THE SECRET MISSION
“The letters, sahib,” said the post orderly, blocking up the doorway of the bungalow.
Kevin Dermot put down his book as the speaker, a Punjaubi Mohammedan in white undress, slipped off his loose native shoes and entered the room barefoot, as is the custom in India.
“For this one a receipt is needed,” continued the sepoy, holding out a long official envelope registered and insured and addressed, like all the others, to “The Officer Commanding, Ranga Duar, Eastern Bengal.”
Major Dermot signed the receipt and handed it to the man. As he did so the scream of an elephant in pain came to his ears.
“What is that?” he asked the post orderly.
“It is the mahout, Chand Khan, beating his hathi (elephant), sahib,” replied the sepoy looking out.
Dermot threw the unopened letters on the table, and, going out on the verandah of his bungalow, gazed down on the parade ground which lay a hundred feet below. Beyond it at the foot of the small hill on which stood the Fort was a group of trees, to two of which a transport elephant was shackled by a fore and a hind leg in such a way as to render it powerless. Its mahout, or driver, keeping out of reach of its trunk, was beating it savagely on the head with a bamboo. Mad with rage, the man, a grey-bearded old Mohammedan, swung the long stick with both hands and brought it down again and again with all his force. From the gateway of the Fort above the havildar, or native sergeant, of the guard shouted to the mahout to desist. But the angry man ignored him and continued to belabour his unfortunate animal, which, at the risk of dislocating its leg, struggled wildly to free itself and screamed shrilly each time that the bamboo fell. This surprised Dermont, for an elephant’s skull is so thick that a blow even from the ankus or iron goad used to drive it, is scarcely felt.
The puzzled officer re-entered the bungalow and brought out a pair of field-glasses, which revealed the reason of the poor tethered brute’s screams. For they showed that in the end of the bamboo were stuck long, sharp nails which pierced and tore the flesh of its head.
Major Dermot was not only a keen sportsman and a lover of animals, but he had an especial liking for elephants, of which he had had much experience. So with a muttered oath he put down the binoculars and, seizing his helmet, ran down the steep slope from his bungalow to the parade ground. As he went he shouted to the mahout to stop. But the man was too engrossed in his brutality to hear him or the havildar, who repeated the Major’s order. It was not until Dermot actually seized his arm and dragged him back that he perceived his commanding officer. Dropping the bamboo he strove to justify his ill-treatment of the elephant by alleging some petty act of disobedience on its part.