And they went circling, and wheeling, and hurling down-wind like sheets of paper, those murderous sea-birds, dispersed and scattered over the face of the waters, and were gone almost without a word.
Then the skua came lightly down, rocking on the wind, and settled beside the poor, draggled, white body, no longer white, upon the shingle, which had been so foully done to death by gulls of various clans. He may, or may not, have known it, but I can tell you that the gull was the self-same herring-gull who had tried to kill him the day before. Now he—but we will draw a curtain here.
Next day the skua went away, and the fishing wild-folk breathed a sigh of relief as they watched him go, and for three days peace brooded over the winged fishers of those parts, so that birds could feed upon what they caught, nor be in fear of getting hunted for it. But upon the fourth day the skua came back. And he was not alone. A dusky, nearly brown—for they vary much in color—female skua came with him. And in due course they built them a home on the ground among the heather, and they guarded their treasured eggs and reared with amazing fierce devotion their beloved young.
Before his advent that strip of wild sea-coast had been, mercifully, without its skuas. Our bold buccaneer, however, having won his footing, took care to see that, so far as one bird could accomplish the great task, it never should be again.
WHEN NIGHTS WERE COLD
And the Northern Lights come down
To dance on the houseless snow;
And God, who clears the grounding berg,
And steers the grinding flow,
He hears the cry of the little kit-fox
And the lemming on the snow.—RUDYARD KIPLING.
A snipe rose suddenly, and began to call out; a capercailzie lofted all at once, with a great rush of winged bulk, above the snow-bound forest; and a white hare slid, like a wraith of the winter, down a silent forest aisle.
Then came the White Wolf of the Frozen Wastes, the terror of the blizzard, ghost-like, enormous, and swift. In dead, grim silence came he, loping his loose, tireless wolf’s lope, and stopped at a windfall, where two forest giants, their decaying strength discovered by the extra weight of snow, lay prone, one across the other.
For a moment he paused, nose up, testing the still, cold air; then he leapt upon the upper fallen tree. He had, seen up there and clearly, an enormously thick and woolly coat, that magnified his already record size. You see him trotting along the tree-trunk. Then he stopped and stared down into the dark hollow under the upper tree. Then he sniffed—audibly. Then he licked his nose—and very red was his tongue. Then—but this he couldn’t help, I verily believe, as he balanced there with his pricked ears and bright eyes—he whined.
And instantly his little, impatient, dog-like whine was answered by a deep, deep growl, that seemed to come out of the bowels of the earth.