4. The elephant’s trunk
Kreez, the wise old elephant lived in a steamy jungle, in a very hot place called the Tropics. The jungle was thick with trees of all kinds. If a human being were to walk through it, he would have to use a long knife to cut through the tree branches, and the vines all entangled with each other. Now, Kreez, the old elephant and the other elephants of which he was the chief, did not have to use knives. They had their very long trunks, which were heavy and strong, and with one easy pull, they could tear the branches and sometimes the roots of a tree if it were not too tall or not too heavy.
Kreez got his name in elephant language. When elephants want to make a noise, they lift up their trunks in an upside down fashion, and cry out loud and clear: “Kreez…Kreez… kenoo…kneoo, keeank… kreeank” so that every other animal around would know that the elephants were near. Since he was their chief, the elephant herd decided he should be given the honored name of Kreez.
Why was he chosen the chief? Because, out of all the older male elephants, who were respected the most, he had the longest trunk imaginable. It was so long that he had to hold it not only up, but somewhat curled up, so it would not be hurt, or get in the way, while he walked along in the way elephants walk, in an ambling sort of way. Because of this marvelous trunk, and because he was so old and wise he was chosen as the leader of the herd. That was very long ago.
One day, while the herd of elephants was grazing peacefully, and all the jungle of animals kept quiet as they knew that they should not go anywhere near the group, as they would get disturbed and angry, and turn around and trample on them, there was another noise that disturbed the elephants and made them uneasy. It was the noise of whirring machines very close to them. Kreez put up his head, and listened. He trumpeted to the herd to be quiet, and called the youngest young male elephant. The young one came ambling along at a trot.
“Go trot to the edge of the jungle and see what is happening and come and tell me quickly”.
The young male trotted off quickly, and came back breathlessly. “There are all kinds of manmade big steel giants, which are tearing down the edge of the jungle.”
“Let me go and listen to them, I understand their language somewhat” said one other male.
He had just joined the herd, having escaped from a Circus, where he was imprisoned for several years, made to do many silly tricks. For that reason he was called the “Circus Elephant”. He had managed to come back to the herd, because he had a sharp nose of their scent when the wind blew it in his direction. He trotted night and day and was happy to get back to his family from where he had been stolen by trappers. He came back after a long time.
“I had to wait till they were resting”, he told them, “they were talking about building a bridge, across the river and coming into our part of the jungle”.
There was much elephant talk after the news. But there were so many trumpeting in between, that no one understood what the other was trying to say. Kreez called them to order: “Hear, you hear”, he said, “We have to think of a good plan to stop them.”
Now elephants may have very small eyes, but they have large ears, and even though, we human beings may not know it, they are very intelligent, and can make wise decisions on their own. They stopped eating, collected under the shade of large trees, and planned what they could do. They discussed what they should do in a very orderly manner. Whenever there was an argument, Kreez called them to order with a great big thump of his trunk on the ground. He thumped three times, and they would stop for him to instruct them. One plan after another was discussed. It took many hours. Finally, they all agreed that the best plan was the one first suggested by Kreez, and they waited for the nightfall to come and to carry out their plan.
It was a dark moonless night. The camp of construction workers was quiet, the last lights were put out, and the workers were asleep. Only the night owls were awake, and every now and again, they made loud long hooting noises, as if to warn the campers that something was not quite right. But the workers were quite unsuspecting and were tired after a long day’s work and were soon fast asleep.
The plan that Kreez had made was rather an intricate one, and required that every single elephant work unitedly. It had taken all day to prepare for the plan, for they could not wait for another day of construction work. It was Kreez himself who had gone to the edge of the site to look at all the details of the work site with his sharp little eyes. He saw that the pilings for the bridge over the river were already in place, but the centre had yet to be finished before the steel girders went up.
