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The Story Of The Tribe Of King Cobra






Source: The Sa'-zada Tales

It was the fifth night of the Sa'-zada tales. As usual, Hathi, Grey
Wolf, and all the other animals, jostling each other merrily like a lot
of schoolboys, had gathered in front of Tiger's cage.

Said the Keeper: "Comrades, you must all be very careful, for this is
Snake's night."

"Oo-o-oh!" whimpered Jackal, "is Nag the Cobra to come here among us?"

Even Hathi trembled, and blowing softly through his trumpet, said: "Oh,
Sa'-zada, I who am a Lord of the Jungle, fearing not any Dweller
therein, feel great pains this evening. I am sure that hay is musty and
has disagreed with me. If you do not mind, Little Brother, I will go
back to my stall and lie down."

"Will Deboia the Climber come also, Little Master?" asked Magh. "If so,
I think my Terrier Pup is feeling unwell; I will take him to my cage
and wrap him in his blanket. I hate snake stories, anyway."

"Hiz-z-z!" laughed Python, who was already there. "Lords of the Jungle
indeed! When I strike or throw a loop, or go swift as the wind through
the Jungle--Thches-s-s! but I am no boaster. See our friends. When the
smallest of my kind are to be here each one makes his excuses."

"Never fear, Comrades," Sa'-zada assured the frightened animals, "Nag
the Cobra, and Karait, and all the others will behave themselves if
they are left alone. Only don't move about, that's all. The first law
when Snakes are about is--keep still."

"Yes, we like quietness," assented Python. "Once there was a fussy old
Buffalo Bull who used to come to my pool and stir up the mud until it
was scarce fit to live in. In the end I threw a loop around his neck,
and he became one of the quietest Bulls you ever saw in your life."

"Now, Comrades," said Sa'-zada, as he returned accompanied by the
Dwellers of the Snake House, "Hamadryad, the King Cobra, has promised
us a story."

"Look at my length," cried Hamadryad, drawing his yellow and black
mottled body through many intricate knots like a skein of colored silk;
"think you I was born this way just as I am? At first--that was up in
the Yoma Hills in Burma--I was not much larger than a good-sized hair
from Tiger's mustache, and since then it has been nothing but
adventure. Even my Mother, where she had us hid in a pile of rocks
covered with ferns, had to fight for our lives."

"Phuff!" retorted Boar, disdainfully, "many a nest of Cobra eggs have I
rid the world of."

"Not of my kind, I'll warrant," snorted Python, blowing his foul breath
like a small sirocco almost in Pig's face. "Of Nag, or Hamadryad's
family, perhaps, yes, for, know you, Comrades, what Nagina does with
her eggs? Lays them in the sun to hatch apsi (of themselves). But my
Mother--ah, you should have seen her, Comrades; all the eggs gathered
in a heap, and her great, beautiful body--much like my own in
color--wound tenderly about them until the young came forth. Perhaps a
matter of two moons and never a bite for her to eat all the time.
That's what I call being a genuine Mother."

"Very wise, indeed, and thoughtful," cried the Salt Water Snake. "My
Mother--well I remember it--carried her eggs about in her body till
they were hatched, which seems to me quite as good a plan. Also, nobody
molests us--if they do, they die quickly. We all can kill quite as
readily as Nag the Cobra, though there is less talk about us."

"Even so," assented Hamadryad, "the proof of the matter is in being
here; and, as I was going to say, it is this way with my people; in the
hot weather when there is no rain we burrow in the ground for months at
a stretch. And then the rains come on and we are driven out of our
holes by the water, and live abroad in the Jungles for a time. It was
at this season of the year I speak of; I had just come up out of my
burrow and was wondrous hungry, I can tell you; and, traveling, I came
across the trail of a Karait. I followed Karait's trail, and found him
in a hole under a bungalow of the Men-kind. It was dry under the
bungalow, so I rested after my meal in the hole that had been Karait's.
It was a good place, so I lived there. Every day a young of the
Men-kind----"

"I know," interrupted Mooswa; "a Boy, eh?"

