THE JUNGLE BOOK (cont.)
Book I (cont) - Chapters XI - XVII
Continued from kipling
|XI.||The King's Ankus|
|XII.||The Song of the Little Hunter|
|XV.||The Spring Running|
|XVII.||In the Rukh|
The Second Jungle Book
These are the Four that are never content, that have never been filled since the Dews began --Kaa, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot that he owed his life to Kaa for a night’s work at Cold Lairs, which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him. Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful. Kaa never made fun of Mowgli any more, but accepted him, as the other Jungle People did, for the Master of the Jungle, and brought him all the news that a python of his size would naturally hear. What Kaa did not know about the Middle Jungle, as they call it, -- the life that runs close to the earth or under it, the boulder, burrow, and the tree-bole life, -- might have been written upon the smallest of his scales.
Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite, and the hands of the Ape, and the Eyes of Man.
-- Jungle Saying.
That afternoon Mowgli was sitting in the circle of Kaa’s great coils, fingering the flaked and broken old skin that lay all looped and twisted among the rocks just as Kaa had left it. Kaa had very courteously packed himself under Mowgli’s broad, bare shoulders, so that the boy was really resting in a living arm-chair.
"Even to the scales of the eyes it is perfect," said Mowgli, under his breath, playing with the old skin. "Strange to see the covering of one’s own head at one’s own feet!"
"Aye, but I lack feet," said Kaa; "and since this is the custom of all my people, I do not find it strange. Does thy skin never feel old and harsh?"
"Then go I and wash, Flathead; but, it is true, in the great heats I have wished I could slough my skin without pain, and run skinless."
"I wash, and also I take off my skin. How looks the new coat?"
Mowgli ran his hand down the diagonal checkerings of the immense back. "The Turtle is harder-backed, but not so gay," he said judgmatically. "The Frog, my name-bearer, is more gay, but not so hard. It is very beautiful to see -- like the mottling in the mouth of a lily."
"It needs water. A new skin never comes to full colour before the first bath. Let us go bathe."
"I will carry thee," said Mowgli; and he stooped down, laughing, to lift the middle section of Kaa’s great body, just where the barrel was thickest. A man might just as well have tried to heave up a two-foot water-main; and Kaa lay still, puffing with quiet amusement. Then the regular evening game began -- the boy in the flush of his great strength, and the Python in his sumptuous new skin, standing up one against the other for a wrestling-match -- a trial of eye and strength. Of course, Kaa could have crushed a dozen Mowglis if he had let himself go; but he played carefully, and never loosed one tenth of his power. Ever since Mowgli was strong enough to endure a little rough handling, Kaa had taught him this game, and it suppled his limbs as nothing else could. Sometimes Mowgli would stand lapped almost to his throat in Kaa’s shifting coils, striving to get one arm free and catch him by the throat. Then Kaa would give way limply, and Mowgli, with both quick-moving feet, would try to cramp the purchase of that huge tail as it flung backward feeling for a rock or a stump. They would rock to and fro, head to head, each waiting for his chance, till the beautiful, statue-like group melted in a whirl of black-and-yellow coils and struggling legs and arms, to rise up again and again. "Now! now! now!" said Kaa, making feints with his head that even Mowgli’s quick hand could not turn aside. "Look! I touch thee here, Little Brother! Here, and here! Are thy hands numb? Here again!"
The game always ended in one way -- with a straight, driving blow of the head that knocked the boy over and over. Mowgli could never learn the guard for that lightning lunge, and, as Kaa said, there was not the least use in trying.
"Good hunting!" Kaa grunted at last; and Mowgli, as usual, was shot away half a dozen yards, gasping and laughing. He rose with his fingers full of grass, and followed Kaa to the wise snake’s pet bathing-place -- a deep, pitchy-black pool surrounded with rocks, and made interesting by sunken tree-stumps. The boy slipped in, Jungle-fashion, without a sound, and dived across; rose, too, without a sound, and turned on his back, his arms behind his head, watching the moon rising above the rocks, and breaking up her reflection in the water with his toes. Kaa’s diamond-shaped head cut the pool like a razor, and came out to rest on Mowgli’s shoulder. They lay still, soaking luxuriously in the cool water.
"It is very good," said Mowgli at last, sleepily. "Now, in the Man-Pack, at this hour, as I remember, they laid them down upon hard pieces of wood in the inside of a mud-trap, and, having carefully shut out all the clean winds, drew foul cloth over their heavy heads, and made evil songs through their noses. It is better in the Jungle."
A hurrying cobra slipped down over a rock and drank, gave them "Good hunting!" and went away.
"Sssh!" said Kaa, as though he had suddenly remembered something. "So the Jungle gives thee all that thou hast ever desired, Little Brother?"
"Not all," said Mowgli, laughing; "else there would be a new and strong Shere Khan to kill once a moon. Now, I could kill with my own hands, asking no help of buffaloes. And also I have wished the sun to shine in the middle of the Rains, and the Rains to cover the sun in the deep of summer; and also I have never gone empty but I wished that I had killed a goat; and also I have never killed a goat but I wished it had been buck; nor buck but I wished it had been nilghai. But thus do we feel, all of us."
"Thou hast no other desire?" the big snake demanded.
"What more can I wish? I have the Jungle, and the favour of the Jungle! Is there more anywhere between sunrise and sunset?"
"Now, the Cobra said --" Kaa began.
"What cobra? He that went away just now said nothing. He was hunting."
"It was another."
"Hast thou many dealings with the Poison People? I give them their own path. They carry death in the fore-tooth, and that is not good -- for they are so small. But what hood is this thou hast spoken with?"
Kaa rolled slowly in the water like a steamer in a beam sea. "Three or four moons since," said he, "I hunted in Cold Lairs, which place thou hast not forgotten. And the thing I hunted fled shrieking past the tanks and to that house whose side I once broke for thy sake, and ran into the ground."
"But the people of Cold Lairs do not live in burrows." Mowgli knew that Kaa was talking of the Monkey People.
"This thing was not living, but seeking to live," Kaa replied, with a quiver of his tongue. "He ran into a burrow that led very far. I followed, and having killed, I slept. When I waked I went forward."
"Under the earth?"
"Even so, coming at last upon a White Hood [a white cobra], who spoke of things beyond my knowledge, and showed me many things I had never before seen."
"New game? Was it good hunting?" Mowgli turned quickly on his side.
"It was no game, and would have broken all my teeth; but the White Hood said that a man -- he spoke as one that knew the breed -- that a man would give the breath under his ribs for only the sight of those things."
"We will look," said Mowgli. "I now remember that I was once a man."
"Slowly -- slowly. It was haste killed the Yellow Snake that ate the sun. We two spoke together under the earth, and I spoke of thee, naming thee as a man. Said the White Hood (and he is indeed as old as the Jungle): ‘It is long since I have seen a man. Let him come, and he shall see all these things, for the least of which very many men would die."
"That must be new game. And yet the Poison People do not tell us when game is afoot. They are an unfriendly folk."
"It is not game. It is -- it is -- I cannot say what it is."
"We will go there. I have never seen a White Hood, and I wish to see the other things. Did he kill them?"
"They are all dead things. He says he is the keeper of them all."
"Ah! As a wolf stands above meat he has taken to his own lair. Let us go."
Mowgli swam to bank, rolled on the grass to dry himself, and the two set off for Cold Lairs, the deserted city of which you may have heard. Mowgli was not the least afraid of the Monkey People in those days, but the Monkey People had the liveliest horror of Mowgli. Their tribes, however, were raiding in the Jungle, and so Cold Lairs stood empty and silent in the moonlight. Kaa led up to the ruins of the queen’s pavilion that stood on the terrace, slipped over the rubbish, and dived down the half-choked staircase that went underground from the center of the pavilion. Mowgli gave the snake-call, -- "We be of one blood, ye and I," -- and followed on his hands and knees. They crawled a long distance down a sloping passage that turned and twisted several times, and at last came to where the root of some great tree, growing thirty feet overhead, had forced out a solid stone in the wall. They crept through the gap, and found themselves in a large vault, whose domed roof had been also broken away by tree-roots so that a few streaks of light dropped down into the darkness.
"A safe lair," said Mowgli, rising to his firm feet, "but over far to visit daily. And now what do we see?"
"Am I nothing?" said a voice in the middle of the vault; and Mowgli saw something white move till, little by little, there stood up the hugest cobra he had ever set eyes on -- a creature nearly eight feet long, and bleached by being in darkness to an old ivory-white. Even the spectacle-marks of his spread hood had faded to faint yellow. His eyes were as red as rubies, and altogether he was most wonderful.
"Good hunting!" said Mowgli, who carried his manners with his knife, and that never left him.
"What of my city?" said the White Cobra, without answering the greeting. "What of the great, the walled city -- the city of a hundred elephants and twenty thousand horses, and cattle past counting -- the city of the King of Twenty Kings? I grow deaf here, and it is long since I heard their war-gongs."
"The Jungle is above our heads," said Mowgli. "I know only Hathi and his sons among elephants. Bagheera has slain all the horses in one village, and -- what is a King?"
"I told thee," said Kaa softly to the Cobra -- "I told thee, four moons ago, that thy city was not."
"The city -- the great city of the forest whose gates are guarded by the King’s towers -- can never pass. They builded it before my father’s father came from the egg, and it shall endure when my son’s sons are as white as I! Salomdhi, son of Chandrabija, son of Viyeja, son of Yegasuri, made it in the days of Bappa Rawal. Whose cattle are ye?"
"It is a lost trail," said Mowgli, turning to Kaa. "I know not his talk."
"Nor I. He is very old. Father of Cobras, there is only the Jungle here, as it has been since the beginning."
"Then who is he," said the White Cobra, "sitting down before me, unafraid, knowing not the name of the King, talking our talk through a man’s lips? Who is he with the knife and the snake’s tongue?"
"Mowgli they call me," was the answer. "I am of the Jungle. The wolves are my people, and Kaa here is my brother. Father of Cobras, who art thou?"
"I am the Warden of the King’s Treasure. Kurrun Raja builded the stone above me, in the days when my skin was dark, that I might teach death to those who came to steal. Then they let down the treasure through the stone, and I heard the song of the Brahmins my masters."
"Umm!" said Mowgli to himself. "I have dealt with one Brahmin already, in the Man-Pack, and -- I know what I know. Evil comes here in a little."
"Five times since I came here has the stone been lifted, but always to let down more, and never to take away. There are no riches like these riches -- the treasures of a hundred kings. But it is long and long since the stone was last moved, and I think that my city has forgotten."
"There is no city. Look up. Yonder are roots of the great trees tearing the stones apart. Trees and men do not grow together," Kaa insisted.
"Twice and thrice have men found their way here," the White Cobra answered savagely; "but they never spoke till I came upon them groping in the dark, and then they cried only a little time. But ye come with lies, Man and Snake both, and would have me believe the city is not, and that my wardship ends. Little do men change in the years. But I change never! Till the stone is lifted, and the Brahmins come down singing the songs that I know, and feed me with warm milk, and take me to the light again, I -- I -- I, and no other, am the Warden of the King’s Treasure! The city is dead, ye say, and here are the roots of the trees? Stoop down, then, and take what ye will. Earth has no treasure like to these. Man with the snake’s tongue, if thou canst go alive by the way that thou hast entered at, the lesser Kings will be thy servants!"
"Again the trail is lost," said Mowgli, coolly. "Can any jackal have burrowed so deep and bitten this great White Hood? He is surely mad. Father of Cobras, I see nothing here to take away."
"By the Gods of the Sun and Moon, it is the madness of death upon the boy!" hissed the Cobra. "Before thine eyes close I will allow thee this favour. Look thou, and see what man has never seen before!"
"They do not well in the Jungle who speak to Mowgli of favours," said the boy, between his teeth; "but the dark changes all, as I know. I will look, if that please thee."
He stared with puckered-up eyes round the vault, and then lifted up from the floor a handful of something that glittered.
"Oho!" said he, "this is like the stuff they play with in the Man-Pack: only this is yellow and the other was brown."
He let the gold pieces fall, and moved forward. The floor of the vault was buried some five or six feet deep in coined gold and silver that had burst from the sacks it had been originally stored in, and, in the long years, the metal had packed and settled as sand packs at low tide. On it and in it, and rising through it, as wrecks lift through the sand, were jewelled elephant-howdahs of embossed silver, studded with plates of hammered gold, and adorned with carbuncles and turquoises. There were palanquins and litters for carrying queens, framed and braced with silver and enamel, with jade-handled poles and amber curtain-rings; there were golden candlesticks hung with pierced emeralds that quivered on the branches; there were studded images, five feet high, of forgotten gods, silver with jewelled eyes; there were coats of mail, gold inlaid on steel, and fringed with rotted and blackened seed-pearls; there were helmets, crested and beaded with pigeon’s-blood rubies; there were shields of lacquer, of tortoiseshell and rhinoceros-hide, strapped and bossed with red gold and set with emeralds at the edge; there were sheaves of diamond-hilted swords, daggers, and hunting-knives; there were golden sacrificial bowls and ladles, and portable altars of a shape that never see the light of day; there were jade cups and bracelets; there were incense-burners, combs, and pots for perfume, henna, and eye-powder, all in embossed gold; there were nose-rings, armlets, head-bands, finger-rings, and girdles past any counting; there were belts, seven fingers broad, of square-cut diamonds and rubies, and wooden boxes, trebly clamped with iron, from which the wood had fallen away in powder, showing the pile of uncut star-sapphires, opals, cat’s-eyes, sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and garnets within.
The White Cobra was right. No mere money would begin to pay the value of this treasure, the sifted pickings of centuries of war, plunder, trade, and taxation. The coins alone were priceless, leaving out of count all the precious stones; and the dead weight of the gold and silver alone might be two or three hundred tons. Every native ruler in India to-day, however poor, has a hoard to which he is always adding; and though, once in a long while, some enlightened prince may send off forty or fifty bullock-cart loads of silver to be exchanged for Government securities, the bulk of them keep their treasure and the knowledge of it very closely to themselves.
But Mowgli naturally did not understand what these things meant. The knives interested him a little, but they did not balance so well as his own, and so he dropped them. At last he found something really fascinating laid on the front of a howdah half buried in the coins. It was a three-foot ankus, or elephant-goad -- something like a small boat-hook. The top was one round, shining ruby, and twelve inches of the handle below it were studded with rough turquoises close together, giving a most satisfactory grip. Below them was a rim of jade with a flower-pattern running round it -- only the leaves were emeralds, and the blossoms were rubies sunk in the cool, green stone. The rest of the handle was a shaft of pure ivory, while the point -- the spike and hook -- was gold-inlaid steel with pictures of elephant-catching; and the pictures attracted Mowgli, who saw that they had something to do with his friend Hathi the Silent.
The White Cobra had been following him closely.
"Is this not worth dying to behold?" he said. "Have I not done thee a great favour?"
"I do not understand," said Mowgli. "The things are hard and cold, and by no means good to eat. But this" -- he lifted the ankus -- "I desire to take away, that I may see it in the sun. Thou sayest they are all thine? Wilt thou give it to me, and I will bring thee frogs to eat?"
The White Cobra fairly shook with evil delight. "Assuredly I will give it," he said. "All that is here I will give thee -- till thou goest away."
"But I go now. This place is dark and cold, and I wish to take the thorn-pointed thing to the Jungle."
"Look by thy foot! What is that there?"
Mowgli picked up something white and smooth. "It is the bone of a man’s head," he said quietly. "And here are two more."
"They came to take the treasure away many years ago. I spoke to them in the dark, and they lay still."
"But what do I need of this that is called treasure? If thou wilt give me the ankus to take away, it is good hunting. If not, it is good hunting none the less. I do not fight with the Poison People, and I was also taught the Master-word of thy tribe."
"There is but one Master-word here. It is mine!"
Kaa flung himself forward with blazing eyes. "Who bade me bring the Man?" he hissed.
"I surely," the old Cobra lisped. "It is long since I have seen Man, and this Man speaks our tongue."
"But there was no talk of killing. How can I go to the Jungle and say that I have led him to his death?" said Kaa.
"I talk not of killing till the time. And as to thy going or not going, there is the hole in the wall. Peace, now, thou fat monkey-killer! I have but to touch thy neck, and the Jungle will know thee no longer. Never Man came here that went away with the breath under his ribs. I am the Warden of the Treasure of the King’s City!"
"But, thou white worm of the dark, I tell thee there is neither king nor city! The Jungle is all about us!" cried Kaa.
"There is still the Treasure. But this can be done. Wait awhile, Kaa of the Rocks, and see the boy run. There is room for great sport here. Life is good. Run to and fro awhile, and make sport, boy!"
Mowgli put his hand on Kaa’s head quietly.
"The white thing has dealt with men of the Man-Pack until now. He does not know me," he whispered. "He has asked for this hunting. Let him have it." Mowgli had been standing with the ankus held point down. He flung it from him quickly, and it dropped crossways just behind the great snake’s hood, pinning him to the floor. In a flash, Kaa’s weight was upon the writhing body, paralyzing it from hood to tail.
The red eyes burned, and the six spare inches of the head struck furiously right and left.
"Kill!" said Kaa, as Mowgli’s hand went to his knife.
"No," he said, as he drew the blade; "I will never kill again save for food. But look you, Kaa!" He caught the snake behind the hood, forced the mouth open with the blade of the knife, and showed the terrible poison-fangs of the upper jaw lying black and withered in the gum. The White Cobra had outlived his poison, as a snake will.
"Thuu" ("It is dried up"), (1) said Mowgli; and motioning Kaa away, he picked up the ankus, setting the White Cobra free.
"The King’s Treasure needs a new Warden," he said gravely. "Thuu, thou hast not done well. Run to and fro and make sport, Thuu!"
"I am ashamed. Kill me!" hissed the White Cobra.
"There has been too much talk of killing. We will go now. I take the thorn-pointed thing, Thuu, because I have fought and worsted thee."
"See, then, that the thing does not kill thee at last. It is Death! Remember, it is Death! There is enough in that thing to kill the men of all my city. Not long wilt thou hold it, Jungle Man, nor he who takes it from thee. They will kill, and kill, and kill for its sake! My strength is dried up, but the ankus will do my work. It is Death! It is Death! It is Death!"
Mowgli crawled out through the hole into the passage again, and the last that he saw was the White Cobra striking furiously with his harmless fangs at the stolid golden faces of the gods that lay on the floor, and hissing, "It is Death!"
They were glad to get to the light of day once more; and when they were back in their own Jungle and Mowgli made the ankus glitter in the morning light, he was almost as pleased as though he had found a bunch of new flowers to stick in his hair.
"This is brighter than Bagheera’s eyes," he said delightedly, as he twirled the ruby. "I will show it to him; but what did the Thuu mean when he talked of death?"
"I cannot say. I am sorrowful to my tail’s tail that he felt not thy knife. There is always evil at Cold Lairs -- above ground or below. But now I am hungry. Dost thou hunt with me this dawn?" said Kaa.
"No; Bagheera must see this thing. Good hunting!" Mowgli danced off, flourishing the great ankus, and stopping from time to time to admire it, till he came to that part of the Jungle Bagheera chiefly used, and found him drinking after a heavy kill. Mowgli told him all his adventures from beginning to end, and Bagheera sniffed at the ankus between whiles. When Mowgli came to the White Cobra’s last words, the Panther purred approvingly.
"Then the White Hood spoke the thing which is?" Mowgli asked quickly.
"I was born in the King’s cages at Oodeypore, and it is in my stomach that I know some little of Man. Very many men would kill thrice in a night for the sake of that one big red stone alone."
"But the stone makes it heavy to the hand. My little bright knife is better; and -- see! the red stone is not good to eat. Then why would they kill?"
