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


The village clock was on the stroke of one when the little procession drew up before the door of the principal inn in the main square of a small town on the road between Salisbury and Southampton.

Scarsdale had been surprised to find how little excitement they had created in their progress through the countryside; but then he had chosen the most unfrequented roads, avoiding villages as he would a pestilence. Man and beast must be fed somewhere, however, and, according to Tom, the elephant was giving no uncertain signs that he wanted his dinner. So, against his better judgment, Scarsdale had turned aside into a neighbouring town, whence, after an hour’s rest and refreshment, he determined to push on that afternoon to a quiet inn he knew of, near Fording Bridge, and thence to Christchurch the following morning.

Both he and Mrs. Allingford had been as quiet as mice during the last hour; indeed, the novel position in which they found themselves inclined them rather to thought than conversation.

Their entrance into the town was effected more easily than could have been hoped for; though, in some unknown manner, a rumour of their coming seemed to have preceded them: for a crowd had collected along the main street, which cheered them vociferously, under the mistaken impression that they were the proprietors of a circus. No travelling show that wound its course through those country lanes had ever possessed such an attraction, and the people moved away after they had passed, full of wonder at the appearance of this strange monster among them, and regret that with such a beginning there was nothing more to follow.

Once they had come to a halt, they were surrounded by a curious crowd, and Scarsdale lost no time in entering into explanations with the landlord of the inn, who came hurrying out to receive his novel guests.

It was at this point that their troubles first began; for mine host, while he professed to furnish entertainment for man and beast, was dubious concerning the monster which it was proposed to quarter on him so unexpectedly. The lady and gentleman, their coachman, horses, and even the cockney mahout were more than welcome; but elephants were not in his line of business. He didn’t know if he could give satisfaction; feared his accommodations were not sufficiently ample; would like to oblige, but had the reputation of his house to maintain, &c., &c.

When Scarsdale happened, however, casually to mention that it was Lady Melton’s elephant a change came over the face of affairs, of which he was not slow to take advantage.

Her ladyship was well known throughout the county, while her reputation for severity had a still wider circulation, and the landlord was in abject fear of her, though, nevertheless, obstinately determined to have none of the beast.

The subject of all this altercation had meantime appropriated the public horse-trough to his exclusive use for drinking and bathing purposes, and was enjoying himself in consequence, which was more than could be said of his rider, who shared unwillingly in his ablutions.

“Give ’im the word to sit down, sir. S’welp me, I’ll be drownded with ’is tricks!” cried Tom.

“I don’t speak his infernal language,” returned Scarsdale testily; “that’s your business.”

“I’ve told ‘im all I know, sir, an’ it’s no use.”

“Then I’m afraid you’ll have to stay up and get wet.”

“Couldn’t yer ’elp me down, sir? Quit that, yer ’eathen!” as he dodged a shower of water.

“Certainly not,” replied Scarsdale. “You can’t leave him riderless in a public place.”

Then, turning to the landlord, who stood by in sore perplexity, aimlessly rubbing his hands, he continued:

“It’s a beastly shame that a gentleman can’t take a lady’s elephant out for exercise without running up against all this nonsense in the first little hamlet he comes across! One would almost think you had never seen an elephant before.”

The landlord, whose eyes had up to this time been fairly bulging with curiosity, now declared himself desolated at such an uncalled-for suspicion.

“Perhaps it would be better if the gentleman were to send for a constable.”

Mine host neglected to add that he had done so on his own responsibility in his first burst of agitation.

But Scarsdale, noting the excellent effect which his rating had produced on the landlord, determined that he should have some more of it.

“If you are afraid,” he said, “of damaging your ramshackle old inn, perhaps you’ll consent to give my elephant his dinner in the square?”

Mine host rolled up his eyes at this new phase of the question.

“I suppose,” continued Scarsdale, “that the dignity of this ’tuppenny ha’penny’ town won’t be seriously impaired by his presence for an hour in your elegant plaza!”

The last portion of this speech was lost on the landlord, because he did not know what a “plaza” was; but it sounded imposing, and he hastened to assure his guest that the town would feel honoured by the elephant’s presence, though he would have to procure a permit from the mayor. Should he show him the way to that functionary’s house?

