Kaa’s Hunting

kaas hunting open

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All that is told here happened some time before Mowgli was turned out of the Seeonee Wolf Pack, or revenged himself on Shere Khan the tiger. It was in the days when Baloo was teaching him the Law of the Jungle. The big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil, for the young wolves will only learn as much of the Law of the Jungle as applies to their own pack and tribe, and run away as soon as they can repeat the Hunting Verse –“Feet that make no noise; eyes that can see in the dark; ears that can hear the winds in their lairs, and sharp white teeth, all these things are the marks of our brothers except Tabaqui the Jackal and the Hyaena whom we hate.” But Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a great deal more than this. Sometimes Bagheera the Black Panther would come lounging through the jungle to see how his pet was getting on, and would purr with his head against a tree while Mowgli recited the day’s lesson to Baloo. The boy could climb almost as well as he could swim, and swim almost as well as he could run. So Baloo, the Teacher of the Law, taught him the Wood and Water Laws: how to tell a rotten branch from a sound one; how to speak politely to the wild bees when he came upon a hive of them fifty feet above ground; what to say to Mang the Bat when he disturbed him in the branches at midday; and how to warn the water-snakes in the pools before he splashed down among them. None of the Jungle People like being disturbed, and all are very ready to fly at an intruder. Then, too, Mowgli was taught the Strangers’ Hunting Call, which must be repeated aloud till it is answered, whenever one of the Jungle-People hunts outside his own grounds. It means, translated, “Give me leave to hunt here because I am hungry.” And the answer is, “Hunt then for food, but not for pleasure.”

All this will show you how much Mowgli had to learn by heart, and he grew very tired of saying the same thing over a hundred times. But, as Baloo said to Bagheera, one day when Mowgli had been cuffed and run off in a temper, “A man’s cub is a man’s cub, and he must learn all the Law of the Jungle.”

“But think how small he is,” said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. “How can his little head carry all thy long talk?”

“Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets.”

“Softly! What dost thou know of softness, old Iron-feet?” Bagheera grunted. “His face is all bruised today by thy–softness. Ugh.”

“Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance,” Baloo answered very earnestly. “I am now teaching him the Master Words of the Jungle that shall protect him with the birds and the Snake People, and all that hunt on four feet, except his own pack. He can now claim protection, if he will only remember the words, from all in the jungle. Is not that worth a little beating?”

“Well, look to it then that thou dost not kill the man-cub. He is no tree trunk to sharpen thy blunt claws upon. But what are those Master Words? I am more likely to give help than to ask it”–Bagheera stretched out one paw and admired the steel-blue, ripping-chisel talons at the end of it–“still I should like to know.”

“I will call Mowgli and he shall say them–if he will. Come, Little Brother!”

“My head is ringing like a bee tree,” said a sullen little voice over their heads, and Mowgli slid down a tree trunk very angry and indignant, adding as he reached the ground: “I come for Bagheera and not for thee, fat old Baloo!”

“That is all one to me,” said Baloo, though he was hurt and grieved. “Tell Bagheera, then, the Master Words of the Jungle that I have taught thee this day.”

“Master Words for which people?” said Mowgli, delighted to show off. “The jungle has many tongues. I know them all.”

“A little thou knowest, but not much. See, O Bagheera, they never thank their teacher. Not one small wolfling has ever come back to thank old Baloo for his teachings. Say the word for the Hunting-People, then–great scholar.”

“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli, giving the words the Bear accent which all the Hunting People use.

“Good. Now for the birds.”

Mowgli repeated, with the Kite’s whistle at the end of the sentence.

“Now for the Snake-People,” said Bagheera.

The answer was a perfectly indescribable hiss, and Mowgli kicked up his feet behind, clapped his hands together to applaud himself, and jumped on to Bagheera’s back, where he sat sideways, drumming with his heels on the glossy skin and making the worst faces he could think of at Baloo.

“There–there! That was worth a little bruise,” said the brown bear tenderly. “Some day thou wilt remember me.” Then he turned aside to tell Bagheera how he had begged the Master Words from Hathi the Wild Elephant, who knows all about these things, and how Hathi had taken Mowgli down to a pool to get the Snake Word from a water-snake, because Baloo could not pronounce it, and how Mowgli was now reasonably safe against all accidents in the jungle, because neither snake, bird, nor beast would hurt him.

“No one then is to be feared,” Baloo wound up, patting his big furry stomach with pride.