"Mowgli, go thou and sleep. Thou hast lived among men, and --"
"I remember. Men kill because they are not hunting; -- for idleness and pleasure. Wake again, Bagheera. For what use was this thorn-pointed thing made?"
Bagheera half opened his eyes -- he was very sleepy -- with a malicious twinkle.
"It was made by men to thrust into the head of the sons of Hathi, so that the blood should pour out. I have seen the like in the street of Oodeypore, before our cages. That thing has tasted the blood of many such as Hathi."
"But why do they thrust into the heads of elephants?"
"To teach them Man’s Law. Having neither claws nor teeth, men make these things -- and worse."
"Always more blood when I come near, even to the things the Man-Pack have made," said Mowgli, disgustedly. He was getting a little tired of the weight of the ankus. "If I had known this, I would not have taken it. First it was Messua’s blood on the thongs, and now it is Hathi’s. I will use it no more. Look!"
The ankus flew sparkling, and buried itself point down thirty yards away, between the trees. "So my hands are clean of Death," said Mowgli, rubbing his palms on the fresh, moist earth. "The Thuu said Death would follow me. He is old and white and mad."
"White or black, or death or life, I am going to sleep, Little Brother. I cannot hunt all night and howl all day, as do some folk."
Bagheera went off to a hunting-lair that he knew, about two miles off. Mowgli made an easy way for himself up a convenient tree, knotted three or four creepers together, and in less time than it takes to tell was swinging in a hammock fifty feet above ground. Though he had no positive objection to strong daylight, Mowgli followed the custom of his friends, and used it as little as he could. When he waked among the very loud-voiced peoples that live in the trees, it was twilight once more, and he had been dreaming of the beautiful pebbles he had thrown away.
"At least I will look at the thing again," he said, and slid down a creeper to the earth; but Bagheera was before him. Mowgli could hear him snuffing in the half light.
"Where is the thorn-pointed thing?" cried Mowgli.
"A man has taken it. Here is the trail."
"Now we shall see whether the Thuu spoke truth. If the pointed thing is Death, that man will die. Let us follow."
"Kill first," said Bagheera. "An empty stomach makes a careless eye. Men go very slowly, and the Jungle is wet enough to hold the lightest mark."
They killed as soon as they could, but it was nearly three hours before they finished their meat and drink and buckled down to the trail. The Jungle People know that nothing makes up for being hurried over your meals.
"Think you the pointed thing will turn in the man’s hand and kill him?" Mowgli asked. "The Thuu said it was Death."
"We shall see when we find," said Bagheera, trotting with his head low. "It is single-foot" (he meant that there was only one man), "and the weight of the thing has pressed his heel far into the ground."
"Hai! This is as clear as summer lightning," Mowgli answered; and they fell into the quick, choppy trail-trot in and out through the checkers of the moonlight, following the marks of those two bare feet.
"Now he runs swiftly," said Mowgli. "The toes are spread apart." They went on over some wet ground. "Now why does he turn aside here?"
"Wait!" said Bagheera, and flung himself forward with one superb bound as far as ever he could. The first thing to do when a trail ceases to explain itself is to cast forward without leaving your own confusing foot-marks on the ground. Bagheera turned as he landed, and faced Mowgli, crying, "Here comes another trail to meet him. It is a smaller foot, this second trail, and the toes turn inward."
Then Mowgli ran up and looked. "It is the foot of a Gond hunter," he said. "Look! Here he dragged his bow on the grass. That is why the first trail turned aside so quickly. Big Foot hid from Little Foot."
"That is true," said Bagheera. "Now, lest by crossing each other’s tracks we foul the signs, let each take one trail. I am Big Foot, Little Brother, and thou art Little Foot, the Gond."
Bagheera leaped back to the original trail, leaving Mowgli stooping above the curious narrow track of the wild little man of the woods.
"Now," said Bagheera, moving step by step along the chain of footprints, "I, Big Foot, turn aside here. Now I hide me behind a rock and stand still, not daring to shift my feet. Cry thy trail, Little Brother."
"Now, I, Little Foot, come to the rock," said Mowgli, running up his trail. "Nov, I sit down under the rock, leaning upon my right hand, and resting my bow between my toes. I wait long, for the mark of my feet is deep here."
"I also," said Bagheera, hidden behind the rock. "I wait, resting the end of the thorn-pointed thing upon a stone. It slips, for here is a scratch upon the stone. Cry thy trail, Little Brother."
"One, two twigs and a big branch are broken here," said Mowgli, in an undertone. "Now, how shall I cry that? Ah! It is plain now. I, Little Foot, go away making noises and tramplings so that Big Foot may hear me." He moved away from the rock pace by pace among the trees, his voice rising in the distance as he approached a little cascade. "I -- go -- far -- away -- to -- where -- the -- noise -- of -- falling -- water -- covers -- my -- noise; and -- here -- I -- wait. Cry thy trail, Bagheera, Big Foot!"
The panther had been casting in every direction to see how Big Foot’s trail led away from behind the rock. Then he gave tongue:
"I come from behind the rock upon my knees, dragging the thorn-pointed thing. Seeing no one, I run. I, Big Foot, run swiftly. The trail is clear. Let each follow his own. I run!"
Bagheera swept on along the clearly marked trail, and Mowgli followed the steps of the Gond. For some time there was silence in the Jungle.
"Where art thou, Little Foot?" cried Bagheera. Mowgli’s voice answered him not fifty yards to the right.
"Um!" said the panther, with a deep cough. "The two run side by side, drawing nearer!"
They raced on another half mile, always keeping about the same distance, till Mowgli, whose head was not so close to the ground as Bagheera’s, cried: "They have met. Good hunting -- look! Here stood Little Foot, with his knee on a rock -- and yonder is Big Foot indeed!"
Not ten yards in front of them, stretched across a pile of broken rocks, lay the body of a villager of the district, a long, small-feathered Gond arrow through his back and breast.
"Was the Thuu so old and so mad, Little Brother?" said Bagheera gently. "Here is one death, at least."
"Follow on. But where is the drinker of elephant’s blood -- the red-eyed thorn?"
"Little Foot has it -- perhaps. It is single-foot again now."
The single trail of a light man who had been running quickly and bearing a burden on his left shoulder held on round a long, low spur of dried grass, where each footfall seemed, to the sharp eyes of the trackers, marked in hot iron.
Neither spoke till the trail ran up to the ashes of a camp-fire hidden in a ravine.
"Again!" said Bagheera, checking as though he had been turned into stone.
The body of a little wizened Gond lay with its feet in the ashes, and Bagheera looked inquiringly at Mowgli.
"That was done with a bamboo," said the boy, after one glance. "I have used such a thing among the buffaloes when I served in the Man-Pack. The Father of Cobras -- I am sorrowful that I made a jest of him -- knew the breed well, as I might have known. Said I not that men kill for idleness?"
"Indeed, they killed for the sake of the red and blue stones," Bagheera answered. "Remember, I was in the King’s cages at Oodeypore."
"One, two, three, four tracks," said Mowgli, stooping over the ashes. "Four tracks of men with shod feet. They do not go so quickly as Gonds. Now, what evil had the little woodman done to them? See, they talked together, all five, standing up, before they killed him. Bagheera, let us go back. My stomach is heavy in me, and yet it heaves up and down like an oriole’s nest at the end of a branch."
"It is not good hunting to leave game afoot. Follow!" said the panther. "Those eight shod feet have not gone far."
No more was said for fully an hour, as they worked up the broad trail of the four men with shod feet.
It was clear, hot daylight now, and Bagheera said, "I smell smoke."
"Men are always more ready to eat than to run," Mowgli answered, trotting in and out between the low scrub bushes of the new Jungle they were exploring. Bagheera, a little to his left, made an indescribable noise in his throat.
"Here is one that has done with feeding," said he. A tumbled bundle of gay-coloured clothes lay under a bush, and round it was some spilt flour.
"That was done by the bamboo again," said Mowgli. "See! that white dust is what men eat. They have taken the kill from this one, -- he carried their food, -- and given him for a kill to Chil, the Kite."
"It is the third," said Bagheera.
"I will go with new, big frogs to the Father of Cobras, and feed him fat," said Mowgli to himself. "The drinker of elephant’s blood is Death himself -- but still I do not understand!"
"Follow!" said Bagheera.
They had not gone half a mile further when they heard Ko, the Crow, singing the death-song in the top of a tamarisk under whose shade three men were lying. A half-dead fire smoked in the center of the circle, under an iron plate which held a blackened and burned cake of unleavened bread. Close to the fire, and blazing in the sunshine, lay the ruby-and-turquoise ankus.
"The thing works quickly; all ends here," said Bagheera. "How did these die, Mowgli? There is no mark on any."
A Jungle-dweller gets to learn by experience as much as many doctors know of poisonous plants and berries. Mowgli sniffed the smoke that came up from the fire, broke off a morsel of the blackened bread, tasted it, and spat it out again.
"Apple of Death," he coughed. "The first must have made it ready in the food for these, who killed him, having first killed the Gond."
"Good hunting, indeed! The kills follow close," said Bagheera.
"Apple of Death" is what the Jungle call thorn-apple or dhatura, the readiest poison in all India.
"What now? "said the panther. "Must thou and I kill each other for yonder red-eyed slayer?"
"Can it speak?" said Mowgli in a whisper. "Did I do it a wrong when I threw it away? Between us two it can do no wrong, for we do not desire what men desire. If it be left here, it will assuredly continue to kill men one after another as fast as nuts fall in a high wind. I have no love to men, but even I would not have them die six in a night."
"What matter? They are only men. They killed one another, and were well pleased," said Bagheera. "That first little woodman hunted well."
"They are cubs none the less; and a cub will drown himself to bite the moon’s light on the water. The fault was mine," said Mowgli, who spoke as though he knew all about everything. "I will never again bring into the Jungle strange things -- not though they be as beautiful as flowers. This" -- he handled the ankus gingerly -- "goes back to the Father of Cobras. But first we must sleep, and we cannot sleep near these sleepers. Also we must bury him, lest he run away and kill another six. Dig me a hole under that tree."
"But, Little Brother," said Bagheera, moving off to the spot, "I tell thee it is no fault of the blood-drinker. The trouble is with men."
"All one," said Mowgli. "Dig the hole deep. When we wake I will take him up and carry him back."
Two nights later, as the White Cobra sat mourning in the darkness of the vault, ashamed, and robbed, and alone, the turquoise ankus whirled through the hole in the wall, and clashed on the floor of golden coins.
"Father of Cobras," said Mowgli (he was careful to keep the other side of the wall), "get thee a young and ripe one of thine own people to help thee guard the King’s Treasure, so that no man may come away alive any more."
"Ah-ha! It returns, then. I said the thing was Death. How comes it that thou art still alive?" the old Cobra mumbled, twining lovingly round the ankus-haft.
"By the Bull that bought me, I do not know! That thing has killed six times in a night. Let him go out no more."
Ere Mor the Peacock flutters, ere the Monkey People cry,
Ere Chil the Kite swoops down a furlong sheer,
Through the Jungle very softly Hits a shadow and a sigh --
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
Very softly down the glade runs a waiting, watching shade,
And the whisper spreads and widens far and near;
And the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now --
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
Ere the moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,
When the downward-dipping trails are dank and drear,
Comes a breathing hard behind thee -- snuffle-snuffle through the night --
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
On thy knees and draw the bow; bid the shrilling arrow go;
In the empty, mocking thicket plunge the spear;
But thy hands are loosed and weak, and the blood has left thy cheek --
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
When the heat-cloud sucks the tempest, when the slivered pine-trees fall,
When the blinding, blaring rain-squalls lash and veer
Through the war-gongs of the thunder rings a voice more loud than all --
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
Now the spates are banked and deep; now the footless boulders leap --
Now the lightning shows each littlest leaf-rib clear --
But thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side
Hammers: Fear, O Little Hunter -- this is Fear!
For our white and our excellent nights -- for the nights of swift running,It was after the letting in of the Jungle that the pleasantest part of Mowgli’s life began. He had the good conscience that comes from paying debts; all the Jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him. The things that he did and saw and heard when he was wandering from one people to another, with or without his four companions, would make many stories, each as long as this one. So you will never be told how he met the Mad Elephant of Mandla, who killed two-and-twenty bullocks drawing eleven carts of coined silver to the Government Treasury, and scattered the shiny rupees in the dust; how he fought Jacala, the Crocodile, all one long night in the Marshes of the North, and broke his skinning-knife on the brute’s back-plates; how he found a new and longer knife round the neck of a man who had been killed by a wild boar, and how he tracked that boar and killed him as a fair price for the knife; how he was caught up once in the Great Famine, by the moving of the deer, and nearly crushed to death in the swaying hot herds; how he saved Hathi the Silent from being once more trapped in a pit with a stake at the bottom, and how, next day, he himself fell into a very cunning leopard-trap, and how Hathi broke the thick wooden bars to pieces above him; how he milked the wild buffaloes in the swamp, and how -- But we must tell one tale at a time. Father and Mother Wolf died, and Mowgli rolled a big boulder against the mouth of their cave, and cried the Death Song over them; Baloo grew very old and stiff, and even Bagheera, whose nerves were steel and whose muscles were iron, was a shade slower on the kill than he had been. Akela turned from gray to milky white with pure age; his ribs stuck out, and he walked as though he had been made of wood, and Mowgli killed for him. But the young wolves, the children of the disbanded Seeonee Pack, throve and increased, and when there were about forty of them, masterless, full-voiced, clean-footed five-year-olds, Akela told them that they ought to gather themselves together and follow the Law, and run under one head, as befitted the Free People.
Fair ranging, far-seeing, good hunting, sure cunning!
For the smells of the dawning, untainted, ere dew has departed!
For the rush through the mist, and the quarry blind-started!
For the cry of our mates when the sambhur has wheeled and is standing at bay,
For the risk and the riot of night!
For the sleep at the lair-mouth by day,
It is met, and we go to the light.
Bay! O bay!
This was not a question in which Mowgli concerned himself, for, as he said, he had eaten sour fruit, and he knew the tree it hung from; but when Phao, son of Phaona (his father was the Gray Tracker in the days of Akela’s headship), fought his way to the leadership of the Pack, according to Jungle Law, and the old calls and songs began to ring under the stars once more, Mowgli came to the Council Rock for memory’s sake. When he chose to speak the Pack waited till he had finished, and he sat at Akela’s side on the rock above Phao. Those were days of good hunting and good sleeping. No stranger cared to break into the jungles that belonged to Mowgli’s people, as they called the Pack, and the young wolves grew fat and strong, and there were many cubs to bring to the Looking-over. Mowgli always attended a Looking-over, remembering the night when a black panther bought a naked brown baby into the Pack, and the long call, "Look, look well, O Wolves," made his heart flutter. Otherwise, he would be far away in the Jungle with his four brothers, tasting, touching, seeing, and feeling new things.
One twilight when he was trotting leisurely across the ranges to give Akela the half of a buck that he had killed, while the Four jogged behind him, sparring a little, and tumbling one another over for joy of being alive, he heard a cry that had never been heard since the bad days of Shere Khan. It was what they call in the Jungle the pheeal, a hideous kind of shriek that the jackal gives when he is hunting behind a tiger, or when there is a big killing afoot. If you can imagine a mixture of hate, triumph, fear, and despair, with a kind of leer running through it, you will get some notion of the pheeal that rose and sank and wavered and quavered far away across the Waingunga. The Four stopped at once, bristling and growling. Mowgli’s hand went to his knife, and he checked, the blood in his face, his eyebrows knotted.
"There is no Striped One dare kill here," he said.
"That is not the cry of the Forerunner," answered Gray Brother. "It is some great killing. Listen!"
It broke out again, half sobbing and half chuckling, just as though the jackal had soft human lips. Then Mowgli drew deep breath, and ran to the Council Rock, overtaking on his way hurrying wolves of the Pack. Phao and Akela were on the Rock together, and below them, every nerve strained, sat the others. The mothers and the cubs were cantering off to their lairs; for when the pheeal cries it is no time for weak things to be abroad.
They could hear nothing except the Waingunga rushing and gurgling in the dark, and the light evening winds among the tree-tops, till suddenly across the river a wolf called. It was no wolf of the Pack, for they were all at the Rock. The note changed to a long, despairing bay; and "Dhole!" it said, "Dhole! dhole! dhole!" They heard tired feet on the rocks, and a gaunt wolf, streaked with red on his flanks, his right fore-paw useless, and his jaws white with foam, flung himself into the circle and lay gasping at Mowgli’s feet.
"Good hunting! Under whose Headship?" said Phao gravely.
"Good hunting! Won-tolla am I," was the answer. He meant that he was a solitary wolf, fending for himself, his mate, and his cubs in some lonely lair, as do many wolves in the south. Won-tolla means an Outlier -- one who lies out from any Pack. Then he panted, and they could see his heart-beats shake him backward and forward.
"What moves?" said Phao, for that is the question all the Jungle asks after the pheeal cries.
"The dhole, the dhole of the Dekkan -- Red Dog, the Killer! They came north from the south saying the Dekkan was empty and killing out by the way. When this moon was new there were four to me -- my mate and three cubs. She would teach them to kill on the grass plains, hiding to drive the buck, as we do who are of the open. At midnight I heard them together, full tongue on the trail. At the dawn-wind I found them stiff in the grass -- four, Free People, four when this moon was new. Then sought I my Blood-Right and found the dhole."
"How many?" said Mowgli quickly; the Pack growled deep in their throats.
"I do not know. Three of them will kill no more, but at the last they drove me like the buck; on my three legs they drove me. Look, Free People!"
He thrust out his mangled fore-foot, all dark with dried blood. There were cruel bites low down on his side, and his throat was torn and worried.
"Eat," said Akela, rising up from the meat Mowgli had brought him, and the Outlier flung himself on it.
"This shall be no loss," he said humbly, when he had taken off the first edge of his hunger. "Give me a little strength, Free People, and I also will kill. My lair is empty that was full when this moon was new, and the Blood Debt is not all paid."
Phao heard his teeth crack on a haunch-bone and grunted approvingly.
"We shall need those jaws," said he. "Were their cubs with the dhole?"
"Nay, nay. Red Hunters all: grown dogs of their Pack, heavy and strong, for all that they eat lizards in the Dekkan."
What Won-tolla had said meant that the dhole, the red hunting-dog of the Dekkan, was moving to kill, and the Pack knew well that even the tiger will surrender a new kill to the dhole. They drive straight through the Jungle, and what they meet they pull down and tear to pieces. Though they are not as big nor half as cunning as the wolf, they are very strong and very numerous. The dhole, for instance, do not begin to call themselves a pack till they are a hundred strong; whereas forty wolves make a very fair pack indeed. Mowgli’s wanderings had taken him to the edge of the high grassy downs of the Dekkan, and he had seen the fearless dholes sleeping and playing and scratching themselves in the little hollows and tussocks that they use for lairs. He despised and hated them because they did not smell like the Free People, because they did not live in caves, and, above all, because they had hair between their toes while he and his friends were clean-footed. But he knew, for Hathi had told him, what a terrible thing a dhole hunting-pack was. Even Hathi moves aside from their line, and until they are killed, or till game is scarce, they will go forward.
Akela knew something of the dholes, too, for he said to Mowgli quietly, "It is better to die in a Full Pack than leaderless and alone. This is good hunting, and -- my last. But, as men live, thou hast very many more nights and days, Little Brother. Go north and lie down, and if any live after the dhole has gone by he shall bring thee word of the fight."
"Ah," said Mowgli, quite gravely, "must I go to the marshes and catch little fish and sleep in a tree, or must I ask help of the Bandar-log and crack nuts, while the Pack fight below?"
