“Yes; Simla’s rather a rotten place, I believe,” remarked the subaltern meditatively. “Too many brass hats and women. They’re the curse of India, each of them. And I’m sure the women do the most harm.”
“Well, steer clear of the latter, and don’t become one of the former,” said Dermot with a laugh, rising from his chair, “then you’ll have a peaceful life—but you won’t get on in your profession.”
A ROGUE ELEPHANT
The four transport elephants attached to the garrison of Ranga Duar for the purpose of bringing supplies for the men from the far distant railway were stabled in a peelkhana at the foot of the hills and a couple of thousand feet below the Fort. This building, a high-walled shed with thatched roof and brick standings for the animals, was erected beside the narrow road that zig-zagged down from the mountains into the forest and eventually joined a broader one leading to the narrow-gauge railway that pierced the jungle many miles away.
One morning, about three weeks after Dermot’s first introduction to Badshah, the Major tramped down the rough track to the peelkhana, carrying a rifle and cartridge belt and a haversack containing his food for the day. Nearing the stables he blew a whistle, and a shrill trumpeting answered him from the building, as Badshah recognised his signal. Ramnath, hurriedly entering the impatient elephant’s stall, loosed him from the iron shackles that held his legs. Then the huge beast walked with stately tread out of the building and went straight to where Dermot awaited him. For during these weeks the intimacy between man and animal had progressed rapidly. Elephants, though of an affectionate disposition, are not demonstrative as a rule. But Badshah always showed unmistakable signs of fondness for the white man, whom he seemed to regard as his friend and protector.
Dermot was in the habit of taking him out into the jungle every day, where he went ostensibly to shoot. After the first few occasions he displaced Ramnath from the guiding seat on Badshah’s neck and acted as mahout himself. But, instead of using the ankus—the heavy iron implement shaped like a boat-hook head which natives use to emphasise their orders to their charges—the Major simply touched the huge head with his open hand. And his method proved equally, if not more, effective. He was soon able to dispense altogether with Ramnath on his expeditions, which was his object. For he did not want any witness to his secret explorations of the forest and the hills.
An elephant, when used as a beast of burden or for shooting from in thick jungle, carries on its back only a “pad”—a heavy, straw-stuffed mattress reaching from neck to tail and fastened on by a rope surcingle passing round the body. On this pad, if passengers are to be carried, a wooden seat with footboards hanging by cords from it and called a charjama is placed. Only for sport in open country or high grass jungle is the cage-like howdah employed.