Read CHAPTER X of Her Ladyship's Elephant , free online book, by David Dwight Wells, on


However harassing and disturbing the events of the past few days had been to the people particularly interested in them, to the mind of one the proceedings of all those with whom he had come in contact had been characterised by an ignorance, not only of the necessities of life, but even of the very etiquette that lends a becoming dignity to existence, which seemed almost pitiful. Not since the elephant left his native shore had he received what he considered to be proper, or even intelligent, attention. On the voyage, indeed, though his quarters were crowded, and denied by the proximity of low-caste beasts, his material wants had been considered; but since yesterday, when he had landed in the midst of a howling wilderness of iron monsters, who could neither see nor hear and were no respecters of persons, there had been a scarcity even of food and water. All night he had been dragged about the country at a speed unbecoming the dignity of a ruler of the jungle (without even the company of his mahout, who had lost the train at Southampton); and, now that the earth had ceased to move past him and was once more still, he expressed his opinion of the ignorant and degraded people of this wretched country in no uncertain voice. Then, finding that the pen in which he was confined was cramped and dirty, and wholly unfitted for one of his exalted position, he exerted himself to be free, and in a short time reduced his car to kindling-wood. Being now at liberty, he naturally desired his breakfast; but what was one to do when men disfigured the earth with bars of steel over which one tripped, and stored the fruits of the land in squat yellow bungalows, with fluted iron roofs which were difficult to tear off? Therefore the elephant lifted up his voice in rage, whereat many things happened, and a high-caste man, clad in the blue of the sky and the gold of the sun, ran up and down upon the earth, and declared that he should forthwith be taken to the “Court” and delivered to the “Damconsul.”

What a “Damconsul” was the elephant did not know; but concluded that it was the title these barbarous people bestowed on the Maharajah of that district. Since he lived at a Court, it seemed certain that he would know how to appreciate and fittingly entertain him. The elephant therefore consented to follow his attendant slaves, though they understood not the noble art of riding him, but were fain to lead him like a beast of burden. On the way he found a spring of sweet water, of which he drank his fill, despite the protestations of his leaders and the outcries of the inhabitants of the bungalow of the well, whose lamentations showed them to be of low caste and little sensible of the honour done them.

The procession at length reached the gate of the Court; and while the attendants were in the lodge explaining matters to the astonished keeper, the elephant, realising that “drink was good but food better,” determined to do a little foraging on his own account, and so moved softly off, taking along the stake to which his keepers fondly imagined he was tethered.

He judged that he was now in the park of the Court of the “Damconsul”; and the fact that there were many clumps of familiar plants scattered over the grass increased his belief that this was the case. He tried a few coleus and ate a croton or two; but found them insipid and lacking the freshness of those which bloomed in his native land. Then turning to a grove of young palms, he tore a number up by the roots; which he found required no expenditure of strength, and so gave him little satisfaction. Moreover, they grew in green tubs, which rolled about between his feet and were pitfalls for the unwary. He lay down on a few of the beds; but the foliage was pitifully thin and afforded him no comfortable resting-place; moreover, there were curious rows of slanting things which glistened in the sunlight, and which he much wished to investigate. On examination he found them quite brittle, and easily smashed a number of them with his trunk. Nor was this all, for in the wreckage he discovered a large quantity of most excellent fruit grapes and nectarines and some very passable plums. Evidently the “Damconsul” was an enlightened person, who knew how to live; and, indeed, it is not fitting for even an elephant to turn up his trunk at espalier peaches at a guinea apiece.

Certainly, thought the elephant, things might be worse. And after a bath in a neighbouring fountain, which cost the lives of some two score of goldfish, he really felt refreshed, and approached the palace, which he considered rather dingy, in order to pay his respects to its owner. Coming round to the front of the building he discovered a marble terrace, gleaming white in the sunshine, and flanked by two groups of statuary Hercules with his club, and Diana with her bow: though, being unacquainted with Greek mythology, he did not recognise them as such. On the terrace itself was set a breakfast-table resplendent with silver and chaste with fair linen; and by it sat a houri, holding a sunshade over her golden head. The elephant, wishing to conciliate this vision of beauty, advanced towards her, trumpeting gently; but his friendly overtures were evidently misinterpreted, for the houri, giving a wild scream, dropped her sunshade, and fled for safety to the shoulders of Hercules, from which vantage-point she called loudly for help.