There were only large blocks of cement in the river bed. All the rest of the material was piled up high in one corner of the camp site. There were explosives, steel, large barrels, wood logs, and all kinds of machinery, besides a huge machine which went chug-chug all the time which the circus elephant said was a generator. There were huge yellow machine with long cage like tunnels which had long necks, and could move anywhere just like their elephant trunks.
Of course, Kreez was wise enough to know that if they only trampled over the camp and all this machinery and material, it would not take long for the workers to come back. They could easily re-assemble everything and start to work again, just like the armies of red giant ants which they trampled over when they walked in the jungle. The red army ants would just come back and start building their anthills once again in real earnest as if nothing had happened.
So, he had to have some clever plan that would make it impossible to build the bridge once again. The river over which the bridge was to be built, was in a long narrow gorge, about fifty feet below, and then in gushed in dangerous curves over large boulders. Anything or anybody that chanced to slip into it would have found it very hard indeed to be brought back or to come back. The blocks of cement had been lowered down with chain pulleys, and that was hard work indeed, because the river at the bottom was very wide.
There was nothing that the elephants could have done to destroy them, but elephants as one knows are very clever and never forget, especially if anyone or anything comes in their way. Usually, they are very peaceful but if one makes them cross or crosses their path when they are in anger, then they go on a rampage and trample everything in sight with long angry trumpeting. But for this plan to work, they had to be very quiet, walk with careful steps, and come upon the campers by surprise.
It was time to put their plan into action. They set across to the edge of the camp site, each one knowing what to do, down to the littlest elephant baby. They worked in twos and threes, finding their way mainly by smell since it was a very dark night. They did not want to hurt the human beings, although they felt they had every right to, since it was well- known throughout the jungle that some human beings called trappers hunted elephants for their pride and joy, their beautiful trunks, and for their skin and hoofs just to decorate themselves and the places they lived in. But the elephants saw that these workers did not harm them, so they couldn’t harm them either.
Elephants have a very wise and just way of behaviour. One leaves them alone and they leave others alone. For that very reason they were much respected especially by the so-called kings of the jungle called lions, each one kept their respectful distances. As they edged around the camp, one large group gathered around in a semi circle around the machinery, another group stood at the edge of the gorge. A third group led by Kreez stood at the yellow cranes. The circus elephant was very useful. He said they could be used as shovels by the use of their strong trunks, as he had seem them at the circus being used in that way.
The cranes required a long trunk to wrap around them and be pushed along, and that was what Kreez planned to do with his long and magnificent trunk. Then came the time for action. With one long trumpet Kreez gave the signal to start. As if like a circus team, the groups worked at the same time. One group pushed the material along. Another group waited at the edge, and Kreez ‘s group seized the cranes, swung them over to the material, gathered them up and pushed them along to the edge, they all used their large hooves to push and shovel, and the trunks made a clean sweep of everything except the smaller material.
The generator was pushed and pulled. The wood logs and steel girders were pushed and pulled. The workers by this time were up and in a panic, and since it was dark and they could not operate the generator, there was more noise, shouting and confusion. They did not know what was going on. They could not talk to each other as the noise of the trumpeting and the shoving of machinery was deafening. Within no time, the whole material was at the edge of the gorge, and with one mighty push of their trunks, all the material went tumbling down kicked by the group standing at the edge, who were very skilled at kicking, since elephants have very heavy hoofs that could do much damage.
The material was trampled upon to compress them, since they were large and clumsy. The noise was awesome as the material went crashing down with large rumblings and tearing of boulders as the material went crashing down. Soon the gorge down was filled, crushing the huge cement blocks. There was no way that the bridge could be built now.
Unfortunately, in all that confusion one little elephant went slithering down. The mother sensing her child was in danger, let out a wailing trumpet of grief. Kreez rushed to the edge, and peered down. Since it was dark he could see nothing except the frantic wail of the little one on top of the crashed machinery. Kreez, as always wise, thought for a moment, and he said to the little one “I am going to let down, my trunk, grab it, twist your little trunk around it and I shall pull up. Don’t be afraid,Trust me”.
