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The Elephant Remembers by Edison Marshall

From Everybody's Magazine

An elephant is old on the day he is born, say the natives of Burma, and no white man is ever quite sure just what they mean. Perhaps they refer to his pink, old-gentleman's skin and his droll, fumbling, old-man ways and his squeaking treble voice. And maybe they mean he is born with a wisdom such as usually belongs only to age. And it is true that if any animal in the world has had a chance to acquire knowledge it is the elephant, for his breed are the oldest residents of this old world.

They are so old that they don't seem to belong to the twentieth century at all. Their long trunks, their huge shapes, all seem part of the remote past. They are just the remnants of a breed that once was great.

Long and long ago, when the world was very young indeed, when the mountains were new, and before the descent of the great glaciers taught the meaning of cold, they were the rulers of the earth, but they have been conquered in the struggle for existence. Their great cousins, the mastodon and the mammoth, are completely gone, and their own tribe can now be numbered by thousands.

But because they have been so long upon the earth, because they have wealth of experience beyond all other creatures, they seem like venerable sages in a world of children. They are like the last veterans of an old war, who can remember scenes and faces that all others have forgotten.

Far in a remote section of British India, in a strange, wild province called Burma, Muztagh was born. And although he was born in captivity, the property of a mahout, in his first hour he heard the far-off call of the wild elephants in the jungle.

The Burmans, just like the other people of India, always watch the first hour of a baby's life very closely. They know that always some incident will occur that will point, as a weather-vane points in the wind, to the baby's future. Often they have to call a man versed in magic to interpret, but sometimes the prophecy is quite self-evident. No one knows whether or not it works the same with baby elephants, but certainly this wild, far-carrying call, not to be imitated by any living voice, did seem a token and an omen in the life of Muztagh. And it is a curious fact that the little baby lifted his ears at the sound and rocked back and forth on his pillar legs.

Of all the places in the great world, only a few remain wherein a captive elephant hears the call of his wild brethren at birth. Muztagh's birthplace lies around the corner of the Bay of Bengal, not far from the watershed of the Irawadi, almost north of Java. It is strange and wild and dark beyond the power of words to tell. There are great dark forests, unknown, slow-moving rivers, and jungles silent and dark and impenetrable.

Little Muztagh weighed a flat two hundred pounds at birth. But this was not the queerest thing about him. Elephant babies, although usually weighing not more than one hundred and eighty, often touch two hundred. The queerest thing was a peculiarity that probably was completely overlooked by his mother. If she saw it out of her dull eyes, she took no notice of it. It was not definitely discovered until the mahout came out of his hut with a lighted fagot for a first inspection.

He had been wakened by the sound of the mother's pain. “Hai!“ he had exclaimed to his wife. “Who has ever heard a cow bawl so loud in labour? The little one that to-morrow you will see beneath her belly must weigh more than you!”

This was rather a compliment to his plump wife. She was not offended at all. Burman women love to be well-rounded. But the mahout was not weighing the effect of his words. He was busy lighting his firebrand, and his features seemed sharp and intent when the beams came out. Rather he was already weighing the profits of little Muztagh. He was an elephant-catcher by trade, in the employ of the great white Dugan Sahib, and the cow that was at this moment bringing a son into the world was his own property. If the baby should be of the Kumiria—

The mahout knew elephants from head to tail, and he was very well acquainted with the three grades that compose the breed. The least valuable of all are the Mierga—a light, small-headed, thin-skinned, weak-trunked and unintelligent variety that are often found in the best elephant herds. They are often born of the most noble parents, and they are as big a problem to elephant men as razor-backs to hog-breeders. Then there is a second variety, the Dwasala, that compose the great bulk of the herd—a good, substantial, strong, intelligent grade of elephant. But the Kumiria is the best of all; and when one is born in a captive herd it is a time for rejoicing. He is the perfect elephant—heavy, symmetrical, trustworthy and fearless—fitted for the pageantry of kings.

He hurried out to the lines, for now he knew that the baby was born. The mother's cries had ceased. The jungle, dark and savage beyond ever the power of man to tame, lay just beyond. He could feel its heavy air, its smells; its silence was an essence. And as he stood, lifting the fagot high, he heard the wild elephants trumpeting from the hills.

He turned his head in amazement. A Burman, and particularly one who chases the wild elephants in their jungles, is intensely superstitious, and for an instant it seemed to him that the wild trumpeting must have some secret meaning, it was so loud and triumphant and prolonged. It was greatly like the far-famed elephant salute—ever one of the mysteries of those most mysterious of animals—that the great creatures utter at certain occasions and times.

“Are you saluting this little one?” he cried. “He is not a wild tusker like you. He is not a wild pig of the jungle. He is born in bonds, such as you will wear too, after the next drive!”

They trumpeted again, as if in scorn of his words. Their great strength was given them to rule the jungle, not to haul logs and pull chains! The man turned back to the lines and lifted higher his light.

Yes—the little elephant in the light-glow was of the Kumiria. Never had there been a more perfect calf. The light of greed sprang again in his eyes. And as he held the fagot nearer so that the beams played in the elephant's eyes and on his coat, the mahout sat down and was still, lest the gods observe his good luck, and, being jealous, turn it into evil.

The coat was not pinky dark, as is usual in baby elephants. It was distinctly light-coloured—only a few degrees darker than white.

The man understood at once. In the elephants, as well as in all other breeds, an albino is sometimes born. A perfectly white elephant, up to a few years ago, had never been seen, but on rare occasions elephants are born with light-coloured or clouded hides. Such creatures are bought at fabulous prices by the Malay and Siamese princes, to whom a white elephant is the greatest treasure that a king can possess.

