he Law of the Jungle—which is by far the oldest law in the world—has arranged for almost every kind of accident that may befall the Jungle People till now its code is as perfect as time and custom can make it. You will remember that Mowgli spent a great part of his life in the Seeonee Wolf-Pack, learning the Law from Baloo, the Brown Bear; and it was Baloo who told him, when the boy grew impatient at the constant orders, that the Law was like the Giant Creeper, because it dropped across every one’s back and no one could escape. ‘When thou hast lived as long as I have, Little Brother, thou wilt see how all the Jungle obeys at least one Law. And that will be no pleasant sight,’ said Baloo.
This talk went in at one ear and out at the other, for a boy who spends his life eating and sleeping does not worry about anything till it actually stares him in the face. But, one year, Baloo’s words came true, and Mowgli saw all the Jungle working under the Law.
It began when the winter Rains failed almost entirely, and Ikki, the Porcupine, meeting Mowgli in a bamboo-thicket, told him that the wild yams were drying up. Now everybody knows that Ikki is ridiculously fastidious in his choice of food, and will eat nothing but the very best and ripest. So Mowgli laughed and said, ‘What is that to me?’
‘Not much now,’ said Ikki, rattling his quills in a stiff, uncomfortable way, ‘but later we shall see. Is there any more diving into the deep rockpool below the Bee-Rocks, Little Brother?’
‘No. The foolish water is going all away, and I do not wish to break my head,’ said Mowgli, who, in those days, was quite sure that he knew as much as any five of the Jungle People put together.
‘That is thy loss. A small crack might let in some wisdom.’ Ikki ducked quickly to prevent Mowgli from pulling his nose-bristles, and Mowgli told Baloo what Ikki had said. Baloo looked very grave, and mumbled half to himself: ‘If I were alone I would change my hunting-grounds now, before the others began to think. And yet—hunting among strangers ends in fighting; and they might hurt the Man-cub. We must wait and see how the mohwa blooms.’
That spring the mohwa tree, that Baloo was so fond of, never flowered. The greeny, cream-coloured, waxy blossoms were heat-killed before they were born, and only a few bad-smelling petals came down when he, stood on his hind legs and shook the tree. Then, inch by inch, the untempered heat crept into the heart of the Jungle, turning it yellow, brown, and at last black. The green growths in the sides of the ravines burned up to broken wires and curled films of dead stuff; the hidden pools sank down and caked over, keeping the last least footmark on their edges as if it had been cast in iron; the juicy-stemmed creepers fell away from the trees they clung to and died at their feet; the bamboos withered, clanking when the hot winds blew, and the moss peeled off the rocks deep in the jungle, till they were as bare and as hot as the quivering blue boulders in the bed of the stream.
The birds and the monkey-people went north early in the year, for they knew what was coming; and the deer and the wild pig broke far away to the perished fields of the villages, dying sometimes before the eyes of men too weak to kill them. Chil, the Kite, stayed and grew fat, for there was a great deal of carrion, and evening after evening he brought the news to the beasts, too weak to force their way to fresh hunting-grounds, that the sun was killing the Jungle for three days’ flight in every direction.
Mowgli, who had never known what real hunger meant, fell back on stale honey, three years old, scraped out of deserted rock-hives—honey black as a sloe, and dusty with dried sugar. He hunted, too, for deep-boring grubs under the bark of the trees, and robbed the wasps of their new broods. All the game in the Jungle was no more than skin and bone, and Bagheera could kill thrice in a night, and hardly get a full meal. But the want of water was the worst, for though the Jungle People drink seldom they must drink deep.
And the heat went on and on, and sucked up all the moisture, till at last the main channel of the Waingunga was the only stream that carried trickle of water between its dead banks; and when Hathi, the wild elephant, who lives for a hundred years and more, saw a long, lean blue ridge of rock show dry in the very centre of the stream, he knew that he was looking at the Peace Rock, and then and there he lifted up his trunk and proclaimed the Water Truce, as his father before him had proclaimed it fifty years ago. The deer, wild pig, and buffalo took up the cry hoarsely; and Chil, the Kite, flew in great circles far and wide, whistling and shrieking the warning.
