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| Home | Reading Room THE JUNGLE BOOK

by Rudyard Kipling

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Toomai of the Elephants

I will remember what I was, I am sick of rope and chain--

I will remember my old strength and all my forest affairs.

I will not sell my back to man for a bundle of sugar-cane:

I will go out to my own kind, and the wood-folk in their lairs.

I will go out until the day, until the morning break--

Out to the wind's untainted kiss, the water's clean caress;

I will forget my ankle-ring and snap my picket stake.

I will revisit my lost loves, and playmates masterless!

Kala Nag, which means Black Snake, had served the Indian

Government in every way that an elephant could serve it for

forty-seven years, and as he was fully twenty years old when he

was caught, that makes him nearly seventy--a ripe age for an

elephant. He remembered pushing, with a big leather pad on his

forehead, at a gun stuck in deep mud, and that was before the

Afghan War of 1842, and he had not then come to his full strength.

His mother Radha Pyari,--Radha the darling,--who had been

caught in the same drive with Kala Nag, told him, before his

little milk tusks had dropped out, that elephants who were afraid

always got hurt. Kala Nag knew that that advice was good, for the

first time that he saw a shell burst he backed, screaming, into a

stand of piled rifles, and the bayonets pricked him in all his

softest places. So, before he was twenty-five, he gave up being

afraid, and so he was the best-loved and the best-looked-after

elephant in the service of the Government of India. He had

carried tents, twelve hundred pounds' weight of tents, on the

march in Upper India. He had been hoisted into a ship at the end

of a steam crane and taken for days across the water, and made to

carry a mortar on his back in a strange and rocky country very far

from India, and had seen the Emperor Theodore lying dead in

Magdala, and had come back again in the steamer entitled, so the

soldiers said, to the Abyssinian War medal. He had seen his

fellow elephants die of cold and epilepsy and starvation and

sunstroke up at a place called Ali Musjid, ten years later; and

afterward he had been sent down thousands of miles south to haul

and pile big balks of teak in the timberyards at Moulmein. There

he had half killed an insubordinate young elephant who was

shirking his fair share of work.

After that he was taken off timber-hauling, and employed, with

a few score other elephants who were trained to the business, in

helping to catch wild elephants among the Garo hills. Elephants

are very strictly preserved by the Indian Government. There is

one whole department which does nothing else but hunt them, and

catch them, and break them in, and send them up and down the

country as they are needed for work.

Kala Nag stood ten fair feet at the shoulders, and his tusks

had been cut off short at five feet, and bound round the ends, to

prevent them splitting, with bands of copper; but he could do more

with those stumps than any untrained elephant could do with the

real sharpened ones. When, after weeks and weeks of cautious

driving of scattered elephants across the hills, the forty or

fifty wild monsters were driven into the last stockade, and the

big drop gate, made of tree trunks lashed together, jarred down

behind them, Kala Nag, at the word of command, would go into that

flaring, trumpeting pandemonium (generally at night, when the

flicker of the torches made it difficult to judge distances), and,

picking out the biggest and wildest tusker of the mob, would

hammer him and hustle him into quiet while the men on the backs of

the other elephants roped and tied the smaller ones.

There was nothing in the way of fighting that Kala Nag, the

old wise Black Snake, did not know, for he had stood up more than

once in his time to the charge of the wounded tiger, and, curling

up his soft trunk to be out of harm's way, had knocked the

springing brute sideways in mid-air with a quick sickle cut of his

head, that he had invented all by himself; had knocked him over,

and kneeled upon him with his huge knees till the life went out

with a gasp and a howl, and there was only a fluffy striped thing

on the ground for Kala Nag to pull by the tail.

"Yes," said Big Toomai, his driver, the son of Black Toomai

who had taken him to Abyssinia, and grandson of Toomai of the

Elephants who had seen him caught, "there is nothing that the

Black Snake fears except me. He has seen three generations of us

feed him and groom him, and he will live to see four."

"He is afraid of me also," said Little Toomai, standing up to

his full height of four feet, with only one rag upon him. He was

ten years old, the eldest son of Big Toomai, and, according to

custom, he would take his father's place on Kala Nag's neck when

he grew up, and would handle the heavy iron ankus, the elephant

goad, that had been worn smooth by his father, and his

grandfather, and his great-grandfather.

