‘Less you want your toes trod off you’d better get back at once.
For the bullocks are walkin’ two by two.
The byles are walkin’ two by two.
The bullocks are walkin’ two by two.
An’ the elephants bring the guns!
Great — big — long — black forty-pounder guns
Jiggery-jolty to and fro.
Each as big as a launch in tow —
Blind — dumb — broad-breeched beggars o’ batterin’ guns!
— Barrack-room Ballad.
TOUCHING the truth of this tale there need be no doubt at all, for it was told to me by Mulvaney at the back of the elephant-lines, one warm evening when we were taking the dogs out for exercise. The twelve Government elephants rocked at their pickets outside the big mud-walled stables (one arch, as wide as a bridge-arch, to each restless beast), and the mahouts were preparing the evening meal. Now and again some impatient youngster would smell the cooking flour-cakes and squeal; and the naked little children, of the elephant-lines would strut down the row shouting and commanding silence, or, reaching up, would slap at the eager trunks. Then the elephants feigned to be deeply interested in pouring dust upon their heads, but, so soon as the children passed, the rocking, fidgeting, and muttering broke out again.
The sunset was dying, and the elephants heaved and swayed dead black against the one sheet of rose-red low down in the dusty gray sky. It was at the beginning of the hot weather, just after the troops had changed into their white clothes, so Mulvaney and Ortheris looked like ghosts walking through the dusk. Learoyd had gone off to another barrack to buy sulphur ointment for his last dog under suspicion of mange, and with delicacy had put his kennel into quarantine at the back of the furnace where they cremate the anthrax cases.
‘You wouldn’t like mange, little woman?’ said Ortheris, turning my terrier over on her fat white back with his foot. ‘You’re no end bloomin’ partic’lar, you are. ‘Oo wouldn’t take no notice o’ me t’other day ‘cause she was goin’ ‘ome all alone in ‘er dorg-cart, eh? Settin’ on the box-seat like a bloomin’ little tart, you was, Vicy. Now you run along an’ make them ‘uttees ‘oller. Sick ’em, Vicy, loo!’
Elephants loathe little dogs. Vixen barked herself down the pickets, and in a minute all the elephants were kicking and squealing and clucking together.
‘Oh, you soldier-men,’ said a mahout angrily, ‘call of your she-dog. She is frightening our elephant-folk.’
‘Rummy beggars!’ said Ortheris meditatively. ‘‘Call ’em people, same as if they was. An’ they are too. Not so bloomin’ rummy when you come to think of it, neither.’
Vixen returned yapping to show that she could do it again if she liked, and established herself between Ortheris’s knees, smiling a large smile at his lawful dogs who dared not fly at her.
‘‘Seed the battery this mornin’?’ said Ortheris. He meant the newly-arrived elephant-battery; otherwise he would have said simply ‘guns.’ Three elephants harnessed tandem go to each gun, and those who have not seen the big forty-pounders of position trundling along in the wake of their gigantic team have yet something to behold. The lead-elephant had behaved very badly on parade; had been cut loose, sent back to the lines in disgrace, and was at that hour squealing and lashing out with his trunk at the end of the line; a picture of blind, bound, bad temper. His mahout, standing clear of the flail-like blows, was trying to soothe him.
‘That’s the beggar that cut up on p’rade. ‘E’s must,’ said Ortheris pointing. ‘There’ll be murder in the lines soon, and then, per’aps, ‘e’ll get loose an’ we’ll ‘ave to be turned out to shoot ’im, same as when one o’ they native king’s elephants musted last June. ‘Ope ‘e will.’
‘Must be sugared!’ said Mulvaney contemptuously from his resting-place on the pile of dried bedding. ‘He’s no more than in a powerful bad timper wid bein’ put upon. I’d lay my kit he’s new to the gun-team, an’ by natur’ he hates haulin’. Ask the mahout, sorr.’
I hailed the old white-bearded mahout who was lavishing pet words on his sulky red-eyed charge.
‘He is not musth,’ the man replied indignantly; ‘only his honour has been touched. Is an elephant an ox or a mule that he should tug at a trace? His strength is in his head — Peace, peace, my Lord! It was not my fault that they yoked thee this morning! — Only a low-caste elephant will pull a gun, and he is a Kumeria of the Doon. It cost a year and the life of a man to break him to burden. They of the Artillery put him in the gun-team because one of their base-born brutes had gone lame. No wonder that he was, and is wrath.’
‘Rummy! Most unusual rum,’ said Ortheris. ‘Gawd, ‘e is in a temper, though! S’pose ‘e got loose!’
Mulvaney began to speak but checked himself, and I asked the mahout what would happen if the heel-chains broke.
‘God knows, who made elephants,’ he said simply. ‘In his now state peradventure he might kill you three, or run at large till his rage abated. He would not kill me except he were musth. Then would he kill me before any one in the world, because he loves me. Such is the custom of the elephant-folk; and the custom of us mahout-people matches it for foolishness. We trust each our own elephant, till our own elephant kills us. Other castes trust women, but we the elephant-folk. I have seen men deal with enraged elephants and live; but never was man yet born of woman that met my lord the elephant in his musth and lived to tell of the taming. They are enough bold who meet him angry.’
I translated. Then said Terence: ‘Ask the heathen if he iver saw a man tame an elephint — anyways — a white man.’