Feeling that such conduct was indecorous in the extreme, he ignored her with a lofty contempt; and, having tested the quality of the masonry, ventured upon the terrace and inspected the feast. There were more nectarines but he had had enough of those and something steaming in a silver vessel, the like of which he remembered to have encountered once before in the bungalow of a sahib. Moreover, he had not forgotten how it spouted a boiling liquid when one took it up in one’s trunk. At this moment a shameless female slave appeared at a window, in response to the cries of the houri, and abused him. He could not, it is true, understand her barbarous language; but the tone implied abuse. Such an insult from the scum of the earth could not be allowed to pass unnoticed. He filled his trunk with water from a marble basin near at hand, and squirted it at her with all his force, and the scum of the earth departed quickly.

“It would be well,” thought the elephant, “to find the ‘Damconsul’ before further untoward incidents could occur”; and with this end in view, he turned himself about, preparatory to leaving the terrace. He forgot, however, that marble may be slippery; his hind legs suddenly slid from under him, and he sat hurriedly down on the breakfast-table. It was at this singularly inopportune moment that Lady Diana appeared upon the scene.

Her ladyship awoke that morning to what was destined to be the most eventful and disturbing day of her peaceful and well-ordered life, with a feeling of irritation and regret that it had dawned, which, in the light of subsequent events, would seem to have been almost a premonition of coming evil. She was, though at this early hour she little knew it, destined to receive a series of shocks of volcanic force and suddenness, between sunrise and sunset, any one of which would have served to overthrow her preconceived notions of what life, and especially life at Melton Court, ought to be.

As yet she knew nothing of all this; but she did know that, though it was long after the hour appointed, she had heard no sound of her great-niece’s departing footsteps. She waited till she must have missed the train, and then rang her bedroom bell sharply to learn why her orders had been disobeyed.

“If you please, my lady,” replied her maid in answer to her mistress’s questions, “Bright did not go because we could not find Mrs. Scarsdale.”

“Could not find my niece! And why not, pray?” demanded her ladyship angrily.

“She was not in her room, my lady, or anywhere about the Court; only this note, directed to your ladyship, on her dressing-table.”

“Why didn’t you say so to begin with, then?” cried her mistress testily. “Open the window, that I may see what this means.”

The note was short and painstakingly polite; but its perusal did not seem to please Lady Diana, for she frowned and set her thin lips as she re-read it. The missive ran as follows:


“I write to apologise for the somewhat unconventional manner in which I am leaving your house; but as your plans for my disposal to-day did not accord with my own ideas of what is fitting, I have thought it best to leave thus early, and so avoid any awkwardness which might arise from conflicting arrangements. I wish you to know that I shall be with friends by this evening, so that you need feel no anxiety about my position. Pray accept my thanks for your hospitality, which I am sure my husband will much appreciate, and believe me,

“Yours respectfully,

This communication her ladyship tore up into small fragments, and then snapped out:

“Is there anything more?”

“Yes, if you please, my lady,” replied the maid; “a note for you from Mr. Allingford, left in his room.”

Lady Melton took it as gingerly as if it were fresh from some infected district, and, spreading it out on the bed before her, read it with a contemptuous smile.

“YOUR LADYSHIP,” wrote the Consul, “I have the honour to inform you that I am leaving at the earliest possible moment, not wishing to impose my company longer than is absolutely necessary where it is so evidently undesired. That there may be no burden of obligation between us, I beg you to accept a trunk belonging to me, which will arrive this morning, as compensation for my board and lodging.

“I remain “Your Ladyship’s Obedient Servant, “ROBERT ALLINGFORD, “U.S. Consul, Christchurch, England.

“P.S. I mail you to-day a deed of gift of the property in
question, legally attested, so that there may be no question of

“R. A.”

“Insolence!” gasped Lady Melton, when she comprehended the contents of this astonishing communication. Then turning to her maid, she commanded:

“If this person’s trunk arrives here, have it sent back to him instantly.” And she fumed with rage at the thought.

“How dare he suppose that I would for a moment accept a gratuity!”

