Part 2 out of 3
threw back his long hair and frowned at the crowd.
"What is there to be afraid of?" said the priest. "Look at
the marks on his arms and legs. They are the bites of wolves. He
is but a wolf-child run away from the jungle."
Of course, in playing together, the cubs had often nipped
Mowgli harder than they intended, and there were white scars all
over his arms and legs. But he would have been the last person in
the world to call these bites, for he knew what real biting meant.
"Arre! Arre!" said two or three women together. "To be bitten
by wolves, poor child! He is a handsome boy. He has eyes like
red fire. By my honor, Messua, he is not unlike thy boy that was
taken by the tiger."
"Let me look," said a woman with heavy copper rings on her
wrists and ankles, and she peered at Mowgli under the palm of her
hand. "Indeed he is not. He is thinner, but he has the very look
of my boy."
The priest was a clever man, and he knew that Messua was wife
to the richest villager in the place. So he looked up at the sky
for a minute and said solemnly: "What the jungle has taken the
jungle has restored. Take the boy into thy house, my sister, and
forget not to honor the priest who sees so far into the lives of
"By the Bull that bought me," said Mowgli to himself, "but all
this talking is like another looking-over by the Pack! Well, if I
am a man, a man I must become."
The crowd parted as the woman beckoned Mowgli to her hut,
where there was a red lacquered bedstead, a great earthen grain
chest with funny raised patterns on it, half a dozen copper
cooking pots, an image of a Hindu god in a little alcove, and on
the wall a real looking glass, such as they sell at the country
She gave him a long drink of milk and some bread, and then she
laid her hand on his head and looked into his eyes; for she
thought perhaps that he might be her real son come back from the
jungle where the tiger had taken him. So she said, "Nathoo, O
Nathoo!" Mowgli did not show that he knew the name. "Dost thou
not remember the day when I gave thee thy new shoes?" She touched
his foot, and it was almost as hard as horn. "No," she said
sorrowfully, "those feet have never worn shoes, but thou art very
like my Nathoo, and thou shalt be my son."
Mowgli was uneasy, because he had never been under a roof
before. But as he looked at the thatch, he saw that he could tear
it out any time if he wanted to get away, and that the window had
no fastenings. "What is the good of a man," he said to himself at
last, "if he does not understand man's talk? Now I am as silly
and dumb as a man would be with us in the jungle. I must speak
It was not for fun that he had learned while he was with the
wolves to imitate the challenge of bucks in the jungle and the
grunt of the little wild pig. So, as soon as Messua pronounced a
word Mowgli would imitate it almost perfectly, and before dark he
had learned the names of many things in the hut.
There was a difficulty at bedtime, because Mowgli would not
sleep under anything that looked so like a panther trap as that
hut, and when they shut the door he went through the window.
"Give him his will," said Messua's husband. "Remember he can
never till now have slept on a bed. If he is indeed sent in the
place of our son he will not run away."
So Mowgli stretched himself in some long, clean grass at the
edge of the field, but before he had closed his eyes a soft gray
nose poked him under the chin.
"Phew!" said Gray Brother (he was the eldest of Mother Wolf's
cubs). "This is a poor reward for following thee twenty miles.
Thou smellest of wood smoke and cattle--altogether like a man
already. Wake, Little Brother; I bring news."
"Are all well in the jungle?" said Mowgli, hugging him.
"All except the wolves that were burned with the Red Flower.
Now, listen. Shere Khan has gone away to hunt far off till his
coat grows again, for he is badly singed. When he returns he
swears that he will lay thy bones in the Waingunga."
"There are two words to that. I also have made a little
promise. But news is always good. I am tired to-night,--very
tired with new things, Gray Brother,--but bring me the news
"Thou wilt not forget that thou art a wolf? Men will not make
thee forget?" said Gray Brother anxiously.
"Never. I will always remember that I love thee and all in
our cave. But also I will always remember that I have been cast
out of the Pack."
"And that thou mayest be cast out of another pack. Men are
only men, Little Brother, and their talk is like the talk of frogs
in a pond. When I come down here again, I will wait for thee in
the bamboos at the edge of the grazing-ground."
For three months after that night Mowgli hardly ever left the
village gate, he was so busy learning the ways and customs of men.
First he had to wear a cloth round him, which annoyed him
horribly; and then he had to learn about money, which he did not
in the least understand, and about plowing, of which he did not
see the use. Then the little children in the village made him
very angry. Luckily, the Law of the Jungle had taught him to keep
his temper, for in the jungle life and food depend on keeping your
temper; but when they made fun of him because he would not play
games or fly kites, or because he mispronounced some word, only
the knowledge that it was unsportsmanlike to kill little naked
cubs kept him from picking them up and breaking them in two.
He did not know his own strength in the least. In the jungle
he knew he was weak compared with the beasts, but in the village
people said that he was as strong as a bull.
And Mowgli had not the faintest idea of the difference that
caste makes between man and man. When the potter's donkey slipped
in the clay pit, Mowgli hauled it out by the tail, and helped to
stack the pots for their journey to the market at Khanhiwara.
That was very shocking, too, for the potter is a low-caste man,
and his donkey is worse. When the priest scolded him, Mowgli
threatened to put him on the donkey too, and the priest told
Messua's husband that Mowgli had better be set to work as soon as
possible; and the village head-man told Mowgli that he would have
to go out with the buffaloes next day, and herd them while they
grazed. No one was more pleased than Mowgli; and that night,
because he had been appointed a servant of the village, as it
were, he went off to a circle that met every evening on a masonry
platform under a great fig-tree. It was the village club, and the
head-man and the watchman and the barber, who knew all the gossip
of the village, and old Buldeo, the village hunter, who had a
Tower musket, met and smoked. The monkeys sat and talked in the
upper branches, and there was a hole under the platform where a
cobra lived, and he had his little platter of milk every night
because he was sacred; and the old men sat around the tree and
talked, and pulled at the big huqas (the water-pipes) till far
into the night. They told wonderful tales of gods and men and
ghosts; and Buldeo told even more wonderful ones of the ways of
beasts in the jungle, till the eyes of the children sitting
outside the circle bulged out of their heads. Most of the tales
were about animals, for the jungle was always at their door. The
deer and the wild pig grubbed up their crops, and now and again
the tiger carried off a man at twilight, within sight of the
Mowgli, who naturally knew something about what they were
talking of, had to cover his face not to show that he was
laughing, while Buldeo, the Tower musket across his knees, climbed
on from one wonderful story to another, and Mowgli's shoulders
Buldeo was explaining how the tiger that had carried away
Messua's son was a ghost-tiger, and his body was inhabited by the
ghost of a wicked, old money-lender, who had died some years ago.
"And I know that this is true," he said, "because Purun Dass
always limped from the blow that he got in a riot when his account
books were burned, and the tiger that I speak of he limps, too,
for the tracks of his pads are unequal."
"True, true, that must be the truth," said the gray-beards,
"Are all these tales such cobwebs and moon talk?" said Mowgli.
"That tiger limps because he was born lame, as everyone knows. To
talk of the soul of a money-lender in a beast that never had the
courage of a jackal is child's talk."
Buldeo was speechless with surprise for a moment, and the
"Oho! It is the jungle brat, is it?" said Buldeo. "If thou
art so wise, better bring his hide to Khanhiwara, for the
Government has set a hundred rupees on his life. Better still,
talk not when thy elders speak."
Mowgli rose to go. "All the evening I have lain here
listening," he called back over his shoulder, "and, except once or
twice, Buldeo has not said one word of truth concerning the
jungle, which is at his very doors. How, then, shall I believe
the tales of ghosts and gods and goblins which he says he has
"It is full time that boy went to herding," said the head-man,
while Buldeo puffed and snorted at Mowgli's impertinence.
The custom of most Indian villages is for a few boys to take
the cattle and buffaloes out to graze in the early morning, and
bring them back at night. The very cattle that would trample a
white man to death allow themselves to be banged and bullied and
shouted at by children that hardly come up to their noses. So
long as the boys keep with the herds they are safe, for not even
the tiger will charge a mob of cattle. But if they straggle to
pick flowers or hunt lizards, they are sometimes carried off.
