The Elephant by Alexander Kuprin 6

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Elephant – Contents

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Next morning the little girl woke very early, and asked, first thing:

“The elephant? Has he come?”

“Yes, he’s come,” said mamma; “but he says that Nadya must first of all be washed, and then eat a soft-boiled egg and drink some hot milk.”

“Is he good?”

“Yes, he’s good. Eat it up, dear. We’ll go and see him in a minute.”

“Is he funny?”

“Yes, a little. Put on your warm bodice.”

The egg was quickly eaten, and the milk drunk. Nadya was put in the perambulator in which she used to be taken out when she was too small to walk by herself, and wheeled into the dining-room.

The elephant looked much larger than Nadya had thought when she saw it in a picture. He was only just a little lower than the top of the door, and half as long as the dining-room. He had thick skin, in heavy folds. His legs were thick as pillars. His long tail looked something like a broom at the end. His head had great lumps on it. His ears were as large as shovels, and were hanging down. His eyes were quite tiny, but they looked wise and kind. His tusks had been cut off. His trunk was like a long snake and had two nostrils at the end, with a moving flexible finger between them. If the elephant had stretched out his trunk to its full length, it would probably have reached to the window.

The little girl was not at all frightened. She was only just a little astounded by the enormous size of the animal. But Polya, the sixteen-year-old nursemaid, began to whimper in terror.

The elephant’s master, the German, came up to the perambulator and said:

“Good morning, young lady. Don’t be afraid, please. Tommy’s very good, and he likes children.”

The little girl held out her little white hand to the German.

“Good morning,” she said in answer. “How are you? I’m not in the least afraid. What’s his name?”


“Good morning, Tommy,” said the child, with a bow. “How did you sleep last night?”

She held out her hand to him. The elephant took it cautiously and pressed her thin fingers with his movable strong one, and he did this much more gently than Dr. Michael Petrovitch. Then he nodded his head, and screwed up his little eyes as if he were laughing.

“Does he understand everything?” asked the little girl of the German.

“Oh, absolutely everything, miss.”

“Only he can’t speak.”

“No, he can’t speak. Do you know, I’ve got a little girl just as small as you. Her name’s Lisa. Tommy’s a great, a very great, friend of hers.”

“And you, Tommy, have you had any tea yet?” asked Nadya.

The elephant stretched out his trunk and blew out a warm breath into the little girl’s face, making her hair puff out at each side.

Nadya laughed and clapped her hands. The German laughed out loud too. He was also large and fat, and good-natured like the elephant, and Nadya thought they looked like one another. Perhaps they were relations.

“No, he hasn’t had tea, miss. But he likes to drink sugar-water. And he’s very fond of rolls.”

Some rolls were brought in on a tray. The little girl handed some to her guest. He caught a roll cleverly with his finger, and turning up his trunk into a ring hid the roll somewhere underneath his head, where one could see his funny three-cornered, hairy, lower lip moving, and hear the roll rustling against the dry skin. Tommy did the same with a second roll, and a third, and a fourth and a fifth, nodding his head and wrinkling up his little eyes still more with satisfaction. And the little girl laughed delightedly.

When the rolls were all eaten, Nadya presented her dolls to the elephant.

“Look, Tommy, this nicely-dressed doll is Sonya. She’s a very good child, but a little naughty sometimes, and doesn’t want to eat her soup. This one is Natasha, Sonya’s daughter. She’s begun to learn already, and she knows almost all her letters. And this one is Matreshka. She was my very first doll. Look, she hasn’t got any nose and her head’s been stuck on, and she’s lost all her hair. But I can’t turn an old woman out of the house. Can I, Tommy? She used to be Sonya’s mother, but now she’s the cook. Let’s have a game, Tommy; you be the father and I’ll be the mother, and these shall be our children.”

Tommy agreed. He laughed, took Matreshka by the neck and put her in his mouth. But this was only a joke. After biting the doll a little he put her back again on the little girl’s lap, just a little wet and crumpled.

Then Nadya showed him a large picture-book, and explained:

“This is a horse, this is a canary, this is a gun…. Look, there’s a cage with a bird inside; here’s a pail, a looking-glass, a stove, a spade, a raven…. And here, just look, here’s an elephant. It’s not at all like you, is it? Is it possible an elephant could be so small, Tommy?”

Tommy thought that there were no elephants in the world as small as that. He didn’t seem to like that picture. He took hold of the edge of the page with his finger and turned it over.

It was dinner-time now, but the little girl couldn’t tear herself away from the elephant. The German came to the rescue.

“If you allow me, I will arrange it all. They can dine together.”

He ordered the elephant to sit down, and the obedient animal did so, shaking all the floor of the whole flat, making all the china on the sideboard jingle, and the people downstairs were sprinkled over with bits of plaster falling from the ceiling. The little girl sat opposite the elephant. The table was put between them. A tablecloth was tied round the elephant’s neck, and the new friends began their dinner. The little girl had chicken broth and cutlets, the elephant had various vegetables and salad. The little girl had a liqueur glass full of sherry, and the elephant had some warm water with a glassful of rum in it, and he sucked up this liquid through his trunk with great pleasure from a soup tureen. Then they had the sweet course—the little girl a cup of cocoa, and the elephant a tart, a walnut one this time. The German, meanwhile, sat with papa in the drawing-room, and, with as much pleasure as the elephant, drank beer, only in greater quantities.

After dinner some visitors came to see papa, and they were warned in the hall about the elephant so that they should not be frightened. At first they couldn’t believe it, but when they saw Tommy they pressed themselves close up against the door.

“Don’t be afraid, he’s good,” said the little girl soothingly.

But the visitors quickly hurried into the drawing-room, and after having sat there for five minutes took their departure.

The evening came. It grew late, and time for the little girl to go to bed. But they couldn’t get her away from the elephant. She dropped asleep by his side presently, and then they carried her off to the nursery. She didn’t wake up, even when she was being undressed.

That night Nadya dreamed that she was married to Tommy and that they had many children, tiny, jolly, little baby elephants. The elephant, whom they took back at night to the menagerie, also dreamed of the sweet and affectionate little girl. He dreamt, too, that he had a large tart with walnuts and pistachios as big as a gate….

Next morning the little girl woke, fresh and healthy, and as she used to do before her illness, cried out, in a voice to be heard all over the house, loudly and impatiently:

“I want some milk.”

Hearing this cry, in her bedroom mamma crossed herself devoutly.

But the little girl remembered what had happened yesterday, and she asked:

“Where’s the elephant?”

They explained to her that the elephant had been obliged to go home, that he had children who couldn’t be left by themselves, but that he had left a message for Nadya to say that he hoped she would come and see him as soon as she was well.

The little girl smiled slyly and said:

“Tell Tommy that I’m quite well now.”

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Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Elephant – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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