Indeed, so wrought up was she that it was with difficulty that she controlled herself sufficiently to breakfast on the terrace. Moreover, her interview with Bright, the butler, whom she encountered on her way downstairs and who announced the arrival of her great-nephew and a strange lady, was hardly soothing; for it forced her to believe that that faithful servant, after years of probity, had at last strayed from the temperate paths of virtue. Seeing him dishevelled and bewildered, she had sternly rebuked him for his appearance, and from his disjointed replies had only gathered that his astounding state was in some way due to the Consul.

“Has that insolent person’s trunk arrived?” she inquired; when, to her astonishment, her old retainer, who had always observed in her presence a respectful and highly deferential demeanour, actually tittered.

“Bright!” she said sternly.

“Beg pardon, my lady,” giggled Bright, his face still wreathed in smiles; “but the way you put it.”

“What have you done with this person’s belongings? Have my orders been carried out?”

“You mean in regard to the the

“Trunk. Yes, let it be put off the place immediately.”

“Please, your ladyship,” he replied, with difficulty restraining his laughter, “it won’t go.”

“Will not go?”

“No, my lady; it’s been rampaging through the greenhouses, and is now on the terrace, where it douched Anne most awful.”

“Leave me at once, Bright, and do not let me see you again till you are in a more decent state,” she commanded, and swept by him, ignoring his protestations of innocence and respect.

She found Scarsdale awaiting her in the reception-room, and accorded him a very frigid greeting, suggesting that they should have their interview on the terrace, where he had left Mrs. Allingford safely ensconced in an armchair, while he went to meet his great-aunt.

Her ladyship had been considerably ruffled both by her interview with Bright and by the arrival of Scarsdale, towards whom, in the light of recent events, she felt a strong resentment; and a vision of the Consul’s wife perched most indecorously on the shoulders of Hercules, which she beheld as she emerged on the terrace, did not tend to calm her already excited nerves. But before she could speak her eyes followed the direction of the unknown lady’s gaze, and she saw, for the first time, her unwelcome visitor.

When you come suddenly face to face with an elephant seated amidst the wreck of cherished Chippendale and ancestral Sevres, it is not calculated to increase your composure or equalise your temper; and Lady Diana may be pardoned, as the vastness of the Consul’s impudence dawned upon her, for giving vent to expressions both of anger and amazement, albeit her appearance produced no less of a disturbance in the breast of him who sat amidst the ruins of the breakfast-table. The elephant felt that in the presence of the Maharanee, for such he believed her to be, his position was undignified. She was, without doubt, the wife of the “Damconsul,” and, as such, should be paid all proper respect and deference. He, therefore, bowed his head in submission, completing in the process his work of destruction. Whereat Mrs. Allingford shrieked and clung more closely to the protecting shoulders of Hercules.

Serious as the situation was, it was not without its humorous side, and it took all Scarsdale’s command of himself to control his face sufficiently to address his relative with becoming respect.

“Why, aunt,” he said, “I didn’t know that you had gone in for pets!”

“Harold Stanley Malcolm St. Hubart Scarsdale,” replied her ladyship she prided herself on never forgetting a name “you are one of the most impudent and worthless young men that I have the honour to count among my relatives; but you have been in India, and you ought to know how to manage this monster.”

“I’ve seen enough of them,” he answered. “What do you want him to do?”

“Do!” she cried wrathfully. “I should think anybody would know that I wished it to get up and go away.”

“Oh,” said he, and made a remark in Hindustani to the elephant, whereat the beast gradually and deliberately proceeded to rise from the wreck of the breakfast, till he seemed to the spectators to be forty feet high. Then, in response to Scarsdale’s cries of “Mail! mail!” (Go on) he turned himself about, and, after sending the teapot through the nearest window with a disdainful kick of one hind leg, he lurched down the steps of the terrace and on to the lawn, where he remained contentedly standing, gently rocking to and fro, while he meditatively removed from his person, by means of his trunk, the fragments of the feast, with which he was liberally bespattered.

Scarsdale, seeing that his lordship was in an amicable frame of mind, hastened to assist Mrs. Allingford to descend from her somewhat uneasy perch.

“St. Hubart,” said Lady Melton, who, throughout this trying ordeal, had lost none of her natural dignity, “you have done me a service. I shall not forget it.”

