The Jungle Book

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

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

“Speak then,” cried twenty voices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is how Mowgli was entered into the Seeonee Wolf Pack for the price of a bull and on Baloo’s good word.

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

Leave a Comment