(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Jungle Book
Click Here to return to
ALL that is told here happened some time before Mowgli was turned out of the Seeonee wolf-pack. It was in the days when Baloo was teaching him the Law of the Jungle. The big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil, for the young wolves will only learn as much of the Law of the Jungle as applies to their own pack and tribe, and run away as soon as they can repeat the Hunting Verse: “Feet that make no noise; eyes that can see in the dark; ears that can hear the winds in their lairs, and sharp white teeth—all these things are the marks of our brothers except Tabaqui and the Hyena, whom we hate.” But Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a great deal more than this. Sometimes Bagheera, the Black Panther, would come lounging through the jungle to see how his pet was getting on, and would purr with his head against a tree while Mowgli recited the day’s lesson to Baloo. The boy could climb almost as well as he could swim, and swim almost as well as he could run; so Baloo, the Teacher of the Law, taught him the Wood and Water laws: how to tell a rotten branch from a sound one; how to speak politely to the wild bees when he came upon a hive of them fifty feet aboveground; what to say to Mang, the Bat, when he disturbed him in the branches at midday; and how to warn the water-snakes in the pools before he splashed down among them. None of the Jungle People like being disturbed, and all are very ready to fly at an intruder. Then, too, Mowgli was taught the Strangers’ Hunting Call, which must be repeated aloud till it is answered, whenever one of the Jungle People hunts outside his own grounds. It means, translated: “Give me leave to hunt here because I am hungry”; and the answer is: “Hunt, then, for food, but not for pleasure.”
All this will show you how much Mowgli had to learn by heart, and he grew very tired of repeating the same thing a hundred times; but, as Baloo said to Bagheera one day when Mowgli had been cuffed and had run off in a temper: “A man’s cub is a man’s cub, and he must learn all the Law of the Jungle.”
“But think how small he is,” said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. “How can his little head carry all thy long talk?”
“Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets.”
“Softly! What dost thou know of softness, old Iron-feet?” Bagheera grunted. “His face is all bruised to-day by thy — softness. Ugh!”
“Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance,” Baloo answered, very earnestly. “I am now teaching him the Master Words of the Jungle that shall protect him with the Birds and the Snake People, and all that hunt on four feet, except his own pack. He can now claim protection, if he will only remember the Words, from all in the jungle. Is not that worth a little beating?”
“Well, look to it then that thou dost not kill the man-cub. He is no tree-trunk to sharpen thy blunt claws upon. But what are those Master Words? I am more likely to give help than to ask it” — Bagheera stretched out one paw and admired the steel-blue ripping-chisel talons at the end of it — “Still I should like to know.”
“I will call Mowgli and he shall say them — if he will. Come, Little Brother!”
“My head is ringing like a bee-tree,” said a sullen voice over their heads, and Mowgli slid down a tree-trunk, very angry and indignant, adding, as he reached the ground: “I come for Bagheera and not for thee, fat old Baloo!”
“That is all one to me,” said Baloo, though he was hurt and grieved. “Tell Bagheera, then, the Master Words of the Jungle that I have taught thee this day.”
“Master Words for which people?” said Mowgli, delighted to show off. “The jungle has many tongues. I know them all.”
“A little thou knowest, but not much. See, O Bagheera, they never thank their teacher! Not one small wolfing has come back to thank old Baloo for his teachings. Say the Word for the Hunting People, then, — great scholar!”
“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli, giving the words the Bear accent which all the Hunting People of the Jungle use.
“Good! Now for the Birds.”
Mowgli repeated, with the Kite’s whistle at the end of the sentence.
“Now for the Snake People,” said Bagheera. The answer was a perfectly indescribable hiss, and Mowgli kicked up his feet behind, clapped his hands together to applaud himself, and jumped on Bagheera’s back, where he sat sideways, drumming with his heels on the glossy skin and making the worst faces that he could think of at Baloo.
“There — there! That was worth a little bruise,” said the Brown Bear, tenderly. “Some day thou wilt remember me.” Then he turned aside to tell Bagheera how he had begged the Master Words from Hathi, the Wild Elephant, who knows all about these things, and how Hathi had taken Mowgli down to a pool to get the Snake Word from a water-snake, because Baloo could not pronounce it, and how Mowgli was now reasonably safe against all accidents in the jungle, because neither snake, bird, nor beast would hurt him.