This, however, proved to be unnecessary, as the mayor himself was present in the crowd, a pompous, fussy little man, full of the importance of his office. Lady Melton’s name, which he had heard mentioned in connection with the affair, acted as a charm, and brought him bustling forward to shake Scarsdale’s hand, assure him that no permit was required, and snub the innkeeper.

“Anything I can do for a relation of her ladyship’s I think you said a relation?” he inquired.

Scarsdale had not said anything of the kind, but unwillingly admitted that he was her nephew. Upon receiving this intelligence the mayor positively beamed, called Scarsdale “your lordship,” and became most solicitous after Lady Melton’s health. Her nephew gravely assured him that he might make his mind easy on that score, as his aunt was in the best of health, and that as soon as he returned to Melton Court (a most uncertain date, he thought grimly) he would be sure to convey to her his kind inquiries.

His worship on this was positively effusive, declared himself devoted to Scarsdale’s interests, and insisted that he and “her ladyship,” indicating Mrs. Allingford another slip which his companion did not trouble to correct must do him the honour of dining with Mrs. Mayor and himself.

Scarsdale was now beginning to fear that he was doing it rather too well, and hastened to excuse “her ladyship” and himself, declaring that they could not think of trespassing on his worship’s hospitality, and that they would be quite comfortable at the inn, if only the elephant might be permitted to have his dinner in the square.

The mayor declared that it was just what he most desired; but would his lordship kindly indicate of what that meal must consist?

This was a poser; but Scarsdale plunged recklessly on, for, having once entered the broad road of deception, there was no turning back, and he was surprised himself at the facility with which he could romance.

“That is just the trouble of taking charge of other people’s pets,” he said, with shameless indifference to the demands of truth. “I’m sure I don’t know much more about the brute than you do; and as his mahout was away when we started out, I had to take one of the grooms. What does Jehoshaphat eat, Tom?”

“Hay, sir me lud, I mean,” answered Tom, falling in with the humour of the situation.

“Oh! hay, of course,” said Scarsdale.

“How much, your lordship?” queried the mayor.

“How much? Confound it! how should I know? Do you take me for an elephant trainer?” A remark which nearly reduced his worship to chaos; but Scarsdale, relenting, added:

“Say five or six tons I don’t know.”

“But it is not easy, my lord, to procure such an amount at short notice,” expostulated the official.

“Oh, then, get him a waggon-load or two as a first course, and we’ll find something else a little later.”

“It shall be procured at once. I er trust your lordship will not take it amiss, since you will not dine with me, if I offer you a glass of shall we say champagne?”

“With pleasure,” said Scarsdale.

“And her ladyship?” looking towards the carriage.

Mrs. Allingford bowed, and the mayor whispered a few words in mine host’s ear.

Just at that moment, as Scarsdale was drawing his first easy breath, feeling at last that things were going smoothly, the very worst contretemps that could possibly happen occurred. Two dusty figures shambled around the corner of a neighbouring street into the square, and one of them in a high-pitched voice, that was distinctly heard by every member of the crowd, exclaimed:

“Hi, there! What are you doing with my elephant?”

Scarsdale swung round to face the newcomers, a premonition of coming evil strong upon him, though a careful inspection assured him that he knew them not; yet conviction hang in every note of that challenge.

They were, in a word, the owner of elephants and the unregenerate Dick.

From early dawn they had made their way across country, in as straight a line as possible from Winchester to Salisbury, sometimes on foot and sometimes in such conveyances as they could hire from place to place; but ever buoyed up by hope hope of finding that which was lost; hope of restoring elephants to their rightful owners; hope of clearing a brother’s name. And here, unexpectedly, they had come upon the object of their search in the hands of total strangers.

“Who the devil are you?” cried Scarsdale hotly, scenting danger, and determined to face the worst at once. “I don’t know you.”

“I’m Richard Allingford,” said the larger of the two men, pushing forward till he faced the bewildered Englishman.

At this point Scarsdale, whose coolness alone could have saved the situation, lost his head. His temper, which had been severely tried by the vicissitudes of the day, gave way in the presence of the man whose escapades had caused him such needless suffering and indignity, and, regardless of results, he spoke his mind.

