Mowgli went on with his work, but it was nearly twilight before he and the wolves had drawn the great gay skin clear of the body.
“Now we must hide this and take the buffaloes home! Help me to herd them, Akela.”
The herd rounded up in the misty twilight, and when they got near the village Mowgli saw lights, and heard the conches and bells in the temple blowing and banging. Half the village seemed to be waiting for him by the gate. “That is because I have killed Shere Khan,” he said to himself. But a shower of stones whistled about his ears, and the villagers shouted: “Sorcerer! Wolf’s brat! Jungle demon! Go away! Get hence quickly or the priest will turn thee into a wolf again. Shoot, Buldeo, shoot!”
The old Tower musket went off with a bang, and a young buffalo bellowed in pain.
“More sorcery!” shouted the villagers. “He can turn bullets. Buldeo, that was thy buffalo.”
“Now what is this?” said Mowgli, bewildered, as the stones flew thicker.
“They are not unlike the Pack, these brothers of thine,” said Akela, sitting down composedly. “It is in my head that, if bullets mean anything, they would cast thee out.”
“Wolf! Wolf’s cub! Go away!” shouted the priest, waving a sprig of the sacred tulsi plant.
“Again? Last time it was because I was a man. This time it is because I am a wolf. Let us go, Akela.”
A woman—it was Messua—ran across to the herd, and cried: “Oh, my son, my son! They say thou art a sorcerer who can turn himself into a beast at will. I do not believe, but go away or they will kill thee. Buldeo says thou art a wizard, but I know thou hast avenged Nathoo’s death.”
“Come back, Messua!” shouted the crowd. “Come back, or we will stone thee.”
Mowgli laughed a little short ugly laugh, for a stone had hit him in the mouth. “Run back, Messua. This is one of the foolish tales they tell under the big tree at dusk. I have at least paid for thy son’s life. Farewell; and run quickly, for I shall send the herd in more swiftly than their brickbats. I am no wizard, Messua. Farewell!”
“Now, once more, Akela,” he cried. “Bring the herd in.”
The buffaloes were anxious enough to get to the village. They hardly needed Akela’s yell, but charged through the gate like a whirlwind, scattering the crowd right and left.
“Keep count!” shouted Mowgli scornfully. “It may be that I have stolen one of them. Keep count, for I will do your herding no more. Fare you well, children of men, and thank Messua that I do not come in with my wolves and hunt you up and down your street.”
He turned on his heel and walked away with the Lone Wolf, and as he looked up at the stars he felt happy. “No more sleeping in traps for me, Akela. Let us get Shere Khan’s skin and go away. No, we will not hurt the village, for Messua was kind to me.”
When the moon rose over the plain, making it look all milky, the horrified villagers saw Mowgli, with two wolves at his heels and a bundle on his head, trotting across at the steady wolf’s trot that eats up the long miles like fire. Then they banged the temple bells and blew the conches louder than ever. And Messua cried, and Buldeo embroidered the story of his adventures in the jungle, till he ended by saying that Akela stood up on his hind legs and talked like a man.
The moon was just going down when Mowgli and the two wolves came to the hill of the Council Rock, and they stopped at Mother Wolf’s cave.
“They have cast me out from the Man-Pack, Mother,” shouted Mowgli, “but I come with the hide of Shere Khan to keep my word.”
Mother Wolf walked stiffly from the cave with the cubs behind her, and her eyes glowed as she saw the skin.
“I told him on that day, when he crammed his head and shoulders into this cave, hunting for thy life, Little Frog—I told him that the hunter would be the hunted. It is well done.”