The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race
by Cat Rambo
It was a peanut butter jar, not even a brand name but generic, the two and a half
pound size, as big as a lantern. Oily dust roiled inside.
The woman dressed in gray picked the jar up and held it between her large flat
hands. There was something reflexive about the gesture, as though her mind were
very far away.
A boy said, "Those are Jumbo's ashes."
Her eyes returned to regard him dispassionately. It was an old look, a look that
had been weighing the universe for many years now and found it lacking.
"Jumbo," she said in a leaden voice.
The boy pushed on, fighting his way against her indifference, wanting to see her
thrill and liven, if only he found the right fact.
"There was a fire in 1975, here in Barnum Hall, and Jumbo, who was the Tufts
university mascot by then, burned up. They saved his ashes in that jar."
She turned it over, watching the flakes stir.
"Of course, he was stuffed then," the boy added. "The bones are in the
Smithsonian. His keeper, Matthew Scott, donated them."
For the first time her gaze sharpened, though not to the degree he wanted. "Is
Scott still alive?"
"No," he said. "He died in 1914. In an almshouse. How could he still be alive?"
She turned the jar with slow deliberation, letting the contents tumble once, twice,
three times. "Stranger things have happened."
The only thing Jumbo was afraid of was the big cats, even years and years later,
when he was much too big for them to terrorize him. The wind would shift and
bring him the tigers' musty reek and his eyes would roll while Matthew laughed
and thumped him on the side, calling him a big baby.
But that wasn't true. He hadn't been afraid of any number of things that were
worse than lions. Even the swaying of the netting holding him hadn't frightened
him as it hoisted him aboard the ship among the gulls' harsh screams, in a dazzle
of blinding light that left his eyes red and weeping and unable to see until much
later in the hold's darkness, smelling like hay and saltwater.
The thing he remembered best from those first captive days was the hunger. They
had lowered him into a pit, too deep for him to free himself. He searched the
ground over and over again, ravenous. He had been used to constant grazing,
being able to snatch a trunkful of grass or leaves as he wanted. But here they did
not feed him, and his bulk, even at less than a year old, demanded fuel.
A narrow ledge spiraled down along the side, too narrow for him to climb. He
trumpeted his anger, his fear as a face peered down at him from one side before
saying something to another face. He had been here two days now, and starvation
weakened him. When the man came down the ledge, he could not rise, despite the
grain smell. The man came nearer and he tried to stand, but could not. The hands
ran over him, an unthinkable touch that gradually became no more bothersome
than a tick-bird picking parasites from his skin. Reluctantly at first, he let the man
feed him handfuls of mash from the bucket, tasting of dust and metal, becoming
more eager as the strength returned.
For a while the man lived with him, slept by his side, and he became used to him.
Even acquired a fondness for him. But no matter how much food the man brought
him, it was never enough, and the hunger ate at him during the nights, making him
fretful and weak.
Later Matthew had found him in the Paris Zoo, huddled with Alice. Puniest
elephant I've ever seen, Matthew said, tipping his head back to consider him,
think he can make it to London? The Frenchman shook his head, Mais non.
P.T. Barnum liked things big. Say that, he told the reporters in his mind,
rehearsing the spiel mentally, "P.T. Barnum likes things big. Why, right now, he's
chasing after the world's largest elephant, Jumbo, seven tons and eleven and a half
Right now he stood in the offices of the London Zoological Society. He'd been in
these sorts of places, smelling of formaldehyde and dusty feathers. He'd bought
the Fiji mermaid from such a place, knowing when he saw the nappy black hair,
the scaly lower half, that here he had a moneymaker.
"You want to buy him as a sideshow," Abraham Bartlett said politely. He was a
wispy, fine-haired man with a heavily waxed mustache and tendrils of hair
protruding from his ears, which Barnum stared at in fascination.
"A sideshow? No -- for the circus, my circus!" Barnum said. "I'm willing to pay
you $10,000 for him!"
The silence in the room changed to a new and waiting quality as the two
Englishmen exchanged glances.
"No, I'm afraid not," Bartlett said with genuine regret in his tone. "Jumbo is one
of the greatest attractions here. Hundreds of thousands of children have ridden on
him over the last fifteen years."
