“I can’t abide traveling menageries,” Beatrix said. “And I’m not all that fond of zoological exhibitions, either.”
“I went to Fulloway’s because they advertised a dancing elephant,” Thomas said. “But Bettina—that’s the elephant’s name—dropped dead when they got here—they made her walk too fast and too far, someone said. So they put up a sign that reads, “Dead elephant on display,” and they showed it to us and let some people poke the carcass with sticks.”
“I don’t need to hear more,” Beatrix said. “That’s dreadful, Thomas.”
“There’s only one elephant left, a small one, but he won’t dance or even stand up,” the boy added. “The band plays music, and the trainers prod him with a bull hook, but he just lays there moaning.”
“I’m sure he’s mourning his friend,” Beatrix said quietly.
“The dead one was his mother, they said.”
A feeling of sadness pressed down on her, until Beatrix could hardly breathe from the weight of emotion. Closing her eyes, she thought, You can’t save all of them.
Moreover, she couldn’t let herself become any more eccentric than she already was.
No more misadventures. No more scrapes.
“You have a way with animals, Miss Beatrix,” Thomas said. “Maybe you could visit the elephant and do something for ‘im? If he would just move a little, they might stop jabbing him with that bull hook.”
“I’m not at all familiar with elephants,” Beatrix said. “There’s nothing I can do. I’m sure he’ll recover on his own, Thomas.”
“Yes, miss.” Obviously disappointed, the boy went to attend to his chores.
Beatrix groaned and went back to the nest box. “I can’t help him,” she said, staring at the drowsing owl. “I can’t.”
But she couldn’t stop imagining the young elephant collapsed in despair, while people were entertained by the sight of his dead parent nearby.
God help her, she knew what it was like to lose a mother.
The village green of Stony Cross had been temporarily enclosed for the Fulloway Menagerie, at least fifteen large caravans arranged in a rectangle. A decidedly flimsy fence had been erected to the north of the enclosure, while decorative displays and signs had been arranged in front to attract potential ticket buyers. To lure in onlookers, a band on a wooden platform played polkas and lively airs, while a trio of acrobats performed a balancing act.
Beatrix glanced dismissively at one of the yellow caravans, which had been painted with a likeness of George Fulloway, the owner of the menagerie. Fulloway was a florid-faced man with cheeks that hung like saddlebags on either side of a white goatee and a billowing mustache that seemed to pull his upper lip aloft as he smiled.
“He must love animals,” Thomas commented, “to collect so many of them.”
Viewing the filthy monkey cages nearby, Beatrix smiled without humor. “One wonders,” she said, “if he has their best interests at heart. Where did you see the little elephant, Thomas?”
“In the pen on the other side of those wagons. The fencing’s awful flimsy . . . it wouldn’t hold him if he wanted to go somewhere.”
“Where would he go?” Beatrix asked rhetorically.
They went cautiously around the perimeter of the fencing, and saw the dejected bulk of an elephant on the ground, beside the fence. He was smaller than Beatrix had expected, certainly no more than five feet when standing. His skin was gray, and sparsely covered with hair, and his ears were relatively small. An Indian elephant, reputedly more timid than the African species.
The animal’s eyes were half-open, his gaze on Beatrix as she approached the fence. But he didn’t stir, only lay there as if he were drugged or ill.
Or prostrate with grief.
“Hello, boy,” Beatrix said gently. “What is your name?”
“Ollie, the sign said,” Thomas volunteered.
Beatrix lowered to her haunches, looking at the elephant through the fence.
Taking out an apple she had brought, she rolled it through the flimsy slats. “That’s for you, Ollie.”
The young elephant regarded the fruit listlessly but made no move to take it.
“Look at the scars on his stomach,” Beatrix told Thomas. “And the fresh wounds around his neck. They’ve struck him with the bull hook in places where it’s not as likely to show.”
“His hide looks right thick,” Thomas observed. “Maybe he doesn’t feel it.”
“You think not? When something tears the skin until it bleeds, it is painful, Thomas.”
The boy looked contrite. Before he could reply, however, they were interrupted by a harsh voice.
“What are you doing? Making mischief, are you? Get away from that animal, both of you!”
Beatrix stood slowly as a lean, hatchet-faced man approached them from inside the pen. He was dressed in rough clothes and a bowler hat with a rounded crown. One of his hands grasped a long implement with a large iron hook at the end.
“We meant no harm,” Beatrix said, trying to sound conciliatory, even though she was filled with hostility at the sight of a man approaching a helpless animal with a weapon.
“If you want to see the animals, you’ll have to pay tuppence like everyone else.”
“Is the elephant ill?” Beatrix asked.
The man responded with a scornful laugh. “No, only lazy.” He brandished the bull hook. “He’ll show some spirit before I’m through.”