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- Rataplan - 2/27 -
him to live with any elephants whatever; he preferred to be alone; and his evil nature and irritable temper thrived on his solitary life and mischief-making propensities, and to know that he was feared and dreaded was a very delight to him.
Out of pure mischief he would, at times, tear madly through the forest, trumpeting at the very top of his shrill voice, merely to give the elephants, or any other animals that might be about, a thorough fright.
Many and many a time had some horrid, insignificant little creatures who walked about on two legs, and carried things of fire in their hands, tried their very best to inveigle and entrap him, but in vain. Once, indeed, he had very nearly fallen into a horrible pit in which, at the very bottom, in the centre, was a dreadful, long, sharp stake, which, had he fallen, would have been driven through his thick body by its own weight, and he would have perished miserably and in agony.
But he had found it out in time--only just in time--for one of his hind legs had shot out suddenly behind him, and it was only by a mighty effort of his huge strength that he scrambled up and away from the source of danger.
But oh, what havoc he made! How he tore up anything and everything within his reach! Iron fences which those silly, little fire-carriers had stuck into the ground to protect their crops; silly, little, brick walls which he knocked over with one push of his huge body; young, healthy trees which had been planted so carefully a few years back, and which he pulled up with his long trunk as though they were little radishes; not to speak of the miles of rice and sugar-cane which he had trodden down in wanton waste and as a means of venting his temper.
Another time they had tried to drive him into a horrid place called a _Keddah_, which had been built with stout logs, and had huge buttresses which even he would have found it difficult to move.
He had been really startled one dark night on seeing huge bunches of fire coming towards him, and in spite of his daring he began to run in the opposite direction.
But it takes a rogue to catch a Rogue, and Rataplan was pretty wary. He had sense enough to know that those silly, little things on two legs would not take the trouble to run after him with bunches of fire unless they wanted him to run away somewhere, to some particular place. And so, after the first few, heavy, swinging steps, the reflection of the fire behind him showed him the outline of a _keddah_ just in front, and with a shrill roar of rage Rataplan turned suddenly and fiercely round, dashed headlong through the line of fire, and, with a mighty trumpeting, disappeared into the forest.
So sudden and unexpected had been his onslaught that he had put out quite half a dozen of the bunches of fire: he had also put out the lives of the six, silly, little things who carried them. For a few swift pressures of his mighty feet had squeezed out their breath and destroyed their power to invent mischief with which to entrap the Rogue elephant.
For some time after this Rataplan had been more mad and wicked than ever. He knew perfectly well that he had killed a few of the fire- carriers, and he fully intended to kill a few more before he had done with them. But they were very cunning, these fire-carriers, and, although he had nearly caught a few of them, once or twice, they had generally escaped him when quite close by suddenly disappearing, and this caused Rataplan many serious cogitations and musings.
Wicked and clever as he was, he had only the instincts of his kind. All his senses were alert, and his eyes looked for enemies in all directions but one, and that one direction was above. He never looked up, and it never occurred to his stupid, old head, sharp as he thought himself, that the little fire-carriers might have climbed up into the trees above him. When they disappeared from his range of vision he gave up the chase, although, more often than not, the wicked, little things were sitting just above his head, where, had he only turned his trunk upwards, he could have picked them off as though they were little birds.
But he always did the same thing: he floundered blunderingly on through the forest, trumpeting, roaring, pulling up and tearing down everything within his reach, but never having sense enough to look above him. And so it was that he found it very difficult to get hold of the fire carriers, and he became madder and more full of rage than ever.
Even the herds of elephants were now getting afraid of him, although could they only have made up their gentle, docile minds to attack him he would have come to his end in no time.
But Indian elephants dislike warfare or disagreements, and often, even when severely wounded, will turn about and go away, not seeming to realize that a momentary pressure of one of their huge feet, or one straight blow with their tusks, would be more than sufficient to finish their enemies. More often than not the most an Indian elephant will do to his foe is to kick him from one huge foot to another until he is either dead or dying.
