from The Jungle Books, Volume two
by Rudyard Kipling
At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
“Nag, come up and dance with death!”
Eye to eye and head to head,
(Keep the measure, Nag.)
This shall end when one is dead;
(At thy pleasure, Nag.)
Turn for turn and twist for twist-
(Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded Death has missed!
(Woe betide thee, Nag!)
This is the story of the great war that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought
single-handed, through the bath-rooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee
cantonment. Darzee, the tailor-bird, helped him, and Chuchundra, the
musk-rat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always
creeps round by the wall, gave him advice; but Rikki-tikki did the
He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail,
but quite like a weasel in his head and his habits. His eyes and the
end of his restless nose were pink; he could scratch himself anywhere
he pleased, with any leg, front or back, that he chose to use; he
could fluff up his tail till it looked like a bottle-brush, and his
war-cry, as he scuttled through the long grass, was:
One day, a high summer flood washed him out of the burrow where he
lived with his father and mother, and carried him, kicking and
clucking, down a roadside ditch. He found a little wisp of grass
floating there, and clung to it till he lost his senses. When he
revived, he was lying in the hot sun on the middle of a garden path,
very draggled indeed, and a small boy was saying: “Here’s a dead
mongoose. Let’s have a funeral.”
“No,” said his mother; “let’s take him in and dry him. Perhaps he
isn’t really dead.”
They took him into the house, and a big man picked him up between his
finger and thumb, and said he was not dead but half choked; so they
wrapped him in cotton-wool, and warmed him, and he opened his eyes and
“Now,” said the big man (he was an Englishman who had just moved into
the bungalow); “don’t frighten him, and we’ll see what he’ll do.”
It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because
he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the
mongoose family is “Run and find out”; and Rikki-tikki was a true
mongoose. He looked at the cotton-wool, decided that it was not good
to eat, ran all around the table, sat up and put his fur in order,
scratched himself, and jumped on the small boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t be frightened, Teddy,” said his father. “That’s his way of
“Ouch! He’s tickling under my chin,” said Teddy.
Rikki-tikki looked down between the boy’s collar and neck, snuffed at
his ear, and climbed down to the floor, where he sat rubbing his nose.
“Good gracious,” said Teddy’s mother, “and that’s a wild creature! I
suppose he’s so tame because we’ve been kind to him.”
“All mongooses are like that,” said her husband. “If Teddy doesn’t
pick him up by the tail, or try to put him in a cage, he’ll run in and
out of the house all day long. Let’s give him something to eat.”
They gave him a little piece of raw meat. Rikki-tikki liked it
immensely, and when it was finished he went out into the verandah and
sat in the sunshine and fluffed up his fur to make it dry to the
roots. Then he felt better.
“There are more things to find out about in this house,” he said to
himself, “than all my family could find out in all their lives. I
shall certainly stay and find out.”
He spent all that day roaming over the house. He nearly drowned
himself in the bath-tubs, put his nose into the ink on a writing
table, and burnt it on the end of the big man’s cigar, for he climbed
up in the big man’s lap to see how writing was done. At nightfall he
ran into Teddy’s nursery to watch how kerosene-lamps were lighted, and
when Teddy went to bed Rikki-tikki climbed up too; but he was a
restless companion, because he had to get up and attend to every noise
all through the night, and find out what made it. Teddy’s mother and
father came in, the last thing, to look at their boy, and Rikki-tikki
was awake on the pillow. “I don’t like that,” said Teddy’s mother;
“he may bite the child.” “He’ll do no such thing,” said the father.
“Teddy’s safer with that little beast than if he had a bloodhound to
watch him. If a snake came into the nursery now — ”
But Teddy’s mother wouldn’t think of anything so awful.
Early in the morning Rikki-tikki came to early breakfast in the
verandah riding on Teddy’s shoulder, and they gave him banana and some
boiled egg; and he sat on all their laps one after the other, because
every well-brought-up mongoose always hopes to be a house-mongoose
some day and have rooms to run about in, and Rikki-tikki’s mother (she
used to live in the General’s house at Segowlee) had carefully told
Rikki what to do if ever he came across white men.
Then Rikki-tikki went out into the garden to see what was to be seen.
It was a large garden, only half cultivated, with bushes as big as
summer-houses of Marshal Niel roses, lime and orange trees, clumps of
bamboos, and thickets of high grass. Rikki-tikki licked his lips.
“This is a splendid hunting-ground,” he said, and his tail grew
bottle-brushy at the thought of it, and he scuttled up and down the
garden, snuffing here and there till he heard very sorrowful voices in
It was Darzee, the tailor-bird, and his wife. They had made a
beautiful nest by pulling two big leaves together and stitching them
up the edges with fibres, and had filled the hollow with cotton and
downy fluff. The nest swayed to and fro, as they sat on the rim and
“What is the matter?” asked Rikki-tikki.