He knew what he was talking of; for he had been born under

Kala Nag's shadow, had played with the end of his trunk before he

could walk, had taken him down to water as soon as he could walk,

and Kala Nag would no more have dreamed of disobeying his shrill

little orders than he would have dreamed of killing him on that

day when Big Toomai carried the little brown baby under Kala Nag's

tusks, and told him to salute his master that was to be.

"Yes," said Little Toomai, "he is afraid of me," and he took

long strides up to Kala Nag, called him a fat old pig, and made

him lift up his feet one after the other.

"Wah!" said Little Toomai, "thou art a big elephant," and he

wagged his fluffy head, quoting his father. "The Government may

pay for elephants, but they belong to us mahouts. When thou art

old, Kala Nag, there will come some rich rajah, and he will buy

thee from the Government, on account of thy size and thy manners,

and then thou wilt have nothing to do but to carry gold earrings

in thy ears, and a gold howdah on thy back, and a red cloth

covered with gold on thy sides, and walk at the head of the

processions of the King. Then I shall sit on thy neck, O Kala

Nag, with a silver ankus, and men will run before us with golden

sticks, crying, `Room for the King's elephant!' That will be

good, Kala Nag, but not so good as this hunting in the jungles."

"Umph!" said Big Toomai. "Thou art a boy, and as wild as a

buffalo-calf. This running up and down among the hills is not the

best Government service. I am getting old, and I do not love wild

elephants. Give me brick elephant lines, one stall to each

elephant, and big stumps to tie them to safely, and flat, broad

roads to exercise upon, instead of this come-and-go camping. Aha,

the Cawnpore barracks were good. There was a bazaar close by, and

only three hours' work a day."

Little Toomai remembered the Cawnpore elephant-lines and said

nothing. He very much preferred the camp life, and hated those

broad, flat roads, with the daily grubbing for grass in the forage

reserve, and the long hours when there was nothing to do except to

watch Kala Nag fidgeting in his pickets.

What Little Toomai liked was to scramble up bridle paths that

only an elephant could take; the dip into the valley below; the

glimpses of the wild elephants browsing miles away; the rush of

the frightened pig and peacock under Kala Nag's feet; the blinding

warm rains, when all the hills and valleys smoked; the beautiful

misty mornings when nobody knew where they would camp that night;

the steady, cautious drive of the wild elephants, and the mad rush

and blaze and hullabaloo of the last night's drive, when the

elephants poured into the stockade like boulders in a landslide,

found that they could not get out, and flung themselves at the

heavy posts only to be driven back by yells and flaring torches

and volleys of blank cartridge.

Even a little boy could be of use there, and Toomai was as

useful as three boys. He would get his torch and wave it, and

yell with the best. But the really good time came when the

driving out began, and the Keddah--that is, the stockade--

looked like a picture of the end of the world, and men had to make

signs to one another, because they could not hear themselves

speak. Then Little Toomai would climb up to the top of one of the

quivering stockade posts, his sun-bleached brown hair flying loose

all over his shoulders, and he looking like a goblin in the

torch-light. And as soon as there was a lull you could hear his

high-pitched yells of encouragement to Kala Nag, above the

trumpeting and crashing, and snapping of ropes, and groans of the

tethered elephants. "Mael, mael, Kala Nag! (Go on, go on, Black

Snake!) Dant do! (Give him the tusk!) Somalo! Somalo!

(Careful, careful!) Maro! Mar! (Hit him, hit him!) Mind the

post! Arre! Arre! Hai! Yai! Kya-a-ah!" he would shout, and

the big fight between Kala Nag and the wild elephant would sway to

and fro across the Keddah, and the old elephant catchers would

wipe the sweat out of their eyes, and find time to nod to Little

Toomai wriggling with joy on the top of the posts.

He did more than wriggle. One night he slid down from the

post and slipped in between the elephants and threw up the loose

end of a rope, which had dropped, to a driver who was trying to

get a purchase on the leg of a kicking young calf (calves always

give more trouble than full-grown animals). Kala Nag saw him,

caught him in his trunk, and handed him up to Big Toomai, who

slapped him then and there, and put him back on the post.

