a baby elephant for christmas -- 12/24/14

Today's selection -- from A Mark Twain Christmas by Carlo Devito. In 1908 Mark Twain received a note from Robert Joseeph Collier of Collier & Son, a longtime friend and influential publisher, who had courted Twain with offers to publish an inexpensive uniform edition of his works that would be sold on the installment plan. The note informed Twain of the arrival of a very special Christmas present. A baby elephant to be delivered to his home Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, on Christmas Day:

"In December of 1908, Robert J. Collier had sent a letter to Twain at Stormfield informing him that a large Christmas present -- a baby elephant! -- was on its way.... Collier added in his letter that the baby elephant, Twain's Christmas present, would be sent as soon as he could reserve a rail car for it. The Barnum & Bailey Circus headquarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was loaning Collier a keeper to oversee the transport and delivery of the animal to his friend.

"'The news created a disturbance in Stormfield,' wrote Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine. 'One could not refuse, discourteously and abruptly, a costly present like that; but it seemed a disaster to accept it. An elephant would require a roomy and warm place, also a variety of attention which Stormfield was not prepared to supply .... There was no good place to put an elephant in Stormfield.' ...

"Twain hated telephones, so his secretary was dispatched to intercede.

"'Oh, put him in the garage,' Collier told Twain's secretary, Isabelle Lyon.

"'But there's no heat in the garage,' responded the flustered and nervous Ms. Lyon.

"'Well, put him in the loggia, then. That's closed in, isn't it, for the winter? Plenty of sunlight -- just the place for a young elephant,' said Collier.

"'But we play cards in the loggia,' said the flustered secretary. 'We use it for a sort of sun-parlor.'

"'But that wouldn't matter. He's a kindly, playful little thing. He'll be just like a kitten. I'll send the man up to look over the place and tell you just how to take care of him, and I'll send up several bales of hay in advance. It isn't a large elephant, you know: just a little one -- a regular plaything,' concluded the publisher of one of America's bestselling magazines. Ms. Lyon was at her wit's end.

"'There was nothing further to be done; only to wait and dread until the Christmas present's arrival,' Paine recalled. 'A few days before Christmas ten bales of hay arrived and several bushels of carrots. This store of provender aroused no enthusiasm at Stormfield. It would seem there was no escape now.'

Paine wrote, 'On Christmas morning Mr. Lounsbury telephoned up that there was a man at the station who said he was an elephant-trainer from Barnum & Bailey's, sent by Mr. Collier to look at the elephant's quarters and get him settled when he should arrive. Orders were given to bring the man over. The day of doom was at hand.

"'But Lounsbury's detective instinct came once more into play. He had seen a good many elephant trainers at Bridgeport, and he thought this one had a doubtful look.

" 'Where is the elephant?' Harry Lounsbury asked, as they drove along.

" 'He will arrive at noon.'

" 'Where are you going to put him?' " 'In the loggia,' said the trainer.

" 'How big is he?'

" 'About the size of a cow.'

" 'How long have you been with Barnum and Bailey?'

" 'Six years.'

" 'Then you must know some friends of mine' (naming two that had no existence until that moment).

" 'Oh yes, indeed. I know them well.'

"'Lounsbury didn't say any more just then, but he had a feeling that perhaps the dread at Stormfield had grown unnecessarily large. Something told him that this man seemed rather more like a butler, or a valet, than an elephant-trainer. They drove to Stormfield,
and the trainer looked over the place. It would do perfectly, he said. He gave a few instructions as to the care of this new household feature, and was driven back to the station to bring it,' recorded Paine.

"'Lounsbury came back by and by, bringing the elephant but not the trainer,' Paine wrote. 'It didn't need a trainer. It was a beautiful specimen, with soft, smooth coat and handsome trappings, perfectly quiet, well-behaved and small-suited to the loggia, as Collier had said -- for it was only two feet long and beautifully made of cloth and cotton -- one of the fairest toy elephants ever seen anywhere.'

Twain's baby elephant

"Twain loved the deception, and marveled at his friend's gag. Twain wrote Robert Collier, threatening revenge for letting the beast loose on his estate, declaring that the elephant was devastating Stormfield. 'To send an elephant in a trance, under pretense that it was dead or stuffed!' Twain wrote. 'The animal came to life, as you knew it would, and began to observe Christmas, and we now have no furniture left and no servants and no visitors, no friends, no photographs, no burglars-nothing but the elephant. Be kind, be merciful, be generous; take him away and send us what is left of the earthquake.'

"Not to be outdone, Collier retorted to Twain that he thought it unkind of him to look a gift-elephant in the trunk!


Carlo DeVito


A Mark Twain Christmas


Cider Mill Press


Copyright 2013 Carlo DeVito


15, 17, 26-30
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