Once upon a time there was a coffee-planter in India who wished to
clear some forest land for coffee-planting. When he had cut down all
the trees and burned the under-wood the stumps still remained.
Dynamite is expensive and slow-fire slow. The happy medium for
stump-clearing is the lord of all beats, who is the elephant. He will
either push the stump out of the ground with his tusks, if he has any,
or drag it out with ropes. The planter, therefore, hired elephants by
ones and twos and threes, and fell to work. The very best of all the
elephants belonged to the very worst of all the drivers or mahouts;
and the superior beast's name was Moti Guj. He was the absolute
property of his mahout, which would never have been the case under
native rule, for Moti Guj was a creature to be desired by kings; and
his name, being translated, meant the Pearl Elephant. Because the
British Government was in the land, Deesa, the mahout, enjoyed his
property undisturbed. He was dissipated. When he had made much money
through the strength of his elephant, he would get extremely drunk and
give Moti Guj a beating with a tent-peg over the tender nails of the
forefeet. Moti Guj never trampled the life out of Deesa on these
occasions, for he knew that after the beating was over Deesa would
embrace his trunk and weep and call him his love and his life and the
liver of his soul, and give him some liquor. Moti Guj was very fond of
liquor—arrack for choice, though he would drink palm- tree toddy if
nothing better offered. Then Deesa would go to sleep between Moti
Guj's forefeet, and as Deesa generally chose the middle of the public
road, and as Moti Guj mounted guard over him and would not permit
horse, foot, or cart to pass by, traffic was congested till Deesa saw
fit to wake up.
There was no sleeping in the daytime on the planter's clearing: the
wages were too high to risk. Deesa sat on Moti Guj's neck and gave him
orders, while Moti Guj rooted up the stumps—for he owned a
magnificent pair of tusks; or pulled at the end of a rope—for he had
a magnificent pair of shoulders, while Deesa kicked him behind the
ears and said he was the king of elephants. At evening time Moti Guj
would wash down his three hundred pounds' weight of green food with a
quart of arrack, and Deesa would take a share and sing songs between
Moti Guj's legs till it was time to go to bed. Once a week Deesa led
Moti Guj down to the river, and Moti Guj lay on his side luxuriously
in the shallows, while Deesa went over him with a coir-swab and a
brick. Moti Guj never mistook the pounding blow of the latter for the
smack of the former that warned him to get up and turn over on the
other side. Then Deesa would look at his feet, and examine his eyes,
and turn up the fringes of his mighty ears in case of sores or budding
ophthalmia. After inspection, the two would 'come up with a song from
the sea,' Moti Guj all black and shining, waving a torn tree branch
twelve feet long in his trunk, and Deesa knotting up his own long wet
It was a peaceful, well-paid life till Deesa felt the return of the
desire to drink deep. He wished for an orgie. The little draughts that
led nowhere were taking the manhood out of him.
He went to the planter, and 'My mother's dead,' said he, weeping.
'She died on the last plantation two months ago; and she died once
before that when you were working for me last year,' said the planter,
who knew something of the ways of nativedom.
'Then it's my aunt, and she was just the same as a mother to me,'
said Deesa, weeping more than ever. 'She has left eighteen small
children entirely without bread, and it is I who must fill their
little stomachs,' said Deesa, beating his head on the floor.
'Who brought you the news?' said the planter.
'The post' said Deesa.
'There hasn't been a post here for the past week. Get back to your
'A devastating sickness has fallen on my village, and all my wives
are dying,' yelled Deesa, really in tears this time.
'Call Chihun, who comes from Deesa's village,' said the planter.'
Chihun, has this man a wife?'
'He!' said Chihun. 'No. Not a woman of our village would look at
him. They'd sooner marry the elephant.' Chihun snorted. Deesa wept and
'You will get into a difficulty in a minute,' said the planter.' Go
back to your work!'
'Now I will speak Heaven's truth' gulped Deesa, with an
inspiration. 'I haven't been drunk for two months. I desire to depart
in order to get properly drunk afar off and distant from this heavenly
plantation. Thus I shall cause no trouble.'
A flickering smile crossed the planter's face. 'Deesa,' said he,
'you've spoken the truth, and I'd give you leave on the spot if
anything could be done with Moti Guj while you're away. You know that
he will only obey your orders.'
