Ch. 9: The King's Ankus




These are the Four that are never content, that have never
been filled since the Dews began--
Jacala's mouth, and the glut of the Kite, and the hands of the
Ape, and the Eyes of Man.
Jungle Saying.

Kaa, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the
two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot
that he owed his life to Kaa for a night's work at Cold Lairs,
which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him.
Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the
new skin begins to shine and look beautiful. Kaa never made fun
of Mowgli any more, but accepted him, as the other Jungle People
did, for the Master of the Jungle, and brought him all the news
that a python of his size would naturally hear. What Kaa did not
know about the Middle Jungle, as they call it,--the life that
runs close to the earth or under it, the boulder, burrow, and
the tree-bole life,--might have been written upon the smallest
of his scales.

That afternoon Mowgli was sitting in the circle of Kaa!s great
coils, fingering the flaked and broken old skin that lay all
looped and twisted among the rocks just as Kaa had left it.
Kaa had very courteously packed himself under Mowgli's broad,
bare shoulders, so that the boy was really resting in a
living arm-chair.

"Even to the scales of the eyes it is perfect," said Mowgli,
under his breath, playing with the old skin. "Strange to see the
covering of one's own head at one's own feet!"

"Ay, but I lack feet," said Kaa; "and since this is the custom
of all my people, I do not find it strange. Does thy skin never
feel old and harsh?"

"Then go I and wash, Flathead; but, it is true, in the great
heats I have wished I could slough my skin without pain, and
run skinless."

"I wash, and ALSO I take off my skin. How looks the new coat?"

Mowgli ran his hand down the diagonal checkerings of the immense
back. "The Turtle is harder-backed, but not so gay," he said
judgmatically. "The Frog, my name-bearer, is more gay, but not
so hard. It is very beautiful to see--like the mottling in the
mouth of a lily."

"It needs water. A new skin never comes to full colour before
the first bath. Let us go bathe."

"I will carry thee," said Mowgli; and he stooped down, laughing,
to lift the middle section of Kaa's great body, just where the
barrel was thickest. A man might just, as well have tried to
heave up a two-foot water-main; and Kaa lay still, puffing with
quiet amusement. Then the regular evening game began--the Boy in
the flush of his great strength, and the Python in his sumptuous
new skin, standing up one against the other for a wrestling
match--a trial of eye and strength. Of course, Kaa could have
crushed a dozen Mowglis if he had let himself go; but he played
carefully, and never loosed one-tenth of his power. Ever since
Mowgli was strong enough to endure a little rough handling,
Kaa had taught him this game, and it suppled his limbs as
nothing else could. Sometimes Mowgli would stand lapped almost
to his throat in Kaa's shifting coils, striving to get one arm
free and catch him by the throat. Then Kaa would give way
limply, and Mowgli, with both quick-moving feet, would try to
cramp the purchase of that huge tail as it flung backward
feeling for a rock or a stump. They would rock to and fro,
head to head, each waiting for his chance, till the beautiful,
statue-like group melted in a whirl of black-and-yellow coils
and struggling legs and arms, to rise up again and again.
"Now! now! now!" said Kaa, making feints with his head that
even Mowgli's quick hand could not turn aside. "Look! I touch
thee here, Little Brother! Here, and here! Are thy hands numb?
Here again!"

The game always ended in one way--with a straight, driving blow
of the head that knocked the boy over and over. Mowgli could
never learn the guard for that lightning lunge, and, as Kaa
said, there was not the least use in trying.

"Good hunting!" Kaa grunted at last; and Mowgli, as usual, was
shot away half a dozen yards, gasping and laughing. He rose with
his fingers full of grass, and followed Kaa to the wise snake's
pet bathing-place--a deep, pitchy-black pool surrounded with
rocks, and made interesting by sunken tree-stumps. The boy
slipped in, Jungle-fashion, without a sound, and dived across;
rose, too, without a sound, and turned on his back, his arms
behind his head, watching the moon rising above the rocks,
and breaking up her reflection in the water with his toes.
Kaa's diamond-shaped head cut the pool like a razor, and came
out to rest on Mowgli's shoulder. They lay still, soaking
luxuriously in the cool water.