On the way out of the Zoo, Barnum ducked through the East Tunnel and made his
way to the Elephant and Rhino Pavilion. Inside, he stopped and stared at Jumbo.
"There's got to be a way," he thought.
Clusters of children were lined up to ride the elephant, who stood beside his
keeper. Three little girls stood in graduated height with their nanny, each dressed
in blue with red bows riding their hips and matching bows perched like butterflies
on their hats. One held up her hands to Jumbo and the elephant's trunk explored
them for the peanuts she held. Her face shone with joy.
"I will have you," Barnum mused. "P.T. Barnum doesn't take no for an answer."
He imagined his friend Charles, the world's smallest man, in the place of the child
the keeper was lifting up. The biggest and the smallest together in one ring and
himself in the background proclaiming "General Tom Thumb and Jumbo!"
"Mr. Barnum," a voice said beside him. It spoke in English, but the accent was
indefinable, a rumble beneath the words like a distant echo of thunder.
"You have the advantage of me, madam," he said, turning.
"You seem entranced by the elephant." She was a small woman, dressed all in
gray, the lustrous, colorless cloth giving her a pigeon's drab appearance. "Surely
you have seen one before?"
He laughed. "Hundreds!" he said. "I used one to plow my farm in Bridgeport."
"As advertisement, I know," she said.
"Every agricultural society in the States wrote to me, asking if the elephant was a
profitable agricultural animal."
"And was it?"
He chuckled. "No. One eats up the value of his head, trunk, and body each year,
not to mention that he can't work at all in cold weather. Tell me, why are you so
interested in elephants?"
She looked at Jumbo. "In Africa, the elephant hunters leave piles of corpses, only
the tusks removed," she said. "It is a savage, barbaric sight. Have you ever
witnessed elephants mourning? They speak their sorrow in sounds too low for the
human ear to comprehend, but you can feel it vibrating in the ground beneath your
feet. They gather around the corpses, walking in circles. They throw handfuls of
straw and grass upon the corpse as though trying to shield themselves from the
"A pity," Barnum said.
"More than that. An atrocity. If more people knew elephants as something other
than distant monsters, perhaps the public outcry would make the trade cease."
"So you are their advocate."
"After a fashion."
He sighed, following her gaze. "Jumbo here is no ordinary elephant. The largest
of his kind. What a draw he would be!"
"And yet you speak as though you cannot have him, Mr. Barnum."
"I will have my way. It's only a matter of time."
"The curators will be reluctant to part with him. So vast a creature and yet so
Her voice gave the last word a lingering caress.
"Gentle, yes," Barnum said. An idea flickered in his mind.
After Lord Corcoran's death, Matthew Scott had come to the London Zoological
Society along with the animal collection the Lord had left to that Institution,
elands to cheetahs, Amazonian parrots, and a lone pink-headed duck.
"I'm just a jumped-up ostler," he'd say when drinking. "My fellas just look a lil'
more unusual than most." At first he'd balked - the animals he cared for ate better
than any member of his family, which seemed obscene. But with time, he'd
become proud of the variety of animals he'd nursed through illnesses or helped
birth their scaled or spotted offspring. When the directors sent him to Paris to
scour the zoos there for possible additions, he'd been pleased.
He wouldn't have found the elephant without the woman, though. He'd been in
the Champs Elysees when she approached him. At first he'd reckoned her for a
whore, but her dress was muted unlike that of the tarts who seemed to vie with
each to see who could more closely resemble the brightly-plumaged macaw that
he'd found in one zoo. Surely no decent woman would accost a man in order to
speak to him.
"You might be interested in the Jardin des Plantes," she said. Her English was
"Eh, Miss?" he said.
"The Jardin des Plantes," she repeated. Her eyes were brown and fluid as a
gazelle's, but he could not determine her age. She turned away but he caught at
"Miss, how did you know?" he began.
"I saw you at the Parc Floral and overheard your conversation with the curator
about their peacocks," she said.
"What will I find at the Jardin des Plantes?" he said.
"Two elephants," she said. "Young ones. They're very ill."
He frowned. "Ill from what?"
"The climate. Lack of care. Improper diet."
"What makes you think I can save them?"
"You know elephants," she said.
The two young elephants, Jumbo and Alice, were indeed ill. Matthew looked into
the long-lashed eye as big as his clenched fist and saw despair there. He laid his
palm flat across the warm grey hide.
