Part 3 out of 3
"In the melon bed, on the end nearest the wall, where the sun
strikes nearly all day. She hid them there weeks ago."
"And you never thought it worth while to tell me? The end
nearest the wall, you said?"
"Rikki-tikki, you are not going to eat her eggs?"
"Not eat exactly; no. Darzee, if you have a grain of sense
you will fly off to the stables and pretend that your wing is
broken, and let Nagaina chase you away to this bush. I must get
to the melon-bed, and if I went there now she'd see me."
Darzee was a feather-brained little fellow who could never
hold more than one idea at a time in his head. And just because
he knew that Nagaina's children were born in eggs like his own, he
didn't think at first that it was fair to kill them. But his wife
was a sensible bird, and she knew that cobra's eggs meant young
cobras later on. So she flew off from the nest, and left Darzee
to keep the babies warm, and continue his song about the death of
Nag. Darzee was very like a man in some ways.
She fluttered in front of Nagaina by the rubbish heap and
cried out, "Oh, my wing is broken! The boy in the house threw a
stone at me and broke it." Then she fluttered more desperately
Nagaina lifted up her head and hissed, "You warned Rikki-tikki
when I would have killed him. Indeed and truly, you've chosen a
bad place to be lame in." And she moved toward Darzee's wife,
slipping along over the dust.
"The boy broke it with a stone!" shrieked Darzee's wife.
"Well! It may be some consolation to you when you're dead to
know that I shall settle accounts with the boy. My husband lies
on the rubbish heap this morning, but before night the boy in the
house will lie very still. What is the use of running away? I am
sure to catch you. Little fool, look at me!"
Darzee's wife knew better than to do that, for a bird who
looks at a snake's eyes gets so frightened that she cannot move.
Darzee's wife fluttered on, piping sorrowfully, and never leaving
the ground, and Nagaina quickened her pace.
Rikki-tikki heard them going up the path from the stables, and
he raced for the end of the melon patch near the wall. There, in
the warm litter above the melons, very cunningly hidden, he found
twenty-five eggs, about the size of a bantam's eggs, but with
whitish skin instead of shell.
"I was not a day too soon," he said, for he could see the baby
cobras curled up inside the skin, and he knew that the minute they
were hatched they could each kill a man or a mongoose. He bit off
the tops of the eggs as fast as he could, taking care to crush the
young cobras, and turned over the litter from time to time to see
whether he had missed any. At last there were only three eggs
left, and Rikki-tikki began to chuckle to himself, when he heard
Darzee's wife screaming:
"Rikki-tikki, I led Nagaina toward the house, and she has gone
into the veranda, and--oh, come quickly--she means killing!"
Rikki-tikki smashed two eggs, and tumbled backward down the
melon-bed with the third egg in his mouth, and scuttled to the
veranda as hard as he could put foot to the ground. Teddy and his
mother and father were there at early breakfast, but Rikki-tikki
saw that they were not eating anything. They sat stone-still, and
their faces were white. Nagaina was coiled up on the matting by
Teddy's chair, within easy striking distance of Teddy's bare leg,
and she was swaying to and fro, singing a song of triumph.
"Son of the big man that killed Nag," she hissed, "stay still.
I am not ready yet. Wait a little. Keep very still, all you
three! If you move I strike, and if you do not move I strike.
Oh, foolish people, who killed my Nag!"
Teddy's eyes were fixed on his father, and all his father
could do was to whisper, "Sit still, Teddy. You mustn't move.
Teddy, keep still."
Then Rikki-tikki came up and cried, "Turn round, Nagaina.
Turn and fight!"
"All in good time," said she, without moving her eyes. "I
will settle my account with you presently. Look at your friends,
Rikki-tikki. They are still and white. They are afraid. They
dare not move, and if you come a step nearer I strike."
"Look at your eggs," said Rikki-tikki, "in the melon bed near
the wall. Go and look, Nagaina!"
The big snake turned half around, and saw the egg on the
veranda. "Ah-h! Give it to me," she said.
Rikki-tikki put his paws one on each side of the egg, and his
eyes were blood-red. "What price for a snake's egg? For a young
cobra? For a young king cobra? For the last--the very last of
the brood? The ants are eating all the others down by the melon
Nagaina spun clear round, forgetting everything for the sake
of the one egg. Rikki-tikki saw Teddy's father shoot out a big
hand, catch Teddy by the shoulder, and drag him across the little
table with the tea-cups, safe and out of reach of Nagaina.
"Tricked! Tricked! Tricked! Rikk-tck-tck!" chuckled
Rikki-tikki. "The boy is safe, and it was I--I--I that caught
Nag by the hood last night in the bathroom." Then he began to
jump up and down, all four feet together, his head close to the
floor. "He threw me to and fro, but he could not shake me off.
He was dead before the big man blew him in two. I did it!
Rikki-tikki-tck-tck! Come then, Nagaina. Come and fight with me.
You shall not be a widow long."
Nagaina saw that she had lost her chance of killing Teddy, and
the egg lay between Rikki-tikki's paws. "Give me the egg,
Rikki-tikki. Give me the last of my eggs, and I will go away and
never come back," she said, lowering her hood.
"Yes, you will go away, and you will never come back. For you
will go to the rubbish heap with Nag. Fight, widow! The big man
has gone for his gun! Fight!"
Rikki-tikki was bounding all round Nagaina, keeping just out
of reach of her stroke, his little eyes like hot coals. Nagaina
gathered herself together and flung out at him. Rikki-tikki
jumped up and backward. Again and again and again she struck, and
each time her head came with a whack on the matting of the veranda
and she gathered herself together like a watch spring. Then
Rikki-tikki danced in a circle to get behind her, and Nagaina spun
round to keep her head to his head, so that the rustle of her tail
on the matting sounded like dry leaves blown along by the wind.
He had forgotten the egg. It still lay on the veranda, and
Nagaina came nearer and nearer to it, till at last, while
Rikki-tikki was drawing breath, she caught it in her mouth, turned
to the veranda steps, and flew like an arrow down the path, with
Rikki-tikki behind her. When the cobra runs for her life, she
goes like a whip-lash flicked across a horse's neck.
Rikki-tikki knew that he must catch her, or all the trouble
would begin again. She headed straight for the long grass by the
thorn-bush, and as he was running Rikki-tikki heard Darzee still
singing his foolish little song of triumph. But Darzee's wife was
wiser. She flew off her nest as Nagaina came along, and flapped
her wings about Nagaina's head. If Darzee had helped they might
have turned her, but Nagaina only lowered her hood and went on.
Still, the instant's delay brought Rikki-tikki up to her, and as
she plunged into the rat-hole where she and Nag used to live, his
little white teeth were clenched on her tail, and he went down
with her--and very few mongooses, however wise and old they may
be, care to follow a cobra into its hole. It was dark in the
hole; and Rikki-tikki never knew when it might open out and give
Nagaina room to turn and strike at him. He held on savagely, and
stuck out his feet to act as brakes on the dark slope of the hot,
Then the grass by the mouth of the hole stopped waving, and
Darzee said, "It is all over with Rikki-tikki! We must sing his
death song. Valiant Rikki-tikki is dead! For Nagaina will surely
kill him underground."
So he sang a very mournful song that he made up on the spur of
the minute, and just as he got to the most touching part, the
grass quivered again, and Rikki-tikki, covered with dirt, dragged
himself out of the hole leg by leg, licking his whiskers. Darzee
stopped with a little shout. Rikki-tikki shook some of the dust
out of his fur and sneezed. "It is all over," he said. "The
widow will never come out again." And the red ants that live
between the grass stems heard him, and began to troop down one
after another to see if he had spoken the truth.
Rikki-tikki curled himself up in the grass and slept where he
was--slept and slept till it was late in the afternoon, for he
had done a hard day's work.
"Now," he said, when he awoke, "I will go back to the house.
Tell the Coppersmith, Darzee, and he will tell the garden that
Nagaina is dead."
The Coppersmith is a bird who makes a noise exactly like the
beating of a little hammer on a copper pot; and the reason he is
always making it is because he is the town crier to every Indian
garden, and tells all the news to everybody who cares to listen.
As Rikki-tikki went up the path, he heard his "attention" notes
like a tiny dinner gong, and then the steady "Ding-dong-tock! Nag
is dead--dong! Nagaina is dead! Ding-dong-tock!" That set all
the birds in the garden singing, and the frogs croaking, for Nag
and Nagaina used to eat frogs as well as little birds.
When Rikki got to the house, Teddy and Teddy's mother (she
looked very white still, for she had been fainting) and Teddy's
father came out and almost cried over him; and that night he ate
all that was given him till he could eat no more, and went to bed
on Teddy's shoulder, where Teddy's mother saw him when she came to
look late at night.
"He saved our lives and Teddy's life," she said to her
husband. "Just think, he saved all our lives."
Rikki-tikki woke up with a jump, for the mongooses are light
"Oh, it's you," said he. "What are you bothering for? All
the cobras are dead. And if they weren't, I'm here."
Rikki-tikki had a right to be proud of himself. But he did
not grow too proud, and he kept that garden as a mongoose should
keep it, with tooth and jump and spring and bite, till never a
cobra dared show its head inside the walls.