"It is VERY good," said Mowgli at last, sleepily. Now, in the
Man-Pack, at this hour, as I remember, they laid them down upon
hard pieces of wood in the inside of a mud-trap, and, having
carefully shut out all the clean winds, drew foul cloth over
their heavy heads and made evil songs through their noses.
It is better in the Jungle."

A hurrying cobra slipped down over a rock and drank, gave them
"Good hunting!" and went away.

"Sssh!" said Kaa, as though he had suddenly remembered
something. "So the Jungle gives thee all that thou hast ever
desired, Little Brother?"

"Not all," said Mowgli, laughing; "else there would be a new and
strong Shere Khan to kill once a moon. Now, I could kill with my
own hands, asking no help of buffaloes. And also I have wished
the sun to shine in the middle of the Rains, and the Rains to
cover the sun in the deep of summer; and also I have never gone
empty but I wished that I had killed a goat; and also I have
never killed a goat but I wished it had been buck; nor buck but
I wished it had been nilghai. But thus do we feel, all of us."

"Thou hast no other desire?" the big snake demanded.

"What more can I wish? I have the Jungle, and the favour of the
Jungle! Is there more anywhere between sunrise and sunset?"

"Now, the Cobra said----" Kaa began. What cobra? He that went
away just now said nothing. He was hunting."

"It was another."

"Hast thou many dealings with the Poison People? I give them
their own path. They carry death in the fore-tooth, and that
is not good--for they are so small. But what hood is this thou
hast spoken with?"

Kaa rolled slowly in the water like a steamer in a beam sea.
"Three or four moons since," said he, "I hunted in Cold Lairs,
which place thou hast not forgotten. And the thing I hunted fled
shrieking past the tanks and to that house whose side I once
broke for thy sake, and ran into the ground."

"But the people of Cold Lairs do not live in burrows." Mowgli
knew that Kaa was telling of the Monkey People.

"This thing was not living, but seeking to live," Kaa replied,
with a quiver of his tongue. "He ran into a burrow that led
very far. I followed, and having killed, I slept. When I
waked I went forward."

"Under the earth?"

"Even so, coming at last upon a White Hood [a white cobra],
who spoke of things beyond my knowledge, and showed me many
things I had never before seen."

"New game? Was it good hunting?" Mowgli turned quickly on
his side.

"It was no game, and would have broken all my teeth; but the
White Hood said that a man--he spoke as one that knew the
breed--that a man would give the breath under his ribs for only
the sight of those things."

"We will look," said Mowgli. "I now remember that I was
once a man."

"Slowly--slowly. It was haste killed the Yellow Snake that ate
the sun. We two spoke together under the earth, and I spoke of
thee, naming thee as a man. Said the White Hood (and he is
indeed as old as the Jungle): 'It is long since I have seen a
man. Let him come, and he shall see all these things, for the
least of which very many men would die.'"

"That MUST be new game. And yet the Poison People do not tell us
when game is afoot. They are an unfriendly folk."

"It is NOT game. It is--it is--I cannot say what it is."

"We will go there. I have never seen a White Hood, and I wish to
see the other things. Did he kill them?"

"They are all dead things. He says he is the keeper of
them all."

"Ah! As a wolf stands above meat he has taken to his own lair.
Let us go."

Mowgli swam to bank, rolled on the grass to dry himself, and the
two set off for Cold Lairs, the deserted city of which you may
have heard. Mowgli was not the least afraid of the Monkey People
in those days, but the Monkey People had the liveliest horror of
Mowgli. Their tribes, however, were raiding in the Jungle, and
so Cold Lairs stood empty and silent in the moonlight. Kaa led
up to the ruins of the queens' pavilion that stood on the
terrace, slipped over the rubbish, and dived down the half-
choked staircase that went underground from the centre of the
pavilion. Mowgli gave the snake-call,--"We be of one blood,
ye and I,"--and followed on his hands and knees. They crawled
a long distance down a sloping passage that turned and twisted
several times, and at last came to where the root of some great
tree, growing thirty feet overhead, had forced out a solid stone
in the wall. They crept through the gap, and found themselves
in a large vault, whose domed roof had been also broken away
by tree-roots so that a few streaks of light dropped down into
the darkness.

