3. THE SHOCKING ARRIVAL
“There she is,” said the carter, with satisfaction, “and she’s all yours.”
“It can’t be,” said Adrian faintly, “it can’t be mine . . . I don’t want an elephant.”
“Now look ’ere,” said the carter with some asperity, “I’ve travelled all night, see, to bring this ruddy animal to you. You’re Mr. A. Rookwhistle, therefore she’s your animal.”
Adrian began to wonder if the shocks he had already received that morning had unhinged his mind. It was bad enough having to cope with an acrobat, without finding himself suddenly saddled with, of all things, an elephant. Then, suddenly, he had an awful suspicion.
“What’s its name?” he asked hoarsely.
“Rosy,” said the carter, “leastways, that’s what they told me.”
At the sound of her name the elephant swayed to and fro gently and uttered a small squeak, like the mating cry of a very tiny clarinet. She was shackled inside the dray by two chains padlocked round her front legs, and they made a musical clanking noise when she moved. She stretched out her trunk seductively towards Adrian and blew a small puff of air at him. Oh God, thought Adrian, I’d much rather it was a drunken acrobat.
“Look here,” he said to the carter, “what am I going to do with her?”
“That,” said the carter with ill concealed satisfaction, “is your problem, mate. I was merely engaged to deliver ’er and deliver ’er I ’ave. So now, as I ’aven’t ’ad any breakfast, if you’ll kindly remove ’er from me van, I’ll be on me way.”
“But you can’t just leave me in the street with an elephant,” Adrian protested.
“Why not?” enquired the carter simply.
“But I can’t take her in there,” said Adrian wildly, gesturing at Mrs. Dredge’s six foot square front garden. “She won’t fit, for one thing . . . and she’d tread all the plants down.”
“Ar, you should ’ave thought of that before you ordered ’er,” said the carter.
“But I didn’t order her. She was left to me by my uncle,” said Adrian, reflecting as he said it how very unlikely the whole thing sounded.
“’E couldn’t ’ave liked you very much,” said the carter.
“Look, do be sensible,” Adrian pleaded. “You can’t just stick an elephant down in front of me and then go off and leave me.”
“Now you look ’ere,” said the carter in a shaking voice, his face growing purple, “I was engaged to transport an elephant. It was foolish of me, I know, but there we are. I’ve been on the go all night. Every pub we passed she nearly ’ad the dray over. It’s the worst ruddy journey I’ve ever ’ad in twenty-four years’ experience as a carter. And now all I want to do is to get rid of ’er as quickly as possible. So if you’ll kindly remove ’er, I’ll be on me way.”
Even if he succeeded in getting Rosy into Mrs. Dredge’s front or back garden, Adrian though; how was he to explain the sudden appearance of an elephant? It was too much to hope that Mrs. Dredge would not notice her. But something had to be done, for the carter was adamant and growing more and more purple and restive with each passing moment. Then Adrian had an idea Pucklehammer, he thought, Pucklehammer’s yard. That would be the place to take her.
“Look,” said Adrian desperately to the carter, “can you take her down the mad a bit? I’ve got a friend who’s got a yard. We can put her in there.”
The carter sighed deeply. “See ’ere,” he said, “I’ve delivered your elephant to you. I was not asked to deliver it anywhere else but ’ere.”
“But it’s only just down the road, and it’ll be worth a sovereign to you,” said Adrian.
“Well, that’s different,” said the carter and he slammed the doors of the dray, shutting off the sight of Rosy, who had picked up a small wisp of straw in her trunk and was daintily fanning herself with it. The carter shouted to his horses, they strained forward, and the massive dray rumbled down the road, with Adrian pacing feverishly beside it, endeavouring to persuade himself that there was nothing Mr. Pucklehammer would like better than an elephant in his yard. He left the carter in the street and went into the yard. Mr. Pucklehammer was still sitting on the coffin, consuming yet another pint of beer.
“Hello, boy,” he said jovially, “got your acrobat?”
“Mr. Pucklehammer,” said Adrian in a low, controlled voice, “you’ve got to help me. You are, indeed, the only person I can turn to in what is rapidly becoming a nightmare.”
“Why, what’s happened, boy?”
“She . . . it . . . has arrived,” said Adrian.
