Wednesday, June 03, 2009

dikki-tikki-tavi



One of my favorite childhood stories was Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I had fond dreams of having my own mongoose, who would protect me during the night and keep a watch over the house and yard by day.

A little while ago I was at the barn doing some afternoon chores. The geldings were munching rinsed hay from their hay nets, and Salina and the donkeys had wandered out to the round bale (which now has a hanging tarp that is meant to be a shelter but today it's blowing like a giant flag - and no, they are not afraid - but stand there and let it blow up and away right over them as they eat).

I heard a commotion in the forest and immediately looked at Salina, who is my barometer of all things not quite right. And she too had heard the noise and was staring intently into the trees.

The skittering sounded again and suddenly Dickens E. Wickens bounded out of the trees into the sunshine, intently chasing something that I at first thought was a shadow.

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.

He proceeded to chase something and I peeled my eyes to see what it was. Something long and black and slithery, winding hither and yonder as Dickens pursued.

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.

It was not, thank goodness, a cobra, but probably a black snake, about three feet long. Suddenly the snake turned to face Dickens, rose up in the air, and struck, one, two, half a dozen times. Dickens bravely battled the snake, swatting it with his paws, until the snake resumed its path to the platform by the arena.

Dickens got on top and paraded around, watching for the serpent to come out again. And then he sat and began to lick his paws.

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


On my way inside, I scooped up the snake-eating cowboy and brought him inside, where he restored himself with cat food.

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


He's now curled up on the foot rest beneath my desk, taking a well-deserved break. I enjoyed re-reading Kipling's story today, and realizing that another childhood dream has come true.

Who needs Rikki-tikki when we have Dickens E. Wickens?

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

14 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

You're comparison of the incidents in both stories is wonderful. I'm glad your little Dickens didn't have to battle with a cobra, but a snake is a snake in my book. He's very brave as I see it. I am not a big fan of any snake and can be found running in the other direction when one is spotted.

deborah said...

we were out with the cats one day, turned to find the fat calico sitting on the head of a small garter snake, batting at the rest of it. we rescued the snake but alas, it showed up on the door mat a couple of days later not alive. not the only innocent garter snake to meet such a fate & this from a cat who would go sit among the neighbors chickens to watch them dig & peck in the dirt.

billie said...

Arlene, thanks - my son pointed out that next time it could be a copperhead! Yikes!

billie said...

deborah, that's funny - cats seem to be quite capable of having "favorite" prey and also being very discriminating when it comes to family pets that they know they need to accept.

Matthew said...

Ha!

I loved this post, with the parallels between Dikki and the mongoose. . .

enlightenedhorsemanship said...

Holy Crow, what a brave cat.

ponymaid said...

Billie, Violet likes crunching up bugs, especially those June bugs that look like a small brown motor vehicle. Fortunately the felines haven't brought me any gift serpents - yet. I hope Rafer is still practicing his on/off the travelling box routine. He is a donkey with travelling plans on his mind.

billie said...

Thanks, Matthew - I had never thought about it until I saw him with the snake, but he has that same spirit Rikki-Tikki had in the story.

billie said...

Kim, he is pretty fearless. I have never seen a cat so devoted to his herd.

billie said...

Sheaffer, Redford is rapidly losing his "puff" and I suspect we will soon have a young man on our hands. I can so see him packing up his halter and lead rope and hitching a ride to see the world.

ponymaid said...

Billie, my abject apologies! Actually it was herself who got things confused...she meant Redford of course, not Rafer, Rafer is far too grounded in his farm duties to consider gadding about. Redford, on the other hoof, suffers from a growing sense of wanderlust and see himself traversing the continents.

billie said...

Sheaffer,

I realized when I read your comment that I hadn't even noticed it was Rafer in the earlier one! I read it as Redford all along. :)

Rafer Johnson is, as you know, a very grounded, loyal donkey. Tonight while I was writing out the updated feed chart for the barn, he came and stood by me, leaning gently against my knees. We are lucky to have the Gypsy Prince and the Loyal Prince of donkeys here at November Hill. :)

Kyle said...

Love it, Billie! Thanks!

billie said...

I thought you might!