"Hang on," he said. "I'll get you out." The zoo tried to bargain with him, but he
pointed out that the two might not even survive the journey and that in that light
his offer of a full-grown Indian rhinoceros in trade was quite generous. He
suspected the curators had miscalculated how much an elephant could consume.
Going to the market, he paid for a cart of hay and brought it back to the Jardin to
feed the pair. He bought a bushel of peaches as well and fed them to Alice and
Jumbo in alternating handfuls, smelling the sweet pulp as the elephants plucked
the fruit from his fingers.
He wouldn't have done it, but when the man offered him the handful of peanuts,
he didn't realize the trick until he felt the terrible burning in his trunk. He cried
out and the children ran, screaming as shrill as gulls, as he reared back on his legs,
trying to find the source of the red pepper. Matthew was there between him and
the tormentor and he could not find him with all the burning, as though the world
of smells had gone away and he was forced to rely on his own weak eyes. He
turned to the water tun, drinking with frantic need, but the burning barely ceased,
and he trumpeted angrily again.
It was hard for Barnum to keep from grinning when he signed the papers in the
Zoo's office. Sunlight slanted across the page as he finished the bold loops of his
signature and blotted it. He'd celebrate at the Madagascar Hotel tonight, drink
champagne with the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, who'd come to see him. As
he'd suspected, the directors were worried at Jumbo's temper tantrums, which
Barnum had paid two sub-zookeepers to provoke by every method they knew.
The pepper had been the most effective.
"You will be taking him back to America as soon as possible?" Bartlett asked.
"Oh, I reckon not," Barnum said. "Figured I'd leave him here long enough to say
goodbye to you Brits." He smiled and tipped his hat to Bartlett.
Within the week the journalists he'd paid off had done their work. "England to
Lose National Treasure!" one said. Another demanded, "Are We Shipping Our
Largest Asset to America?" More newspapermen, who'd missed the original
story, were waiting for him as he exited the Regent's Park Hotel, and he stopped
despite the rain's fine drizzle to address them, standing back on his heels with his
thumbs in his suspenders, surveying the crowd craning to hear him against the
hubbub of passing carriages and foot traffic. The English didn't have a chance
against good old American scheming.
"Is it true the Prince of Wales himself asked you to reconsider taking Jumbo?" a
tall man in a porkpie hat asked, pen poised over his notebook.
"Well," he drawled. "His Majesty and I are old friends from my other tours. He
did bring it up, but I said nosir, a deal's a deal."
"Visitors to the London Zoo have tripled," another said. "All saying goodbye to
Jumbo. Do you have any message for the children pleading with you to leave
Jumbo here in England?"
"They're welcome to come to the U.S. of A. and see their pal there. He's not a
born British citizen, so maybe the fellow will like a little travel," Barnum said.
"When are you returning to America?"
"I'm setting sail tomorrow, actually."
"No," Barnum said. He refrained from adding "with all this publicity he's
generating I'd be crazy to" but the thought had crossed his mind.
He would have stayed to talk to them longer, but he wanted to pick up presents for
his wife Nancy at Harrod's. He strolled the aisles, finding Jumbo dolls, mugs, tin
banks, booklets, everything he could have thought up himself and more, and it
brought a constant smile to his lips, even when the salesclerk recognized him as
the man taking Jumbo away and charged him twice what he should have for a
stuffed elephant waving the Union Jack in its trunk.
He knew what the crate was as they rolled it into his yard. It smelled of oak and
iron and the canvas padding that lined it. Big enough to hold him, the largest
elephant in the world. He'd smelled that smell before on his trip to Paris, and then
later to England. He remembered the water's feel underneath him, and the nausea
that came as unwelcome accompaniment to the hunger, as though they were
alternating, angry monkeys on either side refusing to let him rest.
He flapped his ears, warning them, but they continued to urge him towards the
crate. He lay down, flopping onto his side with a grunt. Let them try to get him
up. He wouldn't go.