‘Once,’ said the mahout, ‘I saw a man astride of such a beast in the town of Cawnpore; a bareheaded man, a white man, beating it upon the head with a gun. It was said he was possessed of devils or drunk.’
‘Is ut like, think you, he’d be doin’ it sober?’ said Mulvaney after interpretation, and the chained elephant roared.
‘There’s only one man top of earth that would be the partic’lar kind o’ sorter bloomin’ fool to do it!’ said Ortheris. ‘When was that, Mulvaney?’
‘As the naygur sez, in Cawnpore; an’ I was that fool — in the days av my youth. But it came about as naturil as wan thing leads to another, me an’ the elephint, and the elephint and me; an’ the fight betune us was the most naturil av all.’
‘That’s just wot it would ha’ been,’ said Ortheris. ‘Only you must ha’ been more than usual full. You done one queer trick with an elephant that I know of, why didn’t you never tell us the other one?’
‘Bekase, onless you had heard the naygur here say what he has said spontaneous, you’d ha’ called me for a liar, Stanley, my son, an’ it would ha’ bin my duty an’ my delight to give you the father an’ mother av a beltin’! There’s only wan fault about you, little man, an’ that’s thinking you know all there is in the world, an’ a little more. ’Tis a fault that has made away wid a few orf’cers I’ve served undher, not to spake av ivry man but two that I iver thried to make into a privit.’
‘Ho!’ said Ortheris with rufed plumes, ‘an’ ‘oo was your two bloomin’ little Sir Garnets, eh?’
‘Wan was mesilf,’ said Mulvaney with a grin that darkness could not hide; ‘an’— seein’ that he’s not here there’s no harm speakin’ av’ him — t’other was Jock.’
‘Jock’s no more than a ‘ayrick in trousies. ‘E be’aves like one; an’ ‘e can’t ‘it one at a ‘undred; ‘e was born on one, an’ s’welp me ‘e’ll die under one for not bein’ able to say wot ‘e wants in a Christian lingo,’ said Ortheris, jumping up from the piled fodder only to be swept off his legs. Vixen leaped upon his stomach, and the other dogs followed and sat down there.
‘I know what Jock is like,’ I said. ‘I want to hear about the elephant, though.’
‘It’s another o’ Mulvaney’s bloomin’ panoramas,’ said Ortheris, gasping under the dogs. ‘‘Im an’ Jock for the ‘ole bloomin’ British Army! You’ll be sayin’ you won Waterloo next — you an’ Jock. Garn!’
Neither of us thought it worth while to notice Ortheris. The big gun-elephant threshed and muttered in his chains, giving tongue now and again in crashing trumpet-peals, and to this accompaniment Terence went on: ‘In the beginnin’,’ said he, ‘me bein’ what I was, there was a misunderstandin’ wid my sergeant that was then. He put his spite on me for various reasons,’—
The deep-set eyes twinkled above the glow of, the pipe-bowl, and Ortheris grunted, ‘ Another petticoat!’
—‘For various an’ promiscuous reasons; an’ the upshot av it was that he come into barricks wan afternoon whin’ I was settlin’ my cowlick before goin’ walkin’, called me a big baboon (which I was not), an’ a demoralisin’ beggar (which I was), an’ bid me go on fatigue thin an’ there, helpin’ shift E.P. tents, fourteen av thim from the rest-camps. At that, me bein’ set on my walk —’
‘Ah!’ from under the dogs, ‘‘e’s a Mormon, Vic. Don’t you ‘ave nothin’ to do with ’im, little dorg.’
—‘Set on my walk, I tould him a few things that came up in my mind, an’ wan thing led on to another, an’ betune talkin’ I made time for to hit the nose av him so that he’d be no Venus to any woman for a week to come. ’Twas a fine big nose, and well it paid for a little groomin’. Afther that I was so well pleased wid my handicraftfulness that I niver raised fist on the gyard that came to take me to Clink. A child might ha’ led me along, for I knew old Kearney’s nose was ruined. That summer the Ould Rig’ment did not use their own Clink, bekase the cholera was hangin’ about there like Mildew on wet boots, an’ ’twas murdher to confine in ut. We borrowed the Clink that belonged to the Holy Christians (the rig’ment that has never seen service yet), and that lay a matther av a mile away, acrost two p’rade-grounds an’ the main road, an’ all the ladies av Cawnpore goin’ out for their afternoon dhrive. So I moved in the best av society, my shadow dancin’ along forninst me, an’ the gyard as solemn as putty, the bracelets on my wrists, an’ my heart full contint wid the notion av Kearney’s pro — pro — probosculum in a shling.
‘In the middle av ut all I perceived a gunner-orf’cer in full rig’mentals perusin’ down the road, hell-for-leather, wid his mouth open. He fetched wan woild despairin’ look on the dog-kyarts an’ the polite society av Cawnpore, an’ thin he dived like a rabbut into a dhrain by the side av the road.
‘“Bhoys,” sez I, “that orf’cer’s dhrunk. ’Tis scand’lus. Let’s take him to Clink too.”
‘The corp’ril of the gyard made a jump for me, unlocked my stringers, an’ he sez: “If it comes to runnin’, run for your life. If it doesn’t, I’ll trust your honour. Anyways,” sez he, “come to Clink whin you can.”.
