Authors: Christine Sparks
THE ELEPHANT MAN
A classic story for all time.
A major motion
captured the hearts
THE ELEPHANT MAN
A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1980 by Brooksfilms Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
“A wicked birth … monstrous … evil …”
The elderly man had come out of the shadows so suddenly that Dr. Frederick Treves had not been aware of him until he heard the shaking voice. He turned abruptly, trying to see the man by the poor light of the smoking oil lamps. He could just make out a ravaged face, the lips trembling, the eyes glazed with horror.
“I beg your pardon?” said Treves politely. “Did you speak to me?”
“Wicked,” the stranger whispered again. “For God’s sake leave this place.” He was sweating, and even in this gloom Treves’ professional eye told him that the man was on the verge of vomiting.
Treves looked back toward the little stage that had previously held his attention. In a large bell jar hung a “baby” that closer inspection revealed to be a china doll, with a large snake growing out of its neck. Labeled “The Deadly Fruit of Original Sin” it was the clumsiest of fakes, and Treves could see nothing in it to have so disturbed his companion. He wondered if he’d underestimated the effect of a few obvious tricks and a bit of dim lighting.
“I assure you it’s nothing but a fake,” he informed the elderly man kindly. “If you look closer you can see …”
“That,” the man interrupted him scornfully. “I can see through
But down there …” His lips began to shake again so violently that he was forced to clamp them firmly together. From somewhere in the long
canvas corridor behind him a commotion was growing.
“Get out of here,” he said. “For pity’s sake get out. Don’t go near that evil thing.”
Abruptly he burst into tears and pushed past Treves into another corridor that led to the exit. Without waiting any longer Treves plunged ahead in the direction from which the man had appeared. An excitement had taken possession of him. For the first time in this dull afternoon he had picked up a sniff of what he had come to the fun-fair to find. He could not have described what he was searching for. He only knew that he would know it when he found it.
That summer of 1889 was a good one for fun-fairs. Show after show had settled on London’s Hampstead Heath, and Treves had allowed his two young daughters to nag him into taking them to every one. Sometimes he would catch his wife’s accusing eye on him, for Anne knew only too well that his daughters’ pleasure was not his main motive. As soon as he decently could, he would dispatch the rest of his family to the swings and merry-go-rounds, while he made directly for the freak tent.
The freak tent today had been just like so many others he had entered that summer, a mass of black canvas corridors, poorly lit by oil lamps, occasionally opening into wider areas where exhibits lined the walls. The lighting on these exhibits was also kept low, the better to disguise their obvious trickery. Treves had seen it all so many times before, and he was bored to tears with fakes. He had begun to despair of ever making that one unique discovery that he was sure was waiting for him somewhere.
Until today … until this minute. Now hope and anticipation drew him forward like a magnet. That old man had been genuinely appalled by whatever he had seen. There had been none of the cheerful bravado that audiences at these shows reserved for the freaks that in their hearts they knew were false.
As Treves pushed ahead he could hear a growing
noise behind him, and without warning he was shoved aside by two policemen who swept down the corridor with a purposeful air. Up ahead they apparently encountered some difficulty, for they were shouting “Make way, Make way!”—an injunction to which nobody seemed to be paying heed.
Treves almost collided with a man coming back down the corridor holding a small boy in his arms. The child was clutching his father’s neck in terror, while the man muttered to no one in particular.
“This is too much. They should not allow it—they should not allow it.”
Treves’ excitement quickened. He felt like a hound that has scented the prey, and he realized that he had somehow become the leader of a little crowd all bent on the same ghoulish errand.
At the far end the passage widened to accommodate a stage that was sideways, so that he could not see what it contained. A woman brushed past him, pulling a little girl with a frightened face. Getting closer to the commotion Treves could see four policemen and a well-dressed, official-looking man, whom he guessed was an alderman, arguing with a disreputable individual who wore shabby clothes, four days’ growth of beard, and a stove-pipe hat that looked as if someone might once have taken a punch at it. He was paying little heed to the alderman’s attempts to remonstrate with him, as his attention was taken by a hysterical woman who was pummeling him about the head and shoulders, crying, “Beast beast …”
Apart from his presumed occupation as freak exhibitor, there seemed nothing particularly beastly about the man. The horror therefore lay on the stage. But as Treves moved sideways to see if he could get a good view, he found his way blocked by one of the policemen.
“No, that’s right out. Sorry sir, no more viewing,” the policeman turned and yelled over his shoulder. “Drop that curtain.”