Telegram from George Couro, agent for Phineas T. Barnum, March 1st, 1882:
JUMBO IS LYING IN THE GARDEN STOP WILL NOT GET IN CRATE STOP
PLEASE ADVISE STOP
Telegram from Phineas T. Barnum to George Couro, March 1st:
LET HIM LIE THERE A WEEK IF HE WANTS STOP BEST
ADVERTISEMENT IN THE WORLD STOP
Couro crumpled the telegram in his hand and threw it to the ground. All very well
for Barnum to say such things, but he didn't have Parliament and the Queen
ragging on him, nor had he been threatened with imprisonment if any force was
used to remove Jumbo. He went to the window to look out across Regent's Park
towards the Zoo's distant blur. Overhead, clouds like mottled lead filled the gray
Telegram from Phillip Harbottle, editor of the London Daily Telegraph, March
BRITISH PUBLIC DEMANDS JUMBO STOP WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO
REQUEST YOU NAME YOUR PRICE STOP
Telegram from Phineas T. Barnum to Phillip Harbottle, March 4th, 1882:
HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS WOULD BE NO INDUCEMENT TO
CANCEL PURCHASE STOP SINCERELY PHINEAS TAYLOR BARNUM.
Matthew didn't trust this Barnum fellow. Slick American, and by all accounts a
flim-flam man. There was a story circulating about an earlier visit to Europe when
Barnum had gone to see the antiquities at Warwick Castle. He'd had the gall to
ask the curator how much he'd sell the antiquities for. When the man declined,
Barnum said "I'll have them duplicated for My Museum, so that Americans can
see them without coming here, and bust up your show that way." Was this the
right person for Matthew Scott, a man of good character even if he was just a
jumped-up ostler, to associate with?
He went out into the Pavilion. The transportation crate loomed in the middle and
off to one side was Jumbo's bulk. The elephant stirred as he approached, and the
trunk caressed his face as he stooped.
"Look, old man, this won't do," he said. He sat down beside the vast head, the
straw crinkling below him. Overhead through the skylight, the night stars were
bright as diamonds. He leaned back against the knobbed plane of the top of
Jumbo's head, and the elephant gave a low soft rumble of pleasure at the contact.
"You can't lie here forever," he said. The elephant rumbled again. Matthew
"Barnum's offering me five times my wages here to travel with you," he said.
"America. It's a frightening thought, but an alluring one. I'd have to leave the
other elephants here. Alice, for one."
He could hear the elephant's breathing in the darkness, a great rush of straw-scented air, regular and rhythmic.
"You're my success story, you know," he went on. "The largest elephant in the
world. Who would have imagined a sickly little thing like you turning into that?"
He laid his arm along the elephant's side, exploring the deeply grooved skin. To
the south, a hyena's whiny warble sounded from their enclosure.
"I'll do it," he said. And sighed.
He didn't want to, but with Matthew urging him on Jumbo entered the crate,
trumpeting once to show his indignation before he went in. Sixteen matched
Percheons pulled the cage through the streets towards the docks. Word of
Jumbo's departure had spread, and thousands lined the streets, following the team.
Matthew stared forward, ignoring the crying children.
The thirteen ton crate was swung aboard their freighter, the Assyrian Monarch.
Crowds filled the docks. From his vantage point, Matthew could see a blond five
year old whose father had lifted her onto his shoulders to see. Tears glinted on her
face but she waved a small flag in her hand, imprinted with the elephant's outline.
Gulls circled overhead, watching for stray food, and two artists stood where they
could see it all, trying to catch the scene on sketchpads.
Barnum, standing beside Matthew as they watched the crate's progress onto the
ship, rubbed his hands together.
"Worth every penny," he said. "You know they charged me for the freight they
can't ship because of Jumbo? And steerage passage for 200 emigrants. I'm in the
wrong business. But it's all advertising. There's a banquet on board tonight and I
expect you there."
"I want to settle him down," Matthew said.
"Sure, sure, see him settled. I sent up fruit for him. And a bushel of candies. I
hear he has quite the sweet tooth. But come to the banquet. All sorts of lords and
ladies there, all to say goodbye to him. I sent a tux along to your quarters."
"I won't know how to act," Matthew said in a sullen tone.
Barnum clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll do fine."
Despite his fears, Matthew was able to take to the sidelines during the banquet. At
the head table with the Captain and the scowling Prince of Wales, Barnum led
toast after toast, drunk in the best French champagne. "To Jumbo," he cried,
ignoring the English nobility's dark looks.