Muztagh was a long way from being an albino, yet a tendency in that direction had bleached his hide. And the man knew that on the morrow Dugan Sahib would pay him a lifetime's earnings for the little wabbly calf, whose welcome had been the wild cries of the tuskers in the jungle.


Little Muztagh (which means White Mountain in an ancient tongue) did not enjoy his babyhood at all. He was born with the memory of jungle kingdoms, and the life in the elephant lines almost killed him with dulness.

There was never anything to do but nurse of the strong elephant milk and roam about in the keddah or along the lines. He had been bought the second day of his life by Dugan Sahib, and the great white heaven-born saw to it that he underwent none of the risks that are the happy fate of most baby elephants. His mother was not taken on the elephant drives into the jungles, so he never got a taste of this exciting sport. Mostly she was kept chained in the lines, and every day Langur Dass, the low-caste hillman in Dugan's employ, grubbed grass for her in the valleys. All night long, except the regular four hours of sleep, he would hear her grumble and rumble and mutter discontent that her little son shared with her.

Muztagh's second year was little better. Of course he had reached the age where he could eat such dainties as grass and young sugar-cane, but these things could not make up for the fun he was missing in the hills. He would stand long hours watching their purple tops against the skies, and his little dark eyes would glow. He would see the storms break and flash above them, behold the rains lash down through the jungles, and he was always filled with strange longings and desires that he was too young to understand or to follow. He would see the white haze steam up from the labyrinth of wet vines, and he would tingle and scratch for the feel of its wetness on his skin. And often, when the mysterious Burman night came down, it seemed to him that he would go mad. He would hear the wild tuskers trumpeting in the jungles a very long way off, and all the myriad noises of the mysterious night, and at such times even his mother looked at him with wonder.

“Oh, little restless one,” Langur Dass would say, “thou and that old cow thy mother and I have one heart between us. We know the burning—we understand, we three!”

It was true that Langur Dass understood more of the ways of the forest people than any other hillman in the encampment. But his caste was low, and he was drunken and careless and lazy beyond words, and the hunters had mostly only scorn for him. They called him Langur after a grey-bearded breed of monkeys along the slopes of the Himalayas, rather suspecting he was cursed with evil spirits, for why should any sane man have such mad ideas as to the rights of elephants? He never wanted to join in the drives—which was a strange thing indeed for a man raised in the hills. Perhaps he was afraid—but yet they could remember a certain day in the bamboo thickets, when a great, wild buffalo had charged their camp and Langur Dass acted as if fear were something he had never heard of and knew nothing whatever about.

One day they asked him about it. “Tell us, Langur Dass,” they asked, mocking the ragged, dejected looking creature, “If thy name speaks truth, thou art brother to many monkey-folk, and who knows the jungle better than thou or they? None but the monkey-folk and thou canst talk with my lord the elephant. Hai! We have seen thee do it, Langur Dass. How is it that when we go hunting, thou art afraid to come?”

Langur looked at them out of his dull eyes, and evaded their question just as long as he could. “Have you forgotten the tales you heard on your mothers' breasts?” he asked at last. “Elephants are of the jungle. You are of the cooking-pots and thatch! How should such folk as ye are understand?”

This was flat heresy from their viewpoint. There is an old legend among the elephant-catchers to the effect that at one time men were subject to the elephants.

Yet mostly the elephants that these men knew were patient and contented in their bonds. Mostly they loved their mahouts, gave their strong backs willingly to toil, and were always glad and ready to join in the chase after others of their breed. Only on certain nights of the year, when the tuskers called from the jungles, and the spirit of the wild was abroad, would their love of liberty return to them. But to all this little Muztagh was distinctly an exception. Even though he had been born in captivity, his desire for liberty was with him just as constantly as his trunk or his ears.

He had no love for the mahout that rode his mother. He took little interest in the little brown boys and girls that played before his stall. He would stand and look over their heads into the wild, dark heart of the jungle that no man can ever quite understand. And being only a beast, he did not know anything about the caste and prejudices of the men he saw, but he did know that one of them, the low-caste Langur Dass, ragged and dirty and despised, wakened a responsive chord in his lonely heart.

They would have long talks together, that is, Langur would talk and Muztagh would mumble. “Little calf, little fat one,” the man would say, “can great rocks stop a tree from growing? Shall iron shackles stop a prince from being king? Muztagh—jewel among jewels! Thy heart speaks through those sleepless eyes of thine! Have patience—what thou knowest, who shall take away from thee?”

But most of the mahouts and catchers noticed the rapidity with which the little Muztagh acquired weight and strength. He outweighed, at the age of three, any calf of his season in the encampment by a full two hundred pounds. And of course three in an elephant is no older than three in a human child. He was still just a baby, even if he did have the wild tuskers' love of liberty.

“Shalt thou never lie the day long in the cool mud, little one? Never see a storm break on the hills? Nor feel a warm rain dripping through the branches? Or are these matters part of thee that none may steal?” Langur Dass would ask him, contented to wait a very long time for his answer. “I think already that thou knowest how the tiger steals away at thy shrill note; how thickets feel that crash beneath thy hurrying weight! A little I think thou knowest how the madness comes with the changing seasons. How knowest thou these things? Not as I know them, who have seen—nay, but as a king knows conquering; it's in thy blood! Is a bundle of sugar-cane tribute enough for thee, Kumiria? Shall purple trappings please thee? Shall some fat rajah of the plains make a beast of burden of thee? Answer, lord of mighty memories!”

