"In the Rukh" was the first story Kipling wrote about Mowgli, the protagonist of eight of the short stories collected in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book. Chronologically, however, it is the last of the Mowgli stories. Since it was written before Kipling established the details of Mowgli's childhood adventures, "In the Rukh" does not fit neatly into the rest of the canon. It is nonetheless included in many editions of The Jungle Books.
In the story, a British Forest Officer in India named Gisborne meets an unusual young man called Mowgli. Gisborne is impressed by Mowgli's knowledge of the jungle. At the same time, he is baffled by his mysterious ability to control wild animals. Gisborne's Indian butler Abdul Gafur cautions him against dealing with the stranger. Gisborne, however, believes Mowgli will make an excellent forest ranger.
Gisborne is a British Forest Officer in India. He is responsible for a large rukh, which means forest in the local language. He lives in a bungalow at the one end of the rukh tended by his butler Abdul Gafur and several servants. Gisborne is content to serve, and the service pays well – although Gisborne has little need for money so that the monthly salary keeps accumulating in his desk drawer.
One night, a forest guard is killed. Gisborne goes out at dawn to examine the scene with his men. It appears from the footprints that a particular tiger known to them is responsible. As the men discuss the matter, a stranger noiselessly approaches. The stranger – a very handsome young man wearing only a loincloth and a wreath – walks up to Gisborne and reports that the man-killing tiger is sleeping under a rock beyond the hill. The stranger then volunteers to take Gisborne to the spot. On their way, Gisborne learns that the man is called Mowgli and he does not belong to any village or cast.
As the two men near the spot where the tiger is resting, the terrain becomes difficult. Mowgli offers to go on ahead and drive the tiger to Gisborne. Gisborne does not believe a tiger can be driven like cattle, so he insists on following Mowgli. At the end of the rough trek, Gisborne shoots and kills the tiger. He is then surprised to learn that Mowgli does not want the whiskers which are valued by local hunters.
After the hunt, Mowgli carries Gisborne's gun back to the bungalow. As they enter the veranda, Gisborne drops the bamboo shade down to keep the sun out. Mowgli, fearing a trap, leaps out into the open. Gisborne laughs and assures him that white men do not trap people. Mowlgi enters the house cautiously. Abdul Gafur looks at him with disgust. Mowgli looks around at what he thinks are rich and wonderful treasures then asks if Gisborne is afraid of being robbed. Abdul Gafur says "only a thief from the jungle would rob here." Mowgli stares at him then makes a cheerful retort and disappears into the rukh.
That evening, Mowgli visits Gisborne again as he is having a smoke on the veranda. Mowgli reports that the nilghai are migrating, the pigs are moving to avoid the nilghai, and a sow was killed by a leopard. Gisborne is incredulous. Mowgli, amused that a man who is in charge of the rukh does not know anything, promises to drive a nilghai to Gisborne as proof then disappears again. Gisborne sits listening to the silence. Suddenly a wolf's howl echoes in the distance. Then, after a long wait, a nilghai comes flying out of the woods in a panic. Seeing Gisborne, it turns and runs along the edge of the rukh and disappears into the night. Gisborne asks Mowgli, who has noiselessly reappeared, how he drove the bull. Mowgli will not explain his methods but offers his services to Gisborne. Gisborne sees the value of Mowgli's knowledge and abilities and hopes to recruit him into the Government service. Abdul Gafur, however, does not trust the stranger. Some days later when Mowgli is found looking at horses in the stable, Abdul Gafur warns Gisborne that he will be stealing one someday.
One day, Gisborne rides out in the early morning to take care of some new trees in the rukh. Mowgli joins him an hour into the forest. As they stop to have breakfast, Mowgli tells Gisborne that his white mare is being ridden very fast toward the railroad. Gisborne does not believe Mowgli can hear a horse two miles away. Mowgli offers to bring the horse to Gisborne. He then gives out a long, gurgling call three times. A few minutes later, the saddled white mare comes running to them. Then they hear Abdul Gafur's terrified voice cry out. The butler comes out through the undergrowth disheveled and purple-faced. Seeing Gisborne, he falls at his master's feet in fear and exhaustion. Shaking and sobbing, Abdul Gafur says he was whipped through the woods by devils for his sin. He then takes out a roll of bank notes he stole from Gisborne's desk drawer. He is prepared to go to jail.