The little elephant was so frightened, as it had not learned its way around the jungle as yet, like the older ones, that it whimpered “Yes”, with a trembling trumpet. Kreez knelt down on the edge. That was a very brave thing to do. But since he had the longest trunk, he was the only one who could try. He waved his trunk about down the side, trying to feel the young one’s trunk, soon there was a thudding and his heart was relieved, for it was soft and flexible just as an elephant’s trunk should be. He twisted his trunk end against it. He could feel the clutching by the little ones’ trunk, and slowly and careful he edged backwards, then stood up and pulled gently. Soon the baby elephant was on the edge, and there was loud thankful trumpeting by the mother elephant who rushed to the baby and guided it gently away.
The herd quickly gathered together as elephants do, when they have to trod fast, and soon they were away. The workers could do no harm, with their nasty guns, since they themselves were rushing around in confusion in the dark not knowing what was happening, except as one of them shouted: “The elephants are on a rampage, the elephants are on a rampage.”
Dawn found everything quiet. The workers were exhausted and had sat around wearily, looking around for their equipment that had vanished so suddenly in the dark of the night. Later on, they would discover all their machinery and material dumped into the gorge, and they gloomily realized that they could not now build the bridge across the river, for clearing the forest and putting up an army camp, and an airfield base.
The herd was having a happy quiet time munching on the sweet sugar cane grass. The birds and the other animals, were also rejoicing, and the whisper passed from one to another.
“Now those nasty human beings cannot get to our jungle for a long time and destroy it. Thanks to the elephants who guard us.”
The lions also nodded wisely among themselves and were considering sending a congratulatory united roar to the elephants expressing their gratitude. Peace was restored to the jungle, with the baby elephant nudging close to Kreez as if to say “thank you, Kreez the wise.”
5. The Barn Mice Mansion
Chintzy was a tiny mouse. She was so tiny that a little human child of eight or nine could hold her quite comfortably in the palm of its hand. But Chintzy lived in a human house where there were no boys, except the father. The children there were three little human girls. The father called Dad was hardly home anyway. He left in the morning and came back late in the evening. With the result that the mice family had to keep away from the little human girls and their mother for most of the day. The one most scared of them was the oldest, the mother of course! As soon as she saw a mouse in the floor board or in the rafters of the ceiling, she would scream and jump on the chair, the table, or on anything, for fear that these tiny little creatures would gather around her feet and gobble her up in no time!
The one human female who was the least scared was Tammy, who was five years old. She would run about excitedly saying “where is the mouse, I want to see it” in her lisping manner. Then their mother would grumble and say, “I hate living in this draughty old house. It’s got so many windows and doors. They creak and they make ghostly noises in the night. So much cleaning to do, and those horrible mice scuttling all over the floor, especially in the night… ugh”, and she would make a face of disgust.
When the father came home, she’d get at him and say, “Can’t we find a better place to live in?” The father would say patiently, “Honey, I’m trying anyway, the other houses are far too expensive”. The mother would fall into a brooding silence. One morning at breakfast, she said to him, “OK, if we have to live in this place, can’t we spend some money on a little repairs here and there, and perhaps close the porch, and open up some larger windows in the kitchen. We must get rid of the mice under the floor boards, and there are some spiders in the garage also.”
The father merely grunted behind his morning newspaper. The mice listening under the eves were angry. This family had hardly been living in the house for two months. They were city people, and while the children seemed to enjoy the large rambling place, the gardens and the fields adjoining the fence, it was only that oldest woman who seemed to be rattled.
The previous owners were an old couple, and had lived in the house for ages. The mice were happy then. They skitted about freely. Since the couple wore glasses and could not see much, they did not seem to mind the mice or the noises they made. Nor did they mind them getting into the garbage bins, which they often left open, or if they ate a piece of bread or cheese lying on the kitchen table. They just mumbled something about “Oh these little mice”, and threw the nibbled food into the garbage bin. The family of mice were happy.