And Muztagh answered in his own way, without sound or emphasis, but giving his love to Langur Dass, a love as large as the big elephant heart from which it had sprung. No other man could even win his friendship. The smell of the jungle was on Langur Dass. The mahouts and hunters smelt more or less of civilization and were convinced for their part that the disposition of the little light-coloured elephant was beyond redemption.

“He is a born rogue,” was their verdict, and they meant by that, a particular kind of elephant, sometimes a young male, more often an old and savage tusker alone in the jungle—apart from the herd. Solitariness doesn't improve their dispositions, and they were generally expelled from a herd for ill-temper to begin with. “Woe to the fool prince who buys this one!” said the grey-beard catchers. “There is murder in his eyes.”

But Langur Dass would only look wise when he heard these remarks. He knew elephants. The gleam in the dark eyes of Muztagh was not viciousness, but simply inheritance, a love of the wide wild spaces that left no room for ordinary friendships.

But calf-love and mother-love bind other animals as well as men, and possibly he might have perfectly fulfilled the plans Dugan had made for him but for a mistake the sahib made in the little calf's ninth year.

He sold Muztagh's mother to an elephant-breeder from a distant province. Little Muztagh saw her march away between two tuskers—down the long elephant trail into the valley and the shadow.

“Watch the little one closely to-night,” Dugan Sahib said to his mahout. So when they had led him back and forth along the lines, they saw that the ends of his ropes were pegged down tightly. They were horsehair ropes, far beyond the strength of any normal nine-year-old elephant to break. Then they went to the huts and to their women and left him to shift restlessly from foot to foot, and think.

Probably he would have been satisfied with thinking, for Muztagh did not know his strength, and thought he was securely tied. The incident that upset the mahout's plans was simply that the wild elephants trumpeted again from the hills.

Muztagh heard the sound, long drawn and strange from the silence of the jungle. He grew motionless. The great ears pricked forward, the whipping tail stood still. It was a call never to be denied. The blood was leaping in his great veins.

He suddenly rocked forward with all his strength. The rope spun tight, hummed, and snapped—very softly indeed. Then he padded in silence out among the huts, and nobody who had not seen him do it would believe how silently an elephant can move when he sees fit.

There was no thick jungle here—just soft grass, huts, approaching dark fringe that was jungle. None of the mahouts was awake to see him. No voice called him back. The grass gave way to bamboo thickets, the smell of the huts to the wild, bewitching perfumes of the jungle.

Then, still in silence, because there are decencies to be observed by animals no less than men, he walked forward with his trunk outstretched into the primordial jungle and was born again.


Muztagh's reception was cordial from the very first. The great bulls of the herd stood still and lifted their ears when they heard him grunting up the hill. But he slipped among them and was forgotten at once. They had no dealings with the princes of Malay and Siam, and his light-coloured coat meant nothing whatever to them. If they did any thinking about him at all, it was just to wonder why a calf with all the evident marks of a nine-year-old should be so tall and weigh so much.

One can fancy that the great old wrinkled tusker that led the herd peered at him now and then out of his little red eyes and wondered. A herd-leader begins to think about future contestants for his place as soon as he acquires the leadership. But Hai! This little one would not have his greatest strength for fifteen years.

It was a compact, medium-sized herd—vast males, mothers, old-maid elephants, long-legged and ungainly, young males just learning their strength and proud of it beyond words, and many calves. They ranged all the way in size from the great leader, who stood ten feet and weighed nearly nine thousand pounds, to little two-hundred-and-fifty-pound babies that had been born that season. And before long the entire herd began its cautious advance into the deeper hills.

The first night in the jungle—and Muztagh found it wonderful past all dreams. The mist on his skin was the same cool joy he had expected. There were sounds, too, that set his great muscles aquiver. He heard the sound that the bamboos make—the little click-click of the stems in the wind—the soft rustle and stir of many leafy tendrils entwining and touching together, and the whisper of the wind over the jungle grass. And he knew because it was his heritage, what every single one of these sounds meant.

The herd threaded through the dark jungle, and now they descended into a cool river. A herd of deer—either the dark sambur or black buck—sprang from the misty shore-line and leaped away into the bamboos. Farther down, he could hear the grunt of buffalo.

It was simply a caress—the touch of the soft, cool water on his flanks. Then they reared out, like great sea-gods rising from the deep, and grunted and squealed their way up the banks into the jungle again.

But the smells were the book that he read best; he understood them even better than the sounds of green things growing. Flowers that he could not see hung like bells from the arching branches. Every fern and every seeding grass had its own scent that told sweet tales. The very mud that his four feet sank into emitted scent that told the history of jungle-life from the world's beginnings. When dawn burst over the eastern hills, he was weary in every muscle of his young body, but much too happy to admit it.

This day was just the first of three thousand joyous days. The jungle, old as the world itself, is ever new. Not even the wisest elephant, who, after all, is king of the jungle, knows what will turn up at the next bend in the elephant trail. It may be a native woodcutter, whose long hair is stirred with fright. It may easily be one of the great breed of bears, large as the American grizzly, that some naturalists believe are to be found in the Siamese and Burman jungles. It may be a herd of wild buffalo, always looking for a fight, or simply some absurd armadillo-like thing, to make him shake his vast sides with mirth.

The herd was never still. They ranged from one mysterious hill to another, to the ranges of the Himalayas and back again. There were no rivers that they did not swim, no jungles that they did not penetrate, no elephant trails that they did not follow, in the whole northeastern corner of British India. And all the time Muztagh's strength grew upon him until it became too vast a thing to measure or control.