By the Law of the Jungle it is death to kill at the drinking-places when once the Water Truce has been declared. The reason of this is that drinking comes before eating. Every one in the Jungle can scramble along somehow when only game is scarce; but water is water, and when there is but one source of supply, all hunting stops while the Jungle People go there for their needs. In good seasons, when water was plentiful, those who came down to drink at the Waingunga—or anywhere else, for that matter—did so at the risk of their lives, and that risk made no small part of the fascination of the night’s doings. To move down so cunningly that never a leaf stirred; to wade knee-deep in the roaring shallows that drown all noise from behind; to drink, looking backward over one shoulder, every muscle ready for the first desperate bound of keen terror; to roll on the sandy margin, and return, wet-muzzled and well plumped out, to the admiring herd, was a thing that all tall-antlered young bucks took a delight in, precisely because they knew that at any moment Bagheera or Shere Khan might leap upon them and bear them down. But now all that life-and-death fun was ended, and the Jungle People came up, starved and weary, to the shrunken river,—tiger, bear, deer, buffalo, and pig, all together,—drank the fouled waters, and hung above them, too exhausted to move off.
The deer and the pig had tramped all day in search of something better than dried bark and withered leaves. The buffaloes had found no wallows to be cool in, and no green crops to steal. The snakes had left the Jungle and come down to the river in the hope of finding a stray frog. They curled round wet stones, and never offered to strike when the nose of a rooting pig dislodged them. The river-turtles had long ago been killed by Bagheera, cleverest of hunters, and the fish had buried themselves deep in the dry mud. Only the Peace Rock lay across the shallows like a long snake, and the little tired ripples hissed as they dried on its hot side.
It was here that Mowgli came nightly for the cool and the companionship. The most hungry of his enemies would hardly have cared for the boy then. His naked hide made him seem more lean and wretched than any of his fellows. His hair was bleached to tow colour by the sun; his ribs stood out like the ribs of a basket, and the lumps on his knees and elbows, where, he was used to track on all fours, gave his shrunken limbs the look of knotted grass-stems. But his eye, under his matted forelock, was cool and quiet, for Bagheera was his adviser in this time of trouble, and told him to go quietly, hunt slowly, and never, on any account, to lose his temper.
‘It is an evil time,’ said the Black Panther, one furnace-hot evening, ‘but it will go if we can live till the end. Is thy stomach full, Man-cub?’
‘There is stuff in my stomach, but I get no good of it. Think you, Bagheera, the Rains have forgotten us and will never come again? ’
‘Not I! We shall see the mohwa in blossom yet, and the little fawns all fat with new grass. Come down to the Peace Rock and hear the news. On my back, Little Brother.’
‘This is no time to carry weight. I can still stand alone, but—indeed we be no fatted bullocks, we two.’
Bagheera looked along his ragged, dusty flank and whispered: ‘Last night I killed a bullock under the yoke. So low was I brought that I think I should not have dared to spring if he had been loose. Wou!’
Mowgli laughed. ‘Yes, we be great hunters now,’ said he. ‘I am very bold—to eat grubs,’ and the two came down together through the crackling undergrowth to the river-bank and the lace-work of shoals that ran out from it in every direction.
‘The water cannot live long,’ said Baloo, joining them. ‘Look across. Yonder are trails like the roads of Man.’
On the level plain of the farther bank the stiff jungle-grass had died standing, and, dying, had mummied. The beaten tracks of the deer and the pig, all heading toward the river, had striped that colourless plain with dusty gullies driven through the ten-foot grass, and, early as it was, each long avenue was full of first-comers hastening to the water. You could hear the does and fawns coughing in the snuff-like dust.
Up-stream, at the bend of the sluggish pool round the Peace Rock, and Warden of the Water Truce, stood Hathi, the wild elephant, with his sons, gaunt and gray in the moonlight, rocking to and fro—always rocking. Below him a little were the vanguard of the deer; below these, again, the pig and the wild buffalo; and on the opposite bank, where the tall trees came down to the water’s edge, was the place set apart for the Eaters of Flesh—the tiger, the wolves, the panther, the bear, and, the others.