(Sung in honor of Rikki-tikki-tavi)
Singer and tailor am I--
Doubled the joys that I know--
Proud of my lilt to the sky,
Proud of the house that I sew--
Over and under, so weave I my music--so weave I the house that I
Sing to your fledglings again,
Mother, oh lift up your head!
Evil that plagued us is slain,
Death in the garden lies dead.
Terror that hid in the roses is impotent--flung on the dung-hill
Who has delivered us, who?
Tell me his nest and his name.
Rikki, the valiant, the true,
Tikki, with eyeballs of flame,
Rikk-tikki-tikki, the ivory-fanged, the hunter with eyeballs of
Give him the Thanks of the Birds,
Bowing with tail feathers spread!
Praise him with nightingale words--
Nay, I will praise him instead.
Hear! I will sing you the praise of the bottle-tailed Rikki, with
eyeballs of red!
(Here Rikki-tikki interrupted, and the rest of the song is
Toomai of the Elephants
I will remember what I was, I am sick of rope and chain--
I will remember my old strength and all my forest affairs.
I will not sell my back to man for a bundle of sugar-cane:
I will go out to my own kind, and the wood-folk in their lairs.
I will go out until the day, until the morning break--
Out to the wind's untainted kiss, the water's clean caress;
I will forget my ankle-ring and snap my picket stake.
I will revisit my lost loves, and playmates masterless!
Kala Nag, which means Black Snake, had served the Indian
Government in every way that an elephant could serve it for
forty-seven years, and as he was fully twenty years old when he
was caught, that makes him nearly seventy--a ripe age for an
elephant. He remembered pushing, with a big leather pad on his
forehead, at a gun stuck in deep mud, and that was before the
Afghan War of 1842, and he had not then come to his full strength.
His mother Radha Pyari,--Radha the darling,--who had been
caught in the same drive with Kala Nag, told him, before his
little milk tusks had dropped out, that elephants who were afraid
always got hurt. Kala Nag knew that that advice was good, for the
first time that he saw a shell burst he backed, screaming, into a
stand of piled rifles, and the bayonets pricked him in all his
softest places. So, before he was twenty-five, he gave up being
afraid, and so he was the best-loved and the best-looked-after
elephant in the service of the Government of India. He had
carried tents, twelve hundred pounds' weight of tents, on the
march in Upper India. He had been hoisted into a ship at the end
of a steam crane and taken for days across the water, and made to
carry a mortar on his back in a strange and rocky country very far
from India, and had seen the Emperor Theodore lying dead in
Magdala, and had come back again in the steamer entitled, so the
soldiers said, to the Abyssinian War medal. He had seen his
fellow elephants die of cold and epilepsy and starvation and
sunstroke up at a place called Ali Musjid, ten years later; and
afterward he had been sent down thousands of miles south to haul
and pile big balks of teak in the timberyards at Moulmein. There
he had half killed an insubordinate young elephant who was
shirking his fair share of work.
After that he was taken off timber-hauling, and employed, with
a few score other elephants who were trained to the business, in
helping to catch wild elephants among the Garo hills. Elephants
are very strictly preserved by the Indian Government. There is
one whole department which does nothing else but hunt them, and
catch them, and break them in, and send them up and down the
country as they are needed for work.
Kala Nag stood ten fair feet at the shoulders, and his tusks
had been cut off short at five feet, and bound round the ends, to
prevent them splitting, with bands of copper; but he could do more
with those stumps than any untrained elephant could do with the
real sharpened ones. When, after weeks and weeks of cautious
driving of scattered elephants across the hills, the forty or
fifty wild monsters were driven into the last stockade, and the
big drop gate, made of tree trunks lashed together, jarred down
behind them, Kala Nag, at the word of command, would go into that
flaring, trumpeting pandemonium (generally at night, when the
flicker of the torches made it difficult to judge distances), and,
picking out the biggest and wildest tusker of the mob, would
hammer him and hustle him into quiet while the men on the backs of
the other elephants roped and tied the smaller ones.
There was nothing in the way of fighting that Kala Nag, the
old wise Black Snake, did not know, for he had stood up more than
once in his time to the charge of the wounded tiger, and, curling
up his soft trunk to be out of harm's way, had knocked the
springing brute sideways in mid-air with a quick sickle cut of his
head, that he had invented all by himself; had knocked him over,
and kneeled upon him with his huge knees till the life went out
with a gasp and a howl, and there was only a fluffy striped thing
on the ground for Kala Nag to pull by the tail.
"Yes," said Big Toomai, his driver, the son of Black Toomai
who had taken him to Abyssinia, and grandson of Toomai of the
Elephants who had seen him caught, "there is nothing that the
Black Snake fears except me. He has seen three generations of us
feed him and groom him, and he will live to see four."
"He is afraid of me also," said Little Toomai, standing up to
his full height of four feet, with only one rag upon him. He was
ten years old, the eldest son of Big Toomai, and, according to
custom, he would take his father's place on Kala Nag's neck when
he grew up, and would handle the heavy iron ankus, the elephant
goad, that had been worn smooth by his father, and his
grandfather, and his great-grandfather.
He knew what he was talking of; for he had been born under
Kala Nag's shadow, had played with the end of his trunk before he
could walk, had taken him down to water as soon as he could walk,
and Kala Nag would no more have dreamed of disobeying his shrill
little orders than he would have dreamed of killing him on that
day when Big Toomai carried the little brown baby under Kala Nag's
tusks, and told him to salute his master that was to be.
"Yes," said Little Toomai, "he is afraid of me," and he took
long strides up to Kala Nag, called him a fat old pig, and made
him lift up his feet one after the other.
"Wah!" said Little Toomai, "thou art a big elephant," and he
wagged his fluffy head, quoting his father. "The Government may
pay for elephants, but they belong to us mahouts. When thou art
old, Kala Nag, there will come some rich rajah, and he will buy
thee from the Government, on account of thy size and thy manners,
and then thou wilt have nothing to do but to carry gold earrings
in thy ears, and a gold howdah on thy back, and a red cloth
covered with gold on thy sides, and walk at the head of the
processions of the King. Then I shall sit on thy neck, O Kala
Nag, with a silver ankus, and men will run before us with golden
sticks, crying, `Room for the King's elephant!' That will be
good, Kala Nag, but not so good as this hunting in the jungles."
"Umph!" said Big Toomai. "Thou art a boy, and as wild as a
buffalo-calf. This running up and down among the hills is not the
best Government service. I am getting old, and I do not love wild
elephants. Give me brick elephant lines, one stall to each
elephant, and big stumps to tie them to safely, and flat, broad
roads to exercise upon, instead of this come-and-go camping. Aha,
the Cawnpore barracks were good. There was a bazaar close by, and
only three hours' work a day."
Little Toomai remembered the Cawnpore elephant-lines and said
nothing. He very much preferred the camp life, and hated those
broad, flat roads, with the daily grubbing for grass in the forage
reserve, and the long hours when there was nothing to do except to
watch Kala Nag fidgeting in his pickets.
What Little Toomai liked was to scramble up bridle paths that
only an elephant could take; the dip into the valley below; the
glimpses of the wild elephants browsing miles away; the rush of
the frightened pig and peacock under Kala Nag's feet; the blinding
warm rains, when all the hills and valleys smoked; the beautiful
misty mornings when nobody knew where they would camp that night;
the steady, cautious drive of the wild elephants, and the mad rush
and blaze and hullabaloo of the last night's drive, when the
elephants poured into the stockade like boulders in a landslide,
found that they could not get out, and flung themselves at the
heavy posts only to be driven back by yells and flaring torches
and volleys of blank cartridge.
Even a little boy could be of use there, and Toomai was as
useful as three boys. He would get his torch and wave it, and
yell with the best. But the really good time came when the
driving out began, and the Keddah--that is, the stockade--
looked like a picture of the end of the world, and men had to make
signs to one another, because they could not hear themselves
speak. Then Little Toomai would climb up to the top of one of the
quivering stockade posts, his sun-bleached brown hair flying loose
all over his shoulders, and he looking like a goblin in the
torch-light. And as soon as there was a lull you could hear his
high-pitched yells of encouragement to Kala Nag, above the
trumpeting and crashing, and snapping of ropes, and groans of the
tethered elephants. "Mael, mael, Kala Nag! (Go on, go on, Black
Snake!) Dant do! (Give him the tusk!) Somalo! Somalo!
(Careful, careful!) Maro! Mar! (Hit him, hit him!) Mind the
post! Arre! Arre! Hai! Yai! Kya-a-ah!" he would shout, and
the big fight between Kala Nag and the wild elephant would sway to
and fro across the Keddah, and the old elephant catchers would
wipe the sweat out of their eyes, and find time to nod to Little
Toomai wriggling with joy on the top of the posts.
He did more than wriggle. One night he slid down from the
post and slipped in between the elephants and threw up the loose
end of a rope, which had dropped, to a driver who was trying to
get a purchase on the leg of a kicking young calf (calves always
give more trouble than full-grown animals). Kala Nag saw him,
caught him in his trunk, and handed him up to Big Toomai, who
slapped him then and there, and put him back on the post.
Next morning he gave him a scolding and said, "Are not good
brick elephant lines and a little tent carrying enough, that thou
must needs go elephant catching on thy own account, little
worthless? Now those foolish hunters, whose pay is less than my
pay, have spoken to Petersen Sahib of the matter." Little Toomai
was frightened. He did not know much of white men, but Petersen
Sahib was the greatest white man in the world to him. He was the
head of all the Keddah operations--the man who caught all the
elephants for the Government of India, and who knew more about the
ways of elephants than any living man.