Whether or not he kept with the herd was by now a matter of supreme indifference to him. He no longer needed its protection. Except for the men who came with the ropes and guns and shoutings, there was nothing in the jungle for him to fear. He was twenty years old, and he stood nearly eleven feet to the top of his shoulders. He would have broken any scales in the Indian Empire that tried to weigh him.

He had had his share of adventures, yet he knew that life in reality had just begun. The time would come when he would want to fight the great arrogant bull for the leadership of the herd. He was tired of fighting the young bulls of his own age. He always won, and to an elephant constant winning is almost as dull as constant losing. He was a great deal like a youth of twenty in any breed of any land—light-hearted, self-confident, enjoying every minute of wakefulness between one midnight and another. He loved the jungle smells and the jungle sounds, and he could even tolerate the horrible laughter of the hyenas that sometimes tore to shreds the silence of the grassy plains below.

But India is too thickly populated by human beings for a wild elephant to escape observation entirely. Many natives had caught sight of him, and at last the tales reached a little circle of trackers and hunters in camp on a distant range of hills. They did not work for Dugan Sahib, for Dugan Sahib was dead long since. They were a determined little group, and one night they sat and talked softly over their fire. If Muztagh's ears had been sharp enough to hear their words across the space of hills, he wouldn't have gone to his mud-baths with such complacency the next day. But the space between them was fifty miles of sweating jungle, and of course he did not hear.

“You will go, Khusru,” said the leader, “for there are none here half so skilful with horsehair rope as you. If you do not come back within twelve months we shall know you have failed.”

Of course all of them knew what he meant. If a man failed in the effort to capture a wild elephant by the hair-rope method, he very rarely lived to tell of it.

“In that case,” Ahmad Din went on, “there will be a great drive after the monsoon of next year. Picked men will be chosen. No detail will be overlooked. It will cost more, but it will be sure. And our purses will be fat from the selling-price of this king of elephants with a white coat!”


There is no need to follow Khusru on his long pursuit through the elephant trails. He was an able hunter and, after the manner of the elephant-trackers, the scared little man followed Muztagh through jungle and river, over hill and into dale, for countless days, and at last, as Muztagh slept, he crept up within a half-dozen feet of him. He intended to loop a horsehair rope about his great feet—one of the oldest and most hazardous methods of elephant-catching. But Muztagh wakened just in time.

And then a curious thing happened. The native could never entirely believe it, and it was one of his best stories to the day he died. Any other wild tusker would have charged in furious wrath, and there would have been a quick and certain death beneath his great knees. Muztagh started out as if he had intended to charge. He lifted his trunk out of the way—the elephant trunk is for a thousand uses, but fighting is not one of them—and sprang forward. He went just two paces. Then his little eyes caught sight of the brown figure fleeing through the bamboos. And at once the elephant set his great feet to brake himself, and drew to a sliding halt six feet beyond.

He did not know why. He was perfectly aware that this man was an enemy, jealous of his most-loved liberty. He knew perfectly it was the man's intention to put him back into his bonds. He did not feel fear, either—because an elephant's anger is too tremendous an emotion to leave room for any other impulse such as fear. It seemed to him that memories came thronging from long ago, so real and insistent that he could not think of charging.

He remembered his days in the elephant lines. These brown creatures had been his masters then. They had cut his grass for him in the jungle, and brought him bundles of sugar-cane. The hill people say that the elephant memory is the greatest single marvel in the jungle, and it was that memory that saved Khusru then. It wasn't deliberate gratitude for the grass-cutting of long ago. It wasn't any particular emotion that he could reach out his trunk and touch. It was simply an impulse—another one of the thousand mysteries that envelop, like a cloud, the mental processes of these largest of forest creatures.

These were the days when he lived apart from the herd. He did it from choice. He liked the silence, the solitary mud-baths, the constant watchfulness against danger.

One day a rhino charged him—without warning or reason. This is quite a common thing for a rhino to do. They have the worst tempers in the jungle, and they would just as soon charge a mountain if they didn't like the look of it. Muztagh had awakened the great creature from his sleep, and he came bearing down like a tank over “no man's land.”

Muztagh met him squarely, with the full shock of his tusks, and the battle ended promptly. Muztagh's tusk, driven by five tons of might behind it, would have pierced a ship's side, and the rhino limped away to let his hurt grow well and meditate revenge. Thereafter for a full year, he looked carefully out of his bleary, drunken eyes and chose a smaller objective before he charged.

Month after month Muztagh wended alone through the elephant trails, and now and then rooted up great trees just to try his strength. Sometimes he went silently, and sometimes like an avalanche. He swam alone in the deep holes, and sometimes shut his eyes and stood on the bottom, just keeping the end of his trunk out of the water. One day he was obliged to kneel on the broad back of an alligator who tried to bite off his foot. He drove the long body down into the muddy bottom, and no living creature, except possibly the catfish that burrow in the mud, ever saw it again.

He loved the rains that flashed through the jungles, the swift-climbing dawns in the east, the strange, tense, breathless nights. And at midnight he loved to trumpet to the herd on some far-away hill, and hear, fainter than the death-cry of a beetle, its answer come back to him. At twenty-five he had reached full maturity; and no more magnificent specimen of the elephant could be found in all of British India. At last he had begun to learn his strength.