“We are very miserable,” said Darzee. “One of our babies fell out of
the nest yesterday, and Nag ate him.”
“H’m!” said Rikki-tikki, “that is very sad — but I am a
stranger here. Who is Nag?”
Darzee and his wife only cowered down in the nest without answering,
for from the thick grass at the foot of the bush there came a low
hiss — a horrid cold sound that made Rikki-tikki jump back two clear
feet. Then inch by inch out of the grass rose up the head and spread
hood of Nag, the big black cobra, and he was five feet long from
tongue to tail. When he had lifted one-third of himself clear of the
ground, he stayed balancing to and fro exactly as a dandelion-tuft
balances in the wind, and he looked at Rikki-tikki with the wicked
snake’s eyes that never change their expression, whatever the snake
may be thinking of.
“Who is Nag?” said he. ”I am Nag. The great god Brahm put
his mark upon all our people when the first cobra spread his hood to
keep the sun off Brahm as he slept. Look, and be afraid!”
He spread out his hood more than ever, and Rikki-tikki saw the
spectacle-mark on the back of it that looks exactly like the eye part
of a hook-and-eye fastening. He was afraid for the minute; but it is
impossible for a mongoose to stay frightened for any length of time,
and though Rikki-tikki had never met a live cobra before, his mother
had fed him on dead ones, and he knew that all a grown mongoose’s
business in life was to fight and eat snakes. Nag knew that too, and
at the bottom of his cold heart he was afraid.
“Well,” said Rikki-tikki, and his tail began to fluff up again,
“marks or no marks, do you think it is right for you to eat
fledglings out of a nest?”
Nag was thinking to himself, and watching the least little movement in
the grass behind Rikki-tikki. He knew that mongooses in the garden
meant death sooner or later for him and his family, but he wanted to
get Rikki-tikki off his guard. So he dropped his head a little, and
put it on one side.
“Let us talk,” he said. “You eat eggs. Why should not I eat
“Behind you! Look behind you!” sang Darzee.
Rikki-tikki knew better than to waste time in staring. He jumped up
in the air as high as he could go, and just under him whizzed by the
head of Nagaina, Nag’s wicked wife. She had crept up behind him as he
was talking, to make an end of him; and he heard her savage hiss as
the stroke missed. He came down almost across her back, and if he had
been an old mongoose he would have know that then was the time to
break her back with one bite; but he was afraid of the terrible
lashing return-stroke of the cobra. He bit, indeed, but did not bite
long enough, and he jumped clear of the whisking tail, leaving Nagaina
torn and angry.
“Wicked, wicked Darzee!” said Nag, lashing up as high as he could
reach toward the nest in the thornbush; but Darzee had built it out of
reach of snakes, and it only swayed to and fro.
Rikki-tikki felt his eyes growing red and hot (when a mongoose’s eyes
grow red, he is angry), and he sat back on his tail and hind legs like
a little kangaroo, and looked all round him, and chattered with rage.
But Nag and Nagaina had disappeared into the grass. When a snake
misses its stroke, it never says anything or gives any sign of what it
means to do next. Rikki-tikki did not care to follow them, for he did
not feel sure that he could manage two snakes at once. So he trotted
off to the gravel path near the house, and sat down to think. It was a
serious matter for him.
If you read the old books of natural history, you will find they say
that when the mongoose fights the snake and happens to get bitten, he
runs off and eats some herb that cures him. That is not true. The
victory is only a matter of quickness of eye and quickness of foot,
— snake’s blow against mongoose’s jump, — and as no eye can follow
the motion of a snake’s head when it strikes, that makes things much
more wonderful than any magic herb. Rikki-tikki knew he was a young
mongoose, and it made him all the more pleased to think that he had
managed to escape a blow from behind. It gave him confidence in
himself, and when Teddy came running down the path, Rikki-tikki was
ready to be petted.
But just as Teddy was stooping, something flinched a little in the
dust, and a tiny voice said: “Be careful. I am death!” It was
Karait, the dusty brown snakeling that lies for choice on the dusty
earth; and his bite is as dangerous as the cobra’s. But he is so
small that nobody thinks of him, and so he does the more harm to
Rikki-tikki’s eyes grew red again, and he danced up to Karait with the
peculiar rocking, swaying motion that he had inherited from his
family. It looks very funny, but it is so perfectly balanced a gait
that you can fly off from it at any angle you please; and in dealing
with snakes this is an advantage. If Rikki-tikki had only known, he
was doing a much more dangerous thing that fighting Nag, for Karait is
so small, and can turn so quickly, that unless Rikki bit him close to
the back of the head, he would get the return-stroke in his eye or
lip. But Rikki did not know: his eyes were all red, and he rocked
back and forth, looking for a good place to hold. Karait struck out.
