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Rudyard Kipling >> The Jungle Book (page 3)


''Some bat's chatter of Shere Khan,'' he called back. ''I hunt among the plowed fields tonight,'' and he plunged downward through the bushes, to the stream at the bottom of the valley. There he checked, for he heard the yell of the Pack hunting, heard the bellow of a hunted Sambhur, and the snort as the buck turned at bay. Then there were wicked, bitter howls from the young wolves: ''Akela! Akela! Let the Lone Wolf show his strength. Room for the leader of the Pack! Spring, Akela!''

The Lone Wolf must have sprung and missed his hold, for Mowgli heard the snap of his teeth and then a yelp as the Sambhur knocked him over with his forefoot.

He did not wait for anything more, but dashed on; and the yells grew fainter behind him as he ran into the croplands where the villagers lived.

''Bagheera spoke truth,'' he panted, as he nestled down in some cattle fodder by the window of a hut. ''To-morrow is one day both for Akela and for me.''

Then he pressed his face close to the window and watched the fire on the hearth. He saw the husbandman's wife get up and feed it in the night with black lumps. And when the morning came and the mists were all white and cold, he saw the man's child pick up a wicker pot plastered inside with earth, fill it with lumps of red-hot charcoal, put it under his blanket, and go out to tend the cows in the byre.

''Is that all?'' said Mowgli. ''If a cub can do it, there is nothing to fear.'' So he strode round the corner and met the boy, took the pot from his hand, and disappeared into the mist while the boy howled with fear.

''They are very like me,'' said Mowgli, blowing into the pot as he had seen the woman do. ''This thing will die if I do not give it things to eat''; and he dropped twigs and dried bark on the red stuff. Halfway up the hill he met Bagheera with the morning dew shining like moonstones on his coat.

''Akela has missed,'' said the Panther. ''They would have killed him last night, but they needed thee also. They were looking for thee on the hill.''

''I was among the plowed lands. I am ready. See!'' Mowgli held up the fire-pot.

''Good! Now, I have seen men thrust a dry branch into that stuff, and presently the Red Flower blossomed at the end of it. Art thou not afraid?''

''No. Why should I fear? I remember now-if it is not a dream-how, before I was a Wolf, I lay beside the Red Flower, and it was warm and pleasant.''

All that day Mowgli sat in the cave tending his fire pot and dipping dry branches into it to see how they looked. He found a branch that satisfied him, and in the evening when Tabaqui came to the cave and told him rudely enough that he was wanted at the Council Rock, he laughed till Tabaqui ran away. Then Mowgli went to the Council, still laughing.

Akela the Lone Wolf lay by the side of his rock as a sign that the leadership of the Pack was open, and Shere Khan with his following of scrap-fed wolves walked to and fro openly being flattered. Bagheera lay close to Mowgli, and the fire pot was between Mowgli's knees. When they were all gathered together, Shere Khan began to speak-a thing he would never have dared to do when Akela was in his prime.

''He has no right,'' whispered Bagheera. ''Say so. He is a dog's son. He will be frightened.''

Mowgli sprang to his feet. ''Free People,'' he cried, ''does Shere Khan lead the Pack? What has a tiger to do with our leadership?''

''Seeing that the leadership is yet open, and being asked to speak-'' Shere Khan began.

''By whom?'' said Mowgli. ''Are we all jackals, to fawn on this cattle butcher? The leadership of the Pack is with the Pack alone.''

There were yells of ''Silence, thou man's cub!'' ''Let him speak. He has kept our Law''; and at last the seniors of the Pack thundered: ''Let the Dead Wolf speak.'' When a leader of the Pack has missed his kill, he is called the Dead Wolf as long as he lives, which is not long.

Akela raised his old head wearily:-

''Free People, and ye too, jackals of Shere Khan, for twelve seasons I have led ye to and from the kill, and in all that time not one has been trapped or maimed. Now I have missed my kill. Ye know how that plot was made. Ye know how ye brought me up to an untried buck to make my weakness known. It was cleverly done. Your right is to kill me here on the Council Rock, now. Therefore, I ask, who comes to make an end of the Lone Wolf? For it is my right, by the Law of the Jungle, that ye come one by one.''