Of course he had known for years his mastery over the inanimate things of the world. He knew how easy it was to tear a tree from its roots, to jerk a great tree-limb from its socket. He knew that under most conditions he had nothing to fear from the great tigers, although a fight with a tiger is a painful thing and well to avoid. But he did not know that he had developed a craft and skill that would avail him in battle against the greatest of his own kind. He made the discovery one sunlit day beside the Manipur River.

He was in the mud-bath, grunting and bubbling with content. It was a bath with just room enough for one. And seeing that he was young, and perhaps failing to measure his size, obscured as it was in the mud, a great “rogue” bull came out of the jungles to take the bath for himself.

He was a huge creature—wrinkled and yellow-tusked and scarred from the wounds of a thousand fights. His little red eyes looked out malignantly, and he grunted all the insults the elephant tongue can compass to the youngster that lolled in the bath. He confidently expected that Muztagh would yield at once, because as a rule young twenty-five-year-olds do not care to mix in battle with the scarred and crafty veterans of sixty years. But he did not know Muztagh.

The latter had been enjoying the bath to the limit, and he had no desire whatever to give it up. Something hot and raging seemed to explode in his brain and it was as if a red glare, such as sometimes comes in the sunset, had fallen over all the stretch of river and jungle before his eyes. He squealed once, reared up with one lunge out of the bath—and charged. They met with a shock.

Of all the expressions of power in the animal world, the elephant fight is the most terrible to see. It is as if two mountains rose up from their roots of strata and went to war. It is terrible to hear, too. The jungle had been still before. The river glided softly, the wind was dead, the mid-afternoon silence was over the thickets.

The jungle people were asleep. A thunder-storm would not have broken more quickly, or could not have created a wilder pandemonium. The jungle seemed to shiver with the sound.

They squealed and bellowed and trumpeted and grunted and charged. Their tusks clicked like the noise of a giant's game of billiards. The thickets cracked and broke beneath their great feet.

It lasted only a moment. It was so easy, after all. In a very few seconds indeed, the old rogue became aware that he had made a very dangerous and disagreeable mistake. There were better mud-baths on the river, anyway.

He had not been able to land a single blow. And his wrath gave way to startled amazement when Muztagh sent home his third. The rogue did not wait for the fourth.

Muztagh chased him into the thickets. But he was too proud to chase a beaten elephant for long. He halted, trumpeting, and swung back to his mud-bath.

But he did not enter the mud again. All at once he remembered the herd and the fights of his calfhood. All at once he knew that his craft and strength and power were beyond that of any elephant in all the jungle. Who was the great, arrogant herd-leader to stand against him? What yellow tusks were to meet his and come away unbroken?

His little eyes grew ever more red as he stood rocking back and forth, his trunk lifted to catch the sounds and smells of the distant jungle. Why should he abide alone, when he could be the ruler of the herd and the jungle king? Then he grunted softly and started away down the river. Far away, beyond the mountains and rivers and the villages of the hillfolk, the herd of his youth roamed in joyous freedom. He would find them and assert his mastery.


The night fire of a little band of elephant-catchers burned fitfully at the edge of the jungle. They were silent men—for they had lived long on the elephant trails—and curiously scarred and sombre. They smoked their cheroots, and waited for Ahmad Din to speak.

“You have all heard?” he asked at last.

All but one of them nodded. Of course this did not count the most despised one of them all—old Langur Dass—who sat at the very edge of the shadow. His long hair was grey, and his youth had gone where the sun goes at evening. They scarcely addressed a word to him, or he to them. True, he knew the elephants, but was he not possessed of evil spirits? He was always without rupees, too, a creature of the wild that could not seem to understand the gathering of money. As a man, according to the standards of men, he was an abject failure.

“Khusru has failed to catch White-Skin, but he has lived to tell many lies about it. He comes to-night.”

It was noticeable that Langur Dass, at the edge of the circle, pricked up his ears.

“Do you mean the white elephant of which the Manipur people tell so many lies?” he asked. “Do you, skilled catchers that you are, believe that such an elephant is still wild in the jungle?”

Ahmad Din scowled. “The Manipur people tell of him, but for once they tell the truth,” was the reply. “He is the greatest elephant, the richest prize, in all of Burma. Too many people have seen him to doubt. I add my word to theirs, thou son of immorality!”

Ahmad Din hesitated before he continued. Perhaps it was a mistake to tell of the great, light-coloured elephant until this man should have gone away. But what harm could this wanderer do them? All men knew that the jungle had maddened him.

Langur Dass's face lit suddenly. “Then it could be none but Muztagh, escaped from Dugan Sahib fifteen years ago. That calf was also white. He was also overgrown for his years.”

One of the trackers suddenly gasped. “Then that is why he spared Khusru!” he cried. “He remembered men.”

The others nodded gravely. “They never forget,” said Langur Dass.

“You will be silent while I speak,” Ahmad Din went on. Langur grew silent as commanded, but his thoughts were flowing backward twenty years, to days at the elephant lines in distant hills. Muztagh was the one living creature that in all his days had loved Langur Dass. The man shut his eyes, and his limbs seemed to relax as if he had lost all interest in the talk. The evil one took hold of him at such times, the people said, letting understanding follow his thoughts back into the purple hills and the far-off spaces of the jungle. But to-night he was only pretending. He meant to hear every word of the talk before he left the circle.

“He tells a mad story, as you know, of the elephant sparing him when he was beneath his feet,” Ahmad Din went on; “that part of his story does not matter to us. Hai! He might have been frightened enough to say that the sun set at noon. But what matters to us more is that he knows where the herd is—but a day's journey beyond the river. And there is no time to be lost.”

His fellows nodded in agreement.