"A safe lair," said Mowgli, rising to his firm feet, "but
over-far to visit daily. And now what do we see?"

"Am I nothing?" said a voice in the middle of the vault;
and Mowgli saw something white move till, little by little,
there stood up the hugest cobra he had ever set eyes on--a
creature nearly eight feet long, and bleached by being in
darkness to an old ivory-white. Even the spectacle-marks of his
spread hood had faded to faint yellow. His eyes were as red as
rubies, and altogether he was most wonderful.

"Good hunting!" said Mowgli, who carried his manners with his
knife, and that never left him.

"What of the city?" said the White Cobra, without answering the
greeting. "What of the great, the walled city--the city of a
hundred elephants and twenty thousand horses, and cattle past
counting--the city of the King of Twenty Kings? I grow deaf
here, and it is long since I heard their war-gongs."

"The Jungle is above our heads," said Mowgli. I know only Hathi
and his sons among elephants. Bagheera has slain all the horses
in one village, and--what is a King?"

"I told thee," said Kaa softly to the Cobra,--"I told thee, four
moons ago, that thy city was not."

"The city--the great city of the forest whose gates are guarded
by the King's towers--can never pass. They builded it before my
father's father came from the egg, and it shall endure when my
son's sons are as white as I! Salomdhi, son of Chandrabija,
son of Viyeja, son of Yegasuri, made it in the days of Bappa
Rawal. Whose cattle are YE?"

"It is a lost trail," said Mowgli, turning to Kaa. "I know not
his talk."

"Nor I. He is very old. Father of Cobras, there is only the
Jungle here, as it has been since the beginning."

"Then who is HE," said the White Cobra, "sitting down before
me, unafraid, knowing not the name of the King, talking our
talk through a man's lips? Who is he with the knife and the
snake's tongue?"

"Mowgli they call me," was the answer. "I am of the Jungle.
The wolves are my people, and Kaa here is my brother. Father
of Cobras, who art thou?"

"I am the Warden of the King's Treasure. Kurrun Raja builded the
stone above me, in the days when my skin was dark, that I might
teach death to those who came to steal. Then they let down the
treasure through the stone, and I heard the song of the Brahmins
my masters."

"Umm!" said Mowgli to himself. "I have dealt with one Brahmin
already, in the Man-Pack, and--I know what I know. Evil comes
here in a little."

"Five times since I came here has the stone been lifted, but
always to let down more, and never to take away. There are no
riches like these riches--the treasures of a hundred kings.
But it is long and long since the stone was last moved, and
I think that my city has forgotten."

"There is no city. Look up. Yonder are roots of the great trees
tearing the stones apart. Trees and men do not grow together,"
Kaa insisted.

"Twice and thrice have men found their way here," the White
Cobra answered savagely; "but they never spoke till I came upon
them groping in the dark, and then they cried only a little
time. But ye come with lies, Man and Snake both, and would have
me believe the city is not, and that my wardship ends. Little do
men change in the years. But I change never! Till the stone is
lifted, and the Brahmins come down singing the songs that
I know, and feed me with warm milk, and take me to the light
again, I--I--_I_, and no other, am the Warden of the King's
Treasure! The city is dead, ye say, and here are the roots of
the trees? Stoop down, then, and take what ye will. Earth has no
treasure like to these. Man with the snake's tongue, if thou
canst go alive by the way that thou hast entered it, the lesser
Kings will be thy servants!"

"Again the trail is lost," said Mowgli coolly. "Can any jackal
have burrowed so deep and bitten this great White Hood? He is
surely mad. Father of Cobras, I see nothing here to take away."

"By the Gods of the Sun and Moon, it is the madness of death
upon the boy!" hissed the Cobra. "Before thine eyes close I will
allow thee this favour. Look thou, and see what man has never
seen before!"

