from Century Magazine
by Ellis Parker Butler
An elephant is only a beast, but a man in a state of intoxication is worse than that; he is often foolish. Intoxication affects different men in different ways; one man will take laughing gas and get up and angrily bite a piece out of the dentist's chair, while another man will only want to embrace the dentist. To desire to embrace a dentist is carrying love for your fellow man to the foolish point, and intoxication always affected Jerry that way. When Jerry was in his cups he would love anything from a tree to a barrel of cement, but he should never, never have tried to love an elephant.
The Amateur Circus for the benefit of the Westcote Hospital lasted for three days, but the last day was Saturday, and that was the day Jerry went. From 9 A.M. until 6 P.M. he didn't get farther than Main Street, where the Bock beer signs were still in the windows, but at 6:02 P.M. he was ready to proceed, and when he stepped forth upon the sidewalk he stood face to face with Mamie. She, too, had come up from Long Island City to see the circus. When she saw Jerry she dodged. When he saw the two or three Mamies, he made straight for the one that seemed to him to be the most real, but it was only one of the optical illusions, and she got away.
It was quite a blow to Jerry. For a long while he sat on the edge of the curb and wept about it. He felt that that was no way for a girl to treat her affianced. Then, suddenly, he heard the band at the head of the circus parade break into a lively and soothing two-step march, far up the street, and he forgave Mamie, and, just to prove it, he went into the middle of the street and danced. It was quite a popular event. Many cheered. But Mamie, brave little soul, walked straight to the middle of the street and drew Jerry back to the walk. She tucked her hand under his arm and held him tightly.
The parade, largely amateur clowns, of course, moved slowly by. It had Jerry's full approval, and he told it so. He told each individual parader that he liked it, but when the elephant came by he simply loved the elephant. It seemed to him that he had never seen an elephant for which he had greater affection. He told Mamie he wanted to go out and kiss the elephant, and when she objected he shook her hand from his arm and went anyway. It is a pity if a man cannot be allowed to kiss a few elephants before marriage.
The elephant seemed surprised; probably it had never been kissed before, and it shied to one side. But Jerry was with it! He lunged for it with his arms wide open. The elephant is an unwieldy beast, and apt to do unusual things in unusual crises, and it now remarked "Go on! Get away from here!" and the hind legs started for the North walk, while the fore legs started for the South side of the street. But neither got there. An elephant cannot split as easily as all that. Jerry lunged for its head. The fore part of the elephant then doubled back against the rear part, which sat down heavily on the asphalt; the fore part made a couple of ineffectual pulls to get away, and Jerry's arms closed lovingly around the great head of the beast!
Already Mamie was at his side, and in another moment she had drawn him reluctantly away, but that moment was enough. The strength of affection was in Jerry's arms, and as they tightened around the elephant's head the head collapsed into a crushed, shapeless mass!
He hung back an instant and looked at the elephant regretfully. "Poo' ol' 'luffant!" he said with tears in his eyes; "'Scuse me, 'luffant! Did n' mean bust poo' ol' 'luffant!" Then Mamie drew him away, and took him home to Long Island City, which was the best place for him.
There was an interview between Jerry and Mamie the next evening. It began with cringing by Jerry and disdain by Mamie, and it ended with a kiss.
"'T is the troot I'm tellin' ye, Mamie," said Jerry, pleadingly, "not wan thing kin I remimber av what I did; not wan thing! 'T is a fool I med av mesilf, or ye'd not be so hard on me, I know that, but th' whole av th' time afther four o'clock is like it hadn't happened, to me."
"'T is not as if it hadn't happened, to me, then!" said Mamie.
"What was I afther doin' then?" asked poor Jerry.
"'T was plenty!" said Mamie. "Makin' a fool av yersilf an' av me was what ye was doin', Jerry! But, let be! I'll be forgivin' ye this wance, but say no mure av it! Th' thought av it meks me sick! I forgive ye, Jerry, but if ye iver mention it agin by worrd or look I'm done wid ye foriver!"
That was fair enough. Jerry himself was the last man that wanted to use the event as a subject of conversation. He felt that he had got off easy.
It was a lesson to Jerry. For three weeks he was abstemious. Exceedingly. He stuck close to his business, which was the running of a freight elevator in the varnish works, and in the meantime things were going nicely with the Circus Committee at Westcote. The bills were coming in and being paid, the sub-committees were reporting results, and the Committee was getting ready for its final report, and to turn the proceeds of the circus over to the hospital. There are a lot of little things that have to be attended to in winding up a charitable event.