“No one then is to be feared,” Baloo wound up, patting his big furry stomach with pride.
“Except his own tribe,” said Bagheera, under his breath; and then aloud to Mowgli: “Have a care for my ribs, Little Brother! What is all this dancing up and down?”
Mowgli had been trying to make himself heard by pulling at Bagheera’s shoulder-fur and kicking hard. When the two listened to him he was shouting at the top of his voice: “And so I shall have a tribe of my own, and lead them through the branches all day long.”
“What is this new folly, little dreamer of dreams?” said Bagheera.
“Yes, and throw branches and dirt at old Baloo,” Mowgli went on. “They have promised me this, ah!
“Whoof!” Baloo’s big paw scooped Mowgli off Bagheera’s back, and as the boy lay between the big fore paws he could see the bear was angry.
“Mowgli,” said Baloo, “thou hast been talking with the Bandar-log — the Monkey People.”
Mowgli looked at Bagheera to see if the panther was angry too, and Bagheera’s eyes were as hard as jade-stones.
“Thou hast been with the Monkey People — the gray apes — the people without a Law — the eaters of everything. That is great shame.”
“When Baloo hurt my head,” said Mowgli (he was still down on his back), “I went away, and the gray apes came down from the trees and had pity on me. No one else cared.” He snuffled a little.
“The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted.
“The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun! And then, man-cub?”
“And then — and then they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they — they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood-brother, except that I had no tail, and should be their leader some day.”
“They have no leader,” said Bagheera. “They lie. They have always lied.”
“They were very kind, and bade me come again. Why have I never been taken among the Monkey People? They stand on their feet as I do. They do not hit me with hard paws. They play all day. Let me get up! Bad Baloo, let me up! I will go play with them again.”
“Listen, man-cub,” said the bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the Peoples of the Jungle — except the Monkey Folk who live in the trees. They have no Law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen and peep and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter, and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast thou ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?” “No,” said Mowgli in a whisper, for the forest was very still now that Baloo had finished.
“The Jungle People put them out of their mouths and out of their minds. They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”
He had hardly spoken when a shower of nuts and twigs spattered down through the branches; and they could hear coughings and howlings and angry jumpings high up in the air among the thin branches.
“The Monkey People are forbidden,” said Baloo — “forbidden to the Jungle People. Remember.”
“Forbidden,” said Bagheera; “but I still think Baloo should have warned thee against them.”
“I — I? How was I to guess he would play with such dirt. The Monkey People! Faugh!”
A fresh shower came down on their heads, and the two trotted away, taking Mowgli with them. What Baloo had said about the monkeys was perfectly true. They belonged to the tree-tops, and as beasts very seldom look up, there was no occasion for the monkeys and the Jungle People to cross one another’s path. But whenever they found a sick wolf, or a wounded tiger or bear, the monkeys would torment him, and would throw sticks and nuts at any beast for fun and in the hope of being noticed. Then they would howl and shriek senseless songs, and invite the Jungle People to climb up their trees and fight them, or would start furious battles over nothing among themselves, and leave the dead monkeys where the Jungle People could see them.
They were always just going to have a leader and laws and customs of their own, but they never did, because their memories would not hold over from day to day, and so they settled things by making up a saying: “What the Bandar-log think now the Jungle will think later”; and that comforted them a great deal. None of the beasts could reach them, but on the other hand none of the beasts would notice them, and that was why they were so pleased when Mowgli came to play with them, and when they heard how angry Baloo was.
They never meant to do any more, — the Bandar-log never mean anything at all, — but one of them invented what seemed to him a brilliant idea, and he told all the others that Mowgli would be a useful person to keep in the tribe, because he could weave sticks together for protection from the wind; so, if they caught him, they could make him teach them. Of course Mowgli, as a wood-cutter’s child, inherited all sorts of instincts, and used to make little play-huts of fallen branches without thinking how he came to do it. The Monkey People, watching in the trees, considered these huts most wonderful. This time, they said, they were really going to have a leader and become the wisest people in the jungle — so wise that every one else would notice and envy them. Therefore they followed Baloo and Bagheera and Mowgli through the jungle very quietly till it was time for the midday nap, and Mowgli, who was very much ashamed of himself, slept between the panther and the bear, resolving to have no more to do with the Monkey People.
