The ratel moved to meet him—to meet him—and at a cool jog-trot!
What happened then was hard to follow. It looked as if the worn fangs of the lion failed to make his hold on the wonderful, leathern, loose armor of the little honey-badger, and that he bungled the stroke of his terrible paw. Be that as it may, the honey-badger certainly went straight in, right under the lion’s guard, right under the lion, and rearing, he bit home, and hung like a living spanner.
And here, perhaps, it is best to draw a curtain. For one reason, I cannot describe it, and frankly confess the fact. For several other reasons, it is best not to try. The ratel died in about ten minutes, crushed, battered, smashed to death; but the chaos lasted longer than that, because, even after death, he was not done with—the passing of life had locked his amazing jaws shut forever, and they were shut on the lion.
The end found the little ratel lying crumpled up and crimson on the trampled grass, and the lion running about like some great injured dog, squatting down every few seconds to lick furiously at his wound. Fear was in the eyes of the king of beasts, for the first, probably, and certainly for the last, time in his life, and his blood reddened the grass wherever he made his way; but the internal hemorrhage was the worst.
Then the vultures came, and that, my friends, is a signal for us humans to go. The vultures get the last word always, even in a story, and the name of that word is—FINIS.
Now, if you wore a helmet and neck armor of purple, green, and blue in metallic reflections, with scarlet cheek and eye pieces, if your uniform were of purple, brown, yellow, orange-red, green, and black, “either positive or reflected,” with a long, rakish, dashing rapier-scabbard cocked jauntily out behind, wouldn’t you feel proud? So did he; pride and the “grand air” were written all over him. True, though, the rapier-scabbard was not a rapier-scabbard exactly—only a tail; but it looked like one, in a way. His full title was Phasianus colchicus, but ordinary people called him just plain pheasant for short.
You would have thought, after all this, that even in the first pale light of a cold dawn he would have been easy to see. As a matter of fact, Gaiters, the head gamekeeper, one of his underlings, three dogs, and a gun passed right under his bed without seeing him. Rather, they may have unconsciously seen him, and put him down as a bundle of dead twigs and leaves caught up in a branch. This is not very complimentary, perhaps, to a gentleman attired in a gorgeous uniform as heretofore set out, but true; and lucky for him, too, to have at once a uniform of unquestioned splendor and one which would melt into its surroundings.
They, the men, did not see him; but he, the old cock-pheasant, saw them right enough. He opened one eye, and stared at them through that. Then he opened the other eye, and stared at them through that. Neither stare seemed to please him.