Currently reading : All evil come from men.
This is a wonderful and little known extension to the amazing “Jungle Book” (not the pathetic Disney version, the original book by R Kipling!). Sorry for the long text.
THE KING’S ANKUS
KAA, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot that he owed his life to Kaa for a night’s work at Cold Lairs, which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him. Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful. Kaa never made fun of Mowgli any more, but accepted him, as the other Jungle People did, for the Master of the Jungle, and brought him all the news that a python of his size would naturally hear. What Kaa did not know about the Middle Jungle, as they call it, ”” the life that runs close to the earth or under it, the boulder, burrow, and the tree-bole life, ”” might have been written upon the smallest of his scales.
That afternoon Mowgli was sitting in the circle of Kaa’s great coils, fingering the flaked and broken old skin that lay all looped and twisted among the rocks just as Kaa had left it. Kaa had very courteously packed himself under Mowgli’s broad, bare shoulders, so that the boy was really resting in a living arm-chair.
“Even to the scales of the eyes it is perfect,” said Mowgli, under his breath, playing with the old skin. “Strange to see the covering of one’s own head at one’s own feet!”
“Aye, but I lack feet,” said Kaa; “and since this is the custom of all my people, I do not find it strange. Does thy skin never feel old and harsh?”
“Then go I and wash, Flathead; but, it is true, in the great heats I have wished I could slough my skin without pain, and run skinless.”
“I wash, and also I take off my skin. How looks the new coat?”
Mowgli ran his hand down the diagonal checkerings of the immense back. “The Turtle is harder-backed, but not so gay,” he said judgmatically. “The Frog, my name-bearer, is more gay, but not so hard. It is very beautiful to see ”” like the mottling in the mouth of a lily.”
“It needs water. A new skin never comes to full colour before the first bath. Let us go bathe.”
“I will carry thee,” said Mowgli; and he stooped down, laughing, to lift the middle section of Kaa’s great body, just where the barrel was thickest. A man might just as well have tried to heave up a two-foot water-main; and Kaa lay still, puffing with quiet amusement. Then the regular evening game began ”” the boy in the flush of his great strength, and the Python in his sumptuous new skin, standing up one against the other for a wrestling-match ”” a trial of eye and strength. Of course, Kaa could have crushed a dozen Mowglis if he had let himself go; but he played carefully, and never loosed one tenth of his power. Ever since Mowgli was strong enough to endure a little rough handling, Kaa had taught him this game, and it suppled his limbs as nothing else could. Sometimes Mowgli would stand lapped almost to his throat in Kaa’s shifting coils, striving to get one arm free and catch him by the throat. Then Kaa would give way limply, and Mowgli, with both quick-moving feet, would try to cramp the purchase of that huge tail as it flung backward feeling for a rock or a stump. They would rock to and fro, head to head, each waiting for his chance, till the beautiful, statue-like group melted in a whirl of black-and-yellow coils and struggling legs and arms, to rise up again and again. “Now! now! now!” said Kaa, making feints with his head that even Mowgli’s quick hand could not turn aside. “Look! I touch thee here, Little Brother! Here, and here! Are thy hands numb? Here again!”
The game always ended in one way ”” with a straight, driving blow of the head that knocked the boy over and over. Mowgli could never learn the guard for that lightning lunge, and, as Kaa said, there was not the least use in trying.
“Good hunting!” Kaa grunted at last; and Mowgli, as usual, was shot away half a dozen yards, gasping and laughing. He rose with his fingers full of grass, and followed Kaa to the wise snake’s pet bathing-place ”” a deep, pitchy-black pool surrounded with rocks, and made interesting by sunken tree-stumps. The boy slipped in, Jungle-fashion, without a sound, and dived across; rose, too, without a sound, and turned on his back, his arms behind his head, watching the moon rising above the rocks, and breaking up her reflection in the water with his toes. Kaa’s diamond-shaped head cut the pool like a razor, and came out to rest on Mowgli’s shoulder. They lay still, soaking luxuriously in the cool water.
“It is very good,” said Mowgli at last, sleepily. “Now, in the Man-Pack, at this hour, as I remember, they laid them down upon hard pieces of wood in the inside of a mud-trap, and, having carefully shut out all the clean winds, drew foul cloth over their heavy heads, and made evil songs through their noses. It is better in the Jungle.”