"What--what will happen?" said Little Toomai.
"Happen! The worst that can happen. Petersen Sahib is a
madman. Else why should he go hunting these wild devils? He may
even require thee to be an elephant catcher, to sleep anywhere in
these fever-filled jungles, and at last to be trampled to death in
the Keddah. It is well that this nonsense ends safely. Next week
the catching is over, and we of the plains are sent back to our
stations. Then we will march on smooth roads, and forget all this
hunting. But, son, I am angry that thou shouldst meddle in the
business that belongs to these dirty Assamese jungle folk. Kala
Nag will obey none but me, so I must go with him into the Keddah,
but he is only a fighting elephant, and he does not help to rope
them. So I sit at my ease, as befits a mahout,--not a mere
hunter,--a mahout, I say, and a man who gets a pension at the
end of his service. Is the family of Toomai of the Elephants to
be trodden underfoot in the dirt of a Keddah? Bad one! Wicked
one! Worthless son! Go and wash Kala Nag and attend to his ears,
and see that there are no thorns in his feet. Or else Petersen
Sahib will surely catch thee and make thee a wild hunter--a
follower of elephant's foot tracks, a jungle bear. Bah! Shame!
Little Toomai went off without saying a word, but he told Kala
Nag all his grievances while he was examining his feet. "No
matter," said Little Toomai, turning up the fringe of Kala Nag's
huge right ear. "They have said my name to Petersen Sahib, and
perhaps--and perhaps--and perhaps--who knows? Hai! That is
a big thorn that I have pulled out!"
The next few days were spent in getting the elephants
together, in walking the newly caught wild elephants up and down
between a couple of tame ones to prevent them giving too much
trouble on the downward march to the plains, and in taking stock
of the blankets and ropes and things that had been worn out or
lost in the forest.
Petersen Sahib came in on his clever she-elephant Pudmini; he
had been paying off other camps among the hills, for the season
was coming to an end, and there was a native clerk sitting at a
table under a tree, to pay the drivers their wages. As each man
was paid he went back to his elephant, and joined the line that
stood ready to start. The catchers, and hunters, and beaters, the
men of the regular Keddah, who stayed in the jungle year in and
year out, sat on the backs of the elephants that belonged to
Petersen Sahib's permanent force, or leaned against the trees with
their guns across their arms, and made fun of the drivers who were
going away, and laughed when the newly caught elephants broke the
line and ran about.
Big Toomai went up to the clerk with Little Toomai behind him,
and Machua Appa, the head tracker, said in an undertone to a
friend of his, "There goes one piece of good elephant stuff at
least. 'Tis a pity to send that young jungle-cock to molt in the
Now Petersen Sahib had ears all over him, as a man must have
who listens to the most silent of all living things--the wild
elephant. He turned where he was lying all along on Pudmini's
back and said, "What is that? I did not know of a man among the
plains-drivers who had wit enough to rope even a dead elephant."
"This is not a man, but a boy. He went into the Keddah at the
last drive, and threw Barmao there the rope, when we were trying
to get that young calf with the blotch on his shoulder away from
Machua Appa pointed at Little Toomai, and Petersen Sahib
looked, and Little Toomai bowed to the earth.
"He throw a rope? He is smaller than a picket-pin. Little
one, what is thy name?" said Petersen Sahib.
Little Toomai was too frightened to speak, but Kala Nag was
behind him, and Toomai made a sign with his hand, and the elephant
caught him up in his trunk and held him level with Pudmini's
forehead, in front of the great Petersen Sahib. Then Little
Toomai covered his face with his hands, for he was only a child,
and except where elephants were concerned, he was just as bashful
as a child could be.
"Oho!" said Petersen Sahib, smiling underneath his mustache,
"and why didst thou teach thy elephant that trick? Was it to help
thee steal green corn from the roofs of the houses when the ears
are put out to dry?"
"Not green corn, Protector of the Poor,--melons," said
Little Toomai, and all the men sitting about broke into a roar of
laughter. Most of them had taught their elephants that trick when
they were boys. Little Toomai was hanging eight feet up in the
air, and he wished very much that he were eight feet underground.
"He is Toomai, my son, Sahib," said Big Toomai, scowling. "He
is a very bad boy, and he will end in a jail, Sahib."
"Of that I have my doubts," said Petersen Sahib. "A boy who
can face a full Keddah at his age does not end in jails. See,
little one, here are four annas to spend in sweetmeats because
thou hast a little head under that great thatch of hair. In time
thou mayest become a hunter too." Big Toomai scowled more than
ever. "Remember, though, that Keddahs are not good for children
to play in," Petersen Sahib went on.
"Must I never go there, Sahib?" asked Little Toomai with a big
"Yes." Petersen Sahib smiled again. "When thou hast seen the
elephants dance. That is the proper time. Come to me when thou
hast seen the elephants dance, and then I will let thee go into
all the Keddahs."
There was another roar of laughter, for that is an old joke
among elephant-catchers, and it means just never. There are great
cleared flat places hidden away in the forests that are called
elephants' ball-rooms, but even these are only found by accident,
and no man has ever seen the elephants dance. When a driver
boasts of his skill and bravery the other drivers say, "And when
didst thou see the elephants dance?"
Kala Nag put Little Toomai down, and he bowed to the earth
again and went away with his father, and gave the silver four-anna
piece to his mother, who was nursing his baby brother, and they
all were put up on Kala Nag's back, and the line of grunting,
squealing elephants rolled down the hill path to the plains. It
was a very lively march on account of the new elephants, who gave
trouble at every ford, and needed coaxing or beating every other
Big Toomai prodded Kala Nag spitefully, for he was very angry,
but Little Toomai was too happy to speak. Petersen Sahib had
noticed him, and given him money, so he felt as a private soldier
would feel if he had been called out of the ranks and praised by
"What did Petersen Sahib mean by the elephant dance?" he said,
at last, softly to his mother.
Big Toomai heard him and grunted. "That thou shouldst never
be one of these hill buffaloes of trackers. That was what he
meant. Oh, you in front, what is blocking the way?"
An Assamese driver, two or three elephants ahead, turned round
angrily, crying: "Bring up Kala Nag, and knock this youngster of
mine into good behavior. Why should Petersen Sahib have chosen me
to go down with you donkeys of the rice fields? Lay your beast
alongside, Toomai, and let him prod with his tusks. By all the
Gods of the Hills, these new elephants are possessed, or else they
can smell their companions in the jungle." Kala Nag hit the new
elephant in the ribs and knocked the wind out of him, as Big
Toomai said, "We have swept the hills of wild elephants at the
last catch. It is only your carelessness in driving. Must I keep
order along the whole line?"
"Hear him!" said the other driver. "We have swept the hills!
Ho! Ho! You are very wise, you plains people. Anyone but a
mud-head who never saw the jungle would know that they know that
the drives are ended for the season. Therefore all the wild
elephants to-night will--but why should I waste wisdom on a
"What will they do?" Little Toomai called out.
"Ohe, little one. Art thou there? Well, I will tell thee,
for thou hast a cool head. They will dance, and it behooves thy
father, who has swept all the hills of all the elephants, to
double-chain his pickets to-night."
"What talk is this?" said Big Toomai. "For forty years,
father and son, we have tended elephants, and we have never heard
such moonshine about dances."
"Yes; but a plainsman who lives in a hut knows only the four
walls of his hut. Well, leave thy elephants unshackled tonight
and see what comes. As for their dancing, I have seen the place
where--Bapree-bap! How many windings has the Dihang River?
Here is another ford, and we must swim the calves. Stop still,
you behind there."
And in this way, talking and wrangling and splashing through
the rivers, they made their first march to a sort of receiving
camp for the new elephants. But they lost their tempers long
before they got there.
Then the elephants were chained by their hind legs to their
big stumps of pickets, and extra ropes were fitted to the new
elephants, and the fodder was piled before them, and the hill
drivers went back to Petersen Sahib through the afternoon light,
telling the plains drivers to be extra careful that night, and
laughing when the plains drivers asked the reason.
Little Toomai attended to Kala Nag's supper, and as evening
fell, wandered through the camp, unspeakably happy, in search of a
tom-tom. When an Indian child's heart is full, he does not run
about and make a noise in an irregular fashion. He sits down to a
sort of revel all by himself. And Little Toomai had been spoken
to by Petersen Sahib! If he had not found what he wanted, I
believe he would have been ill. But the sweetmeat seller in the
camp lent him a little tom-tom--a drum beaten with the flat of
the hand--and he sat down, cross-legged, before Kala Nag as the
stars began to come out, the tom-tom in his lap, and he thumped
and he thumped and he thumped, and the more he thought of the
great honor that had been done to him, the more he thumped, all
alone among the elephant fodder. There was no tune and no words,
but the thumping made him happy.
The new elephants strained at their ropes, and squealed and
trumpeted from time to time, and he could hear his mother in the
camp hut putting his small brother to sleep with an old, old song
about the great God Shiv, who once told all the animals what they
should eat. It is a very soothing lullaby, and the first verse
Shiv, who poured the harvest and made the winds to blow,
Sitting at the doorways of a day of long ago,
Gave to each his portion, food and toil and fate,
From the King upon the guddee to the Beggar at the gate.
