The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain

The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain

[Left out of A Tramp Abroad, because it was feared that some of the

particulars had been exaggerated, and that others were not true. Before

these suspicions had been proven groundless, the book had gone to press.


The following curious history was related to me by a chance railway

acquaintance. He was a gentleman more than seventy years of age, and his

thoroughly good and gentle face and earnest and sincere manner imprinted

the unmistakable stamp of truth upon every statement which fell from his

lips. He said:

You know in what reverence the royal white elephant of Siam is held by

the people of that country. You know it is sacred to kings, only kings

may possess it, and that it is, indeed, in a measure even superior to

kings, since it receives not merely honor but worship. Very well; five

years ago, when the troubles concerning the frontier line arose between

Great Britain and Siam, it was presently manifest that Siam had been in

the wrong. Therefore every reparation was quickly made, and the British

representative stated that he was satisfied and the past should be

forgotten. This greatly relieved the King of Siam, and partly as a token

of gratitude, partly also, perhaps, to wipe out any little remaining

vestige of unpleasantness which England might feel toward him, he wished

to send the Queen a present–the sole sure way of propitiating an enemy,

according to Oriental ideas. This present ought not only to be a royal

one, but transcendently royal. Wherefore, what offering could be so meet

as that of a white elephant? My position in the Indian civil service was

such that I was deemed peculiarly worthy of the honor of conveying the

present to her Majesty. A ship was fitted out for me and my servants and

the officers and attendants of the elephant, and in due time I arrived in

New York harbor and placed my royal charge in admirable quarters in

Jersey City. It was necessary to remain awhile in order to recruit, the

animal’s health before resuming the voyage.

All went well during a fortnight–then my calamities began. The white

elephant was stolen! I was called up at dead of night and informed of

this fearful misfortune. For some moments I was beside myself with

terror and anxiety; I was helpless. Then I grew calmer and collected my

faculties. I soon saw my course–for, indeed, there was but the one;

course for an intelligent man to pursue. Late as it was, I flew to New

York and got a policeman to conduct me to the headquarters of the

detective force. Fortunately I arrived in time, though the chief of the

force, the celebrated Inspector Blunt was just on the point of leaving

for his home. He was a man of middle size and compact frame, and when he

was thinking deeply he had a way of kniting his brows and tapping his

forehead reflectively with his finger, which impressed you at once with

the conviction that you stood in the presence of a person of no common

order. The very sight of him gave me confidence and made me hopeful.

I stated my errand. It did not flurry him in the least; it had no more

visible effect upon his iron self-possession than if I had told him

somebody had stolen my dog. He motioned me to a seat, and said, calmly:

“Allow me to think a moment, please.”

So saying, he sat down at his office table and leaned his head upon his

hand. Several clerks were at work at the other end of the room; the

scratching of their pens was all the sound I heard during the next six or

seven minutes. Meantime the inspector sat there, buried in thought.

Finally he raised his head, and there was that in the firm lines of his

face which showed me that his brain had done its work and his plan was

made. Said he–and his voice was low and impressive:

“This is no ordinary case. Every step must be warily taken; each step

must be made sure before the next is ventured. And secrecy must be

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Categories: Twain, Mark