The herd threaded through the dark jungle, and now they descended into a cool river. A herd of deer—either the dark sambur or black buck—sprang from the misty shore-line and leaped away into the bamboos. Farther down, he could hear the grunt of buffalo.
It was simply a caress—the touch of the soft, cool water on his flanks. Then they reared out, like great sea-gods rising from the deep, and grunted and squealed their way up the banks into the jungle again.
But the smells were the book that he read best; he understood them even better than the sounds of green things growing. Flowers that he could not see hung like bells from the arching branches. Every fern and every seeding grass had its own scent that told sweet tales. The very mud that his four feet sank into emitted scent that told the history of jungle-life from the world’s beginnings. When dawn burst over the eastern hills, he was weary in every muscle of his young body, but much too happy to admit it.
This day was just the first of three thousand joyous days. The jungle, old as the world itself, is ever new. Not even the wisest elephant, who, after all, is king of the jungle, knows what will turn up at the next bend in the elephant trail. It may be a native woodcutter, whose long hair is stirred with fright. It may easily be one of the great breed of bears, large as the American grizzly, that some naturalists believe are to be found in the Siamese and Burman jungles. It may be a herd of wild buffalo, always looking for a fight, or simply some absurd armadillo-like thing, to make him shake his vast sides with mirth.
The herd was never still. They ranged from one mysterious hill to another, to the ranges of the Himalayas and back again. There were no rivers that they did not swim, no jungles that they did not penetrate, no elephant trails that they did not follow, in the whole northeastern corner of British India. And all the time Muztagh’s strength grew upon him until it became too vast a thing to measure or control.
Whether or not he kept with the herd was by now a matter of supreme indifference to him. He no longer needed its protection. Except for the men who came with the ropes and guns and shoutings, there was nothing in the jungle for him to fear. He was twenty years old, and he stood nearly eleven feet to the top of his shoulders. He would have broken any scales in the Indian Empire that tried to weigh him.
He had had his share of adventures, yet he knew that life in reality had just begun. The time would come when he would want to fight the great arrogant bull for the leadership of the herd. He was tired of fighting the young bulls of his own age. He always won, and to an elephant constant winning is almost as dull as constant losing. He was a great deal like a youth of twenty in any breed of any land—light-hearted, self-confident, enjoying every minute of wakefulness between one midnight and another. He loved the jungle smells and the jungle sounds, and he could even tolerate the horrible laughter of the hyenas that sometimes tore to shreds the silence of the grassy plains below.