Beside him, a woman said, "Is he well? Are his quarters sufficient?"
He turned and recognized her, again in her gray dress. A pearl necklace rested
around her throat, surprisingly opulent against her olive skin.
"You again," he said. He was a little tipsy from the unaccustomed drinking. "Are
you traveling with us?"
"Yes," she said.
"Come tomorrow and I'll show him to you."
"I'd like that."
"Tell me your name this time."
There was plenty of food, and a boy who shoveled his droppings as fast as they
fell. Despite the swaying deck beneath his feet, he did not feel queasy this time.
He ate the sugary candies delicately, one by one, so small he almost could not taste
When he smelled Matthew, he rumbled his greeting.
"Got a friend," Matthew said, producing a handful of peanuts. Jumbo began to
alternate between them and candies.
The woman touched his side near his foreleg. "So big," she said. "A magnificent
ambassador for his race." She smelled comforting, like grass and hay in the sun.
"Careful," Matthew said. "I'll get jealous."
"Of me or him?"
As she touched his skin, Jumbo raised his head, looking at her. His trunk touched
the side of her face in return and she half-closed her eyes. An odd tension filled
the hold, lingering in the air. As Matthew watched, the massive elephant slowly
bent his legs, kneeling down as though bowing before her. Smiling, she
"I'll be damned," Matthew said. "I never taught him that trick."
Her hand lingered on the wrinkled skin, each fold thick enough to swallow her
slender finger. "Perhaps he is preparing for life as a performer," she said, her
voice low and husky with a sorrow he did not understand.
Later, Matthew and the woman sat together on the freighter's rear deck, watching
the trail from the ship, moonlight gleaming on the frothy waves.
"Twenty years I've been with that elephant," Matthew said. He'd liberated a
bottle of Barnum's champagne. The cork came away with a pop and spray and he
offered it to her. She took a sip and laughed.
"It's like drinking fizz," she said.
He chuckled at her. "You can't tell me you've never drunk champagne before."
"I haven't," she said. "Really."
He loved the way the light played on her dark hair. "Laxmi. That's not a
"You may call me Gaja, if you like," she said. "And no, it's Indian."
He studied her. As though the words had evoked it, he saw the subtle but apparent
exotic cast to her face, the almost slant of her eyes. He took another drink to give
himself time to think.
"That bothers you," she said.
"No," he said. "No, it doesn't."
She shrugged. "No matter," she said. "This can only happen here, between
"What do you mean?"
"The Old World and the New. Right now we're in neither."
"I don't know what you mean," he said helplessly.
She looked out across the water, watching the moonlight drifting on the waves.
"Imagine there was once a goddess," she said. "The world is changing, and no one
believes in her anymore. Which is a relief, actually. No one asking to win at dice
or father sons or find gold hidden beneath their doorstep.
"But the goddess found herself looking at the humans in another light. She found
that they had taken one of her favored creatures and made it an animal like any
other, to be slaughtered for goods to sell."
Her dark eyes regarded him. "For a god and a mortal to touch is perilous in any
world. Do you understand now why we have so little time?"
She was pulling his leg, he figured. Flimflamming like Barnum. He drew her
close and tilted her face to his. "Then we should make the most of it," he said and
Thousands met the ship when they arrived on Easter Sunday. April in New York
didn't seem that different from London. The sun shone in a watery blue sky, and
danced on the water as the ponderous crate swung ashore. Cheers went up as
Barnum ceremoniously swung open the massive door and Matthew led Jumbo out,
a shout came from the crowd. Children waved pennants, each printed with
Jumbo's likeness, or had stuffed elephants tucked under an arm. The air smelled
like a circus - peanuts and popcorn vendors vied with men selling sausages or
meat pies. He looked for Gaja, but saw her nowhere. As though she had
"We're taking him to my Hippodrome Building," Barnum shouted in his ear over
the crowd's clamor. "The circus opens there tonight. See the team of ponies
pulling the steam calliope? Fall in behind them."
The buildings here seemed taller than London's, and there was a cold edge to the
wind that blew through the scarlet coat Barnum had made him wear. Like
London, the air was full of coal smoke and the smell of people living too close to
one another. The parade moved along the street and the delighted faces made him
feel better about the tears that had accompanied Jumbo's departure. He looked
again for Gaja, but she was nowhere to be found. He didn't know that it would be
years before he'd see her again.