“Except his own tribe,” said Bagheera, under his breath; and then aloud to Mowgli, “Have a care for my ribs, Little Brother! What is all this dancing up and down?”

Mowgli had been trying to make himself heard by pulling at Bagheera’s shoulder fur and kicking hard. When the two listened to him he was shouting at the top of his voice, “And so I shall have a tribe of my own, and lead them through the branches all day long.”

“What is this new folly, little dreamer of dreams?” said Bagheera.

“Yes, and throw branches and dirt at old Baloo,” Mowgli went on. “They have promised me this. Ah!”

“Whoof!” Baloo’s big paw scooped Mowgli off Bagheera’s back, and as the boy lay between the big fore-paws he could see the Bear was angry.

“Mowgli,” said Baloo, “thou hast been talking with the Bandar-log–the Monkey People.”

Mowgli looked at Bagheera to see if the Panther was angry too, and Bagheera’s eyes were as hard as jade stones.

“Thou hast been with the Monkey People–the gray apes–the people without a law–the eaters of everything. That is great shame.”

“When Baloo hurt my head,” said Mowgli (he was still on his back), “I went away, and the gray apes came down from the trees and had pity on me. No one else cared.” He snuffled a little.

“The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted. “The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun! And then, man-cub?”

“And then, and then, they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they–they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood brother except that I had no tail, and should be their leader some day.”

“They have no leader,” said Bagheera. “They lie. They have always lied.”

“They were very kind and bade me come again. Why have I never been taken among the Monkey People? They stand on their feet as I do. They do not hit me with their hard paws. They play all day. Let me get up! Bad Baloo, let me up! I will play with them again.”

“Listen, man-cub,” said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast thou ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?”

“No,” said Mowgli in a whisper, for the forest was very still now Baloo had finished.

“The Jungle-People put them out of their mouths and out of their minds. They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”

He had hardly spoken when a shower of nuts and twigs spattered down through the branches; and they could hear coughings and howlings and angry jumpings high up in the air among the thin branches.

“The Monkey-People are forbidden,” said Baloo, “forbidden to the Jungle-People. Remember.”

“Forbidden,” said Bagheera, “but I still think Baloo should have warned thee against them.”

“I–I? How was I to guess he would play with such dirt. The Monkey People! Faugh!”

A fresh shower came down on their heads and the two trotted away, taking Mowgli with them. What Baloo had said about the monkeys was perfectly true. They belonged to the tree-tops, and as beasts very seldom look up, there was no occasion for the monkeys and the Jungle-People to cross each other’s path. But whenever they found a sick wolf, or a wounded tiger, or bear, the monkeys would torment him, and would throw sticks and nuts at any beast for fun and in the hope of being noticed. Then they would howl and shriek senseless songs, and invite the Jungle-People to climb up their trees and fight them, or would start furious battles over nothing among themselves, and leave the dead monkeys where the Jungle-People could see them. They were always just going to have a leader, and laws and customs of their own, but they never did, because their memories would not hold over from day to day, and so they compromised things by making up a saying, “What the Bandar-log think now the jungle will think later,” and that comforted them a great deal. None of the beasts could reach them, but on the other hand none of the beasts would notice them, and that was why they were so pleased when Mowgli came to play with them, and they heard how angry Baloo was.

They never meant to do any more–the Bandar-log never mean anything at all; but one of them invented what seemed to him a brilliant idea, and he told all the others that Mowgli would be a useful person to keep in the tribe, because he could weave sticks together for protection from the wind; so, if they caught him, they could make him teach them. Of course Mowgli, as a woodcutter’s child, inherited all sorts of instincts, and used to make little huts of fallen branches without thinking how he came to do it. The Monkey-People, watching in the trees, considered his play most wonderful. This time, they said, they were really going to have a leader and become the wisest people in the jungle–so wise that everyone else would notice and envy them. Therefore they followed Baloo and Bagheera and Mowgli through the jungle very quietly till it was time for the midday nap, and Mowgli, who was very much ashamed of himself, slept between the Panther and the Bear, resolving to have no more to do with the Monkey People.