Mowgli went through the village street in the dawn, sitting on the
back of Rama, the great herd bull. The slaty-blue buffaloes, with
their long, backward-sweeping horns and savage eyes, rose out
their byres, one by one, and followed him, and Mowgli made it very
clear to the children with him that he was the master. He beat
the buffaloes with a long, polished bamboo, and told Kamya, one of
the boys, to graze the cattle by themselves, while he went on with
the buffaloes, and to be very careful not to stray away from the
An Indian grazing ground is all rocks and scrub and tussocks
and little ravines, among which the herds scatter and disappear.
The buffaloes generally keep to the pools and muddy places, where
they lie wallowing or basking in the warm mud for hours. Mowgli
drove them on to the edge of the plain where the Waingunga came
out of the jungle; then he dropped from Rama's neck, trotted off
to a bamboo clump, and found Gray Brother. "Ah," said Gray
Brother, "I have waited here very many days. What is the meaning
of this cattle-herding work?"
"It is an order," said Mowgli. "I am a village herd for a
while. What news of Shere Khan?"
"He has come back to this country, and has waited here a long
time for thee. Now he has gone off again, for the game is scarce.
But he means to kill thee."
"Very good," said Mowgli. "So long as he is away do thou or
one of the four brothers sit on that rock, so that I can see thee
as I come out of the village. When he comes back wait for me in
the ravine by the dhak tree in the center of the plain. We need
not walk into Shere Khan's mouth."
Then Mowgli picked out a shady place, and lay down and slept
while the buffaloes grazed round him. Herding in India is one of
the laziest things in the world. The cattle move and crunch, and
lie down, and move on again, and they do not even low. They only
grunt, and the buffaloes very seldom say anything, but get down
into the muddy pools one after another, and work their way into
the mud till only their noses and staring china-blue eyes show
above the surface, and then they lie like logs. The sun makes the
rocks dance in the heat, and the herd children hear one kite
(never any more) whistling almost out of sight overhead, and they
know that if they died, or a cow died, that kite would sweep down,
and the next kite miles away would see him drop and follow, and
the next, and the next, and almost before they were dead there
would be a score of hungry kites come out of nowhere. Then they
sleep and wake and sleep again, and weave little baskets of dried
grass and put grasshoppers in them; or catch two praying mantises
and make them fight; or string a necklace of red and black jungle
nuts; or watch a lizard basking on a rock, or a snake hunting a
frog near the wallows. Then they sing long, long songs with odd
native quavers at the end of them, and the day seems longer than
most people's whole lives, and perhaps they make a mud castle with
mud figures of men and horses and buffaloes, and put reeds into
the men's hands, and pretend that they are kings and the figures
are their armies, or that they are gods to be worshiped. Then
evening comes and the children call, and the buffaloes lumber up
out of the sticky mud with noises like gunshots going off one
after the other, and they all string across the gray plain back to
the twinkling village lights.
Day after day Mowgli would lead the buffaloes out to their
wallows, and day after day he would see Gray Brother's back a mile
and a half away across the plain (so he knew that Shere Khan had
not come back), and day after day he would lie on the grass
listening to the noises round him, and dreaming of old days in the
jungle. If Shere Khan had made a false step with his lame paw up
in the jungles by the Waingunga, Mowgli would have heard him in
those long, still mornings.
At last a day came when he did not see Gray Brother at the
signal place, and he laughed and headed the buffaloes for the
ravine by the dhk tree, which was all covered with golden-red
flowers. There sat Gray Brother, every bristle on his back
"He has hidden for a month to throw thee off thy guard. He
crossed the ranges last night with Tabaqui, hot-foot on thy
trail," said the Wolf, panting.
Mowgli frowned. "I am not afraid of Shere Khan, but Tabaqui
is very cunning."
"Have no fear," said Gray Brother, licking his lips a little.
"I met Tabaqui in the dawn. Now he is telling all his wisdom to
the kites, but he told me everything before I broke his back.
Shere Khan's plan is to wait for thee at the village gate this
evening--for thee and for no one else. He is lying up now, in
the big dry ravine of the Waingunga."
"Has he eaten today, or does he hunt empty?" said Mowgli, for
the answer meant life and death to him.
"He killed at dawn,--a pig,--and he has drunk too.
Remember, Shere Khan could never fast, even for the sake of
"Oh! Fool, fool! What a cub's cub it is! Eaten and drunk
too, and he thinks that I shall wait till he has slept! Now,
where does he lie up? If there were but ten of us we might pull
him down as he lies. These buffaloes will not charge unless they
wind him, and I cannot speak their language. Can we get behind
his track so that they may smell it?"
"He swam far down the Waingunga to cut that off," said Gray
"Tabaqui told him that, I know. He would never have thought
of it alone." Mowgli stood with his finger in his mouth,
thinking. "The big ravine of the Waingunga. That opens out on
the plain not half a mile from here. I can take the herd round
through the jungle to the head of the ravine and then sweep down
--but he would slink out at the foot. We must block that end.
Gray Brother, canst thou cut the herd in two for me?"
"Not I, perhaps--but I have brought a wise helper." Gray
Brother trotted off and dropped into a hole. Then there lifted up
a huge gray head that Mowgli knew well, and the hot air was filled
with the most desolate cry of all the jungle--the hunting howl
of a wolf at midday.
"Akela! Akela!" said Mowgli, clapping his hands. "I might
have known that thou wouldst not forget me. We have a big work in
hand. Cut the herd in two, Akela. Keep the cows and calves
together, and the bulls and the plow buffaloes by themselves."
The two wolves ran, ladies'-chain fashion, in and out of the
herd, which snorted and threw up its head, and separated into two
clumps. In one, the cow-buffaloes stood with their calves in the
center, and glared and pawed, ready, if a wolf would only stay
still, to charge down and trample the life out of him. In the
other, the bulls and the young bulls snorted and stamped, but
though they looked more imposing they were much less dangerous,
for they had no calves to protect. No six men could have divided
the herd so neatly.
"What orders!" panted Akela. "They are trying to join again."
Mowgli slipped on to Rama's back. "Drive the bulls away to
the left, Akela. Gray Brother, when we are gone, hold the cows
together, and drive them into the foot of the ravine."
"How far?" said Gray Brother, panting and snapping.
"Till the sides are higher than Shere Khan can jump," shouted
Mowgli. "Keep them there till we come down." The bulls swept off
as Akela bayed, and Gray Brother stopped in front of the cows.
They charged down on him, and he ran just before them to the foot
of the ravine, as Akela drove the bulls far to the left.
"Well done! Another charge and they are fairly started.
Careful, now--careful, Akela. A snap too much and the bulls
will charge. Hujah! This is wilder work than driving black-buck.
Didst thou think these creatures could move so swiftly?" Mowgli
"I have--have hunted these too in my time," gasped Akela in
the dust. "Shall I turn them into the jungle?"
"Ay! Turn. Swiftly turn them! Rama is mad with rage. Oh,
if I could only tell him what I need of him to-day."
The bulls were turned, to the right this time, and crashed
into the standing thicket. The other herd children, watching with
the cattle half a mile away, hurried to the village as fast as
their legs could carry them, crying that the buffaloes had gone
mad and run away.
But Mowgli's plan was simple enough. All he wanted to do was
to make a big circle uphill and get at the head of the ravine, and
then take the bulls down it and catch Shere Khan between the bulls
and the cows; for he knew that after a meal and a full drink Shere
Khan would not be in any condition to fight or to clamber up the
sides of the ravine. He was soothing the buffaloes now by voice,
and Akela had dropped far to the rear, only whimpering once or
twice to hurry the rear-guard. It was a long, long circle, for
they did not wish to get too near the ravine and give Shere Khan
warning. At last Mowgli rounded up the bewildered herd at the
head of the ravine on a grassy patch that sloped steeply down to
the ravine itself. From that height you could see across the tops
of the trees down to the plain below; but what Mowgli looked at
was the sides of the ravine, and he saw with a great deal of
satisfaction that they ran nearly straight up and down, while the
vines and creepers that hung over them would give no foothold to a
tiger who wanted to get out.
"Let them breathe, Akela," he said, holding up his hand.
"They have not winded him yet. Let them breathe. I must tell
Shere Khan who comes. We have him in the trap."