"Perhaps; but the old ones called him 'Baba.' And Baba used to come
every day under the bungalow to play. He threw little sticks and stones
at me; but nothing to hurt, mind you, for he was small. The things he
threw wouldn't have injured a Fly-Lizard as he crawled on the bungalow
posts. He laughed when he saw me, and called, as he clapped his little
hands, and I wouldn't have hurt him--why should I? I don't eat Babas.

"When I heard the heavy feet of the Men I always slipped in the hole;
but, one day, by an evil chance I was to one side looking for food, and
Baba was following, when his Mother saw me. Such a row there was, the
Men running, and Baba's Mother calling, and only the little one with no
fear. Surely it was the fear of which Chita and Hathi have spoken which
came over the Men-kind.


PLAY...."]

"There was one of a great size, like Bear Muskwa, with a stomach such
as Magh's. He was a native baboo. He had a black face, and his voice
was like the trumpet of Hathi; but when I went straight his way, and
rose up to strike, his fat legs made great haste to carry him far away.
Then I glided in the hole."

"Ghur-ah! it seems a strange tale," snarled Wolf; "even I would not
dare, being alone, to chase one of the Men-kind."

"It may be true," declared Sa'-zada, "for it is written in the Book
that Hamadryad is the only Snake that will really chase a man, and show
fight."

"I could hear the Men-kind talking and tramping about," continued King
Cobra, "and meant to lie still till night, and then go away, for I
usually traveled in the dark, you know. But presently there was a soft
whistling music calling me to come out; and also at times a pleading
voice, though of the Men-kind, I knew that, 'Ho, Bhai (brother), ho,
Raj Naga (King Cobra)! come here, quick, Little Brother.' Then the soft
whistle called me, sometimes loud, and sometimes low, and even the
noise was twisting and swinging in the air just as I might myself.

"Hiz-z-z-za! but I commenced to tremble; and I was full of fear, and I
was full of love for the soft sounds, and with my eyes I wished to see
it. So I came out of the hole, and there was a Black Man making the
soft call from a hollow stick."

"A Snake Charmer with his pipes," exclaimed Sa'-zada.

"I raised up in anger, thinking that he, too, would soon run away; but
he pointed with his hand, now this way, from side to side, even as the
sweet sound from the hollow stick seemed to twist and curl in the air;
and following his hand with my eyes, I commenced to swing as the hand
swung.

"'Ho, Little Brother!' he called, 'come here.'

"It was to a basket at his side; for, though I meant not to do it, I
glided into it."

"That was the manner of your taking?" asked Chita.

"Better than having one's toes squeezed in an iron trap," declared
Jackal.

"Or being beaten by chains," murmured Hathi.

"Yes, the taking was simple enough; but if Baba had not cried, the Men
would have killed me, I think."

"And that was how you came to Lower Burma?" asked Sa'-zada.

"Yes," answered Hamadryad, "this man who made music with the hollow
stick took me with him, and at every place where there were any of his
fellows he brought me forth from the basket, and made me dance to his
music. That was what he called it--dance."

"Why didn't you bite him?" queried Rattler, making his tail rattles
sing in anger.

"He pulled out my fangs," declared Hamadryad.

"He-he," sneered Magh; "now surely it is a great lie, this wondrous
tale of Cobra's, for in his mouth are the very fangs he says the
black-faced player of music pulled."

"Most wise Ape," said Hamadryad, ironically, "what your big head, like
unto a Jack fruit, does not understand, is a lie, forsooth. Even though
my teeth were pulled three times, they would grow again; but you do not
know that--therefore it is a lie. Even now, behind these that you see,
and perhaps yet may feel if you keep on, are others waiting the time
when these may be broken. Was it not Hathi said some wise animal
arranged all these things for us?"

"Sa'-zada says it is God," interrupted Hathi.

"This man made me fight with a Mongoos, that those of his kind might
laugh."

"What is a Mongoos?" queried Magh.