Next morning he gave him a scolding and said, "Are not good

brick elephant lines and a little tent carrying enough, that thou

must needs go elephant catching on thy own account, little

worthless? Now those foolish hunters, whose pay is less than my

pay, have spoken to Petersen Sahib of the matter." Little Toomai

was frightened. He did not know much of white men, but Petersen

Sahib was the greatest white man in the world to him. He was the

head of all the Keddah operations--the man who caught all the

elephants for the Government of India, and who knew more about the

ways of elephants than any living man.

"What--what will happen?" said Little Toomai.

"Happen! The worst that can happen. Petersen Sahib is a

madman. Else why should he go hunting these wild devils? He may

even require thee to be an elephant catcher, to sleep anywhere in

these fever-filled jungles, and at last to be trampled to death in

the Keddah. It is well that this nonsense ends safely. Next week

the catching is over, and we of the plains are sent back to our

stations. Then we will march on smooth roads, and forget all this

hunting. But, son, I am angry that thou shouldst meddle in the

business that belongs to these dirty Assamese jungle folk. Kala

Nag will obey none but me, so I must go with him into the Keddah,

but he is only a fighting elephant, and he does not help to rope

them. So I sit at my ease, as befits a mahout,--not a mere

hunter,--a mahout, I say, and a man who gets a pension at the

end of his service. Is the family of Toomai of the Elephants to

be trodden underfoot in the dirt of a Keddah? Bad one! Wicked

one! Worthless son! Go and wash Kala Nag and attend to his ears,

and see that there are no thorns in his feet. Or else Petersen

Sahib will surely catch thee and make thee a wild hunter--a

follower of elephant's foot tracks, a jungle bear. Bah! Shame! Go!"

Little Toomai went off without saying a word, but he told Kala

Nag all his grievances while he was examining his feet. "No

matter," said Little Toomai, turning up the fringe of Kala Nag's

huge right ear. "They have said my name to Petersen Sahib, and

perhaps--and perhaps--and perhaps--who knows? Hai! That is

a big thorn that I have pulled out!"

The next few days were spent in getting the elephants

together, in walking the newly caught wild elephants up and down

between a couple of tame ones to prevent them giving too much

trouble on the downward march to the plains, and in taking stock

of the blankets and ropes and things that had been worn out or

lost in the forest.

Petersen Sahib came in on his clever she-elephant Pudmini; he

had been paying off other camps among the hills, for the season

was coming to an end, and there was a native clerk sitting at a

table under a tree, to pay the drivers their wages. As each man

was paid he went back to his elephant, and joined the line that

stood ready to start. The catchers, and hunters, and beaters, the

men of the regular Keddah, who stayed in the jungle year in and

year out, sat on the backs of the elephants that belonged to

Petersen Sahib's permanent force, or leaned against the trees with

their guns across their arms, and made fun of the drivers who were

going away, and laughed when the newly caught elephants broke the

line and ran about.

Big Toomai went up to the clerk with Little Toomai behind him,

and Machua Appa, the head tracker, said in an undertone to a

friend of his, "There goes one piece of good elephant stuff at least.

'Tis a pity to send that young jungle-cock to molt in the plains."

Now Petersen Sahib had ears all over him, as a man must have

who listens to the most silent of all living things--the wild

elephant. He turned where he was lying all along on Pudmini's

back and said, "What is that? I did not know of a man among the

plains-drivers who had wit enough to rope even a dead elephant."

"This is not a man, but a boy. He went into the Keddah at the

last drive, and threw Barmao there the rope, when we were trying

to get that young calf with the blotch on his shoulder away from

his mother."

Machua Appa pointed at Little Toomai, and Petersen Sahib

looked, and Little Toomai bowed to the earth.

"He throw a rope? He is smaller than a picket-pin. Little

one, what is thy name?" said Petersen Sahib.

Little Toomai was too frightened to speak, but Kala Nag was

behind him, and Toomai made a sign with his hand, and the elephant

caught him up in his trunk and held him level with Pudmini's

forehead, in front of the great Petersen Sahib. Then Little

Toomai covered his face with his hands, for he was only a child,

and except where elephants were concerned, he was just as bashful

as a child could be.

"Oho!" said Petersen Sahib, smiling underneath his mustache,

"and why didst thou teach thy elephant that trick? Was it to help

thee steal green corn from the roofs of the houses when the ears

are put out to dry?"

