Mowgli is nearly fifteen years old in this story.
For our white and our excellent nights—for the nights of swift running, Fair ranging, far seeing, good hunting, sure cunning! For the smells of the dawning, untainted, ere dew has departed! For the rush through the mist, and the quarry blind-started! For the cry of our mates when the sambhur has wheeled and is standing at bay, For the risk and the riot of night! For the sleep at the lair-mouth by day, It is met, and we go to the fight. Bay! O Bay!
It was after the letting in of the jungle that the pleasantest part of Mowgli's life began. He had the good conscience that comes from paying debts; all the Jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him. The things that he did and saw and heard when he was wandering from one people to another, with or without his four companions, would make many many stories, each as long as this one. So you will never be told how he met the Mad Elephant of Mandla, who killed two-and-twenty bullocks drawing eleven carts of coined silver to the Government Treasury, and scattered the shiny rupees in the dust; how he fought Jacala, the Crocodile, all one long night in the Marshes of the North, and broke his skinning-knife on the brute's backplates; how he found a new and longer knife round the neck of a man who had been killed by a wild boar, and how he tracked that boar and killed him as a fair price for the knife; how he was caught up once in the Great Famine, by the moving of the deer, and nearly crushed to death in the swaying hot herds; how he saved Hathi the Silent from being once more trapped in a pit with a stake at the bottom, and how, next day, he himself fell into a very cunning leopard-trap, and how Hathi broke the thick wooden bars to pieces above him; how he milked the wild buffaloes in the swamp, and how——
But we must tell one tale at a time. Father and Mother Wolf died, and Mowgli rolled a big boulder against the mouth of their cave, and cried the Death Song over them; Baloo grew very old and stiff, and even Bagheera, whose nerves were steel and whose muscles were iron, was a shade slower on the kill than he had been. Akela turned from gray to milky white with pure age; his ribs stuck out, and he walked as though he had been made of wood, and Mowgli killed for him. But the young wolves, the children of the disbanded Seeonee Pack, throve and increased, and when there were about forty of them, masterless, full-voiced, clean-footed five-year-olds, Akela told them that they ought to gather themselves together and follow the Law, and run under one head, as befitted the Free People.
This was not a question in which Mowgli concerned himself, for, as he said, he had eaten sour fruit, and he knew the tree it hung from; but when Phao, son of Phaona (his father was the Gray Tracker in the days of Akela’s headship), fought his way to the leadership of the Pack, according to the Jungle Law, and the old calls and songs began to ring under the stars once more, Mowgli came to the Council Rock for memory’s sake. When he chose to speak the Pack waited till he had finished, and he sat at Akela’s side on the rock above Phao. Those were days of good hunting and good sleeping. No stranger cared to break into the jungles that belonged to Mowgli’s people, as they called the Pack, and the young wolves grew fat and strong, and there were many cubs to bring to the Looking-over. Mowgli always attended a Looking-over, remembering the night when a black panther bought a naked brown baby into the pack, and the long call, ‘Look, look well, O Wolves,’ made his heart flutter. Otherwise, he would be far away in the Jungle with his four brothers, tasting, touching, seeing, and feeling new things.
One twilight when he was trotting leisurely across the ranges to give Akela the half of a buck that he had killed, while the Four jogged behind him, sparring a little, and tumbling one another over for joy of being alive, he heard a cry that had never been heard since the bad days of Shere Khan. It was what they call in the Jungle the pheeal, a hideous kind of shriek that the jackal gives when he is hunting behind a tiger, or when there is a big killing afoot. If you can imagine a mixture of hate, triumph, fear, and despair, with a kind of leer running through it, you will get some notion. of the pheeal that rose and sank and wavered and quavered far away across the Waingunga. The Four stopped at once, bristling and growling. Mowgli’s hand went to his knife, and he checked, the blood in his face, his eyebrows knotted.
‘There is no Striped One dare kill here,’ he said.
‘That is not the cry of the Forerunner,’ answered Gray Brother. ‘It is some great killing. Listen!’
It broke out again, half sobbing and half chuckling, just as though the jackal had soft human lips. Then Mowgli drew deep breath, and ran to the Council Rock, overtaking on his way hurrying wolves of the Pack. Phao and Akela were on the Rock together, and below them, every nerve strained, sat the others. The mothers and the cubs were cantering off to their lairs; for when the pheeal cries it is no time for weak things to be abroad.
They could hear nothing except the Waingunga rushing and gurgling in the dark, and the light evening winds among the tree-tops, till suddenly across the river a wolf called. It was no wolf of the Pack, for they were all at the Rock. The note changed to a long, despairing bay; and ‘Dhole!’ it said, ‘Dhole! dhole! dhole!’ They heard tired feet on the rocks, and a gaunt wolf, streaked with red on his flanks, his right fore-paw useless, and his jaws white with foam, flung himself into the circle and lay gasping at Mowgli’s feet.
‘Good hunting! Under whose Headship?’ said Phao gravely.
‘Good hunting! Won-tolla am I,’ was the answer. He meant that he was a solitary wolf, fending for himself, his mate, and his cubs in some lonely lair, as do many wolves in the south. Wontolla means an Outlier—one who lies out from any Pack. Then he panted, and they could see his heart-beats shake him backward and forward.
‘What moves?’ said Phao, for that is the question all the Jungle asks after the pheeal cries.