"They do not well in the Jungle who speak to Mowgli of favours,"
said the boy, between his teeth; "but the dark changes all, as I
know. I will look, if that please thee."

He stared with puckered-up eyes round the vault, and then lifted
up from the floor a handful of something that glittered.

"Oho!" said he, "this is like the stuff they play with in the
Man-Pack: only this is yellow and the other was brown."

He let the gold pieces fall, and move forward. The floor of the
vault was buried some five or six feet deep in coined gold and
silver that had burst from the sacks it had been originally
stored in, and, in the long years, the metal had packed and
settled as sand packs at low tide. On it and in it and rising
through it, as wrecks lift through the sand, were jewelled
elephant-howdahs of embossed silver, studded with plates of
hammered gold, and adorned with carbuncles and turquoises.
There were palanquins and litters for carrying queens, framed
and braced with silver and enamel, with jade-handled poles and
amber curtain-rings; there were golden candlesticks hung with
pierced emeralds that quivered on the branches; there were
studded images, five feet high, of forgotten gods, silver with
jewelled eyes; there were coats of mail, gold inlaid on steel,
and fringed with rotted and blackened seed-pearls; there were
helmets, crested and beaded with pigeon's-blood rubies; there
were shields of lacquer, of tortoise-shell and rhinoceros-hide,
strapped and bossed with red gold and set with emeralds at the
edge; there were sheaves of diamond-hilted swords, daggers, and
hunting-knives; there were golden sacrificial bowls and ladles,
and portable altars of a shape that never sees the light of day;
there were jade cups and bracelets; there were incense-burners,
combs, and pots for perfume, henna, and eye-powder, all in
embossed gold; there were nose-rings, armlets, head-bands,
finger-rings, and girdles past any counting; there were belts,
seven fingers broad, of square-cut diamonds and rubies, and
wooden boxes, trebly clamped with iron, from which the wood had
fallen away in powder, showing the pile of uncut star-sapphires,
opals, cat's-eyes, sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and
garnets within.

The White Cobra was right. No mere money would begin to pay the
value of this treasure, the sifted pickings of centuries of war,
plunder, trade, and taxation. The coins alone were priceless,
leaving out of count all the precious stones; and the dead
weight of the gold and silver alone might be two or three
hundred tons. Every native ruler in India to-day, however poor,
has a hoard to which he is always adding; and though, once in
a long while, some enlightened prince may send off forty or
fifty bullock-cart loads of silver to be exchanged for
Government securities, the bulk of them keep their treasure
and the knowledge of it very closely to themselves.

But Mowgli naturally did not understand what these things meant.
The knives interested him a little, but they did not balance so
well as his own, and so he dropped them. At last he found
something really fascinating laid on the front of a howdah half
buried in the coins. It was a three-foot ankus, or elephant-
goad--something like a small boat-hook. The top was one round,
shining ruby, and eight inches of the handle below it were
studded with rough turquoises close together, giving a most
satisfactory grip. Below them was a rim of jade with a flower-
pattern running round it--only the leaves were emeralds, and the
blossoms were rubies sunk in the cool, green stone. The rest of
the handle was a shaft of pure ivory, while the point--the spike
and hook--was gold-inlaid steel with pictures of elephant-
catching; and the pictures attracted Mowgli, who saw that they
had something to do with his friend Hathi the Silent.

The White Cobra had been following him closely.

"Is this not worth dying to behold?" he said. Have I not done
thee a great favour?"

"I do not understand," said Mowgli. "The things are hard and
cold, and by no means good to eat. But this"--he lifted the
ankus--"I desire to take away, that I may see it in the sun.
Thou sayest they are all thine? Wilt thou give it to me, and
I will bring thee frogs to eat?"

The White Cobra fairly shook with evil delight. "Assuredly
I will give it," he said. "All that is here I will give thee--
till thou goest away."

"But I go now. This place is dark and cold, and I wish to take
the thorn-pointed thing to the Jungle."