“So you’re Richard Allingford, are you? Then allow me to tell you that you are the prettiest scoundrel that I’ve run across in a long time! Curse you! Do you know I’ve spent two days, this week, in Winchester jail on your account?”

A broad grin broke over Richard’s face.

“I guess you must be Scarsdale,” he said. “But what in thunder are you doing with my brother’s elephant?”

“It’s mine!” arose the shrill voice of his companion. “I tell you he stole it from me!”

This was too much for Mrs. Allingford, and, to make a bad matter worse, she cried from the carriage:

“The Consul did not steal the elephant! It is his property, and I’m his wife!”

A voice from the crowd chimed in:

“But ’e said it was ’er ladyship’s helephant!”

The mayor’s face was a study in its various shades of suspicion anger at being, as he very naturally supposed, duped; and certainty of the duplicity of all concerned, as the contradictory conversation continued. And there is no knowing how quickly he might have precipitated the final catastrophe, if the elephant had not chosen this opportunity for creating a diversion on his own account, which, for the time being, distracted every one’s thoughts. He had had, it will be remembered, a very light breakfast, which only served to whet the edge of his appetite. It therefore took him but a short time to locate the whereabouts of a lad who, emerging from the inn with an appetising dinner of bacon and greens arranged in a basket balanced on his head, stood gaping on the outskirts of the crowd, unmindful of the cooling viands. Some playful breeze must have wafted the savoury odour of cabbage to the elephant’s nostrils; for suddenly, and without previous warning, flinging his trunk in the air with a joyous trumpet, he pounded down the road, nearly unseating his rider, and scattering the crowd to right and left.

“Wait for me when you get to Christchurch!” Scarsdale called to Tom as the latter shot past him, and then joined in the rush which followed close on the elephant’s heels, the mayor and the landlord well to the fore; while Mrs. Allingford’s driver, who was only human, increased the confusion by whipping up his horses and joining in the chase.

Ahead of the excited beast and the noisy throng which followed it, holding on like grim death to his dinner-basket, fled the worse-scared boy that had ever been seen in that town. Fortunately the chase was of short duration, for the cubicle of the telegraph-clerk at the railway station was just ahead, and offered a ready refuge. Into it flew the lad, dinner and all, and slammed the door, just in time to escape from the elephant’s curling trunk.

The beast, despoiled of his meal, circled the building trumpeting with rage, and finally took up a position across the rails, where he stood guard, prepared to fall upon any one who should venture out.

All the station attendants and officials were now added to the crowd which swarmed about the elephant, and the business of the town practically came to a standstill.

The station-master only added to the excitement by declaring that a train for Salisbury was due, and that the line must be cleared; while the telegraph-clerk announced from an upper storey that wild horses, let alone elephants, would not drag him forth from the shelter of his office, and the blubbering of the unfortunate boy made a monotonous accompaniment to his speech. The mayor blustered, the navvies swore, Tom addressed floods of unintelligible jargon to the obstinate beast, and, as a last resort, Scarsdale coaxed and wheedled him in very defective Hindustani. But it was all useless; not an inch would the elephant budge, and no one in all that assemblage was clever enough to think of giving him the telegraph-clerk’s dinner.

In the midst of this confusion, a shrill whistle was heard in the distance, and some one with a clearer head than the rest cried out to “set the signals against the train” a suggestion which was at once acted upon, and in a moment more the engine drew up, panting, within a dozen feet of the elephant, who was so intent on the contents of the cubicle that he never noticed its arrival.

As a general thing, it is the American tourist who alights from a train on no provocation, while his English cousin is content to sit quiet, and leave the affairs of the line in the hands of the company. In this case, however, some subtle sense of the unusual obstacle seemed to have communicated itself to the passengers; for no sooner had the engine halted than heads were thrust out of every window, and the greatest excitement prevailed.

“I don’t know if Scarsdale and my wife are here,” said Allingford, who, in company with Carrington and Mrs. Scarsdale, occupied one of the forward carriages, “but there is her ladyship’s elephant!”

“You’re right,” cried his fair companion, taking his place at the window. Then, as she caught sight of Scarsdale, she exclaimed “St. Hubart!” and pushing open the door, jumped out, and fled down the line.