There was a long hush, for no single wolf cared to fight Akela to the death. Then Shere Khan roared: ''Bah! What have we to do with this toothless fool? He is doomed to die! It is the man-cub who has lived too long. Free People, he was my meat from the first. Give him to me. I am weary of this man-wolf folly. He has troubled the jungle for ten seasons. Give me the man-cub, or I will hunt here always, and not give you one bone. He is a man, a man's child, and from the marrow of my bones I hate him!''

Then more than half the Pack yelled: ''A man! A man! What has a man to do with us? Let him go to his own place.''

''And turn all the people of the villages against us?'' clamored Shere Khan. ''No, give him to me. He is a man, and none of us can look him between the eyes.''

Akela lifted his head again and said, ''He has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has driven game for us. He has broken no word of the Law of the Jungle.''

''Also, I paid for him with a bull when he was accepted. The worth of a bull is little, but Bagheera's honor is something that he will perhaps fight for,'' said Bagheera in his gentlest voice.

''A bull paid ten years ago!'' the Pack snarled. ''What do we care for bones ten years old?''

''Or for a pledge?'' said Bagheera, his white teeth bared under his lip. ''Well are ye called the Free People!''

''No man's cub can run with the people of the jungle,'' howled Shere Khan. ''Give him to me!''

''He is our brother in all but blood,'' Akela went on, ''and ye would kill him here! In truth, I have lived too long. Some of ye are eaters of cattle, and of others I have heard that, under Shere Khan's teaching, ye go by dark night and snatch children from the villager's doorstep. Therefore I know ye to be cowards, and it is to cowards I speak. It is certain that I must die, and my life is of no worth, or I would offer that in the man-cub's place. But for the sake of the Honor of the Pack,-a little matter that by being without a leader ye have forgotten,-I promise that if ye let the man-cub go to his own place, I will not, when my time comes to die, bare one tooth against ye. I will die without fighting. That will at least save the Pack three lives. More I cannot do; but if ye will, I can save ye the shame that comes of killing a brother against whom there is no fault-a brother spoken for and bought into the Pack according to the Law of the Jungle.''

''He is a man-a man-a man!'' snarled the Pack. And most of the wolves began to gather round Shere Khan, whose tail was beginning to switch.

''Now the business is in thy hands,'' said Bagheera to Mowgli. ''We can do no more except fight.''

Mowgli stood upright-the fire pot in his hands. Then he stretched out his arms, and yawned in the face of the Council; but he was furious with rage and sorrow, for, wolflike, the wolves had never told him how they hated him. ''Listen you!'' he cried. ''There is no need for this dog's jabber. Ye have told me so often tonight that I am a man (and indeed I would have been a wolf with you to my life's end) that I feel your words are true. So I do not call ye my brothers any more, but sag dogs, as a man should. What ye will do, and what ye will not do, is not yours to say. That matter is with me; and that we may see the matter more plainly, I, the man, have brought here a little of the Red Flower which ye, dogs, fear.''

He flung the fire pot on the ground, and some of the red coals lit a tuft of dried moss that flared up, as all the Council drew back in terror before the leaping flames.

Mowgli thrust his dead branch into the fire till the twigs lit and crackled, and whirled it above his head among the cowering wolves.

''Thou art the master,'' said Bagheera in an undertone. ''Save Akela from the death. He was ever thy friend.''

Akela, the grim old wolf who had never asked for mercy in his life, gave one piteous look at Mowgli as the boy stood all naked, his long black hair tossing over his shoulders in the light of the blazing branch that made the shadows jump and quiver.