‘Then I behild him runnin’ wan way, stuffin’ the bracelets in his pocket, they bein’ Gov’ment property, and the gyard runnin’ another, an’ all the dog-kyarts runnin’ all ways to wanst, an’ me alone lookin’ down the red bag av a mouth av an elephint forty-two feet high at the shoulder, tin feet wide, wid tusks as long as the Ochterlony Monumint. That was my first reconnaissance. Maybe he was not quite so contagious, nor quite so tall, but I didn’t stop to throw out pickets. Mother av Hiven, how I ran down the road! The baste began to inveshtigate the dhrain wid the gunner-orf’cer in ut; an’ that was the makin’ av me. I tripped over wan of the rifles that my gyard had discarded (onsoldierly blackguards they was!), and whin I got up I was facin’ t’other way about an’ the elephint was huntin’ for the gunnerorf’cer. I can see his big fat back yet. Excipt that he didn’t dig, he car’ied on for all the world like little Vixen here at a rat-hole. He put his head down (by my sowl he nearly stood on ut!) to shquint down the dhrain; thin he’d grunt, and run round to the other ind in case the orf’cer was gone out by the back door; an’ he’d shtuff his trunk down the flue an’ get ut filled wid mud, an’ blow ut out, an’ grunt’, an’ swear! My troth, he swore all hiven down upon that orf’cer; an’ what a commissariat elephint had to do wid a gunner-orf’cer passed me. Me havin’ nowhere to go except to Clink, I stud in the road wid the rifle, a Snider an’ no amm’nition, philosophisin’ upon the rear ind av the animal. All round me, miles and miles, there was howlin’ desolation, for ivry human sowl wid two legs, or four for the matther av that, was ambuscadin’, an’ this ould rapparee stud on his head tuggin’ and gruntin’ above the dhrain, his tail stickin’ up to the sky, an’ he thryin’ to thrumpet through three feet av road-sweepin’s up his thrunk. Begad, ’twas wickud to behold!
‘Subsequint he caught sight av me standin’ alone in the wide, wide world lanin’ on the rifle. That dishcomposed him, bekase he thought I was the gunner-orf’cer got out unbeknownst. He looked betune his feet at the dhrain, an’ he looked at me, an’ I sez to myself: “Terence, my son, you’ve been watchin’ this Noah’s ark too long. Run for your life!” Dear knows I wanted to tell him I was only a poor privit on my way to Clink, an’ no orf’cer at all, at all; but he put his ears forward av his thick head, an’ I rethreated down the road grippin’ the rifle, my back as cowld as a tombstone, and the slack av my trousies, where I made sure he’d take hould, crawlin’ wid — wid invidjus apprehension.
‘I might ha’ run till I dhropped, bekase I was betune the two straight lines av the road, an’ a man, or a thousand men for the matther av that, are the like av sheep in keepin’ betune right an’ left marks.’
‘Same as canaries,’ said Ortheris from the darkness. ‘Draw a line on a bloomin’ little board, put their bloomin’ little beakses there; stay so for hever and hever, amen, they will. ‘Seed a ¥ole reg’ment, I ‘ave, walk crabways along the edge of a two-foot water-cut ‘stid o’ thinkin’ to cross it. Men is sheep-bloomin’ sheep. Go on.’
‘But I saw his shadow wid the tail av my eye,’ continued the man of experiences, ‘an’ “Wheel,” I sez, “Terence, wheel!” an’ I wheeled. ’Tis truth that I cud hear the shparks flyin’ from my heels; an’ I shpun into the nearest compound, fetched wan jump from the gate to the verandah av the house, an’ fell over a tribe of naygurs wid a half-caste boy at a desk, all manufacturin’ harness. ’Twas Antonio’s Carriage Emporium at Cawnpore. You know ut, sorr?
‘Ould Grambags must ha’ wheeled abreast wid me, for his trunk came lickin’ into the verandah like a belt in a barrick-room row, before I was in the shop. The naygurs an’ the half-caste boy howled an’ wint out at the backdoor, an’ I stud lone as Lot’s wife among the harness. A powerful thirsty thing is harness, by reason av the smell to ut.
‘I wint into the backroom, nobody bein’ there to invite, an’ I found a bottle av whisky and a goglet av wather. The first an’ the second dhrink I never noticed bein’ dhry, but the fourth an’ the fifth tuk good hould av me an’ I began to think scornful av elephints. “Take the upper ground in manoe’vrin’, Terence,” I sez; “an’ you’ll be a gen’ral yet,” sez I. An’ wid that I wint up to the flat mud roof av the house an’ looked over the edge av the parapit, threadin’ delicate. Ould Barrel-belly was in the compound, walkin’ to an’ fro, pluckin’ a piece av grass here an’ a weed there, for all the world like our colonel that is now whin his wife’s given him a talkin’ down an’ he’s prom’nadin’ to ease his timper. His back was to me, an’ by the same token I hiccupped. He checked in his walk, wan ear forward like a deaf ould lady wid an ear-thrumpet, an’ his thrunk hild out in a kind av fore-reaching hook. Thin he wagged his ear sayin’, “Do my sinses deceive me?” as plain as print, an’ he recomminst promenadin’. You know Antonio’s compound? ’Twas as full thin as ’tis now av new kyarts and ould kyarts, an’ second-hand kyarts an’ kyarts for hire — landos, an’ b’rooshes, an’ brooms, an’ wag’nettes av ivry description. Thin I hiccupped again, an’ he began to study the ground beneath him, his tail whistlin’ wid emotion. Thin he lapped his thrunk round the shaft av a wag’nette an’ dhrew it out circumspectuous an’ thoughtful. “He’s not there,” he sez, fumblin’ in the cushions wid his thrunk. Thin I hiccupped again, an’ wid that he lost his patience good an’ all, same as this wan in the lines here.’