“So to-morrow we will break camp. There can be no mistake this time. There must be no points overlooked. The chase will cost much, but it will return a hundredfold. Khusru says that at last the white one has started back toward his herd, so that all can be taken in the same keddah. And the white sahib that holds the license is not to know that White-Coat is in the herd at all.”

The circle nodded again, and contracted toward the speaker.

“We will hire beaters and drivers, the best that can be found. To-morrow we will take the elephants and go.”

Langur Dass pretended to waken. “I have gone hungry many days,” he said. “If the drive is on, perhaps you will give your servant a place among the beaters.”

The circle turned and stared at him. It was one of the stories of Langur Dass that he never partook in the elephant hunts. Evidently poor living had broken his resolutions.

“You shall have your wish, if you know how to keep a closed mouth,” Ahmad Din replied. “There are other hunting parties in the hills.”

Langur nodded. He was very adept indeed at keeping a closed mouth. It is one of the first lessons of the jungle.

For another long hour they sat and perfected their plans. Then they lay down by the fire together, and sleep dropped over them one by one. At last Langur sat by the fire alone.

“You will watch the flame to-night,” Ahmad Din ordered. “We did not feed you to-night for pity on your grey hairs. And remember—a gipsy died in a tiger's claws on this very slope—not six months past.”

Langur Dass was left alone with his thoughts. Soon he got up and stole out into the velvet darkness. The mists were over the hills as always.

“Have I followed the tales of your greatness all these years for this?” he muttered. “It is right for pigs with the hearts of pigs to break their backs in labour. But you, my Muztagh! Jewel among elephants! King of the jungle! Thou art of the true breed! Moreover I am minded that thy heart and mine are one!

“Thou art born ten thousand years after thy time, Muztagh,” he went on. “Thou art of the breed of masters, not of slaves! We are of the same womb, thou and I. Can I not understand? These are not my people—these brown men about the fire. I have not thy strength, Muztagh, or I would be out there with thee! Yet is not the saying that brother shall serve brother?”

He turned slowly back to the circle of the firelight. Then his brown, scrawny fingers clenched.

“Am I to desert my brother in his hour of need? Am I to see these brown pigs put chains around him, in the moment of his power? A king, falling to the place of a slave? Muztagh, we will see what can be done! Muztagh, my king, my pearl, my pink baby, for whom I dug grass in the long ago! Thy Langur Dass is old, and his whole strength is not that of thy trunk, and men look at him as a worm in the grass. But hai! perhaps thou wilt find him an ally not to be despised!”


The night had just fallen, moist and heavy over the jungle, when Muztagh caught up with his herd. He found them in an open grassy glade, encircled by hills, and they were all waiting, silent, as he sped down the hills toward them. They had heard him coming a long way. He was not attempting silence. The jungle people had not got out of his way.

The old bull that led the herd, seventy years of age and at the pride of his wisdom and strength, scarred, yellow-tusked and noble past any elephant patriarch in the jungle, curled up his trunk when he saw him come. He knew very well what would happen. And because no one knows better than the jungle people what a good thing it is to take the offensive in all battles, and because it was fitting his place and dignity, he uttered the challenge himself.

The silence dropped as something from the sky. The little pink calves who had never seen the herd grow still in this same way before, felt the dawn of the storm that they could not understand, and took shelter beneath their mothers' bellies. But they did not squeal. The silence was too deep for them to dare to break.

It is always an epoch in the life of the herd when a young bull contests for leadership. It is a much more serious thing than in the herds of deer and buffalo. The latter only live a handful of years, then grow weak and die. A great bull who has attained strength and wisdom enough to obtain the leadership of an elephant herd may often keep it for forty years. Kings do not rise and fall half so often as in the kingdoms of Europe. For, as most men know, an elephant is not really old until he has seen a hundred summers come and go. Then he will linger fifty years more, wise and grey and wrinkled and strange and full of memories of a time no man can possibly remember.

Long years had passed since the leader's place had been questioned. The aristocracy of strength is drawn on quite inflexible lines. It would have been simply absurd for an elephant of the Dwasala or Mierga grades to covet the leadership. They had grown old without making the attempt. Only the great Kumiria, the grand dukes in the aristocracy, had ever made the trial at all. And besides, the bull was a better fighter after thirty years of leadership than on the day he had gained the honour.

The herd stood like heroic figures in stone for a long moment—until Muztagh had replied to the challenge. He was so surprised that he couldn't make any sound at all at first. He had expected to do the challenging himself. The fact that the leader had done it shook his self-confidence to some slight degree. Evidently the old leader still felt able to handle any young and arrogant bulls that desired his place.

Then the herd began to shift. The cows drew back with their calves, the bulls surged forward, and slowly they made a hollow ring, not greatly different from the pugilistic ring known to fight-fans. The calves began to squeal, but their mothers silenced them. Very slowly and grandly, with infinite dignity, Muztagh stamped into the circle. His tusks gleamed. His eyes glowed red. And those appraising old bulls in the ring knew that such an elephant had not been born since the time of their grandfathers.

They looked him over from tail to trunk. They marked the symmetrical form, the legs like mighty pillars, the sloping back, the wide-apart, intelligent eyes. His shoulders were an expression of latent might—power to break a tree-trunk at its base; by the conformity of his muscles he was agile and quick as a tiger. And knowing these things, and recognizing them, and honouring them, devotees of strength that they were, they threw their trunks in the air till they touched their foreheads and blared their full-voiced salute.