The next thing he remembered was feeling hands on his legs and arms, — hard, strong little hands, — and then a swash of branches in his face; and then he was staring down through the swaying boughs as Baloo woke the jungle with his deep cries and Bagheera bounded up the trunk with every tooth bared. The Bandar-log howled with triumph, and scuffled away to the upper branches where Bagheera dared not follow, shouting: “He has noticed us! Bagheera has noticed us! All the Jungle People admire us for our skill and our cunning!” Then they began their flight; and the flight of the Monkey People through tree-land is one of the things nobody can describe. They have their regular roads and cross-roads, uphills and downhills, all laid out from fifty to seventy or a hundred feet above-ground, and by these they can travel even at night if necessary.
Two of the strongest monkeys caught Mowgli under the arms and swung off with him through the tree-tops, twenty feet at a bound. Had they been alone, they could have gone twice as fast, but the boy’s weight held them back. Sick and giddy as Mowgli was, he could not help enjoying the wild rush, though the glimpses of earth far down below frightened him, and the terrible check and jerk at the end of the swing over nothing but empty air brought his heart between his teeth.
His escort would rush him up a tree till he felt the weak topmost branches crackle and bend under them, and then, with a cough and a whoop, would fling themselves into the air outward and downward, and bring up hanging by their hands or their feet to the lower limbs of the next tree. Sometimes he could see for miles and miles over the still green jungle, as a man on the top of a mast can see for miles across the sea, and then the branches and leaves would lash him across the face, and he and his two guards would be almost down to earth again.
So bounding and crashing and whooping and yelling, the whole tribe of Bandar-log swept along the tree-roads with Mowgli their prisoner.
For a time he was afraid of being dropped; then he grew angry, but he knew better than to struggle; and then he began to think. The first thing was to send back word to Baloo and Bagheera, for, at the pace the monkeys were going, he knew his friends would be left far behind. It was useless to look down, for he could see only the top sides of the branches, so he stared upward and saw, far away in the blue, Rann, the Kite, balancing and wheeling as he kept watch over the jungle waiting for things to die. Rann noticed that the monkeys were carrying something, and dropped a few hundred yards to find out whether their load was good to eat. He whistled with surprise when he saw Mowgli being dragged up to a tree-top, and heard him give the Kite call for “We be of one blood, thou and I.” The waves of the branches closed over the boy, but Rann balanced away to the next tree in time to see the little brown face come up again. “Mark my trail!” Mowgli shouted. “Tell Baloo of the Seeonee Pack, and Bagheera of the Council Rock.”
“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 — ii!”
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 tree-tops 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 eyesight, they have pecked down trouble for themselves, for Baloo is no fledgling and Bagheera can, as I know, kill more than goats.”
Then he rocked on his wings, his feet gathered up under him, and waited.
Meanwhile, Baloo and Bagheera were furious with rage and grief. Bagheera climbed as he had never climbed before, but the 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 hyena; for I am the most miserable of bears! Arulala! Wahooa! 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 his one fore paw thoughtfully.
“Fool that I am! Oh fat, brown, root-digging fool that I am!” said Baloo, uncurling 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 mere 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, may 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 for 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. Pss naw! 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 round the tree, waked the Bandar-log, and they called me most evil names.”
“‘Footless, yellow earthworm,’” 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 dare not face anything bigger than a kid, because (they are indeed shameless, these Bandar-log) — because thou art afraid of the he-goats’ 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 this 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, shaking 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 manling is not to be envied. They called me also— 'yellow fish,’ was it not?”
“Worm—worm — earthworm,” 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-sssh! We must help their wandering memories. Now, whither went they with thy 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 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 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 eye-shot 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. 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 rocking 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 — earthworm, 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 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.
A great roofless palace crowned the hill, and the marble of the courtyards and the fountains was split and stained with red and green, and the very cobblestones in the courtyard where the king’s elephants used to live had been thrust up and apart by grasses and young trees. From the palace you could see the rows and rows of roofless houses that made up the city, looking like empty honeycombs filled with blackness; the shapeless block of stone that had been an idol in the square where four roads met; the pits and dimples at street corners where the public wells once stood, and the shattered domes of temples with wild figs sprouting on their sides.