A hurrying cobra slipped down over a rock and drank, gave them “Good hunting!” and went away.
“Sssh!” said Kaa, as though he had suddenly remembered something. “So the Jungle gives thee all that thou hast ever desired, Little Brother?”
“Not all,” said Mowgli, laughing; “else there would be a new and strong Shere Khan to kill once a moon. Now, I could kill with my own hands, asking no help of buffaloes. And also I have wished the sun to shine in the middle of the Rains, and the Rains to cover the sun in the deep of summer; and also I have never gone empty but I wished that I had killed a goat; and also I have never killed a goat but I wished it had been buck; nor buck but I wished it had been nilghai. But thus do we feel, all of us.”
“Thou hast no other desire?” the big snake demanded.
“What more can I wish? I have the Jungle, and the favour of the Jungle! Is there more anywhere between sunrise and sunset?”
“Now, the Cobra said ””” Kaa began.
“What cobra? He that went away just now said nothing. He was hunting.”
“It was another.”
“Hast thou many dealings with the Poison People? I give them their own path. They carry death in the fore-tooth, and that is not good ”” for they are so small. But what hood is this thou hast spoken with?”
Kaa rolled slowly in the water like a steamer in a beam sea. “Three or four moons since,” said he, “I hunted in Cold Lairs, which place thou hast not forgotten. And the thing I hunted fled shrieking past the tanks and to that house whose side I once broke for thy sake, and ran into the ground.”
“But the people of Cold Lairs do not live in burrows.” Mowgli knew that Kaa was talking of the Monkey People.
“This thing was not living, but seeking to live,” Kaa replied, with a quiver of his tongue. “He ran into a burrow that led very far. I followed, and having killed, I slept. When I waked I went forward.”
“Under the earth?”
“Even so, coming at last upon a White Hood [a white cobra], who spoke of things beyond my knowledge, and showed me many things I had never before seen.”
“New game? Was it good hunting?” Mowgli turned quickly on his side.
“It was no game, and would have broken all my teeth; but the White Hood said that a man ”” he spoke as one that knew the breed ”” that a man would give the breath under his ribs for only the sight of those things.”
“We will look,” said Mowgli. “I now remember that I was once a man.”
“Slowly ”” slowly. It was haste killed the Yellow Snake that ate the sun. We two spoke together under the earth, and I spoke of thee, naming thee as a man. Said the White Hood (and he is indeed as old as the Jungle): ‘It is long since I have seen a man. Let him come, and he shall see all these things, for the least of which very many men would die.”
“That must be new game. And yet the Poison People do not tell us when game is afoot. They are an unfriendly folk.”
“It is not game. It is ”” it is ”” I cannot say what it is.”
“We will go there. I have never seen a White Hood, and I wish to see the other things. Did he kill them?”
“They are all dead things. He says he is the keeper of them all.”
“Ah! As a wolf stands above meat he has taken to his own lair. Let us go.”
Mowgli swam to bank, rolled on the grass to dry himself, and the two set off for Cold Lairs, the deserted city of which you may have heard. Mowgli was not the least afraid of the Monkey People in those days, but the Monkey People had the liveliest horror of Mowgli. Their tribes, however, were raiding in the Jungle, and so Cold Lairs stood empty and silent in the moonlight. Kaa led up to the ruins of the queen’s pavilion that stood on the terrace, slipped over the rubbish, and dived down the half-choked staircase that went underground from the center of the pavilion. Mowgli gave the snake-call, ”” “We be of one blood, ye and I,” ”” and followed on his hands and knees. They crawled a long distance down a sloping passage that turned and twisted several times, and at last came to where the root of some great tree, growing thirty feet overhead, had forced out a solid stone in the wall. They crept through the gap, and found themselves in a large vault, whose domed roof had been also broken away by tree-roots so that a few streaks of light dropped down into the darkness.
“A safe lair,” said Mowgli, rising to his firm feet, “but over far to visit daily. And now what do we see?”
“Am I nothing?” said a voice in the middle of the vault; and Mowgli saw something white move till, little by little, there stood up the hugest cobra he had ever set eyes on ”” a creature nearly eight feet long, and bleached by being in darkness to an old ivory-white. Even the spectacle-marks of his spread hood had faded to faint yellow. His eyes were as red as rubies, and altogether he was most wonderful.