‘We are under one Law, indeed,’ said Bagheera, wading into the water and looking across at the lines of clicking horns and starting eyes where the deer and the pig pushed each other to and fro. ‘Good hunting, all you of my blood,’ he added, lying down at full length, one flank thrust out of the shallows; and then, between his teeth, ‘But for that which is the Law it would be very good hunting.’
The quick-spread ears of the deer caught the last sentence, and a frightened whisper ran along the ranks. ‘The Truce! Remember the Truce!’
‘Peace there, peace!’ gurgled Hathi, the wild elephant. ‘The Truce holds, Bagheera. This is no time to talk of hunting.’
‘Who should know better than I?’ Bagheera answered, rolling his yellow eyes up-stream. ‘I am an eater of turtles—a fisher of frogs. Ngaayah ! Would I could get good from chewing branches!’
‘We wish so, very greatly,’ bleated a young fawn, who had only been born that spring, and did not at all like it. Wretched as the Jungle People were, even Hathi could not help chuckling; while Mowgli, lying on his elbows in the warm water, laughed aloud, and beat up the scum with his feet.
‘Well spoken, little bud-horn,’ Bagheera purred. ‘When the Truce ends that shall be remembered in thy favour,’ and he looked keenly through the darkness to make sure of recognising the fawn again.
Gradually the talking spread up and down the drinking-places. One could hear the scuffling, snorting pig asking for more room; the buffaloes grunting among themselves as they lurched out across the sand-bars, and the deer telling pitiful stories of their long foot-sore wanderings in quest of food. Now and again they asked some question of the Eaters of Flesh across the river, but all the news was bad, and the roaring hot wind of the jungle came and went between the rocks and the rattling branches, and scattered twigs and dust on the water.
‘The men-folk, too, they die beside their ploughs,’ said a young sambhur. ‘I passed three between sunset and night. They lay still, and their Bullocks with them. We also shall lie still in a little.’
‘The river has fallen since last night,’ said Baloo. ‘O Hathi, hast thou ever seen the like of this drought?’
‘It will pass, it will pass,’ said Hathi, squirting water along his back and sides. ‘We have one here that cannot endure long,’ said Baloo; and he looked toward the boy he loved.
‘I?’ said Mowgli indignantly, sitting up in the water. ‘I have no long fur to cover my bones, but—but if thy hide were taken off, Baloo——’
Hathi shook all over at the idea, and Baloo said severely:
‘Man-cub, that is not seemly to tell a Teacher of the Law. Never have I been seen without my hide.’
‘Nay, I meant no harm, Baloo; but only that thou art, as it were, like the cocoanut in the husk, and I am the same cocoanut all naked. Now that brown husk of thine——’Mowgli was sitting cross-legged, and explaining things with his forefinger in his usual way, when Bagheera put out a paddy paw and pulled him over backward into the water.
‘Worse and worse,’ said the Black Panther, as the boy rose spluttering. ‘First Baloo is to be skinned, and now he is a cocoanut. Be careful that he does not do what the ripe cocoanuts do.’
‘And what is that?’ said Mowgli, off his guard for the minute, though that is one of the oldest catches in the Jungle.
‘Break thy head,’ said Bagheera quietly, pulling him under again.
‘It is not good to make a jest of thy teacher,’ said the bear, when Mowgli had been ducked for the third time.
‘Not good! What would ye have? That naked thing running to and fro makes a monkey-jest of those who have once been good hunters, and pulls the best of us by the whiskers for sport.’ This was Shere Khan, the Lame Tiger, limping down to the water. He waited a little to enjoy the sensation he made among the deer on the opposite bank; then he dropped his square, frilled head and began to lap, growling: ‘The jungle has become a whelping-ground for naked cubs now. Look at me, Man-cub!’
Mowgli looked—stared, rather—as insolently as he knew how, and in a minute Shere Khan turned away uneasily. ‘Mancub this, and Mancub that,’ he rumbled, going on with his drink, ‘the cub is neither man nor cub, or he would have been afraid. Next season I shall have to beg his leave for a drink. Augrh!’
‘That may come, too,’ said Bagheera, looking him steadily between the eyes. ‘That may come, too—Faugh, Shere Khan!—what new shame hast thou brought here?’
