Sunday, August 1, 2021


By Ruth Plumly Thompson 

Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 13, 1916.
The night was still and sultry, the air choking with the tang of gunpowder and the sullen heat of the tropics. A great battle had been fought that day; those who were left slumbered in their tents; in the camp there was no sound except the restless shifting of the elephants and the rattle of the chains about their ankles. I cannot tell you, sweethearts, where the camp was, for that would never do, but perhaps you who have been watching the war news will know without my telling.

The sentryman had made his round and one of the battery elephants, seeing his light grow dim and dimmer, raised his trunk: “Brothers,” whispered he, “it is enough. Let us return to our own people, for man is no longer master!” There was silence for a few moments, the big creatures swaying to and fro and shifting from foot to foot.

“How long have you served man, Wangunga?” It was a newly trained and younger elephant who spoke. “Forty years,” boomed the great beast. “I have helped him clear the forests and build his cities!” “And I! And I!” Like a sigh, the echo swept down the long line. “I have helped him build and conquer the forest, but help him destroy and conquer his brothers I will not. It is enough. I return to my people. Will my bothers come?” “I, too, have had enough—enough of this fire and death. I will come!” wheezed Neidra, who stood shoulders and head above them all. “I will come!” “And I! And I!” called the others, throwing up their trunks and breathing heavily. “Come, then!” Wangunga was already tugging at his chain. “Come, we will return no more!”

“Wait! Wait! Would you leave them to die?’ Above the rattling chains rose the voice of Emperor, the oldest in the service. “There be little children waiting for their daddies and women—many women who weep. I have carried the Sahib’s son in my trunk. Shall I leave my master to die? The war madness—the madness of the sun is upon man, but for that, shall we leave them to perish?” A long silence followed.

“But, old one, what would you have us do? To go is madness, perhaps, but to stay is death!” whimpered one of the younger elephants. “I have a plan. We will go, but we will take death with us, we will drag the cannons to the river and push them[in]; the guns we will break. This we will do in our own camp and in the camp of yonder men who came against us today!”

“Heeeyah! There speaks a chief!” whistled Wangunga softly. “Ready, brothers, ready!”

Next minute a shrill cry rang through the camp “The elephants, the elephants have gone mad!” Out tumbled the sleepy soldiers, making for trees and rushing toward the river, for it is certain death to face an elephant stampede. And such they truly believed it to be. With grunts and rumbles and little squeals of rage the great beasts rushed at the cannon, pushing them down to the river, crunching the guns like matchsticks beneath their feet. Chains that had held for years snapped like straws, then off like a whirlwind swept the herd with trumpetings that thrilled the enemy’s camp with a terror that the battle had never inspired.

Wangunga shrilled the news to the other elephants in this camp and they joined with their brothers. The cannons clanked and jolted, the guns snapped and the soldiers trembled, and not till the last gun was useless and the last cannon swallowed by the yellow river did the great gray herd pause.

Disarmed and astonished, shaking like leaves in a tempest, the soldiers saw the herd swing into line and charge into the darkness with the precision of an army. One shrill farewell and they had melted like mist in the night, gone to return no more. “For man,” as Wangunga had said, “was no longer master!”
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 11, 1917. 

Busy Times in Supposyville

Housecleaning’s done, and every one
Now turns his thoughts ahead;
For much indeed is yet to do
Before the month is sped.

The winter togs are taken out
And beaten with a will;
They do things so, as well you know,
In old Supposyville.

But that’s not what is causing
All the bustle and commotion;
Come, can’t you give a guess or two,
Or haven’t you a notion?

Well! Well! I’ll tell you what is up;
Just six weeks off, in fact,
Six weeks and two short days besides,
If one must be exact.

Why, Christmas, dears and ducks, my loves!
And, whew! the time is short;
And as the King said to the Queen,
“There’s things of every sort

“To be attended to, ’twould not
Be fair to leave it all
To old St. Nick, so let’s be quick
And plan our Christmas ball.”

Wherever two or three are gathered
Whispering’s the rule,
And all the boys and girls are busy
Working after school

On gifts for so and so; the shelves
In every pantry groan;
Why, just a glance would make one dance,
There’s every dainty known.

The ducks and turkeys all penned up
Are stuffing for the feast,
And couriers and pages dash
Both north and west and east.

For so in old Supposyville they shop,
And oh, what treasures
Are stowed away for Christmas Day,
That day of fun and pleasures.

And so much joy and jollity
Is in anticipation
That Christmas happens forty times
At least in preparation.

I think we’d better take the hint
From quaint Supposyville,
And do our shopping early,
And preparing—(I think I will!)

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.