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Rudyard Kipling >> The Jungle Book (page 5)


''In whose name, Brother?'' Rann had never seen Mowgli before, though of course he had heard of him.

''Mowgli, the Frog. Man-cub they call me! Mark my tra-il!''

The last words were shrieked as he was being swung through the air, but Rann nodded and rose up till he looked no bigger than a speck of dust, and there he hung, watching with his telescope eyes the swaying of the treetops as Mowgli's escort whirled along.

''They never go far,'' he said with a chuckle. ''They never do what they set out to do. Always pecking at new things are the Bandar-log. This time, if I have any eye-sight, they have pecked down trouble for themselves, for Baloo is no fledgling and Bagheera can, as I know, kill more than goats.''

So he rocked on his wings, his feet gathered up under him, and waited.

Meantime, Baloo and Bagheera were furious with rage and grief. Bagheera climbed as he had never climbed before, but the thin branches broke beneath his weight, and he slipped down, his claws full of bark.

''Why didst thou not warn the man-cub?'' he roared to poor Baloo, who had set off at a clumsy trot in the hope of overtaking the monkeys. ''What was the use of half slaying him with blows if thou didst not warn him?''

''Haste! O haste! We-we may catch them yet!'' Baloo panted.

''At that speed! It would not tire a wounded cow. Teacher of the Law-cub-beater-a mile of that rolling to and fro would burst thee open. Sit still and think! Make a plan. This is no time for chasing. They may drop him if we follow too close.''

''Arrula! Whoo! They may have dropped him already, being tired of carrying him. Who can trust the Bandar-log? Put dead bats on my head! Give me black bones to eat! Roll me into the hives of the wild bees that I may be stung to death, and bury me with the Hyaena, for I am most miserable of bears! Arulala! Wahooa! O Mowgli, Mowgli! Why did I not warn thee against the Monkey-Folk instead of breaking thy head? Now perhaps I may have knocked the day's lesson out of his mind, and he will be alone in the jungle without the Master Words.''

Baloo clasped his paws over his ears and rolled to and fro moaning.

''At least he gave me all the Words correctly a little time ago,'' said Bagheera impatiently. ''Baloo, thou hast neither memory nor respect. What would the jungle think if I, the Black Panther, curled myself up like Ikki the Porcupine, and howled?''

''What do I care what the jungle thinks? He may be dead by now.''

''Unless and until they drop him from the branches in sport, or kill him out of idleness, I have no fear for the man-cub. He is wise and well taught, and above all he has the eyes that make the Jungle-People afraid. But (and it is a great evil) he is in the power of the Bandar-log, and they, because they live in trees, have no fear of any of our people.'' Bagheera licked one forepaw thoughtfully.

''Fool that I am! Oh, fat, brown, root-digging fool that I am,'' said Baloo, uncoiling himself with a jerk, ''it is true what Hathi the Wild Elephant says: `To each his own fear'; and they, the Bandar-log, fear Kaa the Rock Snake. He can climb as well as they can. He steals the young monkeys in the night. The whisper of his name makes their wicked tails cold. Let us go to Kaa.''

''What will he do for us? He is not of our tribe, being footless-and with most evil eyes,'' said Bagheera.

''He is very old and very cunning. Above all, he is always hungry,'' said Baloo hopefully. ''Promise him many goats.''

''He sleeps for a full month after he has once eaten. He may be asleep now, and even were he awake what if he would rather kill his own goats?'' Bagheera, who did not know much about Kaa, was naturally suspicious.

''Then in that case, thou and I together, old hunter, might make him see reason.'' Here Baloo rubbed his faded brown shoulder against the Panther, and they went off to look for Kaa the Rock Python.

They found him stretched out on a warm ledge in the afternoon sun, admiring his beautiful new coat, for he had been in retirement for the last ten days changing his skin, and now he was very splendid-darting his big blunt-nosed head along the ground, and twisting the thirty feet of his body into fantastic knots and curves, and licking his lips as he thought of his dinner to come.