As the curtain fell Treves’ darting eyes managed to catch a glimpse of baggy trouser cuffs, out of which projected two horribly deformed feet—so knotted with veins and lumps, and so covered with scaly skin that at first he took them to be roots. He felt a sense of shock, for even that quick sight had been enough to convince him that this exhibit bore no relation to the frauds he had seen earlier that afternoon. Whatever was behind that curtain was genuinely monstrous.
For an irritated moment he contemplated arguing with the policeman who was barring his way, then he abandoned the idea. There would be no getting past that implacably solid face.
The woman who had been attacking the owner had now been pulled away and was sobbing on the shoulder of an embarrassed policeman. The owner brushed himself down and yelled at the alderman. Though husky, his voice had an oddly cultivated accent at variance with his appearance and method of earning a living.
“You can’t do that!” he was protesting. “I’ve got my rights!”
“I have the authority to close you down,” the alderman said firmly, “and I’m doing just that.”
Treves edged away from the policeman to where he could get a good view of the front of the stage, now covered by the curtain. His sharp eyes had spotted a boy of about ten staring at the curtain with the same ghoulish glee most people reserved for the actual exhibits. When he got closer Treves could see why.
The creature depicted there could have been possible only in a nightmare. It was a crudely painted, life-size portrait of a man turning into an elephant. Palm trees in the background suggested the jungle habitat in which this perverted creature might once have roamed. To Treves the most horrible aspect, as he suspected it was intended to be, was that the transformation was less than half complete. There was still more man than elephant. Through the crude garish strokes the artist had somehow managed to depict the agony of a
man undergoing a hideous transformation that he had no power to stop.
The crowd was vanishing now, and there was no one to prevent Treves from edging his way quietly toward the curtain. The alderman and the exhibitor continued to rage at each other.
“This exhibit degrades all who see it, as well as the poor creature himself,” insisted the alderman.
“He’s a freak!” the other bellowed. “How else is he to live?”
“Freaks are one thing. No one objects to freaks, but this is entirely different. This is monstrous and ought not to be allowed. These officers will see to it that you are on your way as soon as possible. Good day!”
He turned sharply and left the tent, leaving the other man to shake his head in disgust and mutter, “Moving again. My treasure.”
Treves had reached the canvas by now. His hand stretched out Another moment and he would lift the edge of that curtain and see …
“Have a care my friend.”
Treves jumped as a large meaty hand came down on his own. Beer fumes were blown into his face, and he found himself looking directly into the piggy eyes of the exhibitor.
“Forgive me…,” he murmured, and moved away.
He wasted no more time where obviously nothing further could be learned today. Moving ahead of him toward the exit, he could just see the urchin who had been staring at the painted canvas. Treves quickened his step, anxious not to lose him in the crowd, and caught up with the boy at the exit. A short conversation ensued, businesslike on both sides. A shilling changed hands. By the time Treves went off to find his wife and children, he was sure he and the boy understood each other perfectly.
As soon as he emerged into the cool dusk air, he could see his wife, with their daughters, just coming out of another tent. Kate, his younger child, was talking
a mile a minute. Treves gave an unconscious smile. It was always Kate who was talking.
He fixed his eyes on his wife. At this distance she looked barely more than the girl of twenty he had married fourteen years before. The beauty that had taken his breath away then was settling now into domestic plumpness, but she was still an extraordinarily pretty woman.
He knew he had worn less well. Long hours and a fanatical absorption in his work had worn premature lines on his face and given his skin an unhealthy pallor. And the neatly trimmed beard that covered the lower part of his face only partly obscured the fact that he looked older than his thirty-eight years.
Treves combined the ardent soul of an adventurer with the settled ways of a man who liked neatness and order. Having once fallen in love with Anne, he found it more convenient to continue loving her. To have ceased to do so would have caused disharmony, annoyance, and inconvenience that might have interfered with the exciting part of his life, which was his work as a doctor. It was true that his love for her had also, in its turn, acquired a certain domestic plumpness but, as befitted a man of common sense, he kept it in prosperous condition.
She did not see him now. She was absorbed in the effort of staying calm in the shattering din. She was a small woman, and the waves of shrill music seemed to beat on her, but her face was resolutely set as she put a protective arm round each of her little girls’ shoulders.
Treves noted with amusement that neither child seemed to notice, or need, the gesture. They were enchanted by their surroundings, giving up themselves happily to the lights, the violent atmosphere. Their childish callousness contrasted sharply with their mother’s flinching vulnerability.