Far overhead, circling grandly on effortless, still, great pinions, swimming, one might say, in the dome of the sky, a big bird, known as a buzzard, was staring downwards with the flashing, sheathed glance of all birds of prey—and aviators—at the world below. She, too, had young, and simply had to find a meal. The hour was late, and her success nil. Perhaps that accounted for much. Perhaps, however, all she saw was that half-glimpse of dull, tawny fur, which accounted for still more; that is to say, she probably made a mistake.
Anyway, the polecat was suddenly aware of a sound like the swish of a lady’s skirt in the air above him, and of a dimming of the light. He sprang forward first, and glanced up second—knowing the rules of the wild. But he was too late, for instantly the long, hooked talons of the bird came down through the grass, and gripped. It was an awful handshake, for the bird was a buzzard, we said, who is a sort of smaller and less kingly edition of the eagle, without the imperial power.
For a few seconds there followed an awful struggle—great wings beating mightily downwards, beak hammering, and fangs meeting the hammerings with audible clashings. It seemed that the bird could not quite lift the beast, and that the beast could not quite retain connection with solid earth.
And then the bird rose, slowly, strainingly, with her vast pinions winnowing the air with deep “how-hows!” Like mighty fans rose she, still gripping the struggling polecat hard by the back in a locked clutch of steel—up and up, and out over the estuary, growing slowly from a great bird to a medium-sized one, to a smaller, and a smaller, all the time fighting, it seemed, like a mad creature, to gain the upper air, to climb to the clouds, as a drowning man fights his way upwards in the water. And there was reason—the old polecat’s jaws were fast shut in a vise-grip, as of a Yale lock, upon her throat.
Never a sound broke the silence that brooded forever—in spite of the wind—over the lake-like, flattened expanse of the estuary save the deep “how-how!” of the buzzard’s superb pinions as she climbed slowly into the sublime vault of the heavens; never a sound from bird or from beast. The beast hung on, dumbly dogged, with fangs that met in the flesh beneath the stained feathers; and the blood of the bird mingled with the blood of the beast as it trickled slowly down over his mangled head, upon which one fearful claw of the buzzard was clutched in an awful grip.
The bird struggled dumbly also, upwards, ever upwards, gasping, with open beak and staring eyes, fighting vainly for the breath she could not draw, till at last the two were no more than a speck—one little, dark, indefinite speck, floating athwart the great, piled, fleecy mountains of the clouds.
And then, quite suddenly, so suddenly that it was almost like pricking a bladder, the end came. The magnificent, overshadowing pinions collapsed; the bird reeled, toppled for an instant in the void, and then slid back and down, faster and faster and faster, turning over and over, in one long, sickening dive back to earth.