"Not green corn, Protector of the Poor,--melons," said

Little Toomai, and all the men sitting about broke into a roar of

laughter. Most of them had taught their elephants that trick when

they were boys. Little Toomai was hanging eight feet up in the

air, and he wished very much that he were eight feet underground.

"He is Toomai, my son, Sahib," said Big Toomai, scowling. "He

is a very bad boy, and he will end in a jail, Sahib."

"Of that I have my doubts," said Petersen Sahib. "A boy who

can face a full Keddah at his age does not end in jails. See,

little one, here are four annas to spend in sweetmeats because

thou hast a little head under that great thatch of hair. In time

thou mayest become a hunter too." Big Toomai scowled more than

ever. "Remember, though, that Keddahs are not good for children

to play in," Petersen Sahib went on.

"Must I never go there, Sahib?" asked Little Toomai with a big gasp.

"Yes." Petersen Sahib smiled again. "When thou hast seen the

elephants dance. That is the proper time. Come to me when thou

hast seen the elephants dance, and then I will let thee go into

all the Keddahs."

There was another roar of laughter, for that is an old joke

among elephant-catchers, and it means just never. There are great

cleared flat places hidden away in the forests that are called

elephants' ball-rooms, but even these are only found by accident,

and no man has ever seen the elephants dance. When a driver

boasts of his skill and bravery the other drivers say, "And when

didst thou see the elephants dance?"

Kala Nag put Little Toomai down, and he bowed to the earth

again and went away with his father, and gave the silver four-anna

piece to his mother, who was nursing his baby brother, and they

all were put up on Kala Nag's back, and the line of grunting,

squealing elephants rolled down the hill path to the plains. It

was a very lively march on account of the new elephants, who gave

trouble at every ford, and needed coaxing or beating every other


Big Toomai prodded Kala Nag spitefully, for he was very angry,

but Little Toomai was too happy to speak. Petersen Sahib had

noticed him, and given him money, so he felt as a private soldier

would feel if he had been called out of the ranks and praised by

his commander-in-chief.

"What did Petersen Sahib mean by the elephant dance?" he said,

at last, softly to his mother.

Big Toomai heard him and grunted. "That thou shouldst never

be one of these hill buffaloes of trackers. That was what he

meant. Oh, you in front, what is blocking the way?"

An Assamese driver, two or three elephants ahead, turned round

angrily, crying: "Bring up Kala Nag, and knock this youngster of

mine into good behavior. Why should Petersen Sahib have chosen me

to go down with you donkeys of the rice fields? Lay your beast

alongside, Toomai, and let him prod with his tusks. By all the

Gods of the Hills, these new elephants are possessed, or else they

can smell their companions in the jungle." Kala Nag hit the new

elephant in the ribs and knocked the wind out of him, as Big

Toomai said, "We have swept the hills of wild elephants at the

last catch. It is only your carelessness in driving. Must I keep

order along the whole line?"

"Hear him!" said the other driver. "We have swept the hills!

Ho! Ho! You are very wise, you plains people. Anyone but a

mud-head who never saw the jungle would know that they know that

the drives are ended for the season. Therefore all the wild

elephants to-night will--but why should I waste wisdom on a


"What will they do?" Little Toomai called out.

"Ohe, little one. Art thou there? Well, I will tell thee,

for thou hast a cool head. They will dance, and it behooves thy

father, who has swept all the hills of all the elephants, to

double-chain his pickets to-night."

"What talk is this?" said Big Toomai. "For forty years,

father and son, we have tended elephants, and we have never heard

such moonshine about dances."

"Yes; but a plainsman who lives in a hut knows only the four

walls of his hut. Well, leave thy elephants unshackled tonight

and see what comes. As for their dancing, I have seen the place

where--Bapree-bap! How many windings has the Dihang River?

Here is another ford, and we must swim the calves. Stop still,

you behind there."

And in this way, talking and wrangling and splashing through

the rivers, they made their first march to a sort of receiving

camp for the new elephants. But they lost their tempers long

before they got there.

Then the elephants were chained by their hind legs to their

big stumps of pickets, and extra ropes were fitted to the new

elephants, and the fodder was piled before them, and the hill

drivers went back to Petersen Sahib through the afternoon light,

telling the plains drivers to be extra careful that night, and

laughing when the plains drivers asked the reason.