Gisborne, not wishing to lose a good servant and also feeling responsible for creating the temptation, decides not to dismiss his butler. He tells the man to return to the house. Abdul Gafur is afraid to ride back, but Mowgli tells him that "the devils" will not harm him. Abdul Gafur is shocked to hear it was Mowgli's "witchcraft" that drove the mare. He confesses he had intended to blame Mowgli for the theft. After Abdul Gafur departs, Gisborne demands to know how Mowgli did it. Mowgli assures him there is no devilry involved, but he will still not say how it was done. Gisborne is baffled and annoyed. Mowgli disappears, leaving Gisborne to proceed alone.
As he nears his camping ground at twilight, Gisborne sees a camp fire and smells a good dinner. He finds Muller, the head of the Department of Wood and Forests of all India, on a surprise visit. Muller invites Gisborne to dine with him. The two men discuss business matters while Muller's cook prepares the meal. After the sumptuous dinner, as Muller and Gisborne enjoy their smoke, Mowgli comes out of the shadows. He apologizes for leaving Gisborne alone and informs him that the mate of the tiger he killed has tracked him. Gisborne tells Muller about Mowgli. Muller listens with interest then beckons Mowgli. He examines Mowgli's elbow and knee, smiles, and asks Mowgli about the old scars above his ankle. Mowgli answers with a smile that the scars were "love-tokens from the little ones." Muller asks where they are, and Mowgli signals around. Next Muller asks Mowgli to bring his mare to him without frightening her. As the ropes are loosened, the mare cocks her ears. Mowgli stands still and watches the horse move swiftly to Muller. Muller has all the proof he needs, but he will not tell Mowgli's secret. He simply says to Gisborne that they usually die young and that he does not know how Mowgli has survived. Muller then identifies himself to Mowgli and invites him to join the service. Mowgli accepts the offer under the condition that he will only serve under Gisborne.
A week later, Gisborne is awakened by Abdul Gafur at midnight. Ashen with rage, Abdul Gafur thrusts a rifle into Gisborne's hand and whispers that his honor is gone: Mowgli has gone into the rukh with his young daughter. Gisborne follows the irate fathre into the forest. They first hear a flute. As they approach the end of the path, they come to a small glade. Hiding behind tall grass, they see Mowgli sitting on a fallen tree trunk with his arm around Abdul Gafur's daughter. Mowgli is playing a bamboo flute, and four large wolves are dancing on their hind legs to the music. As Abdul Gafur grabs the cartridges for the gun, Mowgli finishes playing and the wolves lie down. Mowgli tells the girl that the wolves are his brothers and not devils as her father believes and fears. He explains that, when he was a little child, he was nursed by a wolf mother alongside four cubs of her own. He says he grew up among wolves until they cast him out for being a man. He then joined men, became a cattle herder, and learned their language. But the villagers saw him playing with his brothers at night and, believing he was possessed by the devil, cast him out. So he went from village to village.
Mowgli pats one of the wolves on its head and assures the girl there is no need to fear. The girl hesitates before, at Mowgli's urging, patting them herself. Mowgli praises the girl for accepting his brothers who have followed him "through a thousand villages." The girl is more interested in hearing about other girls Mowgli met through his travels than about the wolves. Mowgli laughs and tells her that he was more concerned about food when he was younger. He says that is why he learned to direct his wolf brothers to hunt. He then tells the girl that her father and Gisborne are standing behind him now, and that he can easily drive her father through the rukh if she wants to punish him for beating her. Abdul Gafur takes off, leaving Gisborne behind. Mowgli tells the girl to hide in the grass then faces Gisborne. He explains that the wolves are the "magic" that drove the nilghai and that they will become Gisborne's servants as soon as Mowgli is made a forest guard. He promises to speak to Abdul Gafur in the morning about marrying his daughter then disappears into the grass.
Gisborne returns home and finds Abdul Gafur raving around. He tries to calm down the man then tells him that Mowgli has been made a forest guard with a pension. He eventually manages to convince Abdul Gafur that the best course of action, and the only way to save his honor, is to arrange the marriage so his daughter can make an honest Muslim out of Mowgli. Gisborne then goes back into the rukh and orders Mowgli to return the girl to her father and wait for the marriage to be officially arranged.
One year later, Muller and Gisborne are riding through the rukh when they spot a baby in the shade. Seeing a gray wolf peering through the bushes behind him, Muller fires his rifle. Gisborne manages to strike up the rifle just in time so the shot misses. The bushes part and the mother comes through. Gisborne tells her that Muller has forgotten. She orders the four wolves to come out of the bushes and pay their respect to Gisborne. Gisborne tells Muller that he has grown so used to the wolves that he forgot to mention them.