The monkeys called the place their city, and pretended to despise the Jungle People because they lived in the forest. And yet they never knew what the buildings were made for nor how to use them. They would sit in circles on the hail of the king’s council-chamber, and scratch for fleas and pretend to be men; or they would run in and out of the roofless houses and collect pieces of plaster and old bricks in a corner, and forget where they had hidden them, and fight and cry in scuffling crowds, and then break off to play up and down the terraces of the king’s garden, where they would shake the rose-trees and the oranges in sport to see the fruit and flowers fall. They explored all the passages and dark tunnels in the palace, and the hundreds of little dark rooms; but they never remembered what they had seen and what they had not, and so drifted about in ones and twos or crowds, telling one another that they were doing as men did. They drank at the tanks and made the water all muddy, and then they fought over it, and then they would all rush together in mobs and shout:
“There are none in the jungle so wise and good and clever and strong and gentle as the Bandar-log.” Then all would begin again till they grew tired of the city and went back to the tree-tops, hoping the Jungle People would notice them.
Mowgli, who had been trained under the Law of the Jungle, did not like or understand this kind of life. The monkeys dragged him into the Cold Lairs late in the afternoon, and instead of going to sleep, as Mowgli would have done after a long journey, they joined hands and danced about and sang their foolish songs.
One of the monkeys made a speech, and told his companions that Mowgli’s capture marked a new thing in the history of the Bandar-log, for Mowgli was going to show them how to weave sticks and canes together as a protection against rain and cold. Mowgli picked up some creepers and began to work them in and out, and the monkeys tried to imitate; but in a very few minutes they lost interest and began to pull their friends’ tails or jump up and down on all fours, coughing.
“I want to eat,” said Mowgli. “I am a stranger in this part of the jungle. Bring me food, or give me leave to hunt here.”
Twenty or thirty monkeys bounded away to bring him nuts and wild pawpaws; but they fell to fighting on the road, and it was too much trouble to go back with what was left of the fruit. Mowgli was sore and angry as well as hungry, and he roamed through the empty city giving the Strangers’ Hunting Call from time to time, but no one answered him, and Mowgli felt that he had reached a very bad place indeed.
“All that Baloo has said about the Bandar-log is true,” he thought to himself. “They have no Law, no Hunting Call, and no leaders — nothing but foolish words and little picking, thievish hands. So if I am starved or killed here, it will be all my own fault. But I must try to return to my own jungle. Baloo will surely beat me, but that is better than chasing silly rose-leaves with the Bandar-log.”
But no sooner had he walked to the city wall than the monkeys pulled him back, telling him that he did not know how happy he was, and pinching him to make him grateful. He set his teeth and said nothing, but went with the shouting monkeys to a terrace above the red sandstone reservoirs that were half full of rain-water. There was a ruined summer-house of white marble in the center of the terrace, built for queens dead a hundred years ago. The domed roof had half fallen in and blocked up the underground passage from the palace by which the queens used to enter; but the walls were made of screens of marble tracery — beautiful, milk-white fretwork, set with agates and carnelians and jasper and lapis lazuli, and as the moon came up behind the hill it shone through the openwork, casting shadows on the ground like black-velvet embroidery.
Sore, sleepy, and hungry as he was, Mowgli could not help laughing when the Bandar-log began, twenty at a time, to tell him how great and wise and strong and gentle they were, and how foolish he was to wish to leave them. “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true,” they shouted. “Now as you are a new listener and can carry our words back to the Jungle People so that they may notice us in future, we will tell you all about our most excellent selves.”
Mowgli made no objection, and the monkeys gathered by hundreds and hundreds on the terrace to listen to their own speakers singing the praises of the Bandar-log, and whenever a speaker stopped for want of breath they would all shout together: “This is true; we all say so.”
Mowgli nodded and blinked, and said “Yes” when they asked him a question, and his head spun with the noise. “Tabaqui, the Jackal, must have bitten all these people,” he said to himself, “and now they have the madness. Certainly this is dewanee — the madness. Do they never go to sleep? Now there is a cloud coming to cover that moon. If it were only a big enough cloud I might try to run away in the darkness. But I am tired.”
That same cloud was being watched by two good friends in the ruined ditch below the city wall, for Bagheera and Kaa, knowing well how dangerous the Monkey People were in large numbers, did not wish to run any risks. The monkeys never fight unless they are a hundred to one, and few in the jungle care for those odds.
“I will go to the west wall,” Kaa whispered, “and come down swiftly with the slope of the ground in my favour. They will not throw themselves upon my back in their hundreds, but —”
“I know it,” said Bagheera. “Would that Baloo were here; but we must do what we can. When that cloud covers the moon I shall go to the terrace. They hold some sort of council there over the boy.”