''He has not eaten,'' said Baloo, with a grunt of relief, as soon as he saw the beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket. ''Be careful, Bagheera! He is always a little blind after he has changed his skin, and very quick to strike.''

Kaa was not a poison snake-in fact he rather despised the poison snakes as cowards-but his strength lay in his hug, and when he had once lapped his huge coils round anybody there was no more to be said. ''Good hunting!'' cried Baloo, sitting up on his haunches. Like all snakes of his breed Kaa was rather deaf, and did not hear the call at first. Then he curled up ready for any accident, his head lowered.

''Good hunting for us all,'' he answered. ''Oho, Baloo, what dost thou do here? Good hunting, Bagheera. One of us at least needs food. Is there any news of game afoot? A doe now, or even a young buck? I am as empty as a dried well.''

''We are hunting,'' said Baloo carelessly. He knew that you must not hurry Kaa. He is too big.

''Give me permission to come with you,'' said Kaa. ''A blow more or less is nothing to thee, Bagheera or Baloo, but I-I have to wait and wait for days in a wood-path and climb half a night on the mere chance of a young ape. Psshaw! The branches are not what they were when I was young. Rotten twigs and dry boughs are they all.''

''Maybe thy great weight has something to do with the matter,'' said Baloo.

''I am a fair length-a fair length,'' said Kaa with a little pride. ''But for all that, it is the fault of this new-grown timber. I came very near to falling on my last hunt-very near indeed-and the noise of my slipping, for my tail was not tight wrapped around the tree, waked the Bandar-log, and they called me most evil names.''

''Footless, yellow earth-worm,'' said Bagheera under his whiskers, as though he were trying to remember something.

''Sssss! Have they ever called me that?'' said Kaa.

''Something of that kind it was that they shouted to us last moon, but we never noticed them. They will say anything-even that thou hast lost all thy teeth, and wilt not face anything bigger than a kid, because (they are indeed shameless, these Bandar-log)-because thou art afraid of the he-goat's horns,'' Bagheera went on sweetly.

Now a snake, especially a wary old python like Kaa, very seldom shows that he is angry, but Baloo and Bagheera could see the big swallowing muscles on either side of Kaa's throat ripple and bulge.

''The Bandar-log have shifted their grounds,'' he said quietly. ''When I came up into the sun today I heard them whooping among the tree-tops.''

''It-it is the Bandar-log that we follow now,'' said Baloo, but the words stuck in his throat, for that was the first time in his memory that one of the Jungle-People had owned to being interested in the doings of the monkeys.

''Beyond doubt then it is no small thing that takes two such hunters-leaders in their own jungle I am certain-on the trail of the Bandar-log,'' Kaa replied courteously, as he swelled with curiosity.

''Indeed,'' Baloo began, ''I am no more than the old and sometimes very foolish Teacher of the Law to the Seeonee wolf-cubs, and Bagheera here-''

''Is Bagheera,'' said the Black Panther, and his jaws shut with a snap, for he did not believe in being humble. ''The trouble is this, Kaa. Those nut-stealers and pickers of palm leaves have stolen away our man-cub of whom thou hast perhaps heard.''

''I heard some news from Ikki (his quills make him presumptuous) of a man-thing that was entered into a wolf pack, but I did not believe. Ikki is full of stories half heard and very badly told.''

''But it is true. He is such a man-cub as never was,'' said Baloo. ''The best and wisest and boldest of man-cubs-my own pupil, who shall make the name of Baloo famous through all the jungles; and besides, I-we-love him, Kaa.''

''Ts! Ts!'' said Kaa, weaving his head to and fro. ''I also have known what love is. There are tales I could tell that-''

''That need a clear night when we are all well fed to praise properly,'' said Bagheera quickly. ''Our man-cub is in the hands of the Bandar-log now, and we know that of all the Jungle-People they fear Kaa alone.''

''They fear me alone. They have good reason,'' said Kaa. ''Chattering, foolish, vain-vain, foolish, and chattering, are the monkeys. But a man-thing in their hands is in no good luck. They grow tired of the nuts they pick, and throw them down. They carry a branch half a day, meaning to do great things with it, and then they snap it in two. That man-thing is not to be envied. They called me also-`yellow fish' was it not?''