"Our natural enemy," answered King Cobra, "just as Fleas and other
Vermin are yours. But I killed the squeaky little beast with one drive
of my head--broke his back. At Ramree a Sahib bought me from the black
man."

"That was the Sahib who sent you here, I fancy," suggested Sa'-zada.

"Perhaps. At any rate he seemed fond of Snakes of my kind, for he put
me in a box wherein was one of my family. But he should have known more
about our manner of life, for he nearly starved us through ignorance of
our taste. He puts Rats and Frogs, and Birds and such Vermin as that
in, with never so much as a Green-Tree-Snake. The yellow-faced Burmans
used to come in front of our cage and touch us up with sticks until my
nose was skinned with striking at them and hitting the bars.

"Our getting something to eat was a pure accident. One night this Sahib
stepped on a Snake--a young Rock Snake, which had curled up in the path
for the warmth of the hot earth. 'Oh, ho!' said the Sahib, bringing
this new Snake to our cage, 'you are looking for trouble, little Samp
(snake). Let us see how you get on in there,' and he threw him in our
box, expecting to see a fight."

"And did he?" queried Magh.

"Hiz-z-z-za! I should say so. My mate and I fought half an hour before
we settled who was to eat the visitor."

"You two Comrades fought over it?" asked Mooswa.

"Yes; that is our way. Two Snakes cannot eat one--how else should we
settle the question? we were both hungry. Why, one day my mate flew at
me, and I could see in his eye that he meant eating me, and in
self-defence I was forced to put him out of the way of mischief, but
the Sahib pulled us apart.

"But if I hated the Yellow Men who came to my cage, I liked the
Mem-Sahib (white lady). I think it was her voice. Hiz-z, hiz-z, hiz-z!
It was as soft as the song the man had brought forth from the hollow
stick. Sometimes I would hear her voice-song near my box, and it would
put me to sleep; only, of course, I had to keep one eye open lest my
mate would try to eat me----"

"I had no idea Snakes were so fond of each other," said Magh,
maliciously.

"Yes; I think I should have eaten him to have saved that worry. But I
must tell you about the Mem-Sahib and the Cook. He was small and so
black--a perfect little Pig. One day when the Sahib was away, the Cook
became possessed of strange devils."

"Became drunken on his Master's liquor, I suppose," remarked Sa'-zada.

"Perhaps, for he came and took me out of the box, wound me around his
shoulders and waist, and went with a clamor of evil sounds, in to my
Mem-Sahib."

"Just like a Man," sneered Pardus.

"Even I was ashamed," continued Hamadryad. "My Mem-Sahib cried out with
fear, and her eyes were dreadful to look into.

"I glided twice about the Man-devil's neck, and drew each coil tight
and tight and tighter, and swung my head forward until I looked into
his eyes, and I nodded twice thus," and the King Cobra swayed his
vicious black head back and forth with the full suggestiveness of a
death thrust, until each one of the animals shivered with fear.

"I think he died of the Man-fear Hathi has spoken of, for I did not
strike him--it may be that the coils about his throat were over-tight.
But I glided back to my box, and I think the Mem-Sahib knew that I did
not wish to even make her afraid."

"Most interesting," declared Sa'-zada. "Is that all, Cobra?"

"Yes; I'm tired. Let Python talk."

The huge Snake uncoiled three yards of his length, slipped it forward
as easily, as noiselessly as one blows smoke, shoved his big flat head
up over the Keeper's knee, ran his tongue out four times to moisten his
lips, and said: "I am also from the East, and I do not like this land.
Here my strength is nothing, for I can't eat. A Chicken twice a
month--what is that to one of my size? Sa'-zada will eat as much in a
day; and yet in my full strength I could crush five such as our Little
Brother. Many loops! in my own Jungle I could wind myself about a
Buffalo and pull his ribs together until his whole body was like loose
earth. I have done it. Sa'-zada knows that for months and months after
I came I ate nothing, and in the end they took me out on the floor
there, six of them, and shoved food down my throat with a stick.