“By Jove! that’s my wife!” exclaimed the Consul, fleeing after her, and upsetting a porter in his haste.

From a distance Carrington saw a confused mingling of four persons, and sighed as he caught himself wondering if he would ever be fool enough to do that sort of thing in public.

As he slowly approached them he heard scraps of their conversation.

“By the way, Allingford,” Scarsdale was saying, “I brought you back your elephant, which it seems you were careless enough, in the hurry of departure, to leave behind you at Melton Court. I hope you are properly grateful.”

“Oh, it isn’t mine,” replied the Consul; “it belongs to her Ladyship.”

“Well, she said it was yours,” returned her nephew.

“Ah, that was merely her excessive amiability,” said Allingford.

“It had not struck me in that light before,” replied Scarsdale. “Anyway, I’ve brought it back to you, and a nice time I’ve had of it.”

“Did you pilot it all the way from Melton Court?” queried the Consul.

“I did,” replied the Englishman, “through the main streets of this town; that is where my Indian training stood me in good stead; but it has ruined my character most of the inhabitants look on me with suspicion.”

“Was your holding up of our train intentional?”

“No,” said Scarsdale regretfully, “it wasn’t. There are lots of damages to pay, I assure you.”

“You must settle them with Lady Melton.”

“But what am I to do with the beast?”

“My dear fellow,” returned the Consul, “I’ve been your wife’s devoted slave for the last two days, and I have restored her safe and sound to your arms, but I really can’t undertake to manage your aunt’s elephants into the bargain.”

“But at least you might advise me.”

“Turn him over to Cassim.”

“To whom?”

“Why, to his own mahout, the little brown man who is dancing round him now. I discovered him tearing his hair at Southampton station, where he was left by mistake yesterday, and brought him along.”

“Then for heaven’s sake make him get his beast off the line!” cried Scarsdale, dragging Allingford up to the native keeper.

“My lord desireth his mid-day meal, and the sahib of the watch-tower hath it within,” explained that functionary.

“Tell his lordship that he’ll have a great deal better dinner if he will go back to the square,” said Allingford.

Just what the mahout said to the elephant will never be known, but it proved convincing: for, with a grunt of dissatisfaction, the beast consented to retrace his steps.

“And now that we have settled this little matter,” said the Consul, “there is nothing left for us but to express our unbounded gratitude to well, to the elephant for reuniting us all, and start once more on our honeymoons; for which this train is mighty convenient.”

“I have a word to say about that,” cried the mayor. “I’m by no means satisfied about the ownership of this elephant. I’ve been given to understand that it belongs to Lady Melton. Is this so?”

“Yes,” said the Consul and Mr. and Mrs. Scarsdale.

“No,” said Mrs. Allingford, Carrington, Tom, and the original owner, in one and the same breath.

“I say, Bob, did you steal it after all?” queried the graceless Richard.

“I took it in payment of a debt,” replied his brother hotly.

“Only twenty pounds!” groaned the elephant man. “It’s as good as a steal!”

“And I gave it to Lady Melton,” continued the Consul, “in payment for my board and lodging.”

“And she gave it to me,” said Mrs. Allingford.

“I lost my lord at the place of docks,” wailed the mahout.

“’E ’ired me to ride hit,” cried Tom, indicating Scarsdale.

“And what right have you to it, sir?” blustered the mayor, turning to that gentleman.

“I don’t know,” replied Scarsdale.

“I consider this most unsatisfactory,” continued his worship. “I think I may define the actions of those who have had a hand in this affair as ahem! contradictory and open to question. I shall telegraph Lady Melton, and pending her reply I must detain you all as suspicious characters.”

So it came to pass that the nine, gathered together in the chief parlour of the inn, with a constable on duty, awaited for some hours a response to the mayor’s telegram. It arrived finally, embodied in the person of Aunt Eliza, who had gone to Melton Court that morning, and was now fresh from an interview with the mayor, which had resulted in the freedom of all concerned.

The old lady looked the couples over through her eye-glasses, and gave vent to an expressive “Humph!”

To her niece alone did she deign to express herself more fully, nor did she scruple to mince her words.