‘The dhole, the dhole of the Dekkan—Red Dog, the Killer! They came north from the south saying the Dekkan was empty and killing out by the way. When this moon was new there were four to me—my mate and three cubs. She would teach them to kill on the grass plains, hiding to drive the buck, as we do who are of the open. At midnight I heard them together, full tongue on the trail. At the dawn-wind I found them stiff in the grass-four, Free People, four when this moon was new. Then sought I my Blood-Right and found the dhole.’
‘How many?’ said Mowgli quickly; the Pack growled deep in their throats.
‘I do not know. Three of them will kill no more, but at the last they drove me like the buck; on my three legs they drove me. Look, Free People!’
He thrust, out his mangled fore-foot, all dark with dried blood. There were cruel bites low down on his side, and his throat was torn and worried.
‘Eat,’ said Akela, rising up from the meat Mowgli had brought him, and the Outlier flung himself on it.
‘This shall be no loss,’ he said humbly, when he had taken off the first edge of his hunger. ‘Give me a little strength, Free People, and I also will kill. My lair is empty that was full when this moon was new, and the Blood Debt is not all paid.’
Phao heard his teeth crack on a haunch-bone and grunted approvingly.
‘We shall need those jaws,’ said he. ‘Were there cubs with the dhole?’
‘Nay, nay. Red Hunters all: grown dogs of their Pack, heavy and strong for all that they eat lizards in the Dekkan.’
What Won-tolla had said meant that the dhole, the red hunting-dog of the Dekkan, was moving to kill, and the Pack knew well that even the tiger will surrender a new kill to the dhole. They drive straight through the Jungle, and what they meet they pull down and tear to pieces. Though they are not as big nor half as cunning as the wolf, they are very strong and very numerous. The dhole, for instance, do not begin to call themselves a pack till they are a hundred strong; whereas forty wolves make a very fair pack indeed. Mowgli’s wanderings had taken him to the edge of the high grassy downs of the Dekkan, and he had seen the fearless dholes sleeping and playing and scratching themselves in the little hollows and tussocks that they use for lairs. He despised and hated them because they did not smell like the Free People, because they did not live in caves, and, above all, because they had hair between their toes while he and his friends were clean-footed. But he knew, for Hathi had told him, what a terrible thing a dhole hunting-pack was. Even Hathi moves aside from their line, and until they are killed, or till game is scarce, they will go forward.
Akela knew something of the dholes, too, for he said to Mowgli quietly, ‘It is better to die in a Full Pack than leaderless and alone. This is good hunting, and—my last. But, as men live, thou hast very many more nights and days, Little Brother. Go north and lie down, and if any live after the dhole has gone by he shall bring thee word of the fight.’
‘Ah,’ said Mowgli, quite gravely, ‘must I go to the marshes and catch little fish and sleep in a tree, or must I ask help of the Bandar-log and crack nuts, while the Pack fight below?’
‘It is to the death,’ said Akela. ‘Thou hast never met the dhole—the Red Killer. Even the Striped One——’
‘Aowa! Aowa!’ said Mowgli pettingly. ‘I have killed one striped ape, and sure am I in my stomach that Shere Khan would have left his own mate for meat to the dhole if he had winded a pack across three ranges. Listen now: There was a wolf, my father, and there was a wolf, my mother, and there was an old gray wolf (not too wise he is white now) was my father and my mother. Therefore I—’ he raised his voice, ‘I say that when the dhole come, and if the dhole come, Mowgli and the Free People are of one skin for that hunting; and I say, by the Bull that bought me—by the Bull Bagheera paid for me in the old days which ye of the Pack do not remember—I say, that the Trees and the River may hear and hold fast if I forget; I say that this my knife shall be as a tooth to the Pack—and I do not think it is so blunt. This is my Word which has gone from me.’
‘Thou dost not know the dhole, man with a wolf’s tongue,’ said Won-tolla. ‘I look only to clear the Blood Debt against them ere they have me in many pieces. They move slowly, killing out as they go, but in two days a little strength will come back to me and I turn again for the Blood Debt. But for ye, Free People, my word is that ye go north and eat but little for a while till the dhole are gone. There is no meat in this hunting.’
‘Hear the Outlier!’ said Mowgli with a laugh. ‘ree People, we must go north and dig lizards and rats from the bank, lest by any chance we meet the dhole. He must kill out our hunting-grounds, while we lie hid in the north till it please him to give us our own again. He is a dog—and the pup of a dog—red, yellow-bellied, lairless, and haired between every toe! He counts his cubs six and eight at the litter, as though he were Chikai, the little leaping rat. Surely we must run away, Free People, and beg leave of the peoples of the north for the offal of dead cattle! Ye know the saying “North are the vermin; south are the lice. We are the Jungle.” Choose ye, O choose. It is good hunting! For the Pack—for the Full Pack—for the lair and the litter; for the in-kill and the out-kill; for the mate that drives the doe and the little, little cub within the cave; it is met!—it is met!—it is met!’
The Pack answered with one deep, crashing bark that sounded in the night like a big tree falling. ‘It is met!’ they cried.
‘Stay with these,’ said Mowgli to the Four. ‘We shall need every tooth. Phao and Akela must make ready the battle. I go to count the dogs.’
‘It is death!’ Won-tolla cried, half rising. ‘What can such a hairless one do against the Red Dog? Even the Striped One, remember——’
‘Thou art indeed an Outlier,’ Mowgli called back; ‘but we will speak when the dholes are dead. Good hunting all!’
He hurried off into the darkness, wild with excitement, hardly looking where he set foot, and the natural consequence was that he tripped full length over Kaa’s great coils where the python lay watching a deer-path near the river.