"Once I had run down a Barking Deer, and swallowed him, and was having
a little sleep, when I wandered into the most frightful sort of
nightmare. It came to me in my sleep that Bagh had charged me of a
sudden, and gripped my throat in his strong jaws. I opened my eyes in
fright, and, sure enough, I was being choked with a rope in the hands
of the Men-kind. Each end of it was fastened to a long bamboo, and the
Men were on either side of me. I made the leaves and dry wood in that
part of the Jungle whirl for a little, but it was no use--I couldn't
get away. Also a man of the White-kind was sitting on a laid tree, and
in his hands was a loud-voiced gun. But I nearly paid him out for some
of the insult. They dragged me on to the road, and I lay there quiet
and simple-looking. He thought I was asleep, I suppose. At any rate he
came up and touched me on the nose with his toe.

"I struck; but, though I knew it not, the rope was tight held by one of
the Yellow-kind who stood behind me, and I but got a full choking;
though, as I have said, the other, he of the White Face, was stricken
with fear.

"They put me in a box, but though I have no appetite here, I could eat
there, and they gave me so many chickens that I shed my beautiful skin
almost monthly. I nearly died from the over-diet, not being used to
such plenty."

"Tell us of your food-winning in the Jungle," craved Sa'-zada.

"Though I go wondrous swift," began Python, "yet if any of the
Deer-kind passed me on foot I could not catch them. Because of this I
was forced to take great thought to outwit them. You, Gidar, and you,
Hathi, know of the elephant creeper that is in all those Jungles, how
it runs from tree to tree for many a mile--so strong that it sometimes
pulls down the biggest wood-grower. Well, having knowledge of a Deer's
path, I would stretch my body across it much after that fashion, and
the silly creatures with their ribbed faces, always coughing a hoarse
bark, and always possessed of a stupid fear, would walk right into my
folds, thinking me a part of the creeper. Once, even, as I think of it,
a hunter--of the White-kind he was--ate his food sitting on a coil of
my body as I lay twisted about a tree. To tell you the truth, I was
asleep, having fed well, and only woke up because of his sticking his
cutting knife into my back, thinking, of course, he was standing it in
the wood, when I suddenly squirmed and upset him, and his food and
drink.

"But when it was the dry season and the leaves were off the trees, the
Jungle was so open that even the silly Deer could see the rich color of
my beautiful skin, and for days and days I went hungry. Then I would go
to the small water ponds, Jheels, and curling my tail about a tree on
one side, put myself across, and catching a tree on the other side with
my teeth, swing my body back and forth and throw the water all out on
the land. Then I would eat all the Fish-dwellers, and go to sleep for a
week.


FASHION."]

"Once in a land of many pigs, I worked for days and days in that part
of the Jungle bending down small trees, and arranging the creepers
until I had a keddah with two long sides running far out into the
Jungle. Then, going beyond, I made a great noise, rushing up and down,
and many of these Dwellers being possessed of fear, fled into the
keddah and I devoured them."

Chita sat on his haunches and looked at Python in astonishment, his big
black head low hung, and a sneer of great unbelief on his mustached
lips.

"Surely this is the one great liar!" he exclaimed. "If these things be
not written in the Book, then Python has most surely had such a dream
as he has told us of."

"Without doubt it is a lie," declared Magh, "but for my part I am ready
to believe anything of his kind. In my Jungle home never once did I
climb out on a tree limb without pinching it to see whether it was wood
or a vile thing such as yon mottled boaster."

"Are the stories of Python written in the Book, O Sa'-zada?" queried
Mooswa.

"No," answered the Keeper, "but Python may have had this strange manner
of life."

"Whether they be true tales or false tales," hissed Python, "I am now
tired, and they are at an end."

"Well," said Sa'-zada, stroking the glistening scales of the big
Snake's head, "it is time to cage up now. Perhaps we'll all have
strange dreams to-night."

Soon the animals were sound asleep, all but Magh, who spent an hour
chattering to Blitz, her Fox Terrier Pup, on the enormity of telling
false tales.





Next: The Story Of The Monkeys

Previous: The Story Of Raj Bagh The King Tiger



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