Little Toomai attended to Kala Nag's supper, and as evening

fell, wandered through the camp, unspeakably happy, in search of a

tom-tom. When an Indian child's heart is full, he does not run

about and make a noise in an irregular fashion. He sits down to a

sort of revel all by himself. And Little Toomai had been spoken

to by Petersen Sahib! If he had not found what he wanted, I

believe he would have been ill. But the sweetmeat seller in the

camp lent him a little tom-tom--a drum beaten with the flat of

the hand--and he sat down, cross-legged, before Kala Nag as the

stars began to come out, the tom-tom in his lap, and he thumped

and he thumped and he thumped, and the more he thought of the

great honor that had been done to him, the more he thumped, all

alone among the elephant fodder. There was no tune and no words,

but the thumping made him happy.

The new elephants strained at their ropes, and squealed and

trumpeted from time to time, and he could hear his mother in the

camp hut putting his small brother to sleep with an old, old song

about the great God Shiv, who once told all the animals what they

should eat. It is a very soothing lullaby, and the first verse says:

Shiv, who poured the harvest and made the winds to blow,

Sitting at the doorways of a day of long ago,

Gave to each his portion, food and toil and fate,

From the King upon the guddee to the Beggar at the gate.

All things made he--Shiva the Preserver.

Mahadeo! Mahadeo! He made all--

Thorn for the camel, fodder for the kine,

And mother's heart for sleepy head, O little son of mine!

Little Toomai came in with a joyous tunk-a-tunk at the end of

each verse, till he felt sleepy and stretched himself on the

fodder at Kala Nag's side. At last the elephants began to lie

down one after another as is their custom, till only Kala Nag at

the right of the line was left standing up; and he rocked slowly

from side to side, his ears put forward to listen to the night

wind as it blew very slowly across the hills. The air was full of

all the night noises that, taken together, make one big silence--

the click of one bamboo stem against the other, the rustle of

something alive in the undergrowth, the scratch and squawk of a

half-waked bird (birds are awake in the night much more often than

we imagine), and the fall of water ever so far away. Little

Toomai slept for some time, and when he waked it was brilliant

moonlight, and Kala Nag was still standing up with his ears

cocked. Little Toomai turned, rustling in the fodder, and watched

the curve of his big back against half the stars in heaven, and

while he watched he heard, so far away that it sounded no more

than a pinhole of noise pricked through the stillness, the

"hoot-toot" of a wild elephant.

All the elephants in the lines jumped up as if they had been

shot, and their grunts at last waked the sleeping mahouts, and

they came out and drove in the picket pegs with big mallets, and

tightened this rope and knotted that till all was quiet. One new

elephant had nearly grubbed up his picket, and Big Toomai took off

Kala Nag's leg chain and shackled that elephant fore-foot to

hind-foot, but slipped a loop of grass string round Kala Nag's

leg, and told him to remember that he was tied fast. He knew that

he and his father and his grandfather had done the very same thing

hundreds of times before. Kala Nag did not answer to the order by

gurgling, as he usually did. He stood still, looking out across

the moonlight, his head a little raised and his ears spread like

fans, up to the great folds of the Garo hills.

"Tend to him if he grows restless in the night," said Big

Toomai to Little Toomai, and he went into the hut and slept.

Little Toomai was just going to sleep, too, when he heard the coir

string snap with a little "tang," and Kala Nag rolled out of his

pickets as slowly and as silently as a cloud rolls out of the

mouth of a valley. Little Toomai pattered after him, barefooted,

down the road in the moonlight, calling under his breath, "Kala

Nag! Kala Nag! Take me with you, O Kala Nag!" The elephant

turned, without a sound, took three strides back to the boy in the

moonlight, put down his trunk, swung him up to his neck, and

almost before Little Toomai had settled his knees, slipped into

the forest.

There was one blast of furious trumpeting from the lines, and

then the silence shut down on everything, and Kala Nag began to

move. Sometimes a tuft of high grass washed along his sides as a

wave washes along the sides of a ship, and sometimes a cluster of

wild-pepper vines would scrape along his back, or a bamboo would

creak where his shoulder touched it. But between those times he

moved absolutely without any sound, drifting through the thick

Garo forest as though it had been smoke. He was going uphill, but

though Little Toomai watched the stars in the rifts of the trees,

he could not tell in what direction.