“Good hunting,” said Kaa, grimly, and glided away to the west wall. That happened to be the least ruined of any, and the big snake was delayed a while before he could find a way up the stones.
The cloud hid the moon, and as Mowgli wondered what would come next he heard Bagheera’s light feet on the terrace. The Black Panther had raced up the slope almost without a sound, and was striking — he knew better than to waste time in biting — right and left among the monkeys, who were seated round Mowgli in circles fifty and sixty deep. There was a howl of fright and rage, and then as Bagheera tripped on the rolling, kicking bodies beneath him, a monkey shouted:
“There is only one here! Kill him! Kill!” A scuffling mass of monkeys, biting, scratching, tearing, and pulling, closed over Bagheera, while five or six laid hold of Mowgli, dragged him up the wall of the summer-house, and pushed him through the hole of the broken dome. A man-trained boy would have been badly bruised, for the fall was a good ten feet, but Mowgli fell as Baloo had taught him to fall, and landed light.
“Stay there,” shouted the monkeys, “till we have killed thy friend. Later we will play with thee, if the Poison People leave thee alive.”
“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli, quickly giving the Snake’s Call. He could hear rustling and hissing in the rubbish all round him, and gave the Call a second time to make sure.
“Down hoods all,” said half a dozen low voices. Every old ruin in India becomes sooner or later a dwelling-place of snakes, and the old summer-house was alive with cobras. “Stand still, Little Brother, lest thy feet do us harm.”
Mowgli stood as quietly as he could, peering through the openwork and listening to the furious din of the fight round the Black Panther — the yells and chatterings and scufflings, and Bagheera’s deep, hoarse cough as he backed and bucked and twisted and plunged under the heaps of his enemies. For the first time since he was born, Bagheera was fighting for his life.
“Baloo must be at hand; Bagheera would not have come alone,” Mowgli thought; and then he called aloud: “To the tank, Bagheera! Roll to the water-tanks! Roll and plunge! Get to the water!”
Bagheera heard, and the cry that told him Mowgli was safe gave him new courage. He worked his way desperately, inch by inch, straight for the reservoirs, hitting in silence.
Then from the ruined wall nearest the jungle rose up the rumbling war-shout of Baloo. The old bear had done his best, but he could not come before. “Bagheera,” he shouted, “I am here! I climb! I haste! Ahuwora! The stones slip under my feet! Wait my coming, O most infamous Bandar-log!”
He panted up the terrace only to disappear to the head in a wave of monkeys, but he threw himself squarely on his haunches, and spreading out his fore paws, hugged as many as he could hold, and then began to hit with a regular bat-bat-bat, like the flipping strokes of a paddle-wheel.
A crash and a splash told Mowgli that Bagheera had fought his way to the tank, where the monkeys could not follow. The panther lay gasping for breath, his head just out of water, while the monkeys stood three deep on the red stone steps, dancing up and down with rage, ready to spring upon him from all sides if he came out to help Baloo. It was then that Bagheera lifted up his dripping chin, and in despair gave the Snake’s Call for protection, — “We be of one blood, ye and I,” — for he believed that Kaa had turned tail at the last minute. Even Baloo, half smothered under the monkeys on the edge of the terrace, could not help chuckling as he heard the big Black Panther asking for help.
Kaa had only just worked his way over the west wall, landing with a wrench that dislodged a coping-stone into the ditch. He had no intention of losing any advantage of the ground, and coiled and uncoiled himself once or twice, to be sure that every foot of his long body was in working order.
All that while the fight with Baloo went on, and the monkeys yelled in the tank round Bagheera, and Mang, the Bat, flying to and fro, carried the news of the great battle over the jungle, till even Hathi, the Wild Elephant, trumpeted, and, far away, scattered bands of the Monkey Folk woke and came leaping along the tree-roads to help their comrades in the Cold Lairs, and the noise of the fight roused all the day-birds for miles round.
Then Kaa came straight, quickly, and anxious to kill. The fighting strength of a python is in the driving blow of his head, backed by all the strength and weight of his body. If you can imagine a lance, or a battering-ram, or a hammer, weighing nearly half a ton, driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it, you can imagine roughly what Kaa was like when he fought. A python four or five feet long can knock a man down if he hits him fairly in the chest, and Kaa was thirty feet long, as you know. His first stroke was delivered into the heart of the crowd round Baloo — was sent home with shut mouth in silence, and there was no need of a second. The monkeys scattered with cries of “Kaa! It is Kaa! Run! Run!”
Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behaviour by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, who could slip along the branches as quietly as moss grows, and steal away the strongest monkey that ever lived; of old Kaa, who could make himself look so like a dead branch or a rotten stump that the wisest were deceived till the branch caught them, and then Kaa was everything that the monkeys feared in the jungle, for none of them knew the limits of his power, none of them could look him in the face, and none had ever come alive out of his hug. And so they ran, stammering with terror, to the walls and the roofs of the houses, and Baloo drew a deep breath of relief. His fur was much thicker than Bagheera’s, but he had suffered sorely in the fight. Then Kaa opened his mouth for the first time and spoke one long hissing word, and the far-away monkeys, hurrying to the defense of the Cold Lairs, stayed where they were, cowering, till the loaded branches bent and crackled under them. The monkeys on the walls and the empty houses stopped their cries, and in the stillness that fell upon the city Mowgli heard Bagheera shaking his wet sides as he came up from the tank.
Then the clamour broke out again. The monkeys leaped higher up the walls; they clung round the necks of the big stone idols and shrieked as they skipped along the battlements; while Mowgli, dancing in the summer-house, put his eye to the screenwork and hooted owl-fashion between his front teeth to show his derision and contempt.
“Get the man-cub out of that trap; I can do no more,” Bagheera gasped. “Let us take the man-cub and go. They may attack again.”
“They will not move till I order them. Stay you sssso!” Kaa hissed, and the city was silent once more. “I could not come before, Brother, but I think I heard thee call “— this was to Bagheera.
“I — I may have cried out in the battle,” Bagheera answered. “Baloo, art thou hurt?”
“I am not sure that they have not pulled me into a hundred little bearlings,” said Baloo, gravely shaking one leg after the other. “Wow! I am sore. Kaa, we owe thee, I think, our lives — Bagheera and I.”
“No matter. Where is the manling?”
“Here, in a trap. I cannot climb out,” cried Mowgli. The curve of the broken dome was above his head.
“Take him away. He dances like Mao the Peacock. He will crush our young,” said the cobras inside.
“Hah!” said Kaa, with a chuckle, “he has friends everywhere, this manling. Stand back, Manling; and hide you, O Poison People. I break down the wall.”
Kaa looked carefully till he found a discoloured crack in the marble tracery showing a weak spot, made two or three light taps with his head to get the distance, and then lifting up six feet of his body clear of the ground, sent home half a dozen full-power, smashing blows, nose-first. The screen-work broke and fell away in a cloud of dust and rubbish, and Mowgli leaped through the opening and flung himself between Baloo and Bagheera — an arm round each big neck.
“Art thou hurt?” said Baloo, hugging him softly.
“I am sore, hungry, and not a little bruised; but, oh, they have handled ye grievously, my Brothers! Ye bleed.”
“Others also,” said Bagheera, licking his lips, and looking at the monkey-dead on the terrace and round the tank.
“It is nothing, it is nothing, if thou art safe, O my pride of all little frogs!” whimpered Baloo.
“Of that we shall judge later,” said Bagheera, in a dry voice that Mowgli did not at all like. “But here is Kaa, to whom we owe the battle and thou owest thy life. Thank him according to our customs, Mowgli.”
Mowgli turned and saw the great python’s head swaying a foot above his own.
“So this is the manling,” said Kaa. “Very soft is his skin, and he is not so unlike the Bandar-log. Have a care, Manling, that I do not mistake thee for a monkey some twilight when I have newly changed my coat.”
“We be of one blood, thou and I,” Mowgli answered. “I take my life from thee, to-night. My kill shall be thy kill if ever thou art hungry, O Kaa.”
“All thanks, Little Brother,” said Kaa, though his eyes twinkled. “And what may so bold a hunter kill? I ask that I may follow when next he goes abroad.”
“I kill nothing, — I am too little, — but I drive goats toward such as can use them. When thou art empty come to me and see if I speak the truth. I have some skill in these [he held out his hands], and if ever thou art in a trap, I may pay the debt which I owe to thee, to Bagheera, and to Baloo, here. Good hunting to ye all, my masters.”