The next thing he remembered was feeling hands on his legs and arms–hard, strong, little hands–and then a swash of branches in his face, and then he was staring down through the swaying boughs as Baloo woke the jungle with his deep cries and Bagheera bounded up the trunk with every tooth bared. The Bandar-log howled with triumph and scuffled away to the upper branches where Bagheera dared not follow, shouting: “He has noticed us! Bagheera has noticed us. All the Jungle-People admire us for our skill and our cunning.” Then they began their flight; and the flight of the Monkey-People through tree-land is one of the things nobody can describe. They have their regular roads and crossroads, up hills and down hills, all laid out from fifty to seventy or a hundred feet above ground, and by these they can travel even at night if necessary. Two of the strongest monkeys caught Mowgli under the arms and swung off with him through the treetops, twenty feet at a bound. Had they been alone they could have gone twice as fast, but the boy’s weight held them back. Sick and giddy as Mowgli was he could not help enjoying the wild rush, though the glimpses of earth far down below frightened him, and the terrible check and jerk at the end of the swing over nothing but empty air brought his heart between his teeth. His escort would rush him up a tree till he felt the thinnest topmost branches crackle and bend under them, and then with a cough and a whoop would fling themselves into the air outward and downward, and bring up, hanging by their hands or their feet to the lower limbs of the next tree. Sometimes he could see for miles and miles across the still green jungle, as a man on the top of a mast can see for miles across the sea, and then the branches and leaves would lash him across the face, and he and his two guards would be almost down to earth again. So, bounding and crashing and whooping and yelling, the whole tribe of Bandar-log swept along the tree-roads with Mowgli their prisoner.

For a time he was afraid of being dropped. Then he grew angry but knew better than to struggle, and then he began to think. The first thing was to send back word to Baloo and Bagheera, for, at the pace the monkeys were going, he knew his friends would be left far behind. It was useless to look down, for he could only see the topsides of the branches, so he stared upward and saw, far away in the blue, Rann the Kite balancing and wheeling as he kept watch over the jungle waiting for things to die. Rann saw that the monkeys were carrying something, and dropped a few hundred yards to find out whether their load was good to eat. He whistled with surprise when he saw Mowgli being dragged up to a treetop and heard him give the Kite call for–“We be of one blood, thou and I.” The waves of the branches closed over the boy, but Chil balanced away to the next tree in time to see the little brown face come up again. “Mark my trail!” Mowgli shouted. “Tell Baloo of the Seeonee Pack and Bagheera of the Council Rock.”

“In whose name, Brother?” Rann had never seen Mowgli before, though of course he had heard of him.

“Mowgli, the Frog. Man-cub they call me! Mark my tra-il!”

The last words were shrieked as he was being swung through the air, but Rann nodded and rose up till he looked no bigger than a speck of dust, and there he hung, watching with his telescope eyes the swaying of the treetops as Mowgli’s escort whirled along.

“They never go far,” he said with a chuckle. “They never do what they set out to do. Always pecking at new things are the Bandar-log. This time, if I have any eye-sight, they have pecked down trouble for themselves, for Baloo is no fledgling and Bagheera can, as I know, kill more than goats.”

So he rocked on his wings, his feet gathered up under him, and waited.

Meantime, Baloo and Bagheera were furious with rage and grief. Bagheera climbed as he had never climbed before, but the thin branches broke beneath his weight, and he slipped down, his claws full of bark.

“Why didst thou not warn the man-cub?” he roared to poor Baloo, who had set off at a clumsy trot in the hope of overtaking the monkeys. “What was the use of half slaying him with blows if thou didst not warn him?”

“Haste! O haste! We–we may catch them yet!” Baloo panted.

“At that speed! It would not tire a wounded cow. Teacher of the Law–cub-beater–a mile of that rolling to and fro would burst thee open. Sit still and think! Make a plan. This is no time for chasing. They may drop him if we follow too close.”

“Arrula! Whoo! They may have dropped him already, being tired of carrying him. Who can trust the Bandar-log? Put dead bats on my head! Give me black bones to eat! Roll me into the hives of the wild bees that I may be stung to death, and bury me with the Hyaena, for I am most miserable of bears! Arulala! Wahooa! O Mowgli, Mowgli! Why did I not warn thee against the Monkey-Folk instead of breaking thy head? Now perhaps I may have knocked the day’s lesson out of his mind, and he will be alone in the jungle without the Master Words.”

Baloo clasped his paws over his ears and rolled to and fro moaning.

“At least he gave me all the Words correctly a little time ago,” said Bagheera impatiently. “Baloo, thou hast neither memory nor respect. What would the jungle think if I, the Black Panther, curled myself up like Ikki the Porcupine, and howled?”

“What do I care what the jungle thinks? He may be dead by now.”