“What’s she like?” enquired Mr. Pucklehammer with interest.
“She . . . Rosy,” said Adrian, “is an elephant.”
“An elephant?” said Mr. Pucklehammer, and whistled. “That’s a bit of a problem for you.”
“You could put it that way,” said Adrian coldly.
“An elephant,” repeated Mr. Pucklehammer thoughtfully. “Well, well. That is a bit of a facer.”
“I’m inclined to agree with you,” said Adrian. “What I’m to do with her I just don’t know, but all I do know is that the wretched man who brought her, not unnaturally wants to get rid of her. She won’t fit in Mrs. Dredge’s garden, so I’ve had to bring her here. Will you let me keep her in your yard for a bit, until I decide what to do?”
“Yes, yes, boy, of course,” said Mr. Pucklehammer readily, “plenty of room here. Never had an elephant here, come to think of it. It’ll make a bit of a change.”
“Thank God,” said Adrian fervently, “I’m most grateful to you.” He went back into the road where the carter appeared to be melting steadily into his handkerchief.
“It’s all right,” said Adrian, “she can come in here.”
The carter threw open the doors of the dray, and Rosy uttered a pleased squeal at the sight of her friends.
“’ere’s the keys,” said the carter, handing them to Adrian. “one for each padlock.”
“Is she tame?” asked Adrian nervously, realising that up until that moment he had had no experience with elephants.
“I think so,” said the carter. “You’ll soon find out though, won’t you?”
“Perhaps I ought to get it something to eat,” said Adrian. “keep it occupied. What do they eat?”
“Buns,” said Mr. Pucklehammer, who was peering at Rosy with interest.
“Do be sensible,” said Adrian irritably. “Where am I going to find a bun at this time of the day?”
“Ow about oats?” suggested the carter.
“No, no, it’s buns they eat,” said Mr. Pucklehammer.
“I do wish you’d stop gassing on about buns,” said Adrian in exasperation, “we haven’t got any buns.”
“How about a cheese sandwich?” said Mr. Pucklehammer. “I’ll go and get one and we’ll try.”
He returned presently with a large cheese sandwich, which he handed to Adrian. Very cautiously, holding the sandwich in front of him as though it were a weapon, Adrian approached Rosy’s vast grey bulk.
“Here you are then, Rosy,” he said hoarsely. “Nice cheese sandwich . . . good girl.”
Rosy stopped swaying and watched his approach with twinkling eyes. When he was within range she stretched out her trunk and, with the utmost speed and delicacy, removed Adrian’s bowler bat and placed it on her own massive domed head. Alarmed, Adrian jumped back, dropped the sandwich and trod heavily on the carter’s foot. This did not improve the carter’s already frayed temper. Picking up the sandwich Adrian approached Rosy again.
“Here you are, Rosy,” he said in a trembling voice, “nice sandwich.” Languidly Rosy reached out her trunk again, took the sandwich from Adrian’s shaking fingers, and inserted it into her mouth which looked—to Adrian’s startled gaze—the size of a large barrel. Faint grinding and slushing noises indicated that the elephant did eat cheese sandwiches. Hastily, while her mouth was full, Adrian went down on his knees, undid the padlocks and removed the shackles from Rosy’s legs.
“There we are,” he said, backing out of the dray. “Come along then . . . good girl.”
Rosy sighed deeply, took off the bowler hat and fanned herself with it, but apart from this gave no indication that she intended to vacate the dray.
“I’m normally a patient man,” said the carter untruthfully, “but I would like to point out, while you’re stamping about all over me feet and stuffing that elephant on sandwiches, that I ’aven’t ’ad so much as a bite to eat this morning.”
“Well, I’m trying to get her out,” said Adrian aggrievedly, “you can’t force a thing that size.”
“Would you care for a sandwich and a pint of beer?” Mr. Pucklehammer asked the carter.
“That’s very obliging of you,” said the carter, brightening perceptibly, “very obliging indeed.”
While the carter and Adrian stood there staring at Rosy, who was now swaying to and fro and uttering heart-rending sighs, Mr. Pucklehammer went into the house and soon reappeared carrying a sandwich with a brimming pint of beer. The carter’s delight at seeing these victuals was nothing compared to Rosy’s enthusiasm when she saw the tankard. She uttered a loud and prolonged trumpeting that made Adrian jump, and lumbered out of the dray into the road. Mr. Pucklehammer stood rooted to the spot while Rosy, still trumpeting, seized the tankard in her trunk and proceeded to pour the contents into her cavernous mouth.
