It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips. Mother Wolf lay with her big gray nose dropped across her four tumbling, squealing cubs, and the moon shone into the mouth of the cave where they all lived. “Augrh!” said Father Wolf. “It is time to hunt again.” He was going to spring down hill when a little shadow with a bushy tail crossed the threshold and whined: “Good luck go with you, O Chief of the Wolves. And good luck and strong white teeth go with noble children that they may never forget the hungry in this world.”
It was the jackal—Tabaqui, the Dish-licker—and the wolves of India despise Tabaqui because he runs about making mischief, and telling tales, and eating rags and pieces of leather from the village rubbish-heaps. But they are afraid of him too, because Tabaqui, more than anyone else in the jungle, is apt to go mad, and then he forgets that he was ever afraid of anyone, and runs through the forest biting everything in his way. Even the tiger runs and hides when little Tabaqui goes mad, for madness is the most disgraceful thing that can overtake a wild creature. We call it hydrophobia, but they call it dewanee—the madness—and run.
“Enter, then, and look,” said Father Wolf stiffly, “but there is no food here.”
“For a wolf, no,” said Tabaqui, “but for so mean a person as myself a dry bone is a good feast. Who are we, the Gidur-log [the jackal people], to pick and choose?” He scuttled to the back of the cave, where he found the bone of a buck with some meat on it, and sat cracking the end merrily.
“All thanks for this good meal,” he said, licking his lips. “How beautiful are the noble children! How large are their eyes! And so young too! Indeed, indeed, I might have remembered that the children of kings are men from the beginning.”
Now, Tabaqui knew as well as anyone else that there is nothing so unlucky as to compliment children to their faces. It pleased him to see Mother and Father Wolf look uncomfortable.
Tabaqui sat still, rejoicing in the mischief that he had made, and then he said spitefully:
“Shere Khan, the Big One, has shifted his hunting grounds. He will hunt among these hills for the next moon, so he has told me.”
Shere Khan was the tiger who lived near the Waingunga River, twenty miles away.
“He has no right!” Father Wolf began angrily—“By the Law of the Jungle he has no right to change his quarters without due warning. He will frighten every head of game within ten miles, and I—I have to kill for two, these days.”
“His mother did not call him Lungri [the Lame One] for nothing,” said Mother Wolf quietly. “He has been lame in one foot from his birth. That is why he has only killed cattle. Now the villagers of the Waingunga are angry with him, and he has come here to make our villagers angry. They will scour the jungle for him when he is far away, and we and our children must run when the grass is set alight. Indeed, we are very grateful to Shere Khan!”
“Shall I tell him of your gratitude?” said Tabaqui.
“Out!” snapped Father Wolf. “Out and hunt with thy master. Thou hast done harm enough for one night.”
“I go,” said Tabaqui quietly. “Ye can hear Shere Khan below in the thickets. I might have saved myself the message.”
Father Wolf listened, and below in the valley that ran down to a little river he heard the dry, angry, snarly, singsong whine of a tiger who has caught nothing and does not care if all the jungle knows it.
“The fool!” said Father Wolf. “To begin a night’s work with that noise! Does he think that our buck are like his fat Waingunga bullocks?” “H’sh. It is neither bullock nor buck he hunts to-night,” said Mother Wolf. “It is Man.”
The whine had changed to a sort of humming purr that seemed to come from every quarter of the compass. It was the noise that bewilders woodcutters and gypsies sleeping in the open, and makes them run sometimes into the very mouth of the tiger.
“Man!” said Father Wolf, showing all his white teeth. “Faugh! Are there not enough beetles and frogs in the tanks that he must eat Man, and on our ground too!” The Law of the Jungle, which never orders anything without a reason, forbids every beast to eat Man except when he is killing to show his children how to kill, and then he must hunt outside the hunting grounds of his pack or tribe. The real reason for this is that man-killing means, sooner or later, the arrival of white men on elephants, with guns, and hundreds of brown men with gongs and rockets and torches. Then everybody in the jungle suffers. The reason the beasts give among themselves is that Man is the weakest and most defenseless of all living things, and it is unsportsmanlike to touch him. They say too—and it is true—that man-eaters become mangy, and lose their teeth.