"It is to the death," said Akela. "Thou hast never met the dhole -- the Red Killer. Even the Striped One
"Aowa! Aowa!" said Mowgli pettingly. "I have killed one striped ape, and sure am I in my stomach that Shere Khan would have left his own mate for meat to the dhole if he had winded a pack across three ranges. Listen now: There was a wolf, my father, and there was a wolf, my mother, and there was an old gray wolf (not too wise: he is white now) was my father and my mother. Therefore I --" he raised his voice, "I say that when the dhole come, and if the dhole come, Mowgli and the Free People are of one skin for that hunting; and I say, by the Bull that bought me -- by the Bull Bagheera paid for me in the old days which ye of the Pack do not remember -- I say, that the Trees and the River may hear and hold fast if I forget; I say that this my knife shall be as a tooth to the Pack -- and I do not think it is so blunt. This is my Word which has gone from me."
"Thou dost not know the dhole, man with a wolf’s tongue," said Won-tolla. "I look only to clear the Blood Debt against them ere they have me in many pieces. They move slowly, killing out as they go, but in two days a little strength will come back to me and I turn again for the Blood Debt. But for ye, Free People, my word is that ye go north and eat but little for a while till the dhole are gone. There is no meat in this hunting."
"Hear the Outlier!" said Mowgli with a laugh. "Free People, we must go north and dig lizards and rats from the bank, lest by any chance we meet the dhole. He must kill out our hunting-grounds, while we lie hid in the north till it please him to give us our own again. He is a dog -- and the pup of a dog -- red, yellow-bellied, lair-less, and haired between every toe! He counts his cubs six and eight at the litter, as though he were Chikai, the little leaping rat. Surely we must run away, Free People, and beg leave of the peoples of the north for the offal of dead cattle! Ye know the saying: ‘North are the vermin; south are the lice. We are the Jungle.’ Choose ye, O choose. It is good hunting! For the Pack -- for the Full Pack -- for the lair and the litter; for the in-kill and the out-kill; for the mate that drives the doe and the little, little cub within the cave; it is met! -- it is met! -- it is met!
The Pack answered with one deep, crashing bark that sounded in the night like a big tree falling. "It is met!" they cried.
"Stay with these," said Mowgli to the Four. "We shall need every tooth. Phao and Akela must make ready the battle. I go to count the dogs."
"It is death!" Won-tolla cried, half rising. "What can such a hairless one do against the Red Dog? Even the Striped One, remember --"
"Thou art indeed an Outlier," Mowgli called back; "but we will speak when the dholes are dead. Good hunting all!"
He hurried off into the darkness, wild with excitement, hardly looking where he set foot, and the natural consequence was that he tripped full length over Kaa’s great coils where the python lay watching a deer-path near the river.
"Kssha!" said Kaa angrily. "Is this jungle-work, to stamp and tramp and undo a night’s hunting -- when the game are moving so well, too?"
"The fault was mine," said Mowgli, picking himself up. "Indeed I was seeking thee, Flat-head, but each time we meet thou art longer and broader by the length of my arm. There is none like thee in the Jungle, wise, old, strong, and most beautiful Kaa."
"Now, whither does this trail lead?" Kaa’s voice was gentler. "Not a moon since there was a Manling with a knife threw stones at my head, and called me bad little tree-cat names, because I lay asleep in the open."
"Ay, and turned every driven deer to all the winds, and Mowgli was hunting, and this same Flathead was too deaf to hear his whistle, and leave the deer-roads free," Mowgli answered composedly, sitting down among the painted coils.
"Now this same Manling comes with soft, tickling words to this same Flat-head, telling him that he is wise and strong and beautiful, and this same old Flathead believes and makes a place, thus, for this same stone-throwing Manling, and -- Art thou at ease now? Could Bagheera give thee so good a resting-place?"
Kaa had, as usual, made a sort of soft half-hammock of himself under Mowgli’s weight. The boy reached out in the darkness, and gathered in the supple cable-like neck till Kaa’s head rested on his shoulder, and then he told him all that had happened in the Jungle that night.
"Wise I may be," said Kaa at the end; "but deaf I surely am. Else I should have heard the pheeal. Small wonder the Eaters of Grass are uneasy. How many be the dhole?"
"I have not yet seen. I came hot-foot to thee. Thou art older than Hathi. But oh, Kaa," -- here Mowgli wriggled with sheer joy, --" it will be good hunting. Few of us will see another moon."
"Dost thou strike in this? Remember thou art a Man; and remember what Pack cast thee out. Let the Wolf look to the Dog. Thou art a Man."
"Last year’s nuts are this year’s black earth," said Mowgli. "It is true that I am a Man, but it is in my stomach that this night I have said that I am a Wolf. I called the River and the Trees to remember. I am of the Free People, Kaa, till the dhole has gone by."
"Free People," Kaa grunted. "Free thieves! And thou hast tied thyself into the death-knot for the sake of the memory of the dead wolves? This is no good hunting."
"It is my Word which I have spoken. The Trees know, the River knows. Till the dhole have gone by my Word comes not back to me."
"Ngssh! This changes all trails. I had thought to take thee away with me to the northern marshes, but the Word -- even the Word of a little, naked, hairless manling -- is the Word. Now I, Kaa, say --"
"Think well, Flat-head, lest thou tie thyself into the death-knot also. I need no Word from thee, for well I know --"
"Be it so, then," said Kaa. "I will give no Word; but what is in thy stomach to do when the dhole come?"
"They must swim the Waingunga. I thought to meet them with my knife in the shallows, the Pack behind me; and so stabbing and thrusting, we a little might turn them down-stream, or cool their throats."
"The dhole do not turn and their throats are hot," said Kaa. "There will be neither Manling nor Wolf-cub when that hunting is done, but only dry bones."
"Alala! If we die, we die. It will be most good hunting. But my stomach is young, and I have not seen many Rains. I am not wise nor strong. Hast thou a better plan, Kaa?"
"I have seen a hundred and a hundred Rains. Ere Hathi cast his milk-tushes my trail was big in the dust. By the First Egg, I am older than many trees, and I have seen all that the Jungle has done."
"But this is new hunting," said Mowgli. "Never before have the dhole crossed our trail."
"What is has been. What will be is no more than a forgotten year striking backward. Be still while I count those my years."
For a long hour Mowgli lay back among the coils, while Kaa, his head motionless on the ground, thought of all that he had seen and known since the day he came from the egg. The light seemed to go out of his eyes and leave them like stale opals, and now and again he made little stiff passes with his head, right and left, as though he were hunting in his sleep. Mowgli dozed quietly, for he knew that there is nothing like sleep before hunting, and he was trained to take it at any hour of the day or night.
Then he felt Kaa’s back grow bigger and broader below him as the huge python puffed himself out, hissing with the noise of a sword drawn from a steel scabbard.
"I have seen all the dead seasons," Kaa said at last, "and the great trees and the old elephants, and the rocks that were bare and sharp-pointed ere the moss grew. Art thou still alive, Manling?"
"It is only a little after moonset," said Mowgli. "I do not understand --"
"Hssh! I am again Kaa. I knew it was but a little time. Now we will go to the river, and I will show thee what is to be done against the dhole."
He turned, straight as an arrow, for the main stream of the Waingunga, plunging in a little above the pool that hid the Peace Rock, Mowgli at his side.
"Nay, do not swim. I go swiftly. My back, Little Brother!"
Mowgli tucked his left arm round Kaa’s neck, dropped his right close to his body, and straightened his feet. Then Kaa breasted the current as he alone could, and the ripple of the checked water stood up in a frill round Mowgli’s neck, and his feet were waved to and fro in the eddy under the python’s lashing sides. A mile or two above the Peace Rock the Waingunga narrows between a gorge of marble rocks from eighty to a hundred feet high, and the current runs like a mill-race between and over all manner of ugly stones. But Mowgli did not trouble his head about the water; little water in the world could have given him a moment’s fear. He was looking at the gorge on either side and sniffing uneasily, for there was a sweetish-sourish smell in the air, very like the smell of a big ant-hill on a hot day. Instinctively he lowered himself in the water, only raising his head to breathe from time to time, and Kaa came to anchor with a double twist of his tail round a sunken rock, holding Mowgli in the hollow of a coil, while the water raced on.
"This is the Place of Death," said the boy. "Why do we come here?"
"They sleep," said Kaa. "Hathi will not turn aside for the Striped One. Yet Hathi and the Striped One together turn aside for the dhole, and the dhole they say turn aside for nothing. And yet for whom do the Little People of the Rocks turn aside? Tell me, Master of the Jungle, who is the Master of the Jungle?"
"These," Mowgli whispered. "It is the Place of Death. Let us go."
"Nay, look well, for they are asleep. It is as it was when I was not the length of thy arm."
The split and weatherworn rocks of the gorge of the Waingunga had been used since the begin-fling of the Jungle by the Little People of the Rocks -- the busy, furious, black wild bees of India; and, as Mowgli knew well, all trails turned off half a mile before they reached the gorge. For centuries the Little People had hived and swarmed from cleft to cleft, and swarmed again, staining the white marble with stale honey, and made their combs tall and deep in the dark of the inner caves, where neither man nor beast nor fire nor water had ever touched them. The length of the gorge on both sides was hung as it were with black shimmery velvet curtains, and Mowgli sank as he looked, for those were the clotted millions of the sleeping bees. There were other lumps and festoons and things like decayed tree-trunks studded on the face of the rock, the old combs of past years, or new cities built in the shadow of the windless gorge, and huge masses of spongy, rotten trash had rolled down and stuck among the trees and creepers that clung to the rock-face. As he listened he heard more than once the rustle and slide of a honey-loaded comb turning over or falling away somewhere in the dark galleries; then a booming of angry wings, and the sullen drip, drip, drip, of the wasted honey, guttering along till it lipped over some ledge in the open air and sluggishly trickled down on the twigs. There was a tiny little beach, not five feet broad, on one side of the river, and that was piled high with the rubbish of uncounted years. There were dead bees, drones, sweepings, and stale combs, and wings of marauding moths that had strayed in after honey, all tumbled in smooth piles of the finest black dust. The mere sharp smell of it was enough to frighten anything that had no wings, and knew what the Little People were.
Kaa moved up-stream again till he came to a sandy bar at the head of the gorge.
Here is this season’s kill," said he. "Look !" On the bank lay the skeletons of a couple of young deer and a buffalo. Mowgli could see that neither wolf nor jackal had touched the bones, which were laid out naturally.
"They came beyond the line: they did not know the Law," murmured Mowgli, "and the Little People killed them. Let us go ere they wake."
"They do not wake till the dawn," said Kaa. "Now I will tell thee. A hunted buck from the south, many, many Rains ago, came hither from the south, not knowing the Jungle, a Pack on his trail. Being made blind by fear, he leaped from above, the Pack running by sight, for they were hot and blind on the trail. The sun was high, and the Little People were many and very angry. Many too were those of the Pack who leaped into the Waingunga, but they were dead ere they took water. Those who did not leap died also in the rocks above. But the buck lived."
"Because he came first, running for his life, leaping ere the Little People were aware, and was in the river when they gathered to kill. The Pack, following, was altogether lost under the weight of the Little People."
"The buck lived?" Mowgli repeated slowly.
"At least he did not die then, though none waited his coming down with a strong body to hold him safe against the water, as a certain old fat, deaf, yellow Flat-head would wait for a Manling -- yea, though there were all the dholes of the Dekkan on his trail. What is in thy stomach?" Kaa’s head was close to Mowgli’s ear; and it was a little time before the boy answered.
"It is to pull the very whiskers of Death, but -- Kaa, thou art, indeed, the wisest of all the Jungle."
"So many have said. Look now, if the dhole follow thee --"
"As surely they will follow. Ho! ho! I have many little thorns under my tongue to prick into their hides."
"If they follow thee hot and blind, looking only at thy shoulders, those who do not die up above will take water either here or lower down, for the Little People will rise up and cover them. Now the Waingunga is hungry water, and they will have no Kaa to hold them, but will go down, such as live, to the shallows by the Seeonee Lairs, and there thy Pack may meet them by the throat."
"Ahai! Eowawa! Better could not be till the Rains fall in the dry season. There is now only the little matter of the run and the leap. I will make me known to the dholes, so that they shall follow me very closely."
"Hast thou seen the rocks above thee? From the landward side?"
"Indeed, no. That I had forgotten."
"Go look. It is all rotten ground, cut and full of holes. One of thy clumsy feet set down without seeing would end the hunt. See, I leave thee here, and for thy sake only I will carry word to the Pack that they may know where to look for the dhole. For myself, I am not of one skin with any wolf."
When Kaa disliked an acquaintance he could be more unpleasant than any of the Jungle People, except perhaps Bagheera. He swam downstream and opposite the Rock he came on Phao and Akela listening to the night noises.
"Hssh! Dogs," he said cheerfully. "The dholes will come down-stream. If ye be not afraid ye can kill them in the shallows."
"When come they?" said Phao. "And where is my Man-cub?" said Akela.
"They come when they come," said Kaa. "Wait and see. As for thy Man-cub, from whom thou hast taken a Word and so laid him open to Death, thy Man-cub is with me, and if he be not already dead the fault is none of thine, bleached dog! Wait here for the dhole, and be glad that the Man-cub and I strike on thy side."
He flashed up-stream again, and moored himself in the middle of the gorge, looking upward at the line of the cliff. Presently he saw Mowgli’s head move against the stars, and then there was a whizz in the air, the keen, clean schloop of a body falling feet first, and next minute the boy was at rest again in the loop of Kaa’s body.
"It is no leap by night," said Mowgli quietly. "I have jumped twice as far for sport; but that is an evil place above -- low bushes and gullies that go down very deep, all full of the Little People. I have put big stones one above the other by the side of three gullies. These I shall throw down with my feet in running, and the Little People will rise up behind me, very angry."
"That is Man’s talk and Man’s cunning," said Kaa. "Thou art wise, but the Little People are always angry."
"Nay, at twilight all wings near and far rest for a while. I will play with the dhole at twilight, for the dhole hunts best by day. He follows now Won-tolla’s blood-trail."
"Chil does not leave a dead ox, nor the dhole the blood-trail," said Kaa.
"Then I will make him a new blood-trail, of his own blood, if I can, and give him dirt to eat. Thou wilt stay here, Kaa, till I come again with my dholes?"
"Ay, but what if they kill thee in the Jungle, or the Little People kill thee before thou canst leap down to the river?"
"When tomorrow comes we will kill for tomorrow," said Mowgli, quoting a Jungle saying; and again, "When I am dead it is time to sing the Death Song. Good hunting, Kaa!"
He loosed his arm from the python’s neck and went down the gorge like a log in a freshet, paddling toward the far bank, where he found slack-water, and laughing aloud from sheer happiness. There was nothing Mowgli liked better than, as he himself said, "to pull the whiskers of Death," and make the Jungle know that he was their overlord. He had often, with Baloo’s help, robbed bees’ nests in single trees, and he knew that the Little People hated the smell of wild garlic. So he gathered a small bundle of it, tied it up with a bark string, and then followed Won-tolla’s blood-trail, as it ran southerly from the Lairs, for some five miles, looking at the trees with his head on one side, and chuckling as he looked.
"Mowgli the Frog have I been," said he to himself; "Mowgli the Wolf have I said that I am. Now Mowgli the Ape must I be before I am Mowgli the Buck. At the end I shall be Mowgli the Man. Ho!" and he slid his thumb along the eighteen-inch blade of his knife.
Won-tolla’s trail, all rank with dark blood-spots, ran under a forest of thick trees that grew close together and stretched away northeastward, gradually growing thinner and thinner to within two miles of the Bee Rocks. From the last tree to the low scrub of the Bee Rocks was open country, where there was hardly cover enough to hide a wolf. Mowgli trotted along under the trees, judging distances between branch and branch, occasionally climbing up a trunk and taking a trial leap from one tree to another till he came to the open ground, which he studied very carefully for an hour. Then he turned, picked up Won-tolla’s trail where he had left it, settled himself in a tree with an outrunning branch some eight feet from the ground, and sat still, sharpening his knife on the sole of his foot and singing to himself.
A little before midday, when the sun was very warm, he heard the patter of feet and smelt the abominable smell of the dhole-pack as they trotted pitilessly along Won-tolla’s trail. Seen from above, the red dhole does not look half the size of a wolf, but Mowgli knew how strong his feet and jaws were. He watched the sharp bay head of the leader snuffing along the trail, and gave him "Good hunting!"
The brute looked up, and his companions halted behind him, scores and scores of red dogs with low-hung tails, heavy shoulders, weak quarters, and bloody mouths. The dholes are a silent people as a rule, and they have no manners even in their own Jungle. Fully two hundred must have gathered below him, but he could see that the leaders sniffed hungrily on Won-tolla’s trail, and tried to drag the Pack forward. That would never do, or they would be at the Lairs in broad daylight, and Mowgli intended to hold them under his tree till dusk.
"By whose leave do ye come here?" said Mowgli.
"All Jungles are our Jungle," was the reply, and the dhole that gave it bared his white teeth. Mowgli looked down with a smile, and imitated perfectly the sharp chitter-chatter of Chikai, the leaping rat of the Dekkan, meaning the dholes to understand that he considered them no better than Chikai. The Pack closed up round the tree-trunk and the leader bayed savagely, calling Mowgli a tree-ape. For an answer Mowgli stretched down one naked leg and wriggled his toes just above the leader’s head. That was enough, and more than enough, to wake the Pack to stupid rage. Those who have hair between their toes do not care to be reminded of it. Mowgli caught his foot away as the leader leaped up, and said sweetly: "Dog, red dog! Go back to the Dekkan and eat lizards. Go to Chikai thy brother -- dog, dog -- red, red dog! There is hair between every toe!" He twiddled his toes a second time.
"Come down ere we starve thee out, hairless ape!" yelled the Pack, and this was exactly what Mowgli wanted. He laid himself down along the branch, his cheek to the bark, his right arm free, and there he told the Pack what he thought and knew about them, their manners, their customs, their mates, and their puppies. There is no speech in the world so rancorous and so stinging as the language the Jungle People use to show scorn and contempt. When you come to think of it you will see how this must be so. As Mowgli told Kaa, he had many little thorns under his tongue, and slowly and deliberately he drove the dholes from silence to growls, from growls to yells, and from yells to hoarse slavery ravings. They tried to answer his taunts, but a cub might as well have tried to answer Kaa in a rage; and all the while Mowgli’s right hand lay crooked at his side, ready for action, his feet locked round the branch. The big bay leader had leaped many times in the air, but Mowgli dared not risk a false blow. At last, made furious beyond his natural strength, he bounded up seven or eight feet clear of the ground. Then Mowgli’s hand shot out like the head of a tree-snake, and gripped him by the scruff of his neck, and the branch shook with the jar as his weight fell back, almost wrenching Mowgli to the ground. But he never loosed his grasp, and inch by inch he hauled the beast, hanging like a drowned jackal, up on the branch.. With his left hand he reached for his knife and cut off the red, bushy tail, flinging the dhole back to earth again. That was all he needed. The Pack would not go forward on Won-tolla’s trail now till they had killed Mowgli or Mowgli had killed them. He saw them settle down in circles with a quiver of the haunches that meant they were going to stay, and so he climbed to a higher crotch, settled his back comfortably, and went to sleep.
After four or five hours he waked and counted the Pack. They were all there, silent, husky, and dry, with eyes of steel. The sun was beginning to sink. In half an hour the Little People of the Rocks would be ending their labors, and, as he knew, the dhole does not fight best in the twilight.
"I did not need such faithful watchers," he said politely, standing up on a branch, "but I will remember this. Ye be true dholes, but to my thinking over much of one kind. For that reason I do not give the big lizard-eater his tail again. Art thou not pleased, Red Dog?"
"I myself will tear out thy stomach!" yelled the leader, scratching at the foot of the tree.
