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The Elephant's Child

from Just So Stories





IN the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no
trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he
could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn't pick up things
with it. But there was one Elephant--a new Elephant--an Elephant's
Child--who was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked
ever so many questions. And he lived in Africa, and he filled all
Africa with his 'satiable curtiosities. He asked his tall aunt, the
Ostrich, why her tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the
Ostrich spanked him with her hard, hard claw. He asked his tall uncle,
the Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the Giraffe,
spanked him with his hard, hard hoof. And still he was full of 'satiable
curtiosity! He asked his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, why her eyes were
red, and his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, spanked him with her broad,
broad hoof; and he asked his hairy uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted
just so, and his hairy uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his hairy,
hairy paw. And still he was full of 'satiable curtiosity! He asked
questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or
touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him. And still he was
full of 'satiable curtiosity!

One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this
'satiable Elephant's Child asked a new fine question that he had never
asked before. He asked, 'What does the Crocodile have for dinner?' Then
everybody said, 'Hush!' in a loud and dretful tone, and they spanked him
immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time.

By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting
in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said, 'My father has
spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have
spanked me for my 'satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what
the Crocodile has for dinner!'

Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, 'Go to the banks of the
great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees,
and find out.'

That very next morning, when there was nothing left of the Equinoxes,
because the Precession had preceded according to precedent, this
'satiable Elephant's Child took a hundred pounds of bananas (the little
short red kind), and a hundred pounds of sugar-cane (the long purple
kind), and seventeen melons (the greeny-crackly kind), and said to all
his dear families, 'Good-bye. I am going to the great grey-green, greasy
Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the
Crocodile has for dinner.' And they all spanked him once more for luck,
though he asked them most politely to stop.

Then he went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished, eating
melons, and throwing the rind about, because he could not pick it up.

He went from Graham's Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to Khama's
Country, and from Khama's Country he went east by north, eating melons
all the time, till at last he came to the banks of the great grey-green,
greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, precisely as
Kolokolo Bird had said.

Now you must know and understand, O Best Beloved, that till that very
week, and day, and hour, and minute, this 'satiable Elephant's Child had
never seen a Crocodile, and did not know what one was like. It was all
his 'satiable curtiosity.

The first thing that he found was a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake curled
round a rock.

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but have you seen
such a thing as a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?'

'Have I seen a Crocodile?' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, in
a voice of dretful scorn. 'What will you ask me next?'

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child, 'but could you kindly tell me
what he has for dinner?'

Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake uncoiled himself very quickly
from the rock, and spanked the Elephant's Child with his scalesome,
flailsome tail.

'That is odd,' said the Elephant's Child, 'because my father and my
mother, and my uncle and my aunt, not to mention my other aunt, the
Hippopotamus, and my other uncle, the Baboon, have all spanked me for my
'satiable curtiosity--and I suppose this is the same thing.'

So he said good-bye very politely to the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake,
and helped to coil him up on the rock again, and went on, a little warm,
but not at all astonished, eating melons, and throwing the rind about,
because he could not pick it up, till he trod on what he thought was a
log of wood at the very edge of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo
River, all set about with fever-trees.

But it was really the Crocodile, O Best Beloved, and the Crocodile
winked one eye--like this!

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but do you happen
to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?'

Then the Crocodile winked the other eye, and lifted half his tail out of
the mud; and the Elephant's Child stepped back most politely, because he
did not wish to be spanked again.

'Come hither, Little One,' said the Crocodile. 'Why do you ask such
things?'

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but my father has
spanked me, my mother has spanked me, not to mention my tall aunt, the
Ostrich, and my tall uncle, the Giraffe, who can kick ever so hard, as
well as my broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, and my hairy uncle, the Baboon,
and including the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, with the scalesome,
flailsome tail, just up the bank, who spanks harder than any of them;
and so, if it's quite all the same to you, I don't want to be spanked
any more.'

'Come hither, Little One,' said the Crocodile, 'for I am the Crocodile,'
and he wept crocodile-tears to show it was quite true.

