"The Spring Running" is a short story by the British author Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in the Pall Mall Gazette in September 1895. The story was subsequently collected in The Second Jungle Book (1895).
"The Spring Running" is the last story written by Kipling about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. The story takes place when Mowgli is about seventeen years old. Mowgli has grown tall and strong, and is now the respected and feared Master of the Jungle. As spring approaches, however, Mowgli finds himself growing restless and inexplicably unhappy. When his annual ritual – a wild and delightful long run through the jungle – fails to cure his depression, Mowgli decides to venture out of the jungle to explore the fields beyond his familiar territory.
It has been two years since the new Seeonee Wolf Pack defeated the savage dholes with Mowgli's help, and Mowgli is now a young man of about seventeen. He has become the Master of the Jungle, feared for both his wits and strength.
Winter is ending, and Bagheera the black panther can feel the Time of New Talk approaching when all jungle creatures sing their songs of the season. Although Mowgli had always enjoyed the coming of spring, which is absolutely delightful in the jungle, this year he is inexplicably unhappy. In past years, he had run many miles through the warm air and laughed while his wolf brothers went off with other wolves to sing their songs. This year, however, Mowgli finds himself unable to answer when his friends call out their spring greetings to him. Mowgli is certain he has not eaten bad food, but his stomach is heavy and he feels somehow angry. He decides he should make a spring running to the marshes in the north. He calls for his four wolf brothers to come with him but receives no answer. When he sees two young wolves in their spring fight, he tries to interfere but is dismayed to find he does not have his usual strength.
That night, Mowgli forgets his unhappiness as he begins his spring running. He flies down the long slope towards the northern marshes in the moonlight, delighted by the feeling of new moss and grass under his feet. He travels through the jungle – sometimes swinging along among the tree branches and sometimes running, sometimes shouting and sometimes singing – until he reaches the marshes. Running out to the middle of the swamp, he begins to sing happily. Then suddenly, a new feeling of misery comes over Mowgli. He becomes convinced that he has eaten poison and is about to die. The thought of dying alone makes him feel sorry for himself.
Mowgli begins to weep. As he takes strange pleasure in his self-pity, he recalls the last words of Akela, the former leader of the Wolf Pack and his friend, who was killed in the fight with the red dogs. Remembering the fierce battle, Mowgli shouts out in excitement. His voice startles a wild buffalo cow. The cow's mate, Mysa the wild buffalo, recognizes Mowgli. Mysa shows no respect for Mowgli, causing Mowgli to angrily declare he will not die where Mysa can see him. Mowgli decides to go explore the land beyond the swamp. He cannot resist, however, playing a little trick on Mysa first. He sneaks through the reeds and pricks the buffalo with his knife. Mysa jumps out of his wallow. Mowgli laughs heartily before stepping out of the marsh and running on to the northern plains.
Mowgli is now in unfamiliar territory beyond his jungle. Across a grassy field, he comes to a village. On the outskirts of the village is a hut. Mowgli lets out a wolf growl to silence the barking dogs. A woman looks out of the hut and tells a crying child inside to go back to sleep. Mowgli recognizes her voice. It is Messua, the woman who had taken him in as her son when he lived in a village for a short time many years ago. After Mowgli was accused of being a sorcerer and cast out of the village, Messua and her husband would have been killed by the villagers had Mowgli not rescued them.
Mowgli calls out to Messua and tells her he is Nathoo, which is the name she gave him when he was a boy. Messua invites him into the hut. Her hair is gray now, but Messua has not changed much. Mowgli, on the other hand, is now a tall and handsome man. With his head of sweeping long hair crowned with a jasmine wreath, he looks like a godling of the jungle to Messua. Mowgli assures Messua that he is the same Nathoo. Messua tells Mowgli that she and her husband sought help from the English in Khanhiwara. When they returned to bring charges to the villagers, however, they found the whole village had disappeared. Her husband died a year ago, leaving her with their son who is now two years old.
Mowgli does not feel well. Messua offers him warm milk. Watching him with pride, she tells him that he is the most beautiful man she has ever seen. Mowgli's confusion makes her laugh, which in turn makes Mowgli laugh. Her little son joins them in their laughter. Happily relaxed, Mowgli falls asleep. He sleeps through the night and the next day, and finally wakes in the evening. Messua gives him supper and, singing happily, begins to comb out his blue-black hair.
There is a sound outside, and a large paw appears under the door. Mowgli hears Gray Brother, the eldest of his wolf brothers, whine anxiously outside. Mowgli tells him in jungle talk to wait outside, and the paw disappears. Messua is terrified. Mowgli assures her that the jungle folk will not harm her. As he is leaving, Messua throws her arms around his neck and tells him to come back again. Mowgli feels something tugging in his throat as he promises to return.
Outside, Mowgli chastises Gray Brother for not coming to him earlier when he called. Gray Brother says he rushed over as soon as he and his brothers finished singing the new songs. As they run back towards the jungle, they see a girl in white coming down a path. Gray Brother quickly disappears and Mowgli hides behind tall stalks in the field of crops. He watches the girl until she walks out of sight.
Mowgli sighs, unsure of what he wants to do. He asks Gray Brother if he will always follow him to the Man Pack. Gray Brother realizes Bagheera and their Wolf Mother were both right when they said "Man goes to Man at the last." Mowgli mutters that Akela also said so before he died. Gray Brother says Kaa, the wise old snake, also says so. Gray Brother does not understand why Mowgli should return to Man who had treated him so badly in the past. He, however, swears his allegiance to Mowgli and promises he and his three wolf brothers will always follow Mowgli. He then asks what Mowgli will say to the Jungle. Mowgli asks Gray Brother to call everyone to the Council Rock.
At any other time, the whole jungle would have come to hear what Mowgli had to say. But everyone is busy during the Time of New Talk. So only the four wolf brothers, Baloo the old bear, and Kaa come to the Council Rock upon hearing that Mowgli will be going back to Man. Mowgli throws himself down with his face in his hands and moans that his strength is gone, he cannot rest, his body is on fire, and he does not know what he knows. Baloo quotes Akela's last words; Mowgli will drive Mowgli back to the Man Pack. Kaa says he has always known Mowgil will return to Man in the end, even though the Jungle does not cast him out. Baloo assures Mowgli that the Jungle will always be his whenever Mowgli calls.
Mowgli cries and says he does not want to go but is being drawn away. Baloo and Kaa assure him that there is no shame in moving on. Baloo says everyone else who knew Mowgli as a boy is dead now so there is nothing left to hold him back, and that no one will question the Master of the Jungle for changing his trail. Just as Mowgli begins to point out that Bagheera bought him into the Pack with the bull he killed, a roar is heard and Bagheera appears. Bagheera says he has just killed a bull to pay all debts and to buy freedom for Mowgli. He licks Mowgli's foot and says "Remember, Bagheera loved thee" before bounding away. Mowgli sobs with his head on Baloo's side and arms around Kaa's neck.
Later Mowgli hears Baloo, Kaa, Bagheera, and his wolf brothers singing to him as he approaches Messua's door.