“Well, Mabel,” she remarked, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I gave you a first-class recommendation only two days ago, as being well fitted to plan and carry out a honeymoon, and look what a mess you’ve made of it! Where did you come from last?”

“From Winchester,” replied her niece, “where I was looking for my husband, who had been arrested for impersonating Mr. Allingford’s brother,” and she pointed to Dick, who joined the group on hearing his name mentioned.

“What business have you to be holding a public office, with a brother like that?” Miss Cogbill demanded sternly of the Consul; but noting his evident discomfiture, she had the grace to add:

“You’re by no means a fool, however, barring your habit of losing things. That deed of gift you presented to Lady Melton was a clever stroke of business, and has helped you all out of a bad hole.”

“Have you seen her ladyship? What did she say?” cried the Consul.

“She said a good deal,” replied Aunt Eliza. “Naturally she was pretty mad, for the beast had done a heap of damage, but she was bound to admit you weren’t to blame for its getting loose, and, as I pointed out to her, you had a right to pay for your board and lodging if you chose, though, from the looks of her ramshackle old place, I thought you’d given more than the accommodation was worth. Besides which there were grievances and plenty on your side of the question. By her own showing she hadn’t been decently civil to you, and had turned over that monster to your deserted and defenceless wife, and cast my nephew adrift, and tried to send my niece home with the butler. Her ladyship saw the justice of my remarks. She means well, but her training’s against her. When I came to the elephant, though, I struck a snag, for she gave me to understand that she’d turned it off the place and never wanted to hear of it again. ‘Now, your ladyship,’ says I, ’turning an elephant adrift in the world isn’t like casting your bread upon the waters; you’re bound to find it before many days.’ And I hadn’t more than got the words out of my mouth when in came that telegram from the mayor, saying that traffic was blocked on the railway in both directions, and nine people arrested, all along of that beast. Her ladyship’s lawyer,” continued Aunt Eliza, indicating a gentleman of unmistakably legal appearance who had followed her into the room, “backed me up by pointing out that the deed of gift was good, and the elephant her property, and that she’d be obliged to pay for any damage it might do; after which she climbed down from her ancestral tree quick enough, and was willing to listen to reason. So here I am, and here is the lawyer; and now, if you please, we will attend to business.”

This she proceeded to do, and in an amazingly short space of time, with the authority of the lawyer, had settled the scruples of the mayor; received a release of indebtedness from the Consul, who willingly surrendered his papers, declaring that he had had “more than twenty pounds’ worth of fun out of the elephant”; and transferred the documents to the lawyer, with instructions to sell the beast to the original consignees at Southampton, and to remit the purchase-money to the elephant man, less the twenty pounds for damages, which, she added, “Just cancels his debt to the Consul, making him square on the transaction.”

The lawyer patted his hands, saying:

“Very well argued, Miss Cogbill.”

“Lady Melton,” said Aunt Eliza, turning to Mr. and Mrs. Scarsdale and Mr. and Mrs. Allingford, “has authorised me to say, on her behalf, that she overlooks and regrets the events of the last few days, and wishes them to be forgotten. In token of which she requests you four to dine with her, and spend the night at Melton Court; and I may add that you’ll be fools if you don’t accept.” After which dissent was impossible.

“And I want to tell you,” said Miss Cogbill, turning to Carrington, “that you’ve managed this affair very well; and as I’m in want of a likely young man as my business agent, if you call on me to-morrow in town, we’ll see if we can’t find something more profitable for you to do than hunting up stray honeymooners.”

“Say!” interjected the graceless Richard, who was far from pleased at the turn affairs had taken “Say, where do I come in?”

“Young man,” said Aunt Eliza, turning on him like a flash, “did you buy a return ticket to America?”

“Yes, but

“Well, then,” she interrupted, “you use it, the first chance you get. And as for you,” addressing the two married couples, “the sooner you start for Melton Court the better; and don’t let me hear of your being lost again.”

“Aren’t you coming with us, Miss Cogbill?” asked Scarsdale.

“The lawyer and I,” replied that lady, “are the only two responsible persons in this crowd, and we’ll stay right here and look after Her Ladyship’s Elephant.”