Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Henry M. Stanley > Text of Elephant And The Lion

A short story by Henry M. Stanley

The Elephant And The Lion

Title:     The Elephant And The Lion
Author: Henry M. Stanley [More Titles by Stanley]

At a camp on the Upper Congo, in 1877, Chakanja drew near our fire as story-telling was about to begin, and was immediately beset with eager demands for a tale from him. Like a singer who always professes to have a cold before he indulges his friends with a song, Chakanja needed more than a few entreaties; but finally, after vowing that he never could remember anything, he consented to gratify us with the legend of the Elephant and the Lion.

"Well," he answered, with a deep sigh, "if I must, I must. You must know we Waganda are fond of three things--To have a nice wife, a pleasant farm, and to hear good news, or a lively story. I have heard a great many stories in my life, but unlike Kadu, my mind remembers them not. Men's heads are not the same, any more than men's hearts are alike. But I take it that a poor tale is better than none. It comes back to me like a dream, this tale of the Elephant and the Lion. I heard it first when on a visit to Gabunga's; but who can tell it like him? If you think the tale is not well told, it is my fault; but then, do not blame me too much, or I shall think I ought to blame you to-morrow when it will be your turn to amuse the party."

Now open your ears! A huge and sour-tempered elephant went and wandered in the forest. His inside was slack for want of juicy roots and succulent reeds, but his head was as full of dark thoughts as a gadfly is full of blood. As he looked this way and that, he observed a young lion asleep at the foot of a tree. He regarded him for awhile, then, as he was in a wicked mood, it came to him that he might as well kill the lion, and he accordingly rushed forward and impaled him with his tusks. He then lifted the body with his trunk, swung it about, and dashed it against the tree, and afterwards kneeled on it until it became as shapeless as a crushed banana pulp. He then laughed and said, "Ha! ha! This is a proof that I am strong. I have killed a lion, and people will say proud things of me, and will wonder at my strength."

Presently a brother elephant came up and greeted him.

"See," said the first elephant, "what I have done. It was I that killed him. I lifted him on high, and lo, he lies like a rotten banana. Do you not think that I am very strong? Come, be frank now, and give me some credit for what I have done."

Elephant Number 2 replied, "It is true that you are strong, but that was only a young lion. There are others of his kind, and I have seen them, who would give you considerable trouble."

"Ho, ho!" laughed the first elephant, "Get out, stupid. You may bring his whole tribe here, and I will show you what I can do. Ay! and to your dam to boot."

"What? My own mother, too?"

"Yes. Go and fetch her if you like."

"Well, well," said Number 2, "you are far gone, there is no doubt. Fare you well."

Number 2 proceeded on his wanderings, resolved in his own mind that if he had an opportunity he would send some one to test the boaster's strength. No. I called out to him as he moved off--

"Away you go. Good-by to you."

In a little while Number 2 Elephant met a lion and lioness, full-grown, and splendid creatures, who turned out to be the parents of the youngster which had been slain. After a sociable chat with them, he said:

"If you go further on along the path I came you will meet a kind of game which requires killing badly. He has just mangled your cub."

Meantime Elephant Number 1, after chuckling to himself very conceitedly, proceeded to the pool near by to bathe and cool himself. At every step he went you could hear his "Ha, ha, ha! loh! I have killed a lion!" While he was in the pool, spurting the water in a shower over his back, he suddenly looked up, and at the water's edge beheld a lion and lioness who were regarding him sternly.

"Well! What do you want?" he asked. "Why are you standing there looking at me in that way?"

"Are you the rogue who killed our child?" they asked.

"Perhaps I am," he answered. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because we are in search of him. If it be you that did it, you will have to do the same to us before you leave this ground."

"Ho! ho!" laughed the elephant loudly. "Well, hark. It was I who killed your cub. Come now, it was I. Do you hear? And if you do not leave here mighty quick, I shall have to serve you both in the same way as I served him."

The lions roared aloud in their fury, and switched their tails violently.

"Ho, ho!" laughed the elephant gaily. "This is grand. There is no doubt I shall run soon, they make me so skeery," and he danced round the pool and jeered at them, then drank a great quantity of water and blew it in a shower over them.

The lions stirred not, but kept steadfastly gazing at him, planning how to make their attack.

Perceiving that they were obstinate, he threw another stream of water over the lions and then backed into the deepest part of the pool, until there was nothing seen of him but the tip of his trunk. When he rose again the lions were still watching him, and had not moved.

"Ho, ho!" he trumpeted, "still there! Wait a little, I am coming to you." He advanced towards the shore, but when he was close enough the lion sire sprang into the air, and alighted on the elephant's back, and furiously tore at the muscles of the neck, and bit deep into the shoulder. The elephant retreated quickly into the deepest part of the pool, and submerged himself and his enemy, until the lion was compelled to abandon his back and begin to swim ashore. No sooner had the elephant felt himself relieved, than he rose to the surface, and hastily followed and seized the lion with his trunk. Despite his struggles he was pressed beneath the surface, dragged under his knees, and trodden into the mud, and in a short time the lion sire was dead.

The elephant laughed triumphantly, and cried, "Ho, ho! am I not strong, Ma Lion? Did you ever see the likes of me before? Two of you! Young Lion and Pa Lion are now killed! Come, Ma Lion, had you not better try now, just to see if you won't have better luck? Come on, old woman, just once."

The lioness fiercely answered, while she retreated from the pool, "Rest where you are. I am going to find my brother, and will be back shortly."