The gun-elephant was breaking into peal after peal of indignant trumpetings, to the disgust of the other animals who had finished their food and wished to drowse. Between the outcries we could hear him picking restlessly at his ankle ring.
‘As I was sayin’,’ Mulvaney went on, ‘he behaved dishgraceful. He let out wid his fore-fut like a steam-hammer, bein’ convinced that I was in ambuscade adjacent; an’ that wag’nette ran back among the other carriages like a field-gun in charge. Thin he hauled ut out again an’ shuk ut, an’ by nature it came all to little pieces. Afther that he went sheer damn, slam, dancin’, lunatic, double-shuffle demented wid the whole of Antonio’s shtock for the season. He kicked, an’ he straddled, and he stamped, an’ he pounded all at wanst, his big bald head bobbin’ up an’ down, solemn as a rigadoon. He tuk a new shiny broom an’ kicked ut on wan corner, an’ ut opened out like a blossomin’ lily; an’ he shtuck wan fool-foot through the flure av ut an’ a wheel was shpinnin’ on his tusk. At that he got scared, an’ by this an’ that he fair sat down plump among the carriages, an’ they pricked ’im wid splinters till he was a boundin’ pincushin. In the middle av the mess, whin the kyarts was climbin’ wan on top av the other, an’ rickochettin’ off the mud walls, an’ showin’ their agility, wid him tearin’ their wheels off, I heard the sound av distrestful wailin’ on the housetops, an’ the whole Antonio firm an’ fam’ly was cursin’ me an’ him from the roof next door; me bekase I’d taken refuge wid them, and he bekase he was playin’ shtep-dances wid the carriages av the aristocracy.
‘“Divart his attention,” sez Antonio, dancin’ on the roof in his big white waistcoat. “Divart his attention,” he sez, “or I’ll prosecute you.” An’ the whole fam’ly shouts, “Hit him a kick, mister soldier.”
‘“He’s divartin’ himself,” I sez, for it was just the worth av a man’s life to go down into the compound. But by way av makin’ show I threw the whisky-bottle (’twas not full whin I came there) at him. He shpun round from what was left av the last kyart, an’ shtuck his head into the verandah not three feet below me. Maybe ’twas the temptin’ness av his back or the whisky. Anyways, the next thing I knew was me, wid my hands full av mud an’ mortar, all fours on his back, an’ the Snider just slidin’ off the slope av his head. I grabbed that an’ scuffled on his neck, dhruv my knees undher his big flappin’ ears, an’ we wint to glory out av that compound wid a shqueal that crawled up my back an’ down my belly. Thin I remimbered the Snider, an’ I grup ut by the muzzle an’ hit him on the head. ’Twas most forlorn — like tappin’ the deck av a throopship wid a cane to stop the engines whin you’re sea-sick. But I parsevered till I sweated, an’ at last from takin’ no notice at all he began to grunt. I hit wid the full strength that was in me in those days, an’ it might ha’ discommoded him. We came back to the p’rade-groun’ forty miles an hour, trumpetin’ vainglorious. I never stopped hammerin’ him for a minut’; ’twas by way av divartin’ him from runnin’ undher the trees an’ scrapin’ me off like a poultice. The p’rade-groun’ an’ the road was all empty, but the throops was on the roofs av the barricks, an’ betune Ould Thrajectory’s gruntin’ an’ mine (for I was winded wid my stone-breakin’), I heard them clappin’ an’ cheerin’. He was growin’ more confused an’ tuk to runnin’ in circles.
‘“Begad,” sez I to mysilf, “there’s dacincy in all things, Terence. ’Tis like you’ve shplit his head, and whin you come out av Clink you’ll be put under stoppages for killin’ a Gov’ment elephint.” At that I caressed him.’
‘‘Ow the devil did you do that? Might as well pat a barrick,’ said Ortheris.
‘Thried all manner av endearin’ epitaphs, but bein’ more than a little shuk up I disremimbered what the divil would answer to. So, “Good dog,” I sez; “Pretty puss,” sez I; “Whoa mare,” I sez; an’ at that I fetched him a shtroke av the butt for to conciliate him, an’ he stud still among the barricks.
‘“Will no one take me off the top av this murderin’ volcano?” I sez at the top av my shout; an’ I heard a man yellin’, “Hould on, faith an’ patience, the other elephints are comin’.” “Mother av Glory,” I sez, “will I rough-ride the whole stud? Come an’ take me down, ye cowards!”
‘Thin a brace av fat she-elephints wid mahouts an’ a commissariat sergint came shuffling round the corner av the barricks; an’ the mahouts was abusin’ ould Potiphar’s mother an’ blood-kin.
‘“Obsarve my reinforcemints,” I sez. “The’re goin’ to take you to Clink, my son;” an’ the child av calamity put his ears forward an’ swung head on to those females. The pluck av him, afther my oratorio on his brain-pan, wint to the heart av me. “I’m in dishgrace mesilf,” I sez, “but I’ll do what I can for ye. Will ye go to Clink like a man, or fight like a fool whin there’s no chanst?” Wid that I fetched him wan last lick on the head, an’ he fetched a tremenjus groan an’ dhropped his thrunk. “Think,” sez I to him, an’ “Halt!” I sez to the mahouts. They was anxious so to do. I could feel the ould reprobit meditating undher me. At last he put his thrunk straight out an’ gave a most melancholious toot (the like av a sigh wid an elephint); an’ by that I knew the white flag was up an’ the rest was no more than considherin’ his feelin’s.
