He put his hands to his mouth and shouted down the ravine—it was
almost like shouting down a tunnel—and the echoes jumped from rock
After a long time there came back the drawling, sleepy snarl of a full-fed
tiger just wakened.
"Who calls?" said Shere Khan, and a splendid peacock fluttered up out of
the ravine screeching.
"I, Mowgli. Cattle thief, it is time to come to the Council Rock! Down—hurry
them down, Akela! Down, Rama, down!"
The herd paused for an instant at the edge of the slope, but Akela gave
tongue in the full hunting-yell, and they pitched over one after the
other, just as steamers shoot rapids, the sand and stones spurting up
round them. Once started, there was no chance of stopping, and before they
were fairly in the bed of the ravine Rama winded Shere Khan and bellowed.
"Ha! Ha!" said Mowgli, on his back. "Now thou knowest!" and the torrent of
black horns, foaming muzzles, and staring eyes whirled down the ravine
just as boulders go down in floodtime; the weaker buffaloes being
shouldered out to the sides of the ravine where they tore through the
creepers. They knew what the business was before them—the terrible
charge of the buffalo herd against which no tiger can hope to stand. Shere
Khan heard the thunder of their hoofs, picked himself up, and lumbered
down the ravine, looking from side to side for some way of escape, but the
walls of the ravine were straight and he had to hold on, heavy with his
dinner and his drink, willing to do anything rather than fight. The herd
splashed through the pool he had just left, bellowing till the narrow cut
rang. Mowgli heard an answering bellow from the foot of the ravine, saw
Shere Khan turn (the tiger knew if the worst came to the worst it was
better to meet the bulls than the cows with their calves), and then Rama
tripped, stumbled, and went on again over something soft, and, with the
bulls at his heels, crashed full into the other herd, while the weaker
buffaloes were lifted clean off their feet by the shock of the meeting.
That charge carried both herds out into the plain, goring and stamping and
snorting. Mowgli watched his time, and slipped off Rama's neck, laying
about him right and left with his stick.
"Quick, Akela! Break them up. Scatter them, or they will be fighting one
another. Drive them away, Akela. Hai, Rama! Hai, hai, hai! my children.
Softly now, softly! It is all over."
Akela and Gray Brother ran to and fro nipping the buffaloes' legs, and
though the herd wheeled once to charge up the ravine again, Mowgli managed
to turn Rama, and the others followed him to the wallows.
Shere Khan needed no more trampling. He was dead, and the kites were
coming for him already.
"Brothers, that was a dog's death," said Mowgli, feeling for the knife he
always carried in a sheath round his neck now that he lived with men. "But
he would never have shown fight. His hide will look well on the Council
Rock. We must get to work swiftly."
A boy trained among men would never have dreamed of skinning a ten-foot
tiger alone, but Mowgli knew better than anyone else how an animal's skin
is fitted on, and how it can be taken off. But it was hard work, and
Mowgli slashed and tore and grunted for an hour, while the wolves lolled
out their tongues, or came forward and tugged as he ordered them.
Presently a hand fell on his shoulder, and looking up he saw Buldeo with
the Tower musket. The children had told the village about the buffalo
stampede, and Buldeo went out angrily, only too anxious to correct Mowgli
for not taking better care of the herd. The wolves dropped out of sight as
soon as they saw the man coming.
"What is this folly?" said Buldeo angrily. "To think that thou canst skin
a tiger! Where did the buffaloes kill him? It is the Lame Tiger too, and
there is a hundred rupees on his head. Well, well, we will overlook thy
letting the herd run off, and perhaps I will give thee one of the rupees
of the reward when I have taken the skin to Khanhiwara." He fumbled in his
waist cloth for flint and steel, and stooped down to singe Shere Khan's
whiskers. Most native hunters always singe a tiger's whiskers to prevent
his ghost from haunting them.
"Hum!" said Mowgli, half to himself as he ripped back the skin of a
forepaw. "So thou wilt take the hide to Khanhiwara for the reward, and
perhaps give me one rupee? Now it is in my mind that I need the skin for
my own use. Heh! Old man, take away that fire!"
"What talk is this to the chief hunter of the village? Thy luck and the
stupidity of thy buffaloes have helped thee to this kill. The tiger has
just fed, or he would have gone twenty miles by this time. Thou canst not
even skin him properly, little beggar brat, and forsooth I, Buldeo, must
be told not to singe his whiskers. Mowgli, I will not give thee one anna
of the reward, but only a very big beating. Leave the carcass!"
"By the Bull that bought me," said Mowgli, who was trying to get at the
shoulder, "must I stay babbling to an old ape all noon? Here, Akela, this
man plagues me."
Buldeo, who was still stooping over Shere Khan's head, found himself
sprawling on the grass, with a gray wolf standing over him, while Mowgli
went on skinning as though he were alone in all India.
"Ye-es," he said, between his teeth. "Thou art altogether right, Buldeo.
Thou wilt never give me one anna of the reward. There is an old war
between this lame tiger and myself—a very old war, and—I have
To do Buldeo justice, if he had been ten years younger he would have taken
his chance with Akela had he met the wolf in the woods, but a wolf who
obeyed the orders of this boy who had private wars with man-eating tigers
was not a common animal. It was sorcery, magic of the worst kind, thought
Buldeo, and he wondered whether the amulet round his neck would protect
him. He lay as still as still, expecting every minute to see Mowgli turn
into a tiger too.
