In "The Fifth Elephant" Acting Captain Colon (normally known as Sergeant Fred Colon) is obsessed about missing sugar lumps. During the course of the story more and more sugar lumps go missing.

It started with this passage:

Visit saluted. It was probably the only way to get out of there alive. One of Colon's eyes was twitching.

"However, you could redeem yourself," said Colon, "if you was to tell me who has been stealing, I said stealing, the sugar lumps."


"I knows there was forty-three last night. I counted 'em very thoroughly. There's fortyone this morning, constable. And they're locked in the desk. Can you explain that?"

If Visit had been suicidal and honest, he would have said: well, captain, while of course I think you have many worthy qualities, I have known you count your fingers twice and come up with different answers.

"Er... mice?" he said weakly.

"Hah! Off you go, lance-constable, and just you think about what I said!"

However it was picked up several times in the story for example in a dialog with the Patrician:

"Sah!" Colon leaned forward, his face twisted in a ghastly grimace of conspiratoriality. "Between you and me, sir, Commander Vimes was a good deal too soft on them. He let them get away with too much. No sugar is safe, sah!"

I have read the story twice but I still don't know what happened to the sugar lumps. Is there any hint or actual explanation (that I overlooked) in the story?


1 Answer 1


Although his obsession with sugar is a symptom of his greater mental collapse (as well as a fairly obvious homage to Captain Queeg) the implication is that he was, initially, simply miscounting them.

If Visit had been suicidal and honest, he had said: Well, Captain, while of course I think you have many worthy qualities, I have known you to count your fingers twice and come up with different answers.

Later on he was seen eating them himself, possibly (and presumably) without noticing.

His hand went down to the desk and came back automatically, while he looked straight ahead.
There was the crunch of a sugar lump being eaten.

He was also putting them in his tea.

He counted the sugar again. Twenty-nine. But he’d had two in his tea, so that was all right. Toughness was paying off.

  • 7
    The main point was that having been put into a position of power, Fred developed a large amount of anxiety and paranoia about even the smallest things, like the sugar cubes. And that as a result of that anxiety, he was subconsciously eating the sugar cubes himself. So the more worried he got about everything, the more he caused the problems that were making him worried.
    – ConMan
    Jun 14, 2017 at 1:15
  • 6
    @ConMan - Nearly. The cubes represented something over which he shold have had near-absolute control. Unfortunately he's both illiterate and innumerate
    – Valorum
    Jun 14, 2017 at 2:12

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