‘“He’s done,” I sez. “Kape open ordher left an’ right alongside. We’ll go to Clink quiet.”
‘Sez the commissariat sergeant to me from his elephant, “Are you a man or a mericle?” sez he.
‘“I’m betwixt an’ betune,” I sez, thryin’ to set up stiff back. “An’ what,” sez I, “may ha’ set this animal off in this opprobrious shtyle?” I sez, the gun-butt light an’ easy on my hip an’ my left hand dhropped, such as throopers behave. We was bowlin’ on to the elephint-lines under escort all this time.
‘“I was not in the lines whin the throuble; began,” sez the sergeant. “They tuk him off carryin’ tents an’ such like, an’ put him to the gun-team. I knew he would not like ut, but by token it fair tore his heart out.”
‘“Faith, wan man’s meat is another’s poison,” I sez. “’Twas bein’ put on to carry tents that was the ruin av me.” An’ my heart warrumed to Ould Double Ends bekase he had been put upon.
‘“We’ll close on him here,” sez the sergeant, whin we got to the elephint-lines. All the mahouts an’ their childher was round the pickets cursin’ my poney from a mile to hear. “You skip off on to my elephint’s back,” he sez. “There’ll be throuble.”
‘“Sind that howlin’ crowd away,” I sez, “or he’ll thrample the life out av thim.” I cud feel his ears beginnin’ to twitch. “An’ do you an’ your immoril she-elephints go well clear away. I will get down here. He’s an Irishman,” I sez, “for all his long Jew’s nose, an’ he shall be threated like an Irishman.”
‘“Are ye tired av life?” sez the sergeant.
‘“Divil a bit,” I sez; “but wan av us has to win, an’ I’m av opinion ’tis me. Get back,” I sez.
‘The two elephints wint off, an’ Smith O’Brine came to a halt dead above his own pickuts. “Down,” sez I, whackin’ him on the head, an’ down he wint, shouldher over shouldher like a hill-side slippin’ afther rain. “Now,” sez I, slidin’ down his nose an’ runnin’ to the front av him, “you will see the man that’s betther than you.”
‘His big head was down betune his big forefeet, an’ they was twisted in sideways like a kitten’s. He looked the picture av innocince an’ forlornsomeness, an’ by this an’ that his big hairy undherlip was thremblin’, an’ he winked his eyes together to kape from cryin’. “For the love av God,” I sez, clean forgettin’ he was a dumb baste, “don’t take ut to heart so! Aisy, be aisy,” I sez; an’ wid that I rubbed his cheek an’ betune his eyes an’ the top av his thrunk, talkin’ all the time. “Now,” sez I, “I’ll make you comfortable for the night. Send wan or two childher here,” I sez to the sergeant who was watchin’ for to see me killed. “He’ll rouse at the sight av a man.”’
‘You got bloomin’ clever all of a sudden,’ said Ortheris. ‘‘Ow did you come to know ‘is funny little ways that soon?’
‘Bekase,’ said Terence with emphasis, ‘bekase I had conquered the beggar, my son.’
‘Ho!’ said Ortheris between doubt and derision. ‘G’on.’
‘His mahout’s child an’ wan or two other line-babies came runnin’ up, not bein’ afraid av anything, an’ some got wather, an’ I washed the top av his poor sore head (begad, I had done him to a turn!), an’ some picked the pieces av carts out av his hide, an’ we scraped him, an’ handled him all over, an’ we put a thunderin’ big poultice av neem-leaves (the same that we stick on a pony’s gall) on his head, an’ it looked like a smokin’-cap, an’ we put a pile av young sugar-cane forninst him, an’ he began to pick at ut. “Now,” sez I, settin’ down on his fore-foot, “we’ll have a dhrink, an’ let bygones be.” I sent a naygur-child for a quart av arrack, an’ the sergeant’s wife she sint me out four fingers av whisky, an’ when the liquor came I cud see by the twinkle in Ould Typhoon’s eye that he was no more a stranger to ut than me — worse luck, than me! So he tuk his quart like a Christian, an’ thin I put his shackles on, chained him fore an’ aft to the pickets, an’ gave him my blessin’ an wint back to barricks.’
‘And after?’ I said in the pause.
‘Ye can guess,’ said Mulvaney. ‘There was confusion, an’ the colonel gave me ten rupees, an’ the adj’tant gave me five, an’ my comp’ny captain gave me five, an’ the men carried me round the barricks shoutin’.’
‘Did you go to Clink?’ said Ortheris.
‘I niver heard a word more about the misundherstandin’ wid Kearney’s beak, if that’s what you mane; but sev’ril av the bhoys was tuk off sudden to the Holy Christians’ Hotel that night. Small blame to thim — they had twenty rupees in dhrinks. I wint to lie down an’ sleep ut off, for I was as done an’ double done as him there in the lines. ’Tis no small thing to go ride elephants.