All things made he--Shiva the Preserver.
Mahadeo! Mahadeo! He made all--
Thorn for the camel, fodder for the kine,
And mother's heart for sleepy head, O little son of mine!
Little Toomai came in with a joyous tunk-a-tunk at the end of
each verse, till he felt sleepy and stretched himself on the
fodder at Kala Nag's side. At last the elephants began to lie
down one after another as is their custom, till only Kala Nag at
the right of the line was left standing up; and he rocked slowly
from side to side, his ears put forward to listen to the night
wind as it blew very slowly across the hills. The air was full of
all the night noises that, taken together, make one big silence--
the click of one bamboo stem against the other, the rustle of
something alive in the undergrowth, the scratch and squawk of a
half-waked bird (birds are awake in the night much more often than
we imagine), and the fall of water ever so far away. Little
Toomai slept for some time, and when he waked it was brilliant
moonlight, and Kala Nag was still standing up with his ears
cocked. Little Toomai turned, rustling in the fodder, and watched
the curve of his big back against half the stars in heaven, and
while he watched he heard, so far away that it sounded no more
than a pinhole of noise pricked through the stillness, the
"hoot-toot" of a wild elephant.
All the elephants in the lines jumped up as if they had been
shot, and their grunts at last waked the sleeping mahouts, and
they came out and drove in the picket pegs with big mallets, and
tightened this rope and knotted that till all was quiet. One new
elephant had nearly grubbed up his picket, and Big Toomai took off
Kala Nag's leg chain and shackled that elephant fore-foot to
hind-foot, but slipped a loop of grass string round Kala Nag's
leg, and told him to remember that he was tied fast. He knew that
he and his father and his grandfather had done the very same thing
hundreds of times before. Kala Nag did not answer to the order by
gurgling, as he usually did. He stood still, looking out across
the moonlight, his head a little raised and his ears spread like
fans, up to the great folds of the Garo hills.
"Tend to him if he grows restless in the night," said Big
Toomai to Little Toomai, and he went into the hut and slept.
Little Toomai was just going to sleep, too, when he heard the coir
string snap with a little "tang," and Kala Nag rolled out of his
pickets as slowly and as silently as a cloud rolls out of the
mouth of a valley. Little Toomai pattered after him, barefooted,
down the road in the moonlight, calling under his breath, "Kala
Nag! Kala Nag! Take me with you, O Kala Nag!" The elephant
turned, without a sound, took three strides back to the boy in the
moonlight, put down his trunk, swung him up to his neck, and
almost before Little Toomai had settled his knees, slipped into
There was one blast of furious trumpeting from the lines, and
then the silence shut down on everything, and Kala Nag began to
move. Sometimes a tuft of high grass washed along his sides as a
wave washes along the sides of a ship, and sometimes a cluster of
wild-pepper vines would scrape along his back, or a bamboo would
creak where his shoulder touched it. But between those times he
moved absolutely without any sound, drifting through the thick
Garo forest as though it had been smoke. He was going uphill, but
though Little Toomai watched the stars in the rifts of the trees,
he could not tell in what direction.
Then Kala Nag reached the crest of the ascent and stopped for
a minute, and Little Toomai could see the tops of the trees lying
all speckled and furry under the moonlight for miles and miles,
and the blue-white mist over the river in the hollow. Toomai
leaned forward and looked, and he felt that the forest was awake
below him--awake and alive and crowded. A big brown
fruit-eating bat brushed past his ear; a porcupine's quills
rattled in the thicket; and in the darkness between the tree stems
he heard a hog-bear digging hard in the moist warm earth, and
snuffing as it digged.
Then the branches closed over his head again, and Kala Nag
began to go down into the valley--not quietly this time, but as
a runaway gun goes down a steep bank--in one rush. The huge
limbs moved as steadily as pistons, eight feet to each stride, and
the wrinkled skin of the elbow points rustled. The undergrowth on
either side of him ripped with a noise like torn canvas, and the
saplings that he heaved away right and left with his shoulders
sprang back again and banged him on the flank, and great trails of
creepers, all matted together, hung from his tusks as he threw his
head from side to side and plowed out his pathway. Then Little
Toomai laid himself down close to the great neck lest a swinging
bough should sweep him to the ground, and he wished that he were
back in the lines again.
The grass began to get squashy, and Kala Nag's feet sucked and
squelched as he put them down, and the night mist at the bottom of
the valley chilled Little Toomai. There was a splash and a
trample, and the rush of running water, and Kala Nag strode
through the bed of a river, feeling his way at each step. Above
the noise of the water, as it swirled round the elephant's legs,
Little Toomai could hear more splashing and some trumpeting both
upstream and down--great grunts and angry snortings, and all the
mist about him seemed to be full of rolling, wavy shadows.
"Ai!" he said, half aloud, his teeth chattering. "The
elephant-folk are out tonight. It is the dance, then!"
Kala Nag swashed out of the water, blew his trunk clear, and
began another climb. But this time he was not alone, and he had
not to make his path. That was made already, six feet wide, in
front of him, where the bent jungle-grass was trying to recover
itself and stand up. Many elephants must have gone that way only
a few minutes before. Little Toomai looked back, and behind him a
great wild tusker with his little pig's eyes glowing like hot
coals was just lifting himself out of the misty river.
Then the trees closed up again, and they went on and up, with
trumpetings and crashings, and the sound of breaking branches on
every side of them.
At last Kala Nag stood still between two tree-trunks at the
very top of the hill. They were part of a circle of trees that
grew round an irregular space of some three or four acres, and in
all that space, as Little Toomai could see, the ground had been
trampled down as hard as a brick floor. Some trees grew in the
center of the clearing, but their bark was rubbed away, and the
white wood beneath showed all shiny and polished in the patches of
moonlight. There were creepers hanging from the upper branches,
and the bells of the flowers of the creepers, great waxy white
things like convolvuluses, hung down fast asleep. But within the
limits of the clearing there was not a single blade of green--
nothing but the trampled earth.
The moonlight showed it all iron gray, except where some
elephants stood upon it, and their shadows were inky black.
Little Toomai looked, holding his breath, with his eyes starting
out of his head, and as he looked, more and more and more
elephants swung out into the open from between the tree trunks.
Little Toomai could only count up to ten, and he counted again and
again on his fingers till he lost count of the tens, and his head
began to swim. Outside the clearing he could hear them crashing
in the undergrowth as they worked their way up the hillside, but
as soon as they were within the circle of the tree trunks they
moved like ghosts.
There were white-tusked wild males, with fallen leaves and
nuts and twigs lying in the wrinkles of their necks and the folds
of their ears; fat, slow-footed she-elephants, with restless,
little pinky black calves only three or four feet high running
under their stomachs; young elephants with their tusks just
beginning to show, and very proud of them; lanky, scraggy old-maid
elephants, with their hollow anxious faces, and trunks like rough
bark; savage old bull elephants, scarred from shoulder to flank
with great weals and cuts of bygone fights, and the caked dirt of
their solitary mud baths dropping from their shoulders; and there
was one with a broken tusk and the marks of the full-stroke, the
terrible drawing scrape, of a tiger's claws on his side.
They were standing head to head, or walking to and fro across
the ground in couples, or rocking and swaying all by themselves--
scores and scores of elephants.
Toomai knew that so long as he lay still on Kala Nag's neck
nothing would happen to him, for even in the rush and scramble of
a Keddah drive a wild elephant does not reach up with his trunk
and drag a man off the neck of a tame elephant. And these
elephants were not thinking of men that night. Once they started
and put their ears forward when they heard the chinking of a leg
iron in the forest, but it was Pudmini, Petersen Sahib's pet
elephant, her chain snapped short off, grunting, snuffling up the
hillside. She must have broken her pickets and come straight from
Petersen Sahib's camp; and Little Toomai saw another elephant, one
that he did not know, with deep rope galls on his back and breast.
He, too, must have run away from some camp in the hills about.
At last there was no sound of any more elephants moving in the
forest, and Kala Nag rolled out from his station between the trees
and went into the middle of the crowd, clucking and gurgling, and
all the elephants began to talk in their own tongue, and to move
Still lying down, Little Toomai looked down upon scores and
scores of broad backs, and wagging ears, and tossing trunks, and
little rolling eyes. He heard the click of tusks as they crossed
other tusks by accident, and the dry rustle of trunks twined
together, and the chafing of enormous sides and shoulders in the
crowd, and the incessant flick and hissh of the great tails. Then
a cloud came over the moon, and he sat in black darkness. But the
quiet, steady hustling and pushing and gurgling went on just the
same. He knew that there were elephants all round Kala Nag, and
that there was no chance of backing him out of the assembly; so he
set his teeth and shivered. In a Keddah at least there was
torchlight and shouting, but here he was all alone in the dark,
and once a trunk came up and touched him on the knee.
