Muztagh had lost control of his herd. At their head ran the old leader that he had worsted. In their hour of fear they had turned back to him. What did this youngster know of elephant-drives? Ever the waving firebrands drew nearer, the beaters lessened their circle, the avenues of escape became more narrow. The yawning arms of the stockade stretched just beyond.
“Will I win, jungle gods?” a little grey man at the keddah wing was whispering to the forests. “Will I save you, great one that I knew in babyhood? Will you go down into chains before the night is done? Ai! I hear the thunder of your feet! The moment is almost here. And now—your last chance, Muztagh!”
“Close down, close down!” Ahmad Din was shouting to his beaters. “The thing is done in another moment. Hasten, pigs of the hills! Raise your voice! Now! Aihai!”
The herd was at the very wings of the stockade. They had halted an instant, milling, and the beaters increased their shouts. Only one of all the herd seemed to know the danger—Muztagh himself, and he had dropped from the front rank to the very rear. He stood with uplifted trunk, facing the approaching rows of beaters. And there seemed to be no break in the whole line.
The herd started to move on into the wings of captitivity; and they did not heed his warning squeals to turn. The circle of fire drew nearer. Then his trunk seemed to droop, and he turned, too. He could not break the line. He turned, too, toward the mouth of the keddah.
But even as he turned, a brown figure darted toward him from the end of the wing. A voice known long ago was calling to him—a voice that penetrated high and clear above the babble of the beaters. “Muztagh!” it was crying. “Muztagh!”
But it was not the words that turned Muztagh. An elephant cannot understand words, except a few elemental sounds such as a horse or dog can learn. Rather it was the smell of the man, remembered from long ago, and the sound of his voice, never quite forgotten. For an elephant never forgets.
The elephant knew him now. He remembered his one friend among all the human beings that he knew in his calfhood; the one mortal from whom he had received love and given love in exchange.
“More firebrands!” yelled the men who held that corner of the wing. “Firebrands! Where is Langur Dass?” but instead of firebrands that would have frightened beast and aided men, Langur Dass stepped out from behind a tree and beat at the heads of the right-wing guards with a bamboo cane that whistled and whacked and scattered them into panic—yelling all the while—“Muztagh! O my Muztagh! Here is an opening! Muztagh, come!”.
And Muztagh did come—trumpeting—crashing like an avalanche, with Langur Dass hard after him afraid, now that he had done the trick. And hot on the trail of Langur Dass ran Ahmad Din, with his knife drawn not meaning to let that prize be lost to him at less than the cost of the trickster’s life.