‘Subsequint, me an’ the Venerable Father av Sin became mighty friendly. I wud go down to the lines, whin I was in dishgrace, an’ spend an afthernoon collogin’ wid him; he chewin’ wan stick av sugar-cane an’ me another, as thick as thieves. He’d take all I had out av my pockets an’ put ut back again, an’ now an’ thin I’d bring him beer for his dijistin’, an’ I’d give him advice about bein’ well behaved an’ keepin’ off the books. Afther that he wint the way av the Army, an’ that’s bein’ thransferred as soon as you’ve made a good friend.’
‘So you never saw him again?’ I demanded.
‘Do you belave the first half av the affair?’ said Terence.
‘I’ll wait till Learoyd comes,’ I said evasively. Except when he was carefully tutored by the other two and the immediate money-benefit explained, the Yorkshireman did not tell lies; and Terence, I knew, had a profligate imagination.
‘There’s another part still,’ said Mulvaney. ‘Ortheris was in that.’
‘Then I’ll believe it all,’ I answered, not from any special belief in Ortheris’s word, but from desire to learn the rest. Ortheris stole a pup from me when our acquaintance was new, and with the little beast stifling under his overcoat, denied not only the theft, but that he ever was interested in dogs.
‘That was at the beginnin’ av the Afghan business,’ said Mulvaney; ‘years afther the men that had seen me do the thrick was dead or gone home. I came not to speak av ut at the last — bekase I do not care to knock the face av ivry man that calls me a liar. At the very beginnin’ av the marchin’ I wint sick like a fool. I had a bootgall, but I was all for keepin’ up wid the rig’mint and such like foolishness. So I finished up wid a hole in my heel that you cud ha’ dhruv a tent-peg into. Faith, how often have I preached that to recruities since, for a warnin’ to thim to look afther their feet! Our docthor, who knew our business as well as his own, he sez to me, in the middle av the Tangi Pass it was: “That’s sheer damned carelessness,” sez he. “How often have I tould you that a marchin’ man is no stronger than his feet — his feet — his feet!” he sez. “Now to hospital you go,” he sez, “for three weeks, an expense to your Quane an’ a nuisince to your counthry. Next time,” sez he, “perhaps you’ll put some av the whisky you pour down your throat, an’ some av the tallow you put into your hair, into your socks,” sez he. Faith he was a just man. So soon as we come to the head av the Tangi I wint to hospital, hoppin’ on wan fut, woild wid disappointment. ’Twas a field-hospital (all flies an’ native apothecaries an’ liniment) dhropped, in a way av speakin’, close by the head av the Tangi. The hospital guard was ravin’ mad wid us sick for keepin’ thim there, an’ we was ravin’ mad at bein’ kept; an’ through the Tangi, day an’ night an’ night an’ day, the fut an’ horse an’ guns an’ commissariat an’ tents an’ followers av the brigades was pourin’ like a coffee-mill. The doolies came dancin’ through, scores an’ scores av thim, an’ they’d turn up the hill to hospital wid their sick, an’ I lay in bed nursin’ my heel, an’ hearin’ the men bein’ tuk out. I remimber wan night (the time I was tuk wid fever) a man came rowlin’ through the tents an,’ “Is there any room to die here?” he sez; “there’s none wid the columns”; an’ at that he dhropped dead acrost a cot, an’ thin the man in ut began to complain against dyin’ all alone in the dust undher dead men. Thin I must ha’ turned mad wid the fever, an’ for a week I was prayin’ the saints to stop the noise av the columns movin’ through the Tangi. Gun-wheels it was that wore my head thin. Ye know how ’tis wid fever?’
We nodded; there was no need to explain.
‘Gun-wheels an’ feet an’ people shoutin’, but mostly gun-wheels. ’Twas neither night nor day to me for a week. In the mornin’ they’d rowl up the tent-flies, an’ we sick cud look at the Pass an’ considher what was comin’ next. Horse, fut, or guns, they’d be sure to dhrop wan or two sick wid us an’ we’d get news. Wan mornin,’ whin the fever hild off of me, I was watchin’ the Tangi, an’ ’twas just like the picture on the backside av the Afghan medal — men an’ elephints an’ guns comin’ wan at a time crawlin’ out of a dhrain.’
‘It were a dhrain,’ said Ortheris with feeling. ‘I’ve fell out an’ been sick in the Tangi twice; an’ wot turns my innards ain’t no bloomin’ vi’lets neither.’
‘The Pass gave a twist at the ind, so everything shot out suddint an’ they’d built a throop-bridge (mud an’ dead mules) over a nullah at the head av ut. I lay an’ counted the elephints (gun-elephints) thryin’ the bridge wid their thrunks an’ rolling out sagacious. The fifth elephint’s head came round the corner, an’ he threw up his thrunk, an’ he fetched a toot, an’ there he shtuck at the head of the Tangi like a cork in a bottle. “Faith,” thinks I to mysilf, “he will not thrust the bridge; there will be throuble.”’
‘Trouble! My Gawd!’ said Ortheris. ‘Terence, I was be’ind that blooming ‘uttee up to my stock in dust. Trouble!’
‘Tell on then, little man; I only saw the hospital ind av ut.’ Mulvaney knocked the ashes out of his pipe, as Ortheris heaved the dogs aside and went on.