He put his hands to his mouth and shouted down the ravine--
it was almost like shouting down a tunnel--and the echoes jumped
from rock to rock.
After a long time there came back the drawling, sleepy snarl
of a full-fed tiger just wakened.
"Who calls?" said Shere Khan, and a splendid peacock fluttered
up out of the ravine screeching.
"I, Mowgli. Cattle thief, it is time to come to the Council
Rock! Down--hurry them down, Akela! Down, Rama, down!"
The herd paused for an instant at the edge of the slope, but
Akela gave tongue in the full hunting-yell, and they pitched over
one after the other, just as steamers shoot rapids, the sand and
stones spurting up round them. Once started, there was no chance
of stopping, and before they were fairly in the bed of the ravine
Rama winded Shere Khan and bellowed.
"Ha! Ha!" said Mowgli, on his back. "Now thou knowest!" and
the torrent of black horns, foaming muzzles, and staring eyes
whirled down the ravine just as boulders go down in floodtime; the
weaker buffaloes being shouldered out to the sides of the ravine
where they tore through the creepers. They knew what the business
was before them--the terrible charge of the buffalo herd against
which no tiger can hope to stand. Shere Khan heard the thunder of
their hoofs, picked himself up, and lumbered down the ravine,
looking from side to side for some way of escape, but the walls of
the ravine were straight and he had to hold on, heavy with his
dinner and his drink, willing to do anything rather than fight.
The herd splashed through the pool he had just left, bellowing
till the narrow cut rang. Mowgli heard an answering bellow from
the foot of the ravine, saw Shere Khan turn (the tiger knew if the
worst came to the worst it was better to meet the bulls than the
cows with their calves), and then Rama tripped, stumbled, and went
on again over something soft, and, with the bulls at his heels,
crashed full into the other herd, while the weaker buffaloes were
lifted clean off their feet by the shock of the meeting. That
charge carried both herds out into the plain, goring and stamping
and snorting. Mowgli watched his time, and slipped off Rama's
neck, laying about him right and left with his stick.
"Quick, Akela! Break them up. Scatter them, or they will be
fighting one another. Drive them away, Akela. Hai, Rama! Hai,
hai, hai! my children. Softly now, softly! It is all over."
Akela and Gray Brother ran to and fro nipping the buffaloes'
legs, and though the herd wheeled once to charge up the ravine
again, Mowgli managed to turn Rama, and the others followed him to
Shere Khan needed no more trampling. He was dead, and the
kites were coming for him already.
"Brothers, that was a dog's death," said Mowgli, feeling for
the knife he always carried in a sheath round his neck now that he
lived with men. "But he would never have shown fight. His hide
will look well on the Council Rock. We must get to work swiftly."
A boy trained among men would never have dreamed of skinning a
ten-foot tiger alone, but Mowgli knew better than anyone else how
an animal's skin is fitted on, and how it can be taken off. But
it was hard work, and Mowgli slashed and tore and grunted for an
hour, while the wolves lolled out their tongues, or came forward
and tugged as he ordered them. Presently a hand fell on his
shoulder, and looking up he saw Buldeo with the Tower musket. The
children had told the village about the buffalo stampede, and
Buldeo went out angrily, only too anxious to correct Mowgli for
not taking better care of the herd. The wolves dropped out of
sight as soon as they saw the man coming.
"What is this folly?" said Buldeo angrily. "To think that
thou canst skin a tiger! Where did the buffaloes kill him? It is
the Lame Tiger too, and there is a hundred rupees on his head.
Well, well, we will overlook thy letting the herd run off, and
perhaps I will give thee one of the rupees of the reward when I
have taken the skin to Khanhiwara." He fumbled in his waist cloth
for flint and steel, and stooped down to singe Shere Khan's
whiskers. Most native hunters always singe a tiger's whiskers to
prevent his ghost from haunting them.
"Hum!" said Mowgli, half to himself as he ripped back the skin
of a forepaw. "So thou wilt take the hide to Khanhiwara for the
reward, and perhaps give me one rupee? Now it is in my mind that
I need the skin for my own use. Heh! Old man, take away that
"What talk is this to the chief hunter of the village? Thy
luck and the stupidity of thy buffaloes have helped thee to this
kill. The tiger has just fed, or he would have gone twenty miles
by this time. Thou canst not even skin him properly, little
beggar brat, and forsooth I, Buldeo, must be told not to singe his
whiskers. Mowgli, I will not give thee one anna of the reward,
but only a very big beating. Leave the carcass!"
"By the Bull that bought me," said Mowgli, who was trying to
get at the shoulder, "must I stay babbling to an old ape all noon?
Here, Akela, this man plagues me."
Buldeo, who was still stooping over Shere Khan's head, found
himself sprawling on the grass, with a gray wolf standing over
him, while Mowgli went on skinning as though he were alone in all
"Ye-es," he said, between his teeth. "Thou art altogether
right, Buldeo. Thou wilt never give me one anna of the reward.
There is an old war between this lame tiger and myself--a very
old war, and--I have won."
To do Buldeo justice, if he had been ten years younger he
would have taken his chance with Akela had he met the wolf in the
woods, but a wolf who obeyed the orders of this boy who had
private wars with man-eating tigers was not a common animal. It
was sorcery, magic of the worst kind, thought Buldeo, and he
wondered whether the amulet round his neck would protect him. He
lay as still as still, expecting every minute to see Mowgli turn
into a tiger too.
"Maharaj! Great King," he said at last in a husky whisper.
"Yes," said Mowgli, without turning his head, chuckling a
"I am an old man. I did not know that thou wast anything more
than a herdsboy. May I rise up and go away, or will thy servant
tear me to pieces?"
"Go, and peace go with thee. Only, another time do not meddle
with my game. Let him go, Akela."
Buldeo hobbled away to the village as fast as he could,
looking back over his shoulder in case Mowgli should change into
something terrible. When he got to the village he told a tale of
magic and enchantment and sorcery that made the priest look very
Mowgli went on with his work, but it was nearly twilight
before he and the wolves had drawn the great gay skin clear of the
"Now we must hide this and take the buffaloes home! Help me
to herd them, Akela."
The herd rounded up in the misty twilight, and when they got
near the village Mowgli saw lights, and heard the conches and
bells in the temple blowing and banging. Half the village seemed
to be waiting for him by the gate. "That is because I have killed
Shere Khan," he said to himself. But a shower of stones whistled
about his ears, and the villagers shouted: "Sorcerer! Wolf's
brat! Jungle demon! Go away! Get hence quickly or the priest
will turn thee into a wolf again. Shoot, Buldeo, shoot!"
The old Tower musket went off with a bang, and a young buffalo
bellowed in pain.
"More sorcery!" shouted the villagers. "He can turn bullets.
Buldeo, that was thy buffalo."
"Now what is this?" said Mowgli, bewildered, as the stones
"They are not unlike the Pack, these brothers of thine," said
Akela, sitting down composedly. "It is in my head that, if
bullets mean anything, they would cast thee out."
"Wolf! Wolf's cub! Go away!" shouted the priest, waving a
sprig of the sacred tulsi plant.
"Again? Last time it was because I was a man. This time it
is because I am a wolf. Let us go, Akela."
A woman--it was Messua--ran across to the herd, and cried:
"Oh, my son, my son! They say thou art a sorcerer who can turn
himself into a beast at will. I do not believe, but go away or
they will kill thee. Buldeo says thou art a wizard, but I know
thou hast avenged Nathoo's death."
"Come back, Messua!" shouted the crowd. "Come back, or we
will stone thee."
Mowgli laughed a little short ugly laugh, for a stone had hit
him in the mouth. "Run back, Messua. This is one of the foolish
tales they tell under the big tree at dusk. I have at least paid
for thy son's life. Farewell; and run quickly, for I shall send
the herd in more swiftly than their brickbats. I am no wizard,
"Now, once more, Akela," he cried. "Bring the herd in."
The buffaloes were anxious enough to get to the village. They
hardly needed Akela's yell, but charged through the gate like a
whirlwind, scattering the crowd right and left.