‘Kssha!’ said Kaa angrily. ‘Is this jungle-work, to stamp and tramp and undo a night’s hunting—when the game are moving so well, too?’
‘The fault was mine,’ said Mowgli, picking himself up. ‘Indeed I was seeking thee, Flathead, but each time we meet thou art longer and broader by the length of my arm. There is none like thee in the Jungle, wise, old, strong, and most beautiful Kaa.’
‘Now whither does this trail lead?’ Kaa’s voice was gentler. ‘Not a moon since there was a Manling with a knife threw stones at my head and called me bad little tree-cat names, because I lay asleep in the open.’
‘Ay, and turned every driven deer to all the winds, and Mowgli was hunting, and this same Flathead was too deaf to hear his whistle, and leave the deer-roads free,’ Mowgli answered composedly, sitting down among the painted coils.
‘Now this same Manling comes with soft, tickling words to this same Flathead, telling him that he is wise and strong and beautiful, and this same old Flathead believes and makes a place, thus, for this same stone-throwing Manling, and——Art thou at ease now? Could Bagheera give thee so good a resting-place?’
Kaa had, as usual, made a sort of soft half-hammock of himself under Mowgli’s weight. The boy reached out in the darkness, and gathered in the supple cable-like neck till Kaa’s head rested on his shoulder, and then he told him all that had happened in the Jungle that night.
‘Wise I may be,’ said Kaa at the end; ‘but deaf I surely am. Else I should have heard the pheeal. Small wonder the Eaters of Grass are uneasy. How many be the dhole?’
‘I have not yet seen. I came hot-foot to thee. Thou art older than Hathi. But oh, Kaa,’—here Mowgli wriggled with sheer joy,—‘it will be good hunting. Few of us will see another moon.’
‘Dost thou strike in this? Remember thou art a Man; and remember what Pack cast thee out. Let the Wolf look to the Dog. Thou art a Man.’
‘Last year’s nuts are this year’s black earth,’ said Mowgli. ‘It is true that I am a Man, but it is in my stomach that this night I have said that I am a Wolf. I called the River and the Trees to remember. I am of the Free People, Kaa, till the dhole has gone by.’
‘Free People,’ Kaa grunted. ‘Free thieves! And thou hast tied thyself into the death-knot for the sake of the memory of the dead wolves? This is no good hunting.’
‘It is my Word which I have spoken. The Trees know, the River knows. Till the dhole have gone by my Word comes not back to me.’
‘Ngssh! This changes all trails: I had thought to take thee away with me to the northern marshes, but the Word—even the Word of a little, naked, hairless Manling—is the Word. Now I, Kaa, say——’
‘Think well, Flathead, lest thou tie thyself into the death-knot also. I need no Word from thee, for well I know——’
‘Be it so, then,’ said Kaa. ‘I will give no Word; but what is in thy stomach to do when the dhole come?’
‘They must swim the Waingunga. I thought to meet them with my knife in the shallows, the Pack behind me; and so stabbing and thrusting, we a little might turn them down-stream, or cool their throats.’
‘The dhole do not turn and their throats are hot,’ said Kaa. ‘There will be neither Manling nor Wolf-cub when that hunting is done, but only dry bones.’
‘Alala! If we die, we die. It will be most good hunting. But my stomach is young, and I have not seen many Rains. I am not wise nor strong. Hast thou a better plan, Kaa?’
‘I have seen a hundred and a hundred Rains. Ere Hathi cast his milk-tushes my trail was big in the dust. By the First Egg, I am older than many trees, and I have seen all that the Jungle has done.’
‘But this is new hunting,’ said Mowgli. ‘Never before have the dhole crossed our trail.’
‘What is has been. What will be is no more than a forgotten year striking backward. Be still while I count those my years.’
For a long hour Mowgli lay back among the coils, while Kaa, his head motionless on the ground, thought of all that he had seen and known since the day he came from the egg. The light seemed to go out of his eyes and leave them like stale opals, and now and again he made little stiff passes with his head, right and left, as though he were hunting in his sleep. Mowgli dozed quietly, for he knew that there is nothing like sleep before hunting, and he was trained to take it at any hour of the day or night.
Then he felt Kaa’s back grow bigger and broader below him as the huge python puffed himself out, hissing with the noise of a sword drawn from a steel scabbard.
‘I have seen all the dead seasons,’ Kaa said at last, ‘and the great trees and the old elephants, and the rocks that were bare and sharp-pointed ere the moss grew. Art thou still alive, Manling?’
‘It is only a little after moonset,’ said Mowgli. ‘I do not understand——’
‘Hssh! I am again Kaa. I knew it was but a little time: Now we will go to the river, and I will show thee what is to be done against the dhole.’
He turned, straight as an arrow, for the main stream of the Waingunga, plunging in a little above the pool that hid the Peace Rock, Mowgli at his side.
‘Nay, do not swim. I go swiftly. My back, Little Brother.’
Mowgli tucked his left arm round Kaa’s neck, dropped his right close to his body, and straightened his feet. Then Kaa breasted the current as he alone could, and the ripple of the checked water stood up in a frill round Mowgli’s neck, and his feet were waved to and fro in the eddy under the python’s lashing sides. A mile or two above the Peace Rock the Waingunga narrows between a gorge of marble rocks from eighty to a hundred feet high, and the current runs like a mill-race between and over all manner of ugly stones. But Mowgli did not trouble his head about the water; little water in the world could have given him a moment’s fear. He was looking at the gorge on either side and sniffing uneasily, for there was a sweetish-sourish smell in the air, very like the smell of a big ant-hill on a hot day. Instinctively he lowered himself in the water, only raising his head to breathe from time to time, and Kaa came to anchor with a double twist of his tail round a sunken rock, holding Mowgli in the hollow of a coil, while the water raced on.