‘We was escort to them guns, three comp’nies of us,’ he said. ‘Dewcy was our major, an’ our orders was to roll up anything we come across in the Tangi an’ shove it out t’other end. Sort o’ pop-gun picnic, see? We’d rolled up a lot o’ lazy beggars o’ native followers, an’ some commissariat supplies that was bivoo-whackin’ for ever seemin’ly, an’ all the sweepin’s of ‘arf a dozen things what ought to ‘ave bin at the front weeks ago, an’ Dewcy, he sez to us: “You’re most ’eart-breakin’ sweeps,” ‘e sez. “For ‘eving’s sake,” sez ‘e, “do a little sweepin’ now.” So we swep’ — s’welp me, ‘ow we did sweep ’em along! There was a full reg’ment be’ind us; most anxious to get on they was; an’ they kep’ on sendin’ to us with the colonel’s compliments, an’ what in ‘ell was we stoppin’ the way for, please? Oh, they was partic’lar polite! So was Dewcy! ‘E sent ’em back wot-for, an’ ‘e give us wot-for, an’ we give the guns wot-for, an’ they give the commissariat wot-for, an’ the commissariat give first-class extry wot-for to the native followers, an’ on we’d go again till we was stuck, an’ the ‘ole Pass ‘ud be swimmin’ Allelujah for a mile an’ a ‘arf. We ‘adn’t no tempers, nor no seats to our trousies, an’ our coats an’ our rifles was chucked in the carts, so as we might ha’ been cut up any minute, an’ we was doin’ droverwork. That was wot it was; drovin’ on the Islin’ton road!
‘I was close up at the lead of the column when we saw the end of the Tangi openin’ out ahead of us, an’ I sez: “The door’s open, boys. ‘Oo’ll git to the gall’ry fust?” I sez. Then I saw Dewcy screwin’ ‘is bloomin’ eyeglass in ‘is eye an’ lookin’ straight on. “Propped — ther beggar!” he sez; an’ the be’ind end o’ that bloomin’ old ‘uttee was shinin’ through the dust like a bloomin’ old moon made o’ tarpaulin. Then we ‘alted, all chock-ablock, one atop o’ the other, an’ right at the back o’ the guns there sails in a lot o’ silly grinnin’ camels, what the commissariat was in charge of — sailin’ away as if they was at the Zoological Gardens an’ squeezin’ our men most awful. The dust was that up you couldn’t see your ‘and; an’ the more we ‘it ’em on the lead the more their drivers sez, “Accha! Accha!” an’ by Gawd it was “at yer” before you knew where you was. An’ that ‘uttee’s Wind end stuck in the Pass good an’ tight, an’ no one knew wot for.
‘Fust thing we ‘ad to do was to fight they bloomin’ camels. I wasn’t goin’ to be eat by no bull-oont; so I ‘eld up my trousies with one ‘and; standin’ on a rock, an’ ‘it away with my belt at every nose I saw bobbin’ above me. Then the camels fell back, an’ they ‘ad to fight to keep the rear-guard an’ the native followers from crushin’ into them; an’ the rearguard ‘ad to send down the Tangi to warn the other reg’ment that we was blocked. I ‘eard the mahouts shoutin’ in front that the ‘uttee wouldn’t cross the bridge; an’ I saw Dewcy skippin’ about through the dust like a musquito worm in a tank. Then our comp’nies got tired o’ waitin’ an’ begun to mark time, an’ some goat struck up Tommy, make room for your Uncle. After that, you couldn’t neither see nor breathe nor ‘ear; an’ there we was, singin’ bloomin’ serenades to the end of a’ elephant that don’t care for tunes! I sung too; I couldn’t do nothin’ else. They was strengthenin’ the bridge in front, all for the sake of the ‘uttee. By an’ by a’ orf’cer caught me by the throat an’ choked the sing out of me. So I caught the next man I could see by the throat an’ choked the sing out of ’im.’
‘What’s the difference between being choked by an officer and being hit?’ I asked, remembering a little affair in which Ortheris’s honour had been injured by his lieutenant.
‘One’s a bloomin’ lark, an’ one’s a bloomin’ insult!’ said Ortheris. ‘Besides, we was on service, an’ no one cares what an orf’cer does then, s’long as ‘e gets our rations an’ don’t get us unusual cut up. After that we got quiet, an’ I ‘eard Dewcy say that ‘e’d court-martial the lot of us soon as we was out of the Tangi. Then we give three cheers for Dewcy an’ three more for the Tangi; an’ the ‘uttee’s be’ind end was stickin’ in the Pass, so we cheered that. Then they said the bridge had been strengthened, an’ we give three cheers for the bridge; but the ‘uttee wouldn’t move a bloomin’ hinch. Not ’im! Then we cheered ’im again, an’ Kite Dawson, that was corner-man at all the singsongs (‘e died on the way down), began to give a nigger lecture on the be’ind ends of elephants, an’ Dewcy, ‘e tried to keep ‘is face for a minute, but, Lord, you couldn’t do such when Kite was playin’ the fool an’ askin’ whether ‘e mightn’t ‘ave leave to rent a villa an’ raise ‘is orphan children in the Tangi, ‘cos ‘e couldn’t get ‘ome no more. Then up come a orf’cer (mounted, like a fool, too) from the reg’mint at the back with some more of his colonel’s pretty little compliments, an’ what was this delay, please. We sung ’im There’s another bloomin’ row downstairs till ‘is ‘orse bolted, an’ then we give ’im three cheers; an’ Kite Dawson sez ‘e was goin’ to write to The Times about the awful state of the streets in Afghanistan. The ‘uttee’s be’ind end was stickin’ in the Pass all the time. At last one o’ the mahouts came to Dewcy an’ sez something. “Oh Lord! “ sez Dewcy, “I don’t know the beggar’s visiting-list! I’ll give ’im another ten minutes an’ then I’ll shoot ’im.” Things was gettin’ pretty dusty in the Tangi, so we all listened. “‘E wants to see a friend,” sez Dewcy out loud to the men, an’ ‘e mopped ‘is forehead an’ sat down on a gun-tail.