The Lame Tiger had dipped his chin and jowl in the water, and dark, oily streaks were floating from it down-stream.
‘Man!’ said Shere Khan coolly, ‘I killed an hour since.’ He went on purring and growling to himself.
The line of beasts shook and wavered to and fro, and a whisper went up that grew to a cry: ‘Man! Man! He has killed Man!’ Then all looked towards Hathi, the wild elephant, but he seemed not to hear. Hathi never does anything till the time comes, and that is one of the reasons why he lives so long.
‘At such a season as this to kill Man! Was no other game afoot?’ said Bagheera scornfully, drawing himself out of the tainted water, and shaking each paw, cat-fashion, as he did so.
‘I killed for choice—not for food.’ The horrified whisper began again, and Hathi’s watchful little white eye cocked itself in Shere Khan’s direction. ‘For choice,’ Shere Khan drawled. ‘Now come I to drink and make me clean again. Is there any to forbid?’
Bagheera’s back began to curve like a bamboo in a high wind, but Hathi lifted up his trunk and spoke quietly.
‘Thy kill was from choice?’ he asked; and when Hathi asks a question it is best to answer.
‘Even so. It was my right and my Night. Thou knowest, O Hathi.’ Shere Khan spoke almost courteously.
‘Yes, I know,’ Hathi answered; and, after a little silence, ‘Hast thou drunk thy fill?’
‘For to-night, yes.’
‘Go, then. The river is to drink, and not to defile. None but the Lame Tiger would so have boasted of his right at this season when—when we suffer together—Man and Jungle People alike. Clean or unclean, get to thy lair, Shere Khan!’
The last words rang out like silver trumpets, and Hathi’s three sons rolled forward half a pace, though there was no need. Shere Khan slunk away, not daring to growl, for he knew—what every one else knows—that when the last comes to the last, Hathi is the Master of the Jungle.
‘What is this right Shere Khan speaks of?’ Mowgli whispered in Bagheera’s ear. ‘To kill Man is always shameful. The Law says so. And yet Hathi says——’
‘Ask him. I do not know, Little Brother. Right or no right, if Hathi had not spoken I would have taught that lame butcher his lesson. To come to the Peace Rock fresh from a kill of Man—and to boast of it—is a jackal’s trick. Besides, he tainted the good water.’
Mowgli waited for a minute to pick up his courage, because no one cared to address Hathi directly, and then he cried: ‘What is Shere Khan’s right, O Hathi?’ Both banks echoed his words, for all the People of the Jungle are intensely curious, and they had just seen something that none, except Baloo, who looked very thoughtful, seemed to understand.
‘It is an old tale,’ said Hathi; ‘a tale older than the Jungle. Keep silence along the banks, and I will tell that tale.’
There was a minute or two of pushing and shouldering among the pigs and the buffalo, and then the leaders of the herds grunted, one after another, ‘We wait,’ and Hathi strode forward till he was nearly knee-deep in the pool by the Peace Rock. Lean and wrinkled and yellow-tusked though he was, he looked what the Jungle knew him to be—their master.
‘Ye know, children,’ he began, ‘that of all things ye most fear Man’; and there was a mutter of agreement.
‘This tale touches thee, Little Brother,’ said Bagheera to Mowgli.
‘I? I am of the Pack—a hunter of the Free People,’ Mowgli answered. ‘What have I to do with Man?’
‘And ye do not know why ye fear Man?’ Hathi went on. ‘This is the reason. In the beginning of the Jungle, and none know when that was, we of the Jungle walked together, having no fear of one another. In those days there was no drought, and leaves and flowers and fruit grew on the same tree, and we ate nothing at all except leaves and flowers and grass and fruit and bark.’
‘I am glad I was not born in those days,’ said Bagheera. ‘Bark is only good to sharpen claws.’
‘And the Lord of the Jungle was Tha, the First of the Elephants. He drew the Jungle out of deep waters with his trunk; and where he made furrows in the ground with his tusks, there the rivers ran; and where he struck with his foot, there rose ponds of good water; and when he blew through his trunk,—thus,—the trees fell. That was the manner in which the Jungle was made by Tha; and so the tale was told to me.’