Then the Elephant's Child grew all breathless, and panted, and kneeled
down on the bank and said, 'You are the very person I have been looking
for all these long days. Will you please tell me what you have for
dinner?'

'Come hither, Little One,' said the Crocodile, 'and I'll whisper.'

Then the Elephant's Child put his head down close to the Crocodile's
musky, tusky mouth, and the Crocodile caught him by his little nose,
which up to that very week, day, hour, and minute, had been no bigger
than a boot, though much more useful.

'I think,' said the Crocodile--and he said it between his teeth, like
this--'I think to-day I will begin with Elephant's Child!'

At this, O Best Beloved, the Elephant's Child was much annoyed, and he
said, speaking through his nose, like this, 'Led go! You are hurtig be!'

Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake scuffled down from the bank and
said, 'My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and instantly,
pull as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion that your acquaintance in
the large-pattern leather ulster' (and by this he meant the Crocodile)
'will jerk you into yonder limpid stream before you can say Jack
Robinson.'

This is the way Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.

Then the Elephant's Child sat back on his little haunches, and pulled,
and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch. And the Crocodile
floundered into the water, making it all creamy with great sweeps of his
tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled.

And the Elephant's Child's nose kept on stretching; and the Elephant's
Child spread all his little four legs and pulled, and pulled, and
pulled, and his nose kept on stretching; and the Crocodile threshed his
tail like an oar, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and at each
pull the Elephant's Child's nose grew longer and longer--and it hurt him
hijjus!

Then the Elephant's Child felt his legs slipping, and he said through
his nose, which was now nearly five feet long, 'This is too butch for
be!'

Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake came down from the bank, and
knotted himself in a double-clove-hitch round the Elephant's Child's
hind legs, and said, 'Rash and inexperienced traveller, we will now
seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension, because if we do
not, it is my impression that yonder self-propelling man-of-war with the
armour-plated upper deck' (and by this, O Best Beloved, he meant the
Crocodile), 'will permanently vitiate your future career.'

That is the way all Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.

So he pulled, and the Elephant's Child pulled, and the Crocodile
pulled; but the Elephant's Child and the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake
pulled hardest; and at last the Crocodile let go of the Elephant's
Child's nose with a plop that you could hear all up and down the
Limpopo.

Then the Elephant's Child sat down most hard and sudden; but first he
was careful to say 'Thank you' to the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake; and
next he was kind to his poor pulled nose, and wrapped it all up in cool
banana leaves, and hung it in the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo to
cool.

'What are you doing that for?' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child, 'but my nose is badly out of
shape, and I am waiting for it to shrink.'

'Then you will have to wait a long time,' said the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. 'Some people do not know what is good for
them.'

The Elephant's Child sat there for three days waiting for his nose to
shrink. But it never grew any shorter, and, besides, it made him squint.
For, O Best Beloved, you will see and understand that the Crocodile had
pulled it out into a really truly trunk same as all Elephants have
to-day.


by the Crocodile. He is much surprised and astonished and hurt, and
he is talking through his nose and saying, 'Led go! You are hurtig
be!' He is pulling very hard, and so is the Crocodile; but the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake is hurrying through the water to help the
Elephant's Child. All that black stuff is the banks of the great
grey-green, greasy Limpopo River (but I am not allowed to paint these
pictures), and the bottly-tree with the twisty roots and the eight
leaves is one of the fever-trees that grow there.

Underneath the truly picture are shadows of African animals walking
into an African ark. There are two lions, two ostriches, two oxen, two
camels, two sheep, and two other things that look like rats, but I think
they are rock-rabbits. They don't mean anything. I put them in because I
thought they looked pretty. They would look very fine if I were allowed
to paint them.]

At the end of the third day a fly came and stung him on the shoulder,
and before he knew what he was doing he lifted up his trunk and hit that
fly dead with the end of it.

''Vantage number one!' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. 'You
couldn't have done that with a mere-smear nose. Try and eat a little
now.'