Then an elephant trumpeted, and they all took it up for five
or ten terrible seconds. The dew from the trees above spattered
down like rain on the unseen backs, and a dull booming noise
began, not very loud at first, and Little Toomai could not tell
what it was. But it grew and grew, and Kala Nag lifted up one
forefoot and then the other, and brought them down on the ground
--one-two, one-two, as steadily as trip-hammers. The elephants
were stamping all together now, and it sounded like a war drum
beaten at the mouth of a cave. The dew fell from the trees till
there was no more left to fall, and the booming went on, and the
ground rocked and shivered, and Little Toomai put his hands up to
his ears to shut out the sound. But it was all one gigantic jar
that ran through him--this stamp of hundreds of heavy feet on
the raw earth. Once or twice he could feel Kala Nag and all the
others surge forward a few strides, and the thumping would change
to the crushing sound of juicy green things being bruised, but in
a minute or two the boom of feet on hard earth began again. A
tree was creaking and groaning somewhere near him. He put out his
arm and felt the bark, but Kala Nag moved forward, still tramping,
and he could not tell where he was in the clearing. There was no
sound from the elephants, except once, when two or three little
calves squeaked together. Then he heard a thump and a shuffle,
and the booming went on. It must have lasted fully two hours, and
Little Toomai ached in every nerve, but he knew by the smell of
the night air that the dawn was coming.
The morning broke in one sheet of pale yellow behind the green
hills, and the booming stopped with the first ray, as though the
light had been an order. Before Little Toomai had got the ringing
out of his head, before even he had shifted his position, there
was not an elephant in sight except Kala Nag, Pudmini, and the
elephant with the rope-galls, and there was neither sign nor
rustle nor whisper down the hillsides to show where the others had
Little Toomai stared again and again. The clearing, as he
remembered it, had grown in the night. More trees stood in the
middle of it, but the undergrowth and the jungle grass at the
sides had been rolled back. Little Toomai stared once more. Now
he understood the trampling. The elephants had stamped out more
room--had stamped the thick grass and juicy cane to trash, the
trash into slivers, the slivers into tiny fibers, and the fibers
into hard earth.
"Wah!" said Little Toomai, and his eyes were very heavy.
"Kala Nag, my lord, let us keep by Pudmini and go to Petersen
Sahib's camp, or I shall drop from thy neck."
The third elephant watched the two go away, snorted, wheeled
round, and took his own path. He may have belonged to some little
native king's establishment, fifty or sixty or a hundred miles
Two hours later, as Petersen Sahib was eating early breakfast,
his elephants, who had been double chained that night, began to
trumpet, and Pudmini, mired to the shoulders, with Kala Nag, very
footsore, shambled into the camp. Little Toomai's face was gray
and pinched, and his hair was full of leaves and drenched with
dew, but he tried to salute Petersen Sahib, and cried faintly:
"The dance--the elephant dance! I have seen it, and--I die!"
As Kala Nag sat down, he slid off his neck in a dead faint.
But, since native children have no nerves worth speaking of,
in two hours he was lying very contentedly in Petersen Sahib's
hammock with Petersen Sahib's shooting-coat under his head, and a
glass of warm milk, a little brandy, with a dash of quinine,
inside of him, and while the old hairy, scarred hunters of the
jungles sat three deep before him, looking at him as though he
were a spirit, he told his tale in short words, as a child will,
and wound up with:
"Now, if I lie in one word, send men to see, and they will
find that the elephant folk have trampled down more room in their
dance-room, and they will find ten and ten, and many times ten,
tracks leading to that dance-room. They made more room with their
feet. I have seen it. Kala Nag took me, and I saw. Also Kala
Nag is very leg-weary!"
Little Toomai lay back and slept all through the long
afternoon and into the twilight, and while he slept Petersen Sahib
and Machua Appa followed the track of the two elephants for
fifteen miles across the hills. Petersen Sahib had spent eighteen
years in catching elephants, and he had only once before found
such a dance-place. Machua Appa had no need to look twice at the
clearing to see what had been done there, or to scratch with his
toe in the packed, rammed earth.
"The child speaks truth," said he. "All this was done last
night, and I have counted seventy tracks crossing the river. See,
Sahib, where Pudmini's leg-iron cut the bark of that tree! Yes;
she was there too."
They looked at one another and up and down, and they wondered.
For the ways of elephants are beyond the wit of any man, black or
white, to fathom.
"Forty years and five," said Machua Appa, "have I followed my
lord, the elephant, but never have I heard that any child of man
had seen what this child has seen. By all the Gods of the Hills,
it is--what can we say?" and he shook his head.
When they got back to camp it was time for the evening meal.
Petersen Sahib ate alone in his tent, but he gave orders that the
camp should have two sheep and some fowls, as well as a double
ration of flour and rice and salt, for he knew that there would be
Big Toomai had come up hotfoot from the camp in the plains to
search for his son and his elephant, and now that he had found
them he looked at them as though he were afraid of them both. And
there was a feast by the blazing campfires in front of the lines
of picketed elephants, and Little Toomai was the hero of it all.
And the big brown elephant catchers, the trackers and drivers and
ropers, and the men who know all the secrets of breaking the
wildest elephants, passed him from one to the other, and they
marked his forehead with blood from the breast of a newly killed
jungle-cock, to show that he was a forester, initiated and free of
all the jungles.
And at last, when the flames died down, and the red light of
the logs made the elephants look as though they had been dipped in
blood too, Machua Appa, the head of all the drivers of all the
Keddahs--Machua Appa, Petersen Sahib's other self, who had never
seen a made road in forty years: Machua Appa, who was so great
that he had no other name than Machua Appa,--leaped to his feet,
with Little Toomai held high in the air above his head, and
shouted: "Listen, my brothers. Listen, too, you my lords in the
lines there, for I, Machua Appa, am speaking! This little one
shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the
Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him. What
never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the
favor of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with
him. He shall become a great tracker. He shall become greater
than I, even I, Machua Appa! He shall follow the new trail, and
the stale trail, and the mixed trail, with a clear eye! He shall
take no harm in the Keddah when he runs under their bellies to
rope the wild tuskers; and if he slips before the feet of the
charging bull elephant, the bull elephant shall know who he is and
shall not crush him. Aihai! my lords in the chains,"--he
whirled up the line of pickets--"here is the little one that has
seen your dances in your hidden places,--the sight that never
man saw! Give him honor, my lords! Salaam karo, my children.
Make your salute to Toomai of the Elephants! Gunga Pershad, ahaa!
Hira Guj, Birchi Guj, Kuttar Guj, ahaa! Pudmini,--thou hast
seen him at the dance, and thou too, Kala Nag, my pearl among
elephants!--ahaa! Together! To Toomai of the Elephants.
And at that last wild yell the whole line flung up their
trunks till the tips touched their foreheads, and broke out into
the full salute--the crashing trumpet-peal that only the Viceroy
of India hears, the Salaamut of the Keddah.
But it was all for the sake of Little Toomai, who had seen
what never man had seen before--the dance of the elephants at
night and alone in the heart of the Garo hills!
Shiv and the Grasshopper
(The song that Toomai's mother sang to the baby)
Shiv, who poured the harvest and made the winds to blow,
Sitting at the doorways of a day of long ago,
Gave to each his portion, food and toil and fate,
From the King upon the guddee to the Beggar at the gate.
All things made he--Shiva the Preserver.
Mahadeo! Mahadeo! He made all,--
Thorn for the camel, fodder for the kine,
And mother's heart for sleepy head, O little son of mine!
Wheat he gave to rich folk, millet to the poor,
Broken scraps for holy men that beg from door to door;
Battle to the tiger, carrion to the kite,
And rags and bones to wicked wolves without the wall at night.
Naught he found too lofty, none he saw too low--
Parbati beside him watched them come and go;
Thought to cheat her husband, turning Shiv to jest--
Stole the little grasshopper and hid it in her breast.
So she tricked him, Shiva the Preserver.
Mahadeo! Mahadeo! Turn and see.
Tall are the camels, heavy are the kine,
But this was Least of Little Things, O little son of mine!
When the dole was ended, laughingly she said,
Master, of a million mouths, is not one unfed?"
Laughing, Shiv made answer, "All have had their part,
Even he, the little one, hidden 'neath thy heart."
From her breast she plucked it, Parbati the thief,
Saw the Least of Little Things gnawed a new-grown leaf!
Saw and feared and wondered, making prayer to Shiv,
Who hath surely given meat to all that live.
All things made he--Shiva the Preserver.
Mahadeo! Mahadeo! He made all,--
Thorn for the camel, fodder for the kine,
And mother's heart for sleepy head, O little son of mine!
Her Majesty's Servants
You can work it out by Fractions or by simple Rule of Three,
But the way of Tweedle-dum is not the way of Tweedle-dee.
You can twist it, you can turn it, you can plait it till you drop,
But the way of Pilly Winky's not the way of Winkie Pop!
It had been raining heavily for one whole month--raining on a
camp of thirty thousand men and thousands of camels, elephants,
horses, bullocks, and mules all gathered together at a place
called Rawal Pindi, to be reviewed by the Viceroy of India. He
was receiving a visit from the Amir of Afghanistan--a wild king
of a very wild country. The Amir had brought with him for a
bodyguard eight hundred men and horses who had never seen a camp
or a locomotive before in their lives--savage men and savage
horses from somewhere at the back of Central Asia. Every night a
mob of these horses would be sure to break their heel ropes and
stampede up and down the camp through the mud in the dark, or the
camels would break loose and run about and fall over the ropes of
the tents, and you can imagine how pleasant that was for men
trying to go to sleep. My tent lay far away from the camel lines,
and I thought it was safe. But one night a man popped his head in
and shouted, "Get out, quick! They're coming! My tent's gone!"