Barnum stood in the center ring of the Hippodrome, in a dazzle of torch light.
Next year, he thought, he'd bring in that new invention of Edison's and make the
inside of the tent shine as though it were daylight. To his left a tiger's angry
scream rent the air. It was a windy night, and the canvas tent roared like a
windjammer under full sail.
"Ladies and gentleman!" he shouted as the other rings stilled. "I direct your
attention to the center ring! It is Barnum and Bailey's greatest pleasure to present
to you one of the wonders of the world! I give you the towering monarch of his
race, whose like the world will never see again! I give you . . . Jumbo!"
The elephant was bedecked in spangled harness, stepping slowly, enjoying the
roar of applause as Matthew led him around the ring. The other circus elephants
were lined up around the ring and at a signal, they backed onto their hind legs,
sitting with their front legs up, and let out a unified trumpet of acclamation. In
their center, the smallest elephant, Tom Thumb, knelt to stand on its head. Jumbo
glowed in the light like a fairy tale figure, so brilliant and bedazzling that he took
the crowd's breath away.
"That elephant cost me $30,000 all together, and every penny well-spent," Barnum
gloated in his trailer as he thumbed through the receipts. "Pulled in $3,000 a day
in the first three weeks. They've even named a town in Hardin County after him."
"He's a champ, all right," the accountant said, totting up figures.
"Drinks a bottle of beer every night with his keeper. I'm thinking about having a
special mug made in his shape. It'd sell, all right, but the Temperance folks would
pitch a fit. I'm having a special train car made for him, with his picture painted on
the sides so whenever the train pulls into the station, the people will know to
The best thing about the circus was getting a chance to sit around with the other
elephant keepers. Some of them had been in the business longer than Matthew.
He liked the easy camaraderie, the friendship of men who knew how to figure out
whether or not a tiger would take to flaming hoops, the ways to keep fleas from
spreading, or the best method for lancing a boil on a baboon's ass.
Every Thursday was poker night, and they sat around the table playing with dog-eared cards and drinking beer and swapping stories.
"Used to have a little elephant, dainty as could be, named Siri," Joe D'Angelo
said. The cigar in his mouth puffed, sending up blue smoke around his dark face,
mounted with a beaklike nose. "You know what she'd do? Give her an apple or
an orange and she'd put it on the ground, tap it dainty as you please with her foot,
then pick what was left and rub it all through her hay, like she was flavoring it.
What a sweetie she was - real little lady. Hit me with two cards."
"I had an elephant used to cry like a baby if he made a mistake," George
"Go on, I never seen an elephant cry."
"He did," George insisted, throwing his cards on the table. "I'll pass. Yell at him
and there he'd go, crying away. Tears as big as a china cup."
"They're strange critters," Joe said. "Gotta admit them Indians, the real ones, are
onto something when they worship them. They got a god called Garnish, got six
arms and an elephant trunk. Got a straight."
"Beats my hand," Matthew admitted.
"All sorts of elephant mysteries," Joe continued. "I had a friend who said he'd met
the Queen of the Elephants in human form. Walking around like you or me. Said
you always knew her because she dressed all in gray. Your deal."
Thoughts of Gaja flickered across Matthew's mind as he shuffled the cards.
"What's she doing walking around then?" he said.
Joe shrugged. "Hey, I seen elephants do all sorts of things. Who says they think
like you or me?"
He didn't mind the circus, although he still didn't like the smell of the tigers.
Matthew knew it, and he always took care to make sure the big cats were safely
stowed away, twenty cars up the line, before they boarded Jumbo's car. It was
custom-built for him, painted crimson and gold, with double doors in the middle to
let him enter.
He didn't feel hungry anymore. Whenever he was hungry, food was there.
"Gotta keep up your strength, you're the star of the show," Matthew said. He
brought him fruit and hay, and handfuls of peanuts.
It was a good life. The children came and petted him, and Matthew would help
him lift the bravest ones to his back, clinging there like fleas. At night Matthew
slept in his stall with him, and would talk into the night, the small voice washing
over him as he swayed into sleep.
"You can't go to Toronto," Gaja said.
"You show up after three years and your first words are 'Don't go to Toronto?'"