"Keep count!" shouted Mowgli scornfully. "It may be that I
have stolen one of them. Keep count, for I will do your herding
no more. Fare you well, children of men, and thank Messua that I
do not come in with my wolves and hunt you up and down your
He turned on his heel and walked away with the Lone Wolf, and
as he looked up at the stars he felt happy. "No more sleeping in
traps for me, Akela. Let us get Shere Khan's skin and go away.
No, we will not hurt the village, for Messua was kind to me."
When the moon rose over the plain, making it look all milky,
the horrified villagers saw Mowgli, with two wolves at his heels
and a bundle on his head, trotting across at the steady wolf's
trot that eats up the long miles like fire. Then they banged the
temple bells and blew the conches louder than ever. And Messua
cried, and Buldeo embroidered the story of his adventures in the
jungle, till he ended by saying that Akela stood up on his hind
legs and talked like a man.
The moon was just going down when Mowgli and the two wolves
came to the hill of the Council Rock, and they stopped at Mother
"They have cast me out from the Man-Pack, Mother," shouted
Mowgli, "but I come with the hide of Shere Khan to keep my word."
Mother Wolf walked stiffly from the cave with the cubs behind
her, and her eyes glowed as she saw the skin.
"I told him on that day, when he crammed his head and
shoulders into this cave, hunting for thy life, Little Frog--I
told him that the hunter would be the hunted. It is well done."
"Little Brother, it is well done," said a deep voice in the
thicket. "We were lonely in the jungle without thee, and Bagheera
came running to Mowgli's bare feet. They clambered up the Council
Rock together, and Mowgli spread the skin out on the flat stone
where Akela used to sit, and pegged it down with four slivers of
bamboo, and Akela lay down upon it, and called the old call to the
Council, "Look--look well, O Wolves," exactly as he had called
when Mowgli was first brought there.
Ever since Akela had been deposed, the Pack had been without a
leader, hunting and fighting at their own pleasure. But they
answered the call from habit; and some of them were lame from the
traps they had fallen into, and some limped from shot wounds, and
some were mangy from eating bad food, and many were missing. But
they came to the Council Rock, all that were left of them, and saw
Shere Khan's striped hide on the rock, and the huge claws dangling
at the end of the empty dangling feet. It was then that Mowgli
made up a song that came up into his throat all by itself, and he
shouted it aloud, leaping up and down on the rattling skin, and
beating time with his heels till he had no more breath left, while
Gray Brother and Akela howled between the verses.
"Look well, O Wolves. Have I kept my word?" said Mowgli. And
the wolves bayed "Yes," and one tattered wolf howled:
"Lead us again, O Akela. Lead us again, O Man-cub, for we be
sick of this lawlessness, and we would be the Free People once
"Nay," purred Bagheera, "that may not be. When ye are
full-fed, the madness may come upon you again. Not for nothing
are ye called the Free People. Ye fought for freedom, and it is
yours. Eat it, O Wolves."
"Man-Pack and Wolf-Pack have cast me out," said Mowgli. "Now
I will hunt alone in the jungle."
"And we will hunt with thee," said the four cubs.
So Mowgli went away and hunted with the four cubs in the
jungle from that day on. But he was not always alone, because,
years afterward, he became a man and married.
But that is a story for grown-ups.
THAT HE SANG AT THE COUNCIL ROCK WHEN HE
DANCED ON SHERE KHAN'S HIDE
The Song of Mowgli--I, Mowgli, am singing. Let the jungle
listen to the things I have done.
Shere Khan said he would kill--would kill! At the gates in the
twilight he would kill Mowgli, the Frog!
He ate and he drank. Drink deep, Shere Khan, for when wilt thou
drink again? Sleep and dream of the kill.
I am alone on the grazing-grounds. Gray Brother, come to me!
Come to me, Lone Wolf, for there is big game afoot!
Bring up the great bull buffaloes, the blue-skinned herd bulls
with the angry eyes. Drive them to and fro as I order.
Sleepest thou still, Shere Khan? Wake, oh, wake! Here come I,
and the bulls are behind.
Rama, the King of the Buffaloes, stamped with his foot. Waters of
the Waingunga, whither went Shere Khan?
He is not Ikki to dig holes, nor Mao, the Peacock, that he should
fly. He is not Mang the Bat, to hang in the branches. Little
bamboos that creak together, tell me where he ran?
Ow! He is there. Ahoo! He is there. Under the feet of Rama
lies the Lame One! Up, Shere Khan!
Up and kill! Here is meat; break the necks of the bulls!
Hsh! He is asleep. We will not wake him, for his strength is
very great. The kites have come down to see it. The black
ants have come up to know it. There is a great assembly in his
Alala! I have no cloth to wrap me. The kites will see that I am
naked. I am ashamed to meet all these people.
Lend me thy coat, Shere Khan. Lend me thy gay striped coat that I
may go to the Council Rock.
By the Bull that bought me I made a promise--a little promise.
Only thy coat is lacking before I keep my word.
With the knife, with the knife that men use, with the knife of the
hunter, I will stoop down for my gift.
Waters of the Waingunga, Shere Khan gives me his coat for the love
that he bears me. Pull, Gray Brother! Pull, Akela! Heavy is
the hide of Shere Khan.
The Man Pack are angry. They throw stones and talk child's talk.
My mouth is bleeding. Let me run away.
Through the night, through the hot night, run swiftly with me, my
brothers. We will leave the lights of the village and go to
the low moon.
Waters of the Waingunga, the Man-Pack have cast me out. I did
them no harm, but they were afraid of me. Why?
Wolf Pack, ye have cast me out too. The jungle is shut to me and
the village gates are shut. Why?
As Mang flies between the beasts and birds, so fly I between the
village and the jungle. Why?
I dance on the hide of Shere Khan, but my heart is very heavy. My
mouth is cut and wounded with the stones from the village, but
my heart is very light, because I have come back to the jungle.
These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the
spring. The water comes out of my eyes; yet I laugh while it
I am two Mowglis, but the hide of Shere Khan is under my feet.
All the jungle knows that I have killed Shere Khan. Look--look
well, O Wolves!
Ahae! My heart is heavy with the things that I do not understand.
The White Seal
Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o'er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!
All these things happened several years ago at a place called
Novastoshnah, or North East Point, on the Island of St. Paul, away
and away in the Bering Sea. Limmershin, the Winter Wren, told me
the tale when he was blown on to the rigging of a steamer going to
Japan, and I took him down into my cabin and warmed and fed him
for a couple of days till he was fit to fly back to St. Paul's
again. Limmershin is a very quaint little bird, but he knows how
to tell the truth.
Nobody comes to Novastoshnah except on business, and the only
people who have regular business there are the seals. They come
in the summer months by hundreds and hundreds of thousands out of
the cold gray sea. For Novastoshnah Beach has the finest
accommodation for seals of any place in all the world.
Sea Catch knew that, and every spring would swim from whatever
place he happened to be in--would swim like a torpedo-boat
straight for Novastoshnah and spend a month fighting with his
companions for a good place on the rocks, as close to the sea as
possible. Sea Catch was fifteen years old, a huge gray fur seal
with almost a mane on his shoulders, and long, wicked dog teeth.
When he heaved himself up on his front flippers he stood more than
four feet clear of the ground, and his weight, if anyone had been
bold enough to weigh him, was nearly seven hundred pounds. He was
scarred all over with the marks of savage fights, but he was
always ready for just one fight more. He would put his head on
one side, as though he were afraid to look his enemy in the face;
then he would shoot it out like lightning, and when the big teeth
were firmly fixed on the other seal's neck, the other seal might
get away if he could, but Sea Catch would not help him.
Yet Sea Catch never chased a beaten seal, for that was against
the Rules of the Beach. He only wanted room by the sea for his
nursery. But as there were forty or fifty thousand other seals
hunting for the same thing each spring, the whistling, bellowing,
roaring, and blowing on the beach was something frightful.
From a little hill called Hutchinson's Hill, you could look
over three and a half miles of ground covered with fighting seals;
and the surf was dotted all over with the heads of seals hurrying
to land and begin their share of the fighting. They fought in the
breakers, they fought in the sand, and they fought on the
smooth-worn basalt rocks of the nurseries, for they were just as
stupid and unaccommodating as men. Their wives never came to the
island until late in May or early in June, for they did not care
to be torn to pieces; and the young two-, three-, and
four-year-old seals who had not begun housekeeping went inland
about half a mile through the ranks of the fighters and played
about on the sand dunes in droves and legions, and rubbed off
every single green thing that grew. They were called the
holluschickie--the bachelors--and there were perhaps two or
three hundred thousand of them at Novastoshnah alone.