''Good!'' said Mowgli, staring round slowly. ''I see that ye are dogs. I go from you to my own people-if they be my own people. The jungle is shut to me, and I must forget your talk and your companionship. But I will be more merciful than ye are. Because I was all but your brother in blood, I promise that when I am a man among men I will not betray ye to men as ye have betrayed me.'' He kicked the fire with his foot, and the sparks flew up. ''There shall be no war between any of us in the Pack. But here is a debt to pay before I go.'' He strode forward to where Shere Khan sat blinking stupidly at the flames, and caught him by the tuft on his chin. Bagheera followed in case of accidents. ''Up, dog!'' Mowgli cried. ''Up, when a man speaks, or I will set that coat ablaze!''

Shere Khan's ears lay flat back on his head, and he shut his eyes, for the blazing branch was very near.

''This cattle-killer said he would kill me in the Council because he had not killed me when I was a cub. Thus and thus, then, do we beat dogs when we are men. Stir a whisker, Lungri, and I ram the Red Flower down thy gullet!'' He beat Shere Khan over the head with the branch, and the tiger whimpered and whined in an agony of fear.

''Pah! Singed jungle cat-go now! But remember when next I come to the Council Rock, as a man should come, it will be with Shere Khan's hide on my head. For the rest, Akela goes free to live as he pleases. Ye will not kill him, because that is not my will. Nor do I think that ye will sit here any longer, lolling out your tongues as though ye were somebodies, instead of dogs whom I drive out-thus! Go!'' The fire was burning furiously at the end of the branch, and Mowgli struck right and left round the circle, and the wolves ran howling with the sparks burning their fur. At last there were only Akela, Bagheera, and perhaps ten wolves that had taken Mowgli's part. Then something began to hurt Mowgli inside him, as he had never been hurt in his life before, and he caught his breath and sobbed, and the tears ran down his face.

''What is it? What is it?'' he said. ''I do not wish to leave the jungle, and I do not know what this is. Am I dying, Bagheera?''

''No, Little Brother. That is only tears such as men use,'' said Bagheera. ''Now I know thou art a man, and a man's cub no longer. The jungle is shut indeed to thee henceforward. Let them fall, Mowgli. They are only tears.'' So Mowgli sat and cried as though his heart would break; and he had never cried in all his life before.

''Now,'' he said, ''I will go to men. But first I must say farewell to my mother.'' And he went to the cave where she lived with Father Wolf, and he cried on her coat, while the four cubs howled miserably.

''Ye will not forget me?'' said Mowgli.

''Never while we can follow a trail,'' said the cubs. ''Come to the foot of the hill when thou art a man, and we will talk to thee; and we will come into the croplands to play with thee by night.''

''Come soon!'' said Father Wolf. ''Oh, wise little frog, come again soon; for we be old, thy mother and I.''

''Come soon,'' said Mother Wolf, ''little naked son of mine. For, listen, child of man, I loved thee more than ever I loved my cubs.''

''I will surely come,'' said Mowgli. ''And when I come it will be to lay out Shere Khan's hide upon the Council Rock. Do not forget me! Tell them in the jungle never to forget me!''

The dawn was beginning to break when Mowgli went down the hillside alone, to meet those mysterious things that are called men.

Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack

As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled
Once, twice and again!
And a doe leaped up, and a doe leaped up
From the pond in the wood where the wild deer sup.
This I, scouting alone, beheld,
Once, twice and again!
As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled
Once, twice and again!
And a wolf stole back, and a wolf stole back
To carry the word to the waiting pack,
And we sought and we found and we bayed on his track
Once, twice and again!
As the dawn was breaking the Wolf Pack yelled
Once, twice and again!
Feet in the jungle that leave no mark!
Eyes that can see in the dark-the dark!
Tongue-give tongue to it! Hark! O hark!
Once, twice and again!

Kaa's Hunting

His spots are the joy of the Leopard: his horns are the Buffalo's pride.
Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is known by the gloss of his hide.
If ye find that the Bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed Sambhur can gore;
Ye need not stop work to inform us: we knew it ten seasons before.
Oppress not the cubs of the stranger, but hail them as Sister and Brother,
For though they are little and fubsy, it may be the Bear is their mother.
''There is none like to me!'' says the Cub in the pride of his earliest kill;
But the jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think and be still.

Maxims of Baloo

Title: The Jungle Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
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