"Look by thy foot! What is that there?" Mowgli picked up
something white and smooth. "It is the bone of a man's head,"
he said quietly. "And here are two more."

"They came to take the treasure away many years ago. I spoke to
them in the dark, and they lay still."

"But what do I need of this that is called treasure? If thou
wilt give me the ankus to take away, it is good hunting. If not,
it is good hunting none the less. I do not fight with the Poison
People, and I was also taught the Master-word of thy tribe."

"There is but one Master-word here. It is mine!"

Kaa flung himself forward with blazing eyes. "Who bade me bring
the Man?" he hissed.

"I surely," the old Cobra lisped. "It is long since I have seen
Man, and this Man speaks our tongue."

"But there was no talk of killing. How can I go to the Jungle
and say that I have led him to his death?" said Kaa.

"I talk not of killing till the time. And as to thy going or
not going, there is the hole in the wall. Peace, now, thou fat
monkey-killer! I have but to touch thy neck, and the Jungle will
know thee no longer. Never Man came here that went away with the
breath under his ribs. I am the Warden of the Treasure of the
King's City!"

"But, thou white worm of the dark, I tell thee there is neither
king nor city! The Jungle is all about us!" cried Kaa.

"There is still the Treasure. But this can be done. Wait
awhile, Kaa of the Rocks, and see the boy run. There is room
for great sport here. Life is good. Run to and fro awhile,
and make sport, boy!"

Mowgli put his hand on Kaa's head quietly.

"The white thing has dealt with men of the Man-Pack until now.
He does not know me," he whispered. "He has asked for this
hunting. Let him have it." Mowgli had been standing with the
ankus held point down. He flung it from him quickly and it
dropped crossways just behind the great snake's hood, pinning
him to the floor. In a flash, Kaa's weight was upon the writhing
body, paralysing it from hood to tail. The red eyes burned,
and the six spare inches of the head struck furiously right
and left.

"Kill!" said Kaa, as Mowgli's hand went to his knife.

"No," he said, as he drew the blade; "I will never kill again
save for food. But look you, Kaa!" He caught the snake behind
the hood, forced the mouth open with the blade of the knife,
and showed the terrible poison-fangs of the upper jaw lying
black and withered in the gum. The White Cobra had outlived his
poison, as a snake will.

"THUU" ("It is dried up"--Literally, a rotted out tree-stump),
said Mowgli; and motioning Kaa away, he picked up the ankus,
setting the White Cobra free.

"The King's Treasure needs a new Warden, he said gravely. "Thuu,
thou hast not done well. Run to and fro and make sport, Thuu!"

"I am ashamed. Kill me!" hissed the White Cobra.

"There has been too much talk of killing. We will go now.
I take the thorn-pointed thing, Thuu, because I have fought
and worsted thee."

"See, then, that the thing does not kill thee at last. It is
Death! Remember, it is Death! There is enough in that thing to
kill the men of all my city. Not long wilt thou hold it, Jungle
Man, nor he who takes it from thee. They will kill, and kill,
and kill for its sake! My strength is dried up, but the ankus
will do my work. It is Death! It is Death! It is Death!"

Mowgli crawled out through the hole into the passage again, and
the last that he saw was the White Cobra striking furiously with
his harmless fangs at the stolid golden faces of the gods that
lay on the floor, and hissing, "It is Death!"

They were glad to get to the light of day once more; and when
they were back in their own Jungle and Mowgli made the ankus
glitter in the morning light, he was almost as pleased as though
he had found a bunch of new flowers to stick in his hair.

"This is brighter than Bagheera's eyes," he said delightedly,
as he twirled the ruby. "I will show it to him; but what did
the Thuu mean when he talked of death?"

"I cannot say. I am sorrowful to my tail's tail that he felt
not thy knife. There is always evil at Cold Lairs--above ground
or below. But now I am hungry. Dost thou hunt with me this
dawn?" said Kaa.