Sea Catch had just finished his forty-fifth fight one spring
when Matkah, his soft, sleek, gentle-eyed wife, came up out of the
sea, and he caught her by the scruff of the neck and dumped her
down on his reservation, saying gruffly: "Late as usual. Where
have you been?"
It was not the fashion for Sea Catch to eat anything during
the four months he stayed on the beaches, and so his temper was
generally bad. Matkah knew better than to answer back. She
looked round and cooed: "How thoughtful of you. You've taken the
old place again."
"I should think I had," said Sea Catch. "Look at me!"
He was scratched and bleeding in twenty places; one eye was
almost out, and his sides were torn to ribbons.
"Oh, you men, you men!" Matkah said, fanning herself with her
hind flipper. "Why can't you be sensible and settle your places
quietly? You look as though you had been fighting with the Killer
"I haven't been doing anything but fight since the middle of
May. The beach is disgracefully crowded this season. I've met at
least a hundred seals from Lukannon Beach, house hunting. Why
can't people stay where they belong?"
"I've often thought we should be much happier if we hauled out
at Otter Island instead of this crowded place," said Matkah.
"Bah! Only the holluschickie go to Otter Island. If we went
there they would say we were afraid. We must preserve
appearances, my dear."
Sea Catch sunk his head proudly between his fat shoulders and
pretended to go to sleep for a few minutes, but all the time he
was keeping a sharp lookout for a fight. Now that all the seals
and their wives were on the land, you could hear their clamor
miles out to sea above the loudest gales. At the lowest counting
there were over a million seals on the beach--old seals, mother
seals, tiny babies, and holluschickie, fighting, scuffling,
bleating, crawling, and playing together--going down to the sea
and coming up from it in gangs and regiments, lying over every
foot of ground as far as the eye could reach, and skirmishing
about in brigades through the fog. It is nearly always foggy at
Novastoshnah, except when the sun comes out and makes everything
look all pearly and rainbow-colored for a little while.
Kotick, Matkah's baby, was born in the middle of that
confusion, and he was all head and shoulders, with pale, watery
blue eyes, as tiny seals must be, but there was something about
his coat that made his mother look at him very closely.
"Sea Catch," she said, at last, "our baby's going to be
"Empty clam-shells and dry seaweed!" snorted Sea Catch.
"There never has been such a thing in the world as a white seal."
"I can't help that," said Matkah; "there's going to be now."
And she sang the low, crooning seal song that all the mother seals
sing to their babies:
You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old,
Or your head will be sunk by your heels;
And summer gales and Killer Whales
Are bad for baby seals.
Are bad for baby seals, dear rat,
As bad as bad can be;
But splash and grow strong,
And you can't be wrong.
Child of the Open Sea!
Of course the little fellow did not understand the words at
first. He paddled and scrambled about by his mother's side, and
learned to scuffle out of the way when his father was fighting
with another seal, and the two rolled and roared up and down the
slippery rocks. Matkah used to go to sea to get things to eat,
and the baby was fed only once in two days, but then he ate all he
could and throve upon it.
The first thing he did was to crawl inland, and there he met
tens of thousands of babies of his own age, and they played
together like puppies, went to sleep on the clean sand, and played
again. The old people in the nurseries took no notice of them,
and the holluschickie kept to their own grounds, and the babies
had a beautiful playtime.
When Matkah came back from her deep-sea fishing she would go
straight to their playground and call as a sheep calls for a lamb,
and wait until she heard Kotick bleat. Then she would take the
straightest of straight lines in his direction, striking out with
her fore flippers and knocking the youngsters head over heels
right and left. There were always a few hundred mothers hunting
for their children through the playgrounds, and the babies were
kept lively. But, as Matkah told Kotick, "So long as you don't
lie in muddy water and get mange, or rub the hard sand into a cut
or scratch, and so long as you never go swimming when there is a
heavy sea, nothing will hurt you here."
Little seals can no more swim than little children, but they
are unhappy till they learn. The first time that Kotick went down
to the sea a wave carried him out beyond his depth, and his big
head sank and his little hind flippers flew up exactly as his
mother had told him in the song, and if the next wave had not
thrown him back again he would have drowned.
After that, he learned to lie in a beach pool and let the wash
of the waves just cover him and lift him up while he paddled, but
he always kept his eye open for big waves that might hurt. He was
two weeks learning to use his flippers; and all that while he
floundered in and out of the water, and coughed and grunted and
crawled up the beach and took catnaps on the sand, and went back
again, until at last he found that he truly belonged to the water.
Then you can imagine the times that he had with his
companions, ducking under the rollers; or coming in on top of a
comber and landing with a swash and a splutter as the big wave
went whirling far up the beach; or standing up on his tail and
scratching his head as the old people did; or playing "I'm the
King of the Castle" on slippery, weedy rocks that just stuck out
of the wash. Now and then he would see a thin fin, like a big
shark's fin, drifting along close to shore, and he knew that that
was the Killer Whale, the Grampus, who eats young seals when he
can get them; and Kotick would head for the beach like an arrow,
and the fin would jig off slowly, as if it were looking for
nothing at all.
Late in October the seals began to leave St. Paul's for the
deep sea, by families and tribes, and there was no more fighting
over the nurseries, and the holluschickie played anywhere they
liked. "Next year," said Matkah to Kotick, "you will be a
holluschickie; but this year you must learn how to catch fish."
They set out together across the Pacific, and Matkah showed
Kotick how to sleep on his back with his flippers tucked down by
his side and his little nose just out of the water. No cradle is
so comfortable as the long, rocking swell of the Pacific. When
Kotick felt his skin tingle all over, Matkah told him he was
learning the "feel of the water," and that tingly, prickly
feelings meant bad weather coming, and he must swim hard and get
"In a little time," she said, "you'll know where to swim to,
but just now we'll follow Sea Pig, the Porpoise, for he is very
wise." A school of porpoises were ducking and tearing through the
water, and little Kotick followed them as fast as he could. "How
do you know where to go to?" he panted. The leader of the school
rolled his white eye and ducked under. "My tail tingles,
youngster," he said. "That means there's a gale behind me. Come
along! When you're south of the Sticky Water [he meant the
Equator] and your tail tingles, that means there's a gale in front
of you and you must head north. Come along! The water feels bad
This was one of very many things that Kotick learned, and he
was always learning. Matkah taught him to follow the cod and the
halibut along the under-sea banks and wrench the rockling out of
his hole among the weeds; how to skirt the wrecks lying a hundred
fathoms below water and dart like a rifle bullet in at one
porthole and out at another as the fishes ran; how to dance on the
top of the waves when the lightning was racing all over the sky,
and wave his flipper politely to the stumpy-tailed Albatross and
the Man-of-war Hawk as they went down the wind; how to jump three
or four feet clear of the water like a dolphin, flippers close to
the side and tail curved; to leave the flying fish alone because
they are all bony; to take the shoulder-piece out of a cod at full
speed ten fathoms deep, and never to stop and look at a boat or a
ship, but particularly a row-boat. At the end of six months what
Kotick did not know about deep-sea fishing was not worth the
knowing. And all that time he never set flipper on dry ground.
One day, however, as he was lying half asleep in the warm
water somewhere off the Island of Juan Fernandez, he felt faint
and lazy all over, just as human people do when the spring is in
their legs, and he remembered the good firm beaches of
Novastoshnah seven thousand miles away, the games his companions
played, the smell of the seaweed, the seal roar, and the fighting.
That very minute he turned north, swimming steadily, and as he
went on he met scores of his mates, all bound for the same place,
and they said: "Greeting, Kotick! This year we are all
holluschickie, and we can dance the Fire-dance in the breakers off
Lukannon and play on the new grass. But where did you get that
Kotick's fur was almost pure white now, and though he felt
very proud of it, he only said, "Swim quickly! My bones are
aching for the land." And so they all came to the beaches where
they had been born, and heard the old seals, their fathers,
fighting in the rolling mist.