The purr grew louder, and ended in the full-throated “Aaarh!” of the tiger’s charge.
Then there was a howl—an untigerish howl—from Shere Khan. “He has missed,” said Mother Wolf. “What is it?”
Father Wolf ran out a few paces and heard Shere Khan muttering and mumbling savagely as he tumbled about in the scrub.
“The fool has had no more sense than to jump at a woodcutter’s campfire, and has burned his feet,” said Father Wolf with a grunt. “Tabaqui is with him.”
“Something is coming uphill,” said Mother Wolf, twitching one ear. “Get ready.” The bushes rustled a little in the thicket, and Father Wolf dropped with his haunches under him, ready for his leap. Then, if you had been watching, you would have seen the most wonderful thing in the world—the wolf checked in mid-spring. He made his bound before he saw what it was he was jumping at, and then he tried to stop himself. The result was that he shot up straight into the air for four or five feet, landing almost where he left ground.
“Man!” he snapped. “A man’s cub. Look!” Directly in front of him, holding on by a low branch, stood a naked brown baby who could just walk—as soft and as dimpled a little atom as ever came to a wolf’s cave at night. He looked up into Father Wolf’s face, and laughed.
“Is that a man’s cub?” said Mother Wolf. “I have never seen one. Bring it here.”
A Wolf accustomed to moving his own cubs can, if necessary, mouth an egg without breaking it, and though Father Wolf’s jaws closed right on the child’s back not a tooth even scratched the skin as he laid it down among the cubs. “How little! How naked, and—how bold!” said Mother Wolf softly. The baby was pushing his way between the cubs to get close to the warm hide. “Ahai! He is taking his meal with the others. And so this is a man’s cub. Now, was there ever a wolf that could boast of a man’s cub among her children?” “I have heard now and again of such a thing, but never in our Pack or in my time,” said Father Wolf. “He is altogether without hair, and I could kill him with a touch of my foot. But see, he looks up and is not afraid.”
The moonlight was blocked out of the mouth of the cave, for Shere Khan’s great square head and shoulders were thrust into the entrance. Tabaqui, behind him, was squeaking: “My lord, my lord, it went in here!”
“Shere Khan does us great honor,” said Father Wolf, but his eyes were very angry. “What does Shere Khan need?” “My quarry. A man’s cub went this way,” said Shere Khan. “Its parents have run off. Give it to me.” Shere Khan had jumped at a woodcutter’s campfire, as Father Wolf had said, and was furious from the pain of his burned feet. But Father Wolf knew that the mouth of the cave was too narrow for a tiger to come in by. Even where he was, Shere Khan’s shoulders and forepaws were cramped for want of room, as a man’s would be if he tried to fight in a barrel.
“The Wolves are a free people,” said Father Wolf. “They take orders from the Head of the Pack, and not from any striped cattle-killer. The man’s cub is ours—to kill if we choose.” “Ye choose and ye do not choose! What talk is this of choosing? By the bull that I killed, am I to stand nosing into your dog’s den for my fair dues? It is I, Shere Khan, who speak!”
The tiger’s roar filled the cave with thunder. Mother Wolf shook herself clear of the cubs and sprang forward, her eyes, like two green moons in the darkness, facing the blazing eyes of Shere Khan.
“And it is I, Raksha [The Demon], who answers. The man’s cub is mine, Lungri—mine to me! He shall not be killed. He shall live to run with the Pack and to hunt with the Pack; and in the end, look you, hunter of little naked cubs—frog-eater—fish-killer—he shall hunt thee! Now get hence, or by the Sambhur that I killed (I eat no starved cattle), back thou goest to thy mother, burned beast of the jungle, lamer than ever thou camest into the world! Go!” Father Wolf looked on amazed. He had almost forgotten the days when he won Mother Wolf in fair fight from five other wolves, when she ran in the Pack and was not called The Demon for compliment’s sake. Shere Khan might have faced Father Wolf, but he could not stand up against Mother Wolf, for he knew that where he was she had all the advantage of the ground, and would fight to the death. So he backed out of the cave mouth growling, and when he was clear he shouted: “Each dog barks in his own yard! We will see what the Pack will say to this fostering of man-cubs. The cub is mine, and to my teeth he will come in the end, O bush-tailed thieves!”