But from Rataplan, the Rogue, the other elephants preferred to keep aloof. Only once had a herd attempted to chase him, and this was when he had actually presumed to pay a little attention to the wife of its leader.
Then the leader, followed by the remainder of the herd, turned upon him, and for just once in his life Rataplan was frightened, and simply turned tail and ran--ran crashing and stumbling through the forest at a terrific speed, making the air resound with his trumpeting.
Had it not been that the dense forest was suddenly broken by a river, it would indeed have gone hard with him.
For an instant Rataplan thought he would stop--for, although elephants are beautiful swimmers, they are not particularly fond of the sport-- but only for a moment; for the herd was close behind him and pressing him, and the leader could almost reach him with his trunk. Into the water dashed Rataplan, throwing up a mountain of spray which sprinkled the whole herd, and for a few moments he was lost to sight.
After the spray cleared away his huge form, with his trunk held high in the air, could be seen swimming easily and steadily towards the other side, and after a little conference with the herd the leader decided to let him go. But, as Rataplan knew only too well, woe betide him if ever he met that herd again.
And so it was that Rataplan, the Rogue, congratulated himself that so far he had never been caught, neither had any other elephant been able to hurt him.
But on this particular day he was very miserable and very lonely, and he had a restless, uneasy, wild feeling which inclined him to something daring. He was sick and tired of trying to catch the silly things that carried fire; he was tired of the forest; he was tired of himself. He felt more irritable, restless and evil-natured than ever, and as he stood there, swaying heavily from side to side and waving his trunk about him, he was a very miserable elephant indeed.
If he had only known it, one of the silly, little things who carried the fire had been watching him for some time.
Rataplan had been keeping very still for an elephant, but there is a certain sound which he and all his brethren make, unknown to themselves, and over which they have no control. This is a curious, little, bubbling noise which is caused by the water which is stored up in their insides in case of emergency; and this little bubbling noise had been heard by the fire-carrier.
He watched the huge beast with interest, and knew by his restless manner and the wicked look in his small eyes that he was in about as dangerous a state as it is possible for an elephant to be, and he made his plans accordingly.
He was very busy for a few minutes with some long, thick ropes, which had a heavy noose at each end. The ends of these ropes he fastened carefully to some heavy trees, and then he went quietly away. The little fire-carrier was a _Mahout_, hunter or rider, who was trained in the capture of elephants, and he felt sure that if Rataplan would only stay where he was a short time longer he would be able to catch him.
So he went away and looked carefully at his _Koomkies_.[Footnote: Female elephants which are trained for the purpose of catching wild elephants.--Author.] He had some particularly good ones just then, and they one and all turned their large, gentle heads towards him and awaited his pleasure. For they loved the chase, and entered into it with as much interest as he did himself.
As a rule he sent several _koomkies_ out together, but on this occasion he decided to send only one.
This was Kinka, a gentle and tractable, little Indian elephant, who was well versed in the chase, and who was about as pretty and graceful as it is possible for a _koomkie_ to be.
The _mahout_ talked to her and patted her, and Kinka seemed to quite understand, nodding her head wisely, and touching his face and shoulders gently with the tip of her trunk.
When he had finished and began to lead her out she made a quiet, little trumpeting noise, which signified how delighted she was to go.
The _mahout_ did not trouble himself about Kinka, once he had let her go. She knew her business and was about as deep and crafty as any _mahout_ could wish. He selected his strongest little horse and followed her.
Kinka went quietly and steadily through the forest, making straight for the place where Rataplan was still standing, moodily moving his head to and fro.
Once within sight of him she put on a careless, coquettish air, and began to move carelessly towards him, plucking leaves and grass as though perfectly oblivious of his presence.
Rataplan suddenly stopped moving his huge head, and his wicked little eyes were bent on her with scrutiny and interest. He was not, however, going to be caught so easily. He did not care for society in any shape or form, not even the society of a _koomkie_, so he took no notice of her, but, after a few minutes' quiet contemplation, turned his head the other way.
Kinka, however, was not to be daunted. Still plucking little twigs and delicate buds and knocking them carefully and fastidiously against her forelegs in order to shake off any little fragment of dust that might
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