This excursion was merely the first of many that Dermot made with the herd, with which he often roamed far and wide through the forest. And sometimes, without his knowing it, he was seen by some native passing through the jungle, who hurriedly climbed a tree or hid in the undergrowth to avoid meeting the elephants. From concealment the awed watcher gazed in astonishment at the white man in their midst, of whom such wonderful tales were told in the villages. And when he got back safely to his own hamlet that night the native added freely to the legends that were gathering around Dermot’s name among the jungle and hill-dwellers.
On one occasion Dermot, seated on Badshah’s neck, was following in rear of the herd when it was moving slowly through the forest a few miles from the foot of the hills. A sudden halt in the leisurely progress made him wonder at the cause. Then the elephants in front broke their formation and crowded forward in a body, and Dermot suddenly heard a human cry. Fearing that they had come unexpectantly on a native and might do him harm, he urged Badshah forward through the press of animals, which parted left and right to let him through. To his surprise he found the leading elephants ringed round a girl, an English girl, who, hatless and with her unpinned hair streaming on her shoulders, stood terrified in their midst.
A DRAMATIC INTRODUCTION
When Noreen Daleham rose half-stunned from the ground where her pony had flung her and realised that she was surrounded by wild elephants she was terrified. The stories of their ferocity told her at the club flashed across her mind, and she felt that she was in danger of a horrible death. When the huge animals closed in and advanced on her from all sides she gave herself up for lost.
At that awful moment a voice fell on her ears and she heard the words:
“Don’t be alarmed. You are in no danger.”
In bewilderment she looked up and saw to her astonishment and relief a white man sitting on the neck of one of the great beasts.
“Oh, I am so glad!” she exclaimed. “I was terrified. I thought that these were wild elephants.”
“So they are,” he said. “But they won’t hurt you. Can I help you? What are you doing here? Have you lost your way in the jungle?”
By this time Noreen had recovered her presence of mind and began to realise the situation. It was natural that this man should be astonished to find an Englishwoman alone and in distress in the forest. Her appearance was calculated to cause him to wonder—and a feminine instinct made her hands go up to her untidy hair, as she suddenly thought of her dishevelled state. She picked up her hat and put it on.
“I’ve had a fall from my pony,” she explained, trying to reduce her unruly tresses to order. “It shied at the elephants and threw me. Then I suppose it bolted.”