"No; Bagheera must see this thing. Good hunting!" Mowgli danced
off, flourishing the great ankus, and stopping from time to time
to admire it, till he came to that part of the Jungle Bagheera
chiefly used, and found him drinking after a heavy kill. Mowgli
told him all his adventures from beginning to end, and Bagheera
sniffed at the ankus between whiles. When Mowgli came to the
White Cobra's last words, the Panther purred approvingly.

"Then the White Hood spoke the thing which is?" Mowgli
asked quickly.

"I was born in the King's cages at Oodeypore, and it is in my
stomach that I know some little of Man. Very many men would kill
thrice in a night for the sake of that one big red stone alone."

"But the stone makes it heavy to the hand. My little bright
knife is better; and--see! the red stone is not good to eat. Then
WHY would they kill?"

"Mowgli, go thou and sleep. Thou hast lived among men, and----"

"I remember. Men kill because they are not hunting;--for
idleness and pleasure. Wake again, Bagheera. For what use was
this thorn-pointed thing made?"

Bagheera half opened his eyes--he was very sleepy--with a
malicious twinkle.

"It was made by men to thrust into the head of the sons of
Hathi, so that the blood should pour out. I have seen the like
in the street of Oodeypore, before our cages. That thing has
tasted the blood of many such as Hathi."

"But why do they thrust into the heads of elephants?"

"To teach them Man's Law. Having neither claws nor teeth,
men make these things--and worse."

"Always more blood when I come near, even to the things the
Man-Pack have made," said Mowgli disgustedly. He was getting a
little tired of the weight of the ankus. "If I had known this,
I would not have taken it. First it was Messua's blood on the
thongs, and now it is Hathi's. I will use it no more. Look!"

The ankus flew sparkling, and buried itself point down thirty
yards away, between the trees. "So my hands are clean of Death,"
said Mowgli, rubbing his palms on the fresh, moist earth.
"The Thuu said Death would follow me. He is old and white
and mad."

"White or black, or death or life, _I_ am going to sleep,
Little Brother. I cannot hunt all night and howl all day, as
do some folk."

Bagheera went off to a hunting-lair that he knew, about two
miles off. Mowgli made an easy way for himself up a convenient
tree, knotted three or four creepers together, and in less time
than it takes to tell was swinging in a hammock fifty feet above
ground. Though he had no positive objection to strong daylight,
Mowgli followed the custom of his friends, and used it as little
as he could. When he waked among the very loud-voiced peoples
that live in the trees, it was twilight once more, and he had
been dreaming of the beautiful pebbles he had thrown away.

"At least I will look at the thing again," he said, and slid
down a creeper to the earth; but Bagheera was before him.
Mowgli could hear him snuffing in the half light.

"Where is the thorn-pointed thing?" cried Mowgli.

"A man has taken it. Here is the trail."

"Now we shall see whether the Thuu spoke truth. If the pointed
thing is Death, that man will die. Let us follow."

"Kill first," said Bagheera. "An empty stomach makes a careless
eye. Men go very slowly, and the Jungle is wet enough to hold
the lightest mark."

They killed as soon as they could, but it was nearly three hours
before they finished their meat and drink and buckled down to
the trail. The Jungle People know that nothing makes up for
being hurried over your meals.

"Think you the pointed thing will turn in the man's hand and
kill him?" Mowgli asked. "The Thuu said it was Death."

"We shall see when we find," said Bagheera, trotting with his
head low. "It is single-foot" (he meant that there was only one
man), "and the weight of the thing has pressed his heel far into
the ground."

"Hai! This is as clear as summer lightning," Mowgli answered;
and they fell into the quick, choppy trail-trot in and out
through the checkers of the moonlight, following the marks of
those two bare feet.

"Now he runs swiftly," said Mowgli. "The toes are spread
apart." They went on over some wet ground. "Now why does
he turn aside here?"

"Wait!" said Bagheera, and flung himself forward with one
superb bound as far as ever he could. The first thing to do
when a trail ceases to explain itself is to cast forward
without leaving, your own confusing foot-marks on the ground.
Bagheera turned as he landed, and faced Mowgli, crying,
"Here comes another trail to meet him. It is a smaller foot,
this second trail, and the toes turn inward."