‘This is the Place of Death,’ said the boy. ‘Why do we come here?’
‘They sleep,’ said Kaa. ‘Hathi will not turn aside for the Striped One. Yet Hathi and the Striped One together turn aside for the dhole, and the dhole they say turn aside for nothing. And yet for whom do the Little People of the Rocks turn aside? Tell me, Master of the Jungle, who is the Master of the Jungle?’
‘These,’ Mowgli whispered. ‘It is the Place of Death. Let us go.’
‘Nay, look well, for they are asleep. It is as it was when I was not the length of thy arm.’
The split and weatherworn rocks of the gorge of the Waingunga had been used since the beginning of the Jungle by the Little People of the Rocks—the busy, furious, black wild bees of India; and, as Mowgli knew well, all trails turned off half a mile before they reached the gorge. For centuries the Little People had hived and swarmed from cleft to cleft, and swarmed again, staining the white marble with stale honey, and made their combs tall and deep in the dark of the inner caves, where neither man nor beast nor fire nor water had ever touched them. The length of the gorge on both sues was hung as it were with black shimmery velvet curtains, and Mowgli sank as he looked, for those were the clotted millions of the sleeping bees. There were other lumps and festoons and things like decayed tree-trunks studded on the face of the rock, the old combs of past years, or new cities built in the shadow of the windless gorge, and huge masses of spongy, rotten trash had rolled down and stuck among the trees and creepers that clung to the rockface. As he listened he heard more than once the rustle and slide of a honey-loaded comb turning over or falling away somewhere in the dark galleries; then a booming of angry wings, and the sullen drip, drip, drip, of the wasted honey, guttering along till it lipped over some ledge in the open air and sluggishly trickled down on the twigs. There was a tiny little beach, not five feet broad, on one side of the river, and that was piled high with the rubbish of uncounted years. There were dead bees, drones, sweepings, and stale combs, and wings of marauding moths that had strayed in after honey, all tumbled in smooth piles of the finest black dust. The mere sharp smell of it was enough to frighten anything that had no wings, and knew what the Little People were.
Kaa moved up-stream again till he came to a sandy bar at the head of the gorge.
‘Here is this season’s kill,’ said he. ‘Look!’
On the bank lay the skeletons of a couple of young deer and a buffalo. Mowgli could see that neither wolf nor jackal had touched the bones, which were laid out naturally.
‘They came beyond the line; they did not know the Law,’ murmured Mowgli, ‘and the Little People killed them. Let us go ere they wake.’
‘They do not wake till the dawn,’ said Kaa ‘Now I will tell thee. A hunted buck from the south, many, many Rains ago, came hither from the south, not knowing the Jungle, a Pack on his trail. Being made blind by fear, he leaped from above, the Pack running by sight, for they were hot and blind on the trail. The sun was high, and the Little People were many and very angry. Many, too, were those of the Pack who leaped into the Waingunga, but they were dead ere they took water. Those who did not leap died also in the rocks above. But the buck lived.’
‘Because he came first, running for his life, leaping ere the Little People were aware, and was in the river when they gathered to kill. The Pack, following, was altogether lost under the weight of the Little People.’
‘The buck lived?’ Mowgli repeated slowly.
‘At least he did not die then, though none waited his coming down with a strong body to hold him safe against the water, as a certain old fat, deaf, yellow Flathead would wait for a Manling—yea, though there were all the dholes of the Dekkan on his trail. What is in thy stomach?’ Kaa’s head was close to Mowgli’s ear; and it was a little time before the boy answered.
‘It is to pull the very whiskers of Death, but—Kaa, thou art, indeed, the wisest of all the Jungle.’
‘So many have said. Look now, if the dhole follow thee——’
‘As surely they will follow. Ho! ho! I have many little thorns under my tongue to prick into their hides.’
‘If they follow thee hot and blind, looking only at thy shoulders, those who do not die up above will take water either here or lower down, for the Little People will rise up and cover them. Now the Waingunga is hungry water, and they will have no Kaa to hold them, but will go down, such as live, to the shallows by the Seeonee Lairs, and there thy Pack may meet them by the throat.’
‘Ahai! Eowawa! Better could not be till the Rains fall in the dry season. There is now only the little matter of the run and the leap. I will make me known to the dholes, so that they shall follow me very closely.’
‘Hast thou seen the rocks above thee? From the landward side?’
‘Indeed, no. That I had forgotten.’
‘Go look. It is all rotten ground, cut and full of holes. One of thy clumsy feet set down without seeing would end the hunt. See, I leave thee here, and for thy sake only I will carry word to the Pack that they may know where to look for the dhole. For myself, I am not of one skin with any wolf.’
When Kaa disliked an acquaintance he could be more unpleasant than any of the Jungle People, except perhaps Bagheera. He swam down-stream, and opposite the Rock he came on Phao and Akela, listening to the night noises.
‘Hssh! Dogs,’ he said cheerfully. ‘The dholes will come down-stream. If ye be not afraid ye can kill them in the shallows.’
‘When come they?’ said Phao. ‘And where is my Man-cub?’ said Akela.