“Well, that’s solved one problem,” said the carter, “but what about me beer?”
“At least we know she’ll eat sandwiches and drink beer,” said Adrian, “though I can’t see her existing for ever on that.”
“I wouldn’t want you to think me unfeeling,” said the carter, breathing through his nose, “but I’m more concerned with me own stomach than with ’em.”
Rosy handed the empty tankard back to Mr. Pucklehammer and followed him hopefully as he retreated into the yard. Having found an intelligent human being who appeared to recognise her needs, she was not going to let him out of her sight. She had a slow, stately, if slightly inebriated walk, and her ears flapped and cracked against the sides of her head as she moved. She uttered pleased little squeals, and as she entered the yard hot on Mr. Pucklehammer’s heels, Adrian slammed the great double doors behind her, leant against them and mopped his face. That was the first step.
Although Rosy was intrigued by the drifts of curly white wood shavings, the piles of wood and the serried ranks of newly completed coffins, she still kept an eye on Mr. Pucklehammer, for he was obviously the dowser who was going to lead her to the master spring of beer. But at last they managed to creep into the house without her noticing. Once in the house Mr. Pucklehammer produced more beer and cheese sandwiches, and under the soothing influence of food and drink even the carter became almost benign.
“Funny sort of thing for your uncle to leave you,” he said to Adrian.
“I wouldn’t describe it as funny,” said Adrian bitterly. “What I’m supposed to do with her, the Lord only knows.”
“Sell ’er,” advised the carter, pouring out more beer, “sell ’er to a circus. That’s what I’d do.”
“I can’t,” explained Adrian, “that’s the awful part. I’ve been left five hundred pounds to look after her.”
“I wonder ’ow many buns that’ll buy,” said the carter with interest.
“They must eat something else besides buns,” said Adrian plaintively. “You know, cabbages and things. Anyway, we’ll just have to experiment later.”
“Don’t you go fretting yourself, boy,” said Mr. Pucklehammer. “She can stay here for two or three days until you decide what’s best to be done. I’ll look after her.”
It was at this juncture that Rosy decided that the coffins—though fascinating in their way—were not sustaining enough. She approached the house and peered through the window. To her delight she discovered her friends gathered together in the room, consuming some of her favourite beverage. There was an air of relaxed conviviality, an air of good fellowship about the group, that Rosy found irresistible. It stimulated her. She was sure that they would want her to join them so she tapped delicately on the window with the tip of her trunk. It was a dainty, lady-like hint that she, too, would like to join in whatever celebrations were afoot. But her friends were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice. This, Rosy felt, was unfair. After all, she had had a long and tiring journey with only one pint of beer to sustain her, and there they were, guzzling away in the room without inviting her in. Normally, Rosy was an extremely patient elephant, but the sight of the carter pouring himself out yet another pint was too much for her. She inserted the tip of her trunk under the sash of the window and pulled. The entire window came away with a splendid crackling and tinkling noises and Rosy, delighted with the success of her experiment, put her trunk through the window and trumpeted loudly.
“For God’s sake,” exclaimed Adrian, his nerves completely shattered, “give her some more beer, Mr. Pucklehammer, and shut her up.”
“At this rate,” said the carter helpfully, “you’ll be spending most of your five ’undred quid on beer and repairs.’’
Mr. Pucklehammer went into the kitchen and found a large tin basin which he filled to the brim with beer. This he carried out into the yard, and Rosy’s piercing squeals of delight were positively deafening. She dipped her trunk into the lovely brown liquid, sucked it up and then shot it into her mouth with a noise like a miniature waterfall. Very soon the basin was empty and Rosy, uttering small, self-satisfied belches to herself, wandered over to the shady side of the yard and lay down for a rest.
“Well, I must be on me way,” said the carter “Thanks very much for your ’ospitality.”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Pucklehammer.
“And you, sir,” said the carter, turning to Adrian, “I wishes you the very best of luck I ’ave a feeling with that little bundle of joy you’re going to need it.”