The elephant trumpeted his scorn of her and her kind, and seizing the carcase of her lord, flung it on shore after her, and declared his readiness to abide where he was, that he might make mash of all the lion family.

In a short time the lioness had found her brother, who was a mighty fellow, and full of fight. As they advanced near the pool together, they consulted as to the best means of getting at the elephant. Then the lioness sprang forward to the edge of the pool. The elephant retreated a short distance into deeper water. The lioness upon this crept along the pool, and pretended to lap the water. The elephant moved towards her. The lion waited his chance, and finally, with a great roar, sprang upon his shoulders, and commenced tearing away at the very place which had been torn by lion sire.

The elephant backed quickly into deep water as he had done before, and submerged himself, but the lion maintained his hold and bit deeper. The elephant then sank down until there was nothing to be seen but the tip of his trunk, upon which the lion, to avoid suffocation, relaxed his hold and swam vigorously towards shore. The elephant rose up, and as the lion was stepping on shore, seized him, and drove one of his tusks through his adversary's body; but as he was in the act, the lioness sprang upon the elephant's neck, and bit and tore so furiously that he fell dead, and with his fall crushed the dying lion.

Soon after the close of the terrible combat, Elephant Number 2 came up, and discovered the lioness licking her chops and paws, and said--

"Hello, it seems there has been quite a quarrel here lately. Three lions are dead, and here lies one of my own kind, stiffening."

"Yes," replied lioness, gloomily, "the rogue elephant killed my cub while the little fellow was asleep in the woods. He then killed my husband and brother, and I killed him; but I do not think the elephant has gained much by fighting with us. I did not have much trouble in killing him. Should you meet any friends of his, you may warn them to leave the lioness alone, or she may be tempted to make short work of them."

Elephant Number 2, though a patient person generally, was annoyed at this, and gave her a sudden kick with one of his hind feet, which sent her sprawling a good distance off, and asked--

"How do you like that, Ma Lion?"

"What do you mean by that?" demanded the enraged lioness.

"Oh, because I hate to hear so much bragging."

"Do you also wish to fight?" she asked.

"We should never talk about doing an impossible thing, Ma Lion," he answered. "I have travelled many years through these woods, and I have never fought yet. I find that when a person minds his own business he seldom comes to trouble, and when I meet one who is even stronger than myself I greet him pleasantly, and pass on, and I should advise you to do the same, Ma Lion."

"You are saucy, Elephant. It would be well for you to think upon your stupid brother there, who lies so stark under your nose, before you trouble with your insolence one who slew him."

"Well, words never yet made a plantation; it is the handling of a hoe that makes fields. See here, Ma Lion, if I talked to you all day I could not make you wise. I will just turn my back to you. If you will bite me, you will soon learn how weak you are."

The lioness, angered still more by the elephant's contempt, sprang at his shoulders, and clung to him, upon which he rushed at a stout tree, and pressing his shoulders against it, crushed the breath out of her body, and she ceased her struggles. When he relaxed his pressure, the body fell to the ground, and he knelt upon it, and kneaded it until every bone was broken.

While the elephant was meditatively standing over the body, and thinking what misfortunes happen to boasters, a man came along, carrying a spear, and seeing that the elephant was unaware of his presence, he thought what great luck had happened to him.

Said he, "Ah, what fine tusks he has. I shall be rich with them, and shall buy slaves and cattle, and with these I will get a wife and a farm," saying which he advanced silently, and when he was near enough, darted his spear into a place behind the shoulder.

The elephant turned around quickly, and on beholding his enemy rushed after and overtook him, and mauled him, until in a few moments he was a mangled corpse.

Soon after a woman approached, and seeing four lions, one elephant, and her husband dead, she raised up her hands wonderingly and cried, "How did all this happen?" The elephant, hearing her voice, came from behind a tree, with a spear quivering in his side, and bleeding profusely. At the sight of him the woman turned round to fly, but the elephant cried out to her, "Nay, run not, woman, for I can do you no harm. The happy days in the woods are ended for all the tribes. The memory of this scene will never be forgotten. Animals will be henceforth at constant war one with another. Lions will no more greet elephants, the buffaloes will be shy, the rhinoceroses will live apart, and man when he comes within the shadows will think of nothing else than his terrors, and he will fancy an enemy in every shadow. I am sorely wounded, for thy man stole up to my side and drove his spear into me, and soon I shall die."

When she had heard these words the woman hastened home, and all the villagers, old and young, hurried into the woods, by the pool, where they found four lions, two elephants, and one of their own tribe lying still and lifeless.

The words of the elephant have turned out to be true, for no man goes now-a-days into the silent and deserted woods but he feels as though something were haunting them, and thinks of goblinry, and starts at every sound. Out of the shadows which shift with the sun, forms seem crawling and phantoms appear to glide, and we are in a fever almost from the horrible illusions of fancy. We breathe quickly and fear to speak, for the smallest vibration in the silence would jar on our nerves. I speak the truth, for when I am in the woods near the night, there swims before my eyes a multitude of terrible things which I never see by the light of day. The flash of a fire-fly is a ghost, the chant of a frog becomes a frightful roar, the sudden piping of a bird signalises murder, and I run. No, no; no woods for me when alone.

And Chakanja rose to his feet and went to his own quarters, solemnly shaking his head. But we all smiled at Chakanja, and thought how terribly frightened he would be if any one suddenly rose from behind a dark bush and cried "Boo!" to him.

[The end]
Henry M. Stanley's short story: Elephant And The Lion