“Unless and until they drop him from the branches in sport, or kill him out of idleness, I have no fear for the man-cub. He is wise and well taught, and above all he has the eyes that make the Jungle-People afraid. But (and it is a great evil) he is in the power of the Bandar-log, and they, because they live in trees, have no fear of any of our people.” Bagheera licked one forepaw thoughtfully.

“Fool that I am! Oh, fat, brown, root-digging fool that I am,” said Baloo, uncoiling himself with a jerk, “it is true what Hathi the Wild Elephant says: ‘To each his own fear’; and they, the Bandar-log, fear Kaa the Rock Snake. He can climb as well as they can. He steals the young monkeys in the night. The whisper of his name makes their wicked tails cold. Let us go to Kaa.”

“What will he do for us? He is not of our tribe, being footless–and with most evil eyes,” said Bagheera.

“He is very old and very cunning. Above all, he is always hungry,” said Baloo hopefully. “Promise him many goats.”

“He sleeps for a full month after he has once eaten. He may be asleep now, and even were he awake what if he would rather kill his own goats?” Bagheera, who did not know much about Kaa, was naturally suspicious.

“Then in that case, thou and I together, old hunter, might make him see reason.” Here Baloo rubbed his faded brown shoulder against the Panther, and they went off to look for Kaa the Rock Python.

They found him stretched out on a warm ledge in the afternoon sun, admiring his beautiful new coat, for he had been in retirement for the last ten days changing his skin, and now he was very splendid–darting his big blunt-nosed head along the ground, and twisting the thirty feet of his body into fantastic knots and curves, and licking his lips as he thought of his dinner to come.

“He has not eaten,” said Baloo, with a grunt of relief, as soon as he saw the beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket. “Be careful, Bagheera! He is always a little blind after he has changed his skin, and very quick to strike.”

Kaa was not a poison snake–in fact he rather despised the poison snakes as cowards–but his strength lay in his hug, and when he had once lapped his huge coils round anybody there was no more to be said. “Good hunting!” cried Baloo, sitting up on his haunches. Like all snakes of his breed Kaa was rather deaf, and did not hear the call at first. Then he curled up ready for any accident, his head lowered.

“Good hunting for us all,” he answered. “Oho, Baloo, what dost thou do here? Good hunting, Bagheera. One of us at least needs food. Is there any news of game afoot? A doe now, or even a young buck? I am as empty as a dried well.”

“We are hunting,” said Baloo carelessly. He knew that you must not hurry Kaa. He is too big.
“Give me permission to come with you,” said Kaa. “A blow more or less is nothing to thee, Bagheera or Baloo, but I–I have to wait and wait for days in a wood-path and climb half a night on the mere chance of a young ape. Psshaw! The branches are not what they were when I was young. Rotten twigs and dry boughs are they all.”

“Maybe thy great weight has something to do with the matter,” said Baloo.

“I am a fair length–a fair length,” said Kaa with a little pride. “But for all that, it is the fault of this new-grown timber. I came very near to falling on my last hunt–very near indeed–and the noise of my slipping, for my tail was not tight wrapped around the tree, waked the Bandar-log, and they called me most evil names.”

“Footless, yellow earth-worm,” said Bagheera under his whiskers, as though he were trying to remember something.

“Sssss! Have they ever called me that?” said Kaa.

“Something of that kind it was that they shouted to us last moon, but we never noticed them. They will say anything–even that thou hast lost all thy teeth, and wilt not face anything bigger than a kid, because (they are indeed shameless, these Bandar-log)–because thou art afraid of the he-goat’s horns,” Bagheera went on sweetly.

Now a snake, especially a wary old python like Kaa, very seldom shows that he is angry, but Baloo and Bagheera could see the big swallowing muscles on either side of Kaa’s throat ripple and bulge.

“The Bandar-log have shifted their grounds,” he said quietly. “When I came up into the sun today I heard them whooping among the tree-tops.”

“It–it is the Bandar-log that we follow now,” said Baloo, but the words stuck in his throat, for that was the first time in his memory that one of the Jungle-People had owned to being interested in the doings of the monkeys.

“Beyond doubt then it is no small thing that takes two such hunters–leaders in their own jungle I am certain–on the trail of the Bandar-log,” Kaa replied courteously, as he swelled with curiosity.

“Indeed,” Baloo began, “I am no more than the old and sometimes very foolish Teacher of the Law to the Seeonee wolf-cubs, and Bagheera here–”

“Is Bagheera,” said the Black Panther, and his jaws shut with a snap, for he did not believe in being humble. “The trouble is this, Kaa. Those nut-stealers and pickers of palm leaves have stolen away our man-cub of whom thou hast perhaps heard.”

