Owen began his dream again, and he could do so without danger, for his horse hardly required the direction of the bridle even in the thick wood; and while admiring his horse’s sagacity in avoiding the trees he pursued his theological fancies, an admirable stillness gathering the while, shadows descending, unaccompanied by the slightest wind, and no sound. Yes, a faint sound! And reigning in his horse, he listened, and all the Arabs about him listened, to the babble coming up through the evening—a soft liquid talking like the splashing of water, or the sound of wings, or the mingling of both, some language more liquid than Italian. What language was being spoken over yonder? One of the Arabs answered, “It is the voice of the lake.”
As the cavalcade rode out of the wood the lake lay a glittering mirror before Owen, about a mile wide; he could not determine its length, for the lake disappeared into a distant horizon, into a semblance of low shores, still as stagnant water, reflecting the golden purple of the sunset, and covered with millions of waterfowl. The multitude swimming together formed an indecisive pattern, like a vague, weedy scum collected on the surface of a marsh. Ducks, teal, widgeon, coots, and divers were recognisable, despite the distance, by their prow-like heads, their balance on the water, and their motion through it, “like little galleys,” Owen said. Nearer, in the reeds agitated with millions of unseen inhabitants, snipe came and went in wisps, uttering an abrupt cry, going away in a short, crooked flight and falling abruptly. In the distance he saw grey herons and ibises from Egypt. The sky darkened, and through the dusk, from over the hills, thousands of birds continued to arrive, creating a wind in the poplars. Like an army marching past, battalion succeeded battalion at intervals of a few seconds; and the mass, unwinding like a great ribbon, stretched across the lake. Then the mist gathered, blotting out everything, all noise ceased, and the lake itself disappeared in the mist.
Turning in the saddle, Owen saw a hillock and five olive-trees. A fire was burning. This was the encampment.
He had undertaken this long journey in the wilderness for the sake of a few days’ falconry, and dreaded a disappointment, for all his life long, intermittently of course, he had been interested in hawks. As a boy he had dreamed of training hawks, and remembered one taken by him from the nest, or maybe a gamekeeper had brought it to him, it was long ago; but the bird itself was remembered very well, a large, grey hawk—a goshawk he believed it to be, though the bird is rare in England. As he lay, seeking sleep, he could see himself a boy again, going into a certain room to feed his hawk. It was getting very tame, coming to his wrist, taking food from his fingers, and, not noticing the open window, he had taken the hawk out of its cage. Was the hawk kept in a cage or chained