Then Mowgli ran up and looked. "It is the foot of a Gond
hunter," he said. "Look! Here he dragged his bow on the grass.
That is why the first trail turned aside so quickly. Big Foot
hid from Little Foot."

"That is true," said Bagheera. "Now, lest by crossing each
other's tracks we foul the signs, let each take one trail.
I am Big Foot, Little Brother, and thou art Little Foot,
the Gond."

Bagheera leaped back to the original trail, leaving Mowgli
stooping above the curious narrow track of the wild little man
of the woods.

"Now," said Bagheera, moving step by step along the chain of
footprints, "I, Big Foot, turn aside here. Now I hide me behind
a rock and stand still," not daring to shift my feet. Cry thy
trail, Little Brother."

"Now, I, Little Foot, come to the rock," said Mowgli, running up
his trail. "Now, I sit down under the rock, leaning upon my
right hand, and resting my bow between my toes. I wait long, for
the mark of my feet is deep here."

"I also, said Bagheera, hidden behind the rock. I wait,
resting the end of the thorn-pointed thing upon a stone.
It slips, for here is a scratch upon the stone. Cry thy trail,
Little Brother."

"One, two twigs and a big branch are broken here," said Mowgli,
in an undertone. "Now, how shall I cry THAT? Ah! It is plain
now. I, Little Foot, go away making noises and tramplings so
that Big Foot may hear me." He moved away from the rock pace by
pace among the trees, his voice rising in the distance as he
approached a little cascade. "I--go--far--away--to--where--the--
noise--of--falling-water--covers--my--noise; and--here--I--wait.
Cry thy trail, Bagheera, Big Foot!"

The panther had been casting in every direction to see how Big
Foot's trail led away from behind the rock. Then he gave tongue:

"I come from behind the rock upon my knees, dragging the thorn-
pointed thing. Seeing no one, I run. I, Big Foot, run swiftly.
The trail is clear. Let each follow his own. I run!"

Bagheera swept on along the clearly-marked trail, and Mowgli
followed the steps of the Gond. For some time there was silence
in the Jungle.

"Where art thou, Little Foot?" cried Bagheera. Mowgli's voice
answered him not fifty yards to the right.

"Um!" said the Panther, with a deep cough. "The two run side by
side, drawing nearer!"

They raced on another half-mile, always keeping about the same
distance, till Mowgli, whose head was not so close to the ground
as Bagheera's, cried: "They have met. Good hunting--look!
Here stood Little Foot, with his knee on a rock--and yonder
is Big Foot indeed!"

Not ten yards in front of them, stretched across a pile of
broken rocks, lay the body of a villager of the district,
a long, small-feathered Gond arrow through his back and breast.

"Was the Thuu so old and so mad, Little Brother?" said Bagheera
gently. "Here is one death, at least."

"Follow on. But where is the drinker of elephant's blood--the
red-eyed thorn?"

"Little Foot has it--perhaps. It is single-foot again now."

The single trail of a light man who had been running quickly
and bearing a burden on his left shoulder held on round a long,
low spur of dried grass, where each footfall seemed, to the
sharp eyes of the trackers, marked in hot iron.

Neither spoke till the trail ran up to the ashes of a camp-fire
hidden in a ravine.

"Again!" said Bagheera, checking as though he had been turned
into stone.

The body of a little wizened Gond lay with its feet in the
ashes, and Bagheera looked inquiringly at Mowgli.

"That was done with a bamboo," said the boy, after one glance.
"I have used such a thing among the buffaloes when I served in
the Man-Pack. The Father of Cobras--I am sorrowful that I made a
jest of him--knew the breed well, as I might have known. Said I
not that men kill for idleness?"

"Indeed, they killed for the sake of the red and blue
stones," Bagheera answered. "Remember, I was in the King's
cages at Oodeypore."

"One, two, three, four tracks," said Mowgli, stooping over the
ashes. "Four tracks of men with shod feet. They do not go so
quickly as Gonds. Now, what evil had the little woodman done to
them? See, they talked together, all five, standing up, before
they killed him. Bagheera, let us go back. My stomach is heavy
in me, and yet it heaves up and down like an oriole's nest at
the end of a branch."

