A Menagerie Aboard

One Lady at Large (SUSSEX)

by Rudyard Kipling

IT was pyjama time on the Madura in the Bay of Bengal, and the incense of the very early morning cigar went up to the stainless skies. Every one knows pyjama time—the long hour that follows the removal of the beds from the saloon skylight and the consumption of chota hazri. Most men know, too, that the choicest stories of many seas may be picked up then—from the long-winded histories of the Colonial sheep-master to the crisp anecdotes of the Californian; from tales of battle, murder and sudden death told by the Burmah-retumed subaltern, to the bland drivel of the globe-trotter. The Captain, taste-fully attired in pale pink, sat up on the signal-gun and tossed the husk of a banana overboard.

“It looked in through my cabin-window,” said he, “and scared me nearly into a fit.” We had just been talking about a monkey who appeared to a man in an omnibus, and haunted him till he cut his own throat. The apparition, amid howls of incredulity, was said to have been the result of excessive tea-drinking. The Captain’s apparition promised to be better.

“It was a menagerie—a whole turnout, lock, stock, and barrel, from the big bear to the little hippopotamus; and you can guess the size of it from the fact that they paid us a thousand pounds in freight only. We got them all accommodated somewhere forward among the deck passengers, and they whooped up terribly all along the ship for two or three days. Among other things, such as panthers and leopards, there were sixteen giraffes, and we moored ’em fore and aft as securely as might be; but you can’t get a purchase on a giraffe somehow. He slopes back too much from the bows to the stem. We were running up the Red Sea, I think, and the menagerie fairly quiet. One night I went to my cabin not feeling well. About midnight I was waked by something breathing on my face. I was quite cahn and collected, for I had got it into my head that it was one of the panthers, or at least the bear; and I reached back to the rack behind me for a revolver. Then the head began to slide against my cabin—all across it—and I said to myself: ‘It’s the big python.’ But I looked into its eyes—they were beautiful eyes—and saw it was one of the giraffes. Tell you, though, a giraffe has the eyes of a sorrowful nun, and this creature was just brimming over with liquid tenderness. The seven-foot neck rather spoilt the effect, but I’ll always recollect those eyes.”

“Say, did you kiss the critter?” demanded the orchid-hunter en route to Siam.

“No; I remembered that it was dam valuable, and I didn’t want to lose freight on it. I was afraid it would break its neck drawing its head out of my window—I had a big deck cabin, of course—so I shoved it out softly like a hen, and the head slid out, with those Mary Magdalene eyes following me to the last. Then I heard the quartermaster calling on heaven and earth for his lost giraffe, and then the row began all up and down the decks. The giraffe had sense enough to duck its head to avoid the awnings—we were awned from bow to stem—but it clattered about like a sick cow, the quartermaster jumping after it, and it swinging its long neck like a flail. ‘Catch it, and hold it!’ said the quartermaster. ‘Catch a typhoon,’ said I. ‘She’s going overboard.’ The spotted fool had heaved one foot over the stem railings and was trying to get the other to follow. It was so happy at getting its head into the open I thought it would have crowed—I don’t know whether giraffes crow, but it heaved up its neck for all the world like a crowing cock. ‘Come back to your stable,’ yelled the quartermaster, grabbing hold of the brute’s tail.

“I was nearly helpless with laughing, though I knew if the concern went over it would be no laughing matter for me. Well, by good luck she came round—the quartermaster was a strong man at a rope’s end. First of all she slewed her neck round, and I could see those tender, loving eyes under the stars sort of saying: ‘Cruel man! What are you doing to my tail?’ Then the foot came on board, and she humped herself up under the awning, looking ready to cry with disappointment. The funniest thing was she didn’t make any noise—a pig would ha’ roused the ship in no time—only every time she dropped her foot on the deck it was like firing a revolver, the hoofs clicked so. We headed her towards the bows, back to her moorings—just like a policeman showing a short-sighted old woman over a crossing. The quartermaster sweated and panted and swore, but she never said anything—only whacked her old head despsiringly against the awning and the funnel case. Her feet woke up the whole ship, and by the time we had her fairly moored fore and aft the population in their night-gear were giving us advice. Then we took up a yard or two in all the moorings and turned in. No other animal got loose that voyage, though the old lady looked at me most repmachfully every time I came that way, and ‘You’ve blasted my young and tender innocence’ was the expression of her eyes. It was all the quartermaster’s fault for hauling her tail. I wonder she didn’t kick him open. Well, of course, that isn’t much of a yarn, but I remember once, in the city of Venice, we had a Malayan tapir loose on Hm deck, and we had to lasso him. It was this way”:

Guzl thyar hai,” said the steward, and I fled down the companion and missed the tale of be tapir.