One very warm evening in the Seeonee hills in Southern India, Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest. Next to him lay Mother Wolf, with their four cubs beside her.
‘It’s time to look for food,’ said Father Wolf, and he stood up to leave the cave.
‘Good luck,’ said a voice. It was the jackal, Tabaqui, who eats everything and anything, even pieces of old clothes from the villages. The wolves of India do not like him, because he runs around making trouble and telling bad stories about them.
‘Shere Khan, the tiger, is coming to look for food here,’ said Tabaqui.
‘He can’t,’ cried Father Wolf. ‘By the Law of the Jungle he must tell us first, before he comes here to hunt.’
‘Shere Khan has a bad leg, so he can kill only cows. In the village near him the people are angry. That is why he is coming here — to start hunting in a new place. Listen, you can hear him now,’ said Tabaqui.
‘He is a stupid animal,’ said Father Wolf, and he listened to the angry noise of a tiger who has not eaten. ‘No one will find anything to eat in the jungle now.’
‘But Shere Khan is hunting man, not animal, tonight,’ said Tabaqui.
The Law of the Jungle says that animals must not hunt man, because man-killing brings men with guns. Then everybody in the jungle is in danger.
Father and Mother Wolf listened to Shere Khan in the jungle not far away. Then, suddenly, they heard a noise much nearer to them.
‘It’s a man. A man’s cub. Look!’ said Father Wolf. And there in front of them stood a baby who could just walk. He looked up at Father Wolf and laughed.
‘Is that a man’s cub?’ asked Mother Wolf. ‘I have never seen one. Bring it here.’
The baby, small and with no clothes, pushed its way between the cubs to get near to Mother Wolf. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘he is taking his meal with the others.’
‘I have heard that this has happened before,’ said
Father Wolf, ‘but I have never seen it until now. Look at him. He is not afraid.’
Suddenly, it was dark, and Shere Khan was pushing his great head in through the mouth of the cave.
‘We are pleased that you visit us, Shere Khan,’ said Father Wolf, but his eyes were angry. ‘What do you need?’
‘I am hunting a man’s cub,’ said Shere Khan. ‘It’s father and mother have run away. Give it to me.’
Father Wolf knew that Shere Khan could not get inside the cave because he was too big.
‘The man’s cub belongs to us,’ he said. ‘The Pack — the other wolves and I — will decide. If we want to kill him, we will kill him, not you.’
‘The man’s cub belongs to me! It is I, Shere Khan, who speaks!’ And Shere Khan’s roar filled the cave with noise.
‘No!’ came the angry voice of Mother Wolf. ‘The man’s cub belongs to me! We will not kill him. He will live, to run with the other wolves, to be my son. Now go away, fish-killer, eater of cubs! Go!’
Shere Khan went. He knew that he could not fight Mother Wolf in the cave. ‘But I will have this man-cub one day, you thieves!’ he shouted from the jungle.
‘Do you really want to keep him, Mother?’ said Father Wolf.
‘Keep him?’ said Mother Wolf. ‘Yes. He came here by night, alone and hungry, but he was not afraid.
‘Yes, I will keep him. And I will call him Mowgli, the frog.’
‘But what will the other wolves of the Pack say?’
By the Law of the Jungle all wolf-cubs must come to the Pack when they can walk.
The wolves look at the cubs carefully.
Then the cubs are free to run anywhere because all the adult wolves know them and will not attack them.
When the four wolf-cubs could run a little, Father Wolf took them and Mowgli and Mother Wolf to the Meeting Rock. Here, the hundred wolves of the Wolf-Pack met every month when the moon was full.
The leader of the Pack was Akela, a great grey wolf. Each new wolf-cub came to stand in front of him and Akela said, ‘Look well, O Wolves. Look well!’
At the end, Father Wolf pushed Mowgli into the circle of wolves. Then from the trees outside the circle they heard the voice of Shere Khan.
‘The man-cub belongs to me. Give him to me!’
Akela did not move but said only, ‘Look well! Who speaks for this man-cub? Two voices, who are not his father and mother, must speak for him.’
There is only one other animal who can come to these wolf-meetings — Baloo, the sleepy brown bear. His job is to teach the Law of the Jungle to the wolf-cubs.
‘I speak for the man-cub,’ came Baloo’s deep voice. ‘Let him run with the Pack. I myself will teach him.’
‘We need another voice to speak for him,’ said Akela. Silently, another animal jumped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the panther, black as the night, clever, strong, and dangerous.
‘O Akela, will you let me speak?’ said Bagheera softly. ‘The Law of the Jungle says it is possible to buy the life of a cub. It is bad to kill a man-cub. He cannot hurt you. Let him live with you, and I will give you a fat cow, newly killed, which lies in the jungle not far away.’ The voices of the wolves replied, ‘Let him live.’ They were always hungry and they wanted to get the dead cow. Soon they went away, and there were only Akela, Bagheera, Baloo, and Mowgli’s wolf family left. They could hear the angry roars of Shere Khan in the night.
‘It is good,’ said Akela. ‘Men are clever. Perhaps this man-cub will help us when he is older. Take him away,’ he said to Father Wolf, ‘and teach him well.’
And so, because of Baloo’s good word and the present of a cow, Mowgli now belonged to the Seeonee Wolf-Pack.
The story of Mowgli’s life among the wolves fills many books, but we must jump ten or eleven years now. Father Wolf, Baloo, and Bagheera taught Mowgli well, and he learnt everything about the jungle. He knew the meaning of every sound in the trees, of every song of the birds, of every splash in the water. He learnt to climb trees like a monkey, to swim in the rivers like a fish, and to hunt for his food as cleverly as any animal in the jungle.