The cloud hid the moon, and as Mowgli wondered what would come next he heard Bagheera’s light feet on the terrace. The Black Panther had raced up the slope almost without a sound, and was striking—he knew better than to waste time in biting—right and left among the monkeys, who were seated round Mowgli in circles fifty and sixty deep. There was a howl of fright and rage, and then as Bagheera tripped on the rolling, kicking bodies beneath him, a monkey shouted: “There is only one here! Kill him! Kill!” A scuffling mass of monkeys, biting, scratching, tearing, and pulling, closed over Bagheera, while five or six laid hold of Mowgli, dragged him up the wall of the summer-house, and pushed him through the hole of the broken dome. A man-trained boy would have been badly bruised, for the fall was a good ten feet, but Mowgli fell as Baloo had taught him to fall, and landed light.
“Stay there,” shouted the monkeys, “till we have killed thy friend. Later we will play with thee, if the Poison People leave thee alive.”
“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli, quickly giving the Snake’s Call. He could hear rustling and hissing in the rubbish all round him, and gave the Call a second time to make sure.
“Down hoods all,” said half a dozen low voices. Every old ruin in India becomes sooner or later a dwelling-place of snakes, and the old summer-house was alive with cobras. “Stand still, Little Brother, lest thy feet do us harm.”
Mowgli stood as quietly as he could, peering through the openwork and listening to the furious din of the fight round the Black Panther—the yells and chatterings and scufflings, and Bagheera’s deep, hoarse cough as he backed and bucked and twisted and plunged under the heaps of his enemies. For the first time since he was born, Bagheera was fighting for his life.
“I am not sure that they have not pulled me into a hundred little bearlings,” said Baloo, gravely shaking one leg after the other. “Wow! I am sore. Kaa, we owe thee, I think, our lives—Bagheera and I.”
“No matter. Where is the manling?”
“Here, in a trap. I cannot climb out,” cried Mowgli. The curve of the broken dome was above his head.
“Take him away. He dances like Mao, the Peacock. He will crush our young,” said the cobras inside.
“Hah!” said Kaa, with a chuckle, “he has friends everywhere, this manling. Stand back, Manling; and hide you, O Poison People. I break down the wall.”
“So this is the manling,” said Kaa. “Very soft is his skin, and he is not so unlike the Bandar-log. Have a care, Manling, that I do not mistake thee for a monkey some twilight when I have newly changed my coat.”
“We be of one blood, thou and I,” Mowgli answered. “I take my life from thee, to-night. My kill shall be thy kill if ever thou art hungry, O Kaa.”
“All thanks, Little Brother,” said Kaa, though his eyes twinkled. “And what may so bold a hunter kill? I ask that I may follow when next he goes abroad.”
“I kill nothing,—I am too little,—but I drive goats toward such as can use them. When thou art empty come to me and see if I speak the truth. I have some skill in these [he held out his hands], and if ever thou art in a trap, I may pay the debt which I owe to thee, to Bagheera, and to Baloo, here. Good hunting to ye all, my masters.”
“Well said,” growled Baloo, for Mowgli had returned thanks very prettily. The python dropped his head lightly for a minute on Mowgli’s shoulder. “A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, Manling. But now go hence quickly with thy friends. Go and sleep, for the moon sets, and what follows it is not well that thou shouldst see.”
“True; it is true,” said Mowgli, sorrowfully. “I am an evil man-cub, and my stomach is sad in me.”
“Mf! What says the Law of the Jungle, Baloo?”
Baloo did not wish to bring Mowgli into any more trouble, but he could not tamper with the Law, so he mumbled, “Sorrow never stays punishment. But remember, Bagheera, he is very little.”
“I will remember; but he has done mischief; and blows must be dealt now. Mowgli, hast thou anything to say?”
“Nothing. I did wrong. Baloo and thou art wounded. It is just.”
Bagheera gave him half a dozen love-taps; from a panther’s point of view they would hardly have waked one of his own cubs, but for a seven year-old boy they amounted to as severe a beating as you could wish to avoid. When it was all over Mowgli sneezed, and picked himself up without a word.
“Now,” said Bagheera, “jump on my back, Little Brother, and we will go home.”
One of the beauties of Jungle Law is that punishment settles all scores. There is no nagging afterward.
-Rudyard Kipling, The First Jungle Book, “Kaa’s Hunting”