"Nay, but consider, wise rat of the Dekkan. There will now be many litters of little tailless red dogs, yea, with raw red stumps that sting when the sand is hot. Go home, Red Dog, and cry that an ape has done this. Ye will not go? Come, then, with me, and I will make you very wise!"
He moved, Bandar-log fashion, into the next tree, and so on into the next and the next, the Pack following with lifted hungry heads. Now and then he would pretend to fall, and the Pack would tumble one over the other in their haste to be at the death. It was a curious sight -- the boy with the knife that shone in the low sunlight as it shifted through the upper branches, and the silent Pack with their red coats all aflame, huddling and following below. When he came to the last tree he took the garlic and rubbed himself all over carefully, and the dholes yelled with scorn. "Ape with a wolf’s tongue, dost thou think to cover thy scent?" they said. "We follow to the death."
"Take thy tail," said Mowgli, flinging it back along the course he had taken. The Pack instinctively rushed after it. "And follow now -- to the death."
He had slipped down the tree-trunk, and headed like the wind in bare feet for the Bee Rocks, before the dholes saw what he would do.
They gave one deep howl, and settled down to the long, lobbing canter that can at the last run down anything that runs. Mowgli knew their pack-pace to be much slower than that of the wolves, or he would never have risked a two-mile run in full sight. They were sure that the boy was theirs at last, and he was sure that he held them to play with as he pleased. All his trouble was to keep them sufficiently hot behind him to prevent their turning off too soon. He ran cleanly, evenly, and springily; the tailless leader not five yards behind him; and the Pack tailing out over perhaps a quarter of a mile of ground, crazy and blind with the rage of slaughter. So he kept his distance by ear, reserving his last effort for the across the Bee Rocks.
The Little People had gone to sleep in the early twilight, for it was not the season of late-blossoming flowers; but as Mowgli’s first footfalls rang hollow on the hollow ground he heard a sound as though all the earth were humming. Then he ran as he had never run in his life before, spurned aside one -- two -- three of the piles of stones into the dark, sweet-smelling gullies; heard a roar like the roar of the sea in a cave; saw with the tail of his eye the air grow dark behind him; saw the current of the Waingunga far below, and a flat, diamond-shaped head in the water; leaped outward with all his strength, the tailless dhole snapping at his shoulder in mid-air, and dropped feet first to the safety of the river, breathless and triumphant. There was not a sting upon him, for the smell of the garlic had checked the Little People for just the few seconds that he was among them. When he rose Kaa’s coils were steadying him and things were bounding over the edge of the cliff -- great lumps, it seemed, of clustered bees falling like plummets; but before any lump touched water the bees flew upward and the body of a dhole whirled down-stream. Overhead they could hear furious short yells that were drowned in a roar like breakers -- the roar of the wings of the Little People of the Rocks. Some of the dholes, too, had fallen into the gullies that communicated with the underground caves, and there choked and fought and snapped among the tumbled honeycombs, and at last, borne up even when they were dead on the heaving waves of bees beneath them, shot out of some hole in the river-face, to roll over on the black rubbish-heaps. There were dholes who had leaped short into the trees on the cliffs, and the bees blotted out their shapes; but the greater number of them, maddened by the stings, had flung themselves into the river; and, as Kaa said, the Waingunga was hungry water.
Kaa held Mowgli fast till the boy had recovered his breath.
"We may not stay here," he said. "The Little People are roused indeed. Come!"
Swimming low and diving as often as he could, Mowgli went down the river, knife in hand.
"Slowly, slowly," said Kaa. "One tooth does not kill a hundred unless it be a cobra’s, and many of the dholes took water swiftly when they saw the Little People rise."
"The more work for my knife, then. Phai! How the Little People follow!" Mowgli sank again. The face of the water was blanketed with wild bees, buzzing sullenly and stinging all they found.
"Nothing was ever yet lost by silence," said Kaa -- no sting could penetrate his scales -- "and thou hast all the long night for the hunting. Hear them howl!"
Nearly half the pack had seen the trap their fellows rushed into, and turning sharp aside had flung themselves into the water where the gorge broke down in steep banks. Their cries of rage and their threats against the "tree-ape" who had brought them to their shame mixed with the yells and growls of those who had been punished by the Little People. To remain ashore was death, and every dhole knew it. Their pack was swept along the current, down to the deep eddies of the Peace Pool, but even there the angry Little People followed and forced them to the water again. Mowgli could hear the voice of the tailless leader bidding his people hold on and kill out every wolf in Seeonee. But he did not waste his time in listening.
"One kills in the dark behind us!" snapped a dhole. "Here is tainted water."
Mowgli had dived forward like an otter, twitched a struggling dhole under water before he could open his mouth, and dark rings rose as the body plopped up, turning on its side. The dholes tried to turn, but the current prevented them, and the Little People darted at their heads and ears, and they could hear the challenge of the Seeonee Pack growing louder and deeper in the gathering darkness. Again Mowgli dived, and again a dhole went under, and rose dead, and again the clamor broke out at the rear of the pack; some howling that it was best to go ashore, others calling on their leader to lead them back to the Dekkan, and others bidding Mowgli show himself and be killed.
A wolf came running along the bank on three legs, leaping up and down, laying his head sideways close to the ground, hunching his back, and breaking high into the air, as though he were playing with his cubs. It was Won-tolla, the Outlier, and he said never a word, but continued his horrible sport beside the dholes. They had been long in the water now, and were swimming wearily, their coats drenched and heavy, their bushy tails dragging like sponges, so tired and shaken that they, too, were silent, watching the pair of blazing eyes that moved abreast.
This is no good hunting," said one, panting.
"Good hunting!" said Mowgli, as he rose boldly at the brute’s side, and sent the long knife home behind the shoulder, pushing hard to avoid his dying snap.
"Art thou there, Man-cub?" said Won-tolla across the water.
" Ask of the dead, Outlier," Mowgli replied. "Have none come down-stream? I have filled these dogs’ mouths with dirt; I have tricked them in the broad daylight, and their leader lacks his tail, but here be some few for thee still. Whither shall I drive them?"
"I will wait," said Won-tolla. "The night is before me."
Nearer and nearer came the bay of the Seeonee wolves. "For the Pack, for the Full Pack it is met!" and a bend in the river drove the dholes forward among the sands and shoals opposite the Lairs.
Then they saw their mistake. They should have landed half a mile higher up, and rushed the wolves on dry ground. Now it was too late. The bank was lined with burning eyes, and except for the horrible pheeal that had never stopped since sundown, there was no sound in the Jungle. It seemed as though Won-tolla were fawning on them to come ashore; and "Turn and take hold!" said the leader of the dholes. The entire Pack flung themselves at the shore, threshing and squattering through the shoal water, till the face of the Waingunga was all white and torn, and the great ripples went from side to side, like bow-waves from a boat. Mowgli followed the rush, stabbing and slicing as the dholes, huddled together, rushed up the river-beach in one wave.
Then the long fight began, heaving and straining and splitting and scattering and narrowing and broadening along the red, wet sands, and over and between the tangled tree-roots, and through and among the brushes, and in and out of the grass clumps; for even now the dholes were two to one. But they met wolves fighting for all that made the Pack, and not only the short, high, deep-chested, white-tusked hunters of the Pack, but the anxious-eyed lahinis -- the she-wolves of the lair, as the saying is -- fighting for their litters, with here and there a yearling wolf, his first coat still half woolly, tugging and grappling by their sides. A wolf, you must know, flies at the throat or snaps at the flank, while a dhole, by preference, bites at the belly; so when the dholes were struggling out of the water and had to raise their heads, the odds were with the wolves. On dry land the wolves suffered; but in the water or ashore, Mowgli’s knife came and went without ceasing. The Four had worried their way to his side. Gray Brother, crouched between the boy’s knees, was protecting his stomach, while the others guarded his back and either side, or stood over him when the shock of a leaping, yelling dhole who had thrown himself full on the steady blade bore him down. For the rest, it was one tangled confusion -- a locked and swaying mob that moved from right to left and from left to right along the bank; and also ground round and round slowly on its own center. Here would be a heaving mound, like a water-blister in a whirlpool, which would break like a water-blister, and throw up four or five mangled dogs, each striving to get back to the center; here would be a single wolf borne down by two or three dholes, laboriously dragging them forward, and sinking the while; here a yearling cub would be held up by the pressure round him, though he had been killed early, while his mother, crazed with dumb rage, rolled over and over, snapping, and passing on; and in the middle of the thickest press, perhaps, one wolf and one dhole, forgetting everything else, would be manœuvering for first hold till they were whirled away by a rush of furious fighters. Once Mowgli passed Akela, a dhole on either flank, and his all but toothless jaws closed over the loins of a third; and once he saw Phao, his teeth set in the throat of a dhole, tugging the unwilling beast forward till the yearlings could finish him. But the bulk of the fight was blind flurry and smother in the dark; hit, trip, and tumble, yelp, groan, and worry-worry-worry, round him and behind him and above him. As the night wore on, the quick, giddy-go-round motion increased. The dholes were cowed and afraid to attack the stronger wolves, but did not yet dare to run away. Mowgli felt that the end was coming soon, and contented himself with striking merely to cripple. The yearlings were growing bolder; there was time now and again to breathe, and pass a word to a friend, and the mere flicker of the knife would sometimes turn a dog aside.
"The meat is very near the bone," Gray Brother yelled. He was bleeding from a score of flesh-wounds.
"But the bone is yet to be cracked," said Mowgli. "Eowawa! Thus do we do in the Jungle!" The red blade ran like a flame along the side of a dhole whose hind-quarters were hidden by the weight of a clinging wolf.
"My kill!" snorted the wolf through his wrinkled nostrils. "Leave him to me."
"Is thy stomach still empty, Outlier?" said Mowgli. Won-tolla was fearfully punished, but his grip had paralyzed the dhole, who could not turn round and reach him.
"By the Bull that bought me," said Mowgli, with a bitter laugh, "it is the tailless one!" And indeed it was the big bay-coloured leader.
"It is not wise to kill cubs and lahinis," Mowgli went on, philosophically, wiping the blood out of his eyes, "unless one has also killed the Outlier; and it is in my stomach that this Won-tolla kills thee."
A dhole leaped to his leader’s aid; but before his teeth had found Won-tolla’s flank, Mowgli’s knife was in his throat, and Gray Brother took what was left.
"And thus do we do in the Jungle," said Mowgli.
Won-tolla said not a word, only his jaws were closing and closing on the backbone as his life ebbed. The dhole shuddered, his head dropped, and he lay still, and Won-tolla dropped above him.
"Huh! The Blood Debt is paid," said Mowgli. "Sing the song, Won-tolla."
"He hunts no more," said Gray Brother; "and Akela, too, is silent this long time."
"The bone is cracked!" thundered Phao, son of Phaona. "They go! Kill, kill out, O hunters of the Free People!"
Dhole after dhole was slinking away from those dark and bloody sands to the river, to the thick Jungle, up-stream or down-stream as he saw the road clear.
"The debt! The debt!" shouted Mowgli. "Pay the debt! They have slain the Lone Wolf! Let not a dog go!"
He was flying to the river, knife in hand, to check any dhole who dared to take water, when, from under a mound of nine dead, rose Akela’s red head and fore-quarters, and Mowgli dropped on his knees beside the Lone Wolf.
"Said I not it would be my last fight?" Akela panted. "It is good hunting. And thou, Little Brother?"
"I live, having killed many."
"Even so. I die, and I would -- I would die by thee, Little Brother."
Mowgli took the terrible scarred head on his knees, and put his arms round the torn neck.
"It is long since the old days of Shere Khan, and a Man-cub that rolled naked in the dust."
"Nay, nay, I am a wolf. I am of one skin with the Free People," Mowgli cried. "It is no will of mine that I am a man."
"Thou art a man, Little Brother, wolfling of my watching. Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole. My life I owe to thee, and to-day thou hast saved the Pack even as once I saved thee. Hast thou forgotten? All debts are paid now. Go to thine own people. I tell thee again, eye of my eye, this hunting is ended. Go to thine own people."
"I will never go. I will hunt alone in the Jungle. I have said it."
"After the summer come the Rains, and after the Rains comes the spring. Go back before thou art driven."
"Who will drive me?"
"Mowgli will drive Mowgli. Go back to thy people. Go to Man."
"When Mowgli drives Mowgli I will go," Mowgli answered.
"There is no more to say," said Akela. "Little Brother, canst thou raise me to my feet? I also was a leader of the Free People."
Very carefully and gently Mowgli lifted the bodies aside, and raised Akela to his feet, both arms round him, and the Lone Wolf drew a long breath, and began the Death Song that a leader of the Pack should sing when he dies. It gathered strength as he went on, lifting and lifting, and ringing far across the river, till it came to the last "Good hunting!" and Akela shook himself clear of Mowgli for an instant, and, leaping into the air, fell backward dead upon his last and most terrible kill.
Mowgli sat with the head on his knees, careless of anything else, while the remnant of the flying dholes were being overtaken and run down by the merciless lahinis. Little by little the cries died away, and the wolves returned limping, as their wounds stiffened, to take stock of the losses. Fifteen of the Pack, as well as half a dozen lahinis, lay dead by the river, and of the others not one was unmarked. And Mowgli sat through it all till the cold daybreak, when Phao’s wet, red muzzle was dropped in his hand, and Mowgli drew back to show the gaunt body of Akela.
"Good hunting!" said Phao, as though Akela were still alive, and then over his bitten shoulder to the others: "Howl, dogs! A Wolf has died to-night!"
But of all the Pack of two hundred fighting dholes, whose boast was that all Jungles were their Jungle, and that no living thing could stand before them, not one returned to the Dekkan to carry that word.
These were my companions going forth by night --
(For Chil! Look you, for Chil!)
Now come I to whistle them the ending of the fight.
(Chil! Vanguards of Chil!)
Word they gave me overhead of quarry newly slain,
Word I gave them underfoot of buck upon the plain.
Here’s an end of every trail -- they shall not speak again!
They that called the hunting-cry -- they that followed fast --
(For Chil! Look you, for Chil!)
They that bade the sambhur wheel, and pinned him as he passed --
(Chil! Vanguards of Chil!)
They that lagged behind the scent -- they that ran before,
They that shunned the level horn -- they that overbore.
Here’s an end of every trail -- they shall not follow more.
These were my companions. Pity ‘twas they died
(For Chil! Look you, for Chil!)
Now come I to comfort them that knew them in their pride.
(Chil! Vanguards of Chil!)
Tattered flank and sunken eye, open mouth and red,
Locked and lank and lone they lie, the dead upon their dead.
Here’s an end of every trail -- and here my hosts are fed!
Man goes to Man! Cry the challenge through the Jungle!The second year after the great fight with Red Dog and the death of Akela, Mowgli must have been nearly seventeen years old. He looked older, for hard exercise, the best of good eating, and baths whenever he felt in the least hot or dusty, had given him strength and growth far beyond his age. He could swing by one hand from a top branch for half an hour at a time, when he had occasion to look along the tree-roads. He could stop a young buck in mid-gallop and throw him sideways by the head. He could even jerk over the big, blue wild boars that lived in the Marshes of the North. The Jungle People who used to fear him for his wits feared him now for his strength, and when he moved quietly on his own affairs the mere whisper of his coming cleared the wood-paths. And yet the look in his eyes was always gentle. Even when he fought, his eyes fever blazed as Bagheera’s did. They only grew more and more interested and excited; and that was one of the things that Bagheera himself did not understand.
He that was our Brother goes away.
Hear, now, and judge, O ye People of the Jungle, --
Answer, who shall turn him -- who shall stay?
Man goes to Man! He is weeping in the Jungle:
He that was our Brother sorrows sore!
Man goes to Man! (Oh, we loved him in the Jungle!)
To the Man-Trail where we may not follow more.
"The mouth is angry," said Bagheera, "but the eyes say nothing. Hunting, eating, or swimming, it is all one -- like a stone in wet or dry weather." Mowgli looked at him lazily from under his long eyelashes, and, as usual, the panther’s head dropped. Bagheera knew his master.
They were lying out far up the side of a hill overlooking the Waingunga, and the morning mist hung below them in bands of white and green. As the sun rose it changed into bubbling seas of red gold, churned off, and let the low rays stripe the dried grass on which Mowgli and Bagheera were resting. It was the end of the cold weather, the leaves and the trees looked worn and faded, and there was a dry, ticking rustle everywhere when the wind blew. A little leaf tap-tap-tapped furiously against a twig, as a single leaf caught in a current will. It roused Bagheera, for he snuffed the morning air with a deep, hollow cough, threw himself on his back, and struck with his fore-paws at the nodding leaf above.
"The year turns," he said. "The Jungle goes forward. The Time of New Talk is near. That leaf knows. It is very good."
"The grass is dry," Mowgli answered, pulling up a tuft. "Even Eye-of-the-Spring [that is a little trumpet-shaped, waxy red flower that runs in and out among the grasses] -- even Eye-of-the-Spring is shut, and…Bagheera, is it well for the Black Panther so to lie on his back and beat with his paws in the air, as though he were the tree-cat?"
"Aowh?" said Bagheera. He seemed to be thinking of other things.
"I say, is it well for the Black Panther so to mouth and cough, and howl and roll? Remember, we be the Masters of the Jungle, thou and I."
"Indeed, yes; I hear, Man-cub." Bagheera rolled over hurriedly and sat up, the dust on his ragged black flanks. (He was just casting his winter coat.) "We be surely the Masters of the Jungle! Who is so strong as Mowgli? Who so wise?" There was a curious drawl in the voice that made Mowgli turn to see whether by any chance the Black Panther were making fun of him, for the Jungle is full of words that sound like one thing, but mean another. "I said we be beyond question the Masters of the Jungle," Bagheera repeated. "Have I done wrong? I did not know that the Man-cub no longer lay upon the ground. Does he fly, then?"
Mowgli sat with his elbows on his knees, looking out across the valley at the daylight. Somewhere down in the woods below a bird was trying over in a husky, reedy voice the first few notes of his spring song. It was no more than a shadow of the liquid, tumbling call he would be pouring later, but Bagheera heard it.
"I said the Time of New Talk is near," growled the panther, switching his tail.
"I hear," Mowgli answered. "Bagheera, why dost thou shake all over? The sun is warm."
"That is Ferao, the scarlet woodpecker," said Bagheera. "He has not forgotten. Now I, too, must remember my song," and he began purring and crooning to himself, harking back dissatisfied again and again.
"There is no game afoot," said Mowgli.
"Little Brother, are both thine ears stopped? That is no killing-word, but my song that I make ready against the need."
"I had forgotten. I shall know when the Time of New Talk is here, because then thou and the others all run away and leave me alone." Mowgli spoke rather savagely.
"But, indeed, Little Brother," Bagheera began, "we do not always --"
"I say ye do," said Mowgli, shooting out his forefinger angrily. "Ye do run away, and I, who am the Master of the Jungle, must needs walk alone. How was it last season, when I would gather sugar-cane from the fields of a Man-Pack? I sent a runner -- I sent thee! -- to Hathi, bidding him to come upon such a night and pluck the sweet grass for me with his trunk."
"He came only two nights later," said Bagheera, cowering a little; "and of that long, sweet grass that pleased thee so he gathered more than any Man-cub could eat in all the nights of the Rains. That was no fault of mine."
"He did not come upon the night when I sent him the word. No, he was trumpeting and running and roaring through the valleys in the moonlight. His trail was like the trail of three elephants, for he would not hide among the trees. He danced in the moonlight before the houses of the Man-Pack. I saw him, and yet he would not come to me; and I am the Master of the Jungle!"
"It was the Time of New Talk," said the panther, always very humble. "Perhaps, Little Brother, thou didst not that time call him by a Master-word? Listen to Ferao, and be glad!"