'May the Light of the Heavens live forty thousand years. I shall be
absent but ten little days. After that, upon my faith and honour and
soul, I return. As to the inconsiderable interval, have I the gracious
permission of the Heaven-born to call up Moti Guj?'
Permission was granted, and, in answer to Deesa's shrill yell, the
lordly tusker swung out of the shade of a clump of trees where he had
been squirting dust over himself till his master should return.
'Light of my heart, Protector of the Drunken, Mountain of Might,
give ear,' said Deesa, standing in front of him.
Moti Guj gave ear, and saluted with his trunk. 'I am going away,'
Moti Guj's eyes twinkled. He liked jaunts as well as his master.
One could snatch all manner of nice things from the roadside then.
'But you, you fubsy old pig, must stay behind and work.'
The twinkle died out as Moti Guj tried to look delighted. He hated
stump-hauling on the plantation. It hurt his teeth.
'I shall be gone for ten days, O Delectable One. Hold up your near
forefoot and I'll impress the fact upon it, warty toad of a dried mud-
puddle.' Deesa took a tent-peg and banged Moti Guj ten times on the
nails. Moti Guj grunted and shuffled from foot to foot.
'Ten days,' said Deesa, 'you must work and haul and root trees as
Chihun here shall order you. Take up Chihun and set him on your neck!'
Moti Guj curled the tip of his trunk, Chihun put his foot there and
was swung on to the neck. Deesa handed Chihun the heavy ankus, the
iron elephant- goad.
Chihun thumped Moti Guj's bald head as a paviour thumps a
Moti Guj trumpeted.
'Be still, hog of the backwoods. Chihun's your mahout for ten days.
And now bid me good-bye, beast after mine own heart. Oh, my lord, my
king! Jewel of all created elephants, lily of the herd, preserve your
honoured health; be virtuous. Adieu!'
Moti Guj lapped his trunk round Deesa and swung him into the air
twice. That was his way of bidding the man good-bye.
'He'll work now,' said Dessa to the planter. 'Have I leave to go?'
The planter nodded, and Deesa dived into the woods. Moti Guj went
back to haul stumps.
Chihun was very kind to him, but he felt unhappy and forlorn
notwithstanding. Chihun gave him balls of spices, and tickled him
under the chin, and Chihun's little baby cooed to him after work was
over, and Chihun's wife called him a darling; but Moti Guj was a
bachelor by instinct, as Deesa was. He did not understand the domestic
emotions. He wanted the light of his universe back again—the drink
and the drunken slumber, the savage beatings and the savage caresses.
None the less he worked well, and the planter wondered. Deesa had
vagabonded along the roads till he met a marriage procession of his
own caste and, drinking, dancing, and tippling, had drifted past all
knowledge of the lapse of time.
The morning of the eleventh day dawned, and there returned no
Deesa. Moti Guj was loosed from his ropes for the daily stint. He
swung clear, looked round, shrugged his shoulders, and began to walk
away, as one having business elsewhere.
'Hi! ho! Come back, you,' shouted Chihun. 'Come back, and put me on
your neck, Misborn Mountain. Return, Splendour of the Hillsides.
Adornment of all India, heave to, or I'll bang every toe off your fat
Moti Guj gurgled gently, but did not obey. Chihun ran after him
with a rope and caught him up. Moti Guj put his ears forward, and
Chihun knew what that meant, though he tried to carry it off with high
'None of your nonsense with me,' said he. 'To your pickets,
'Hrrump!' said Moti Guj, and that was all—that and the forebent
Moti Guj put his hands in his pockets, chewed a branch for a
toothpick, and strolled about the clearing, making jest of the other
elephants, who had just set to work.
Chihun reported the state of affairs to the planter, who came out
with a dog-whip and cracked it furiously. Moti Guj paid the white man
the compliment of charging him nearly a quarter of a mile across the
clearing and 'Hrrumping' him into the verandah. Then he stood outside
the house chuckling to himself, and shaking all over with the fun of
it, as an elephant will.
'We'll thrash him,' said the planter. 'He shall have the finest
thrashing that ever elephant received. Give Kala Nag and Nazim twelve
foot of chain apiece, and tell them to lay on twenty blows.'