Wednesday morning when Jerry went to work there was an envelope stuck in the wire cage of the elevator, and it was addressed to him, and the postmark was Westcote. He was whistling as he tore open the flap of the envelope, and he was still whistling when he opened the paper inside the envelope. As the writing met his eye he stopped whistling, suddenly, and read
Jerry C. Casey, Long Island City, N.Y.
Dr. to The Westcote Hospital Circus Committee
To breaking one elephant ...... $25.00
He stared at the bill long and hard, with his forehead wrinkled into a frown. Then he turned the bill over and looked at the back of it. Then he picked up the torn envelope and stared at the address. It was his, sure enough. "Jerry C. Casey, care of Granger Varnish Co., Long Island City, N. Y." There was no doubt of that! He turned the envelope over and looked at the back of it. He looked inside of it. He looked about him on the floor, for something that might have dropped out unseen. And then he sat down on a box and looked at the bill long and hard, again.
"'Jerry C. Casey,'" he read slowly, "That's me. I'm him. Here's Jerry C. Casey sittin' on th' box here. 'Debtor t' th' Wistcote Hospital Circus Committee.' Belike 't was thim give th' circus, up t' Wistcote. 'To Breakin' Wan Illephunt!' There be no doubt av thim worrds -- 'to breakin'' 't is as plain as th' nose on me face. 'Wan illephunt!' Huh!"
He read it over and over, but he could make nothing else of it. It was evidently a bill, a bill for twenty-five dollars, against Jerry C. Casey, in favor of the Westcote Circus Committee, for breaking one elephant. In other words there was an elephant, to the breaking of which, as per bill, Jerry C. Casey was in debt, to the Westcote Circus Committee, twenty-five dollars. He called Murphy, who was passing by, and handed Murphy the bill.
"An' where did ye git th' illephunt, Casey?" asked Murphy when he had read the bill.
"Where -- where did I git th' illephunt!" cried Jerry.
"From me gineral knowledge av th' charge med by th' horse-breakers fer th' breakin' av a horse." said Murphy, "'t w'u'd seem that twinty-five dollars w'u'd be none too much t' charge fer th' breakin' av an illephunt, particular if 't was a wild wan. An illephunt, Jerry, is a harrd beast t' handle, as ye well know, an' 't is no easy job t' break wan so 't will travel single or double, an' not shy at th' autty-mubbles, let alone travel under a saddle. Twinty-five dollars is none too much!"
"Twinty-five is none too much!" repeated Jerry in a dazed manner.
"'T is not a cint too much," said Murphy firmly. "Bechune you an' me. Jerry, I w'u'd not tek th' job t' break wan mesilf fer twinty-five. 'T is me opinion ye pot th' best av th' felly. Mind ye, Jerry, th' price is not a-botherin' me, but what I do want t' know is -- What th' doose did ye go an' buy an illephunt fer, annyway?"
"An" how sh'u'd I know, Murphy; how sh'u'd I know?" asked Jerry sadly. "Mebby I liked th' looks av him."
Murphy shook his head reproachfully.
"Ye sh'u'd niver buy an illephunt by th' looks, Jerry," he said. "'T is takin' too much risk. Whin did ye buy him?"
"I dunno," said Jerry, sadder than ever. "Th' circumstances was like this. Murphy: -- At nine o'clock th' mornin' av th' last day av th' circus at Wistcote I wint into Grogan's saloon, an' I remimber gittin' out av bed th' next mornin' at eliven A.M. Anny one c'u'd buy an illephunt bechune thim hours, an' know nawthin' av it."
"Shure!" agreed Murphy, "I hev bought some odd bits mesilf th' same way. Ye recall th' wooden Indian I purchased aff av th' junkman on Thirty-fort' Street. But 't was not necessary fer t' hev it broke, Jerry. 'T was broke already."
"I sh'u'd think th' circus w'u'd not be afther sellin' th' illephunt," said Jerry, after a thoughtful pause. "It must hev been a bum illephunt. Murphy, t' sell fer what money I hed left after spindin' enough t' be insinsible t' th' ways av gods an' men at Grogan's bar."
"Mebby ye won it in a raffle," said Murphy. "Ye recall whin I spint eight dollars fer chances in th' goat, an' whin I won it I hed t' pay a kid two dollars t' tek it away from th' boardin' house? But I was excusable, fer th' goat appealed t' th' eye, bein' painted rid, white, an' blue. Mebby," he added consolingly, "mebby th' illephunt was rid, white, an' blue."
