This is the story of a great battle that was fought in the big bungalow and won by Rikki-tikki-tavi. Of course Darzee, that fine feathered friend, gave him a hand, but Rikki-tikki-tavi won the battle all by himself.
Rikki-tikki-tavi was a mongoose, an animal that has the fur and tail of a cat and the small head and fierceness of a weasel.
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One morning, a summer flood went tumbling through the hole that Rikki-tikki-tavi shared with his mother and father. The flood carried the poor mongoose down the road, where a small boy found him dripping wet. The boy, whose name was Teddy, took Rikki-tikki-tavi home with him.
Teddy carried the wet little mongoose into his house to show to his parents. "Is it dead?" he asked his father.
Teddy's father picked up Rikki-tikki-tavi, looked him over, and said, "No, this mongoose is very much alive. But he seems to be choked from the water."
Teddy's mother brought a fluffy cotton towel into the kitchen and wrapped Rikki-tikki-tavi up in it. After he was warm and dry, the little mongoose opened his eyes and let out a wet little mongoose sneeze.
Rikki-tikki-tavi crawled out of the towel and began to look around. He nibbled on the corner of the towel, as members of the mongoose family are rather curious.
But he realized that the towel was not food. He then sniffed at Teddy's face and gave the boy a lick.
"Oh, my," said Teddy's father, "I think he's so friendly because we saved his life."
"Can we keep him?" Teddy asked his parents.
"No," said Teddy's mother. "What if he bites?"
"Rubbish!" announced Teddy's father. "Teddy would be as safe with a mongoose for a pet as he would be with a dog. Besides, if ever a snake came into his bedroom, this little fellow could take care of it."
You see, snakes and mongooses are enemies. Mongooses are also one of the few animals that can win a fight with a snake. And it wouldn't be long before Rikki-tikki-tavi had his first encounter with a snake.
One day Rikki-tikki-tavi was visiting with his bird friend, Darzee, when the two heard a rustle in the grass.
"Oh, no," said Darzee. "It's Nag!"
"Who is Nag?" Rikki-tikki-tavi asked.
"I am Nag," said a large, red-eyed cobra that came slithering from the brush.
"Be afraid!" said Nag in a big, booming voice.
But Rikki-tikki-tavi was not afraid, for his mother had fed him cobras when he was young. The little mongoose knew that the life of a grown-up mongoose was spent catching and eating venomous snakes like Nag.
Read about Rikki-tikki-tavi's next run-in with Nag on the next page.