Then Kala Nag reached the crest of the ascent and stopped for

a minute, and Little Toomai could see the tops of the trees lying

all speckled and furry under the moonlight for miles and miles,

and the blue-white mist over the river in the hollow. Toomai

leaned forward and looked, and he felt that the forest was awake

below him--awake and alive and crowded. A big brown

fruit-eating bat brushed past his ear; a porcupine's quills

rattled in the thicket; and in the darkness between the tree stems

he heard a hog-bear digging hard in the moist warm earth, and

snuffing as it digged.

Then the branches closed over his head again, and Kala Nag

began to go down into the valley--not quietly this time, but as

a runaway gun goes down a steep bank--in one rush. The huge

limbs moved as steadily as pistons, eight feet to each stride, and

the wrinkled skin of the elbow points rustled. The undergrowth on

either side of him ripped with a noise like torn canvas, and the

saplings that he heaved away right and left with his shoulders

sprang back again and banged him on the flank, and great trails of

creepers, all matted together, hung from his tusks as he threw his

head from side to side and plowed out his pathway. Then Little

Toomai laid himself down close to the great neck lest a swinging

bough should sweep him to the ground, and he wished that he were

back in the lines again.

The grass began to get squashy, and Kala Nag's feet sucked and

squelched as he put them down, and the night mist at the bottom of

the valley chilled Little Toomai. There was a splash and a

trample, and the rush of running water, and Kala Nag strode

through the bed of a river, feeling his way at each step. Above

the noise of the water, as it swirled round the elephant's legs,

Little Toomai could hear more splashing and some trumpeting both

upstream and down--great grunts and angry snortings, and all the

mist about him seemed to be full of rolling, wavy shadows.

"Ai!" he said, half aloud, his teeth chattering. "The

elephant-folk are out tonight. It is the dance, then!"

Kala Nag swashed out of the water, blew his trunk clear, and

began another climb. But this time he was not alone, and he had

not to make his path. That was made already, six feet wide, in

front of him, where the bent jungle-grass was trying to recover

itself and stand up. Many elephants must have gone that way only

a few minutes before. Little Toomai looked back, and behind him a

great wild tusker with his little pig's eyes glowing like hot

coals was just lifting himself out of the misty river.

Then the trees closed up again, and they went on and up, with

trumpetings and crashings, and the sound of breaking branches on

every side of them.

At last Kala Nag stood still between two tree-trunks at the

very top of the hill. They were part of a circle of trees that

grew round an irregular space of some three or four acres, and in

all that space, as Little Toomai could see, the ground had been

trampled down as hard as a brick floor. Some trees grew in the

center of the clearing, but their bark was rubbed away, and the

white wood beneath showed all shiny and polished in the patches of

moonlight. There were creepers hanging from the upper branches,

and the bells of the flowers of the creepers, great waxy white

things like convolvuluses, hung down fast asleep. But within the

limits of the clearing there was not a single blade of green--

nothing but the trampled earth.

The moonlight showed it all iron gray, except where some

elephants stood upon it, and their shadows were inky black.

Little Toomai looked, holding his breath, with his eyes starting

out of his head, and as he looked, more and more and more

elephants swung out into the open from between the tree trunks.

Little Toomai could only count up to ten, and he counted again and

again on his fingers till he lost count of the tens, and his head

began to swim. Outside the clearing he could hear them crashing

in the undergrowth as they worked their way up the hillside, but

as soon as they were within the circle of the tree trunks they

moved like ghosts.

There were white-tusked wild males, with fallen leaves and

nuts and twigs lying in the wrinkles of their necks and the folds

of their ears; fat, slow-footed she-elephants, with restless,

little pinky black calves only three or four feet high running

under their stomachs; young elephants with their tusks just

beginning to show, and very proud of them; lanky, scraggy old-maid

elephants, with their hollow anxious faces, and trunks like rough

bark; savage old bull elephants, scarred from shoulder to flank

with great weals and cuts of bygone fights, and the caked dirt of

their solitary mud baths dropping from their shoulders; and there

was one with a broken tusk and the marks of the full-stroke, the

terrible drawing scrape, of a tiger's claws on his side.

They were standing head to head, or walking to and fro across

the ground in couples, or rocking and swaying all by themselves--

scores and scores of elephants.

