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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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 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
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
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
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
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
But it was not written that the knife should ever enter the flesh of
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
The jungle, vast and mysterious and still, closed its gates behind