The tale of a brave mongoose

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!)

Rudyard Kipling - "The Jungle Book"

The mongoose is a curious creature, and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was no exception. Taken in by an English family to live in their bungalow after he was orphaned, the story tells of his war with the cobra Nag and his wife, Nagina, and his ultimate victory over the snake.

Ever inquisitive, he has many adventures in the house, discovering many things, including the fact that cotton wool is not edible; bathtubs are dangerous when filled with water; lit cigars burn the nose; ink is for humans to write with; and how a kerosene lamp is lit. "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'"

He also meets and befriends Darzee the tailor bird and Chuchundra the musk rat, and becomes involved in a battle with Nagina, who has eaten some of Darzee's children. The account of the battle is wonderfully written, telling not just of Rikki's bravery, but also his battle tactics and innate wisdom. He wounds the snake, who retreats, vowing revenge.

Once the cobras have fled, he saves Teddy (the young boy of the household) from death at the hands of Karait (another venomous snake), but leaves the carcass uneaten, because "a full meal makes a slow mongoose" and he needs his wits about him to defeat Nag and Nagina.

That night, he overhears the snakes plans to kill the family and Rikki, and take over the bungalow for themselves. He listens as Nag hides in a water jar, and ambushes him, killing him by biting him behind the hood on his head. Later, with the aid of Darsee and Chuchundra, he plans his strategy to kill Nagina, and to destroy her eggs.

Darsee feigns injury to distract Nagina, while Rikki breaks the cobra's eggs, and Nagina flees into her nest in a rat's burrow. Rikki follows her, and in an heroic battle underground, defeats her. The red ants feast on her body, and Rikki basks in the sun, and the praise from the grateful family.

As a child, I loved this story - not just because it was an exciting tale, but because the apparent underdog, a young mongoose, defeats better-equipped enemies. I always had the same "run and find out" curiosity, and seek to develop the same courage and tenacity as Rikki.