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Rudyard Kipling >> The Jungle Book (page 15)


''Son of the big man that killed Nag,'' she hissed, ''stay still. I am not ready yet. Wait a little. Keep very still, all you three! If you move I strike, and if you do not move I strike. Oh, foolish people, who killed my Nag!''

Teddy's eyes were fixed on his father, and all his father could do was to whisper, ''Sit still, Teddy. You mustn't move. Teddy, keep still.''

Then Rikki-tikki came up and cried, ''Turn round, Nagaina. Turn and fight!''

''All in good time,'' said she, without moving her eyes. ''I will settle my account with you presently. Look at your friends, Rikki-tikki. They are still and white. They are afraid. They dare not move, and if you come a step nearer I strike.''

''Look at your eggs,'' said Rikki-tikki, ''in the melon bed near the wall. Go and look, Nagaina!''

The big snake turned half around, and saw the egg on the veranda. ''Ah-h! Give it to me,'' she said.

Rikki-tikki put his paws one on each side of the egg, and his eyes were blood-red. ''What price for a snake's egg? For a young cobra? For a young king cobra? For the last-the very last of the brood? The ants are eating all the others down by the melon bed.''

Nagaina spun clear round, forgetting everything for the sake of the one egg. Rikki-tikki saw Teddy's father shoot out a big hand, catch Teddy by the shoulder, and drag him across the little table with the tea-cups, safe and out of reach of Nagaina.

''Tricked! Tricked! Tricked! Rikk-tck-tck!'' chuckled Rikki-tikki. ''The boy is safe, and it was I-I-I that caught Nag by the hood last night in the bathroom.'' Then he began to jump up and down, all four feet together, his head close to the floor. ''He threw me to and fro, but he could not shake me off. He was dead before the big man blew him in two. I did it! Rikki-tikki-tck-tck! Come then, Nagaina. Come and fight with me. You shall not be a widow long.''

Nagaina saw that she had lost her chance of killing Teddy, and the egg lay between Rikki-tikki's paws. ''Give me the egg, Rikki-tikki. Give me the last of my eggs, and I will go away and never come back,'' she said, lowering her hood.

''Yes, you will go away, and you will never come back. For you will go to the rubbish heap with Nag. Fight, widow! The big man has gone for his gun! Fight!''

Rikki-tikki was bounding all round Nagaina, keeping just out of reach of her stroke, his little eyes like hot coals. Nagaina gathered herself together and flung out at him. Rikki-tikki jumped up and backward. Again and again and again she struck, and each time her head came with a whack on the matting of the veranda and she gathered herself together like a watch spring. Then Rikki-tikki danced in a circle to get behind her, and Nagaina spun round to keep her head to his head, so that the rustle of her tail on the matting sounded like dry leaves blown along by the wind.

He had forgotten the egg. It still lay on the veranda, and Nagaina came nearer and nearer to it, till at last, while Rikki-tikki was drawing breath, she caught it in her mouth, turned to the veranda steps, and flew like an arrow down the path, with Rikki-tikki behind her. When the cobra runs for her life, she goes like a whip-lash flicked across a horse's neck.

Rikki-tikki knew that he must catch her, or all the trouble would begin again. She headed straight for the long grass by the thorn-bush, and as he was running Rikki-tikki heard Darzee still singing his foolish little song of triumph. But Darzee's wife was wiser. She flew off her nest as Nagaina came along, and flapped her wings about Nagaina's head. If Darzee had helped they might have turned her, but Nagaina only lowered her hood and went on. Still, the instant's delay brought Rikki-tikki up to her, and as she plunged into the rat-hole where she and Nag used to live, his little white teeth were clenched on her tail, and he went down with her-and very few mongooses, however wise and old they may be, care to follow a cobra into its hole. It was dark in the hole; and Rikki-tikki never knew when it might open out and give Nagaina room to turn and strike at him. He held on savagely, and stuck out his feet to act as brakes on the dark slope of the hot, moist earth.

Then the grass by the mouth of the hole stopped waving, and Darzee said, ''It is all over with Rikki-tikki! We must sing his death song. Valiant Rikki-tikki is dead! For Nagaina will surely kill him underground.''