Mowgli’s bad temper seemed to have boiled itself away. He lay back with his head on his arms, his eyes shut. "I do not know -- nor do I care," he said sleepily. "Let us sleep, Bagheera. My stomach is heavy in me. Make me a rest for my head."
The panther lay down again with a sigh, because he could hear Ferao practising and repractising his song against the Springtime of New Talk, as they say.
In an Indian Jungle the seasons slide one into the other almost without division. There seem to be only two -- the wet and the dry; but if you look closely below the torrents of rain and the clouds of char and dust you will find all four going round in their regular ring. Spring is the most wonderful, because she has not to cover a clean, bare field with new leaves and flowers, but to drive before her and to put away the hanging-on, over-surviving raffle of half-green things which the gentle winter has suffered to live, and to make the partly-dressed stale earth feel new and young once more. And this she does so well that there is no spring in the world like the Jungle spring.
There is one day when all things are tired, and the very smells, as they drift on the heavy air, are old and used. One cannot explain this, but it feels so. Then there is another day -- to the eye nothing whatever has changed -- when all the smells are new and delightful, and the whiskers of the Jungle People quiver to their roots, and the winter hair comes away from their sides in long, draggled locks. Then, perhaps, a little rain falls, and all the trees and the bushes and the bamboos and the mosses and the juicy-leaved plants wake with a noise of growing that you can almost hear, and under this noise runs, day and night, a deep hum. That is the noise of the spring -- a vibrating boom which is neither bees, nor falling water, nor the wind in tree-tops, but the purring of the warm, happy world.
Up to this year Mowgli had always delighted in the turn of the seasons. It was he who generally saw the first Eye-of-the-Spring deep down among the grasses, and the first bank of spring clouds, which are like nothing else in the Jungle. His voice could be heard in all sorts of wet, star-lighted, blossoming places, helping the big frogs through their choruses, or mocking the little upside-down owls that hoot through the white nights. Like all his people, spring was the season he chose for his fittings -- moving, for the mere joy of rushing through the warm air, thirty, forty, or fifty miles between twilight and the morning star, and coming back panting and laughing and wreathed with strange flowers. The Four did not follow him on these wild ringings of the Jungle, but went off to sing songs with other wolves. The Jungle People are very busy in the spring, and Mowgli could hear them grunting and screaming and whistling according to their kind. Their voices then are different from their voices at other times of the year, and that is one of the reasons why spring in the Jungle is called the Time of New Talk.
But that spring, as he told Bagheera, his stomach was changed in him. Ever since the bamboo shoots turned spotty-brown he had been looking forward to the morning when the smells should change. But when the morning came, and Mor the Peacock, blazing in bronze and blue and gold, cried it aloud all along the misty woods, and Mowgli opened his mouth to send on the cry, the words choked between his teeth, and a feeling came over him that began at his toes and ended in his hair -- a feeling of pure unhappiness, so that he looked himself over to be sure that he had not trod on a thorn. Mor cried the new smells, the other birds took it over, and from the rocks by the Waingunga he heard Bagheera’s hoarse scream -- something between the scream of an eagle and the neighing of a horse. There was a yelling and scattering of Bandar-log in the new-budding branches above, and there stood Mowgli, his chest, filled to answer Mor, sinking in little gasps as the breath was driven out of it by this unhappiness.
He stared all round him, but he could see no more than the mocking Bandar-log scudding through the trees, and Mor, his tail spread in full splendor, dancing on the slopes below.
"The smells have changed," screamed Mor. "Good hunting, Little Brother! Where is thy answer?"
"Little Brother, good hunting!" whistled Chil the Kite and his mate, swooping down together. The two baffed under Mowgli’s nose so close that a pinch of downy white feathers brushed away.
A light spring rain -- elephant-rain they call it -- drove across the Jungle in a belt half a mile wide, left the new leaves wet and nodding behind, and died out in a double rainbow and a light roll of thunder. The spring hum broke out for a minute, and was silent, but all the Jungle Folk seemed to be giving tongue at once. All except Mowgli.
"I have eaten good food," he said to himself. "I have drunk good water. Nor does my throat burn and grow small, as it did when I bit the blue-spotted root that Oo the Turtle said was clean food. But my stomach is heavy, and I have given very bad talk to Bagheera and others, people of the Jungle and my people. Now, too, I am hot and now I am cold, and now I am neither hot nor cold, but angry with that which I cannot see. Huhu! It is time to make a running! Tonight I will cross the ranges; yes, I will make a spring running to the Marshes of the North, and back again. I have hunted too easily too long. The Four shall come with me, for they grow as fat as white grubs."
He called, but never one of the Four answered. They were far beyond earshot, singing over the spring songs -- the Moon and Sambhur Songs -- with the wolves of the Pack; for in the springtime the Jungle People make very little difference between the day and the night. He gave the sharp, barking note, but his only answer was the mocking maiou of the little spotted tree-cat winding in and out among the branches for early birds’ nests. At this he shook all over with rage, and half drew his knife. Then he became very haughty, though there was no one to see him, and stalked severely down the hillside, chin up and eyebrows down. But never a single one of his people asked him a question, for they were all too busy with their own affairs.
"Yes," said Mowgli to himself, though in his heart he knew that he had no reason. "Let the Red Dhole come from the Dekkan, or the Red Flower dance among the bamboos, and all the Jungle runs whining to Mowgli, calling him great elephant-names. But now, because Eye-of-the-Spring is red, and Mor, forsooth, must show his naked legs in some spring dance, the Jungle goes mad as Tabaqui. . . . By the Bull that bought me! am I the Master of the Jungle, or am I not? Be silent! What do ye here?"
A couple of young wolves of the Pack were cantering down a path, looking for open ground in which to fight. (You will remember that the Law of the Jungle forbids fighting where the Pack can see.) Their neck-bristles were as stiff as wire, and they bayed furiously, crouching for the first grapple. Mowgli leaped forward, caught one outstretched throat in either hand, expecting to fling the creatures backward as he had often done in games or Pack hunts. But he had never before interfered with a spring fight. The two leaped forward and dashed him aside, and without word to waste rolled over and over close locked.
Mowgli was on his feet almost before he fell, his knife and his white teeth were bared, and at that minute he would have killed both for no reason but that they were fighting when he wished them to be quiet, although every wolf has full right under the Law to fight. He danced round them with lowered shoulders and quivering hand, ready to send in a double blow when the first flurry of the scuffle should be over; but while he waited the strength seemed to ebb from his body, the knife-point lowered, and he sheathed the knife and watched.
"I have surely eaten poison," he sighed at last. "Since I broke up the Council with the Red Flower -- since I killed Shere Khan -- none of the Pack could fling me aside. And these be only tail-wolves in the Pack, little hunters! My strength is gone from me, and presently I shall die. Oh, Mowgli, why dost thou not kill them both?"
The fight went on till one wolf ran away, and Mowgli was left alone on the torn and bloody ground, looking now at his knife, and now at his legs and arms, while the feeling of unhappiness he had never known before covered him as water covers a log.
He killed early that evening and eat but little, so as to be in good fettle for his spring running, and he eat alone because all the Jungle People were away singing or fighting. It was a perfect white night, as they call it. All green things seemed to have made a month’s growth since the morning. The branch that was yellow-leaved the day before dripped sap when Mowgli broke it. The mosses curled deep and warm over his feet, the young grass had no cutting edges, and all the voices of the Jungle boomed like one deep harp-string touched by the moon -- the Moon of New Talk, who splashed her light full on rock and pool, slipped it between trunk and creeper, and sifted it through a million leaves. Forgetting his unhappiness, Mowgli sang aloud with pure delight as he settled into his stride. It was more like flying than anything else, for he had chosen the long downward slope that leads to the Northern Marshes through the heart of the main Jungle, where the springy ground deadened the fall of his feet. A man-taught man would have picked his way with many stumbles through the cheating moonlight, but Mowgli’s muscles, trained by years of experience, bore him up as though he were a feather. When a rotten log or a hidden stone turned under his foot he saved himself, never checking his pace, without effort and without thought. When he tired of ground-going he threw up his hands monkey-fashion to the nearest creeper, and seemed to float rather than to climb up into the thin branches, whence he would follow a tree-road till his mood changed, and he shot downward in a long, leafy curve to the levels again. There were still, hot hollows surrounded by wet rocks where he could hardly breathe for the heavy scents of the night flowers and the bloom along the creeper buds; dark avenues where the moonlight lay in belts as regular as checkered marbles in a church aisle; thickets where the wet young growth stood breast-high about him and threw its arms round his waist; and hilltops crowned with broken rock, where he leaped from stone to stone above the lairs of the frightened little foxes. He would hear, very faint and far off, the chug-drug of a boar sharpening his tusks on a bole; and would come across the great gray brute all alone, scribing and rending the bark of a tall tree, his mouth dripping with foam, and his eyes blazing like fire. Or he would turn aside to the sound of clashing horns and hissing grunts, and dash past a couple of furious sambhur, staggering to and fro with lowered heads, striped with blood that showed black in the moonlight. Or at some rushing ford he would hear Jacala the Crocodile bellowing like a bull, or disturb a twined knot of the Poison People, but before they could strike he would be away and across the glistening shingle, deep in the Jungle again.
So he ran, sometimes shouting, sometimes singing to himself, the happiest thing in all the Jungle that night, till the smell of the flowers warned him that he was near the marshes, and those lay far beyond his furthest hunting-grounds.
Here, again, a man-trained man would have sunk overhead in three strides, but Mowgli’s feet had eyes in them, and they passed him from tussock to tussock and clump to quaking clump without asking help from the eyes in his head. He ran out to the middle of the swamp, disturbing the duck as he ran, and sat down on a moss-coated tree-trunk lapped in the black water. The marsh was awake all round him, for in the spring the Bird People sleep very lightly, and companies of them were coming or going the night through. But no one took any notice of Mowgli sitting among the tall reeds humming songs without words, and looking at the soles of his hard brown feet in case of neglected thorns. All his unhappiness seemed to have been left behind in his own jungle, and he was just beginning a full-throat song when it came back again -- ten times worse than before.
This time Mowgli was frightened. "It is here also!" he said half aloud. "It has followed me," and he looked over his shoulder to see whether the It were not standing behind him. "There is no one here." The night noises of the marsh went on, but never a bird or beast spoke to him, and the new feeling of misery grew.
"I have surely eaten poison," he said in an awe-stricken voice. "It must be that carelessly I have eaten poison, and my strength is going from me. I was afraid -- and yet it was not I that was afraid -- Mowgli was afraid when the two wolves fought. Akela, or even Phao, would have silenced them; yet Mowgli was afraid. That is true sign I have eaten poison. . . . But what do they care in the Jungle? They sing and howl and fight, and run in companies under the moon, and I -- Hai-mai! -- I am dying in the marshes, of that poison which I have eaten." He was so sorry for himself that he nearly wept. "And after," he went on, "they will find me lying in the black water. Nay, I will go back to my own Jungle, and I will die upon the Council Rock, and Bagheera, whom I love, if he is not screaming in the valley -- Bagheera, perhaps, may watch by what is left for a little, lest Chil use me as he used Akela."
A large, warm tear splashed down on his knee, and, miserable as he was, Mowgli felt happy that he was so miserable, if you can understand that upside-down sort of happiness. "As Chil the Kite used Akela," he repeated, "on the night I saved the Pack from Red Dog." He was quiet for a little, thinking of the last words of the Lone Wolf, which you, of course, remember. "Now Akela said to me many foolish things before he died, for when we die our stomachs change. He said . . . None the less, I am of the Jungle!"
In his excitement, as he remembered the fight on Waingunga bank, he shouted the last words aloud, and a wild buffalo-cow among the reeds sprang to her knees, snorting, "Man!"
"Uhh!" said Mysa the Wild Buffalo (Mowgli could hear him turn in his wallow), "that is no man. It is only the hairless wolf of the Seeonee Pack. On such nights runs he to and fro."
"Uhh!" said the cow, dropping her head again to graze, "I thought it was Man."
"I say no. Oh, Mowgli, is it danger?" lowed Mysa.
"Oh, Mowgli, is it danger?" the boy called back mockingly. "That is all Mysa thinks for: Is it danger? But for Mowgli, who goes to and fro in the Jungle by night, watching, what do ye care?"
"How loud he cries!" said the cow.
"Thus do they cry," Mysa answered contemptuously, "who, having torn up the grass, know not how to eat it."
"For less than this," Mowgli groaned to himself --" for less than this even last Rains I had pricked Mysa out of his wallow, and ridden him through the swamp on a rush halter." He stretched a hand to break one of the feathery reeds, but drew it back with a sigh. Mysa went on steadily chewing the cud, and the long grass ripped where the cow grazed. "I will not die here," he said angrily. "Mysa, who is of one blood with Jacala and the pig, would see me. Let us go beyond the swamp and see what comes. Never have I run such a spring running -- hot and cold together. Up, Mowgli!"
He could not resist the temptation of stealing across the reeds to Mysa and pricking him with the point of his knife. The great dripping bull broke out of his wallow like a shell exploding, while Mowgli laughed till he sat down.
"Say now that the hairless wolf of the Seeonee Pack once herded thee, Mysa," he called.
"Wolf! Thou?" the bull snorted, stamping in the mud. "All the Jungle knows thou wast a herder of tame cattle -- such a man’s brat as shouts in the dust by the crops yonder. Thou of the Jungle! What hunter would have crawled like a snake among the leeches, and for a muddy jest -- a jackal’s jest -- have shamed me before my cow? Come to firm ground, and I will -- I will . . ." Mysa frothed at the mouth, for Mysa has nearly the worst temper of any one in the Jungle.
Mowgli watched him puff and blow with eyes that never changed. When he could make himself heard through the spattering mud, he said:
"What Man-Pack lair here by the marshes, Mysa? This is new jungle to me."
"Go north, then," roared the angry bull, for Mowgli had pricked him rather sharply. "It was a naked cowherd’s jest. Go and tell them at the village at the foot of the marsh."
"The Man-Pack do not love jungle-tales, nor do I think, Mysa, that a scratch more or less on thy hide is any matter for a council. But I will go and look at this village. Yes, I will go. Softly now. It is not every night that the Master of the Jungle comes to herd thee."
He stepped out to the shivering ground on the edge of the marsh, well knowing that Mysa would never charge over it, and laughed, as he ran, to think of the bull’s anger.
"My strength is not altogether gone," he said. "It may be that the poison is not to the bone. There is a star sitting low yonder." He looked at it between his half-shut hands. "By the Bull that bought me, it is the Red Flower -- the Red Flower that I lay beside before -- before I came even to the first Seeonee Pack! Now that I have seen, I will finish the running."
The marsh ended in a broad plain where a light twinkled. It was a long time since Mowgli had concerned himself with the doings of men, but this night the glimmer of the Red Flower drew him forward.
"I will look," said he, "as I did in the old days, and I will see how far the Man-Pack has changed."
Forgetting that he was no longer in his own jungle, where he could do what he pleased, he trod carelessly through the dew-loaded grasses till he came to the hut where the light stood. Three or four yelping dogs gave tongue, for he was on the outskirts of a village.
"Ho!" said Mowgli, sitting down noiselessly, after sending back a deep wolf-growl that silenced the curs. "What comes will come. Mowgli, what hast thou to do any more with the lairs of the Man-Pack?" He rubbed his mouth, remembering where a stone had struck it years ago when the other Man-Pack had cast him out.
The door of the hut opened, and a woman stood peering out into the darkness. A child cried, and the woman said over her shoulder, "Sleep. It was but a jackal that waked the dogs. In a little time morning comes."
Mowgli in the grass began to shake as though he had fever. He knew that voice well, but to make sure he cried softly, surprised to find how man’s talk came back, "Messua! O Messua!"
"Who calls?" said the woman, a quiver in her voice.
"Hast thou forgotten?" said Mowgli. His throat was dry as he spoke.
"If it be thou, what name did I give thee? Say!" She had half shut the door, and her hand was clutching at her breast.
"Nathoo! Ohé Nathoo!" said Mowgli, for, as you remember, that was the name Messua gave him when he first came to the Man-Pack.
"Come, my son," she called, and Mowgli stepped into the light, and looked full at Messua, the woman who had been good to him, and whose life he had saved from the Man-Pack so long before. She was older, and her hair was gray, but her eyes and her voice had not changed. Woman-like, she expected to find Mowgli where she had left him, and her eyes traveled upward in a puzzled way from his chest to his head, that touched the top of the door.
"My son," she stammered; and then, sinking to his feet: "But it is no longer my son. It is a Godling of the Woods! Ahai!"
As he stood in the red light of the oil-lamp, strong, tall, and beautiful, his long black hair sweeping over his shoulders, the knife swinging at his neck, and his head crowned with a wreath of white jasmine, he might easily have been mistaken for some wild god of a jungle legend. The child half asleep on a cot sprang up and shrieked aloud with terror. Messua turned to soothe him, while Mowgli stood still, looking in at the water-jars and the cooking-pots, the grain-bin, and all the other human belongings that he found himself remembering so well.
"What wilt thou eat or drink?" Messua murmured. "This is all thine. We owe our lives to thee. But art thou him I called Nathoo, or a Godling, indeed?"
"I am Nathoo," said Mowgli, "I am very far from my own place. I saw this light, and came hither. I did not know thou wast here."
"After we came to Khanhiwara," Messua said timidly, "the English would have helped us against those villagers that sought to burn us. Rememberest thou?"
"Indeed, I have not forgotten."
"But when the English Law was made ready, we went to the village of those evil people, and it was no more to be found."
"That also I remember," said Mowgli, with a quiver of his nostril.
"My man, therefore, took service in the fields, and at last -- for, indeed, he was a strong man -- we held a little land here. It is not so rich as the old village, but we do not need much -- we two."
"Where is he -- the man that dug in the dirt when he was afraid on that night?"
"He is dead -- a year."
"And he?" Mowgli pointed to the child.
"My son that was born two Rains ago. If thou art a Godling, give him the Favor of the Jungle, that he may be safe among thy -- thy people, as we were safe on that night."
She lifted up the child, who, forgetting his fright, reached out to play with the knife that hung on Mowgli’s chest, and Mowgli put the little fingers aside very carefully.
"And if thou art Nathoo whom the tiger carried away," Messua went on, choking, "he is then thy younger brother. Give him an elder brother’s blessing."
"Hai-mai! What do I know of the thing called a blessing? I am neither a Godling nor his brother, and -- O mother, mother, my heart is heavy in me." He shivered as he set down the child.
"Like enough," said Messua, bustling among the cooking-pots. "This comes of running about the marshes by night. Beyond question, the fever has soaked thee to the marrow." Mowgli smiled a little at the idea of anything in the Jungle hurting him. "I will make a fire, and thou shalt drink warm milk. Put away the jasmine wreath: the smell is heavy in so small a place."
Mowgli sat down, muttering, with his face in his hands. All manner of strange feelings that he had never felt before were running over him, exactly as though he had been poisoned, and he felt dizzy and a little sick. He drank the warm milk in long gulps, Messua patting him on the shoulder from time to time, not quite sure whether he were her son Nathoo of the long ago days, or some wonderful Jungle being, but glad to feel that he was at least flesh and blood.
"Son," she said at last, -- her eyes were full of pride, -- "have any told thee that thou art beautiful beyond all men?"
"Hah?" said Mowgli, for naturally he had never heard anything of the kind. Messua laughed softly and happily. The look in his face was enough for her.
"I am the first, then? It is right, though it comes seldom, that a mother should tell her son these good things. Thou art very beautiful. Never have I looked upon such a man."
Mowgli twisted his head and tried to see over his own hard shoulder, and Messua laughed again so long that Mowgli, not knowing why, was forced to laugh with her, and the child ran from one to the other, laughing too.