‘They come when they come,’ said Kaa. ‘Wait and see. As for thy Man-cub, from whom thou hast taken a Word and so laid him open to Death, thy Man-cub is with me, and if he be not already dead the fault is none of thine, bleached dog! Wait here for the dhole, and be glad that the Man-cub and I strike on thy side.’
Kaa flashed up-stream again, and moored himself in the middle of the gorge, looking upward at the line of the cliff. Presently he saw Mowgli’s head move against the stars, and then there was a whizz in the air, the keen, clean schloop of a body falling feet first, and next minute the boy was at rest again in the loop of Kaa’s body.
‘It is no leap by night,’ said Mowgli quietly. ‘I have jumped twice as far for sport; but that is an evil place above—low bushes and gullies that go down very deep, all full of the Little People. I have put big stones one above the other by the side of three gullies. These I shall throw down with my feet in running, and the Little People will rise up behind me, very angry.’
‘That is Man’s talk and Man’s cunning,’ said Kaa. ‘Thou art wise, but the Little People are always angry.’
‘Nay, at twilight all wings near and far rest for a while. I will play with the dhole at twilight, for the dhole hunts best by day. He follows now Won-tolla’s blood-trail.’
‘Chil does not leave a dead ox, nor the dhole the blood-trail,’ said Kaa.
‘Then I will make him a new blood-trail, of his own blood, if I can, and give him dirt to eat. Thou wilt stay here, Kaa, till I come again with my dholes?’
‘Ay, but what if they kill thee in the Jungle, or the Little People kill thee before thou canst leap down to the river?’
‘When to-morrow comes we will kill for tomorrow,’ said Mowgli, quoting a Jungle saying; and again, ‘When I am dead it is time to sing the Death Song. Good hunting, Kaa!’
He loosed his arm from the python’s neck and went down the gorge like a log in a freshet, paddling toward the far bank, where he found slack-water, and laughing aloud from sheer happiness. There was nothing Mowgli liked better than, as he himself said, ‘to pull the whiskers of Death,’ and make the Jungle know that he was their overlord. He had often, with Baloo’s help, robbed bees’ nests in single trees, and he knew that the Little People hated the smell of wild garlic. So he gathered a small bundle of it, tied it up with a bark string, and then followed Won-tolla’s blood-trail, as it ran southerly from the Lairs, for some five miles, looking at the trees with his head on one side, and chuckling as he looked.
‘Mowgli the Frog have I been,’ said he to himself; ‘Mowgli the Wolf have I said that I am. Now Mowgli the Ape must I be before I am Mowgli the Buck. At the end I shall be Mowgli the Man. Ho!’ and he slid his thumb along the eighteen-inch blade of his knife.
Won-tolla’s trail, all rank with dark bloodspots, ran under a forest of thick trees that grew close together and stretched away north-eastward, gradually growing thinner and thinner to within two miles of the Bee Rocks. From the last tree to the low scrub of the Bee Rocks was open country, where there was hardly cover enough to hide a wolf. Mowgli trotted along under the trees, judging distances between branch and branch, occasionally climbing up a trunk and taking a trial leap from one tree to another till he came to the open ground, which he studied very carefully for an hour. Then he turned, picked up Won-tolla’s trail where he had left it, settled himself in a tree with an outrunning branch some eight feet from the ground, and sat still, sharpening his knife on the sole of his foot and singing to himself.
A little before mid-day, when the sun was very warm, he heard the patter of feet and smelt the abominable smell of the dhole-pack as they trotted pitilessly along Won-tolla’s trail. Seen from above, the red dhole does not look half the size of a wolf, but Mowgli knew how strong his feet and jaws were. He watched the sharp bay head of the leader snuffing along the trail, and gave him ‘Good hunting!’
The brute looked up, and his companions halted behind him, scores and scores of red dogs with low-hung tails, heavy shoulders, weak quarters, and bloody mouths. The dholes are a very silent people as a rule, and they have no manners even in their own Jungle. Fully two hundred must have gathered below him, but he could see that the leaders sniffed hungrily on Won-tolla’s trail, and tried to drag the Pack forward. That would never do, or they would be at the Lairs in broad daylight, and Mowgli meant to hold them under his tree till dusk.
‘By whose leave do ye come here?’ said Mowgli.
‘All Jungles are our Jungle,’ was the reply, and the dhole that gave it bared his white teeth. Mowgli looked down with a smile, and imitated perfectly the sharp chitter-chatter of Chikai, the leaping rat of the Dekkan, meaning the dholes to understand that he considered them no better than Chikai. The Pack closed up round the tree-trunk and the leader bayed savagely, calling Mowgli a tree-ape. For an answer Mowgli stretched down one naked leg and wriggled his bare toes just above the leader’s head. That was enough, and more than enough, to wake the Pack to stupid rage. Those who have hair between their toes do not care to be reminded of it. Mowgli caught his foot away as the leader leaped up, and said sweetly: ‘Dog, red dog! Go back to the Dekkan and eat lizards. Go to Chikai thy brother—dog, dog—red, red dog! There is hair between every toe!’ He twiddled his toes a second time.