''Worm-worm-earth-worm,'' said Bagheera, ''as well as other things which I cannot now say for shame.''

''We must remind them to speak well of their master. Aaa-ssp! We must help their wandering memories. Now, whither went they with the cub?''

''The jungle alone knows. Toward the sunset, I believe,'' said Baloo. ''We had thought that thou wouldst know, Kaa.''

''I? How? I take them when they come in my way, but I do not hunt the Bandar-log, or frogs-or green scum on a water-hole, for that matter.''

''Up, Up! Up, Up! Hillo! Illo! Illo, look up, Baloo of the Seeonee Wolf Pack!''

Baloo looked up to see where the voice came from, and there was Rann the Kite, sweeping down with the sun shining on the upturned flanges of his wings. It was near Rann's bedtime, but he had ranged all over the jungle looking for the Bear and had missed him in the thick foliage.

''What is it?'' said Baloo.

''I have seen Mowgli among the Bandar-log. He bade me tell you. I watched. The Bandar-log have taken him beyond the river to the monkey city-to the Cold Lairs. They may stay there for a night, or ten nights, or an hour. I have told the bats to watch through the dark time. That is my message. Good hunting, all you below!''

''Full gorge and a deep sleep to you, Rann,'' cried Bagheera. ''I will remember thee in my next kill, and put aside the head for thee alone, O best of kites!''

''It is nothing. It is nothing. The boy held the Master Word. I could have done no less,'' and Rann circled up again to his roost.

''He has not forgotten to use his tongue,'' said Baloo with a chuckle of pride. ''To think of one so young remembering the Master Word for the birds too while he was being pulled across trees!''

''It was most firmly driven into him,'' said Bagheera. ''But I am proud of him, and now we must go to the Cold Lairs.''

They all knew where that place was, but few of the Jungle People ever went there, because what they called the Cold Lairs was an old deserted city, lost and buried in the jungle, and beasts seldom use a place that men have once used. The wild boar will, but the hunting tribes do not. Besides, the monkeys lived there as much as they could be said to live anywhere, and no self-respecting animal would come within eyeshot of it except in times of drought, when the half-ruined tanks and reservoirs held a little water.

''It is half a night's journey-at full speed,'' said Bagheera, and Baloo looked very serious. ''I will go as fast as I can,'' he said anxiously.

''We dare not wait for thee. Follow, Baloo. We must go on the quick-foot-Kaa and I.''

''Feet or no feet, I can keep abreast of all thy four,'' said Kaa shortly. Baloo made one effort to hurry, but had to sit down panting, and so they left him to come on later, while Bagheera hurried forward, at the quick panther-canter. Kaa said nothing, but, strive as Bagheera might, the huge Rock-python held level with him. When they came to a hill stream, Bagheera gained, because he bounded across while Kaa swam, his head and two feet of his neck clearing the water, but on level ground Kaa made up the distance.

''By the Broken Lock that freed me,'' said Bagheera, when twilight had fallen, ''thou art no slow goer!''

''I am hungry,'' said Kaa. ''Besides, they called me speckled frog.''

''Worm-earth-worm, and yellow to boot.''

''All one. Let us go on,'' and Kaa seemed to pour himself along the ground, finding the shortest road with his steady eyes, and keeping to it.

In the Cold Lairs the Monkey-People were not thinking of Mowgli's friends at all. They had brought the boy to the Lost City, and were very much pleased with themselves for the time. Mowgli had never seen an Indian city before, and though this was almost a heap of ruins it seemed very wonderful and splendid. Some king had built it long ago on a little hill. You could still trace the stone causeways that led up to the ruined gates where the last splinters of wood hung to the worn, rusted hinges. Trees had grown into and out of the walls; the battlements were tumbled down and decayed, and wild creepers hung out of the windows of the towers on the walls in bushy hanging clumps.

Title: The Jungle Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
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