"Nay, thou must not mock thy brother," said Messua, catching him to her breast. "When thou art one half as fair we will marry thee to the youngest daughter of a king, and thou shalt ride great elephants."
Mowgli could not understand one word in three of the talk here; the warm milk was taking effect on him after his long run, so he curled up and in a minute was deep asleep, and Messua put the hair back from his eyes, threw a cloth over him, and was happy. Jungle-fashion, he slept out the rest of that night and all the next day; for his instincts, which never wholly slept, warned him there was nothing to fear. He waked at last with a bound that shook the hut, for the cloth over his face made him dream of traps; and there he stood, his hand on his knife, the sleep all heavy in his rolling eyes, ready for any fight.
Messua laughed, and set the evening meal before him. There were only a few coarse cakes baked over the smoky fire, some rice, and a lump of sour preserved tamarinds -- just enough to go on with till he could get to his evening kill. The smell of the dew in the marshes made him hungry and restless. He wanted to finish his spring running, but the child insisted on sitting in his arms, and Messua would have it that his long, blue-black hair must be combed out. So she sang, as she combed, foolish little baby-songs, now calling Mowgli her son, and now begging him to give some of his jungle power to the child. The hut door was closed, but Mowgli heard a sound he knew well, and saw Messua’s jaw drop with horror as a great gray paw came under the bottom of the door, and Gray Brother outside whined a muffled and penitent whine of anxiety and fear.
"Out and wait! Ye would not come when I called," said Mowgli in jungle-talk, without turning his head, and the great gray paw disappeared.
"Do not -- do not bring thy -- thy servants with thee," said Messua. "I -- we have always lived at peace with the Jungle."
"It is peace," said Mowgli, rising. "Think of that night on the road to Khanhiwara. There were scores of such folk before thee and behind thee. But I see that even in springtime the Jungle People do not always forget. Mother, I go."
Messua drew aside humbly -- he was indeed a wood-god, she thought; but as his hand was on the door the mother in her made her throw her arms round Mowgli’s neck again and again.
"Come back!" she whispered. "Son or no son, come back, for I love thee -- Look, he too grieves."
The child was crying because the man with the shiny knife was going away.
"Come back again," Messua repeated. "By night or by day this door is never shut to thee."
Mowgli’s throat worked as though the cords in it were being pulled, and his voice seemed to be dragged from it as he answered, "I will surely come back."
"And now," he said, as he put by the head of the fawning wolf on the threshold, "I have a little cry against thee, Gray Brother. Why came ye not all four when I called so long ago?"
"So long ago? It was but last night. I -- we -- were singing in the Jungle the new songs, for this is the Time of New Talk. Rememberest thou?"
"And as soon as the songs were sung," Gray Brother went on earnestly, "I followed thy trail. I ran from all the others and followed hot-foot. But, O Little Brother, what hast thou done, eating and sleeping with the Man-Pack?"
"If ye had come when I called, this had never been," said Mowgli, running much faster.
"And now what is to be?" said Gray Brother. Mowgli was just going to answer when a girl in a white cloth came down some path that led from the outskirts of the village. Gray Brother dropped out of sight at once, and Mowgli backed noiselessly into a field of high-springing crops. He could almost have touched her with his hand when the warm, green stalks closed before his face and he disappeared like a ghost. The girl screamed, for she thought she had seen a spirit, and then she gave a deep sigh. Mowgli parted the stalks with his hands and watched her till she was out of sight.
"And now I do not know," he said, sighing in his turn. "Why did ye not come when I called?"
"We follow thee -- we follow thee," Gray Brother mumbled, licking at Mowgli’s heel. "We follow thee always, except in the Time of the New Talk."
"And would ye follow me to the Man-Pack?" Mowgli whispered.
"Did I not follow thee on the night our old Pack cast thee out? Who waked thee lying among the crops?"
"Ay, but again?"
"Have I not followed thee to-night?"
"Ay, but again and again, and it may be again, Gray Brother?"
Gray Brother was silent. When he spoke he growled to himself, "The Black One spoke truth."
"And he said?"
"Man goes to Man at the last. Raksha, our mother, said --"
"So also said Akela on the night of Red Dog," Mowgli muttered.
"So also says Kaa, who is wiser than us all."
"What dost thou say, Gray Brother?"
"They cast thee out once, with bad talk. They cut thy mouth with stones. They sent Buldeo to slay thee. They would have thrown thee into the Red Flower. Thou, and not I, hast said that they are evil and senseless. Thou, and not I -- I follow my own people -- didst let in the Jungle upon them. Thou, and not I, didst make song against them more bitter even than our song against Red Dog."
"I ask thee what thou sayest?"
They were talking as they ran. Gray Brother cantered on a while without replying, and then he said, -- between bound and bound as it were, -- "Man-cub -- Master of the Jungle -- Son of Raksha, Lair-brother to me -- though I forget for a little while in the spring, thy trail is my trail, thy lair is my lair, thy kill is my kill, and thy death-fight is my death-fight. I speak for the Three. But what wilt thou say to the Jungle?"
"That is well thought. Between the sight and the kill it is not good to wait. Go before and cry them all to the Council Rock, and I will tell them what is in my stomach. But they may not come -- in the Time of New Talk they may forget me."
"Hast thou, then, forgotten nothing?" snapped Gray Brother over his shoulder, as he laid himself down to gallop, and Mowgli followed, thinking.
At any other season the news would have called all the Jungle together with bristling necks, but now they were busy hunting and fighting and killing and singing. From one to another Gray Brother ran, crying, "The Master of the Jungle goes back to Man! Come to the Council Rock." And the happy, eager People only answered, "He will return in the summer heats. The Rains will drive him to lair. Run and sing with us, Gray Brother."
"But the Master of the Jungle goes back to Man," Gray Brother would repeat.
"Eee -- Toawa? Is the Time of New Talk any less sweet for that?" they would reply. So when Mowgli, heavy-hearted, came up through the well-remembered rocks to the place where he had been brought into the Council, he found only the Four, Baloo, who was nearly blind with age, and the heavy, cold-blooded Kaa coiled around Akela’s empty seat.
"Thy trail ends here, then, Manling?" said Kaa, as Mowgli threw himself down, his face in his hands. "Cry thy cry. We be of one blood, thou and I -- man and snake together."
"Why did I not die under Red Dog?" the boy moaned. "My strength is gone from me, and it is not any poison. By night and by day I hear a double step upon my trail. When I turn my head it is as though one had hidden himself from me that instant. I go to look behind the trees, and he is not there. I call and none cry again; but it is as though one listened and kept back the answer. I lie down, but I do not rest. I run the spring running, but I am not made still. I bathe, but I am not made cool. The kill sickens me, but I have no heart to fight except I kill. The Red Flower is in my body, my bones are water -- and -- I know not what I know."
"What need of talk?" said Baloo slowly, turning his head to where Mowgli lay. "Akela by the river said it, that Mowgli should drive Mowgli back to the Man-Pack. I said it. But who listens now to Baloo? Bagheera -- where is Bagheera this night? -- he knows also. It is the Law."
"When we met at Cold Lairs, Manling, I knew it," said Kaa, turning a little in his mighty coils. "Man goes to Man at the last, though the Jungle does not cast him out."
The Four looked at one another and at Mowgli, puzzled but obedient.
"The Jungle does not cast me out, then?" Mowgli stammered.
Gray Brother and the Three growled furiously, beginning, "So long as we live none shall dare --" But Baloo checked them.
"I taught thee the Law. It is for me to speak," he said; "and, though I cannot now see the rocks before me, I see far. Little Frog, take thine own trail; make thy lair with thine own blood and pack and people; but when there is need of foot or tooth or eye, or a word carried swiftly by night, remember, Master of the Jungle, the Jungle is thine at call."
"The Middle Jungle is thine also," said Kaa. "I speak for no small people."
"Hai-mai, my brothers," cried Mowgli, throwing up his arms with a sob. "I know not what I know! I would not go; but I am drawn by both feet. How shall I leave these nights?"
"Nay, look up, Little Brother," Baloo repeated. "There is no shame in this hunting, When the honey is eaten we leave the empty hive."
"Having cast the skin," said Kaa, "we may not creep into it afresh. It is the Law."
"Listen, dearest of all to me," ‘said Baloo. "There is neither word nor will here to hold thee back. Look up! Who may question the Master of the Jungle? I saw thee playing among the white pebbles yonder when thou wast a little frog; and Bagheera, that bought thee for the price of a young bull newly killed, saw thee also. Of that Looking Over we two only remain; for Raksha, thy lair-mother, is dead with thy lair-father; the old Wolf-Pack is long since dead; thou knowest whither Shere Khan went, and Akela died among the dholes, where, but for thy wisdom and strength, the second Seeonee Pack would also have died. There remains nothing but old bones. It is no longer the Man-cub that asks leave of his Pack, but the Master of the Jungle that changes his trail. Who shall question Man in his ways?"
"But Bagheera and the Bull that bought me," said Mowgli. "I would not --"
His words were cut short by a roar and a crash in the thicket below, and Bagheera, light, strong, and terrible as always, stood before him.
"Therefore," he said, stretching out a dripping right paw, "I did not come. It was a long hunt, but he lies dead in the bushes now -- a bull in his second year -- the Bull that frees thee, Little Brother. All debts are paid now. For the rest, my word is Baloo’s word." He licked Mowgli’s foot. "Remember, Bagheera loved thee," he cried, and bounded away. At the foot of the hill he cried again long and loud, "Good hunting on a new trail, Master of the Jungle! Remember, Bagheera loved thee."
"Thou hast heard," said Baloo. "There is no more. Go now; but first come to me. O wise Little Frog, come to me!"
"It is hard to cast the skin," said Kaa as Mowgli sobbed and sobbed, with his head on the blind bear’s side and his arms round his neck, while Baloo tried feebly to lick his feet.
For the sake of him who showed
One wise Frog the Jungle-Road,
Keep the Law the Man-Pack make --
For thy blind old Baloo’s sake!
Clean or tainted, hot or stale,
Hold it as it were the Trail,
Through the day and through the night,
Questing neither left nor right.
For the sake of him who loves
Thee beyond all else that moves,
When thy Pack would make thee pain,
Say: “Tabaqui sings again.”
When thy Pack would work thee ill,
Say: “Shere Khan is yet to kill.”
When the knife is drawn to slay,
Keep the Law and go thy way.
(Root and honey, palm and spathe,
Guard a cub from harm and scathe!)
Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
Jungle-Favor go with thee!
Anger is the egg of Fear --
Only lidless eyes are clear.
Cobra-poison none may leech;
Even so with Cobra-speech.
Open talk shall call to thee
Strength, whose mate is Courtesy.
Send no lunge beyond thy length;
Lend no rotten bough thy strength.
Gauge thy gape with buck or goat,
Lest thine eye should choke thy throat.
After gorging, wouldst thou sleep,
Look the den is hid and deep,
Lest a wrong, by thee forgot,
Draw thy killer to the spot.
East and West and North and South,
Wash thy hide and close thy mouth.
(Pit and rift and blue pool-brim,
Middle Jungle follow him!)
Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
Jungle-Favor go with thee!
In the cage my life began;
Well I know the worth of Man.
By the Broken Lock that freed --
Man-cub, ‘ware the Man-cub’s breed
Scenting-dew or starlight pale,
Choose no tangled tree-cat trail.
Pack or council, hunt or den,
Cry no truce with Jackal-Men.
Feed them silence when they say
“Come with us an easy way.”
Feed them silence when they seek
Help of thine to hurt the weak.
Make no bandar’s boast of skill;
Hold thy peace above the kill.
Let nor call nor song nor sign
Turn thee from thy hunting-line.
(Morning mist or twilight clear,
Serve him, Wardens of the Deer!)
Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
Jungle-Favor go with thee!
THE THREE --
On the trail that thou must tread
To the thresholds of our dread,
Where the Flower blossoms red;
Through the nights when thou shalt lie
Prisoned from our Mother-sky,
Hearing us, thy loves, go by;
In the dawns when thou shalt wake
To the toil thou canst not break,
Heartsick for the Jungle’s sake:
Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
Wisdom, Strength, and Courtesy,
Jungle-Favor go with thee!
The Only Son lay down again and dreamed that he dreamed a dream,Of the wheels of public service that turn under the Indian Government, there is none more important than the Department of Woods and Forests. The reboisement of all India is in its hands: or will be when Government has the money to spend. Its servants wrestle with wandering sand-torrents and shifting dunes; wattling them at the sides, damming them in front, and pegging them down atop with coarse grass and unhappy pine after the rules of Nancy. They are responsible for all the timber in the State forests of the Himalayas, as well as for the denuded hillsides that the monsoons wash into dry gullies and aching ravines, each cut a mouth crying aloud what carelessness can do. They experiment with battalions of foreign trees, and coax the blue gum to take root and, perhaps, dry up the canal fever. In the plains the chief part of their duty is to see that the belt fire lines in the forest reserves are kept clean, so that when drouth comes and the cattle starve, they may throw the reserve open to the villager’s herds and allow the man himself to gather sticks. They poll and lop for the stacked railway-fuel along the lines that burn no coal; they calculate the profit of their plantations to five points of decimals, they are the doctors and midwives of the huge teak forests of Upper Burma; the rubber of the Eastern Jungles, and the gall-nuts of the South: and they are always hampered by lack of funds. But since a Forest Officer’s business takes him far from the beaten roads and the regular stations, he learns to grow wise in more than wood-lore alone; to know the people and the polity of the jungle; meeting tiger, bear, leopard, wild-dog, and all the deer, not once or twice after days of beating, but again and again in the execution of his duty. He spends much time in saddle or under canvas -- the friend of newly planted trees, the associate of uncouth rangers and hairy trackers -- till the woods that show his care in turn set their mark upon him, and he ceases to sing the naughty French songs he learned at Nancy, and grows silent with the silent things of the undergrowth.
The last ash dropped from the dying fire with the click of a falling spark,
And the Only Son woke up again and called across the dark: --
“Now, was I born of womankind and laid in a mother’s breast
For I have dreamed of a shaggy hide whereon I went to rest.
And was I born of womankind and laid on a father’s arm?
For I have dreamed of long white teeth that guarded me from harm.
For I have dreamed of playmates twain that bit me to the bone.
And did I break the barley bread and steep it in the tyre
For I have dreamed of a youngling kid new-riven from the byre.
An hour it lacks and an hour it lacks to the rising of the moon --
But I can see the black roof-beams as plain as it were noon.
Tis a league and a league to the Lena Falls where the trooping sambhur go,
But I can hear the little fawn that bleats behind the doe.
‘Tis a league and a league to the Lena Falls where the crop and the upland meet,
But I can smell the warm wet wind that whispers through the wheat!”
The Only Son.
Gisborne of the Woods and Forests had spent four years in the service. At first he loved it without comprehension, because it led him into the open on horseback and gave him authority. Then he hated it furiously, and would have given a year’s pay for one month of such society as India affords. That crisis over, the forests took him back again, and he was content to serve them, to deepen and widen his fire-lines, to watch the green mist of his new plantations against the older foliage, to dredge out the choked stream, and to follow and strengthen the last struggle of the forest where it broke down and died among the long pig-grass. On some still day that grass would be burned off, and a hundred beasts that had their homes there would rush out before the pale flames at high noon. Later, the forest would creep forward over the blackened ground in orderly lines of saplings, and Gisborne, watching, would be well pleased. His bungalow, a thatched white-walled cottage of two rooms, was set at one end of the great rukh and overlooking it. He made no pretence at keeping a garden, for the rukh swept up to his door, curled over in a thicket of bamboo, and he rode from his verandah into its heart without the need of any carriage-drive.
Abdul Gafur, his fat Mohammedan butler, fed him when he was at home, and spent the rest of the time gossiping with the little band of native servants whose huts lay behind the bungalow. There were two grooms, a cook, a water-carrier, and a sweeper, and that was all. Gisborne cleaned his own guns and kept no dog. Dogs scared the game, and it pleased the man to be able to say where the subjects of his kingdom would drink at moonrise, eat before dawn, and lie up in the day’s heat. The rangers and forest-guards lived in little huts far away in the rukh; only appearing when one of them had been injured by a falling tree or a wild beast. There Gisborne was alone.
In spring the rukh put out few new leaves, but lay dry and still, untouched by the finger of the year, waiting for rain. Only there was then more calling and roaring in the dark on a quiet night, the tumult of a battle-royal among the tigers, the bellowing of an arrogant buck, or the steady wood-chopping of an old boar sharpening his tushes against a bole. Then Gisborne laid aside his little-used gun altogether, for it was to him a sin to kill. In summer, through the furious May heats, the rukh reeled in the haze, and Gisborne watched for the first sign of curling smoke that should betray a forest fire. Then came the Rains with a roar, and the rukh was blotted out in fetch after fetch of warm mist, and the broad leaves drummed the night through under the big drops; and there was a noise of running water, and of juicy green stuff crackling where the wind struck it, and the lightning wove patterns behind the dense matting of foliage till the sun broke loose again and the rukh stood with hot flanks smoking to the newly washed sky. Then the heat and the dry cold subdued everything to tiger-colour again. So Gisborne learned to know his rukh, and was very happy. His pay came month by month, but he had very little need for money. The currency notes accumulated in the drawer where he kept his home letters and the recapping-machine. If he drew anything, it was to make a purchase from the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, or to pay a ranger’s widow a sum that the Government of India would never have sanctioned.
Payment was good, but vengeance was also necessary, and he took it when he could. One night of many nights, a runner, breathless and gasping, came to him with the news that a forest-guard lay dead by the Kanye stream, the side of his head smashed in as though it had been an eggshell. Gisborne went out at dawn to look for the murderer. It is only travellers and now and then young soldiers who are known to the world as great hunters. The Forest Officers take their shikar as part of the day’s work, and no one hears of it. Gisborne went on foot to the place of the kill; the widow was wailing over the corpse as it lay on a bedstead, while two or three men were looking at footprints on the moist ground. "That is the Red One," said a man. "I knew he would turn to man in time, but surely there is game enough even for him. This must have been done for devilry."
"The Red One lies up in the rocks at the back of the sal trees," said Gisborne. He knew the tiger under suspicion.
"Not now, Sahib, not now. He will be raging and ranging to and fro. Remember that the first kill is a triple kill always. Our blood makes them mad. He may be behind us even as we speak."
"He may have gone to the next hut," said another. "It is only four koss. Wallah! who is this?"
Gisborne turned with the others. A man was walking down the dried bed of the stream, naked except for the loin-cloth, but crowned with a wreath of the tasselled blossoms of the white convolvulus creeper. So noiselessly did he move over the little pebbles, that even Gisborne, used to the soft-footedness of trackers, started.
"The tiger that killed," he began without any salute, "has gone to drink, and now he is asleep under a rock beyond that hill." His voice was clear and bell-like, utterly different from the usual whine of the native; and his face, as he lifted it in the sunshine, might have been that of an angel strayed among the woods. The widow ceased wailing above the corpse and looked round-eyed at the stranger, returning to her duty with double strength.
"Shall I show the Sahib?" he said simply.
"If thou art sure --" Gisborne began.
"Sure, indeed. I saw him only an hour ago -- the dog. It is before his time to eat man’s flesh. He has yet a dozen sound teeth in his evil head."
The men kneeling above the footprints slunk off quietly, for fear that Gisborne should ask them to go with him, and the young man laughed a little to himself.
"Come, Sahib," he cried, and turned on his heel, walking before his companion.
"Not so fast. I cannot keep that pace," said the white man. "Halt there. Thy face is new to me."
"That may be. I am but newly come into this forest."
"From what village?"
"I am without a village. I came from over there." He flung out his arm towards the north.
"A gipsy, then?"
"No, Sahib, I am a man without caste, and for matter of that, without a father."
"What do men call thee?"