Jerry was not consoled at all.
"'T is not buyin' th' baste I mind, Murphy," he explained. "'T is in th' nature av a man t' buy illephunts whin he starts in at Grogan's. 'T is contractin' t' hev th' baste broke I'm mindin'! Twinty-five good dollars!"
"Jerry," said Murphy after more consideration, "bechune you an' me I tek it ye do not want th' illephunt. There's wan way fer ye t' git out av payin' th' bill fer breakin'. Tell thim t' take th' illephunt fer th' debt!"
Jerry did. That night he took his pen in hand, and when he sent back the bill he sent with it this letter --
"Gintilmin Committee: -- Yure bill reseved. I send it back. In thee first plase I didunt bie no illephunt off yous. In thee seckond plase I was drunk when I bott it and all contraks made when drunk are nul and voyde. In thee third plase I made a contrak with yous when I bott thee Iluphant that iff yous braked it yous shood take the Ilaphent for the cost of brakin. Youse truly, J. Casey."
The response was prompt and decided. It almost took Jerry's breath away. It ran:
"Dear Sir: There is no question whatever of your having bought an elephant of this committee, or of any one else connected with the Westcote Circus. As your mind seems to be hazy on the subject, let us give you the facts clearly and succinctly. The elephant, which did not belong to us, but was rented for the occasion, was in the Saturday evening parade. When the parade reached the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets you ran into the street and threw your arms around the elephant and broke it. The owner refuses to receive it back, and requires us in pay for it, and the inclosed bill mentions the exact sum he is charging us, and not a cent more. Yours truly, For The Committee, J. C. Long."
Jerry put the letter in his pocket and approached Murphy cautiously.
"Murphy," he said, "did ye iver wrastle wid an illephunt?"
"Mebby!" said Murphy diplomatically. "Mebby! An' mebby not! If so, 't was in a period av disthress. I hev no i ricollection av tacklin' wan whin I was sober, Jerry. If ye be thinkin' av gettin' up a voddyville act fer th' stage, av a man wrastlin' wid an illephunt, ye'll hev t' be gettin' some wan ilse. Murphy does not want th' job!"
"Fur why?" asked Jerry. "Wu'd ye be afraid av breakin' th' baste?"
"Breakin'?" cried Murphy. "Breakin'! Afraid av breakin' th' illephunt? D' ye think 't is Sandow I am? 'T w'u'd be th' illephunt breakin' Murphy I w'u'd be afraid av! 'T w'u'd tek a sthrong man t' break an illephunt, Jerry!"
Jerry slowly extended his right arm and drew it back, feeling the muscle with his left hand. Then he felt the muscle of his left arm. For the first time in his life he realized what a very muscular man he was. He looked at Murphy with mild pity. He closed his fists and squared his shoulders.
"Murphy," he said in a whisper, awestruck by his own strength, "I broke an illephunt!"
"Go away wid ye!" said Murphy scornfully.
"I broke an illephunt!" repeated Jerry solemnly. "I hev th' witnesses t' prove it! Here come th' illephunt -- here was I thinkin' nawthin' at all -- all at wance I mek up me mind t' try a fall wid th' huge packyderm, t' see which is th' bist man av us two -- I walk into th' strate -- I t'row me arms around th' illephunt -- I give it wan good hug -- th' illephunt is busted!"
Go on!" said Murphy, but he backed away.
"Come try a fall wid me," said Jerry.
"I'll not!" said Murphy, backing still farther away. "I'll not be foolin' wid a man that kin crush an illephunt! I bid ye be careful wid yer stren'th. Jerry. Ye might be doing' some man bad damage, whin only intindin' a bit av play remimber that th' illephunt is th' strongest av bastes!"
'T was like play fer me t' mutilate th' strongest av bastes, then," said Jerry braggingly. "Look at th' certiffycate av stren'th I got from th' Committee."
He handed Murphy the Committee's letter, and Murphy spelled it over slowly. Then he handed it back to Jerry, and a smile of cunning spread over his features.
"Stren'th!" he said. "Stren'th! 'T is ashamed ye ought t' be, Jerry Casey, wrastlin' wid a twinty-five dollar illephunt! Th' illephunt is a fine baste, Jerry, an' he lives five hundred years at a stretch, more or liss, an' I'm thinkin' a young illephunt, an' a strong wan, mind ye, might be worth five thousand dollars, about. An' ye hev wrastled wid a twinty-five dollar wan. An' broke it. An' ye brag av it! Shame on ye!"
"Why shame, Murphy?" he asked.