Toomai knew that so long as he lay still on Kala Nag's neck

nothing would happen to him, for even in the rush and scramble of

a Keddah drive a wild elephant does not reach up with his trunk

and drag a man off the neck of a tame elephant. And these

elephants were not thinking of men that night. Once they started

and put their ears forward when they heard the chinking of a leg

iron in the forest, but it was Pudmini, Petersen Sahib's pet

elephant, her chain snapped short off, grunting, snuffling up the

hillside. She must have broken her pickets and come straight from

Petersen Sahib's camp; and Little Toomai saw another elephant, one

that he did not know, with deep rope galls on his back and breast.

He, too, must have run away from some camp in the hills about.

At last there was no sound of any more elephants moving in the

forest, and Kala Nag rolled out from his station between the trees

and went into the middle of the crowd, clucking and gurgling, and

all the elephants began to talk in their own tongue, and to move


Still lying down, Little Toomai looked down upon scores and

scores of broad backs, and wagging ears, and tossing trunks, and

little rolling eyes. He heard the click of tusks as they crossed

other tusks by accident, and the dry rustle of trunks twined

together, and the chafing of enormous sides and shoulders in the

crowd, and the incessant flick and hissh of the great tails. Then

a cloud came over the moon, and he sat in black darkness. But the

quiet, steady hustling and pushing and gurgling went on just the

same. He knew that there were elephants all round Kala Nag, and

that there was no chance of backing him out of the assembly; so he

set his teeth and shivered. In a Keddah at least there was

torchlight and shouting, but here he was all alone in the dark,

and once a trunk came up and touched him on the knee.

Then an elephant trumpeted, and they all took it up for five

or ten terrible seconds. The dew from the trees above spattered

down like rain on the unseen backs, and a dull booming noise

began, not very loud at first, and Little Toomai could not tell

what it was. But it grew and grew, and Kala Nag lifted up one

forefoot and then the other, and brought them down on the ground

--one-two, one-two, as steadily as trip-hammers. The elephants

were stamping all together now, and it sounded like a war drum

beaten at the mouth of a cave. The dew fell from the trees till

there was no more left to fall, and the booming went on, and the

ground rocked and shivered, and Little Toomai put his hands up to

his ears to shut out the sound. But it was all one gigantic jar

that ran through him--this stamp of hundreds of heavy feet on

the raw earth. Once or twice he could feel Kala Nag and all the

others surge forward a few strides, and the thumping would change

to the crushing sound of juicy green things being bruised, but in

a minute or two the boom of feet on hard earth began again. A

tree was creaking and groaning somewhere near him. He put out his

arm and felt the bark, but Kala Nag moved forward, still tramping,

and he could not tell where he was in the clearing. There was no

sound from the elephants, except once, when two or three little

calves squeaked together. Then he heard a thump and a shuffle,

and the booming went on. It must have lasted fully two hours, and

Little Toomai ached in every nerve, but he knew by the smell of

the night air that the dawn was coming.

The morning broke in one sheet of pale yellow behind the green

hills, and the booming stopped with the first ray, as though the

light had been an order. Before Little Toomai had got the ringing

out of his head, before even he had shifted his position, there

was not an elephant in sight except Kala Nag, Pudmini, and the

elephant with the rope-galls, and there was neither sign nor

rustle nor whisper down the hillsides to show where the others had


Little Toomai stared again and again. The clearing, as he

remembered it, had grown in the night. More trees stood in the

middle of it, but the undergrowth and the jungle grass at the

sides had been rolled back. Little Toomai stared once more. Now

he understood the trampling. The elephants had stamped out more

room--had stamped the thick grass and juicy cane to trash, the

trash into slivers, the slivers into tiny fibers, and the fibers

into hard earth.

"Wah!" said Little Toomai, and his eyes were very heavy.

"Kala Nag, my lord, let us keep by Pudmini and go to Petersen

Sahib's camp, or I shall drop from thy neck."

The third elephant watched the two go away, snorted, wheeled

round, and took his own path. He may have belonged to some little

native king's establishment, fifty or sixty or a hundred miles away.

Two hours later, as Petersen Sahib was eating early breakfast,

his elephants, who had been double chained that night, began to

trumpet, and Pudmini, mired to the shoulders, with Kala Nag, very

footsore, shambled into the camp. Little Toomai's face was gray

and pinched, and his hair was full of leaves and drenched with

dew, but he tried to salute Petersen Sahib, and cried faintly:

"The dance--the elephant dance! I have seen it, and--I die!"

