Rudyard Kipling >> The Jungle Book (page 19)

''But this wasn't harness or anything that jingled,'' said the young mule. ''You know I don't mind that now, Billy. It was Things like trees, and they fell up and down the lines and bubbled; and my head-rope broke, and I couldn't find my driver, and I couldn't find you, Billy, so I ran off with-with these gentlemen.''

''H'm!'' said Billy. ''As soon as I heard the camels were loose I came away on my own account. When a battery-a screw-gun mule calls gun-bullocks gentlemen, he must be very badly shaken up. Who are you fellows on the ground there?''

The gun bullocks rolled their cuds, and answered both together: ''The seventh yoke of the first gun of the Big Gun Battery. We were asleep when the camels came, but when we were trampled on we got up and walked away. It is better to lie quiet in the mud than to be disturbed on good bedding. We told your friend here that there was nothing to be afraid of, but he knew so much that he thought otherwise. Wah!''

They went on chewing.

''That comes of being afraid,'' said Billy. ''You get laughed at by gun-bullocks. I hope you like it, young un.''

The young mule's teeth snapped, and I heard him say something about not being afraid of any beefy old bullock in the world. But the bullocks only clicked their horns together and went on chewing.

''Now, don't be angry after you've been afraid. That's the worst kind of cowardice,'' said the troop-horse. ''Anybody can be forgiven for being scared in the night, I think, if they see things they don't understand. We've broken out of our pickets, again and again, four hundred and fifty of us, just because a new recruit got to telling tales of whip snakes at home in Australia till we were scared to death of the loose ends of our head-ropes.''

''That's all very well in camp,'' said Billy. ''I'm not above stampeding myself, for the fun of the thing, when I haven't been out for a day or two. But what do you do on active service?''

''Oh, that's quite another set of new shoes,'' said the troop horse. ''Dick Cunliffe's on my back then, and drives his knees into me, and all I have to do is to watch where I am putting my feet, and to keep my hind legs well under me, and be bridle-wise.''

''What's bridle-wise?'' said the young mule.

''By the Blue Gums of the Back Blocks,'' snorted the troop-horse, ''do you mean to say that you aren't taught to be bridle-wise in your business? How can you do anything, unless you can spin round at once when the rein is pressed on your neck? It means life or death to your man, and of course that's life and death to you. Get round with your hind legs under you the instant you feel the rein on your neck. If you haven't room to swing round, rear up a little and come round on your hind legs. That's being bridle-wise.''

''We aren't taught that way,'' said Billy the mule stiffly. ''We're taught to obey the man at our head: step off when he says so, and step in when he says so. I suppose it comes to the same thing. Now, with all this fine fancy business and rearing, which must be very bad for your hocks, what do you do?''

''That depends,'' said the troop-horse. ''Generally I have to go in among a lot of yelling, hairy men with knives-long shiny knives, worse than the farrier's knives-and I have to take care that Dick's boot is just touching the next man's boot without crushing it. I can see Dick's lance to the right of my right eye, and I know I'm safe. I shouldn't care to be the man or horse that stood up to Dick and me when we're in a hurry.''

''Don't the knives hurt?'' said the young mule.

''Well, I got one cut across the chest once, but that wasn't Dick's fault-''

''A lot I should have cared whose fault it was, if it hurt!'' said the young mule.

''You must,'' said the troop horse. ''If you don't trust your man, you may as well run away at once. That's what some of our horses do, and I don't blame them. As I was saying, it wasn't Dick's fault. The man was lying on the ground, and I stretched myself not to tread on him, and he slashed up at me. Next time I have to go over a man lying down I shall step on him-hard.''

''H'm!'' said Billy. ''It sounds very foolish. Knives are dirty things at any time. The proper thing to do is to climb up a mountain with a well-balanced saddle, hang on by all four feet and your ears too, and creep and crawl and wriggle along, till you come out hundreds of feet above anyone else on a ledge where there's just room enough for your hoofs. Then you stand still and keep quiet-never ask a man to hold your head, young un-keep quiet while the guns are being put together, and then you watch the little poppy shells drop down into the tree-tops ever so far below.''

''Don't you ever trip?'' said the troop-horse.

''They say that when a mule trips you can split a hen's ear,'' said Billy. ''Now and again perhaps a badly packed saddle will upset a mule, but it's very seldom. I wish I could show you our business. It's beautiful. Why, it took me three years to find out what the men were driving at. The science of the thing is never to show up against the sky line, because, if you do, you may get fired at. Remember that, young un. Always keep hidden as much as possible, even if you have to go a mile out of your way. I lead the battery when it comes to that sort of climbing.''

''Fired at without the chance of running into the people who are firing!'' said the troop-horse, thinking hard. ''I couldn't stand that. I should want to charge-with Dick.''

''Oh, no, you wouldn't. You know that as soon as the guns are in position they'll do all the charging. That's scientific and neat. But knives-pah!''

The baggage-camel had been bobbing his head to and fro for some time past, anxious to get a word in edgewise. Then I heard him say, as he cleared his throat, nervously:

''I-I-I have fought a little, but not in that climbing way or that running way.''

''No. Now you mention it,'' said Billy, ''you don't look as though you were made for climbing or running-much. Well, how was it, old Hay-bales?''

''The proper way,'' said the camel. ''We all sat down-''

''Oh, my crupper and breastplate!'' said the troop-horse under his breath. ''Sat down!''

''We sat down-a hundred of us,'' the camel went on, ''in a big square, and the men piled our packs and saddles, outside the square, and they fired over our backs, the men did, on all sides of the square.''