‘Come down ere we starve thee out, hairless ape!’ yelled the Pack, and this was exactly what Mowgli wanted. He laid himself down along the branch, his cheek to the bark, his right arm free, and there he told the Pack what he thought and knew about them, their manners, their customs, their mates, and their puppies. There is no speech in the world so rancorous and so stinging as the language the Jungle People use to show scorn and contempt. When you come to think of it you will see how this must be so. As Mowgli told Kaa, he had many little thorns under his tongue, and slowly and deliberately he drove the dholes from silence to growls, from growls to yells, and from yells to hoarse slavery ravings. They tried to answer his taunts, but a cub might as well have tried to answer Kaa in a rage; and all the while Mowgli’s right hand lay crooked at his side, ready for action, his feet locked round the branch. The big bay leader had leaped many times in the air, but Mowgli dared not risk a false blow. At last, made furious beyond his natural strength, he bounded up seven or eight feet clear of the ground. Then Mowgli’s hand shot out like the head of a tree-snake, and gripped him by the scruff of his neck, and the branch shook with the jar as his weight fell back, almost wrenching Mowgli to the ground. But he never loosed his grip, and inch by inch he hauled the beast, hanging like a drowned jackal, up on the branch. With his left hand he reached for his knife and cut off the red, bushy tail, flinging the dhole back to earth again. That was all he needed. The Pack would not go forward on Won-tolla’s trail now till they had killed Mowgli or Mowgli had killed them. He saw them settle down in circles with a quiver of the haunches that meant they were going to stay, and so he climbed to a higher crotch, settled his back comfortably, and went to sleep.
After three or four hours he waked and counted the Pack. They were all there, silent, husky, and dry, with eyes of steel. The sun was beginning to sink. In half an hour the Little People of the Rocks would be ending their labours, and, as you know, the dhole does not fight best in the twilight.
‘I did not need such faithful watchers,’ he said politely, standing up on a branch, ‘but I will remember this. Ye be true dholes, but to my thinking over much of one kind. For that reason I do not give the big lizard-eater his tail again. Art thou not pleased, Red Dog?’
‘I myself will tear out thy stomach!’yelled the leader, scratching at the foot of the tree.
‘Nay, but consider, wise rat of the Dekkan. There will now be many litters of little tailless red dogs, yea, with raw red stumps that sting when the sand is hot. Go home, Red Dog, and cry that an ape has done this. Ye will not go? Come, then, with me, and I will make you very wise!’
He moved, Bandar-log fashion, into the next tree, and so on into the next and the next, the Pack following with lifted hungry heads. Now and then he would pretend to fall, and the Pack would tumble one over the other in their haste to be at the death. It was a curious sight—the boy with the knife that shone in the low sunlight as it sifted through the upper branches, and the silent Pack with their red coats all aflame, huddling and following below. When he came to the last tree he took the garlic and rubbed himself all over carefully, and the dholes yelled with scorn. ‘Ape with a wolf’s tongue, dost thou think to cover thy scent?’ they said. ‘We follow to the death.’
‘Take thy tail,’ said Mowgli, flinging it back along the course he had taken. The Pack instinctively rushed after it. ‘And follow now—to the death.’
He had slipped down the tree-trunk, and headed like the wind in bare feet for the Bee Rocks, before the dholes saw what he would do.
They gave one deep howl, and settled down to the long, lobbing canter that can at the last run down anything that runs. Mowgli knew their pack-pace to be much slower than that of the wolves, or he would never have risked a two-mile run in full sight. They were sure that the boy was theirs at last, and he was sure that he held them to play with as he pleased. All his trouble was to keep them sufficiently hot behind him to prevent their turning off too soon. He ran cleanly, evenly, and springily; the tailless leader not five yards behind him; and the Pack tailing out over perhaps a quarter of a mile of ground, crazy and blind with the rage of slaughter. So he kept his distance by ear, reserving his last effort for the rush across the Bee Rocks.
The Little People had gone to sleep in the early twilight, for it was not the season of late blossoming flowers; but as Mowgli’s first footfalls rang hollow on the hollow ground he heard a sound as though all the earth were humming. Then he ran as he had never run in his life before, spurned aside one’two’three of the piles of stones into the dark, sweet-smelling gullies; heard a roar like the roar of the sea in a cave; saw with the tail of his eye the air grow dark behind him; saw the current of the Waingunga far below, and a flat, diamond-shaped head in the water; leaped outward with all his strength, the tailless dhole snapping at his shoulder in mid-air, and dropped feet first to the safety of the river, breathless and triumphant. There was not a sting upon him, for the smell of the garlic had checked the Little People for just the few seconds that he was among them. When he rose Kaa’s coils were steadying him and things were bounding over the edge of the cliff-great lumps, it seemed, of clustered bees falling like plummets; but before any lump touched water the bees flew upward and the body of a dhole whirled down-stream. Overhead they could hear furious short yells that were drowned in a roar like breakers—the roar of the wings of the Little People of the Rocks. Some of the dholes, too, had fallen into the gullies that communicated with the underground caves, and there choked and fought and snapped among the tumbled honeycombs, and at last, borne up, even when they were dead, on the heaving waves of bees beneath them, shot out of some hole in the river-face, to roll over on the black rubbish-heaps. There were dholes who had leaped short into the trees on the cliffs, and the bees blotted out their shapes; but the greater number of them, maddened by the stings, had flung themselves into the river; and, as Kaa said, the Waingunga was hungry water.
Kaa held Mowgli fast till the boy had recovered his breath.
‘We may not stay here,’ he said. ‘The Little People are roused indeed. Come!’
Swimming low and diving as often as he could, Mowgli went down the river, knife in hand.
‘Slowly, slowly,’ said Kaa. ‘One tooth does not kill a hundred unless it be a cobra’s, and many of the dholes took water swiftly when they saw the Little People rise.’
