The fight at the rock
Mowgli always went to the meetings of the Wolf-Pack, and there he learnt something new one day. If he looked hard at any wolf, the wolf could not meet his eyes and looked away. Mowgli thought this was funny; he did not understand that he was different from the wolves.
All the Jungle-People were his friends — but not Shere Khan, of course. Mother Wolf told him that the tiger wanted to kill him. ‘One day you must kill Shere Khan. If you don’t kill him, he will kill you.’ But Mowgli forgot. He was only a boy, not a wolf.
Shere Khan still came often to that part of the jungle. Akela was older now and not so strong, and Shere Khan made friends with some of the younger wolves. Akela could not stop them, and Shere Khan began to make trouble for Mowgli. ‘I hear you can’t look into the man-cub’s eyes,’ he said, laughing, to the young wolves. And the young wolves began to get angry.
Bagheera, who had eyes and ears everywhere, knew something of this and told Mowgli. Mowgli laughed, but Bagheera went on, ‘Open your eyes, Little Brother. Remember that Akela is old and he will not always be the leader of the Pack. Shere Khan has taught the younger wolves that a man-cub has no place with them. And soon you will be a man, not a man-cub.’
‘But the wolves are my brothers. Why will they want to send me away?’
‘Look at me,’ said Bagheera, and Mowgli looked at him hard between the eyes. The big black cat turned his head away quickly. ‘That is why,’ he said. ‘Not even I can look in your eyes. That is why they want to kill you. You are clever. You are a man.’
‘I did not know these things,’ said Mowgli quietly. ‘Now listen. The day will soon come when Akela cannot kill his deer in the hunt. Then at the next meeting of the Pack the younger wolves will be against Akela and against you. When that time comes, go to the men’s houses in the village and take some of their Red Flower. That will be a stronger friend to you than I or Baloo.’ The Red Flower was fire. All animals are afraid of it and do not call it by its name. ‘I will get some,’ said Mowgli. ‘I will go and get it now, and keep it ready,’ and he ran through the jungle to the village.
On his way he heard the sounds of the Wolf-Pack hunting a big deer. ‘Show us that you are strong, Akela,’ came the voices of the young wolves. ‘Kill it!’
Mowgli stopped and listened, and he could hear that Akela did not kill the deer. ‘So the time has come already,’ he thought, and hurried to the village. He watched and waited, and soon he saw a child who was carrying a fire-pot. Mowgli jumped up, took the pot from him, and quickly ran away, back to the jungle. All that day he kept his fire alive with leaves and pieces of wood.
In the evening Tabaqui came and told him that the wolves wanted him at the meeting. Mowgli laughed, and went. When he arrived, he saw that Akela was not in his special place, on top of the rock, but beside it. That meant that another wolf could try to take Akela’s place. Shere Khan was there, too, with all the younger wolves around him. Mowgli sat down, with the fire-pot between his legs. Bagheera lay beside him.
Shere Khan began to speak and Mowgli jumped up.
‘Free People, is Shere Khan your leader? Does a tiger belong in the Wolf-Pack?’
‘There is no wolf on the rock,’ began Shere Khan, but the other wolves said, ‘Let Akela speak.’
Akela looked up, old and tired. ‘Free People, I have been your leader for many years. In all that time no wolf has died in the hunt. But this time I did not kill my deer. The Law of the Jungle says that you can kill me now, but the Law also says that you must come one by one.’ No one spoke. Akela was old, but nobody wanted to fight Akela alone.
Then Shere Khan spoke. ‘Bah! This old wolf is not important. He will die soon. It is the man-cub who has lived too long. Give him to me.’
‘A man! A man!’ cried most of the younger wolves angrily. ‘A man does not belong in the Wolf-Pack.’
‘Mowgli is our brother,’ said Akela. ‘He has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has done nothing wrong. Let him go to his own place.’
‘He is a man,’ cried Shere Khan and most of the wolves.
Mowgli stood up, the fire-pot in his hands. He was very angry, and very sad.
‘You have said many times that I am a man. I was your brother, but I will not call you my brothers again. I will decide on my life or my death, not you. I am a man, and to show you, I have brought the Red Flower with me.’
He dropped the fire-pot on the ground and some of the fire fell out. The wolves were very afraid and moved back. Mowgli held a long piece of wood in the fire and the end began to burn brightly.
‘You are the leader now,’ said Bagheera softly. ‘Help Akela. He was always your friend.’
‘Good,’ said Mowgli. He looked at the frightened wolves. ‘I go from you to my people — the world of men. But first…’ and Mowgli went to Shere Khan. ‘This killer of cows wanted to kill me. This is what men do to killers of cows,’ and he hit Shere Khan on the head with the burning stick. The tiger was very frightened.
‘Go now,’ said Mowgli to Shere Khan. ‘The next time I come to this rock, it will be with your dead body. I tell you this also, my brothers, you will not kill Akela — because I do not want that. Akela is free to live.’
And Mowgli jumped at the young wolves with his burning stick and they all ran away. In the end there were only Akela, Bagheera, and a few older wolves left. Then something began to hurt Mowgli inside him and, for the first time in his life, tears ran down his face.
‘What is it? What is it? Am I dying, Bagheera?’
‘No, Little Brother. You are a man, and these are men’s tears. But you must go — the jungle is closed to you now.’
‘Yes,’ said Mowgli. ‘I will go to men. But first I must say goodbye to my mother.’ And he went to the cave and cried on Mother Wolf’s coat.
‘You will not forget me?’ Mowgli said to his wolf-family.
‘Never,’ said his wolf-brothers. ‘Come to the foot of the hill when you are a man, and we will talk with you.’
‘Come soon, little frog,’ said Father Wolf, ‘because your Mother and I are getting old.’
‘I will surely come,’ said Mowgli, ‘and I will bring the coat of Shere Khan and put it on the Meeting Rock.’ And in the morning Mowgli went down the hill alone to meet those strange things that are called men.