"Why shame?" mocked Murphy. "Shame t' be wrastlin' wid an ould decrepid wreck av an illephunt; that's why! Shame t' be wrastlin' wid a twinty-five dollar packyderm! Belike th' baste was tin thousand year ould, Jerry, an' gray-haired an' rheumatic, wid bones brittle wid age, an' blind in both eyes. Shame t' ye! You, a big strong likely lad, t' tackle a poor ould gre't-gre't gran'father av illephunts wid three legs in th' grave! If a good horse be worth wan hundred dollars, Jerry, what kind av a horse kin ye git fer two dollars an' fifty cints? If a brisk young illephunt be worth five thousand dollars, Jerry, what kind av an illephunt w'u'd be worth twinty-five dollars?"
"I was droonk, Murphy," said Jerry apologetically, "an' I c'u'd not see th' tinder state av th' illephunt. Niver w'u'd I tackle a sick packyderm in me right sinses. Me heart is kind, as a gineral thing, Murphy."
"Shame on ye!" said Murphy. "Th' least ye say av it th' better! Pay th' twinty-five an' have done wid it! Poor ould packyderm!"
Jerry, abashed and ashamed, crept meekly into his elevator and ran it up to the roof, where he sat in depressed seclusion as long as he could, and that night he wrote another letter and apologized to the Committee for what he had done to the elephant. He also inclosed twenty-five of his hard earned dollars. The Committee sent him a receipt, as good Committees should, and they also sent him a letter. When Jerry read the letter he gasped. It said:
"Dear Sir: Inclosed please find receipt. We wish to thank you for your fairness in the matter, which we never doubted you would show when you fully understood it. As we do not contemplate giving another circus soon, and as you have paid for the elephant, we are sending it to you. If you have any children they may enjoy playing with it, even if it is injured. Yours truly." To this was added as a postscript: "As we have no other address we are sending it to you care of the Granger Varnish Co."
Jerry looked out of the door. Carefully he put his head outside and looked up and down the street. There was no elephant yet in sight, but it might arrive any minute. As a matter of fact an elevator man in a varnish factory has no good place in which to dispose of an elephant on the spur of the moment. A canary bird might be temporarily hidden in a dark corner of the elevator, but an elevator is no place in which to conceal an elephant. Any one, however unsuspicious, might notice it. It is not even customary to tie an elephant to a lamppost and leave it standing in the street, even if it is an elephant in good condition, and a badly damaged twenty-five dollar elephant would be sure to draw a crowd. "Who owns that old caved-in pachyderm?" people would ask, and every one would shout, "Jerry Casey!"
There are moments when a man's mind refuses to work, and one of these is when he is momentarily expecting the arrival of a sick-looking, superannuated, somewhere-broken elephant. Another is when a man's sweetheart catches him in an unenviable position. When Jerry peered out of the door he saw Mamie approaching.
His greeting to Mamie was rather distraught. Usually he greeted her effusively, but now he seemed cold and absent-minded.
"Why! Hello illephunt!" he said.
Mamie looked at him suspiciously. His eyes had a far-away look, as if he did not see her at all, but was looking past her into the street. When an automobile horn tooted he turned pale. Then he blushed.
"I thought th' packyderm was an autty-mubble," he explained, but he saw his mistake instantly in Mamie's eyes. The circus afternoon was still a sore point, and one not to he referred to. "I mane I thought th' illephunt was a packyderm," he corrected. And every moment the elephant was approaching with stately tread, if a twenty-five dollar elephant has a stately tread. Perhaps, though, it limped. He hated to think of Mamie seeing a limping elephant delivered to him.
"You -- you're lookin' well, Maine," he said. "Wu'd n't ye like t' take a little walk?"
"Oh!" she cried, "can you get off?"
"No," he said, and her face changed.
But he could not help that. He was grasping at any straw. Luckily, Murphy passed then. He was Jerry's only hope.
"Murphy!" said Jerry, and he beckoned him into the elevator. "Mame, wait fer me wan minute," he begged, and sent the heavy elevator creaking upward.
"Murphy," he said in a whisper, "if iver ye helped a man, help me now! Ye seen Mame down there, lookin' like a rose, w'u'd ye have her killed?"
"By no manes," said Murphy heartily. "Ye hev heard how wimmin is afraid av mice, Murphy?"
"I hev that," agreed Murphy.
"'T is th' same wid Mame," said Jerry, perspiring at every pore, "but 't is illephunts she do he afraid av. Th' sight iv wan t'rows her into fits, an' twice had she had thim packydermatic fits, an' th' third time will be th' death iv her, th' doctor says."
