The Elephant's Back

: Still Jim

"All living things have a universal hunger--to live again.

The hunger for descendants is the same hunger."


"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!"

said Jim.

"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

puzzled eyes.

"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

canyon edge."

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