Kala Nag—which means Black Snake—and Nazim were two of the
biggest elephants in the lines, and one of their duties was to
administer the graver punishments, since no man can beat an elephant
They took the whipping-chains and rattled them in their trunks as
they sidled up to Moti Guj, meaning to hustle him between them. Moti
Guj had never, in all his life of thirty-nine years, been whipped, and
he did not intend to open new experiences. So he waited, weaving his
head from right to left, and measuring the precise spot in Kala Nag's
fat side where a blunt tusk would sink deepest. Kala Nag had no tusks;
the chain was his badge of authority; but he judged it good to swing
wide of Moti Guj at the last minute, and seem to appear as if he had
brought out the chain for amusement. Nazim turned round and went home
early. He did not feel fighting-fit that morning, and so Moti Guj was
left standing alone with his ears cocked.
That decided the planter to argue no more, and Moti Guj rolled back
to his inspection of the clearing. An elephant who will not work, and
is not tied up, is not quite so manageable as an eighty-one ton gun
loose in a heavy sea-way. He slapped old friends on the back and asked
them if the stumps were coming away easily; he talked nonsense
concerning labour and the inalienable rights of elephants to a long
'nooning'; and, wandering to and fro, thoroughly demoralized the
garden till sundown, when he returned to his pickets for food.
'If you won't work you shan't eat,' said Chihun angrily. 'You're a
wild elephant, and no educated animal at all. Go back to your jungle.'
Chihun's little brown baby, rolling on the floor of the hut,
stretched its fat arms to the huge shadow in the doorway. Moti Guj
knew well that it was the dearest thing on earth to Chihun. He swung
out his trunk with a fascinating crook at the end, and the brown baby
threw itself shouting upon it. Moti Guj made fast and pulled up till
the brown baby was crowing in the air twelve feet above his father's
'Great Chief!' said Chihun. 'Flour cakes of the best, twelve in
number, two feet across, and soaked in rum shall be yours on the
instant, and two hundred pounds' weight of fresh-cut young sugar-cane
therewith. Deign only to put down safely that insignificant brat who
is my heart and my life to me.'
Moti Guj tucked the brown baby comfortably between his forefeet,
that could have knocked into toothpicks all Chihun's hut, and waited
for his food. He ate it, and the brown baby crawled away. Moti Guj
dozed, and thought of Deesa. One of many mysteries connected with the
elephant is that his huge body needs less sleep than anything else
that lives. Four or five hours in the night suffice—two just before
midnight, lying down on one side; two just after one o'clock, lying
down on the other. The rest of the silent hours are filled with eating
and fidgeting and long grumbling soliloquies.
At midnight, therefore, Moti Guj strode out of his pickets, for a
thought had come to him that Deesa might be lying drunk somewhere in
the dark forest with none to look after him. So all that night he
chased through the undergrowth, blowing and trumpeting and shaking his
ears. He went down to the river and blared across the shallows where
Deesa used to wash him, but there was no answer. He could not find
Deesa, but he disturbed all the elephants in the lines, and nearly
frightened to death some gypsies in the woods.
At dawn Deesa returned to the plantation. He had been very drunk
indeed, and he expected to fall into trouble for outstaying his leave.
He drew a long breath when he saw that the bungalow and the plantation
were still uninjured; for he knew something of Moti Guj's temper; and
reported himself with many lies and salaams. Moti Guj had gone to his
pickets for breakfast. His night exercise had made him hungry.
'Call up your beast,' said the planter, and Deesa shouted in the
mysterious elephant-language, that some mahouts believe came from
China at the birth of the world, when elephants and not men were
masters. Moti Guj heard and came. Elephants do not gallop. They move
from spots at varying rates of speed. If an elephant wished to catch
an express train he could not gallop, but he could catch the train.
Thus Moti Guj was at the planter's door almost before Chihun noticed
that he had left his pickets. He fell into Deesa's arms trumpeting
with joy, and the man and beast wept and slobbered over each other,
and handled each other from head to heel to see that no harm had
'Now we will get to work,' said Deesa. 'Lift me up, my son and my
Moti Guj swung him up and the two went to the coffee-clearing to
look for irksome stumps.
The planter was too astonished to be very angry.