''What sort of men? Any men that came along?'' said the troop-horse. ''They teach us in riding school to lie down and let our masters fire across us, but Dick Cunliffe is the only man I'd trust to do that. It tickles my girths, and, besides, I can't see with my head on the ground.''

''What does it matter who fires across you?'' said the camel. ''There are plenty of men and plenty of other camels close by, and a great many clouds of smoke. I am not frightened then. I sit still and wait.''

''And yet,'' said Billy, ''you dream bad dreams and upset the camp at night. Well, well! Before I'd lie down, not to speak of sitting down, and let a man fire across me, my heels and his head would have something to say to each other. Did you ever hear anything so awful as that?''

There was a long silence, and then one of the gun bullocks lifted up his big head and said, ''This is very foolish indeed. There is only one way of fighting.''

''Oh, go on,'' said Billy. ''Please don't mind me. I suppose you fellows fight standing on your tails?''

''Only one way,'' said the two together. (They must have been twins.) ''This is that way. To put all twenty yoke of us to the big gun as soon as Two Tails trumpets.'' (''Two Tails'' is camp slang for the elephant.)

''What does Two Tails trumpet for?'' said the young mule.

''To show that he is not going any nearer to the smoke on the other side. Two Tails is a great coward. Then we tug the big gun all together-Heya-Hullah! Heeyah! Hullah! We do not climb like cats nor run like calves. We go across the level plain, twenty yoke of us, till we are unyoked again, and we graze while the big guns talk across the plain to some town with mud walls, and pieces of the wall fall out, and the dust goes up as though many cattle were coming home.''

''Oh! And you choose that time for grazing?'' said the young mule.

''That time or any other. Eating is always good. We eat till we are yoked up again and tug the gun back to where Two Tails is waiting for it. Sometimes there are big guns in the city that speak back, and some of us are killed, and then there is all the more grazing for those that are left. This is Fate. None the less, Two Tails is a great coward. That is the proper way to fight. We are brothers from Hapur. Our father was a sacred bull of Shiva. We have spoken.''

''Well, I've certainly learned something tonight,'' said the troop-horse. ''Do you gentlemen of the screw-gun battery feel inclined to eat when you are being fired at with big guns, and Two Tails is behind you?''

''About as much as we feel inclined to sit down and let men sprawl all over us, or run into people with knives. I never heard such stuff. A mountain ledge, a well-balanced load, a driver you can trust to let you pick your own way, and I'm your mule. ButЦ the other things-no!'' said Billy, with a stamp of his foot.

''Of course,'' said the troop horse, ''everyone is not made in the same way, and I can quite see that your family, on your father's side, would fail to understand a great many things.''

''Never you mind my family on my father's side,'' said Billy angrily, for every mule hates to be reminded that his father was a donkey. ''My father was a Southern gentleman, and he could pull down and bite and kick into rags every horse he came across. Remember that, you big brown Brumby!''

Brumby means wild horse without any breeding. Imagine the feelings of Sunol if a car-horse called her a ''skate,'' and you can imagine how the Australian horse felt. I saw the white of his eye glitter in the dark.

''See here, you son of an imported Malaga jackass,'' he said between his teeth, ''I'd have you know that I'm related on my mother's side to Carbine, winner of the Melbourne Cup, and where I come from we aren't accustomed to being ridden over roughshod by any parrot-mouthed, pig-headed mule in a pop-gun pea-shooter battery. Are you ready?''

''On your hind legs!'' squealed Billy. They both reared up facing each other, and I was expecting a furious fight, when a gurgly, rumbly voice, called out of the darkness to the rightЦ ''Children, what are you fighting about there? Be quiet.''

Both beasts dropped down with a snort of disgust, for neither horse nor mule can bear to listen to an elephant's voice.

''It's Two Tails!'' said the troop-horse. ''I can't stand him. A tail at each end isn't fair!''

''My feelings exactly,'' said Billy, crowding into the troop-horse for company. ''We're very alike in some things.''

''I suppose we've inherited them from our mothers,'' said the troop horse. ''It's not worth quarreling about. Hi! Two Tails, are you tied up?''

''Yes,'' said Two Tails, with a laugh all up his trunk. ''I'm picketed for the night. I've heard what you fellows have been saying. But don't be afraid. I'm not coming over.''

The bullocks and the camel said, half aloud, ''Afraid of Two Tails-what nonsense!'' And the bullocks went on, ''We are sorry that you heard, but it is true. Two Tails, why are you afraid of the guns when they fire?''

''Well,'' said Two Tails, rubbing one hind leg against the other, exactly like a little boy saying a poem, ''I don't quite know whether you'd understand.''

''We don't, but we have to pull the guns,'' said the bullocks.

''I know it, and I know you are a good deal braver than you think you are. But it's different with me. My battery captain called me a Pachydermatous Anachronism the other day.''

''That's another way of fighting, I suppose?'' said Billy, who was recovering his spirits.

''You don't know what that means, of course, but I do. It means betwixt and between, and that is just where I am. I can see inside my head what will happen when a shell bursts, and you bullocks can't.''

''I can,'' said the troop-horse. ''At least a little bit. I try not to think about it.''

''I can see more than you, and I do think about it. I know there's a great deal of me to take care of, and I know that nobody knows how to cure me when I'm sick. All they can do is to stop my driver's pay till I get well, and I can't trust my driver.''

''Ah!'' said the troop horse. ''That explains it. I can trust Dick.''

Title: The Jungle Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
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