"Maharaj! Great King," he said at last in a husky whisper.
"Yes," said Mowgli, without turning his head, chuckling a little.
"I am an old man. I did not know that thou wast anything more than a
herdsboy. May I rise up and go away, or will thy servant tear me to
"Go, and peace go with thee. Only, another time do not meddle with my
game. Let him go, Akela."
Buldeo hobbled away to the village as fast as he could, looking back over
his shoulder in case Mowgli should change into something terrible. When he
got to the village he told a tale of magic and enchantment and sorcery
that made the priest look very grave.
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,
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
"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
"Come back, Messua!" shouted the crowd. "Come back, or we will stone
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."
"Little Brother, it is well done," said a deep voice in the thicket. "We
were lonely in the jungle without thee," and Bagheera came running to
Mowgli's bare feet. They clambered up the Council Rock together, and
Mowgli spread the skin out on the flat stone where Akela used to sit, and
pegged it down with four slivers of bamboo, and Akela lay down upon it,
and called the old call to the Council, "Look—look well, O Wolves,"
exactly as he had called when Mowgli was first brought there.
Ever since Akela had been deposed, the Pack had been without a leader,
hunting and fighting at their own pleasure. But they answered the call
from habit; and some of them were lame from the traps they had fallen
into, and some limped from shot wounds, and some were mangy from eating
bad food, and many were missing. But they came to the Council Rock, all
that were left of them, and saw Shere Khan's striped hide on the rock, and
the huge claws dangling at the end of the empty dangling feet. It was then
that Mowgli made up a song that came up into his throat all by itself, and
he shouted it aloud, leaping up and down on the rattling skin, and beating
time with his heels till he had no more breath left, while Gray Brother
and Akela howled between the verses.
"Look well, O Wolves. Have I kept my word?" said Mowgli. And the wolves
bayed "Yes," and one tattered wolf howled:
"Lead us again, O Akela. Lead us again, O Man-cub, for we be sick of this
lawlessness, and we would be the Free People once more."
"Nay," purred Bagheera, "that may not be. When ye are full-fed, the
madness may come upon you again. Not for nothing are ye called the Free
People. Ye fought for freedom, and it is yours. Eat it, O Wolves."
"Man-Pack and Wolf-Pack have cast me out," said Mowgli. "Now I will hunt
alone in the jungle."
"And we will hunt with thee," said the four cubs.
So Mowgli went away and hunted with the four cubs in the jungle from that
day on. But he was not always alone, because, years afterward, he became a
man and married.
But that is a story for grown-ups.
THAT HE SANG AT THE COUNCIL ROCK WHEN HE
DANCED ON SHERE KHAN'S HIDE
The Song of Mowgli—I, Mowgli, am singing. Let the jungle
listen to the things I have done.
Shere Khan said he would kill—would kill! At the gates in the
twilight he would kill Mowgli, the Frog!
He ate and he drank. Drink deep, Shere Khan, for when wilt thou
drink again? Sleep and dream of the kill.
I am alone on the grazing-grounds. Gray Brother, come to me!
Come to me, Lone Wolf, for there is big game afoot!
Bring up the great bull buffaloes, the blue-skinned herd bulls
with the angry eyes. Drive them to and fro as I order.
Sleepest thou still, Shere Khan? Wake, oh, wake! Here come I,
and the bulls are behind.
Rama, the King of the Buffaloes, stamped with his foot. Waters of
the Waingunga, whither went Shere Khan?
He is not Ikki to dig holes, nor Mao, the Peacock, that he should
fly. He is not Mang the Bat, to hang in the branches. Little
bamboos that creak together, tell me where he ran?
Ow! He is there. Ahoo! He is there. Under the feet of Rama
lies the Lame One! Up, Shere Khan!
Up and kill! Here is meat; break the necks of the bulls!
Hsh! He is asleep. We will not wake him, for his strength is
very great. The kites have come down to see it. The black
ants have come up to know it. There is a great assembly in his
Alala! I have no cloth to wrap me. The kites will see that I am
naked. I am ashamed to meet all these people.
Lend me thy coat, Shere Khan. Lend me thy gay striped coat that I
may go to the Council Rock.
By the Bull that bought me I made a promise—a little promise.
Only thy coat is lacking before I keep my word.
With the knife, with the knife that men use, with the knife of the
hunter, I will stoop down for my gift.
Waters of the Waingunga, Shere Khan gives me his coat for the love
that he bears me. Pull, Gray Brother! Pull, Akela! Heavy is
the hide of Shere Khan.
The Man Pack are angry. They throw stones and talk child's talk.
My mouth is bleeding. Let me run away.
Through the night, through the hot night, run swiftly with me, my
brothers. We will leave the lights of the village and go to
the low moon.
Waters of the Waingunga, the Man-Pack have cast me out. I did
them no harm, but they were afraid of me. Why?
Wolf Pack, ye have cast me out too. The jungle is shut to me and
the village gates are shut. Why?
As Mang flies between the beasts and birds, so fly I between the
village and the jungle. Why?
I dance on the hide of Shere Khan, but my heart is very heavy. My
mouth is cut and wounded with the stones from the village, but
my heart is very light, because I have come back to the jungle.
These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the
spring. The water comes out of my eyes; yet I laugh while it
I am two Mowglis, but the hide of Shere Khan is under my feet.
All the jungle knows that I have killed Shere Khan. Look—look
well, O Wolves!
Ahae! My heart is heavy with the things that I do not understand.