I knew who "they" were, so I put on my boots and waterproof
and scuttled out into the slush. Little Vixen, my fox terrier,
went out through the other side; and then there was a roaring and
a grunting and bubbling, and I saw the tent cave in, as the pole
snapped, and begin to dance about like a mad ghost. A camel had
blundered into it, and wet and angry as I was, I could not help
laughing. Then I ran on, because I did not know how many camels
might have got loose, and before long I was out of sight of the
camp, plowing my way through the mud.
At last I fell over the tail-end of a gun, and by that knew I
was somewhere near the artillery lines where the cannon were
stacked at night. As I did not want to plowter about any more in
the drizzle and the dark, I put my waterproof over the muzzle of
one gun, and made a sort of wigwam with two or three rammers that
I found, and lay along the tail of another gun, wondering where
Vixen had got to, and where I might be.
Just as I was getting ready to go to sleep I heard a jingle of
harness and a grunt, and a mule passed me shaking his wet ears.
He belonged to a screw-gun battery, for I could hear the rattle of
the straps and rings and chains and things on his saddle pad. The
screw-guns are tiny little cannon made in two pieces, that are
screwed together when the time comes to use them. They are taken
up mountains, anywhere that a mule can find a road, and they are
very useful for fighting in rocky country.
Behind the mule there was a camel, with his big soft feet
squelching and slipping in the mud, and his neck bobbing to and
fro like a strayed hen's. Luckily, I knew enough of beast
language--not wild-beast language, but camp-beast language, of
course--from the natives to know what he was saying.
He must have been the one that flopped into my tent, for he
called to the mule, "What shall I do? Where shall I go? I have
fought with a white thing that waved, and it took a stick and hit
me on the neck." (That was my broken tent pole, and I was very
glad to know it.) "Shall we run on?"
"Oh, it was you," said the mule, "you and your friends, that
have been disturbing the camp? All right. You'll be beaten for
this in the morning. But I may as well give you something on
I heard the harness jingle as the mule backed and caught the
camel two kicks in the ribs that rang like a drum. "Another
time," he said, "you'll know better than to run through a mule
battery at night, shouting `Thieves and fire!' Sit down, and keep
your silly neck quiet."
The camel doubled up camel-fashion, like a two-foot rule, and
sat down whimpering. There was a regular beat of hoofs in the
darkness, and a big troop-horse cantered up as steadily as though
he were on parade, jumped a gun tail, and landed close to the
"It's disgraceful," he said, blowing out his nostrils. "Those
camels have racketed through our lines again--the third time
this week. How's a horse to keep his condition if he isn't
allowed to sleep. Who's here?"
"I'm the breech-piece mule of number two gun of the First
Screw Battery," said the mule, "and the other's one of your
friends. He's waked me up too. Who are you?"
"Number Fifteen, E troop, Ninth Lancers--Dick Cunliffe's
horse. Stand over a little, there."
"Oh, beg your pardon," said the mule. "It's too dark to see
much. Aren't these camels too sickening for anything? I walked
out of my lines to get a little peace and quiet here."
"My lords," said the camel humbly, "we dreamed bad dreams in
the night, and we were very much afraid. I am only a baggage
camel of the 39th Native Infantry, and I am not as brave as you
are, my lords."
"Then why didn't you stay and carry baggage for the 39th
Native Infantry, instead of running all round the camp?" said the
"They were such very bad dreams," said the camel. "I am
sorry. Listen! What is that? Shall we run on again?"
"Sit down," said the mule, "or you'll snap your long
stick-legs between the guns." He cocked one ear and listened.
"Bullocks!" he said. "Gun bullocks. On my word, you and your
friends have waked the camp very thoroughly. It takes a good deal
of prodding to put up a gun-bullock."
I heard a chain dragging along the ground, and a yoke of the
great sulky white bullocks that drag the heavy siege guns when the
elephants won't go any nearer to the firing, came shouldering
along together. And almost stepping on the chain was another
battery mule, calling wildly for "Billy."
"That's one of our recruits," said the old mule to the troop
horse. "He's calling for me. Here, youngster, stop squealing.
The dark never hurt anybody yet."
The gun-bullocks lay down together and began chewing the cud,
but the young mule huddled close to Billy.
"Things!" he said. "Fearful and horrible, Billy! They came
into our lines while we were asleep. D'you think they'll kill
"I've a very great mind to give you a number-one kicking,"
said Billy. "The idea of a fourteen-hand mule with your training
disgracing the battery before this gentleman!"
"Gently, gently!" said the troop-horse. "Remember they are
always like this to begin with. The first time I ever saw a man
(it was in Australia when I was a three-year-old) I ran for half a
day, and if I'd seen a camel, I should have been running still."
Nearly all our horses for the English cavalry are brought to
India from Australia, and are broken in by the troopers
"True enough," said Billy. "Stop shaking, youngster. The
first time they put the full harness with all its chains on my
back I stood on my forelegs and kicked every bit of it off. I
hadn't learned the real science of kicking then, but the battery
said they had never seen anything like it."
"But this wasn't harness or anything that jingled," said the
young mule. "You know I don't mind that now, Billy. It was
Things like trees, and they fell up and down the lines and
bubbled; and my head-rope broke, and I couldn't find my driver,
and I couldn't find you, Billy, so I ran off with--with these
"H'm!" said Billy. "As soon as I heard the camels were loose
I came away on my own account. When a battery--a screw-gun mule
calls gun-bullocks gentlemen, he must be very badly shaken up.
Who are you fellows on the ground there?"
The gun bullocks rolled their cuds, and answered both
together: "The seventh yoke of the first gun of the Big Gun
Battery. We were asleep when the camels came, but when we were
trampled on we got up and walked away. It is better to lie quiet
in the mud than to be disturbed on good bedding. We told your
friend here that there was nothing to be afraid of, but he knew so
much that he thought otherwise. Wah!"
They went on chewing.
"That comes of being afraid," said Billy. "You get laughed at
by gun-bullocks. I hope you like it, young un."
The young mule's teeth snapped, and I heard him say something
about not being afraid of any beefy old bullock in the world. But
the bullocks only clicked their horns together and went on
"Now, don't be angry after you've been afraid. That's the
worst kind of cowardice," said the troop-horse. "Anybody can be
forgiven for being scared in the night, I think, if they see
things they don't understand. We've broken out of our pickets,
again and again, four hundred and fifty of us, just because a new
recruit got to telling tales of whip snakes at home in Australia
till we were scared to death of the loose ends of our head-ropes."
"That's all very well in camp," said Billy. "I'm not above
stampeding myself, for the fun of the thing, when I haven't been
out for a day or two. But what do you do on active service?"
"Oh, that's quite another set of new shoes," said the troop
horse. "Dick Cunliffe's on my back then, and drives his knees
into me, and all I have to do is to watch where I am putting my
feet, and to keep my hind legs well under me, and be bridle-wise."
"What's bridle-wise?" said the young mule.
"By the Blue Gums of the Back Blocks," snorted the
troop-horse, "do you mean to say that you aren't taught to be
bridle-wise in your business? How can you do anything, unless you
can spin round at once when the rein is pressed on your neck? It
means life or death to your man, and of course that's life and
death to you. Get round with your hind legs under you the instant
you feel the rein on your neck. If you haven't room to swing
round, rear up a little and come round on your hind legs. That's
"We aren't taught that way," said Billy the mule stiffly.
"We're taught to obey the man at our head: step off when he says
so, and step in when he says so. I suppose it comes to the same
thing. Now, with all this fine fancy business and rearing, which
must be very bad for your hocks, what do you do?"
"That depends," said the troop-horse. "Generally I have to go
in among a lot of yelling, hairy men with knives--long shiny
knives, worse than the farrier's knives--and I have to take care
that Dick's boot is just touching the next man's boot without
crushing it. I can see Dick's lance to the right of my right eye,
and I know I'm safe. I shouldn't care to be the man or horse that
stood up to Dick and me when we're in a hurry."
"Don't the knives hurt?" said the young mule.
"Well, I got one cut across the chest once, but that wasn't
"A lot I should have cared whose fault it was, if it hurt!"
said the young mule.
"You must," said the troop horse. "If you don't trust your
man, you may as well run away at once. That's what some of our
horses do, and I don't blame them. As I was saying, it wasn't
Dick's fault. The man was lying on the ground, and I stretched
myself not to tread on him, and he slashed up at me. Next time I
have to go over a man lying down I shall step on him--hard."
"H'm!" said Billy. "It sounds very foolish. Knives are dirty
things at any time. The proper thing to do is to climb up a
mountain with a well-balanced saddle, hang on by all four feet and
your ears too, and creep and crawl and wriggle along, till you
come out hundreds of feet above anyone else on a ledge where
there's just room enough for your hoofs. Then you stand still and
keep quiet--never ask a man to hold your head, young un--keep
quiet while the guns are being put together, and then you watch
the little poppy shells drop down into the tree-tops ever so far
"Don't you ever trip?" said the troop-horse.
"They say that when a mule trips you can split a hen's ear,"
said Billy. "Now and again perhaps a badly packed saddle will
upset a mule, but it's very seldom. I wish I could show you our
business. It's beautiful. Why, it took me three years to find
out what the men were driving at. The science of the thing is
never to show up against the sky line, because, if you do, you may
get fired at. Remember that, young un. Always keep hidden as
much as possible, even if you have to go a mile out of your way.