"It is not good hunting to leave game afoot. Follow!" said the
panther. "Those eight shod feet have not gone far."

No more was said for fully an hour, as they worked up the broad
trail of the four men with shod feet.

It was clear, hot daylight now, and Bagheera said,
"I smell smoke."

Men are always more ready to eat than to run, Mowgli answered,
trotting in and out between the low scrub bushes of the new
Jungle they were exploring. Bagheera, a little to his left,
made an indescribable noise in his throat.

"Here is one that has done with feeding," said he. A tumbled
bundle of gay-coloured clothes lay under a bush, and round it
was some spilt flour.

"That was done by the bamboo again," said Mowgli. " See! that
white dust is what men eat. They have taken the kill from this
one,--he carried their food,--and given him for a kill to Chil,
the Kite."

"It is the third," said Bagheera.

"I will go with new, big frogs to the Father of Cobras, and feed
him fat," said Mowgli to himself. "The drinker of elephant's
blood is Death himself--but still I do not understand!"

"Follow!" said Bagheera.

They had not gone half a mile farther when they heard Ko,
the Crow, singing the death-song in the top of a tamarisk under
whose shade three men were lying. A half-dead fire smoked in the
centre of the circle, under an iron plate which held a blackened
and burned cake of unleavened bread. Close to the fire, and
blazing in the sunshine, lay the ruby-and-turquoise ankus.

"The thing works quickly; all ends here," said Bagheera.
"How did THESE die, Mowgli? There is no mark on any."

A Jungle-dweller gets to learn by experience as much as many
doctors know of poisonous plants and berries. Mowgli sniffed the
smoke that came up from the fire, broke off a morsel of the
blackened bread, tasted it, and spat it out again.

"Apple of Death," he coughed. "The first must have made it
ready in the food for THESE, who killed him, having first
killed the Gond."

"Good hunting, indeed! The kills follow close," said Bagheera.

"Apple of Death" is what the Jungle call thorn-apple or dhatura,
the readiest poison in all India.

"What now?" said the panther. "Must thou and I kill each other
for yonder red-eyed slayer?"

"Can it speak?" said Mowgli in a whisper. Did I do it a wrong
when I threw it away? Between us two it can do no wrong, for we
do not desire what men desire. If it be left here, it will
assuredly continue to kill men one after another as fast as nuts
fall in a high wind. I have no love to men, but even I would not
have them die six in a night."

"What matter? They are only men. They killed one another, and
were well pleased," said Bagheera. "That first little woodman
hunted well."

"They are cubs none the less; and a cub will drown himself to
bite the moon's light on the water. The fault was mine," said
Mowgli, who spoke as though he knew all about everything.
"I will never again bring into the Jungle strange things--not
though they be as beautiful as flowers. This"--he handled the
ankus gingerly--"goes back to the Father of Cobras. But first
we must sleep, and we cannot sleep near these sleepers. Also we
must bury HIM, lest he run away and kill another six. Dig me a
hole under that tree."

"But, Little Brother," said Bagheera, moving off to the spot,
"I tell thee it is no fault of the blood-drinker. The trouble
is with the men."

"All one," said Mowgli. "Dig the hole deep. When we wake I will
take him up and carry him back."

.....

Two nights later, as the White Cobra sat mourning in the
darkness of the vault, ashamed, and robbed, and alone,
the turquoise ankus whirled through the hole in the wall,
and clashed on the floor of golden coins.

"Father of Cobras," said Mowgli (he was careful to keep the
other side of the wall), "get thee a young and ripe one of thine
own people to help thee guard the King's Treasure, so that no
man may come away alive any more."

"Ah-ha! It returns, then. I said the thing was Death. How comes
it that thou art still alive?" the old Cobra mumbled, twining
lovingly round the ankus-haft.

"By the Bull that bought me, I do not know! That thing has
killed six times in a night. Let him go out no more."




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