"Mowgli, Sahib. And what is the Sahib’s name?"
"I am the warden of this rukh -- Gisborne is my name."
"How? Do they number the trees and the blades of grass here?"
"Even so; lest such gipsy fellows as thou set them afire."
"I! I would not hurt the jungle for any gift. That is my home."
He turned to Gisborne with a smile that was irresistible, and held up a warning hand.
"Now, Sahib, we must go a little quietly. There is no need to wake the dog, though he sleeps heavily enough. Perhaps it were better if I went forward alone and drove him down-wind to the Sahib."
"Allah! Since when have tigers been driven to and fro like cattle by naked men?" said Gisborne, aghast at the man’s audacity.
He laughed again softly. "Nay, then, come along with me and shoot him in thy own way with the big English rifle."
Gisborne stepped in his guide’s track; twisted, crawled, and clomb and stooped and suffered through all the many agonies of a jungle-stalk. He was purple and dripping with sweat when Mowgli at the last bade him raise his head and peer over a blue baked rock near a tiny hill pool. By the water-side lay the tiger extended and at ease, lazily licking clean again an enormous elbow and fore paw. He was old, yellow-toothed, and not a little mangy, but in that setting and sunshine, imposing enough.
Gisborne had no false ideas of sport where a man-eater was concerned. This thing was vermin, to be killed as speedily as possible. He waited to recover his breath, rested the rifle on the rock, and whistled. The brute’s head turned slowly not twenty feet from the rifle-mouth, and Gisborne planted his shots, business-like, one behind the shoulder and the other a little below the eye. At that range the heavy bones were no guard against the rending bullets.
"Well, the skin was not worth keeping, at any rate," said he as the smoke cleared away and the beast lay kicking and gasping in the last agony.
"A dog’s death for a dog," said Mowgli quietly. "Indeed there is nothing in that carrion worth the taking away."
"The whiskers. Dost thou not take the whiskers?" said Gisborne, who knew how the rangers valued such things.
"I? Am I a lousy shikarri of the jungle to paddle with a tiger’s muzzle? Let him lie. Here come his friends already."
A dropping kite whistled shrilly overhead, as Gisborne snapped out the empty shells and wiped his face.
"And if thou art not shikarri, where didst thou learn thy knowledge of the tiger-folk?" said he. "No tracker could have done better."
"I hate all tigers," said Mowgli curtly. "Let the Sahib give me his gun to carry. Arré! it is a very fine one. And where does the Sahib go now?"
"To my house."
"May I come? I have never yet looked within a white man’s house."
Gisborne returned to his bungalow, Mowgli striding noiselessly before him, his brown skin glistening in the sunlight.
He stared curiously at the verandah and the two chairs there, fingered the split bamboo shade curtains with suspicion, and entered, looking always behind him. Gisborne loosed a curtain to keep out the sun. It dropped with a clatter, but almost before it had touched the flagging of the verandah Mowgli had leaped clear and was standing with heaving chest in the open.
"It is a trap," he said quickly.
Gisborne laughed. "White men do not trap men. Indeed thou art altogether of the jungle."
"I see," said Mowgli, "it has neither catch nor fall. I -- I never beheld these things till to-day."
He came in on tiptoe and stared with large eyes at the furniture of the two rooms. Abdul Gafur, who was laying lunch, looked at him with deep disgust.
"So much trouble to eat, and so much trouble to lie down after you have eaten!" said Mowgli, with a grin; "we do better in the jungle. It is very wonderful. There are very many rich things here. Is the Sahib not afraid that he may be robbed? I have never seen such wonderful things." He was staring at a dusty Benares brass plate on a ricketty bracket.
"Only a thief from the jungle would rob here," said Abdul Gafur, setting down a plate with a clatter. Mowgli opened his eyes wide and stared at the white-bearded Mohammedan.
"In my country when goats bleat very loud we cut their throats," he returned cheerfully. "But have no fear, thou. I am going."
He turned and disappeared into the rukh. Gisborne looked after him with a laugh that ended in a little sigh. There was not much outside regular work to interest a Forest Officer, and this son of the forest, who seemed to know tigers as other people know dogs, would have been a diversion.
"He’s a most wonderful chap," thought Gisborne; "he’s like the illustrations in the Classical Dictionary. I wish I could have made him a gun-boy. There’s no fun in shikarring alone, and this fellow would have been a perfect shikarri. I wonder what in the world he is."
That evening he sat on the verandah under the stairs, smoking as he wondered. A puff of smoke curled from the pipe-bowl. As it cleared he was aware of Mowgli sitting with arms crossed on the verandah-edge. A ghost could not have drifted up more noiselessly. Gisborne started and let the pipe drop.
"There is no man to talk to out there in the rukh," said Mowgli; "I came here therefore." He picked up the pipe and returned it to Gisborne.
"Oh," said Gisborne, and after a long pause, "What news is there in the rukh? Hast thou found another tiger?"
"The nilghai are changing their feeding-ground against the new moon, as is their custom. The pig are feeding near the Kanye river now, because they will not feed with the nilghai, and one of their sows has been killed by a leopard in the long grass at the water-head. I do not know any more."
"And how didst thou know all these things?" said Gisborne, leaning forward and looking at the eyes that burned in the starlight.
"How should I not know? The nilghai has his custom and his use, and a child knows that pig will not feed with him."
"I do not know this," said Gisborne.
"Tck! Tck! And thou art in charge -- so the men of the huts tell me -- in charge of all this rukh." He laughed to himself.
"It is well enough to talk and to tell child’s tales," Gisborne retorted, nettled at the chuckle; "to say that this and that goes on in the rukh. No man can deny thee."
As for the sow’s carcass, I will show thee her bones to-morrow," Mowgli returned, absolutely unmoved. "Touching the matter of the nilghai, if the Sahib will sit here very still I will drive one nilghai up to this place, and by listening to the sounds carefully, the Sahib can tell whence that nilghai has been driven."
"Mowgli, the jungle has made thee mad," said Gisborne. "Who can drive nilghai?"
"Still -- sit still, then. I go."
"Gad, the man’s a ghost," said Gisborne; for Mowgli had faded out into the darkness, and there was no sound of feet. The rukh lay out in great velvety folds in the uncertain shimmer of the star-dust -- so still that the least little wandering wind among the tree-tops came up as the sigh of a child sleeping equably. Abdul Gafur in the cook-house was clicking plates together.
"Be still there!" shouted Gisborne, and composed himself to listen as a man can who is used to the stillness of the rukh. It had been his custom, to preserve self-respect in his isolation, to dress for dinner each night, and the stiff white shirt-front creaked with his regular breathing till he shifted a little sideways. Then the tobacco of a somewhat foul pipe began to purr, and he threw the pipe from him. Now, except for the night-breath in the rukh, everything was dumb.
From an inconceivable distance, and drawled through immeasurable darkness, came the faint echo of a wolf’s howl. Then silence again for, it seemed, long hours. At last, when his feet below the knee had lost all feeling, Gisborne heard something that might have been a crash far off through the undergrowth. He doubted till it was repeated again and yet again.
"That’s from the west," he muttered; "there’s something on foot there." The noise increased -- crash on crash, plunge on plunge -- with the thick grunting of a hotly pressed nilghai, flying in panic terror and taking no heed to his feet.
A shadow blundered out from between the tree trunks, wheeled back, turned again grunting, and with a clatter on the bare ground dashed up almost within reach of his hand. It was a bull nilghai, dripping with dew -- his withers hung with a torn trail of creeper, his eyes shining in the light from the house. The creature checked at sight of the man, and fled along the edge of the rukh till he melted in the darkness. The first idea in Gisborne’s bewildered mind was the indecency of thus dragging out for inspection the big blue bull of the rukh -- the putting him through his paces in the night, which should have been his own.
Then said a level voice at his ear.
"He came from the water-head where he was leading the herd. From the west he came. Does the Sahib believe now, or shall I bring up the herd to be counted? The Sahib is in charge of this rukh."
Mowgli had reseated himself on the verandah, breathing a little quickly. Gisborne looked at him with open mouth. "How was that accomplished?" he said.
"The Sahib saw. The bull was driven -- driven as a buffalo is. Ho! ho! he will have a fine tale to tell when he returns to the herd."
"That is a new trick to me. Canst thou run as swiftly as the nilghai, then?"
"The Sahib has seen. If the Sahib needs more knowledge at any time of the movings of the game, I, Mowgli, am here. This is a good rukh, and I shall stay."
"Stay, then, and if thou hast need of a meal at any time my servants shall give thee one."
"Yes, indeed, I am fond of cooked food," Mowgli answered quickly. "No man may say that I do not eat boiled and roast as much as any other man. I will come for that meal. Now, on my part, I promise that the Sahib shall sleep safely in his house by night, and no thief shall break in to carry away his so rich treasures."
The conversation ended itself on Mowgli’s abrupt departure. Gisborne sat long smoking, and the upshot of his thoughts was that in Mowgli he had found at last that ideal ranger and forest-guard for whom he and the Department were always looking.
"I must get him into the Government service somehow. A man who can drive nilghai would know more about the rukh than fifty men. He’s a miracle -- a lusus naturæ -- but a forest-guard he must be if he’ll only settle down in one place," said Gisborne.
Abdul Gafur’s opinion was less favourable. He confided to Gisborne at bedtime that strangers from God-knew-where were more than likely to be professional thieves, and that he personally did not approve of naked outcastes who had not the proper manner of addressing white people. Gisborne laughed and bade him go to his quarters, and Abdul Gafur retreated growling. Later in the night he found occasion to rise up and beat his thirteen-year-old daughter. Nobody knew the cause of dispute, but Gisborne heard the cry.
Through the days that followed Mowgli came and went like a shadow. He had established himself and his wild housekeeping close to the bungalow, but on the edge of the rukh, where Gisborne, going out on to the verandah for a breath of cool air, would see him sometimes sitting in the moonlight, his forehead on his knees, or lying out along the fling of a branch, closely pressed to it as some beast of the night. Thence Mowgli would throw him a salutation and bid him sleep at ease, or descending, would weave prodigious stories of the manners of the beasts in the rukh. Once he strayed into the stables and was found looking at the horses with deep interest.
"That," said Abdul Gafur pointedly, "is sure sign that some day he will steal one. Why, if he lives about this house, does he not take an honest employment? But no, he must wander up and down like a loose camel, turning the heads of fools and opening the jaws of the unwise to folly." So Abdul Gafur would give harsh orders to Mowgli when they met, would bid him fetch water and pluck fowls, and Mowgli, laughing unconcernedly, would obey.
"He has no caste," said Abdul Gafur. "He will do anything. Look to it, Sahib, that he does not do too much. A snake is a snake, and a jungle gipsy is a thief till the death."
"Be silent, thou," said Gisborne. "I allow thee to correct thy own household if there is not too much noise, because I know thy customs and use. My custom thou dost not know. The man is without doubt a little mad."
"Very little mad, indeed," said Abdul Gafur. "But we shall see what comes thereof."
A few days later on, his business took Gisborne into the rukh for three days. Abdul Gafur, being old and fat, was left at home. He did not approve of lying up in rangers’ huts, and was inclined to levy contributions in his master’s name of grain and oil and milk from those who could ill afford such benevolences. Gisborne rode off early one dawn, a little annoyed that his man of the woods was not at the verandah to accompany him. He liked him -- liked his strength, fleetness, and silence of foot, and his ever-ready, open smile; his ignorance of all forms of ceremony and salutations, and the childlike tales that he would tell (and Gisborne would credit now) of what the game was doing in the rukh. After an hour’s riding through the greenery, he heard a rustle behind him, and Mowgli trotted at his stirrup.
"We have a three days’ work toward," said Gisborne, "among the new trees."
"Good," said Mowgli. "It is always good to cherish young trees. They make cover if the beasts leave them alone. We must shift the pig again."
"Again? How?" Gisborne smiled.
"Oh, they were rooting and tusking among the young sal last night, and I drove them off. Therefore I did not come to the verandah this morning. The pig should not be on this side of the rukh at all. We must keep them below the head of the Kanye river."
"If a man could herd clouds he might do that thing; but, Mowgli, if, as thou sayest, thou art herder in the rukh for no gain and for no pay --"
"It is the Sahib’s rukh," said Mowgli, quickly looking up. Gisborne nodded thanks and went on: "Would it not be better to work for pay from the Government? There is a pension at the end of long service."
"Of that I have thought," said Mowgli, "but the rangers live in huts with shut doors, and all that is all too much a trap to me. Yet I think --"
"Think well, then, and tell me later. Here we will stay for breakfast."
Gisborne dismounted, took his morning meal from his home-made saddle-bags, and saw the day open hot above the rukh. Mowgli lay in the grass at his side, staring up to the sky.
Presently he said in a lazy whisper: "Sahib, is there any order at the bungalow to take out the white mare to-day?"
"No, she is fat and old and a little lame beside. Why?"
"She is being ridden now, and not slowly, on the road that runs to the railway line."
"Bah! that is two koss away. It is a woodpecker."
Mowgli put up his forearm to keep the sun out of his eyes.
"The road curves in with a big curve from the bungalow. It is not more than a koss, at the farthest, as the kite goes, and sound flies with the birds. Shall we see?"
"What folly! To go a koss in this sun to see a noise in the forest."
"Nay, the pony is the Sahib’s pony. I meant only to bring her here. If she is not the Sahib’s pony, no matter. If she is, the Sahib can do what he wills. She is certainly being ridden fast."
"And how wilt thou bring her here, madman?"
"Has the Sahib forgotten? By the road of the nilghai, and no other."
"Up, then, and run, if thou art so full of zeal."
"Oh, I do not run!" He put out his hand to sign for silence, and, still lying on his back, called aloud thrice, with a long, gurgling cry that was new to Gisborne.
"She will come," he said at the end. "Let us wait in the shade." The long eyelashes drooped over the wild eyes as Mowgli began to doze in the morning hush. Gisborne waited patiently. Mowgli was surely mad, but as entertaining a companion as a lonely Forest Officer could desire.
"Ho! ho!" said Mowgli lazily, with shut eyes. "He has dropped off. Well, first the mare will come, and then the man." Then he yawned as Gisborne’s pony stallion neighed. Three minutes later Gisborne’s white mare, saddled, bridled, but riderless, tore into the glade where they were sitting, and hurried to her companion.
"She is not very warm," said Mowgli, "but in this heat the sweat comes easily. Presently we shall see her rider, for a man goes more slowly than a horse, especially if he chance to be a fat man and old."
"Allah! This is the devil’s work," cried Gisborne, leaping to his feet, for he heard a yell in the jungle.
"Have no care, Sahib. He will not be hurt. He also will say that it is devil’s work. Ah! Listen! Who is that?"
It was the voice of Abdul Gafur, in an agony of terror, crying out upon unknown things to spare him and his gray hairs.
"Nay, I cannot move another step," he howled. "I am old, and my turban is lost. Arré! Arré! But I will move. Indeed I will hasten. I will run! Oh, Devils of the Pit, I am a Mussulman!"
The undergrowth parted and revealed Abdul Gafur, turbanless, shoeless, with his waist-cloth unbound, mud and grass in his clutched hands, and his face purple. He saw Gisborne, yelled anew, and pitched forwards exhausted and quivering at his feet. Mowgli watched him with a sweet smile.
"This is no joke," said Gisborne sternly. "The man is like to die."
"He will not die. He is only afraid. There was no need that he should have come out of a walk."
Abdul Gafur groaned and rose up, shaking in every limb.
"It was witchcraft! Witchcraft and devildom," he sobbed, fumbling with his hand in his breast. "Because of my sin I have been whipped through the woods by devils. It is all finished. I repent. Take them, Sahib!" He held out a roll of dirty paper.
"What is the meaning of this, Abdul Gafur?" said Gisborne, already knowing what would come.
"Put me in the jail-khana -- the notes are all here -- but lock me up safely that no devils may follow. I have sinned against the Sahib and his salt which I have eaten, and but for those accursed wood-demons I might have bought land afar off and lived in peace all my days." He bent his head upon the ground in an agony of despair and mortification. Gisborne turned the roll of notes over and over. It was his accumulated back-pay for the last nine months -- the roll that lay in the drawer with the home letters and the recapping machine. Mowgli watched Abdul Gafur, laughing noiselessly to himself "There is no need to put me on the horse again. I will walk home slowly with the Sahib, and then he can send me under guard to the jail-khana. The Government gives many years for this offence," said the butler sullenly.
Loneliness in the rukh affects very many ideas about very many things. Gisborne stared at Abdul Gafur, remembering that he was a very good servant, and that a new butler must be broken into the ways of the house from the beginning, and at the best would be a new face and a new tongue.
"Listen, Abdul Gafur," he said. "Thou hast done great wrong, and altogether lost thy izzat and thy reputation. But I know that this came upon thee suddenly."
"Allah! I had never desired the notes before. The Evil took me by the throat while I looked."
"That also I can believe. Go, then, back to my house, and when I return I will send the notes by a runner to the Bank, and there shall be no more said. Thou art too old for the jail-khana. Also thy household is guiltless."
For answer Abdul Gafur sobbed between Gisborne’s cowhide riding-boots.
"Is there no dismissal then?" he gulped.
"That we shall see. It hangs upon thy conduct when we return. Get upon the mare and ride slowly back."
"But the devils! The rukh is full of devils!"
"No matter, my father. They will do thee no more harm unless indeed the Sahib’s orders be not obeyed," said Mowgli. "Then, perchance, they may drive thee home -- by the road of the nilghai."
Abdul Gafur’s lower jaw dropped as he twisted up his waist-cloth, staring at Mowgli.
"Are they his devils’? His devils! And I had thought to return and put the blame upon this warlock!"
"That was well thought of, Huzrut; but before we make a trap we see first how big the game is that may fall into it. Now, I thought no more than that a man had taken one of the Sahib’s horses. I did not know that the design was to make me a thief before the Sahib, or my devils had haled thee here by the leg. It is not too late now."
Mowgli looked inquiringly at Gisborne, but Abdul Gafur waddled hastily to the white mare, scrambled on her back, and fled, the wood-ways crashing and echoing behind him.
"T?at was well done," said Mowgli. "But he will fall again unless he holds by the mane."
"Now it is time to tell me what these things mean," said Gisborne a little sternly. "What is this talk of thy devils? How can men be driven up and down the rukh like cattle? Give answer."
"Is the Sahib angry because I have saved him his money?"
"No, but there is trick-work in this that does not please me."
"Very good. Now, if I rose and stepped three paces into the rukh, there is no one, not even the Sahib, could find me till I chose. As I would not willingly do this, so I would not willingly tell. Have patience a little, Sahib, and some day I will show thee everything, for, if thou wilt, some day we will drive the buck together. There is no devil-work in the matter at all. Only I know the rukh as a man knows the cooking-place in his house."
Mowgli was speaking as he would speak to an impatient child. Gisborne, puzzled, baffled, and not a little annoyed, said nothing, but stared on the ground and thought. When he looked up the man of the woods had gone.
"It is not good," said a calm voice from the thicket, "for friends to be angry. Wait till the evening, Sahib, when the air cools."
Left to himself thus, dropped, as it were, in the heart of the rukh, Gisborne swore, then laughed, remounted his pony, and rode on. He visited a ranger’s hut, overlooked a couple of new plantations, left some orders as to the burning of a patch of dry grass, and set out for a camping-ground of his own choice, a pile of splintered rocks roughly roofed over with branches and leaves, not far from the banks of the Kanye stream. It was twilight when he came in sight of his resting-place, and the rukh was waking to the hushed ravenous life of the night.
A camp-fire flickered on the knoll, and there was the smell of a very good dinner in the wind.