That night Kotick danced the Fire-dance with the yearling
seals. The sea is full of fire on summer nights all the way down
from Novastoshnah to Lukannon, and each seal leaves a wake like
burning oil behind him and a flaming flash when he jumps, and the
waves break in great phosphorescent streaks and swirls. Then they
went inland to the holluschickie grounds and rolled up and down in
the new wild wheat and told stories of what they had done while
they had been at sea. They talked about the Pacific as boys would
talk about a wood that they had been nutting in, and if anyone had
understood them he could have gone away and made such a chart of
that ocean as never was. The three- and four-year-old
holluschickie romped down from Hutchinson's Hill crying: "Out of
the way, youngsters! The sea is deep and you don't know all
that's in it yet. Wait till you've rounded the Horn. Hi, you
yearling, where did you get that white coat?"
"I didn't get it," said Kotick. "It grew." And just as he
was going to roll the speaker over, a couple of black-haired men
with flat red faces came from behind a sand dune, and Kotick, who
had never seen a man before, coughed and lowered his head. The
holluschickie just bundled off a few yards and sat staring
stupidly. The men were no less than Kerick Booterin, the chief of
the seal-hunters on the island, and Patalamon, his son. They came
from the little village not half a mile from the sea nurseries,
and they were deciding what seals they would drive up to the
killing pens--for the seals were driven just like sheep--to be
turned into seal-skin jackets later on.
"Ho!" said Patalamon. "Look! There's a white seal!"
Kerick Booterin turned nearly white under his oil and smoke,
for he was an Aleut, and Aleuts are not clean people. Then he
began to mutter a prayer. "Don't touch him, Patalamon. There has
never been a white seal since--since I was born. Perhaps it is
old Zaharrof's ghost. He was lost last year in the big gale."
"I'm not going near him," said Patalamon. "He's unlucky. Do
you really think he is old Zaharrof come back? I owe him for some
"Don't look at him," said Kerick. "Head off that drove of
four-year-olds. The men ought to skin two hundred to-day, but
it's the beginning of the season and they are new to the work. A
hundred will do. Quick!"
Patalamon rattled a pair of seal's shoulder bones in front of
a herd of holluschickie and they stopped dead, puffing and
blowing. Then he stepped near and the seals began to move, and
Kerick headed them inland, and they never tried to get back to
their companions. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of seals
watched them being driven, but they went on playing just the same.
Kotick was the only one who asked questions, and none of his
companions could tell him anything, except that the men always
drove seals in that way for six weeks or two months of every year.
"I am going to follow," he said, and his eyes nearly popped
out of his head as he shuffled along in the wake of the herd.
"The white seal is coming after us," cried Patalamon. "That's
the first time a seal has ever come to the killing-grounds alone."
"Hsh! Don't look behind you," said Kerick. "It is Zaharrof's
ghost! I must speak to the priest about this."
The distance to the killing-grounds was only half a mile, but
it took an hour to cover, because if the seals went too fast
Kerick knew that they would get heated and then their fur would
come off in patches when they were skinned. So they went on very
slowly, past Sea Lion's Neck, past Webster House, till they came
to the Salt House just beyond the sight of the seals on the beach.
Kotick followed, panting and wondering. He thought that he was at
the world's end, but the roar of the seal nurseries behind him
sounded as loud as the roar of a train in a tunnel. Then Kerick
sat down on the moss and pulled out a heavy pewter watch and let
the drove cool off for thirty minutes, and Kotick could hear the
fog-dew dripping off the brim of his cap. Then ten or twelve men,
each with an iron-bound club three or four feet long, came up, and
Kerick pointed out one or two of the drove that were bitten by
their companions or too hot, and the men kicked those aside with
their heavy boots made of the skin of a walrus's throat, and then
Kerick said, "Let go!" and then the men clubbed the seals on the
head as fast as they could.
Ten minutes later little Kotick did not recognize his friends
any more, for their skins were ripped off from the nose to the
hind flippers, whipped off and thrown down on the ground in a
pile. That was enough for Kotick. He turned and galloped (a seal
can gallop very swiftly for a short time) back to the sea; his
little new mustache bristling with horror. At Sea Lion's Neck,
where the great sea lions sit on the edge of the surf, he flung
himself flipper-overhead into the cool water and rocked there,
gasping miserably. "What's here?" said a sea lion gruffly, for as
a rule the sea lions keep themselves to themselves.
"Scoochnie! Ochen scoochnie!" ("I'm lonesome, very
lonesome!") said Kotick. "They're killing all the holluschickie
on all the beaches!"
The Sea Lion turned his head inshore. "Nonsense!" he said.
"Your friends are making as much noise as ever. You must have
seen old Kerick polishing off a drove. He's done that for thirty
"It's horrible," said Kotick, backing water as a wave went
over him, and steadying himself with a screw stroke of his
flippers that brought him all standing within three inches of a
jagged edge of rock.
"Well done for a yearling!" said the Sea Lion, who could
appreciate good swimming. "I suppose it is rather awful from your
way of looking at it, but if you seals will come here year after
year, of course the men get to know of it, and unless you can find
an island where no men ever come you will always be driven."
"Isn't there any such island?" began Kotick.
"I've followed the poltoos [the halibut] for twenty years, and
I can't say I've found it yet. But look here--you seem to have
a fondness for talking to your betters--suppose you go to Walrus
Islet and talk to Sea Vitch. He may know something. Don't
flounce off like that. It's a six-mile swim, and if I were you I
should haul out and take a nap first, little one."
Kotick thought that that was good advice, so he swam round to
his own beach, hauled out, and slept for half an hour, twitching
all over, as seals will. Then he headed straight for Walrus
Islet, a little low sheet of rocky island almost due northeast
from Novastoshnah, all ledges and rock and gulls' nests, where the
walrus herded by themselves.
He landed close to old Sea Vitch--the big, ugly, bloated,
pimpled, fat-necked, long-tusked walrus of the North Pacific, who
has no manners except when he is asleep--as he was then, with
his hind flippers half in and half out of the surf.
"Wake up!" barked Kotick, for the gulls were making a great
"Hah! Ho! Hmph! What's that?" said Sea Vitch, and he struck
the next walrus a blow with his tusks and waked him up, and the
next struck the next, and so on till they were all awake and
staring in every direction but the right one.
"Hi! It's me," said Kotick, bobbing in the surf and looking
like a little white slug.
"Well! May I be--skinned!" said Sea Vitch, and they all
looked at Kotick as you can fancy a club full of drowsy old
gentlemen would look at a little boy. Kotick did not care to hear
any more about skinning just then; he had seen enough of it. So
he called out: "Isn't there any place for seals to go where men
don't ever come?"
"Go and find out," said Sea Vitch, shutting his eyes. "Run
away. We're busy here."
Kotick made his dolphin-jump in the air and shouted as loud as
he could: "Clam-eater! Clam-eater!" He knew that Sea Vitch never
caught a fish in his life but always rooted for clams and seaweed;
though he pretended to be a very terrible person. Naturally the
Chickies and the Gooverooskies and the Epatkas--the Burgomaster
Gulls and the Kittiwakes and the Puffins, who are always looking
for a chance to be rude, took up the cry, and--so Limmershin
told me--for nearly five minutes you could not have heard a gun
fired on Walrus Islet. All the population was yelling and
screaming "Clam-eater! Stareek [old man]!" while Sea Vitch rolled
from side to side grunting and coughing.
"Now will you tell?" said Kotick, all out of breath.
"Go and ask Sea Cow," said Sea Vitch. "If he is living still,
he'll be able to tell you."
"How shall I know Sea Cow when I meet him?" said Kotick,
"He's the only thing in the sea uglier than Sea Vitch,"
screamed a Burgomaster gull, wheeling under Sea Vitch's nose.
"Uglier, and with worse manners! Stareek!"
Kotick swam back to Novastoshnah, leaving the gulls to scream.
There he found that no one sympathized with him in his little
attempt to discover a quiet place for the seals. They told him
that men had always driven the holluschickie--it was part of the
day's work--and that if he did not like to see ugly things he
should not have gone to the killing grounds. But none of the
other seals had seen the killing, and that made the difference
between him and his friends. Besides, Kotick was a white seal.