"She's came t' a safe place then," said Murphy, "fer divil an illephunt is like t' be found in a varnish factory."
"Hist!" said Jerry. "There's wan comin'! 'T is on th' way an' liable t' be here anny minute. Th' wan I busted. 'T is not much I'm askin', Murphy; nawthin' but will ye stay handy by th' door an' receive th' packyderm whilst I hustle Mame home? 'T will be no great job fer ye t' receive th' illephunt an' hold it by th' bridle, as ye may say, until I git back."
"I'll do better than that," said Murphy. "I'll take Mame home whilst ye stand an' hold th' baste by th' bridle yersilf."
"An' I thought ye was a frind av mine!" said Jerry reproachfully.
"I'm no safety deposit fer broken illephunts, annyhow," said Murphy coldly.
"I'll do as much fer ye some day," pleaded Jerry.
"Th' day is yet t' he born whin Murphy has illephunts passed on to 'im," said Murphy unyieldingly.
The elevator had reached the top, and Jerry stopped it there, and he was just wondering whether a good licking would convince Murphy that receiving elephants was one of the duties of friendship, when Mamie called.
"Jerry!" her voice came up the shaft; "Come down! The ixpriss man's here with somethin' fer ye!"
"'T is th' illephunt!" whispered Jerry in panic.
"An' where be th' fits?" asked Murphy in a whisper, sneeringly.
"Jerry!" came the clear voice again, and slowly Jerry ran the elevator clown.
Before it reached the floor Jerry peered out at the street, but no pachyderm was there. On the floor before the elevator lay a bundle loosely tied with rope. In it the canvas skin and papier-mache head of the burlesque elephant were plain to be seen, and an expressman stood with his receipt book open. There was no doubt that the elephant was broken. The papier-mache head looked as if it had been mangled by a trolley.
"'T was like play fer him t' mutilate th' strongest av bastes!" said Murphy, looking at the ceiling and speaking to no one in particular. Jerry cast his eyes down and turned red.
"He has a certificate av stren'th from th' Committee!" said Murphy, impersonally, to the ceiling, and Jerry moved one toot uneasily.
"He's a strong man an' a brave wan what will step right up an' wrastle th' mighty illephantine packyderm to destruction," remarked Murphy. "'T is no common man can step up an' hug th' mountainous monarch av th' jungle into twinty-five dollars' worth av dish-rags in wan hug." Jerry glanced at Mamie with appealing eyes.
"But he was droonk, mind ye." said Murphy to the air. "His heart is kind, as a gineral thing. Whin sober he does not damage illephunts nor rhinosserosses nor sich small, helpliss bastes." Mamie's eyes blazed. Her hand stole out and touched Jerry's, and he grasped it, as some one has remarked a drowning man grasps a straw. She herself had forbidden him ever to mention the elephant episode in her presence, and he was forced to be mute.
"Shame on ye, Murphy!" she cried. "Shame on ye! Mekkin' sport av th' noblest feelin's o' man! Pay no attintion t' him, Jerry dear. An' shame on ye, Murphy, mekkin' sport av him fer attimptin' t' give ixprission t' his affection fer me!"
Murphy's mouth opened in dumb astonishment. He gasped.
"His affection fer ye!" he stammered. "Huggin' an illephunt t' death!"
"'T was a momentary aberration," said Mamie proudly; "he but mistook th' illephunt t' be me. 'T was me he thought he was huggin', an' 't was a fine, affectionate hug!"
Murphy looked at the crushed remains of the elephant.
"'T was so!" he said shortly.
"Pay no heed t' him, Jerry," said Mamie soothingly. "No small thing like an illephunt shall come bechune us."
"'T would be bad fer th' illephunt," said Murphy.
"'T would be ixpensive for th' family, Jerry," said Mamie, "if ye was t' crush many illephunts. 'T is for that I have asked Father Casey t' write out a bit of a pledge for ye, Jerry, wid a place for ye to write yer name to it. When ye have put yer cognomen to it, I'm ready an' glad t' sign th' weddin' papers wid ye, Jerry."
Jerry glanced at Murphy triumphantly.
"I'm ready t' sign th' weddin' papers anny minute, Mamie," he said.
The expressman pushed his receipt book between Jerry and the wall and pointed to the third line from the top.
"Sign here," he said.
Then Mamie laid the pledge against the smooth wall of the hallway and put her finger on the blank space at the bottom of the paper.
"Sign here," she said.