‘It has not lost fat in the telling,’ Bagheera whispered, and Mowgli laughed behind his hand.
‘In those days there was no corn or melons or pepper or sugar-cane, nor were there any little huts such as ye have all seen; and the Jungle People knew nothing of Man, but lived in the Jungle together, making one people. But presently they began to dispute over their food, though there was grazing enough for all. They were lazy. Each wished to eat where he lay, as sometimes we can do now when the spring rains are good. Tha, the First of the Elephants, was busy making new jungles and leading the rivers in their beds. He could not walk in all places; therefore he made the First of the Tigers the master and the judge of the Jungle, to whom the Jungle People should bring their disputes. In those days the First of the Tigers ate fruit and grass with the others. He was as large as I am, and he was very beautiful, in colour all over like the blossom of the yellow creeper. There was never stripe nor bar upon his hide in those good days when this the Jungle was new. All the Jungle People came before him without fear, and his word was the Law of all the Jungle. We were then, remember ye, one people.
‘Yet upon a night there was a dispute between two bucks—a grazing-quarrel such as ye now settle with the horns and the fore-feet—and it is said that as the two spoke together before the First of the Tigers lying among the flowers, a buck pushed him with his horns, and the First of the Tigers forgot that he was the master and judge of the Jungle, and, leaping upon that buck, broke his neck.
‘Till that night never one of us had died, and the First of the Tigers, seeing what he had done, and being made foolish by the scent of the blood, ran away into the marshes of the North, and we of the Jungle, left without a judge, fell to fighting among ourselves; and Tha heard the noise of it and came back. Then some of us said this and some of us said that, but he saw the dead buck among the flowers, and asked who had killed, and we of the Jungle would not tell because the smell of the blood made us foolish. We ran to and fro in circles, capering and crying out and shaking our heads. Then Tha gave an order to the trees that hang low, and to the trailing creepers of the Jungle, that they should mark the killer of the buck so that he should know him again, and he said, ‘Who will now be master of the Jungle People?’ Then up leaped the Gray Ape who lives in the branches, and said, ‘I will now be master of the Jungle.’ At this Tha laughed, and said, ‘So be it,’ and went away very angry.
‘Children, ye know the Gray Ape. He was then as he is now. At the first he made a wise face for himself, but in a little while he began to scratch and to leap up and down, and when Tha came back he found the Gray Ape hanging, head down, from a bough, mocking those who stood below; and they mocked him again. And so there was no Law in the jungle—only foolish talk and senseless words.
‘Then Tha called us all together and said ‘The first of your masters has brought Death into the jungle, and the second Shame. Now it is time there was a Law, and a Law that ye must not break. Now ye shall know Fear, and when ye have found him ye shall know that he is your master, and the rest shall follow.’ Then we of the jungle said, ‘What is Fear?’ And Tha said, ‘Seek till ye find.’ So we went up and down the Jungle seeking for Fear, and presently the buffaloes——’
‘Ugh!’ said Mysa, the leader of the buffaloes, from their sand-bank.
‘Yes, Mysa, it was the buffaloes. They came back with the news that in a cave in the Jungle sat Fear, and that he had no hair, and went upon his hind legs. Then we of the Jungle followed the herd till we came to that cave, and Fear stood at the mouth of it, and he was, as the buffaloes had said, hairless, and he walked upon his hinder legs. When he saw us he cried out, and his voice filled us with the fear that we have now of that voice when we hear it, and we ran away, tramping upon and tearing each other because we were afraid. That night, so it was told to me, we of the Jungle did not lie down together as used to be our custom, but each tribe drew off by itself—the pig with the pig, the deer with the deer; horn to horn, hoof to hoof,—like keeping to like, and so lay shaking in the Jungle.