‘I leave it to you to judge ‘ow the reg’ment shouted. “That’s all right,” we sez. “Three cheers for Mister Winterbottom’s friend,” sez we. “Why didn’t you say so at first? Pass the word for old Swizzletail’s wife,”— and such like. Some o’ the men they didn’t laugh. They took it same as if it might have been a’ introduction like, ‘cos they knew about ‘uttees. Then we all run forward over the guns an’ in an’ out among the elephants’ legs — Lord, I wonder ‘arf the comp’nies wasn’t squashed — an’ the next thing I saw was Terence ’ere, lookin’ like a sheet o’ wet paper, comin’ down the ‘illside wid a sergeant. “‘Strewth,” I sez. “I might ha’ knowed ‘e’d be at the bottom of any cat’s trick,” sez I. Now you tell wot ‘appened your end?’
‘I lay be the same as you did, little man, listenin’ to the noises an’ the bhoys singin’. Presintly I heard whisperin’ an’ the doctor sayin’, “Get out av this, wakin’ my sick wid your jokes about elephints.” An’ another man sez, all angry “’Tis a joke that is stoppin’ two thousand men in the Tangi. That son av sin av a haybag av an elephint sez, or the mahouts sez for him, that he wants to see a friend, an’ he’ll not lift hand or fut till he finds him. I’m wore out wid inthrojucin’ sweepers an’ coolies to him, an’ his hide’s as full o’ bay’net pricks as a musquito-net av holes, an’ I’m here undher ordhers, docther dear, to ask if any one, sick or well, or alive or dead, knows an elephint. I’m not mad,” he sez, settin’ on a box av medical comforts. “’Tis my ordhers, an’ ’tis my mother,” he sez, “that would laugh at me for the father av all fools today. Does any wan here know an elephint?” We sick was all quiet.
‘“Now you’ve had your answer,” sez the doctor. “Go away.”
‘“Hould on,” I sez, thinkin’ mistiways in my cot, an’ I did not know my own voice. “I’m by way av bein’ acquainted wid an elephant, myself,” I sez.
‘“That’s delirium,” sez the doctor. “See what you’ve done, sergeant. Lie down, man,” he sez, seein’ me thryin’ to get up.
‘”’Tis not,” I sez. “I rode him round Cawnpore barricks. He will not ha’ forgotten. I bruk his head wid a rifle.”
‘“Mad as a coot,” sez the doctor, an’ thin he felt my head. “It’s quare,” sez he. “Man,” he sez, “if you go, d’you know ’twill either kill or cure?”
‘“What do I care?” sez I. “If I’m mad, ’tis better dead.”
‘“Faith, that’s sound enough,” sez the doctor. “You’ve no fever on you now.”
‘“Come on,” sez the sergeant. “We’re all mad today, an’ the throops are wantin’ their dinner.” He put his arm round av me an’ I came into the sun, the hills an’ the rocks skippin’ big giddy-go-rounds. “Seventeen years have I been in the army,” sez the sergeant, “an’ the days av mericles are not done. They’ll be givin’ us more pay next. Begad,” he sez, “the brute knows you!”
‘Ould Obstructionist was screamin’ like all possist whin I came up, an’ I heard forty million men up the Tangi shoutin’, “He knows him!” Thin the big thrunk came round me an’ I was nigh fainting wid weakness. “Are you well, Malachi?” I sez, givin’ him the name he answered to in the lines. “Malachi, my son, are you well?” sez I, “for I am not.” At that he thrumpeted again till the Pass rang to ut, an’ the other elephints tuk it up. Thin I got a little strength back. “Down, Malachi,” I sez, “an’ put me up, but touch me tendher for I am not good.” He was on his knees in a minut an’ he slung me up as gentle as a girl. “Go on now, my son,” I sez. “You’re blockin’ the road.” He fetched wan more joyous toot, an’ swung grand out av the head av the Tangi, his gungear clankin’ on his back; an’ at the back av him there wint the most amazin’ shout I iver heard. An’ thin I felt my head shpin, an’ a mighty sweat bruk out on me, an’ Malachi was growin’ taller an’ taller to me settin’ on his back, an’ I sez, foolish like an’ weak, smilin’ all round an’ about, “Take me down,” I sez, “or I’ll fall.”
‘The next I remimber was lyin’ in my cot again, limp as a chewed rag, but, cured av the fever, an’ the Tangi as empty as the back av my hand. They’d all gone up to the front, an’ ten days later I wint up too, havin’ blocked an’ unblocked an entire army corps. What do you think av ut, sorr?’
‘I’ll wait till I see Learoyd,’ I repeated.
‘Ah’m here,’ said a shadow from among the shadows. ‘Ah’ve heard t’ tale too.’
‘Is it true, Jock?’
‘Ay; true as t’owd bitch has getten t’mange. Orth’ris, yo’ maun’t let t’dawgs hev owt to do wi’ her.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56