Dermot was meditating on this curious fact of natural history when Badshah came out on the high bank of an empty river-bed and cautiously climbed down it. Ahead of them rose the long line of mountains clear and distinct in the rays of the setting sun. As he reached the far bank Dermot turned round to look back. Behind them stretched the procession of elephants in single file, each one stepping into the huge footprints of those in front of it. When Badshah plunged into the jungle again the tail of the procession had not yet come out on the white sand of the river-bed.
And when the sun went down they were still plodding on towards the hills.
An hour or two after night had fallen on the jungle Badshah stopped suddenly and sank down on his knees. Dermot took this as an invitation to dismount, and slid to the ground. When Badshah stopped, the long-stretching line behind him halted, too, and the elephants broke their formation and wandered about feeding. Soon the forest resounded with the noise of creepers being torn down, branches broken off, and small trees uprooted so that the hungry animals could reach the leafy crowns. Dermot realised that in the darkness he was in danger of being trodden underfoot among the hundreds of huge animals straying about. But Badshah knew it, too, and so he remained standing over his man, while the latter sat down on the ground, rested his aching back against a tree, and made a meal from the contents of his haversack. Badshah contented himself with the grass and leaves that he could reach without stirring from the spot, and then cautiously lowered himself to the ground and stretched his huge limbs out.
Dermot lay down beside him, as he had so often done before in the nights spent in the jungle. But, exhausted as he was, he could not sleep at first. The strangeness of the adventure kept him awake. To find his presence accepted by this vast gathering of wild elephants, animals which are usually extremely shy of human beings, was in itself extraordinary. Much as he knew of the jungle he had never dreamt of this. In Central Indian villages he had been told legends of lost children being adopted by wolves. But for elephants to admit a man into their herd was beyond belief. That it was due to Badshah’s affection for him was little less remarkable than the fact itself. For it opened up the question of the animal’s extraordinary power over his kind. And that was an unfathomable mystery.
Dermot found the riddle too difficult to solve. He ceased to puzzle over it. The noises in the forest gradually died down, and the intense silence that followed was broken only by the harsh call of the barking-deer or the wailing cry of the giant owl. Fatigue overcame him, and he slept.