"What you must do," said old Sea Catch, after he had heard his
son's adventures, "is to grow up and be a big seal like your
father, and have a nursery on the beach, and then they will leave
you alone. In another five years you ought to be able to fight
for yourself." Even gentle Matkah, his mother, said: "You will
never be able to stop the killing. Go and play in the sea,
Kotick." And Kotick went off and danced the Fire-dance with a
very heavy little heart.
That autumn he left the beach as soon as he could, and set off
alone because of a notion in his bullet-head. He was going to
find Sea Cow, if there was such a person in the sea, and he was
going to find a quiet island with good firm beaches for seals to
live on, where men could not get at them. So he explored and
explored by himself from the North to the South Pacific, swimming
as much as three hundred miles in a day and a night. He met with
more adventures than can be told, and narrowly escaped being
caught by the Basking Shark, and the Spotted Shark, and the
Hammerhead, and he met all the untrustworthy ruffians that loaf up
and down the seas, and the heavy polite fish, and the scarlet
spotted scallops that are moored in one place for hundreds of
years, and grow very proud of it; but he never met Sea Cow, and he
never found an island that he could fancy.
If the beach was good and hard, with a slope behind it for
seals to play on, there was always the smoke of a whaler on the
horizon, boiling down blubber, and Kotick knew what that meant.
Or else he could see that seals had once visited the island and
been killed off, and Kotick knew that where men had come once they
would come again.
He picked up with an old stumpy-tailed albatross, who told him
that Kerguelen Island was the very place for peace and quiet, and
when Kotick went down there he was all but smashed to pieces
against some wicked black cliffs in a heavy sleet-storm with
lightning and thunder. Yet as he pulled out against the gale he
could see that even there had once been a seal nursery. And it
was so in all the other islands that he visited.
Limmershin gave a long list of them, for he said that Kotick
spent five seasons exploring, with a four months' rest each year
at Novastoshnah, when the holluschickie used to make fun of him
and his imaginary islands. He went to the Gallapagos, a horrid
dry place on the Equator, where he was nearly baked to death; he
went to the Georgia Islands, the Orkneys, Emerald Island, Little
Nightingale Island, Gough's Island, Bouvet's Island, the Crossets,
and even to a little speck of an island south of the Cape of Good
Hope. But everywhere the People of the Sea told him the same
things. Seals had come to those islands once upon a time, but men
had killed them all off. Even when he swam thousands of miles out
of the Pacific and got to a place called Cape Corrientes (that was
when he was coming back from Gough's Island), he found a few
hundred mangy seals on a rock and they told him that men came
That nearly broke his heart, and he headed round the Horn back
to his own beaches; and on his way north he hauled out on an
island full of green trees, where he found an old, old seal who
was dying, and Kotick caught fish for him and told him all his
sorrows. "Now," said Kotick, "I am going back to Novastoshnah,
and if I am driven to the killing-pens with the holluschickie I
shall not care."
The old seal said, "Try once more. I am the last of the Lost
Rookery of Masafuera, and in the days when men killed us by the
hundred thousand there was a story on the beaches that some day a
white seal would come out of the North and lead the seal people to
a quiet place. I am old, and I shall never live to see that day,
but others will. Try once more."
And Kotick curled up his mustache (it was a beauty) and said,
"I am the only white seal that has ever been born on the beaches,
and I am the only seal, black or white, who ever thought of
looking for new islands."
This cheered him immensely; and when he came back to
Novastoshnah that summer, Matkah, his mother, begged him to marry
and settle down, for he was no longer a holluschick but a
full-grown sea-catch, with a curly white mane on his shoulders, as
heavy, as big, and as fierce as his father. "Give me another
season," he said. "Remember, Mother, it is always the seventh
wave that goes farthest up the beach."
Curiously enough, there was another seal who thought that she
would put off marrying till the next year, and Kotick danced the
Fire-dance with her all down Lukannon Beach the night before he
set off on his last exploration. This time he went westward,
because he had fallen on the trail of a great shoal of halibut,
and he needed at least one hundred pounds of fish a day to keep
him in good condition. He chased them till he was tired, and then
he curled himself up and went to sleep on the hollows of the
ground swell that sets in to Copper Island. He knew the coast
perfectly well, so about midnight, when he felt himself gently
bumped on a weed-bed, he said, "Hm, tide's running strong
tonight," and turning over under water opened his eyes slowly and
stretched. Then he jumped like a cat, for he saw huge things
nosing about in the shoal water and browsing on the heavy fringes
of the weeds.
"By the Great Combers of Magellan!" he said, beneath his
mustache. "Who in the Deep Sea are these people?"
They were like no walrus, sea lion, seal, bear, whale, shark,
fish, squid, or scallop that Kotick had ever seen before. They
were between twenty and thirty feet long, and they had no hind
flippers, but a shovel-like tail that looked as if it had been
whittled out of wet leather. Their heads were the most
foolish-looking things you ever saw, and they balanced on the ends
of their tails in deep water when they weren't grazing, bowing
solemnly to each other and waving their front flippers as a fat
man waves his arm.
"Ahem!" said Kotick. "Good sport, gentlemen?" The big things
answered by bowing and waving their flippers like the Frog
Footman. When they began feeding again Kotick saw that their
upper lip was split into two pieces that they could twitch apart
about a foot and bring together again with a whole bushel of
seaweed between the splits. They tucked the stuff into their
mouths and chumped solemnly.
"Messy style of feeding, that," said Kotick. They bowed
again, and Kotick began to lose his temper. "Very good," he said.
"If you do happen to have an extra joint in your front flipper you
needn't show off so. I see you bow gracefully, but I should like
to know your names." The split lips moved and twitched; and the
glassy green eyes stared, but they did not speak.
"Well!" said Kotick. "You're the only people I've ever met
uglier than Sea Vitch--and with worse manners."
Then he remembered in a flash what the Burgomaster gull had
screamed to him when he was a little yearling at Walrus Islet, and
he tumbled backward in the water, for he knew that he had found
Sea Cow at last.
The sea cows went on schlooping and grazing and chumping in
the weed, and Kotick asked them questions in every language that
he had picked up in his travels; and the Sea People talk nearly as
many languages as human beings. But the sea cows did not answer
because Sea Cow cannot talk. He has only six bones in his neck
where he ought to have seven, and they say under the sea that that
prevents him from speaking even to his companions. But, as you
know, he has an extra joint in his foreflipper, and by waving it
up and down and about he makes what answers to a sort of clumsy
By daylight Kotick's mane was standing on end and his temper
was gone where the dead crabs go. Then the Sea Cow began to
travel northward very slowly, stopping to hold absurd bowing
councils from time to time, and Kotick followed them, saying to
himself, "People who are such idiots as these are would have been
killed long ago if they hadn't found out some safe island. And
what is good enough for the Sea Cow is good enough for the Sea
Catch. All the same, I wish they'd hurry."
It was weary work for Kotick. The herd never went more than
forty or fifty miles a day, and stopped to feed at night, and kept
close to the shore all the time; while Kotick swam round them, and
over them, and under them, but he could not hurry them up one-half
mile. As they went farther north they held a bowing council every
few hours, and Kotick nearly bit off his mustache with impatience
till he saw that they were following up a warm current of water,
and then he respected them more.
One night they sank through the shiny water--sank like
stones--and for the first time since he had known them began to
swim quickly. Kotick followed, and the pace astonished him, for
he never dreamed that Sea Cow was anything of a swimmer. They
headed for a cliff by the shore--a cliff that ran down into deep
water, and plunged into a dark hole at the foot of it, twenty
fathoms under the sea. It was a long, long swim, and Kotick badly
wanted fresh air before he was out of the dark tunnel they led him
"My wig!" he said, when he rose, gasping and puffing, into
open water at the farther end. "It was a long dive, but it was
The sea cows had separated and were browsing lazily along the
edges of the finest beaches that Kotick had ever seen. There were
long stretches of smooth-worn rock running for miles, exactly
fitted to make seal-nurseries, and there were play-grounds of hard
sand sloping inland behind them, and there were rollers for seals
to dance in, and long grass to roll in, and sand dunes to climb up
and down, and, best of all, Kotick knew by the feel of the water,
which never deceives a true sea catch, that no men had ever come
The first thing he did was to assure himself that the fishing
was good, and then he swam along the beaches and counted up the
delightful low sandy islands half hidden in the beautiful rolling
fog. Away to the northward, out to sea, ran a line of bars and
shoals and rocks that would never let a ship come within six miles
of the beach, and between the islands and the mainland was a
stretch of deep water that ran up to the perpendicular cliffs, and
somewhere below the cliffs was the mouth of the tunnel.