So he sang a very mournful song that he made up on the spur of the minute, and just as he got to the most touching part, the grass quivered again, and Rikki-tikki, covered with dirt, dragged himself out of the hole leg by leg, licking his whiskers. Darzee stopped with a little shout. Rikki-tikki shook some of the dust out of his fur and sneezed. ''It is all over,'' he said. ''The widow will never come out again.'' And the red ants that live between the grass stems heard him, and began to troop down one after another to see if he had spoken the truth.

Rikki-tikki curled himself up in the grass and slept where he was-slept and slept till it was late in the afternoon, for he had done a hard day's work.

''Now,'' he said, when he awoke, ''I will go back to the house. Tell the Coppersmith, Darzee, and he will tell the garden that Nagaina is dead.''

The Coppersmith is a bird who makes a noise exactly like the beating of a little hammer on a copper pot; and the reason he is always making it is because he is the town crier to every Indian garden, and tells all the news to everybody who cares to listen. As Rikki-tikki went up the path, he heard his ''attention'' notes like a tiny dinner gong, and then the steady ''Ding-dong-tock! Nag is dead-dong! Nagaina is dead! Ding-dong-tock!'' That set all the birds in the garden singing, and the frogs croaking, for Nag and Nagaina used to eat frogs as well as little birds.

When Rikki got to the house, Teddy and Teddy's mother (she looked very white still, for she had been fainting) and Teddy's father came out and almost cried over him; and that night he ate all that was given him till he could eat no more, and went to bed on Teddy's shoulder, where Teddy's mother saw him when she came to look late at night.

''He saved our lives and Teddy's life,'' she said to her husband. ''Just think, he saved all our lives.''

Rikki-tikki woke up with a jump, for the mongooses are light sleepers.

''Oh, it's you,'' said he. ''What are you bothering for? All the cobras are dead. And if they weren't, I'm here.''

Rikki-tikki had a right to be proud of himself. But he did not grow too proud, and he kept that garden as a mongoose should keep it, with tooth and jump and spring and bite, till never a cobra dared show its head inside the walls.

Darzee's Chant

(Sung in honor of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi)

Singer and tailor am I-

Doubled the joys that I know-

Proud of my lilt to the sky,

Proud of the house that I sew Ц Over and under, so weave I my music-so weave I the house that I

sew.

Sing to your fledglings again,

Mother, oh lift up your head!

Evil that plagued us is slain,

Death in the garden lies dead. Terror that hid in the roses is impotent-flung on the dung-hill

and dead!

Who has delivered us, who?

Tell me his nest and his name.

Rikki, the valiant, the true,

Tikki, with eyeballs of flame, Rikk-tikki-tikki, the ivory-fanged, the hunter with eyeballs of

flame!

Give him the Thanks of the Birds,

Bowing with tail feathers spread!

Praise him with nightingale words-

Nay, I will praise him instead. Hear! I will sing you the praise of the bottle-tailed Rikki, with

eyeballs of red!

(Here Rikki-tikki interrupted, and the rest of the song is lost.)

Toomai of the Elephants

I will remember what I was, I am sick of rope and chain-

I will remember my old strength and all my forest affairs. I will not sell my back to man for a bundle of sugar-cane:

I will go out to my own kind, and the wood-folk in their lairs.

I will go out until the day, until the morning break-

Out to the wind's untainted kiss, the water's clean caress; I will forget my ankle-ring and snap my picket stake.

I will revisit my lost loves, and playmates masterless!

Kala Nag, which means Black Snake, had served the Indian Government in every way that an elephant could serve it for forty-seven years, and as he was fully twenty years old when he was caught, that makes him nearly seventy-a ripe age for an elephant. He remembered pushing, with a big leather pad on his forehead, at a gun stuck in deep mud, and that was before the Afghan War of 1842, and he had not then come to his full strength.

