Reading Tarzan, part 6

by zunguzungu

One of the original sources for Tarzan was, of course, Rudyard Kipling’s character Mowgli, a man who was raised by wolves. Here’s the story “In the Rukh” where he first appeared:

“A man was walking down the dried bed of the stream, naked except for the loin-cloth, but crowned with a wreath of the tasselled blossoms of the white convolvulus creeper. So noiselessly did he move over the little pebbles, that even Gisborne, used to the soft-footedness of trackers, started.

“‘The tiger that killed,’ he began, without any salute, ‘has gone to drink, and now he is asleep under a rock beyond that hill.’ His voice was clear and bell-like, utterly different from the usual whine of the native, and his face as he lifted it in the sunshine might have been that of an angel strayed among the woods.”

Like Tarzan, Mowgli instinctively trusts Gisborne, the local colonial functionary, and has all sorts of contempt for Abdul Gafur, his butler. Here, Gisborne and Mowgli exchange words:

‘Not so fast. I cannot keep that pace,’ said the white man. ‘Halt there. Thy face is new to me.’

‘That may be. I am but newly come into this forest.’

‘From what village?’

‘I am without a village. I came from over there.’ He flung out his arm towards the north.

‘A gipsy then?’

‘No, Sahib. I am a man without caste, and for matter of that without a father.’

‘What do men call thee?’

‘Mowgli, Sahib. And what is the Sahib’s name?’

‘I am the warden of this rukh—Gisborne is my name.’

‘How? Do they number the trees and the blades of grass here?’

‘Even so; lest such gipsy fellows as thou set them afire.’

‘I! I would not hurt the jungle for any gift. That is my home.’

Like Tarzan, Mowgli’s home is the jungle and he regards Gisborne’s home with curiosity, and a little suspicion:

‘May I come? I have never yet looked within a white man’s house.’

Gisborne returned to his bungalow, Mowgli striding noiselessly before him, his brown skin glistening in the sunlight.

He stared curiously at the verandah and the two chairs there, fingered the split bamboo shade curtains with suspicion, and entered, looking always behind him. Gisborne loosed a curtain to keep out the sun. It dropped with a clatter, but almost before it touched the flagging of the verandah Mowgli had leaped clear, and was standing with heaving chest in the open.

‘It is a trap,’ he said quickly.

Gisborne laughed. ‘White men do not trap men. Indeed thou art altogether of the jungle.’

‘I see,’ said Mowgli, ‘it has neither catch nor fall. I—I never beheld these things till to-day.’

He came in on tiptoe and stared with large eyes at the furniture of the two rooms. Abdul Gafur, who was laying lunch, looked at him with deep disgust.

‘So much trouble to eat, and so much trouble to lie down after you have eaten!’ said Mowgli with a grin. ‘We do better in the jungle. It is very wonderful. There are very many rich things here. Is the Sahib not afraid that he may be robbed? I have never seen such wonderful things.’ He was staring at a dusty Benares brass plate on a rickety bracket.

‘Only a thief from the jungle would rob here,’ said Abdul Gafur, setting down a plate with a clatter. Mowgli opened his eyes wide and stared at the white-bearded Mohammedan.

‘In my country when goats bleat very loud we cut their throats,’ he returned cheerfully. ‘But have no fear, thou. I am going.’

Abdul Gafur accuses Mowgli of being a thief, though, of course, Abdul Gafur himself will eventually turn out to be a thief himself and Mowgli will have to catch him:

Once he wandered into the stables and was found looking at the horses with deep interest.

‘That,’ said Abdul Gafur pointedly, ‘is sure sign that some day he will steal one. Why, if he lives about this house, does he not take an honest employment? But no, he must wander up and down like a loose camel, turning the heads of fools and opening the jaws of the unwise to folly.’ So Abdul Gafur would give harsh orders to Mowgli when they met, would bid him fetch water and pluck fowls, and Mowgli, laughing unconcernedly, would obey.

‘He has no caste,’ said Abdul Gafur. He will do anything. Look to it, Sahib, that he does not do too much. A snake is a snake, and a jungle-gipsy is a thief till the death.’

Mowgli will eventually decided to join the British colonial service in the Rukh, apparently a kind of forest preserve, and after some work, they figure out a way he can herd the animals without, himself, being in the trap of a white man’s life:

‘Oh, they were rooting and tusking among the young sal last night, and I drove them off. Therefore I did not come to the verandah this morning. The pig should not be on this side of the rukh at all. We must keep them below the head of the Kanye river.’

‘If a man could herd clouds he might do that thing; but, Mowgli, if as thou sayest, thou art herder in the rukh for no gain and for no pay——’

‘It is the Sahib’s rukh,’ said Mowgli, quickly looking up. Gisborne nodded thanks and went on: ‘Would it not be better to work for pay from the Government? There is a pension at the end of long service.’

‘Of that I have thought,’ said Mowgli, ‘but the rangers live in huts with shut doors, and all that is all too much a trap to me. Yet I think——’