"It's Novastoshnah over again, but ten times better," said
Kotick. "Sea Cow must be wiser than I thought. Men can't come
down the cliffs, even if there were any men; and the shoals to
seaward would knock a ship to splinters. If any place in the sea
is safe, this is it."
He began to think of the seal he had left behind him, but
though he was in a hurry to go back to Novastoshnah, he thoroughly
explored the new country, so that he would be able to answer all
Then he dived and made sure of the mouth of the tunnel, and
raced through to the southward. No one but a sea cow or a seal
would have dreamed of there being such a place, and when he looked
back at the cliffs even Kotick could hardly believe that he had
been under them.
He was six days going home, though he was not swimming slowly;
and when he hauled out just above Sea Lion's Neck the first person
he met was the seal who had been waiting for him, and she saw by
the look in his eyes that he had found his island at last.
But the holluschickie and Sea Catch, his father, and all the
other seals laughed at him when he told them what he had
discovered, and a young seal about his own age said, "This is all
very well, Kotick, but you can't come from no one knows where and
order us off like this. Remember we've been fighting for our
nurseries, and that's a thing you never did. You preferred
prowling about in the sea."
The other seals laughed at this, and the young seal began
twisting his head from side to side. He had just married that
year, and was making a great fuss about it.
"I've no nursery to fight for," said Kotick. "I only want to
show you all a place where you will be safe. What's the use of
"Oh, if you're trying to back out, of course I've no more to
say," said the young seal with an ugly chuckle.
"Will you come with me if I win?" said Kotick. And a green
light came into his eye, for he was very angry at having to fight
"Very good," said the young seal carelessly. "If you win,
He had no time to change his mind, for Kotick's head was out
and his teeth sunk in the blubber of the young seal's neck. Then
he threw himself back on his haunches and hauled his enemy down
the beach, shook him, and knocked him over. Then Kotick roared to
the seals: "I've done my best for you these five seasons past.
I've found you the island where you'll be safe, but unless your
heads are dragged off your silly necks you won't believe. I'm
going to teach you now. Look out for yourselves!"
Limmershin told me that never in his life--and Limmershin
sees ten thousand big seals fighting every year--never in all
his little life did he see anything like Kotick's charge into the
nurseries. He flung himself at the biggest sea catch he could
find, caught him by the throat, choked him and bumped him and
banged him till he grunted for mercy, and then threw him aside and
attacked the next. You see, Kotick had never fasted for four
months as the big seals did every year, and his deep-sea swimming
trips kept him in perfect condition, and, best of all, he had
never fought before. His curly white mane stood up with rage, and
his eyes flamed, and his big dog teeth glistened, and he was
splendid to look at. Old Sea Catch, his father, saw him tearing
past, hauling the grizzled old seals about as though they had been
halibut, and upsetting the young bachelors in all directions; and
Sea Catch gave a roar and shouted: "He may be a fool, but he is
the best fighter on the beaches! Don't tackle your father, my
son! He's with you!"
Kotick roared in answer, and old Sea Catch waddled in with his
mustache on end, blowing like a locomotive, while Matkah and the
seal that was going to marry Kotick cowered down and admired their
men-folk. It was a gorgeous fight, for the two fought as long as
there was a seal that dared lift up his head, and when there were
none they paraded grandly up and down the beach side by side,
At night, just as the Northern Lights were winking and
flashing through the fog, Kotick climbed a bare rock and looked
down on the scattered nurseries and the torn and bleeding seals.
"Now," he said, "I've taught you your lesson."
"My wig!" said old Sea Catch, boosting himself up stiffly, for
he was fearfully mauled. "The Killer Whale himself could not have
cut them up worse. Son, I'm proud of you, and what's more, I'll
come with you to your island--if there is such a place."
"Hear you, fat pigs of the sea. Who comes with me to the Sea
Cow's tunnel? Answer, or I shall teach you again," roared Kotick.
There was a murmur like the ripple of the tide all up and down
the beaches. "We will come," said thousands of tired voices. "We
will follow Kotick, the White Seal."
Then Kotick dropped his head between his shoulders and shut
his eyes proudly. He was not a white seal any more, but red from
head to tail. All the same he would have scorned to look at or
touch one of his wounds.
A week later he and his army (nearly ten thousand
holluschickie and old seals) went away north to the Sea Cow's
tunnel, Kotick leading them, and the seals that stayed at
Novastoshnah called them idiots. But next spring, when they all
met off the fishing banks of the Pacific, Kotick's seals told such
tales of the new beaches beyond Sea Cow's tunnel that more and
more seals left Novastoshnah. Of course it was not all done at
once, for the seals are not very clever, and they need a long time
to turn things over in their minds, but year after year more seals
went away from Novastoshnah, and Lukannon, and the other
nurseries, to the quiet, sheltered beaches where Kotick sits all
the summer through, getting bigger and fatter and stronger each
year, while the holluschickie play around him, in that sea where
no man comes.
This is the great deep-sea song that all the St. Paul seals sing
when they are heading back to their beaches in the summer. It is
a sort of very sad seal National Anthem.
I met my mates in the morning (and, oh, but I am old!)
Where roaring on the ledges the summer ground-swell rolled;
I heard them lift the chorus that drowned the breakers' song--
The Beaches of Lukannon--two million voices strong.
The song of pleasant stations beside the salt lagoons,
The song of blowing squadrons that shuffled down the dunes,
The song of midnight dances that churned the sea to flame--
The Beaches of Lukannon--before the sealers came!
I met my mates in the morning (I'll never meet them more!);
They came and went in legions that darkened all the shore.
And o'er the foam-flecked offing as far as voice could reach
We hailed the landing-parties and we sang them up the beach.
The Beaches of Lukannon--the winter wheat so tall--
The dripping, crinkled lichens, and the sea-fog drenching all!
The platforms of our playground, all shining smooth and worn!
The Beaches of Lukannon--the home where we were born!
I met my mates in the morning, a broken, scattered band.
Men shoot us in the water and club us on the land;
Men drive us to the Salt House like silly sheep and tame,
And still we sing Lukannon--before the sealers came.
Wheel down, wheel down to southward; oh, Gooverooska, go!
And tell the Deep-Sea Viceroys the story of our woe;
Ere, empty as the shark's egg the tempest flings ashore,
The Beaches of Lukannon shall know their sons no more!
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 Tailorbird, 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 real fighting.
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: "Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!"
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 over a
little fire, and he opened his eyes and sneezed.
"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
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 round 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 making friends."
"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
veranda 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 burned 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 veranda riding on Teddy's shoulder, and they gave him banana
and some boiled egg. 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 a thorn-bush.
It was Darzee, the Tailorbird, and his wife. They had made a
beautiful nest by pulling two big leaves together and stitching
them up the edges with fibers, and had filled the hollow with
cotton and downy fluff. The nest swayed to and fro, as they sat
on the rim and cried.
"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
"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. 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 known
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 thorn-bush. 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,
this 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 wriggled 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 people.
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 than 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 his 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 forelegs, bitten as high up the back as he could get hold, and
rolled away. That bite paralyzed 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 he 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
That night at dinner, walking to and fro among the
wine-glasses on the table, he might 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
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 musk-rat, creeping around 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 Chuchundra, almost weeping.
"Rikki-tikki, don't kill me!"
"Do you think a snake-killer kills muskrats?" 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 stopped.
"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
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 mustn'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 the moonlight.
"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 tomorrow),
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. Then the bungalow will be empty, and Rikki-tikki
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 bathroom 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 favor. What am I to
do?" said Rikki-tikki-tavi.
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 till daytime."
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 savage.
"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
around 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 honor
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 shotgun 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 really was 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
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