The Elephant's Back
From: Still Jim
"All living things have a universal hunger--to live again.
The hunger for descendants is the same hunger."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
"Penelope!" Jim called softly.
Pen raised her head as if she were dreaming.
"Pen!" repeated Jim, rising and walking slowly toward her. "Don't sit so
near the edge."
"You can see the eagle's nest from here," said Pen, pointing down the
crater wall. "What brought you up here, Still?"
"The Elephant is an old friend of mine, particularly when I'm broken up
as I am tonight," replied Jim, taking Pen's hand and leading her back to
his own place which was sheltered from the wind. "What brought you here?
And how about Sara?"
"Sara took some morphine tonight. He will be motionless until morning.
Ever since the new moon came, I've been promising myself a trip up
"So Sara adds dope to his other accomplishments!" commented Jim.
"He suffers so from insomnia, I don't blame him," answered Pen. "He has
pain practically all of the time. I think he gradually grows worse.
Poor Sara! He said tonight he hated the sight of even a dog that can use
its own legs. Don't be too hard on him, Jim."
"I can't help being hard on him when I see how he treats you, the cad!"
"He can't hurt me," said Pen. "I'm too sorry for him. Though I'll admit
that I never knew what it was to lose control of my temper until after I
was married. Still, where will they bury Iron Skull?"
"We have a little graveyard high on the mesa-top, yonder. He had not a
relative in the world. He was of good old New England stock. He was
trying to tell me something about his feeling for the Dam because of
that when he was killed."
Jim was speaking a little brokenly and Pen laid her hand on his arm.
"The big dangers on the dam, we try to guard against. We can't even
foresee a thing like Iron Skull's sacrifice. But I know he would have
liked to have gone giving his life for someone he loved the way he did
old Suma-theek. Sometimes I think there ought to be listed on a bronze
tablet on the wall of each great structure the names of those who died
in giving it birth. The big structures all are consecrated in blood.
Skyscrapers, bridges, and dams all demand their human sacrifices. Thirty
men went on the Makon. We've lost eight here so far."
"Sara was frightfully upset," said Pen. "That's why he took the
morphine. Any thought of death makes him hysterical. The chant set him
to swearing frightfully. Jim, I'd give anything to be able to set Sara
right with himself."
"Pen, why did Sara come down here?" asked Jim abruptly.
Penelope hesitated. She did not want to voice Iron Skull's suspicions
until she had verified them. "I don't know, Jim," she said finally. "I
thought it was for his health and land, but I feel uneasy since I see
his attitude toward you."
"If he has an idea of speculating in real estate, I'll have to head him
off," said Jim. "Land speculation hurts the projects very seriously."
"What harm does it do?" asked Pen.
"Inflates land values so that farming doesn't pay with the already heavy
building charges for the dam."
"Oh, I see!" mused Pen. "I'll talk to Sara about it."
"Don't say a word to him. I can fight my own battles with Sara.
Penelope, what were you thinking about when you sat over there at the
crater edge with your head on your arms?"
In the moonlight a slow red stained Pen's face. Jim watched her with
"I--I can't tell you all I was thinking," she said. "But some of it was
because of Iron Skull. I was thinking how awful it will be for us to
die, you and Sara and me, leaving not a human being behind us, just as
Iron Skull did."
"Most of us New Englanders are going that way," said Jim. "We Americans
have so steadily decreased our birth rate in the past hundred years that
we are nearly seven million babies below normal. South European children
will take their places."
"Well, I don't know that it will hurt America in the long run," said
"I think it will," insisted Jim. "This country is governed by
institutions that are inherently Teutonic. The people who will inherit
these institutions are fundamentally different in their conceptions of
government and education. I'm a New Englander, descendant of the
Anglo-Saxon founders of the country. I can't see my race and its ideal
passing without its breaking my heart."
"Why do you pass?" asked Pen sharply. "Why don't you brace up?"
"We don't know how," said Jim.
"I wonder if that's true," murmured Pen, "and if it is true, why!"
Silence fell between the two. The night wind sighed softly over the
Elephant's broad back. The eagle, disturbed by the voices above his
nest, soared suddenly from the crater, dipped across the canyon, and
circled the flag that was seldom lowered before the office. The flag
fluttered remotely in the moonlight.
"Look, Jim," whispered Pen, "the eagle and the flag so young and the
Elephant so old and poor Iron Skull lying there dead! I wish I could
make a legend from it. The material is there.... Oh, Sara said such
horrible things tonight!"
Penelope shivered. Jim jumped up and held out his hand. "Come, little
Pen! I'm going to take you home. How cold your fingers are!"
Jim kept Pen's cold little hand warm within his own whenever the trail
permitted on the way back. But he scarcely spoke again.
The next day Iron Skull's funeral was held in the little adobe chapel
which was filled to overflowing. A great crowd of workmen, Americans,
Mexicans and Indians, gathered outside. At Suma-theek's earnest
petition, Jim allowed the Indians to carry the coffin on their shoulders
up the trail behind the lower town to the mesa crest where the little
graveyard lay. And Jim also gave Suma-theek permission to make a
farewell speech when the grave had been filled. The missionary had
protested but Jim was obdurate.