“I heard some news from Ikki (his quills make him presumptuous) of a man-thing that was entered into a wolf pack, but I did not believe. Ikki is full of stories half heard and very badly told.”
“But it is true. He is such a man-cub as never was,” said Baloo. “The best and wisest and boldest of man-cubs–my own pupil, who shall make the name of Baloo famous through all the jungles; and besides, I–we–love him, Kaa.”

“Ts! Ts!” said Kaa, weaving his head to and fro. “I also have known what love is. There are tales I could tell that–”

“That need a clear night when we are all well fed to praise properly,” said Bagheera quickly. “Our man-cub is in the hands of the Bandar-log now, and we know that of all the Jungle-People they fear Kaa alone.”

“They fear me alone. They have good reason,” said Kaa. “Chattering, foolish, vain–vain, foolish, and chattering, are the monkeys. But a man-thing in their hands is in no good luck. They grow tired of the nuts they pick, and throw them down. They carry a branch half a day, meaning to do great things with it, and then they snap it in two. That man-thing is not to be envied. They called me also—‘yellow fish’ was it not?”

“Worm–worm–earth-worm,” said Bagheera, “as well as other things which I cannot now say for shame.”

“We must remind them to speak well of their master. Aaa-ssp! We must help their wandering memories. Now, whither went they with the cub?”

“The jungle alone knows. Toward the sunset, I believe,” said Baloo. “We had thought that thou wouldst know, Kaa.”

“I? How? I take them when they come in my way, but I do not hunt the Bandar-log, or frogs–or green scum on a water-hole, for that matter.”

“Up, Up! Up, Up! Hillo! Illo! Illo, look up, Baloo of the Seeonee Wolf Pack!”

Baloo looked up to see where the voice came from, and there was Rann the Kite, sweeping down with the sun shining on the upturned flanges of his wings. It was near Rann’s bedtime, but he had ranged all over the jungle looking for the Bear and had missed him in the thick foliage.

“What is it?” said Baloo.

“I have seen Mowgli among the Bandar-log. He bade me tell you. I watched. The Bandar-log have taken him beyond the river to the monkey city–to the Cold Lairs. They may stay there for a night, or ten nights, or an hour. I have told the bats to watch through the dark time. That is my message. Good hunting, all you below!”

“Full gorge and a deep sleep to you, Rann,” cried Bagheera. “I will remember thee in my next kill, and put aside the head for thee alone, O best of kites!”

“It is nothing. It is nothing. The boy held the Master Word. I could have done no less,” and Rann circled up again to his roost.

“He has not forgotten to use his tongue,” said Baloo with a chuckle of pride. “To think of one so young remembering the Master Word for the birds too while he was being pulled across trees!”

“It was most firmly driven into him,” said Bagheera. “But I am proud of him, and now we must go to the Cold Lairs.”

They all knew where that place was, but few of the Jungle People ever went there, because what they called the Cold Lairs was an old deserted city, lost and buried in the jungle, and beasts seldom use a place that men have once used. The wild boar will, but the hunting tribes do not. Besides, the monkeys lived there as much as they could be said to live anywhere, and no self-respecting animal would come within eyeshot of it except in times of drought, when the half-ruined tanks and reservoirs held a little water.

“It is half a night’s journey–at full speed,” said Bagheera, and Baloo looked very serious. “I will go as fast as I can,” he said anxiously.

“We dare not wait for thee. Follow, Baloo. We must go on the quick-foot–Kaa and I.”

“Feet or no feet, I can keep abreast of all thy four,” said Kaa shortly. Baloo made one effort to hurry, but had to sit down panting, and so they left him to come on later, while Bagheera hurried forward, at the quick panther-canter. Kaa said nothing, but, strive as Bagheera might, the huge Rock-python held level with him. When they came to a hill stream, Bagheera gained, because he bounded across while Kaa swam, his head and two feet of his neck clearing the water, but on level ground Kaa made up the distance.

“By the Broken Lock that freed me,” said Bagheera, when twilight had fallen, “thou art no slow goer!”

“I am hungry,” said Kaa. “Besides, they called me speckled frog.”

“Worm–earth-worm, and yellow to boot.”

“All one. Let us go on,” and Kaa seemed to pour himself along the ground, finding the shortest road with his steady eyes, and keeping to it.

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