‘Only the First of the Tigers was not with us, for he was still hidden in the marshes of the North, and when word was brought to him of the Thing we had seen in the cave, he said: ‘I will go to this Thing and break his neck.’ So he ran all the night till he came to the cave; but the trees and the creepers on his path, remembering the order that Tha had given, let down their branches and marked him as he ran, drawing their fingers across his back, his flank, his forehead, and his jowl. Wherever they touched him there was a mark and a stripe upon his yellow hide. And those stripes do his children wear to this day! When he came to the cave, Fear, the Hairless One, put out his hand and called him ‘The Striped One that comes by night,’ and the First of the Tigers was afraid of the Hairless One, and ran back to the swamps howling.’
Mowgli chuckled quietly here, his chin in the water.
‘So loud did he howl that Tha heard him and said, ‘What is the sorrow?’ And the First of the Tigers, lifting up his muzzle to the new-made sky, which is now so old, said: ‘Give me back my power, O Tha. I am made ashamed before all the Jungle, and I have run away from a Hairless One, and he has called me a shameful name.’ ‘And why?’ said Tha. ‘Because I am smeared with the mud of the marshes,’ said the First of the Tigers. ‘Swim, then, and roll on the wet grass, and if it be mud it will wash away,’ said Tha; and the First of the Tigers swam, and rolled and rolled upon the grass, till the Jungle ran round and round before his eyes, but not one little bar upon all his hide was changed, and Tha, watching him, laughed. Then the First of the Tigers said, ‘What have I done that this comes to me?’ Tha said, ‘Thou hast killed the buck, and thou hast let Death loose in the Jungle, and with Death has come Fear, so that the people of the Jungle are afraid one of the other, as thou art afraid of the Hairless One.’ The First of the Tigers said, ‘They will never fear me, for I knew them since the beginning.’ Tha said, ‘Go and see.’ And the First of the Tigers ran to and fro, calling aloud to the deer and the pig and the sambhur and the porcupine and all the Jungle Peoples, and they all ran away from him who had been their judge, because they were afraid.
‘Then the First of the Tigers came back, and his pride was broken in him, and, beating his head upon the ground, he tore up the earth with all his feet and said: ‘Remember that I was once the Master of the Jungle. Do not forget me, O Tha! Let my children remember that I was once without shame, or fear!’ And Tha said: ‘This much I will do, because thou and I together saw the Jungle made. For one night in each year it shall be as it was before the buck was killed—for thee and for thy children. In that one night, if ye meet the Hairless One—and his name is Man—ye shall not be afraid of him, but he shall be afraid of you, as though ye were judges of the Jungle and masters of all things. Show him mercy in that night of his fear, for thou hast known what Fear is.’
‘Then the First of the Tigers answered, ‘I am content’; but when next he drank he saw the black stripes upon his flank and his side, and he remembered the name that the Hairless One had given him, and he was angry. For a year he lived in the marshes waiting till Tha should keep his promise. And upon a night when the Jackal of the Moon [the Evening Star] stood clear of the Jungle, he felt that his Night was upon him, and he went to that cave to meet the Hairless One. Then it happened as Tha promised, for the Hairless One fell down before him and lay along the ground, and the First of the Tigers struck him and broke his back, for he thought that there was but one such Thing in the jungle, and that he had killed Fear. Then, nosing above the kill, he heard Tha coming down from the woods of the North, and presently the voice of the First of the Elephants, which is the voice that we hear now——’
The thunder was rolling up and down the dry, scarred hills, but it brought no rain—only heat lightning that flickered along the ridges—and Hathi went on: ‘That was the voice he heard, and it said: ‘Is this thy mercy?’ The First of the Tigers licked his lips and said: ‘What matter? I have killed Fear.’ And Tha said ‘O blind and foolish! Thou hast untied the feet of Death, and he will follow thy trail till thou diest. Thou hast taught Man to kill!’
‘The First of the Tigers, standing stiffly to his kill, said: ‘He is as the buck was. There is no Fear. Now I will judge the Jungle Peoples once more.’
‘And Tha said: ‘Never again shall the Jungle Peoples come to thee. They shall never cross thy trail, nor sleep near thee, nor follow after thee, nor browse by thy lair. Only Fear shall follow thee, and with a blow that thou canst not see he shall bid thee wait his pleasure. He shall make the ground to open under thy feet, and the creeper to twist about thy neck, and the tree-trunks to grow together about thee higher than thou canst leap, and at the last he shall take thy hide to wrap his cubs when they are cold. Thou hast shown him no mercy, and none will he show thee.’
