The Jungle Book

“H’m!” said Billy. “It sounds very foolish. Knives are dirty things at any time. The proper thing to do is to climb up a mountain with a well-balanced saddle, hang on by all four feet and your ears too, and creep and crawl and wriggle along, till you come out hundreds of feet above anyone else on a ledge where there’s just room enough for your hoofs. Then you stand still and keep quiet—never ask a man to hold your head, young un—keep quiet while the guns are being put together, and then you watch the little poppy shells drop down into the tree-tops ever so far below.”

“Don’t you ever trip?” said the troop-horse.

“They say that when a mule trips you can split a hen’s ear,” said Billy. “Now and again perhaps a badly packed saddle will upset a mule, but it’s very seldom. I wish I could show you our business. It’s beautiful. Why, it took me three years to find out what the men were driving at. The science of the thing is never to show up against the sky line, because, if you do, you may get fired at. Remember that, young un. Always keep hidden as much as possible, even if you have to go a mile out of your way. I lead the battery when it comes to that sort of climbing.”

“Fired at without the chance of running into the people who are firing!” said the troop-horse, thinking hard. “I couldn’t stand that. I should want to charge—with Dick.”

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t. You know that as soon as the guns are in position they’ll do all the charging. That’s scientific and neat. But knives—pah!”

The baggage-camel had been bobbing his head to and fro for some time past, anxious to get a word in edgewise. Then I heard him say, as he cleared his throat, nervously:

“I—I—I have fought a little, but not in that climbing way or that running way.”

“No. Now you mention it,” said Billy, “you don’t look as though you were made for climbing or running—much. Well, how was it, old Hay-bales?”

“The proper way,” said the camel. “We all sat down—”

“Oh, my crupper and breastplate!” said the troop-horse under his breath. “Sat down!”

“We sat down—a hundred of us,” the camel went on, “in a big square, and the men piled our packs and saddles, outside the square, and they fired over our backs, the men did, on all sides of the square.”

“What sort of men? Any men that came along?” said the troop-horse. “They teach us in riding school to lie down and let our masters fire across us, but Dick Cunliffe is the only man I’d trust to do that. It tickles my girths, and, besides, I can’t see with my head on the ground.”

“What does it matter who fires across you?” said the camel. “There are plenty of men and plenty of other camels close by, and a great many clouds of smoke. I am not frightened then. I sit still and wait.”

“And yet,” said Billy, “you dream bad dreams and upset the camp at night. Well, well! Before I’d lie down, not to speak of sitting down, and let a man fire across me, my heels and his head would have something to say to each other. Did you ever hear anything so awful as that?”

There was a long silence, and then one of the gun bullocks lifted up his big head and said, “This is very foolish indeed. There is only one way of fighting.”

“Oh, go on,” said Billy. “Please don’t mind me. I suppose you fellows fight standing on your tails?”

“Only one way,” said the two together. (They must have been twins.) “This is that way. To put all twenty yoke of us to the big gun as soon as Two Tails trumpets.” (“Two Tails” is camp slang for the elephant.)

“What does Two Tails trumpet for?” said the young mule.

“To show that he is not going any nearer to the smoke on the other side. Two Tails is a great coward. Then we tug the big gun all together—Heya—Hullah! Heeyah! Hullah! We do not climb like cats nor run like calves. We go across the level plain, twenty yoke of us, till we are unyoked again, and we graze while the big guns talk across the plain to some town with mud walls, and pieces of the wall fall out, and the dust goes up as though many cattle were coming home.”

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