The Elephant Box

During the winter tour of the Pacific (summer in the antipodes!), Oliver Saxe-Coburg—Encyclopedia Boy, freakshow phenom, world’s smartest kid, and purported third cousin thrice removed of King George V—could not but be aware of the epidemic of sneak-drinking on the SS Carnatic. His father was as great a transgressor as any showman aboard, judging from the fumes he brought wafting into the stateroom late at night, barking his shins and uttering very bad words as he removed his trousers in the dark while faint, rippling ovals of sea light searched him out through the portholes. By day, slyly encouraged by Mother’s smile, Ollie drew Dad’s ire when he tried to talk him out of drinking. Particularly when he cited the ALCOHOLISM entry in the Encyclopedia Americana. There is no doubt, it held, that physiologically alcohol is always a poison (vol. I, p. 348). Still, Dad and his Cossack and roughrider pals were not in the same league—nobody was—as July the elephant, who’d degenerated into a lush since the Famous Eberhard & Morrison Consolidated Railroad Show, Jungle Oddities, and Congress of Nations had sailed from Seattle in November 1917.

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