the rain. I took some sugar with me to give to Tietjens, but she was out in the garden, standing in the rain, and did not want to come inside. She looked frightened, I thought.

Some time later Strickland arrived home, very wet, and the first thing he asked was: ‘Any visitors?’

I told him about the disappearing visitor in the rain.‘I thought perhaps he had something important to tell you,’ I said, ‘but then he ran away without giving his name.’

Strickland said nothing and his face showed nothing. He took out a cigarette and sat smoking it for a few minutes without a word.

At nine o’clock he said he was tired. I was tired too, so we got up to go to bed. Tietjens was outside in the rain, very wet. Strickland called her again and again, but she did not want to come into the house.

‘She does this every evening now,’ he said sadly. ‘I can’t understand it. She’s got a good, warm room in here, but she doesn’t come inside and sleep in it. She started doing this soon after we came to live in this place. Let’s leave her. She can sleep out there if she wants to.’ But I knew he was not happy to leave her outside in the rain.

The rain started and stopped again all night, but Tietjens stayed outside. She slept near my bedroom window and I heard her moving about. I slept very lightly and I had bad dreams. In my half-sleep I dreamt that somebody was calling to me in the night, asking me to come to them, to help them. Then I woke up, cold with fear, and found there was nobody there. Once in the night I looked out of the window and saw the big dog out there in the

rain, with the hair on her neck and back standing up and a frightened, angry look on her face. I slept again but woke up suddenly when somebody tried to open the door of my room. They did not come in but walked on through the house. Later, I thought I heard the sound of someone crying. I ran through to Strickland’s room, thinking he was ill or that he wanted my help, but he laughed at my fears and told me to go back to bed. I did not sleep again after that. I listened to the rain and waited for the first light of morning.

I stayed in the house with Strickland and his dog for two more days.Tietjens was quite happy inside the house all day, but as soon as night came she moved out into the garden and stayed there. I understood. I was very happy in the house in daytime, too, but in the evening and at night I did not like it. There was something very strange about the place. I heard the noise of feet on the floor, but there was nobody there. I heard doors open and close, I heard chairs move and I thought somebody watched me from the darkest corners of the rooms when I walked round the house.

At dinner on the third evening I talked to Strickland. ‘I m going to the hotel tomorrow — they’ve got a room there now. I’m very sorry but I can’t stay here. It’s the noises in the house, you see. I’m not getting any sleep at night and I can t work well in the day because I’m too tired.’

He listened carefully and I knew he understood. Strickland is a very understanding man. ‘Stay with me for another day or two, my friend,’ he said.‘Please don’t go. Wait and see what happens. I know what you’re talking about. I know there s something very strange about this house, and I want to know what it is. I think Tietjens knows – she doesn’t like coming inside after dark …’

Suddenly he stopped talking, his eyes on one corner of the ceiling, above my chair.

‘Well, look at that!’ he said quietly.

I turned and looked up. There was the head of a very

dangerous brown snake, called a ‘karait’ in India. It was looking at us with its cold little eyes from a small door in that corner of the ceiling. I stood up quickly and moved away from that corner of the room – I do not like any snakes, I am afraid of them, and the ‘karait’ is one of the most dangerous and frightening snakes. It kills so easily and so quickly.

‘Let’s get it down and break its back,’ I said.

‘It’s very hard to catch those brown snakes, you know,’ Strickland answered. ‘They move so fast. But let’s try. Bring that light over.’

I carried the light across to the corner of the room where the snake was, watching it carefully all the time. It did not move. Strickland carried his chair over to the same corner, took one of his guns from a cupboard near the door and climbed up on the chair. But the snake saw him coming. Its head suddenly disappeared and we heard it move away across the ceiling above our heads.

‘Snakes like it up there in the ceiling — it’s nice and warm, said Strickland. ‘But I don’t like having them there. I’m going up to catch it.’

He pushed open the small door in the ceiling and put his head and arms through. He had the gun in one hand, ready to hit the snake with it and break its back. I watched from below.

I heard Strickland say. ‘I can’t see that snake, but … Hello! What’s this? There’s something up here … ’ and I saw him pushing at something with the gun. ‘I can’t quite get it,’ he said, and then suddenly: ‘It’s coming down! Be careful down there! Stand back!’

I jumped back. Something hit the centre of the ceiling hard from above, broke noisily through it into the room and hit the dinner table. It broke some glasses and plates on the table. There was water all over the floor. I went over with the light and looked down at the thing on the table. Strickland climbed quickly off the chair and stood next to me. It was a man; a dead man.

‘I think,’ Strickland said slowly,‘that our friend Imray is back.’

Suddenly something moved out from under one leg of the thing on the table. It was the brown snake, the ‘karait’, trying to get away.

