“Fool that I am! Oh, fat, brown, root-digging fool that I am,” said Baloo, uncoiling himself with a jerk, “it is true what Hathi the Wild Elephant says: `To each his own fear’; and they, the Bandar-log, fear Kaa the Rock Snake. He can climb as well as they can. He steals the young monkeys in the night. The whisper of his name makes their wicked tails cold. Let us go to Kaa.”
“What will he do for us? He is not of our tribe, being footless—and with most evil eyes,” said Bagheera.
“He is very old and very cunning. Above all, he is always hungry,” said Baloo hopefully. “Promise him many goats.”
“He sleeps for a full month after he has once eaten. He may be asleep now, and even were he awake what if he would rather kill his own goats?” Bagheera, who did not know much about Kaa, was naturally suspicious.
“Then in that case, thou and I together, old hunter, might make him see reason.” Here Baloo rubbed his faded brown shoulder against the Panther, and they went off to look for Kaa the Rock Python.
They found him stretched out on a warm ledge in the afternoon sun, admiring his beautiful new coat, for he had been in retirement for the last ten days changing his skin, and now he was very splendid—darting his big blunt-nosed head along the ground, and twisting the thirty feet of his body into fantastic knots and curves, and licking his lips as he thought of his dinner to come.
“He has not eaten,” said Baloo, with a grunt of relief, as soon as he saw the beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket. “Be careful, Bagheera! He is always a little blind after he has changed his skin, and very quick to strike.”
Kaa was not a poison snake—in fact he rather despised the poison snakes as cowards—but his strength lay in his hug, and when he had once lapped his huge coils round anybody there was no more to be said. “Good hunting!” cried Baloo, sitting up on his haunches. Like all snakes of his breed Kaa was rather deaf, and did not hear the call at first. Then he curled up ready for any accident, his head lowered.
“Good hunting for us all,” he answered. “Oho, Baloo, what dost thou do here? Good hunting, Bagheera. One of us at least needs food. Is there any news of game afoot? A doe now, or even a young buck? I am as empty as a dried well.”
“We are hunting,” said Baloo carelessly. He knew that you must not hurry Kaa. He is too big.
“Give me permission to come with you,” said Kaa. “A blow more or less is nothing to thee, Bagheera or Baloo, but I—I have to wait and wait for days in a wood-path and climb half a night on the mere chance of a young ape. Psshaw! The branches are not what they were when I was young. Rotten twigs and dry boughs are they all.”
“Maybe thy great weight has something to do with the matter,” said Baloo.
“I am a fair length—a fair length,” said Kaa with a little pride. “But for all that, it is the fault of this new-grown timber. I came very near to falling on my last hunt—very near indeed—and the noise of my slipping, for my tail was not tight wrapped around the tree, waked the Bandar-log, and they called me most evil names.”
“Footless, yellow earth-worm,” said Bagheera under his whiskers, as though he were trying to remember something.
“Sssss! Have they ever called me that?” said Kaa.
“Something of that kind it was that they shouted to us last moon, but we never noticed them. They will say anything—even that thou hast lost all thy teeth, and wilt not face anything bigger than a kid, because (they are indeed shameless, these Bandar-log)—because thou art afraid of the he-goat’s horns,” Bagheera went on sweetly.
Now a snake, especially a wary old python like Kaa, very seldom shows that he is angry, but Baloo and Bagheera could see the big swallowing muscles on either side of Kaa’s throat ripple and bulge.