Now this female human being was a danger to their happy go lucky existence. What could they do? They thought and thought, often nibbling on an old piece of cheese which they found lying open in the pantry. Nonety who was the oldest of the children, and had to wear spectacles because he was near-sighted, screwed up his eyes and flapped his ears and said: “The only way to get these humans is to drive them out of this house.”
“Oho,” said Daisy, the daintiest of them all, who was the eldest mouse girl and wanted to show she had the better brains of the two: “Then we shall only get another set of nastier humans, perhaps.”
“I say”, said Chintzy the naughtiest and the boldest and of course the littlest. “Why don’t we talk to Tammy, the littlest human. I have often heard her say she would like to know us!”
“Can’t trust these humans”, said father mouse smoking his pipe, thoughtfully. “But maybe this is not such a bad plan. It’s the littlest of them. She won’t do us any harm. Suppose we get Chintzy to talk with the littlest human, Tammy?”.
“ But… but I only suggested the thought. I did not mean that I should be the spokesperson. Anyway, what will I tell her”, squeaked Chintzy.
“Tell her”, said mother mouse, “that just as she has her family, you have yours, just as she is the littlest, so are you in your family. Tell her that if someone turned her out of her house, she would feel unhappy, and that you would feel the same if someone turned you out of your own home.”
“Yes,” said Nonety, “After all we were here first and they are merely intruders.”
“What’s an intruder?” asked Chintzy curiously.
“Oh! Someone who tries to take the place of the one who occupies it first”.
“Oh! I see,” said Chinzty, just as you flop on my snoozy place which belongs to me.”
Nonety got so angry, he began chasing Chintzy’s tail around, till mother had to stop her knitting to tell them sharply, that they would not have any dinner if they quarreled like this. Nonety, whose hobby was eating, promptly stopped and said: “Oh, what’s for supper?”
“Never you mind,” said father mouse. He turned to Chintzy and asked: “Will you speak to Tammy the little human?”
“OK, I will, if you want me to”, replied Chintzy, “But,” she scratched her bald head and said: “I don’t know their language. They make such loud gagging noises as if they had hot potatoes in their mouths.”
“I know”, said father mouse. “They don’t speak daintily in squeaks as we do. Still, all you have to do is to make gestures, like draw five figures with your paws on the ground, and point to yourself your eyes, your ears, your body and your feet. Then wave your hands to show “no place to go.” Then, make gestures to show you are sleeping, eating, playing, but no place to do all this in, because her family is repairing the home which is also yours. And again, wave your hands and squeak all the time. Tammy likes to hear us squeak. If necessary bring her to us and point out to us, and cry and wave your hands showing “nothing”, she will understand. But even so, what will the humans do if they can’t leave the house and what will we do if we can’t leave the house”. “That’s a thought” said father mouse, slowly puffing away.
“I know what” said Daisy, “You know that old barn which nobody uses at the far side of the house .Why don’t we make that our home, its nice and roomy and warm with all that hay in the loft, and in any case this family does not have a horse and a buggy, like the old couple had previously. So nobody uses it”.
“May be we can shift house there, and it will be so cosy. We will not be disturbed there, anyway”.
“But, what if the construction workers who come to renovate the house, break it down, if its useless.”
“That’s where you come in Chintzy. Tell Tammy that she could persuade her parents that she and her sisters want the barn house to be turned into a play place. Just like other homes have play houses in their backyard for their children, she and her sisters could have this barn house as their play house, and we won’t disturb them. They are children after all!”