They gave it the same instant—as musicians strike the same note at their leader's signal. It was a perfect explosion of sound, a terrible blare, that crashed out through the jungles and wakened every sleeping thing. The dew fell from the trees. A great tawny tiger, lingering in hope of an elephant calf, slipped silently away. The sound rang true and loud to the surrounding hills and echoed and re-echoed softer and softer, until it was just a tiny tremour in the air.

Not only the jungle folk marvelled at the sound. At an encampment three miles distant Ahmad Din and his men heard the wild call, and looked with wondering eyes upon each other. Then out of the silence spoke Langur Dass.

“My lord Muztagh has come back to his herd—that is his salute,” he said.

Ahmad Din looked darkly about the circle. “And how long shall he stay?” he asked.

The trap was almost ready. The hour to strike had almost come.

Meanwhile the grand old leader stamped into the circle, seeming unconscious of the eyes upon him, battle-scarred and old. Even if this fight were his last, he meant to preserve his dignity.

Again the salute sounded—shattering out like a thunderclap over the jungle. Then challenger and challenged closed.

At first the watchers were silent. Then as the battle grew ever fiercer and more terrible, they began to grunt and squeal, surging back and forth, stamping the earth and crashing the underbrush. All the jungle-folk for miles about knew what was occurring. And Ahmad Din wished his keddah were completed, for never could there be a better opportunity to surround the herd than at the present moment, when they had forgotten all things except the battling monsters in the centre of the ring.

The two bulls were quite evenly matched. The patriarch knew more of fighting, had learned more wiles, but he had neither the strength nor the agility of Muztagh. The late twilight deepened into the intense dark, and the stars of midnight rose above the eastern hills.

All at once, Muztagh went to his knees. But as might a tiger, he sprang aside in time to avoid a terrible tusk blow to his shoulder. And his counter-blow, a lashing cut with the head, shattered the great leader to the earth. The elephants bounded forward, but the old leader had a trick left in his trunk. As Muztagh bore down upon him he reared up beneath, and almost turned the tables. Only the youngster's superior strength saved him from immediate defeat.

But as the night drew to morning, the bulls began to see that the tide of the battle had turned. Youth was conquering—too mighty and agile to resist. The rushes of the patriarch were ever weaker. He still could inflict punishment, and the hides of both of them were terrible to see, but he was no longer able to take advantage of his openings. Then Muztagh did a thing that reassured the old bulls as to his craft and wisdom. Just as a pugilist will invite a blow to draw his opponent within range, Muztagh pretended to leave his great shoulder exposed. The old bull failed to see the plot. He bore down, and Muztagh was ready with flashing tusk.

What happened thereafter occurred too quickly for the eyes of the elephants to follow. They saw the great bull go down and Muztagh stand lunging above him. And the battle was over.

The great leader, seriously hurt, backed away into the shadowed jungle. His trunk was lowered in token of defeat. Then the ring was empty except for a great red-eyed elephant, whose hide was no longer white, standing blaring his triumph to the stars.

Three times the elephant salute crashed out into the jungle silence—the full voiced salaam to a new king. Muztagh had come into his birthright.


The keddah was built at last. It was a strong stockade, opening with great wings spreading out one hundred yards, and equipped with the great gate that lowered like a portcullis at the funnel end of the wings. The herd had been surrounded by the drivers and beaters, and slowly they had been driven, for long days, toward the keddah mouth. They had guns loaded with blank cartridges, and firebrands ready to light. At a given signal they would close down quickly about the herd, and stampede it into the yawning mouth of the stockade.

No detail had been overlooked. No expense had been spared. The profit was assured in advance, not only from the matchless Muztagh, but from the herd as well. The king of the jungle, free now as the winds or the waters, was about to go back to his chains. These had been such days! He had led the herd through the hills, and had known the rapture of living as never before. It had been his work to clear the trail of all dangers for the herd. It was his pride to find them the coolest watering-places, the greenest hills. One night a tiger had tried to kill a calf that had wandered from its mother's side. Muztagh lifted his trunk high and charged down with great, driving strides—four tons and over of majestic wrath. The tiger leaped to meet him, but the elephant was ready. He had met tigers before. He avoided the terrible stroke of outstretched claws, and his tusks lashed to one side as the tiger was in midspring. Then he lunged out, and the great knees descended slowly, as a hydraulic press descends on yellow apples. And soon after that the kites were dropping out of the sky for a feast.

His word was law in the herd. And slowly he began to overcome the doubt that the great bulls had of him—doubt of his youth and experience. If he had had three months more of leadership, their trust would have been absolute. But in the meantime, the slow herding toward the keddah had begun.

“We will need brave men to stand at the end of the wings of the keddah,” said Ahmad Din. He spoke no less than truth. The man who stands at the end of the wings, or wide-stretching gates, of the keddah is of course in the greatest danger of being charged and killed. The herd, mad with fright, is only slightly less afraid of the spreading wings of the stockade than of the yelling, whooping beaters behind. Often they will try to break through the circle rather than enter the wings.

“For two rupees additional I will hold one of the wings,” replied old Langur Dass. Ahmad Din glanced at him—at his hard, bright eyes and determined face. Then he peered hard, and tried in vain to read the thoughts behind the eyes. “You are a madman, Langur Dass,” he said wonderingly. “But thou shalt lie behind the right-wing men to pass them torches. I have spoken.”

“And the two extra rupees?” Langur asked cunningly.

“Maybe.” One does not throw away rupees in Upper Burma.

Within the hour the signal of “Mail, mail!” (Go on, go on!) was given, and the final laps of the drive began.