His mother Radha Pyari,-Radha the darling,-who had been caught in the same drive with Kala Nag, told him, before his little milk tusks had dropped out, that elephants who were afraid always got hurt. Kala Nag knew that that advice was good, for the first time that he saw a shell burst he backed, screaming, into a stand of piled rifles, and the bayonets pricked him in all his softest places. So, before he was twenty-five, he gave up being afraid, and so he was the best-loved and the best-looked-after elephant in the service of the Government of India. He had carried tents, twelve hundred pounds' weight of tents, on the march in Upper India. He had been hoisted into a ship at the end of a steam crane and taken for days across the water, and made to carry a mortar on his back in a strange and rocky country very far from India, and had seen the Emperor Theodore lying dead in Magdala, and had come back again in the steamer entitled, so the soldiers said, to the Abyssinian War medal. He had seen his fellow elephants die of cold and epilepsy and starvation and sunstroke up at a place called Ali Musjid, ten years later; and afterward he had been sent down thousands of miles south to haul and pile big balks of teak in the timberyards at Moulmein. There he had half killed an insubordinate young elephant who was shirking his fair share of work.

After that he was taken off timber-hauling, and employed, with a few score other elephants who were trained to the business, in helping to catch wild elephants among the Garo hills. Elephants are very strictly preserved by the Indian Government. There is one whole department which does nothing else but hunt them, and catch them, and break them in, and send them up and down the country as they are needed for work.

Kala Nag stood ten fair feet at the shoulders, and his tusks had been cut off short at five feet, and bound round the ends, to prevent them splitting, with bands of copper; but he could do more with those stumps than any untrained elephant could do with the real sharpened ones. When, after weeks and weeks of cautious driving of scattered elephants across the hills, the forty or fifty wild monsters were driven into the last stockade, and the big drop gate, made of tree trunks lashed together, jarred down behind them, Kala Nag, at the word of command, would go into that flaring, trumpeting pandemonium (generally at night, when the flicker of the torches made it difficult to judge distances), and, picking out the biggest and wildest tusker of the mob, would hammer him and hustle him into quiet while the men on the backs of the other elephants roped and tied the smaller ones.

There was nothing in the way of fighting that Kala Nag, the old wise Black Snake, did not know, for he had stood up more than once in his time to the charge of the wounded tiger, and, curling up his soft trunk to be out of harm's way, had knocked the springing brute sideways in mid-air with a quick sickle cut of his head, that he had invented all by himself; had knocked him over, and kneeled upon him with his huge knees till the life went out with a gasp and a howl, and there was only a fluffy striped thing on the ground for Kala Nag to pull by the tail.

''Yes,'' said Big Toomai, his driver, the son of Black Toomai who had taken him to Abyssinia, and grandson of Toomai of the Elephants who had seen him caught, ''there is nothing that the Black Snake fears except me. He has seen three generations of us feed him and groom him, and he will live to see four.''

''He is afraid of me also,'' said Little Toomai, standing up to his full height of four feet, with only one rag upon him. He was ten years old, the eldest son of Big Toomai, and, according to custom, he would take his father's place on Kala Nag's neck when he grew up, and would handle the heavy iron ankus, the elephant goad, that had been worn smooth by his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather.

He knew what he was talking of; for he had been born under Kala Nag's shadow, had played with the end of his trunk before he could walk, had taken him down to water as soon as he could walk, and Kala Nag would no more have dreamed of disobeying his shrill little orders than he would have dreamed of killing him on that day when Big Toomai carried the little brown baby under Kala Nag's tusks, and told him to salute his master that was to be.

''Yes,'' said Little Toomai, ''he is afraid of me,'' and he took long strides up to Kala Nag, called him a fat old pig, and made him lift up his feet one after the other.

''Wah!'' said Little Toomai, ''thou art a big elephant,'' and he wagged his fluffy head, quoting his father. ''The Government may pay for elephants, but they belong to us mahouts. When thou art old, Kala Nag, there will come some rich rajah, and he will buy thee from the Government, on account of thy size and thy manners, and then thou wilt have nothing to do but to carry gold earrings in thy ears, and a gold howdah on thy back, and a red cloth covered with gold on thy sides, and walk at the head of the processions of the King. Then I shall sit on thy neck, O Kala Nag, with a silver ankus, and men will run before us with golden sticks, crying, `Room for the King's elephant!' That will be good, Kala Nag, but not so good as this hunting in the jungles.''

Title: The Jungle Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
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