Probably he would have been satisfied with thinking, for Muztagh did not know his strength, and thought he was securely tied. The incident that upset the mahout’s plans was simply that the wild elephants trumpeted again from the hills.
Muztagh heard the sound, long drawn and strange from the silence of the jungle. He grew motionless. The great ears pricked forward, the whipping tail stood still. It was a call never to be denied. The blood was leaping in his great veins.
He suddenly rocked forward with all his strength. The rope spun tight, hummed, and snapped—very softly indeed. Then he padded in silence out among the huts, and nobody who had not seen him do it would believe how silently an elephant can move when he sees fit.
There was no thick jungle here—just soft grass, huts, approaching dark fringe that was jungle. None of the mahouts was awake to see him. No voice called him back. The grass gave way to bamboo thickets, the smell of the huts to the wild, bewitching perfumes of the jungle.
Then, still in silence, because there are decencies to be observed by animals no less than men, he walked forward with his trunk outstretched into the primordial jungle and was born again.
Muztagh’s reception was cordial from the very first. The great bulls of the herd stood still and lifted their ears when they heard him grunting up the hill. But he slipped among them and was forgotten at once. They had no dealings with the princes of Malay and Siam, and his light-coloured coat meant nothing whatever to them. If they did any thinking about him at all, it was just to wonder why a calf with all the evident marks of a nine-year-old should be so tall and weigh so much.
One can fancy that the great old wrinkled tusker that led the herd peered at him now and then out of his little red eyes and wondered. A herd-leader begins to think about future contestants for his place as soon as he acquires the leadership. But Hai! This little one would not have his greatest strength for fifteen years.
It was a compact, medium-sized herd—vast males, mothers, old-maid elephants, long-legged and ungainly, young males just learning their strength and proud of it beyond words, and many calves. They ranged all the way in size from the great leader, who stood ten feet and weighed nearly nine thousand pounds, to little two-hundred-and-fifty-pound babies that had been born that season. And before long the entire herd began its cautious advance into the deeper hills.
The first night in the jungle—and Muztagh found it wonderful past all dreams. The mist on his skin was the same cool joy he had expected. There were sounds, too, that set his great muscles aquiver. He heard the sound that the bamboos make—the little click-click of the stems in the wind—the soft rustle and stir of many leafy tendrils entwining and touching together, and the whisper of the wind over the jungle grass. And he knew because it was his heritage, what every single one of these sounds meant.