Scarsdale thought it would be difficult to forget the elephant.

“I will even forgive you,” she continued, “for marrying that American.”

“It was so good of you to receive my wife,” he said. “I trust you are pleased with her.”

“I am not pleased at all,” she said sharply. “I consider her forward and disrespectful, and I am glad she is gone.”

“Gone!” he exclaimed.

“You may well be surprised,” said his great-aunt, “but such is the case.”

“But where has she gone?”

“That I do not know; she left without consulting me, and against my advice and wishes.”

“Did she go alone?”

“She went,” replied her ladyship, “with one of the most insolent persons it has ever been my misfortune to meet. He is owner of that!” And she pointed to the elephant.

“But who is he?” demanded Scarsdale, not recognising, from her description, his friend the Consul.

“He disgraces,” she continued, “a public office given him by a foreign Government.”

“You are surely not talking about Allingford!” he exclaimed.

“That, I believe, is his name,” replied Lady Melton.

“What, my husband!” cried the Consul’s wife, who up to this point had kept silence. “You dare to call my husband a disgrace!” Here Mrs. Allingford became dumb with indignation.

“If he is your husband,” returned her ladyship, “I am exceedingly sorry for you. As for ‘daring’ to apply to him any epithet I please, I consider myself fully justified in so doing after the indignity to which he has condemned me. I am glad, however, to have met you, as I am thus enabled to return you your husband’s property, with the request that you take your elephant and leave my grounds as quickly as possible.”

“Do you mean to say that my husband owns that monster?” gasped Mrs. Allingford.

“Such is the case,” replied Lady Melton, “and I leave it in your hands. St. Hubart, I trust you will join me at breakfast as soon as another can be prepared.”

“Excuse me,” he said apologetically, “but really, you know, I can’t leave Mrs. Allingford in the lurch. Besides, I must follow my wife.”

His great-aunt faced round in a fury.

“That is sufficient!” she cried. “Leave my presence at once! I never desire to see either of you again.”

“Don’t let us part as enemies, aunt,” he said, offering her his hand; but she swept past him into the house.

Scarsdale gloomily watched her depart, and then became conscious of a hand laid on his arm.

“I am so sorry!” murmured Mrs. Allingford. “I only seem to bring you trouble.”

“Oh, you mustn’t feel badly about this,” he said. “We have quarrelled ever since I was born. I’m much more worried about you.”

“What am I going to do with it?” she exclaimed, looking hopelessly at her husband’s property as it stood rocking before her.

“The first thing is to get it off the place,” replied Scarsdale, assuming a cheerfulness which he did not feel. “We may find its keepers at the lodge, and we can make our plans as we walk along.”

“Come on, Jehoshaphat, or whatever you may happen to be called!” he cried, addressing the elephant, and at the same time grasping the rope bridle which still dangled from its neck; and the beast, recognising a kindred spirit speaking to him in his native tongue, followed docilely where he led.

“I think,” continued Scarsdale, as they trudged slowly across the park, “that our best course will be to take the elephant to Christchurch. Indeed, we ought to have gone there in the first instance.”

“What do you expect to gain by that?” she asked quickly, ready in this strange dilemma to catch at any straw which gave opportunity of escape.

“Why, your husband’s consulate is situated there, and that is his local habitation in this country, where he is certain to turn up sooner or later, and where, if the laws of his consular service are anything like ours, he would be obliged to report every few days.”

“You propose to go there and await his return?”

“Yes,” he said. “I don’t see that we can do better. Ten to one your husband and my wife will hear of our affair at Winchester, and may be on their way there now to hunt us up; while if we attempted to follow them, it is more than likely that they would return here. I, for one, am about tired of chasing myself around the country; as a steady occupation it is beginning to pall.”

“There is a group of men at the lodge,” she said, as they drew near the gates with the elephant in tow.

“Then let us hope that there are some station people among them, and that we can arrange for Jehoshaphat’s transportation without loss of time,” replied Scarsdale.

His hope was, in the first instance, justified; for the station-master at Salisbury, learning of the Consul’s early departure that morning, and beginning to doubt the wisdom of inflicting the elephant on so important a personage as Lady Melton, had come up to the Court himself to see how things were going, and had been horrified beyond measure at the exaggerated reports of the lodgekeeper as to the havoc the beast had created. He was therefore unfeignedly relieved at Scarsdale’s arrival; a relief, however, which instantly gave way to stubborn opposition at the first hint of putting the animal again in his charge.