‘The more work for my knife, then. Phai! How the Little People follow!’ Mowgli sank again. The face of the water was blanketed with wild bees, buzzing sullenly and stinging all they found.
‘Nothing was ever yet lost by silence,’ said Kaa—no sting could penetrate his scales—‘and thou hast all the long night for the hunting. Hear them howl!’
Nearly half the pack had seen the trap their fellows rushed into, and turning sharp aside had flung themselves into the water where the gorge broke down in steep banks. Their cries of rage and their threats against the ‘tree-ape’ who had brought them to their shame mixed with the yells and growls of those who had been punished by the Little People. To remain ashore was death, and every dhole knew it. Their pack was swept along the current, down to the deep eddies of the Peace Pool, but even there the angry Little People followed and forced them to the water again. Mowgli could hear the voice of the tailless leader bidding his people hold on and kill out every wolf in Seeonee. But he did not waste his time in listening.
‘One kills in the dark behind us!’ snapped a dhole. ‘Here is tainted water!’
Mowgli had dived forward like an otter, twitched a struggling dhole under water before he could open his mouth, and dark rings rose as the body plopped up, turning on its side. The dholes tried to turn, but the current prevented them, and the Little People darted at the heads and ears, and they could hear the challenge of the Seeonee Pack growing louder and deeper in the gathering darkness. Again Mowgli dived, and again a dhole went under, and rose dead, and again the clamour broke out at the rear of the pack; some howling that it was best to go ashore, others calling on their leader to lead them back to the Dekkan, and others bidding Mowgli show himself and be killed.
‘They come to the fight with two stomachs and several voices,’ said Kaa. ‘The rest is with thy brethren below yonder, The Little People go back to sleep. They have chased us far. Now I, too, turn back, for I am not of one skin with any wolf. Good hunting, Little Brother, and remember the dhole bites low.’
A wolf came running along the bank on three legs, leaping up and down, laying his head sideways close to the ground, hunching his back, and breaking high into the air, as though he were playing with his cubs. It was Won-tolla, the Outlier, and he said never a word, but continued his horrible sport beside the dholes. They had been long in the water now, and were swimming wearily, their coats drenched and heavy, their bushy tails dragging like sponges, so tired and shaken that they, too, were silent, watching the pair of blazing eyes that moved abreast.
‘This is no good hunting,’ said one, panting.
‘Good hunting!’ said Mowgli, as he rose boldly at the brute’s side, and sent the long knife home behind the shoulder, pushing hard to avoid his dying snap.
‘Art thou there, Man-cub?’ said Won-tolla across the water.
‘Ask of the dead, Outlier,’ Mowgli replied. ‘Have none come down-stream? I have filled these dogs’ mouths with dirt; I have tricked them in the broad daylight, and their leader lacks his tail, but here be some few for thee still. Whither shall I drive them?’
‘I will wait,’ said Won-tolla. ‘The night is before me.’
Nearer and nearer came the bay of the Seeonee wolves. ‘For the Pack, for the Full Pack it is met!’ and a bend in the river drove the dholes forward among the sands and shoals opposite the Lairs.
Then they saw their mistake. They should have landed half a mile higher up, and rushed the wolves on dry ground. Now it was too late. The bank was lined with burning eyes, and except for the horrible pheeal that had never stopped since sundown, there was no sound in the Jungle. It seemed as though Won-tolla were fawning on them to come ashore; and ‘Turn and take hold!’ said the leader of the dholes. The entire Pack flung themselves at the shore, threshing and squattering through the shoal water, till the face of the Waingunga was all white and torn, and the great ripples went from side to side, like bow-waves from a boat. Mowgli followed the rush, stabbing and slicing as the dholes, huddled together, rushed up the river-beach in one wave.
Then the long fight began, heaving and straining and splitting and scattering and narrowing and broadening along the red, wet sands, and over and between the tangled tree-roots, and through and among the bushes, and in and out of the grass clumps; for even now the dholes were two to one. But they met wolves fighting for all that made the Pack, and not only the short, high, deep-chested, white-tusked hunters of the Pack, but the anxious-eyed lahinis—the she-wolves of the lair, as the saying is—fighting for their litters, with here and there a yearling wolf, his first coat still half woolly, tugging and grappling by their sides. A wolf, you must know, flies at the throat or snaps at the flank, while a dhole, by preference, bites at the belly; so when the dholes were struggling out of the water and had to raise their heads, the odds were with the wolves. On dry land the wolves suffered; but in the water or ashore, Mowgli’s knife came and went without ceasing. The Four had worried their way to his side. Gray Brother, crouched between the boy’s knees, was protecting his stomach, while the others guarded his back and either side, or stood over him when the shock of a leaping, yelling dhole who had thrown himself full on the steady blade bore him down. For the rest, it was one tangled confusion—a locked and swaying mob that moved from right to left and from left to right along the bank; and also ground round and round slowly on its own centre. Here would be a heaving mound, like a water-blister in a whirlpool, which would break like a water-blister, and throw up four or five mangled dogs, each striving to get back to the centre; here would be a single wolf borne down by two or three dholes, laboriously dragging them forward, and sinking the while; here a yearling cub would be held up by the pressure round him, though he had been killed early, while his mother, crazed with dumb rage, rolled over and over, snapping, and passing on; and in the middle of the thickest press, perhaps, one wolf and one dhole, forgetting everything else, would be manoeuvring for first hold till they were whirled away by a rush of furious fighters. Once Mowgli passed Akela, a dhole on either flank, and his all but toothless jaws closed over the loins of a third; and once he saw Phao, his teeth set in the throat of a dhole, tugging the unwilling beast forward till the yearlings could finish him. But the bulk of the fight was blind flurry and smother in the dark; hit, trip, and tumble, yelp, groan, and worry-worry-worry, round him and behind him and above him. As the night wore on, the quick, giddy-go-round motion increased. The dholes were cowed and afraid to attack the stronger wolves, but did not yet dare to run away. Mowgli felt that the end was coming soon, and contented himself with striking merely to cripple. The yearlings were growing bolder; there was time now and again to breathe, and pass a word to a friend, and the mere flicker of the knife would sometimes turn a dog aside.