"Urn," said Gisborne, "that’s better than cold meat, at any rate. Now, the only man who’d be likely to be here’d be Muller, and, officially, he ought to be looking over the Changamanga rukh. I suppose that’s why he’s on my ground."
The gigantic German who was the head of the Woods and Forests of all India, Head Ranger from Burma to Bombay, had a habit of flitting bat-like without warning from one place to another, and turning up exactly where he was least looked for. His theory was that sudden visitations, the discovery of shortcomings, and a word-of-mouth upbraidment of a subordinate were infinitely better than the slow processes of correspondence, which might end in a written and official reprimand -- a thing in after years to be counted against a Forest Officer’s record. As he explained it: "If I only talk to my boys like a Dutch uncle, dey say, ‘It was only dot damned old Muller,’ and dey do better next dime. But if my fat-head glerk he write and say dot Muller der Inspecdor-General fail to onderstand and is much annoyed, first dot does no goot because I am not dere, and second, der fool dot comes after me he may say to my best boys: ‘Mein Gott! you haf been wigged by my bredecessor.’ I tell you der big brass-hat pizness does not make der trees grow."
Muller’s deep voice was coming out of the darkness behind the firelight, as he bent over the shoulders of his pet cook. "Not so much sauce, you son of Belial! Worcester sauce he is a gondiment and not a fluid. Ah, Gisborne, you haf come to a very bad dinner. Where is your camp?" and he walked up to shake hands.
"I’m the camp, sir," said Gisborne. "I didn’t know you were about here."
Muller looked at the young man’s trim figure. "Goot! That is very goot! One horse and some cold things to eat. When I was young I did my camp so. Now you shall dine with me. I went into Headquarters to make up my report last month. I haf written half -- ho! ho! -- and der rest I have leaved to my glerks and come out for a walk. Der Government is mad about dose reports. I dold der Viceroy so at Simla."
Gisborne chuckled, remembering the many tales that were told of Muller’s conflicts with the Supreme Government. He was the chartered libertine of all the offices, for as a Forest Officer he had no equal.
"If I find you, Gisborne, sitting in your bungalow und hatching reports to me about der blantations instead of riding der blantations, I will transfer you to der middle of der Bikaneer Desert to reforest him. I am sick of reports und chewing paper when we should do our work."
"There’s not much danger of my wasting time over my annuals. I hate ‘em as much as you do, sir."
The talk went over at this point to professional matters. Muller had some questions to ask, and Gisborne orders and hints to receive till dinner was ready. It was the most civilised meal that Gisborne had eaten for months. No distance from the base of supplies was allowed to interfere with the work of Muller’s cook, and that table spread in the wilderness began with devilled small freshwater fish, and ended with coffee and cognac.
"Ah!" said Muller at the end, with a sigh of satisfaction, as he lighted a cheroot and dropped into his much-worn camp-chair. "When I am making reports I am Freethinker und Atheist, but here in der rukh I am more dan Christian. I am Bagan also." He rolled the cheroot-butt luxuriously under his tongue, dropped his hands on his knees, and stared before him into the dim shifting heart of the rukh, full of stealthy noises, the snapping of twigs like the snapping of the fire behind him, the sigh and rustle of a heat-bended branch recovering her straightness in the cool night; the incessant mutter of the Kanye stream, and the undernote of the many-peopled grass uplands out of sight beyond a swell of bill. He blew out a thick puff of smoke, and began to quote Heine to himself.
"Yes, it is very goot. Very goot. ‘Yes, I work miracles, and, by Gott, dey come off too.’ I remember when dere was no rukh more big than your knee, from here to der plow-lands, und in drought-time der cattle ate bones of dead cattle up and down. Now der trees haf come back. Dey were planted by a Freethinker, because he know just der cause dot made der effect. But der trees dey had der cult of der old gods. ‘Und der Christian gods howl loudly.’ Dey could not live in der rukh, Gisborne."
A shadow moved in one of the bridle-paths -- moved and came out into the starlight.
"I haf said true. Hush! Here is Faunus himself come to see der Inspecdor-General. Himmel, he is der god! Look!"
It was Mowgli, crowned with a wreath of white flowers and walking with a half-peeled branch -- Mowgli, very mistrustful of the fire-light and ready to fly back to the thicket on the least alarm.
"That’s a friend of mine," said Gisborne. "He’s looking for me. Ohé, Mowgli!"
Muller had barely time to gasp before the man was at Gisborne’s side, crying: "I was wrong to go. I was wrong, but I did not know then that the mate of him that was killed by this river was awake looking for the slayer. Else I should not have gone away. She tracked thee from the back range, Sahib."
"He is a little mad," said Gisborne, "and he speaks of all the beasts about here as if he was a friend of theirs."
"Of course -- of course. If Faunus does not know, who should know?" said Muller gravely. "What does he say about tigers ? -- dis god who knows you so well."
Gisborne relighted his cheroot, and before he had finished the story of Mowgli and his exploits, it was burned down to moustache-edge. Muller listened without interruption. "Dot is not madness," he said at last, when Gisborne had described the driving of Abdul Gafur. "Dot is not madness at all."
"‘What is it, then? He left me in a temper this morning because I asked him to tell how he did it. I fancy the chap’s possessed in some way."
"No, dere is no bossession, but it is most wonderful. Normally, dey die young -- dese beople. Und you say now dot your thief-servant did not say what drove der pony, und of course der nilghai he could not speak."
"No; but, confound it! there wasn’t anything. I listened, and I can hear most things. The bull and the man simply came headlong -- mad with fright."
For answer Muller looked Mowgli up and down from head to foot, then beckoned him nearer. He came as a buck treads a tainted trail.
"There is no harm," said Muller in the vernacular. "Thy arm."
He ran his hand down to the elbow, felt that, and nodded. "So I thought. Now the knee." Gisborne saw him feel the knee-cap and smile. Two or three white scars just above the ankle caught his eye.
"Those came when thou wast very young," he said.
"Ay," Mowgli answered, with a smile. "They were love-tokens from the little ones." Then to Gisborne over his shoulder. "This Sahib knows everything. Who is he?"
"Dot comes after, my friend. Now, where are they?" said Muller.
Mowgli swept his hand round his head in a circle.
"So! And thou canst drive nilghai? See! There is my mare in her pickets. Canst thou bring her to me without frightening her?"
"Can I bring the mare to the Sahib without frightening her!" Mowgli repeated, raising his voice a little above its normal pitch. "What is more easy, if the heel-ropes are loose?"
"Loosen the head and heel-pegs," shouted Muller to the groom. They were hardly out of the ground before the mare, a huge black Australian, flung up her head and cocked her ears.
"Careful! I do not wish her driven into the rukh," said Muller.
Mowgli stood still fronting the blaze of the fire -- in the very form and likeness of that Greek god who is so lavishly described in the novels. The mare whickered, drew up one hind leg, found that the heel-ropes were free, and moved swiftly to her master, on whose bosom she dropped her head, sweating lightly.
"She came of her own accord. My horses will do that," cried Gisborne.
"Feel if she sweats," said Mowgli.
Gisborne laid a hand on the damp flank.
"It is enough," said Muller.
"It is enough," Mowgli repeated, and a rock behind him threw back the word.
"That’s uncanny enough, isn’t it?" said Gisborne.
"No, only wonderful -- most wonderful. Still you do not know, Gisborne?"
"I confess I don’t."
"Well, then, I shall not tell. He says dot some day he will show you what it is. It would be gruel if I told. But why he is not dead I do not understand. Now listen, thou." Muller faced Mowgli, and returned to the vernacular. "I am the head of all the rukhs in the country of India and farther across the Black Water. I do not know how many men be under me -- perhaps five thousand, perhaps ten. Thy business is this -- to wander no more up and down the rukh and drive beasts for sport or for show, but to take service under me, who am the Government in the matter of Woods and Forests, and to live in this rukh as a forest-guard; to drive the villagers’ goats away when there is no order to feed them in the rukh; to admit them when there is an order; to keep down as thou canst keep down the boar and the nilghai when they become too many; to tell Gisborne Sahib how and where the tigers move, and what game there is in the forests; and to give sure warning of all the fires in the rukh, for thou canst give warning more quickly than any other. For that work there is a payment each month in silver, and at the end, when thou hast gathered a wife and cattle, and, maybe, children, a pension. What answer?"
"That’s just what I --" Gisborne began.
"My Sahib spoke this morning of such a service. I walked all day alone considering the matter, and my answer is ready here. I serve, if I serve in this rukh and no other: with Gisborne Sahib and with no other."
"It shall be so. In a week comes the written order that pledges the honour of the Government for the pension. After that thou wilt take up thy hut where Gisborne Sahib shall appoint."
"I was going to speak to you about it," said Gisborne.
"I did not want to be told when I saw that man. Dere will never be a forest-guard like him. He is a miracle. I tell you, Gisborne, some day you will find it so. He is blood-brother to every beast in der rukh!"
"I should be easier in my mind if I could understand him."
"Dot will come. Now I tell you dot only once in my service, and dot is thirty years, haf I met a boy dot began as this man began. Und he died. Sometimes you hear of dem in der census reports, but dey all die. Dis man haf lived, und he is an anachronism, for he is before der Iron Age, und der Stone Age. Look here, he is at der beginnings of der history of man -- Adam in der Garden, und now we want only an Eva! No. He is older dan dot child-tale, shust as der rukh is older dan der gods. Gisborne, I am a Bagan now, once for all."
Through the rest of the long evening Muller sat smoking and smoking, and staring and staring into the darkness, his lips moving in multiplied quotations, and great wonder upon his face. He went to his tent, but presently came out again in his majestic pink sleeping-suit, and the last words that Gisborne heard him address to the rukh through the deep hush of midnight were these, delivered with immense emphasis: --
"Dough we shivt und bedeck und bedrape us,Now I know dot Bagan or Christian, I shall nefer know der inwardness of der rukh."
Dou art noble und nude und andeek;
Libidina dy moder, Briapus
Dy fader, a god und a Greek.
It was midnight in the bungalow a week later when Abul Gafur, ashy gray with rage, stood at the foot of Gisborne’s bed, and whispering, bade him awake.
"Up, Sahib," he stammered. "Up and bring thy gun. Mine honour is gone. Up and kill before any see!"
The old man’s face had changed so that Gisborne stared stupidly.
"It was for this, then, that that jungle outcaste helped me to polish the Sahib’s table, and drew water and plucked fowls. They have gone off together, for all my beatings, and now he sits among his devils, dragging her soul to the Pit. Up, Sahib, and come with me!"
He thrust a rifle into Gisborne’s half-wakened hand, and almost dragged him from the room on to the verandah.
"They are there in the rukh, even within gunshot of the house. Come softly with me."
"But what is it? What is the trouble, Abdul?"
"Mowgli and his devils. Also my own daughter," said Abdul Gafur. Gisborne whistled, and followed his guide. Not for nothing, he knew, had Abdul Gafur beaten his daughter of nights, and not for nothing had Mowgli helped in the housework a man whom his own powers, whatever those were, had convicted of theft. Also, a forest wooing goes quickly.
There was the breathing of a flute in the rukh, as it might have been the song of some wandering wood-god, and, as they came nearer, a murmur of voices. The path ended in a little semicircular glade walled partly by high grass and partly by trees. In the centre, upon a fallen trunk, his back to the watchers and his arm round the neck of Abdul Gafur’s daughter, sat Mowgli, newly crowned with flowers, playing upon a rude bamboo flute, to whose music four huge wolves danced solemnly on their hind legs.
"Those are his devils," Abdul Gafur whispered. He held a bunch of cartridges in his hand. The beasts dropped to a long-drawn quavering note and lay still with steady green eyes glaring at the girl.
"Behold," said Mowgli, laying aside the flute. "Is there anything of fear in that? I told thee, little Stout-heart, that there was not, and thou didst believe. Thy father said -- and oh, if thou couldst have seen thy father being driven by the road of the nilghai! -- thy father said that they were devils; and by Allah, who is thy God, I do not wonder that he so believed." The girl laughed a little rippling laugh, and Gisborne heard Abdul grit his few remaining teeth. This was not at all the girl that Gisborne had seen with a half-eye slinking about the compound veiled and silent; but another -- a woman full blown in a night as the orchid puts out in an hour’s moist heat.
"But they are my playmates and my brothers, children of that mother that gave me suck, as I told thee behind the cook-house," Mowgli went on. "Children of the father that lay between me and the cold at the mouth of the cave when I was a little naked child. Look," a wolf raised his huge head slavering at Mowgli’s feet, "my brother knows that I speak of them. Yes, when I was a little child he was a cub rolling with me on the clay."
"But thou hast said that thou art human born," cooed the girl, nestling closer to the shoulder. "Thou art human born?"
"Said! Nay, I know that I am human born, because my heart is in thy hold, little one." The head dropped under Mowgli’s chin. Gisborne put up a warning hand to restrain Abdul Gafur, not in the least impressed by the wonder of the sight.
"But I was a wolf among wolves none the less till a time came when Those of the jungle bade me go because I was a man."
"Who bade thee go? That is not like a true man’s talk."
"The very beasts themselves. Little one, thou wouldst never believe that telling, but so it was. The beasts of the jungle bade me go, but these four followed me because I was their brother. Then was I a herder of cattle among men, having learned their language. Ho! ho! The herds paid toll to my brothers, till a woman, an old woman, beloved, saw me playing by night with my brethren in the crops. They said that I was possessed of devils, and drove me from that village with sticks and stones, and the four came with me by stealth and not openly. That was when I had learned to eat cooked meat and to talk boldly. From village to village I went, heart of my heart, a herder of cattle, a tender of buffaloes, a tracker of game, but there was no man that dared lift a finger against me twice." He stooped down and patted one of the heads. "Do thou also like this. There is neither hurt nor magic in them. See, they know thee."
"The woods are full of all manner of devils," said the girl, with a shudder.
"A lie -- a child’s lie," Mowgli returned confidently. "I have lain out in the dew under the stars and in the dark night, and I know. The jungle is my house. Shall a man fear his own roof-beams or a woman her man’s hearth? Stoop down and pat them."
"They are dogs and unclean," she murmured, bending forward with averted head.
"Having eaten the fruit, now we remember the law!" said Abdul Gafur bitterly. "What is the need of this waiting, Sahib? Kill."
"H’sh, thou. Let us learn what has happened," said Gisborne.
"That is well done," said Mowgli, slipping his arm round the girl afresh. "Dogs or no dogs, they were with me through a thousand villages."
"Ahi! and where was thy heart then? Through a thousand villages! Thou hast seen a thousand maids. I -- that am --that am a maid no more, have I thy heart?"
"What shall I swear by? By Allah, of whom thou speakest?"
"Nay; by the life that is in thee, and I am well content. Where was thy heart in those days?"
Mowgli laughed a little. "In my belly, because I was young and always hungry. So I learned to track and to hunt, sending and calling my brothers back and forth as a king calls his armies. Therefore I drove the nilghai for the foolish young Sahib, and the big fat mare for the big fat Sahib, when they questioned my power. It were as easy to have driven the men themselves. Even now," his voice lifted a little --" even now I know that behind me stand thy father and Gisborne Sahib. Nay, do not run, for no ten men dare move a pace forward. Remembering that thy father beat thee more than once, shall I give the word and drive him again in rings through the rukh?" A wolf stood up, and the bristles on his neck lifted.
Gisborne felt Abdul Gafur tremble at his side. Next, his place was empty, and the fat man was skimming down the glade.
"Remains only Gisborne Sahib," said Mowgli, still without turning; "but I have eaten Gisborne Sahib’s bread, and presently I shall be in his service, and my brothers will be his servants to drive game and carry the news. Hide, thou, in the grass."
The girl fled, the tall grass closed behind her and the guardian wolf that followed, and Mowgli, turning with his three retainers, faced Gisborne as the Forest Officer came forward.
"That is all the magic," he said, pointing to the three. "The fat Sahib knew that we who are born among wolves run on our elbows and our knees for a season. Feeling my arms and legs, he felt the truth which thou didst not know. Is it so wonderful, Sahib?"
"Indeed it is all more wonderful than magic. These, then, drove the nilghai?"
"Ay, as they would drive Eblis if I gave the order. They are my eyes and more to me."
"Look to it, then, that Eblis does not carry a double-rifle. They have yet something to learn, thy devils, for they stand one behind the other, so that two shots would kill the three."
"Ah, but they know they will be thy servants as soon as I am a forest-guard."
"Guard or no guard, Mowgli, thou hast done a great shame to Abdul Gafur. Thou hast dishonoured his house and blackened his face."
"For that, it was blackened when he took thy money, and made blacker still when he whispered in thy ear a little while since to kill a naked man. I myself will talk to Abdul Gafur, for I am a man of the Government service, with a pension. He shall make the marriage by whatsoever rite he will, or he shall run once more. I will speak to him in the dawn. For the rest, the Sahib has his house, and this is mine. It is time to sleep again, Sahib."
Mowgli turned on his heel and disappeared into the grass, leaving Gisborne alone. The hint of the wood-god was not to be mistaken, and Gisborne went back to the bungalow, where Abdul Gafur, torn by rage and fear, was raving aloud.
"Peace, peace," said Gisborne, shaking him, for he looked as though he were going to have a fit. "Muller Sahib has made the man a forest-guard, and as thou knowest there is a pension at the end of that business, and it is Government service."
"He is an outcaste -- a mlech -- a dog among dogs; an eater of carrion! What pension can pay for that?"
"Allah knows, and thou hast heard that the mischief is done. Wouldst thou blaze it to all the other servants? Make the shadi swiftly, and the girl will make him a Mussulman. He is very comely. Canst thou wonder that after thy beatings she went to him?"
"Did he say that he would chase me with his beasts?
"So it seemed to me. If he be a wizard, he is at least a very strong one."
Abdul Gafur thought a while, and then broke down and howled, forgetting that he was a Mussulman.
"Thou art a Brahmin. I am thy cow. Make thou the matter plain, and save my honour if it can be saved!"
A second time, then, Gisborne plunged into the rukh and called Mowgli. The answer came from high overhead, and in no submissive tones.
"Speak softly," said Gisborne, looking up. "There is yet time to strip thee of thy place and hunt thee with thy wolves. The girl goes back to her father’s house to-night. To-morrow there will be the shadi, by the Mussulman law, and then thou canst take her away. Bring her to Abdul Gafur."
"I hear." There was a murmur of two voices conferring among the leaves. "Also, we will obey -- for the last time."
A year later Muller and Gisborne were riding through the rukh together, talking of their business. They came out among the rocks near the Kanye stream, Muller riding a little in advance. Under the shade of a thorn thicket sprawled a naked brown baby, and from the brake immediately behind him peered the head of a gray wolf. Gisborne had just time to strike up Muller’s rifle, and the bullet tore spattering through the branches above.
"Are you mad?" thundered Muller. "Look!"
"I see," said Gisborne quietly. "The mother’s somewhere near. You’ll wake the whole pack, by Jove!"
The bushes parted once more, and a woman unveiled snatched up the child.
"Who fired, Sahib?" she cried to Gisborne.
"This Sahib. He had not remembered thy man’s people."
"Not remembered! But indeed it may be so, for we who live with them forget that they are strangers at all. Mowgli is down the stream catching fish. Does the Sahib wish to see him? Come out, ye lacking manners. Come out of the bushes, and make your service to the Sahib."
Muller’s eyes grew rounder and rounder. He swung himself off the plunging mare and dismounted, while the jungle gave up four wolves who fawned round Gisborne. The mother stood nursing her child and spurning them aside as they brushed against her bare feet.
"You were quite right about Mowgli," said Gisborne. "I meant to have told you, but I’ve got so used to these fellows in the last twelve months that it slipped my mind."
"Oh, don’t apologise," said Muller. "It’s nothing. Gott in Himmel! ‘Und
I work miracles -- und dey come off too!’"
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