“Splendid idea”, said mother mouse. “But how is Tammy going to convince her parents. After all, if the humans know that we are going there also, they will say no. Humans don’t like us, they call us pests, pesky rats, and disgusting creatures and what not”
“Fat chance they have of comparing themselves with us”, said Nonety severely. “I know a thing or two about them that is dirtier than the things we do. At least we nibble daintly and we skip along. They clomp along in their dirty shoes, and blow their noses in pieces of paper called tissue, and wipe their bottoms with tissues, not very clean too, and use little shovels to fill their mouths. The father removes the hair from his face in such a sloppy soapy fashion, every morning.” “Yes, its like the pot calling the kettle black”, commented mother mouse wisely.
“Let’s get to the point,” said father mouse, who was always the practical person or mouse person. “Tammy needn’t tell her parents about us.”
“But”, persisted Chintzy, “How does one talk to a human?”
“Well, the way we talk to each other”, said Daisy.
“Do you think she will understand?”, asked Chintzy.
“Why not”, said Daisy, “a language is a language, is it not?”
“Uh huh” said Chintzy, “I’ll have to act it out like the way we play charades. I’m sure then she’ll understand.
And so it chanced that the next morning when Tammy was playing in the backyard near the old oak tree, the most unusual thing happened. A mouse came up to her. She gurgled and laughed and clapped her hands, where most other children would have screamed and run away. Chintzy liked the little girl at once. He squeaked, clapped his tiny hands, and scampered to the barn, looking around to see if Tammy was following, and waiting till she came up, and ran some more.
Tammy followed delightedly. She did so as she wanted to hold the mouse in her hand. But when they reached the barn door, Chintzy did a pantomime of how she had four other mice like her in his family. The house was to be repaired and they would have to leave the home they knew so well. They had no home to go to, and they wanted to eat, sleep and live in the barn, which could be just as good a place to stay.
Tammy was delighted. Like all little children who understood animals better than adults, she soon found out what the little mouse wanted. The next day she clambered onto her father’s lap and said, “Dadda, we don’t have a tree house like other children do, and we want a place to play make believe. I want to play in the barn, and so do all of us”. She looked around at her other sisters, whom she had already talked to, and they all nodded their heads, meaning yes.
“Whatever for, in that large shabby barn, what can you play there?”
Hide and seek” said one.
“Ding dong,” said another
“Housie housie,” said a third,
“Hospital and nurses”, said another, and
“Cats and mouses”, chimed in Tammy sweetly.
The human mother who really wanted her daughters to have a safe place to play indoors and not mess up the house with their chattering and, worse still, getting in the way of the workers who were coming in to repair the house, said quickly, “Yes, John, why not, when the builders come we can ask them to clean up the barn first so the children can play there, while the repairs are going on.”
“And even after that”, chimed in Tammy.”
“So it is, it will be your play house, so much safer than a tree house”, said the mother.
“Oh and can we take biscuits and sweets and maybe eat our lunches there.”
“OK alright”, said the mother, “anything to get the children out of the way of the builders!” she muttered to the father.
And so it happened that soon, very soon, when the workers came to do the renovations, the family of mice moved to their new home, all clean and smelling of sweet hay. There was lots of space and rafters and beams and pillars and places for them to scamper about and squeal and squeak! Their food was brought by the five little girls who came to play, as they brought more than they could eat. Yes, you guessed right, the sandwiches and sweets and snacks were portioned out to the mice family, so that if ever you get a chance to walk by the old barn, and tip-toed and peeped in through the barn shaft, you will see inside, two rows of creatures, one human girls and one of tiny mice, sitting in their own peculiar fashion, chatting, squealing and eating away.
The children never got into the mice’s way, and the mice stayed out of the children’s way. At times the children would sing and clap and wonder of wonders, at those times, the mice would hold hands and do a round of quaint dance for the benefit of the human children.
Even after the house was renovated, the children grew up and went to school, the barn house stayed as it was, and is so to this day. The family of mice grew older, producing children, grandchildren and yes great grandchildren too, so much so that it became a community, and the other mice of the other colonies were so impressed that they named the barn the “BARN MICE MANSION”.