As Kala Nag sat down, he slid off his neck in a dead faint.

But, since native children have no nerves worth speaking of,

in two hours he was lying very contentedly in Petersen Sahib's

hammock with Petersen Sahib's shooting-coat under his head, and a

glass of warm milk, a little brandy, with a dash of quinine,

inside of him, and while the old hairy, scarred hunters of the

jungles sat three deep before him, looking at him as though he

were a spirit, he told his tale in short words, as a child will,

and wound up with:

"Now, if I lie in one word, send men to see, and they will

find that the elephant folk have trampled down more room in their

dance-room, and they will find ten and ten, and many times ten,

tracks leading to that dance-room. They made more room with their

feet. I have seen it. Kala Nag took me, and I saw. Also Kala

Nag is very leg-weary!"

Little Toomai lay back and slept all through the long

afternoon and into the twilight, and while he slept Petersen Sahib

and Machua Appa followed the track of the two elephants for

fifteen miles across the hills. Petersen Sahib had spent eighteen

years in catching elephants, and he had only once before found

such a dance-place. Machua Appa had no need to look twice at the

clearing to see what had been done there, or to scratch with his

toe in the packed, rammed earth.

"The child speaks truth," said he. "All this was done last

night, and I have counted seventy tracks crossing the river. See,

Sahib, where Pudmini's leg-iron cut the bark of that tree! Yes;

she was there too."

They looked at one another and up and down, and they wondered.

For the ways of elephants are beyond the wit of any man, black or

white, to fathom.

"Forty years and five," said Machua Appa, "have I followed my

lord, the elephant, but never have I heard that any child of man

had seen what this child has seen. By all the Gods of the Hills,

it is--what can we say?" and he shook his head.

When they got back to camp it was time for the evening meal.

Petersen Sahib ate alone in his tent, but he gave orders that the

camp should have two sheep and some fowls, as well as a double

ration of flour and rice and salt, for he knew that there would be

a feast.

Big Toomai had come up hotfoot from the camp in the plains to

search for his son and his elephant, and now that he had found

them he looked at them as though he were afraid of them both. And

there was a feast by the blazing campfires in front of the lines

of picketed elephants, and Little Toomai was the hero of it all.

And the big brown elephant catchers, the trackers and drivers and

ropers, and the men who know all the secrets of breaking the

wildest elephants, passed him from one to the other, and they

marked his forehead with blood from the breast of a newly killed

jungle-cock, to show that he was a forester, initiated and free of

all the jungles.

And at last, when the flames died down, and the red light of

the logs made the elephants look as though they had been dipped in

blood too, Machua Appa, the head of all the drivers of all the

Keddahs--Machua Appa, Petersen Sahib's other self, who had never

seen a made road in forty years: Machua Appa, who was so great

that he had no other name than Machua Appa,--leaped to his feet,

with Little Toomai held high in the air above his head, and

shouted: "Listen, my brothers. Listen, too, you my lords in the

lines there, for I, Machua Appa, am speaking! This little one

shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the

Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him. What

never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the

favor of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with

him. He shall become a great tracker. He shall become greater

than I, even I, Machua Appa! He shall follow the new trail, and

the stale trail, and the mixed trail, with a clear eye! He shall

take no harm in the Keddah when he runs under their bellies to

rope the wild tuskers; and if he slips before the feet of the

charging bull elephant, the bull elephant shall know who he is and

shall not crush him. Aihai! my lords in the chains,"--he

whirled up the line of pickets--"here is the little one that has

seen your dances in your hidden places,--the sight that never

man saw! Give him honor, my lords! Salaam karo, my children.

Make your salute to Toomai of the Elephants! Gunga Pershad, ahaa!

Hira Guj, Birchi Guj, Kuttar Guj, ahaa! Pudmini,--thou hast

seen him at the dance, and thou too, Kala Nag, my pearl among

elephants!--ahaa! Together! To Toomai of the Elephants. Barrao!"

And at that last wild yell the whole line flung up their

trunks till the tips touched their foreheads, and broke out into

the full salute--the crashing trumpet-peal that only the Viceroy

of India hears, the Salaamut of the Keddah.

But it was all for the sake of Little Toomai, who had seen

what never man had seen before--the dance of the elephants at

night and alone in the heart of the Garo hills!



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