Rudyard Kipling >> The Jungle Book (page 2)

''Who speaks for this cub?'' said Akela. ''Among the Free People who speaks?'' There was no answer and Mother Wolf got ready for what she knew would be her last fight, if things came to fighting.

Then the only other creature who is allowed at the Pack Council-Baloo, the sleepy brown bear who teaches the wolf cubs the Law of the Jungle: old Baloo, who can come and go where he pleases because he eats only nuts and roots and honey-rose upon his hind quarters and grunted.

''The man's cub-the man's cub?'' he said. ''I speak for the man's cub. There is no harm in a man's cub. I have no gift of words, but I speak the truth. Let him run with the Pack, and be entered with the others. I myself will teach him.''

''We need yet another,'' said Akela. ''Baloo has spoken, and he is our teacher for the young cubs. Who speaks besides Baloo?''

A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.

''O Akela, and ye the Free People,'' he purred, ''I have no right in your assembly, but the Law of the Jungle says that if there is a doubt which is not a killing matter in regard to a new cub, the life of that cub may be bought at a price. And the Law does not say who may or may not pay that price. Am I right?''

''Good! Good!'' said the young wolves, who are always hungry. ''Listen to Bagheera. The cub can be bought for a price. It is the Law.''

''Knowing that I have no right to speak here, I ask your leave.''

''Speak then,'' cried twenty voices.

''To kill a naked cub is shame. Besides, he may make better sport for you when he is grown. Baloo has spoken in his behalf. Now to Baloo's word I will add one bull, and a fat one, newly killed, not half a mile from here, if ye will accept the man's cub according to the Law. Is it difficult?''

There was a clamor of scores of voices, saying: ''What matter? He will die in the winter rains. He will scorch in the sun. What harm can a naked frog do us? Let him run with the Pack. Where is the bull, Bagheera? Let him be accepted.'' And then came Akela's deep bay, crying: ''Look well-look well, O Wolves!''

Mowgli was still deeply interested in the pebbles, and he did not notice when the wolves came and looked at him one by one. At last they all went down the hill for the dead bull, and only Akela, Bagheera, Baloo, and Mowgli's own wolves were left. Shere Khan roared still in the night, for he was very angry that Mowgli had not been handed over to him.

''Ay, roar well,'' said Bagheera, under his whiskers, ''for the time will come when this naked thing will make thee roar to another tune, or I know nothing of man.''

''It was well done,'' said Akela. ''Men and their cubs are very wise. He may be a help in time.''

''Truly, a help in time of need; for none can hope to lead the Pack forever,'' said Bagheera.

Akela said nothing. He was thinking of the time that comes to every leader of every pack when his strength goes from him and he gets feebler and feebler, till at last he is killed by the wolves and a new leader comes up-to be killed in his turn.

''Take him away,'' he said to Father Wolf, ''and train him as befits one of the Free People.''

And that is how Mowgli was entered into the Seeonee Wolf Pack for the price of a bull and on Baloo's good word.
Now you must be content to skip ten or eleven whole years, and only guess at all the wonderful life that Mowgli led among the wolves, because if it were written out it would fill ever so many books. He grew up with the cubs, though they, of course, were grown wolves almost before he was a child. And Father Wolf taught him his business, and the meaning of things in the jungle, till every rustle in the grass, every breath of the warm night air, every note of the owls above his head, every scratch of a bat's claws as it roosted for a while in a tree, and every splash of every little fish jumping in a pool meant just as much to him as the work of his office means to a business man. When he was not learning he sat out in the sun and slept, and ate and went to sleep again. When he felt dirty or hot he swam in the forest pools; and when he wanted honey (Baloo told him that honey and nuts were just as pleasant to eat as raw meat) he climbed up for it, and that Bagheera showed him how to do. Bagheera would lie out on a branch and call, ''Come along, Little Brother,'' and at first Mowgli would cling like the sloth, but afterward he would fling himself through the branches almost as boldly as the gray ape. He took his place at the Council Rock, too, when the Pack met, and there he discovered that if he stared hard at any wolf, the wolf would be forced to drop his eyes, and so he used to stare for fun. At other times he would pick the long thorns out of the pads of his friends, for wolves suffer terribly from thorns and burs in their coats. He would go down the hillside into the cultivated lands by night, and look very curiously at the villagers in their huts, but he had a mistrust of men because Bagheera showed him a square box with a drop gate so cunningly hidden in the jungle that he nearly walked into it, and told him that it was a trap. He loved better than anything else to go with Bagheera into the dark warm heart of the forest, to sleep all through the drowsy day, and at night see how Bagheera did his killing. Bagheera killed right and left as he felt hungry, and so did Mowgli-with one exception. As soon as he was old enough to understand things, Bagheera told him that he must never touch cattle because he had been bought into the Pack at the price of a bull's life. ''All the jungle is thine,'' said Bagheera, ''and thou canst kill everything that thou art strong enough to kill; but for the sake of the bull that bought thee thou must never kill or eat any cattle young or old. That is the Law of the Jungle.'' Mowgli obeyed faithfully.

And he grew and grew strong as a boy must grow who does not know that he is learning any lessons, and who has nothing in the world to think of except things to eat.

Mother Wolf told him once or twice that Shere Khan was not a creature to be trusted, and that some day he must kill Shere Khan. But though a young wolf would have remembered that advice every hour, Mowgli forgot it because he was only a boy-though he would have called himself a wolf if he had been able to speak in any human tongue.