Mother Wolf threw herself down panting among the cubs, and Father Wolf said to her gravely: “Shere Khan speaks this much truth. The cub must be shown to the Pack. Wilt thou still keep him, Mother?”
“Keep him!” she gasped. “He came naked, by night, alone and very hungry; yet he was not afraid! Look, he has pushed one of my babes to one side already. And that lame butcher would have killed him and would have run off to the Waingunga while the villagers here hunted through all our lairs in revenge! Keep him? Assuredly I will keep him. Lie still, little frog. O thou Mowgli—for Mowgli the Frog I will call thee—the time will come when thou wilt hunt Shere Khan as he has hunted thee.” “But what will our Pack say?” said Father Wolf.
The Law of the Jungle lays down very clearly that any wolf may, when he marries, withdraw from the Pack he belongs to. But as soon as his cubs are old enough to stand on their feet he must bring them to the Pack Council, which is generally held once a month at full moon, in order that the other wolves may identify them. After that inspection the cubs are free to run where they please, and until they have killed their first buck no excuse is accepted if a grown wolf of the Pack kills one of them. The punishment is death where the murderer can be found; and if you think for a minute you will see that this must be so.
Father Wolf waited till his cubs could run a little, and then on the night of the Pack Meeting took them and Mowgli and Mother Wolf to the Council Rock—a hilltop covered with stones and boulders where a hundred wolves could hide. Akela, the great gray Lone Wolf, who led all the Pack by strength and cunning, lay out at full length on his rock, and below him sat forty or more wolves of every size and color, from badger-colored veterans who could handle a buck alone to young black three-year-olds who thought they could. The Lone Wolf had led them for a year now. He had fallen twice into a wolf trap in his youth, and once he had been beaten and left for dead; so he knew the manners and customs of men. There was very little talking at the Rock. The cubs tumbled over each other in the center of the circle where their mothers and fathers sat, and now and again a senior wolf would go quietly up to a cub, look at him carefully, and return to his place on noiseless feet. Sometimes a mother would push her cub far out into the moonlight to be sure that he had not been overlooked. Akela from his rock would cry: “Ye know the Law—ye know the Law. Look well, O Wolves!” And the anxious mothers would take up the call: “Look—look well, O Wolves!”
At last—and Mother Wolf’s neck bristles lifted as the time came—Father Wolf pushed “Mowgli the Frog,” as they called him, into the center, where he sat laughing and playing with some pebbles that glistened in the moonlight.
Akela never raised his head from his paws, but went on with the monotonous cry: “Look well!” A muffled roar came up from behind the rocks—the voice of Shere Khan crying: “The cub is mine. Give him to me. What have the Free People to do with a man’s cub?” Akela never even twitched his ears. All he said was: “Look well, O Wolves! What have the Free People to do with the orders of any save the Free People? Look well!”
There was a chorus of deep growls, and a young wolf in his fourth year flung back Shere Khan’s question to Akela: “What have the Free People to do with a man’s cub?” Now, the Law of the Jungle lays down that if there is any dispute as to the right of a cub to be accepted by the Pack, he must be spoken for by at least two members of the Pack who are not his father and mother. “Who speaks for this cub?” said Akela. “Among the Free People who speaks?” There was no answer and Mother Wolf got ready for what she knew would be her last fight, if things came to fighting. Then the only other creature who is allowed at the Pack Council—Baloo, the sleepy brown bear who teaches the wolf cubs the Law of the Jungle: old Baloo, who can come and go where he pleases because he eats only nuts and roots and honey—rose upon his hind quarters and grunted. “The man’s cub—the man’s cub?” he said. “I speak for the man’s cub. There is no harm in a man’s cub. I have no gift of words, but I speak the truth. Let him run with the Pack, and be entered with the others. I myself will teach him.”
“We need yet another,” said Akela. “Baloo has spoken, and he is our teacher for the young cubs. Who speaks besides Baloo?”
A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down. “O Akela, and ye the Free People,” he purred, “I have no right in your assembly, but the Law of the Jungle says that if there is a doubt which is not a killing matter in regard to a new cub, the life of that cub may be bought at a price. And the Law does not say who may or may not pay that price. Am I right?” “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.