Rikki jumped sideways and tried to run in, but the wicked little dusty
gray head lashed within a fraction of his shoulder, and he had to jump
over the body, and the head followed his heels close.
Teddy shouted to the house: “Oh, look here! Our mongoose is killing
a snake”; and Rikki-tikki heard a scream from Teddy’s mother. His
father ran out with a stick, but by the time he came up, Karait had
lunged out once too far, and Rikki-tikki- had sprung, jumped on the
snake’s back, dropped his head far between his fore-legs, bitten as
high up the back as he could get hold, and rolled away. That bite
paralysed Karait, and Rikki-tikki was just going to eat him up from
the tail, after the custom of his family at dinner, when he remembered
that a full meal makes a slow mongoose, and if wanted all his strength
and quickness ready, he must keep himself thin.
He went away for a dust-bath under the castor-oil bushes, while
Teddy’s father beat the dead Karait. “What is the use of that?”
thought Rikki-tikki. “I have settled it all”; and then Teddy’s
mother picked him up from the dust and hugged him, crying that he had
saved Teddy from death, and Teddy’s father said that he was a
providence, and Teddy looked on with big scared eyes. Rikki-tikki was
rather amused at all the fuss, which, of course, he did not
understand. Teddy’s mother might just as well have petted Teddy for
playing in the dust. Rikki was thoroughly enjoying himself.
That night, at dinner, walking to and fro among the wine-glasses on
the table, he could have stuffed himself three times over with nice
things; but he remembered Nag and Nagaina, and though it was very
pleasant to be patted and petted by Teddy’s mother, and to sit on
Teddy’s shoulder, his eyes would get red from time to time, and he
would go off into his long war-cry of “Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!”
Teddy carried him off to bed, and insisted on Rikki-tikki sleeping
under his chin. Rikki-tikki was too well bred to bite or scratch, but
as soon as Teddy was asleep he went off for his nightly walk round the
house, and in the dark he ran up against Chuchundra, the muskrat,
creeping round by the wall. Chuchundra is a broken-hearted little
beast. He whimpers and cheeps all the night, trying to make up his
mind to run into the middle of the room, but he never gets there.
“Don’t kill me,” said Chuichundra, almost weeping. “Rikki-tikki,
don’t kill me.”
“Do you think a snake-killer kills musk-rats?” said Rikki-tikki
“Those who kill snakes get killed by snakes,” said Chuchundra, more
sorrowfully than ever. “And how am I to be sure that Nag won’t
mistake me for you some dark night?”
“There’s not the least danger,” said Rikki-tikki; “but Nag is in
the garden, and I know you don’t go there.”
“My cousin Chua, the rat, told me –” said Chuchundra, and then he
“Told you what?”
“H’sh! Nag is everywhere, Rikki-tikki. You should have talked to
Chua in the garden.”
“I didn’t — so you must tell me. Quick Chuchundra, or I’ll bite
Chuchundra sat down and cried till the tears rolled off his whiskers.
“I am a very poor man,” he sobbed. “I never had spirit enough to
run out into the middle of the room. H’sh! I musn’t tell you
anything. Can’t you hear, Rikki-tikki?”
Rikki-tikki listened. The house was as still as still, but he thought
he could just catch the faintest scratch-scratch in the
world, — a noise as faint as that of a wasp walking on a window-pane,
— the dry scratch of a snake’s scales on brick-work.
“That’s Nag or Nagaina,” he said to himself; “and he is crawling
into the bath-room sluice. You’re right Chuchundra; I should have
talked to Chua.”
He stole off to Teddy’s bath-room, but there was nothing there, and
then to Teddy’s mother’s bathroom. At the bottom of the smooth
plaster wall there was a brick pulled out to make a sluice for the
bath-water, and as Rikki-tikki stole in by the masonry curb where the
bath is put, he heard Nag and Nagaina whispering together outside in
“When the house is emptied of people,” said Nagaina to her husband,
“he will have to go away, and then the garden will be our
own again. Go in quietly, and remember that the big man who killed
Karait is the first one to bite. Then come out and tell me, and we
will hunt for Rikki-tikki together.”
“But are you sure that there is anything to be gained by killing the
people?” said Nag.