I lead the battery when it comes to that sort of climbing."
"Fired at without the chance of running into the people who
are firing!" said the troop-horse, thinking hard. "I couldn't
stand that. I should want to charge--with Dick."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't. You know that as soon as the guns are
in position they'll do all the charging. That's scientific and
neat. But knives--pah!"
The baggage-camel had been bobbing his head to and fro for
some time past, anxious to get a word in edgewise. Then I heard
him say, as he cleared his throat, nervously:
"I--I--I have fought a little, but not in that climbing
way or that running way."
"No. Now you mention it," said Billy, "you don't look as
though you were made for climbing or running--much. Well, how
was it, old Hay-bales?"
"The proper way," said the camel. "We all sat down--"
"Oh, my crupper and breastplate!" said the troop-horse under
his breath. "Sat down!"
"We sat down--a hundred of us," the camel went on, "in a big
square, and the men piled our packs and saddles, outside the
square, and they fired over our backs, the men did, on all sides
of the square."
"What sort of men? Any men that came along?" said the
troop-horse. "They teach us in riding school to lie down and let
our masters fire across us, but Dick Cunliffe is the only man I'd
trust to do that. It tickles my girths, and, besides, I can't see
with my head on the ground."
"What does it matter who fires across you?" said the camel.
"There are plenty of men and plenty of other camels close by, and
a great many clouds of smoke. I am not frightened then. I sit
still and wait."
"And yet," said Billy, "you dream bad dreams and upset the
camp at night. Well, well! Before I'd lie down, not to speak of
sitting down, and let a man fire across me, my heels and his head
would have something to say to each other. Did you ever hear
anything so awful as that?"
There was a long silence, and then one of the gun bullocks
lifted up his big head and said, "This is very foolish indeed.
There is only one way of fighting."
"Oh, go on," said Billy. "Please don't mind me. I suppose
you fellows fight standing on your tails?"
"Only one way," said the two together. (They must have been
twins.) "This is that way. To put all twenty yoke of us to the
big gun as soon as Two Tails trumpets." ("Two Tails" is camp
slang for the elephant.)
"What does Two Tails trumpet for?" said the young mule.
"To show that he is not going any nearer to the smoke on the
other side. Two Tails is a great coward. Then we tug the big gun
all together--Heya--Hullah! Heeyah! Hullah! We do not climb
like cats nor run like calves. We go across the level plain,
twenty yoke of us, till we are unyoked again, and we graze while
the big guns talk across the plain to some town with mud walls,
and pieces of the wall fall out, and the dust goes up as though
many cattle were coming home."
"Oh! And you choose that time for grazing?" said the young
"That time or any other. Eating is always good. We eat till
we are yoked up again and tug the gun back to where Two Tails is
waiting for it. Sometimes there are big guns in the city that
speak back, and some of us are killed, and then there is all the
more grazing for those that are left. This is Fate. None the
less, Two Tails is a great coward. That is the proper way to
fight. We are brothers from Hapur. Our father was a sacred bull
of Shiva. We have spoken."
"Well, I've certainly learned something tonight," said the
troop-horse. "Do you gentlemen of the screw-gun battery feel
inclined to eat when you are being fired at with big guns, and Two
Tails is behind you?"
"About as much as we feel inclined to sit down and let men
sprawl all over us, or run into people with knives. I never heard
such stuff. A mountain ledge, a well-balanced load, a driver you
can trust to let you pick your own way, and I'm your mule. But--
the other things--no!" said Billy, with a stamp of his foot.
"Of course," said the troop horse, "everyone is not made in
the same way, and I can quite see that your family, on your
father's side, would fail to understand a great many things."
"Never you mind my family on my father's side," said Billy
angrily, for every mule hates to be reminded that his father was a
donkey. "My father was a Southern gentleman, and he could pull
down and bite and kick into rags every horse he came across.
Remember that, you big brown Brumby!"
Brumby means wild horse without any breeding. Imagine the
feelings of Sunol if a car-horse called her a "skate," and you can
imagine how the Australian horse felt. I saw the white of his eye
glitter in the dark.
"See here, you son of an imported Malaga jackass," he said
between his teeth, "I'd have you know that I'm related on my
mother's side to Carbine, winner of the Melbourne Cup, and where I
come from we aren't accustomed to being ridden over roughshod by
any parrot-mouthed, pig-headed mule in a pop-gun pea-shooter
battery. Are you ready?"
"On your hind legs!" squealed Billy. They both reared up
facing each other, and I was expecting a furious fight, when a
gurgly, rumbly voice, called out of the darkness to the right--
"Children, what are you fighting about there? Be quiet."
Both beasts dropped down with a snort of disgust, for neither
horse nor mule can bear to listen to an elephant's voice.
"It's Two Tails!" said the troop-horse. "I can't stand him.
A tail at each end isn't fair!"
"My feelings exactly," said Billy, crowding into the
troop-horse for company. "We're very alike in some things."
"I suppose we've inherited them from our mothers," said the
troop horse. "It's not worth quarreling about. Hi! Two Tails,
are you tied up?"
"Yes," said Two Tails, with a laugh all up his trunk. "I'm
picketed for the night. I've heard what you fellows have been
saying. But don't be afraid. I'm not coming over."
The bullocks and the camel said, half aloud, "Afraid of Two
Tails--what nonsense!" And the bullocks went on, "We are sorry
that you heard, but it is true. Two Tails, why are you afraid of
the guns when they fire?"
"Well," said Two Tails, rubbing one hind leg against the
other, exactly like a little boy saying a poem, "I don't quite
know whether you'd understand."
"We don't, but we have to pull the guns," said the bullocks.
"I know it, and I know you are a good deal braver than you
think you are. But it's different with me. My battery captain
called me a Pachydermatous Anachronism the other day."
"That's another way of fighting, I suppose?" said Billy, who
was recovering his spirits.
"You don't know what that means, of course, but I do. It
means betwixt and between, and that is just where I am. I can see
inside my head what will happen when a shell bursts, and you
"I can," said the troop-horse. "At least a little bit. I try
not to think about it."
"I can see more than you, and I do think about it. I know
there's a great deal of me to take care of, and I know that nobody
knows how to cure me when I'm sick. All they can do is to stop my
driver's pay till I get well, and I can't trust my driver."
"Ah!" said the troop horse. "That explains it. I can trust
"You could put a whole regiment of Dicks on my back without
making me feel any better. I know just enough to be
uncomfortable, and not enough to go on in spite of it."
"We do not understand," said the bullocks.
"I know you don't. I'm not talking to you. You don't know
what blood is."
"We do," said the bullocks. "It is red stuff that soaks into
the ground and smells."
The troop-horse gave a kick and a bound and a snort.
"Don't talk of it," he said. "I can smell it now, just
thinking of it. It makes me want to run--when I haven't Dick on
"But it is not here," said the camel and the bullocks. "Why
are you so stupid?"
"It's vile stuff," said Billy. "I don't want to run, but I
don't want to talk about it."
"There you are!" said Two Tails, waving his tail to explain.
"Surely. Yes, we have been here all night," said the
Two Tails stamped his foot till the iron ring on it jingled.
"Oh, I'm not talking to you. You can't see inside your heads."
"No. We see out of our four eyes," said the bullocks. "We
see straight in front of us."
"If I could do that and nothing else, you wouldn't be needed
to pull the big guns at all. If I was like my captain--he can
see things inside his head before the firing begins, and he shakes
all over, but he knows too much to run away--if I was like him I
could pull the guns. But if I were as wise as all that I should
never be here. I should be a king in the forest, as I used to be,
sleeping half the day and bathing when I liked. I haven't had a
good bath for a month."
"That's all very fine," said Billy. "But giving a thing a
long name doesn't make it any better."
"H'sh!" said the troop horse. "I think I understand what Two
"You'll understand better in a minute," said Two Tails
angrily. "Now you just explain to me why you don't like this!"
He began trumpeting furiously at the top of his trumpet.
"Stop that!" said Billy and the troop horse together, and I
could hear them stamp and shiver. An elephant's trumpeting is
always nasty, especially on a dark night.
"I shan't stop," said Two Tails. "Won't you explain that,
please? Hhrrmph! Rrrt! Rrrmph! Rrrhha!" Then he stopped
suddenly, and I heard a little whimper in the dark, and knew that
Vixen had found me at last. She knew as well as I did that if
there is one thing in the world the elephant is more afraid of
than another it is a little barking dog. So she stopped to bully
Two Tails in his pickets, and yapped round his big feet. Two
Tails shuffled and squeaked. "Go away, little dog!" he said.
"Don't snuff at my ankles, or I'll kick at you. Good little dog
--nice little doggie, then! Go home, you yelping little beast!
Oh, why doesn't someone take her away? She'll bite me in a
"Seems to me," said Billy to the troop horse, "that our friend
Two Tails is afraid of most things. Now, if I had a full meal for
every dog I've kicked across the parade-ground I should be as fat
as Two Tails nearly."
I whistled, and Vixen ran up to me, muddy all over, and licked
my nose, and told me a long tale about hunting for me all through
the camp. I never let her know that I understood beast talk, or
she would have taken all sorts of liberties. So I buttoned her
into the breast of my overcoat, and Two Tails shuffled and stamped
and growled to himself.