"Suma-theek owes his life to Iron Skull. I shall let him do his
uttermost to show his gratitude. He is a fine old man, as fine in the
eyes of God, no doubt, as you or I, Mr. Smiley."
So as the last of the sand and gravel was being shoveled into the grave,
the old Apache stepped forward and raised his lean brown hand.
"My blood brother," he said, "he lies in this grave. If he have squaw or
childs, old Suma-theek, he go give life for them. Iron Skull he no have
anyone left on this earth who carry his blood. He gone! He leave no mark
but in my heart. Injun and white they come like pile of sand desert wind
drifts up. They go like pile of sand desert wind blows down. Great
Spirit, He say, 'Only one strength for mens; that the strength of many
childs, Injuns, they no have many childs. They die. Mexicans they have
many childs, they live. Niggers, they have many. They live. Whites they
no have many childs. Come some day like Injuns, like Iron Skull, they
see on all of earth, no blood like theirs. They lay them down to die
alone. Old Iron Skull, he a real man. He fight much. He work hard. He
keep word. He die for friend. Maybe when Great Spirit look down at Iron
Skull, it make Him love Iron Skull to know old Injun carry Iron Skull's
mark in his lonely heart. O friends, I know him many, many years! We
smoke many pipes together. We hunt together. We sabez each other's
hearts. Ai! Ai! Ai! Beloved!"
And old Suma-theek broke down and cried like a child.
The crowd dispersed silently. The rising night wind began its task of
sifting sand across Iron Skull's grave. Coyotes howled far on the
mountain tops. And the night shift began to repair the cofferdam for old
Jezebel had dropped suddenly back into her old trail.
A day or so after the funeral Sara said to Penelope, "When are you going
down to see Mrs. Ames?"
"What makes you so friendly to the Ames family?" Pen asked in surprise.
"Ames may be useful to me," replied Sara. "I want you to cultivate him."
"I'll not do it for any such reason," said Pen quickly. "I like Mrs.
Ames and I plan to see a great deal of her. But I'll not play cat's paw
for you. What are you up to, Sara?"
"None of your business," said Sara.
Pen flushed, but fell back on the whimsical manner that was her defense
against Sara's ill-nature.
"It's your subtlety that fascinates me, Sara. Did you ever try a steam
Sara scowled: "Of course, I suppose it's too much to ask you to take an
interest in my business affairs. If I were a well man, I might hope to
make an impression on you."
"By the way, Sara," said Pen, "land speculation hurts these Projects. I
don't think you ought to try to make money that way. Of course, if Mr.
Ames wants to sell you some land, I suppose I can't keep you from
buying, but Jim says that, coupled with the heavy building charges,
inflated land values are doing the Service a lot of harm."
Pen watched Sara closely. Sara when calm was close-mouthed. Sara when
angry was apt to talk! His face flushed quickly.
"Jim! Jim!" he sneered. "I heard it all the time in New York and now I'm
getting it here. Oh, wait and see, the two of you!"
For the first time since the first years of bitter adjustment, Pen
showed fire. She crossed the room and stood over Sara's couch, her
cheeks scarlet, her hazel eyes deep with some suppressed fire.
"Do you think I fear you, with your vile tongue and your yellow heart,
George Saradokis? There is neither fear nor love nor hope nor regret
left in my heart! It long ago learned that marriage is a travesty and
our marriage a nightmare. Do you think your impudence or your threats
hurt me any more? You waste your breath if you do. You and I have made
a hopeless mess of our lives. Jim is doing a big work. If I find you are
laying a straw in his way, I'll--I'll shove you, couch and all, over the
Sara suddenly laughed. Even as she uttered her threat Pen was
mechanically straightening his pillow!
"Look here, Pen," he said, "I know I'm a devil! The pain and the awful
failure of my life make me that. But I'll try to be more decent. For the
Lord's sake, Pen, don't you go back on me or I'll take an overdose of
morphine. I do want to make some money and any land deal that Ames and I
put through, I'll let Jim pass on. Does that satisfy you?"
It was not often that Sara tried to wheedle Pen. She looked at him
suspiciously but nodded carelessly.
"All right! If Jim sees it I'll consent. If you get any honest enjoyment
out of Mr. Ames, I'll get him up here often. Mrs. Ames is a dear."
"You are a good old sort, Pen," returned Sara. "Why can't you go down
tomorrow? Mrs. Flynn would look out for me, I guess. They say that
fellow Bill Evans will ride people anywhere in his machine."
"I'll go over and see Mrs. Flynn now," said Pen. She was really eager
for a visit with Jane Ames. She wondered if Iron Skull might not have
been over-suspicious regarding Sara's purposes. Sara had an unquenchable
itch for money-making. During all his long illness he had never ceased,
with his father's help, to trade in real estate. Pen suspected that the
savings of many Greek immigrants were absorbed in Sara's and his
father's schemes, none too honestly.
"Perhaps," said Pen, as she pinned on her hat, "Jim would take me down.
Doesn't it seem natural though to have Jim doing things for me again!"
Some note in Pen's voice brought Sara to his elbow.
"Pen!" he shouted. "I've long suspected it. Are you in love with Jim
Next: The Heart Of A Desert Wife
Previous: The End Of Iron Skull's Road