But most of the mahouts and catchers noticed the rapidity with which the little Muztagh acquired weight and strength. He outweighed, at the age of three, any calf of his season in the encampment by a full two hundred pounds. And of course three in an elephant is no older than three in a human child. He was still just a baby, even if he did have the wild tuskers’ love of liberty.
“Shalt thou never lie the day long in the cool mud, little one? Never see a storm break on the hills? Nor feel a warm rain dripping through the branches? Or are these matters part of thee that none may steal?” Langur Dass would ask him, contented to wait a very long time for his answer. “I think already that thou knowest how the tiger steals away at thy shrill note; how thickets feel that crash beneath thy hurrying weight! A little I think thou knowest how the madness comes with the changing seasons. How knowest thou these things? Not as I know them, who have seen—nay, but as a king knows conquering; it’s in thy blood! Is a bundle of sugar-cane tribute enough for thee, Kumiria? Shall purple trappings please thee? Shall some fat rajah of the plains make a beast of burden of thee? Answer, lord of mighty memories!”
And Muztagh answered in his own way, without sound or emphasis, but giving his love to Langur Dass, a love as large as the big elephant heart from which it had sprung. No other man could even win his friendship. The smell of the jungle was on Langur Dass. The mahouts and hunters smelt more or less of civilization and were convinced for their part that the disposition of the little light-coloured elephant was beyond redemption.
“He is a born rogue,” was their verdict, and they meant by that, a particular kind of elephant, sometimes a young male, more often an old and savage tusker alone in the jungle—apart from the herd. Solitariness doesn’t improve their dispositions, and they were generally expelled from a herd for ill-temper to begin with. “Woe to the fool prince who buys this one!” said the grey-beard catchers. “There is murder in his eyes.”
But Langur Dass would only look wise when he heard these remarks. He knew elephants. The gleam in the dark eyes of Muztagh was not viciousness, but simply inheritance, a love of the wide wild spaces that left no room for ordinary friendships.
But calf-love and mother-love bind other animals as well as men, and possibly he might have perfectly fulfilled the plans Dugan had made for him but for a mistake the sahib made in the little calf’s ninth year.
He sold Muztagh’s mother to an elephant-breeder from a distant province. Little Muztagh saw her march away between two tuskers—down the long elephant trail into the valley and the shadow.
“Watch the little one closely to-night,” Dugan Sahib said to his mahout. So when they had led him back and forth along the lines, they saw that the ends of his ropes were pegged down tightly. They were horsehair ropes, far beyond the strength of any normal nine-year-old elephant to break. Then they went to the huts and to their women and left him to shift restlessly from foot to foot, and think.