"Extraordinary! Most extraordinary!" he said. "It runs in
our family. Now, where has that nasty little beast gone to?"
I heard him feeling about with his trunk.
"We all seem to be affected in various ways," he went on,
blowing his nose. "Now, you gentlemen were alarmed, I believe,
when I trumpeted."
"Not alarmed, exactly," said the troop-horse, "but it made me
feel as though I had hornets where my saddle ought to be. Don't
"I'm frightened of a little dog, and the camel here is
frightened by bad dreams in the night."
"It is very lucky for us that we haven't all got to fight in
the same way," said the troop-horse.
"What I want to know," said the young mule, who had been quiet
for a long time--"what I want to know is, why we have to fight
"Because we're told to," said the troop-horse, with a snort of
"Orders," said Billy the mule, and his teeth snapped.
"Hukm hai!" (It is an order!), said the camel with a gurgle,
and Two Tails and the bullocks repeated, "Hukm hai!"
"Yes, but who gives the orders?" said the recruit-mule.
"The man who walks at your head--Or sits on your back--Or
holds the nose rope--Or twists your tail," said Billy and the
troop-horse and the camel and the bullocks one after the other.
"But who gives them the orders?"
"Now you want to know too much, young un," said Billy, "and
that is one way of getting kicked. All you have to do is to obey
the man at your head and ask no questions."
"He's quite right," said Two Tails. "I can't always obey,
because I'm betwixt and between. But Billy's right. Obey the man
next to you who gives the order, or you'll stop all the battery,
besides getting a thrashing."
The gun-bullocks got up to go. "Morning is coming," they
said. "We will go back to our lines. It is true that we only see
out of our eyes, and we are not very clever. But still, we are
the only people to-night who have not been afraid. Good-night,
you brave people."
Nobody answered, and the troop-horse said, to change the
conversation, "Where's that little dog? A dog means a man
"Here I am," yapped Vixen, "under the gun tail with my man.
You big, blundering beast of a camel you, you upset our tent. My
man's very angry."
"Phew!" said the bullocks. "He must be white!"
"Of course he is," said Vixen. "Do you suppose I'm looked
after by a black bullock-driver?"
"Huah! Ouach! Ugh!" said the bullocks. "Let us get away
They plunged forward in the mud, and managed somehow to run
their yoke on the pole of an ammunition wagon, where it jammed.
"Now you have done it," said Billy calmly. "Don't struggle.
You're hung up till daylight. What on earth's the matter?"
The bullocks went off into the long hissing snorts that Indian
cattle give, and pushed and crowded and slued and stamped and
slipped and nearly fell down in the mud, grunting savagely.
"You'll break your necks in a minute," said the troop-horse.
"What's the matter with white men? I live with 'em."
"They--eat--us! Pull!" said the near bullock. The yoke
snapped with a twang, and they lumbered off together.
I never knew before what made Indian cattle so scared of
Englishmen. We eat beef--a thing that no cattle-driver touches
--and of course the cattle do not like it.
"May I be flogged with my own pad-chains! Who'd have thought
of two big lumps like those losing their heads?" said Billy.
"Never mind. I'm going to look at this man. Most of the
white men, I know, have things in their pockets," said the
"I'll leave you, then. I can't say I'm over-fond of 'em
myself. Besides, white men who haven't a place to sleep in are
more than likely to be thieves, and I've a good deal of Government
property on my back. Come along, young un, and we'll go back to
our lines. Good-night, Australia! See you on parade to-morrow, I
suppose. Good-night, old Hay-bale!--try to control your
feelings, won't you? Good-night, Two Tails! If you pass us on
the ground tomorrow, don't trumpet. It spoils our formation."
Billy the Mule stumped off with the swaggering limp of an old
campaigner, as the troop-horse's head came nuzzling into my
breast, and I gave him biscuits, while Vixen, who is a most
conceited little dog, told him fibs about the scores of horses
that she and I kept.
"I'm coming to the parade to-morrow in my dog-cart," she said.
"Where will you be?"
"On the left hand of the second squadron. I set the time for
all my troop, little lady," he said politely. "Now I must go back
to Dick. My tail's all muddy, and he'll have two hours' hard work
dressing me for parade."
The big parade of all the thirty thousand men was held that
afternoon, and Vixen and I had a good place close to the Viceroy
and the Amir of Afghanistan, with high, big black hat of astrakhan
wool and the great diamond star in the center. The first part of
the review was all sunshine, and the regiments went by in wave
upon wave of legs all moving together, and guns all in a line,
till our eyes grew dizzy. Then the cavalry came up, to the
beautiful cavalry canter of "Bonnie Dundee," and Vixen cocked her
ear where she sat on the dog-cart. The second squadron of the
Lancers shot by, and there was the troop-horse, with his tail like
spun silk, his head pulled into his breast, one ear forward and
one back, setting the time for all his squadron, his legs going as
smoothly as waltz music. Then the big guns came by, and I saw Two
Tails and two other elephants harnessed in line to a forty-pounder
siege gun, while twenty yoke of oxen walked behind. The seventh
pair had a new yoke, and they looked rather stiff and tired. Last
came the screw guns, and Billy the mule carried himself as though
he commanded all the troops, and his harness was oiled and
polished till it winked. I gave a cheer all by myself for Billy
the mule, but he never looked right or left.
The rain began to fall again, and for a while it was too misty
to see what the troops were doing. They had made a big half
circle across the plain, and were spreading out into a line. That
line grew and grew and grew till it was three-quarters of a mile
long from wing to wing--one solid wall of men, horses, and guns.
Then it came on straight toward the Viceroy and the Amir, and as
it got nearer the ground began to shake, like the deck of a
steamer when the engines are going fast.
Unless you have been there you cannot imagine what a
frightening effect this steady come-down of troops has on the
spectators, even when they know it is only a review. I looked at
the Amir. Up till then he had not shown the shadow of a sign of
astonishment or anything else. But now his eyes began to get
bigger and bigger, and he picked up the reins on his horse's neck
and looked behind him. For a minute it seemed as though he were
going to draw his sword and slash his way out through the English
men and women in the carriages at the back. Then the advance
stopped dead, the ground stood still, the whole line saluted, and
thirty bands began to play all together. That was the end of the
review, and the regiments went off to their camps in the rain, and
an infantry band struck up with--
The animals went in two by two,
The animals went in two by two,
The elephant and the battery mul',
and they all got into the Ark
For to get out of the rain!
Then I heard an old grizzled, long-haired Central Asian chief,
who had come down with the Amir, asking questions of a native
"Now," said he, "in what manner was this wonderful thing
And the officer answered, "An order was given, and they
"But are the beasts as wise as the men?" said the chief.
"They obey, as the men do. Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock,
he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant
his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain
his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his
brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier the
general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servant of the Empress.
Thus it is done."
"Would it were so in Afghanistan!" said the chief, "for there
we obey only our own wills."
"And for that reason," said the native officer, twirling his
mustache, "your Amir whom you do not obey must come here and take
orders from our Viceroy."
Parade Song of the Camp Animals
ELEPHANTS OF THE GUN TEAMS
We lent to Alexander the strength of Hercules,
The wisdom of our foreheads, the cunning of our knees;
We bowed our necks to service: they ne'er were loosed again,--
Make way there--way for the ten-foot teams
Of the Forty-Pounder train!
Those heroes in their harnesses avoid a cannon-ball,
And what they know of powder upsets them one and all;
Then we come into action and tug the guns again--
Make way there--way for the twenty yoke
Of the Forty-Pounder train!
By the brand on my shoulder, the finest of tunes
Is played by the Lancers, Hussars, and Dragoons,
And it's sweeter than "Stables" or "Water" to me--
The Cavalry Canter of "Bonnie Dundee"!
Then feed us and break us and handle and groom,
And give us good riders and plenty of room,
And launch us in column of squadron and see
The way of the war-horse to "Bonnie Dundee"!
As me and my companions were scrambling up a hill,
The path was lost in rolling stones, but we went forward still;
For we can wriggle and climb, my lads, and turn up everywhere,
Oh, it's our delight on a mountain height, with a leg or two to
Good luck to every sergeant, then, that lets us pick our road;
Bad luck to all the driver-men that cannot pack a load:
For we can wriggle and climb, my lads, and turn up everywhere,
Oh, it's our delight on a mountain height, with a leg or two to
We haven't a camelty tune of our own
To help us trollop along,
But every neck is a hair trombone
(Rtt-ta-ta-ta! is a hair trombone!)
And this our marching-song:
Can't! Don't! Shan't! Won't!
Pass it along the line!
Somebody's pack has slid from his back,
Wish it were only mine!
Somebody's load has tipped off in the road--
Cheer for a halt and a row!
Urrr! Yarrh! Grr! Arrh!
Somebody's catching it now!
ALL THE BEASTS TOGETHER
Children of the Camp are we,
Serving each in his degree;
Children of the yoke and goad,
Pack and harness, pad and load.
See our line across the plain,
Like a heel-rope bent again,
Reaching, writhing, rolling far,
Sweeping all away to war!
While the men that walk beside,
Dusty, silent, heavy-eyed,
Cannot tell why we or they
March and suffer day by day.
Children of the Camp are we,
Serving each in his degree;
Children of the yoke and goad,
Pack and harness, pad and load!