‘The meat is very near the bone,’ Gray Brother yelled. He was bleeding from a score of flesh-wounds.
‘But the bone is yet to be cracked,’ said Mowgli. ‘Eowawa! Thus do we do in the Jungle!’ The red blade ran like a flame along the side of a dhole whose hind-quarters were hidden by the weight of a clinging wolf.
‘My kill!’ snorted the wolf through his wrinkled nostrils. ‘Leave him to me.’
‘Is thy stomach still empty, Outlier?’ said Mowgli. Won-tolla was fearfully punished, but his grip had paralysed the dhole, who could not turn round and reach him.
‘By the Bull that bought me,’ said Mowgli, with a bitter laugh, ‘it is the tailless one!’ And indeed it was the big bay-coloured leader.
‘It is not wise to kill cubs and lahinis,’ Mowgli went on philosophically, wiping the blood out of his eyes, ‘unless one has also killed the Outlier; and it is in my stomach that this Won-tolla kills thee.’
A dhole leaped to his leader’s aid; but before his teeth had found Won-tolla’s flank, Mowgli’s knife was in his throat, and Gray Brother took what was left.
‘And thus do we do in the Jungle,’ said Mowgli.
Won-tolla said not a word, only his jaws were closing and closing on the backbone as his life ebbed. The dhole shuddered, his head dropped, and he lay still, and Won-tolla dropped above him.
‘Huh! The Blood Debt is paid,’ said Mowgli. ‘Sing the song, Won-tolla.’
‘He hunts no more,’ said Gray Brother; ‘and Akela, too, is silent this long time.’
‘The bone is cracked!’ thundered Phao, son of Phaona. ‘They go! Kill, kill out, O hunters of the Free People!’
Dhole after dhole was slinking away from those dark and bloody sands to the river, to the thick Jungle, up-stream or down-stream as he saw the road clear.
‘The debt! The debt!’ shouted Mowgli ‘Pay the debt! They have slain the Lone Wolf! Let not a dog go!’
He was flying to the river, knife in hand, to check any dhole who, dared to take water, when, from under a mound of nine dead, rose Akela’s head and fore-quarters, and Mowgli dropped on his knees beside the Lone Wolf.
‘Said I not it would be my last fight?’ Akela gasped. ‘It is good hunting. And thou, Little Brother?’
‘I live, having killed many.’
‘Even so. I die, and I would—I would die by thee, Little Brother.’
Mowgli took the terrible scarred head on his knees, and put his arms round the torn neck.
‘It is long since the old days of Shere Khan, and a Man-cub that rolled naked in the dust.’
‘Nay, nay, I am a wolf. I am of one skin with the Free People,’ Mowgli cried. ‘It is no will of mine that I am a man.’
‘Thou art a man, Little Brother, wolfling of my watching. Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole. My life I owe to thee, and to-day thou hast saved the Pack even as once I saved thee. Hast thou forgotten? All debts are paid now. Go to thine own people. I tell thee again, eye of my eye, this hunting is ended. Go to thine own people.’
‘I will never go. I will hunt alone in the Jungle. I have said it.’
‘After the summer come the Rains, and after the Rains comes the spring. Go back before thou art driven.’
‘Who will drive me?’
‘Mowgli will drive Mowgli. Go back to thy people. Go to Man.’
‘When Mowgli drives Mowgli I will go,’ Mowgli answered.
‘There is no more to say,’ said Akela. ‘Little Brother, canst thou raise me to my feet? I also was a leader of the Free People.’
Very carefully and gently Mowgli lifted the bodies aside, and raised Akela to his feet, both arms round him, and the Lone Wolf drew a long breath, and began the Death Song that a leader of the Pack should sing when he dies. It gathered strength as he went on, lifting and lifting, and ringing far across the river, till it came to the last ‘Good hunting!’ and Akela shook himself clear of Mowgli for an instant, and, leaping into the air, fell backward dead upon his last and most terrible kill.
Mowgli sat with his head on his knees, careless of anything else, while the remnant of the flying dholes were being overtaken and run down by the merciless lahinis. Little by little the cries died away, and the wolves returned limping, as their wounds stiffened, to take stock of the losses. Fifteen of the Pack, as well as half a dozen lahinis, lay dead by the river, and of the others not one was unmarked. And Mowgli sat through it all till the cold daybreak, when Phao’s wet, red muzzle was dropped in his hand, and Mowgli drew back to show the gaunt body of Akela.
‘Good hunting!’ said Phao, as though Akela were still alive, and then over his bitten shoulder to the others: ‘Howl, dogs! A Wolf has died to-night!’
But of all the Pack of two hundred fighting dholes, whose boast was that all jungles were their Jungle, and that no living thing could stand before them, not one returned to the Dekkan to carry that word.