Continued from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
came he was very stiff
, but well pleased
doings. "Now I have Nagaina to settle
with, and she will be worse
Nags, and there's no knowing when the eggs she spoke
! I must go and see Darzee," he said.
Without waiting for breakfast, Rikki-tikki ran to the
thornbush 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 babies again."
"All that's true enough. But where's Nagaina?" said
Rikki-tikki, looking carefully round him.
"Nagaina came to the bathroom 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 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 keeps
"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 desperately
Nagaina lifted up her head and hissed, "You warned Rikki-tikki
when I would have killed him. Indeed and truly, you've chosen a
bad place to be lame in." And she moved toward Darzee's wife,
slipping along over the dust.
"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 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 above 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 screaming:
"Rikki-tikki, I led Nagaina toward the house, and she has gone
into the veranda, 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
veranda 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 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
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,
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
"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.