Shere Khan was always crossing his path in the jungle, for as Akela grew older and feebler the lame tiger had come to be great friends with the younger wolves of the Pack, who followed him for scraps, a thing Akela would never have allowed if he had dared to push his authority to the proper bounds. Then Shere Khan would flatter them and wonder that such fine young hunters were content to be led by a dying wolf and a man's cub. ''They tell me,'' Shere Khan would say, ''that at Council ye dare not look him between the eyes.'' And the young wolves would growl and bristle.

Bagheera, who had eyes and ears everywhere, knew something of this, and once or twice he told Mowgli in so many words that Shere Khan would kill him some day. Mowgli would laugh and answer: ''I have the Pack and I have thee; and Baloo, though he is so lazy, might strike a blow or two for my sake. Why should I be afraid?''

It was one very warm day that a new notion came to BagheeraЦ born of something that he had heard. Perhaps Ikki the Porcupine had told him; but he said to Mowgli when they were deep in the jungle, as the boy lay with his head on Bagheera's beautiful black skin, ''Little Brother, how often have I told thee that Shere Khan is thy enemy?''

''As many times as there are nuts on that palm,'' said Mowgli, who, naturally, could not count. ''What of it? I am sleepy, Bagheera, and Shere Khan is all long tail and loud talk-like Mao, the Peacock.''

''But this is no time for sleeping. Baloo knows it; I know it; the Pack know it; and even the foolish, foolish deer know. Tabaqui has told thee too.''

''Ho! ho!'' said Mowgli. ''Tabaqui came to me not long ago with some rude talk that I was a naked man's cub and not fit to dig pig-nuts. But I caught Tabaqui by the tail and swung him twice against a palm-tree to teach him better manners.''

''That was foolishness, for though Tabaqui is a mischief-maker, he would have told thee of something that concerned thee closely. Open those eyes, Little Brother. Shere Khan dare not kill thee in the jungle. But remember, Akela is very old, and soon the day comes when he cannot kill his buck, and then he will be leader no more. Many of the wolves that looked thee over when thou wast brought to the Council first are old too, and the young wolves believe, as Shere Khan has taught them, that a man-cub has no place with the Pack. In a little time thou wilt be a man.''

''And what is a man that he should not run with his brothers?'' said Mowgli. ''I was born in the jungle. I have obeyed the Law of the Jungle, and there is no wolf of ours from whose paws I have not pulled a thorn. Surely they are my brothers!''

Bagheera stretched himself at full length and half shut his eyes. ''Little Brother,'' said he, ''feel under my jaw.''

Mowgli put up his strong brown hand, and just under Bagheera's silky chin, where the giant rolling muscles were all hid by the glossy hair, he came upon a little bald spot.

''There is no one in the jungle that knows that I, Bagheera, carry that mark-the mark of the collar; and yet, Little Brother, I was born among men, and it was among men that my mother died-in the cages of the king's palace at Oodeypore. It was because of this that I paid the price for thee at the Council when thou wast a little naked cub. Yes, I too was born among men. I had never seen the jungle. They fed me behind bars from an iron pan till one night I felt that I was Bagheera-the PantherЦ and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away. And because I had learned the ways of men, I became more terrible in the jungle than Shere Khan. Is it not so?''

''Yes,'' said Mowgli, ''all the jungle fear Bagheera-all except Mowgli.''

''Oh, thou art a man's cub,'' said the Black Panther very tenderly. ''And even as I returned to my jungle, so thou must go back to men at last-to the men who are thy brothers-if thou art not killed in the Council.''

''But why-but why should any wish to kill me?'' said Mowgli.

''Look at me,'' said Bagheera. And Mowgli looked at him steadily between the eyes. The big panther turned his head away in half a minute.

''That is why,'' he said, shifting his paw on the leaves. ''Not even I can look thee between the eyes, and I was born among men, and I love thee, Little Brother. The others they hate thee because their eyes cannot meet thine; because thou art wise; because thou hast pulled out thorns from their feet-because thou art a man.''

''I did not know these things,'' said Mowgli sullenly, and he frowned under his heavy black eyebrows.

''What is the Law of the Jungle? Strike first and then give tongue. By thy very carelessness they know that thou art a man. But be wise. It is in my heart that when Akela misses his next kill-and at each hunt it costs him more to pin the buck-the Pack will turn against him and against thee. They will hold a jungle Council at the Rock, and then-and then-I have it!'' said Bagheera, leaping up. ''Go thou down quickly to the men's huts in the valley, and take some of the Red Flower which they grow there, so that when the time comes thou mayest have even a stronger friend than I or Baloo or those of the Pack that love thee. Get the Red Flower.''

By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, only no creature in the jungle will call fire by its proper name. Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it.

''The Red Flower?'' said Mowgli. ''That grows outside their huts in the twilight. I will get some.''

''There speaks the man's cub,'' said Bagheera proudly. ''Remember that it grows in little pots. Get one swiftly, and keep it by thee for time of need.''

''Good!'' said Mowgli. ''I go. But art thou sure, O my Bagheera''-he slipped his arm around the splendid neck and looked deep into the big eyes-''art thou sure that all this is Shere Khan's doing?''

''By the Broken Lock that freed me, I am sure, Little Brother.''

''Then, by the Bull that bought me, I will pay Shere Khan full tale for this, and it may be a little over,'' said Mowgli, and he bounded away.

''That is a man. That is all a man,'' said Bagheera to himself, lying down again. ''Oh, Shere Khan, never was a blacker hunting than that frog-hunt of thine ten years ago!''

Mowgli was far and far through the forest, running hard, and his heart was hot in him. He came to the cave as the evening mist rose, and drew breath, and looked down the valley. The cubs were out, but Mother Wolf, at the back of the cave, knew by his breathing that something was troubling her frog.

''What is it, Son?'' she said.

Title: The Jungle Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
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