Elephants were not in his line, he pointed out, and he had no desire to transport them about the country. Couldn’t think of acting without receiving advices from the main offices of the railway company in London, an affair of several days; wouldn’t assume charge of the creature during the interval on any account; and shouldn’t stir a step in the matter till the wrecked van had been paid for.

This ended the affair, as far as Scarsdale was concerned. He had no intention of paying damages for the Consul’s elephant, but he wished to deliver it and the Consul’s wife at Christchurch as soon as possible. If this could not be accomplished one way, it must be another. There were plenty of horses and carriages to be had; indeed, the landau and pair which had brought them from Salisbury was still at the gates. The roads were good, the distance to Christchurch was not excessive say thirty miles and the elephant could walk. It merely remained to find a leader or driver, and they could start at once on their journey across country.

All this he explained to his fair companion, and she readily acquiesced.

“The only problem to be solved, then, is where to find a mahout,” he said in conclusion.

She threw him an inquiring glance; but he felt it was asking too much, and said so.

“If it were any other country, I’d ride the beast myself to oblige you; but in England, and as a representative of one of the first families of the county, I couldn’t. The prejudices of the locality would never recover from the shock, and I should not be able to show my face in the streets of Salisbury. But perhaps we can find a substitute. Is there any one here,” he went on, addressing the little group of men, “who understands an elephant?”

“Tom, ‘e knows the bloomin’ beasts,” said a member of the company; and Tom, groom to her ladyship, and cockney every inch of him, was pushed forward for inspection.

One glance at the trim form, concealed though it was by stable costume, was sufficient to assure Scarsdale that he had found his man.

“You have been a soldier,” he said, “and in India?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the man, touching the peak of his cap in a military salute.

“Do you think you could manage him?” continued Scarsdale, indicating the elephant, which, wearied with the morning’s exertions, had knelt down, and seemed on the point of taking a nap.

“Do I think as ’ow I could manage ’im? I should ’ope so, if I ain’t fergot is ’eathen language, sir.”

“I’ll give you eighteen pence a mile,” said Scarsdale, quick to act on the man’s decision.

“Make it two bob, sir, an’ I’ll ride ’im ter Inja.”

“That’s too far,” he replied, laughing; “my pocket wouldn’t stand the strain; but I’ll give you the price to Christchurch.”

“Right you are,” replied the hostler, closing the bargain at once. “Me name’s Tom Ropes. What d’yer call ’im, sir?” pointing to his recumbent charge.

“I don’t know what he was christened. I call him Jehoshaphat.”

“A Christian name fer a ’eathen brute,” commented Tom. “Give me a leg up, one er yer.”

Once astride the beast’s neck, with Scarsdale’s cane as an improvised ankus, he poured out a flood of cockney-Indian jargon which no Hindoo could ever have recognised as his native tongue, but which evidently had a familiar sound to the elephant, who proceeded to rise, first with his fore feet and then with his hind feet; after which his novel mahout, who throughout these manoeuvres had retained a precarious hold by one ear, hastened to seat himself more firmly upon him.

“All right?” queried Scarsdale, looking up; and on receiving an answer in the affirmative, added: “Keep your feet well under his ears, and hit him on the head with your stick if he gets fractious. All you need do is to follow our carriage. Trust to his judgment about bridges; he knows what will hold him.”

Arrangements, on a liberal scale, having been made for the use of the conveyance which had brought them from the station, they were ready to start in a very short space of time; Scarsdale stipulating that they head towards Southampton, taking the least travelled roads, and in any event giving Salisbury a wide berth. This was agreed to; and thereupon commenced one of the most extraordinary progresses that had ever stirred up a staid and conventional countryside: Scarsdale and Mrs. Allingford leading off in the landau, since it was necessary to keep the horse well in front of the elephant, and Tom and his charge plodding on in their wake.

As they left the lodge behind them and came out into the open country, the Consul’s wife, turning to her companion in misfortune, said, between tears and smiles:

“What do you think is going to happen next?”