“Everything. When there were no people in the bungalow, did we have
any mongoose in the garden? So long as the bungalow is empty, we are
king and queen of the garden; and remember that as soon as our eggs in
the melon-bed hatch (as they may to-morrow), our children will need
room and quiet.”
“I had not thought of that,” said Nag. “I will go, but there is no
need that we should hunt for Rikki-tikki afterward. I will kill the
big man and his wife, and the child if I can, and come away quietly.
The the bungalow will be empty, and Rikki-tikki will go.”
Rikki-tikki tingled all over with rage and hatred at this, and then
Nag’s head came through the sluice, and his five feet of cold body
followed it. Angry as he was, Rikki-tikki was very frightened as he
saw the size of the big cobra. Nag coiled himself up, raised his
head, and looked into the bath-room in the dark, and Rikki could see
his eyes glitter.
“Now, if I kill him here, Nagaina will know; and if I fight him on
the open floor, the odds are in his favour. What am I to do?” said
Nag waved to and fro, and then Rikki-tikki heard him drinking from the
biggest water-jar that was used to fill the bath. “That is good,”
said the snake. “Now, when Karait was killed, the big man had a
stick. He may have that stick still, but when he comes in to bathe in
the morning he will not have a stick. I shall wait here till he
comes. Nagaina — do you hear me? — I shall wait here in the cool
There was no answer from outside, so Rikki-tikki knew Nagaina had gone
away. Nag coiled himself down, coil by coil, round the bulge at the
bottom of the water-jar, and Rikki-tikki stayed still as death. After
an hour he began to move, muscle by muscle, toward the jar. Nag was
asleep, and Rikki-tikki looked at his big back, wondering which would
be the best place for a good hold. “If I don’t break his back at the
first jump,” said Rikki, “he can still fight; and if he fights — O
Rikki!” He looked at the thickness of the neck below the hood, but
that was too much for him; and a bite near the tail would only make Nag
“It must be the head,” he said at last; “the head above the hood;
and when I am once there, I must not let go.”
Then he jumped. The head was lying a little clear of the water-jar,
under the curve of it; and, as his teeth met, Rikki braced his back
against the bulge of the red earthenware to hold down the head. This
gave him just one second’s purchase, and he made the most of it. Then
he was battered to and fro as a rat is shaken by a dog — to and fro
on the floor, up and down, and round in great circles; but his eyes
were red, and he held on as the body cart-whipped over the floor,
upsetting the tin dipper and the soap-dish and the flesh-brush, and
banged against the tin side of the bath. As he held he closed his
jaws tighter and tighter, for he made sure he would be banged to
death, and, for the honour of his family, he preferred to be found
with his teeth locked. He was dizzy, aching, and felt shaken to
pieces when something went off like a thunderclap just behind him; a
hot wind knocked him senseless, and red fire singed his fur. The big
man had been wakened by the noise, and had fired both barrels of a
shot-gun into Nag just behind the hood.
Rikki-tikki held on with his eyes shut, for now he was quite sure he
was dead; but the head did not move, and the big man picked him up and
said: “It’s the mongoose again, Alice; the little chap has saved
our lives now.” Then Teddy’s mother came in with a very
white face, and saw what was left of Nag, and Rikki-tikki dragged
himself to Teddy’s bedroom and spent half the rest of the night
shaking himself tenderly to find out whether he was really broken into
forty pieces, as he fancied.
When morning came he was very stiff, but well pleased with his doings.
“Now I have Nagaina to settle with, and she will be worse than five
Nags, and there’s no knowing when the eggs she spoke of will hatch.
Goodness! I must go and see Darzee,” he said.
Without waiting for breakfast, Rikki-tikki ran to the thorn-bush where
Darzee was singing a song of triumph at the top of his voice. The
news of Nag’s death was all over the garden, for the sweeper had
thrown the body on the rubbish-heap.
“Oh, you stupid tuft of feathers!” said Rikki-tikki angrily. “Is
this the time to sing?”
“Nag is dead — is dead — is dead!” sang Darzee. “The valiant
Rikki-tikki caught him by the head and held fast. The big man brought
the bang-stick, and Nag fell in two pieces! He will never eat my
“All that’s true enough; but where’s Nagaina?” said Rikki-tikki,
looking carefully round him.
“Nagaina came to the bath-room sluice and called for Nag,” Darzee
went on; “and Nag came out on the end of a stick — the sweeper
picked him up on the end of a stick and threw him upon the
rubbish-heap. Let us sing about the great, the red-eyed
Rikki-tikki!” and Darzee filled his throat and sang.
“If I could get up to your nest, I’d roll all your babies out!” said
Rikki-tikki. “You don’t know when to do the right thing at the right
time. You’re safe enough in your nest there, but it’s war for me down
here. Stop singing a minute, Darzee.”