Matthew said. "Where have you been?"
She looked the same as ever. He'd swear it was the same dress.
"Walking up and down the earth," she said. "Does it matter?"
"I thought we had . . I mean I thought we were."
"It was nice," Gaja said. "It was very nice. But I can't get attached."
"Attached, is that what you call it? Simple human decency would have meant
saying goodbye, at least!"
"I'm telling you not to go to Toronto."
"I can't tell you."
Matthew laughed. "And I should go to that prick Barnum and say we can't go
because some woman's got her knickers in a twist?"
She looked down. "Can't you just trust me?"
"Are you the Queen of the Elephants, that I should trust you?"
"Not the Queen," she said. "Just a goddess who saw the plight of the animals she
"Not even the right kind of elephant, is he? African rather than Indian. You're
"Please," she begged. "They're all my children. Please. I thought if you loved me
you'd listen and we could prevent it. You can't let it happen."
He turned away. "Go away, Miss Laxmi. I have no reason to listen to you."
Barnum was there the next day with a long thin skeleton of a man. "Wanted to
introduce the two of you," he said. Matthew started to hold out his hand but
Barnum said "No, no! Him and Jumbo, I mean. This is Henry Ward. He's a
taxidermist from Rochester. Stuffed all sorts of things for me. He wants to be the
one to stuff Jumbo."
Ward was gazing up at the elephant, enraptured.
"Anything ever happens, we telegraph him immediately so he can save the skin
and skeleton," Barnum said.
"That's macabre," Matthew said, appalled. A chill ran down his spine.
"It's good business practice, that's what it is," Barnum declared.
Matthew led Jumbo and the smallest elephant in the circus, Tom Thumb, along the
tracks to the waiting cars, through the darkness lit by flickering torches. Overhead
the incurious stars glimmered like a dancer's spangles across the sky. The trio
were the last to board. The small elephant squealed and danced along, still happy
from his performance. Jumbo rested his trunk for a moment on his companion,
perhaps to calm him, or perhaps only to show affection. They paced along the
tracks, steep embankments on either side, the blare and glare of the Big Top
behind them and the sounds of the departing crowd, the last visitors leaving with
the smell of cotton candy on their hands and glamour pervading their minds to
haunt their dreams that night.
When he heard the chill whistle of the express train behind him, his first thought
was "But there's none scheduled." The ground shook underneath his feet and he
heard the roaring of the coal engine, the screech of the brake, applied too late, too
fast. Then all was chaos. The train crashed into Tom Thumb, scooping him onto
its cowcatcher -- elephant catcher was Matthew's next thought -- pushing him
screaming along the track before he rolled down the embankment. "Run!"
Matthew shouted but Jumbo shied away from the slope, trying to flee and unable
to see the gap in the fence in his panic.
Train and elephant met. Jumbo was driven to his knees, a massive blow to the
earth that Matthew felt to his bones. The train shuddered, its length crumpling,
falling away from the tracks.
All thoughts vanished from Matthew's mind. He knelt beside the groaning, dying
elephant, sobbing. The trunk crept around his waist and the two held onto each
other until Jumbo's grip slackened. Matthew clung to his friend in desperation,
but the light in the massive eyes died away.
"It's taken three years," Henry Ward announced to the Powers' Hotel banquet
room, filled with journalists. "But at last Jumbo's remains are preserved. All of
you have received a piece of the trunk, suitably inscribed for the occasion, but I
have another surprise for you. You'll note the jelly before you. It is a most
unusual dish. In the course of preparing the body, I accumulated a pound and a
half of powdered ivory. The cook here used it to create the dish, allowing each of
you to assimilate a little of the mighty creature."
He held up his champagne glass. "To Jumbo. Mightiest of his race, Loxodonta
"Did you hear that?" one newspaperman said to another.
"What, the toast?"
The man frowned, shaking his head. He was a slight, dapper man, his waistcoat
figured with a print of green elephants. "Maybe not hear, but feel. Like a vibration
shaking the floor, some sound too deep for the human ear. Maybe a train is
In the corner of the room at an obscure table, Gaja Laxmi sat. She took a spoonful
of the pale green jelly, sprinkled with flecks of white, and ate it deliberately, her
tears falling to the white tablecloth like slow warm rain.