“Well said,” growled Baloo, for Mowgli had returned thanks very prettily. The python dropped his head lightly for a minute on Mowgli’s shoulder. “A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, Manling. But now go hence quickly with thy friends. Go and sleep, for the moon sets, and what follows it is not well that thou shouldst see.”
The moon was sinking behind the hills, and the lines of trembling monkeys huddled together on the walls and battlements looked like ragged, shaky fringes of things. Baloo went down to the tank for a drink, and Bagheera began to put his fur in order, as Kaa glided out into the center of the terrace and brought his jaws together with a ringing snap that drew all the monkeys’ eyes upon him.
“The moon sets,” he said. “Is there yet light to see?”
From the walls came a moan like the wind in the tree-tops: “We see, O Kaa!”
“Good! Begins now the Dance — the Dance of the Hunger of Kaa. Sit still and watch.”
He turned twice or thrice in a big circle, weaving his head from right to left. Then he began making loops and figures of eight with his body, and soft, oozy triangles that melted into squares and five-sided figures, and coiled mounds, never resting, never hurrying, and never stopping his low, humming song. It grew darker and darker, till at last the dragging, shifting coils disappeared, but they could hear the rustle of the scales.
Baloo and Bagheera stood still as stone, growling in their throats, their neck-hair bristling, and Mowgli watched and wondered.
“Bandar-log,” said the voice of Kaa at last, “can ye stir foot or hand without my order? Speak!”
“Without thy order we cannot stir foot or hand, O Kaa!”
“Good! Come all one pace nearer to me.”
The lines of the monkeys swayed forward helplessly, and Baloo and Bagheera took one stiff step forward with them.
“Nearer!” hissed Kaa, and they all moved again.
Mowgli laid his hands on Baloo and Bagheera to get them away, and the two great beasts started as though they had been waked from a dream.
“Keep thy hand on my shoulder,” Bagheera whispered. “Keep it there, or I must go back — must go back to Kaa. Aah!”
“It is only old Kaa making circles on the dust,” said Mowgli; “let us go”; and the three slipped off through a gap in the walls to the jungle.
“Whoof!” said Baloo, when he stood under the still trees again. “Never more will I make an ally of Kaa,” and he shook himself all over.
“He knows more than we,” said Bagheera, trembling. “In a little time, had I stayed, I should have walked down his throat.”
“Many will walk that road before the moon rises again,” said Baloo. “He will have good hunting — after his own fashion.”
“But what was the meaning of it all?” said Mowgli, who did not know anything of a python’s powers of fascination. “I saw no more than a big snake making foolish circles till the dark came. And his nose was all sore. Ho! Ho!”
“Mowgli,” said Bagheera, angrily, “his nose was sore on thy account; as my ears and sides and paws and Baloo’s neck and shoulders are bitten on thy account. Neither Baloo nor Bagheera will be able to hunt with pleasure for many days.”
“It is nothing,” said Baloo; “we have the man-cub again.”
“True; but he has cost us most heavily in time which might have been spent in good hunting, in wounds, in hair, — I am half plucked along my back, — and last of all, in honour. For, remember, Mowgli, I, who am the Black Panther, was forced to call upon Kaa for protection, and Baloo and I were both made stupid as little birds by the Hunger-Dance. All this, Man-cub, came of thy playing with the Bandar-log.”
“True; it is true,” said Mowgli, sorrowfully. “I am an evil man-cub, and my stomach is sad in me.”
“Mf! What says the Law of the Jungle, Baloo?”
Baloo did not wish to bring Mowgli into any more trouble, but he could not tamper with the Law, so he mumbled, “Sorrow never stays punishment. But remember, Bagheera, he is very little.”
“I will remember; but he has done mischief, and blows must be dealt now. Mowgli, hast thou anything to say?”
“Nothing. I did wrong. Baloo and thou art wounded. It is just.”
Bagheera gave him half a dozen love-taps; from a panther’s point of view they would hardly have waked one of his own cubs, but for a seven-year-old boy they amounted to as severe a beating as you could wish to avoid. When it was all over Mowgli sneezed, and picked himself up without a word.
“Now,” said Bagheera, “jump on my back, Little Brother, and we will go home.”
One of the beauties of Jungle Law is that punishment settles all scores. There is no nagging afterward.
Mowgli laid his head down on Bagheera’s back and slept so deeply that he never waked when he was put down by Mother Wolf's side in the home-cave.