“For the great, the beautiful Rikki-tikki’s sake I will stop,” said
Darzee. “What is it, O Killer of the terrible Nag?”
“Where is Nagaina, for the third time?”
“On the rubbish-heap by the stables, mourning for Nag. Great is
Rikki-tikki with the white teeth.”
“Bother my white teeth! Have you ever heard where she deeps her
“In the melon-bed, on the end nearest the wall, where the sun strikes
nearly all day. She hid them there weeks ago.”
“And you never thought it worth while to tell me? The end nearest
the wall, you said?”
“Rikki-tikki, you are not going to eat her eggs?”
“Not eat exactly; no. Darzee, if you have a grain of sense you will
fly off to the stables and pretend that your wing is broken, and let
Nagaina chase you away to this bush. I must get to the melon-bed, and
if I went there now she’d see me.”
Darzee was a feather-brained little fellow who could never hold more
than one idea at a time in his head; and just because he knew that
Nagaina’s children were born in eggs like his own, he didn’t think at
first that it was fair to kill them. But his wife was a sensible
bird, and she knew that cobra’s eggs meant young cobras later on; so
she flew off from the nest, and left Darzee to keep the babies warm,
and continue his song about the death of Nag. Darzee was very like a
man in some ways.
She fluttered in front of Nagaina by the rubbish heap, and cried out,
“Oh, my wing is broken! The boy in the house threw a stone at me and
broke it.” Then she fluttered more desparately than ever.
Nagaina lifted up her head and hissed, “You warned Rikki-tikki when I
would have killed him. Indeed and truly, you’ve chosed a bad place to
be lame in.” And she moved toward Darzee’s wife, slipping along over
“The boy broke it with a stone! shrieked Darzee’s wife.
“Well! It may be some consolation to you when you’re dead to know
that I shall settle accounts with the boy. My husband lies on the
rubbish-heap this morning, but before the night the boy in the house
will lie very still. What is the use of running away? I am sure to
catch you. Little fool, look at me!”
Darzee’s wife knew better than to do that, for a bird who
looks at a snake’s eyes gets so frightened that she cannot move.
Darzee’s wife fluttered on, piping sorrowfully, and never leaving the
ground, and Nagaina quickened her pace.
Rikki-tikki heard them going up the path from the stables, and he
raced for the end of the melon-patch near the wall. There, in the
warm litter about the melons, very cunningly hidden, he found
twenty-five eggs, about the size of a bantam’s eggs, but with whitish
skin instead of shell.
“I was not a day too soon,” he said; for he could see the baby
cobras curled up inside the skin, and he knew that the minute they
were hatched they could each kill a man or a mongoose. He bit off the
tops of the eggs as fast as he could, taking care to crush the young
cobras, and turned over the litter from time to time to see whether he
had missed any. At last there were only three eggs left, and
Rikki-tikki began to chuckle to himself, when he heard Darzee’s wife
“Rikki-tikki, I led Nagaina toward the house, and she has gone into
the verandah, and — oh, come quickly — she means killing!”
Rikki-tikki smashed two eggs, and tumbled backward down the melon-bed
with the third egg in his mouth, and scuttled to the verandah as hard
as he could put foot to the ground. Teddy and his mother and father
were there at early breakfast; but Rikki-tikki saw that they were not
eating anything. They sat stone-still, and their faces were white.
Nagaina was coiled up on the matting by Teddy’s chair, within easy
striking-distance of Teddy’s bare leg, and she was swaying to and fro
singing a song of triumph.
“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
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 round, and saw the egg on the verandah.
“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; and 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 teacups, safe and out of reach of Nagaina.
“Tricked! Tricked! Tricked! Rikk-tchk-tchk!” 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 belw him in two. I did it.
Rikki-tikki-tchk-tchk! 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 verandah, and she
gathered herself together like a watch-spring. Then Rikki-tikki
danced in a 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 verandah, 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 verandah
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 as 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 brough 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 struck 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
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
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
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 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 still
looked very white, for she had been fainting) and Teddy’s father came
out and almost cried over him; and that night he ate all that was givn
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 all the mongooses are light
“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 bit, till never a cobra dared show its
head inside the walls.
(Sung in honour of Rikki-tikki-tavi)
Singer and tailor am I —
Doubled the joys that I know —
Proud of my lilt through the sky,
Proud of the house that I sew —
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 hath delivered us, who?
Tell me his nest and his name.
Rikki, the valiant, the true,
Tikki, with eyeballs of flame,
Rik-tikki-tikki, the ivory-fanged, the hunger with eye-
balls 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.)