Before he thought what he was doing the Elephant's Child put out his
trunk and plucked a large bundle of grass, dusted it clean against his
fore-legs, and stuffed it into his own mouth.

''Vantage number two!' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. 'You
couldn't have done that with a mear-smear nose. Don't you think the sun
is very hot here?'

'It is,' said the Elephant's Child, and before he thought what he was
doing he schlooped up a schloop of mud from the banks of the great
grey-green, greasy Limpopo, and slapped it on his head, where it made a
cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind his ears.

''Vantage number three!' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. 'You
couldn't have done that with a mere-smear nose. Now how do you feel
about being spanked again?'

''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child, 'but I should not like it at
all.'

'How would you like to spank somebody?' said the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.

'I should like it very much indeed,' said the Elephant's Child.

'Well,' said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, 'you will find that new
nose of yours very useful to spank people with.'

'Thank you,' said the Elephant's Child, 'I'll remember that; and now I
think I'll go home to all my dear families and try.'

So the Elephant's Child went home across Africa frisking and whisking
his trunk. When he wanted fruit to eat he pulled fruit down from a tree,
instead of waiting for it to fall as he used to do. When he wanted grass
he plucked grass up from the ground, instead of going on his knees as he
used to do. When the flies bit him he broke off the branch of a tree and
used it as a fly-whisk; and he made himself a new, cool, slushy-squshy
mud-cap whenever the sun was hot. When he felt lonely walking through
Africa he sang to himself down his trunk, and the noise was louder than
several brass bands. He went especially out of his way to find a broad
Hippopotamus (she was no relation of his), and he spanked her very hard,
to make sure that the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake had spoken the truth
about his new trunk. The rest of the time he picked up the melon rinds
that he had dropped on his way to the Limpopo--for he was a Tidy
Pachyderm.

One dark evening he came back to all his dear families, and he coiled up
his trunk and said, 'How do you do?' They were very glad to see him, and
immediately said, 'Come here and be spanked for your 'satiable
curtiosity.'

'Pooh,' said the Elephant's Child. 'I don't think you peoples know
anything about spanking; but I do, and I'll show you.'

Then he uncurled his trunk and knocked two of his dear brothers head
over heels.

'O Bananas!' said they, 'where did you learn that trick, and what have
you done to your nose?'

'I got a new one from the Crocodile on the banks of the great
grey-green, greasy Limpopo River,' said the Elephant's Child. 'I asked
him what he had for dinner, and he gave me this to keep.'


to pull bananas off a banana-tree after he had got his fine new long
trunk. I don't think it is a very nice picture; but I couldn't make it
any better, because elephants and bananas are hard to draw. The streaky
things behind the Elephant's Child mean squoggy marshy country somewhere
in Africa. The Elephant's Child made most of his mud-cakes out of the
mud that he found there. I think it would look better if you painted the
banana-tree green and the Elephant's Child red.]

'It looks very ugly,' said his hairy uncle, the Baboon.

'It does,' said the Elephant's Child. 'But it's very useful,' and he
picked up his hairy uncle, the Baboon, by one hairy leg, and hove him
into a hornet's nest.

Then that bad Elephant's Child spanked all his dear families for a long
time, till they were very warm and greatly astonished. He pulled out his
tall Ostrich aunt's tail-feathers; and he caught his tall uncle, the
Giraffe, by the hind-leg, and dragged him through a thorn-bush; and he
shouted at his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, and blew bubbles into her
ear when she was sleeping in the water after meals; but he never let any
one touch Kolokolo Bird.

At last things grew so exciting that his dear families went off one by
one in a hurry to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo
River, all set about with fever-trees, to borrow new noses from the
Crocodile. When they came back nobody spanked anybody any more; and ever
since that day, O Best Beloved, all the Elephants you will ever see,
besides all those that you won't, have trunks precisely like the trunk
of the 'satiable Elephant's Child.


I KEEP six honest serving-men;
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five.
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men:
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small--
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends 'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes--
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!





Next: The Sing-song Of Old Man Kangaroo

Previous: How The Leopard Got His Spots



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