‘The First of the Tigers was very bold, for his Night was still on him, and he said: ‘The Promise of Tha is the Promise of Tha. He will not take away my Night?’ And Tha said: ‘The one Night is thine, as I have said, but there is a price to pay. Thou hast taught Man to kill, and he is no slow learner.’
‘The First of the Tigers said: ‘He is here under my foot, and his back is broken. Let the Jungle know I have killed Fear.’
‘Then Tha laughed, and said: ‘Thou hast killed one of many, but thou thyself shalt tell the jungle—for thy Night is ended.’
‘So the day came; and from the mouth of the cave went out another Hairless One, and he saw the kill in the path, and the First of the Tigers above it; and he took a pointed stick——’
‘They throw a thing that cuts now,’ said Ikki, rustling down the bank; for Ikki was considered uncommonly good eating by the Gonds—they called him Ho-Igoo—and he knew something of the wicked little Gondee axe that whirls across a clearing like a dragon-fly.
‘It was a pointed stick, such as they put in the foot of a pit-trap,’ said Hathi, ‘and throwing it, he struck the First of the Tigers deep in the flank. Thus it happened as Tha said, for the First of the Tigers ran howling up and down the jungle till he tore out the stick, and all the jungle knew that the Hairless One could strike from far off, and they feared more than before. So it came about that the First of the Tigers taught the Hairless One to kill—and ye know what harm that has since done to all our peoples—through the noose, and the pitfall, and the hidden trap, and the flying stick, and the stinging fly that comes out of white smoke [Hathi meant the rifle], and the Red Flower that drives us into the open. Yet for one night in the year the Hairless One fears the Tiger, as Tha promised, and never has the Tiger given him cause to be less afraid. Where he finds him, there he kills him, remembering how the First of the Tigers was made ashamed. For the rest, Fear walks up and down the jungle by day and by night.’
‘Ahi! Aoo!’ said the deer, thinking of what it all meant to them.
‘And only when there is one great Fear over all, as there is now, can we of the jungle lay aside our little fears, and meet together in one place as we do now.’
‘For one night only does Man fear the Tiger?’ said Mowgli.
‘For one night only,’ said Hathi.
‘But I—but we—but all the jungle knows that Shere Khan kills Man twice and thrice in a moon.’
‘Even so. Then he springs from behind and turns his head aside as he strikes, for he is full of fear. If Man looked at him he would run. But on his one Night he goes openly down to the village. He walks between the houses and thrusts his head into the doorway, and the men fall on their faces, and there he does his kill. One kill in that Night.’
‘Oh!’ said Mowgli to himself, rolling over in the water. ‘Now I see why it was Shere Khan bade me look at him! He got no good of it, for he could not hold his eyes steady, and—and I certainly did not fall down at his feet. But then I am not a man, being of the Free People.’
‘Umm!’ said Bagheera deep in his furry throat. ‘Does the Tiger know his Night?’
‘Never till the jackal of the Moon stands clear of the evening mist. Sometimes it falls in the dry summer and sometimes in the wet rains—this one Night of the Tiger. But for the First of the Tigers, this would never have been, nor would any of us have known fear.’
The deer grunted sorrowfully, and Bagheera’s lips curled in a wicked smile. ‘Do men know this—tale?’ said he.
‘None know it except the tigers, and we, the elephants—the children of Tha. Now ye by the pools have heard it, and I have spoken.’
Hathi dipped his trunk into the water as a sign that he did not wish to talk.
‘But—but—but,’ said Mowgli, turning to Baloo, ‘why did not the First of the Tigers continue to eat grass and leaves and trees? He did but break the buck’s neck. He did not eat. What led him to the hot meat?’
‘The trees and the creepers marked him, Little Brother, and made him the striped thing that we see. Never again would he eat their fruit; but from that day he revenged himself upon the deer, and the others, the Eaters of Grass,’ said Baloo.
‘Then thou knowest the tale. Heh? Why have I never heard?’
‘Because the jungle is full of such tales. If I made a beginning there would never be an end to them. Let go my ear, Little Brother.’