Little Toomai went off without saying a word, but he told Kala Nag all his grievances while he was examining his feet. “No matter,” said Little Toomai, turning up the fringe of Kala Nag’s huge right ear. “They have said my name to Petersen Sahib, and perhaps—and perhaps—and perhaps—who knows? Hai! That is a big thorn that I have pulled out!”
The next few days were spent in getting the elephants together, in walking the newly caught wild elephants up and down between a couple of tame ones to prevent them giving too much trouble on the downward march to the plains, and in taking stock of the blankets and ropes and things that had been worn out or lost in the forest.
Petersen Sahib came in on his clever she-elephant Pudmini; he had been paying off other camps among the hills, for the season was coming to an end, and there was a native clerk sitting at a table under a tree, to pay the drivers their wages. As each man was paid he went back to his elephant, and joined the line that stood ready to start. The catchers, and hunters, and beaters, the men of the regular Keddah, who stayed in the jungle year in and year out, sat on the backs of the elephants that belonged to Petersen Sahib’s permanent force, or leaned against the trees with their guns across their arms, and made fun of the drivers who were going away, and laughed when the newly caught elephants broke the line and ran about.
Big Toomai went up to the clerk with Little Toomai behind him, and Machua Appa, the head tracker, said in an undertone to a friend of his, “There goes one piece of good elephant stuff at least. ‘Tis a pity to send that young jungle-cock to molt in the plains.”
Now Petersen Sahib had ears all over him, as a man must have who listens to the most silent of all living things—the wild elephant. He turned where he was lying all along on Pudmini’s back and said, “What is that? I did not know of a man among the plains-drivers who had wit enough to rope even a dead elephant.”
“This is not a man, but a boy. He went into the Keddah at the last drive, and threw Barmao there the rope, when we were trying to get that young calf with the blotch on his shoulder away from his mother.”
Machua Appa pointed at Little Toomai, and Petersen Sahib looked, and Little Toomai bowed to the earth.
“He throw a rope? He is smaller than a picket-pin. Little one, what is thy name?” said Petersen Sahib.
Little Toomai was too frightened to speak, but Kala Nag was behind him, and Toomai made a sign with his hand, and the elephant caught him up in his trunk and held him level with Pudmini’s forehead, in front of the great Petersen Sahib. Then Little Toomai covered his face with his hands, for he was only a child, and except where elephants were concerned, he was just as bashful as a child could be.
“Oho!” said Petersen Sahib, smiling underneath his mustache, “and why didst thou teach thy elephant that trick? Was it to help thee steal green corn from the roofs of the houses when the ears are put out to dry?”
“Not green corn, Protector of the Poor,—melons,” said Little Toomai, and all the men sitting about broke into a roar of laughter. Most of them had taught their elephants that trick when they were boys. Little Toomai was hanging eight feet up in the air, and he wished very much that he were eight feet underground.
“He is Toomai, my son, Sahib,” said Big Toomai, scowling. “He is a very bad boy, and he will end in a jail, Sahib.”
“Of that I have my doubts,” said Petersen Sahib. “A boy who can face a full Keddah at his age does not end in jails. See, little one, here are four annas to spend in sweetmeats because thou hast a little head under that great thatch of hair. In time thou mayest become a hunter too.” Big Toomai scowled more than ever. “Remember, though, that Keddahs are not good for children to play in,” Petersen Sahib went on.