The hills grew full of sound. The beaters sprang up with firebrand and rifle, and closed swiftly about the herd. The animals moved slowly at first. The time was not quite ripe to throw them into a panic. Many times the herd would leave their trail and start to dip into a valley or a creek-bed, but always there was a new crowd of beaters to block their path. But presently the beaters closed in on them. Then the animals began a wild descent squarely toward the mouth of the keddah.

“Hai!” the wild men cried. “Oh, you forest pigs! On, on! Block the way through that valley, you brainless sons of jackals! Are you afraid? Ai! Stand close! Watch, Puran! Guard your post, Khusru! Now on, on—do not let them halt! Arre! Aihai!

Firebrands waved, rifles cracked, the wild shout of beaters increased in volume. The men closed in, driving the beasts before them.

But there was one man that did not raise his voice. Through all the turmoil and pandemonium he crouched at the end of the stockade wing, tense, and silent and alone. To one that could have looked into his eyes, it would have seemed that his thoughts were far and far away. It was just old Langur Dass, named for a monkey and despised of men.

He was waiting for the instant that the herd would come thundering down the hill, in order to pass lighted firebrands to the bold men who held that corner. He was not certain that he could do the thing he had set out to do. Perhaps the herd would sweep past him, through the gates. If he did win, he would have to face alone the screaming, infuriated hillmen, whose knives were always ready to draw. But knives did not matter now. Langur Dass had only his own faith and his own creed, and no fear could make him betray them.

Muztagh had lost control of his herd. At their head ran the old leader that he had worsted. In their hour of fear they had turned back to him. What did this youngster know of elephant-drives? Ever the waving firebrands drew nearer, the beaters lessened their circle, the avenues of escape became more narrow. The yawning arms of the stockade stretched just beyond.

“Will I win, jungle gods?” a little grey man at the keddah wing was whispering to the forests. “Will I save you, great one that I knew in babyhood? Will you go down into chains before the night is done? Ai! I hear the thunder of your feet! The moment is almost here. And now—your last chance, Muztagh!”

“Close down, close down!” Ahmad Din was shouting to his beaters. “The thing is done in another moment. Hasten, pigs of the hills! Raise your voice! Now! Aihai!

The herd was at the very wings of the stockade. They had halted an instant, milling, and the beaters increased their shouts. Only one of all the herd seemed to know the danger—Muztagh himself, and he had dropped from the front rank to the very rear. He stood with uplifted trunk, facing the approaching rows of beaters. And there seemed to be no break in the whole line.

The herd started to move on into the wings of captitivity; and they did not heed his warning squeals to turn. The circle of fire drew nearer. Then his trunk seemed to droop, and he turned, too. He could not break the line. He turned, too, toward the mouth of the keddah.

But even as he turned, a brown figure darted toward him from the end of the wing. A voice known long ago was calling to him—a voice that penetrated high and clear above the babble of the beaters. “Muztagh!” it was crying. “Muztagh!”

But it was not the words that turned Muztagh. An elephant cannot understand words, except a few elemental sounds such as a horse or dog can learn. Rather it was the smell of the man, remembered from long ago, and the sound of his voice, never quite forgotten. For an elephant never forgets.

“Muztagh! Muztagh!”

The elephant knew him now. He remembered his one friend among all the human beings that he knew in his calfhood; the one mortal from whom he had received love and given love in exchange.

“More firebrands!” yelled the men who held that corner of the wing. “Firebrands! Where is Langur Dass?” but instead of firebrands that would have frightened beast and aided men, Langur Dass stepped out from behind a tree and beat at the heads of the right-wing guards with a bamboo cane that whistled and whacked and scattered them into panic—yelling all the while—“Muztagh! O my Muztagh! Here is an opening! Muztagh, come!”.

And Muztagh did come—trumpeting—crashing like an avalanche, with Langur Dass hard after him afraid, now that he had done the trick. And hot on the trail of Langur Dass ran Ahmad Din, with his knife drawn not meaning to let that prize be lost to him at less than the cost of the trickster's life.

But it was not written that the knife should ever enter the flesh of Langur Dass.

The elephant never forgets, and Muztagh was monarch of his breed. He turned back two paces, and struck with his trunk. Ahmad Din was knocked aside as the wind whips a straw.

For an instant elephant and man stood front to front. To the left of them the gates of the stockade dropped shut behind the herd. The elephant stood with trunk slightly lifted, for the moment motionless. The long-haired man who saved him stood lifting upstretched arms.

It was such as scene as one might remember in an old legend, wherein beasts and men were brothers, or such as sometimes might steal, likely something remembered from another age, into a man's dreams. Nowhere but in India, where men have a little knowledge of the mystery of the elephant, could it have taken place at all.

For Langur Dass was speaking to my lord the elephant:

“Take me with thee, Muztagh! Monarch of the hills! Thou and I are not of the world of men, but of the jungle and the rain, the silence, and the cold touch of rivers. We are brothers, Muztagh. O beloved, wilt thou leave me here to die!”

The elephant slowly turned his head and looked scornfully at the group of beaters bearing down on Langur Dass, murder shining no less from their knives than from their lighted eyes.

“Take me,” the old man pleaded; “thy herd is gone.”

The elephant seemed to know what he was asking. He had lifted him to his great shoulders many times, in the last days of his captivity. And besides, his old love for Langur Dass had never been forgotten. It all returned, full and strong as ever. For an elephant never can forget.

It was not one of the man-herd that stood pleading before him. It was one of his own jungle people, just as, deep in his heart, he had always known. So with one motion light as air, he swung him gently to his shoulder.

The jungle, vast and mysterious and still, closed its gates behind them.