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Jungle

Tiger, Tiger


Day after day Mowgli would lead the Buffalos out onto the plain and Grey Brother would be sitting on his rock, and so Mowgli knew that he was safe. At last came the day on which Grey Brother was not sitting on his rock. Mowgli herded the buffalos to the ravine in the centre of the plain and met Grey Brother who was waiting there with every bristle on his back lifted.

Grey Brother told him that Shere Khan has hidden for a month to throw Mowgli off guard and had crossed back over the ranges together with Tabaqui the previous night and were hot on Mowgli's trail. Mowgli wasn't afraid of Shere Khan but worried about Tabaqui, who was cunning. Grey Brother laid these fears to rest when he told Mowgli that he had met Tabaqui at dawn. Tabaqui had told him Shere Khan's entire plan before Grey Brother had killed Tabaqui. The plan was that Shere Khan was going to lie in wait for Mowgli and no-one else at the entrance to the village.

Shere Khan had killed and eaten a pig that morning and was sleeping off his meal in the big ravine of the Waingunga River. Mowgli formed a plan for the death of Shere Khan. He asked if Grey Brother was able to divide the buffalo herd. Grey Brother replied that he couldn't do it by himself, but that he had brought help with him. At that an old familiar head rose from the grass. Akela! Mowgli was overjoyed to see his old friend again. Mowgli told them to separate the bulls and plough buffalos from the cows and calves. The two wolves twisted in and out between the animals that were just waiting for a chance to charge these two intruders and successfully separated the two groups. Mowgli jumped on Rama's back and gave the order for Grey Brother to drive the cows and calves into the bottom end of the ravine and to stop when they reached a part of the ravine where the sides were too steep for a tiger to escape. He then told Akela to help him drive the bulls through the forest to a point where they could enter the top end of the ravine.

When the bulls were inside the top end of the ravine, Mowgli let all the animals rest. Then he shouted into the ravine. This woke Shere Khan, who sleepily growled "Who calls?". Mowgli called back "I, Mowgli. Cattle thief, it is time to come to the Council Rock!" He then ordered Akela to force the bulls to advance down the ravine. The herd paused for a while at the edge of the slope, but Akela's yell made them charge down the ravine. Part of the way down, Rama caught the scent of the tiger and bellowed. The buffalos spread out until the outsiders were scraping against the sides of the ravine, the sides of which were getting steadily steeper. The buffalos now knew what was before them: a terrifying charge against which no tiger can hope to stand. Shere Khan heard the thunder of their hooves, picked himself up and fled down the ravine looking at the sides for a way of escape, but the walls were straight and steep. There was no foothold. He lumbered on, heavy with his dinner and his drink trying to do anything other than fight. The bulls bellowed as they charged. The cows below heard the bellow and charged uphill to join the bulls. At this Mowgli saw Shere Khan turn realising that it was better to face the bulls than the cows that were protecting their calves. Then Rama tripped and recovered over something soft under him as the two herds came together. The combined herd continued all the way back onto the plain. Mowgli chose his moment and, slipping off Rama's back beat about him with his stick.

He ordered Akela to break them up to stop them fighting amongst themselves. Akela and Grey Brother ran to and fro breaking up the heard. Rama tried to lead a new charge back up the ravine, but Mowgli managed to turn him back to the wallows. Mowgli and the two wolves went back into the ravine to Shere Khan's trampled body. With his knife, Mowgli spent the next hour skinning the ten foot long tiger with Akela and Grey Brother helping to tug at the skin as it came off.

Presently a hand fell on his shoulder - it was Buldeo with his gun. The children had told the village about the buffalo stampede and Buldeo had gone out to scold Mowgli for not looking after the herd better. The wolves dropped out of sight as the man approached. Buldeo was surprised to see the dead tiger and immediately tried to take the hide himself because the Indian Government had placed a price of 100 Rupees on its head. The old hunter went to singe the tiger's whiskers, since it was a belief that this will prevent the tiger's ghost from haunting them.

Mowgli told the old man to take away the fire, and that he himself had a use for the skin. He and Buldeo stood arguing over the carcass until it got too much for Mowgli. He called to Akela to get rid of the old man. In an instant the old man was sprawling on the grass with the Grey Wolf standing over him. Mowgli explained that there was a war between him and that tiger - a very old war - and that he had now won..

Buldeo lay there convinced that sorcery, magic of the worst kind was being performed here, with the wolf obeying the boy who in turn had private wars with tigers. He was half expecting Mowgli to turn into a tiger at any moment. After some time, old Buldeo asked him whether he intended to order Akela to tear him to pieces or whether he was going to let him go. Mowgli replied that he could go, but in future, he was not to meddle with his game. He told him to go and let peace go with him.

Old Buldeo hobbled back to the village as fast as his legs could carry him, looking over his shoulder in case Mowgli should turn into something terrible. When he returned to the village, he told a tale of magic and enchantment and sorcery that made the priest look very grave.

Mowgli continued with his work, and it was nearly dark before he and the wolves had finished their work, and drawn the great skin clear of the body. They then hid the skin and rounded up the buffalos and herded them home. When he approached the village, all the lights were on and bells in the temple were ringing. He thought that it was to celebrate his killing the tiger, but as he came closer he was met with a barrage of stones and shouts of "Sorcerer! Wolf's brat! Jungle demon! Go away, and quickly, or the priest will turn you back into a wolf" They urged Buldeo to shoot him. Buldeo fired the gun, and a young buffalo bellowed in pain. The villagers saw this as proof that what Buldeo had said was true. "He can turn bullets" they cried.

Akela suggested that the people of the village were very much like the pack. That if bullets mean anything, he had been cast out of the Village, like he had been cast out of the pack. Messua, the woman who had adopted him in the village ran across to the herd and cried that she did not believe the stories of sorcery, and said that he had avenged the death of her own son, but that he should flee because the villagers would kill him. He then stampeded the herd into the village to take the villagers off their guard so they could make good their escape.