‘So the snake came down with our dead friend, I see,’ Strickland said and he pushed the snake off the table onto the floor, hit it with his gun and broke its back. I looked at the dying snake on the floor and said nothing.

Strickland went over to a cupboard and took out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. He gave me a drink.

‘Is it Imray?’ I asked.

‘Yes.That’s Imray,’ he answered.‘And somebody killed him.’

Now we knew why there were noises round the house at night, and why Tietjens did not like sleeping inside the house. She knew that Imray was up there, dead. She knew that Imray s ghost walked through the house at night, trying to find somebody to help him.

A minute later we heardTietjens outside. She pushed open the door with her nose and came in. She looked at the dead man on the table and sat down on the floor next to Strickland, looking up at him.

‘You knew Imray was up there all the time, over our heads, Strickland said to the dog, looking down at her. ‘Somebody killed him and perhaps you know who did it, too. Dead men do not climb up into the ceilings of houses and close the ceiling door behind them. So the question is who put him there and closed the ceiling door? And who killed him? Let’s think about it.

‘Let’s think about it in the other room,’ I said.‘Not here.’

‘You’re right,’ said Strickland, with a smile. ‘Let’s go into the living-room.’

We went through to the living-room and sat there, smoking cigarettes and drinking our whisky. Strickland said nothing, but sat quietly and thought for a minute or two. His gun was on the floor next to his chair.

‘So Imray is back,’ he said again, slowly. ‘You know, when I took this house, I took Imray’s three servants, too. They stayed here to work for me. Did one of them kill him? I was not quite happy about that when I questioned them at the time Imray disappeared, you know.’

‘Why not call them in, one at a time, and question them again?’ I said. ‘See what they have to say.’

There was a noise at the back door, from the kitchen. It was Bahadur Khan, Strickland’s servant, coming in to take the dinner things away. Strickland called him and the man came into the living-room without any noise. He wore no shoes. He was a tall and strong-looking man. He stood quietly near the door and waited.

‘It’s a very warm night, Bahadur Khan. Do you think more rain is coming?’ Strickland began.

‘Yes, sir. I think it is,’ the servant answered.

‘When did you first start to work for me, Bahadur Khan?’

‘When you came to live in this house, sir.You know that. After Mr Imray suddenly went away to Europe, sir.’

‘He went away to Europe, you say? Why do you say that?’

‘All the servants say he went to Europe, sir.’

‘Do they? That’s very strange, Bahadur Khan. I asked them before, but they didn’t know. You said it to me, Bahadur Khan – but they didn’t know. And Mr Imray went to Europe, you say, but he never said a word about it to his friends or to his other servants before he went. He told only you, Bahadur Khan. Do you not think that is strange?’

‘It is strange, sir,’ the man answered very quietly.

‘And why do you say it? Why do you want us to think Mr Imray went to Europe?’

The tall man did not answer. He looked very frightened now;

his eyes were white in the dark. He moved nearer the door, but Strickland went on.

‘But now, suddenly, Mr Imray is back again, Bahadur Khan! He’s back in this house. Come and see him. He’s waiting for his old servant.’ Strickland took his gun off the floor and stood up quickly. He pushed the gun into Bahadur Khan’s face.

‘Sirl’The tall Indian moved back, very frightened now, and put up his hands.

‘Go and look at the thing on the table in the next room, Bahadur Khan,’ Strickland said.‘Go on.Take the light. Go and see Mr Imray. He’s waiting for you.’

Slowly the man took the light and walked to the door. Strickland was behind him, pushing the gun into his back. The tall Indian stopped near the table and looked down at the dead man. His face was yellow with fear.

‘You see?’ asked Strickland coldly. ‘Mr Imray is back.’

‘I see, sir.’

‘And now I know: you killed him, Bahadur Khan.Why?’

‘I killed him, sir, yes. He was not a good man, sir. He put his hand on my child’s head one day … the next day my child was very ill … and the next day he died. He was my oldest son, sir. Mr Imray killed my son. He was a bad man. So I killed Mr Imray in the evening of the same day when he came back from the office. Then I put him up above the ceiling and closed the door.’

Strickland turned to me. ‘You hear that? He killed Imray,’ he said. Then he went on: ‘You were clever, Bahadur Khan, but Mr Imray came back. And now I’m taking you to the police station …’

‘But no, sir,’ Bahadur Khan said with a sad smile. ‘We are not going to the police station. Look, sir.’

He moved back from the table and showed us his foot. There was the head of the brown snake, the deadly ‘karait’, with its teeth in his foot. 

‘You see, sir, I killed Mr Imray but I do not want to die at the hands of the police. So I am dying now, here. This snake is killing me.’

An hour later Bahadur Khan was dead. Strickland called some of his policemen to take the two dead men, Imray and his killer, away to the town. And the ghost of Imray did not walk at night in the house again.

That night Tietjens came back inside the house and slept happily in her room.

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