It was the boy with the bicycle that did it; or, rather, it was the unhappy hen-pheasant that made him. She, being in extremis, had made some noise among the stiff dead leaves. It was not much of a noise, but it caught the boy’s young ear, and he bent forward to peer at the hedge.
One of the men saw him, said something, to which the boy nodded, jumped down into the ditch, and thrusting in a long arm, began to feel with a purposeful hand. The hen-pheasant, whose nerves were already shattered to little pieces, struggled to get out of reach, and in a second had given the whole show away.
But I like to think of what our cunning old cock-pheasant did then. He did nothing—absolutely nothing at all. Crouching as flat as an overturned saucer, just, behind the hen-pheasant’s tail, he remained stiller than a bunch of dead leaves, and far more silent. And this, mark you, when the hen-pheasant was pulled out, frantically fluttering and helpless, and there and then had her neck wrung in front of his very eyes. That, my masters, needed a nerve, after all that he had gone through. What?
The two men, seeming to think that they had got enough for one quiet walk, departed, not quickly, but without unnecessary delay. The man who had been looking for the hen-pheasant, and had seen nothing of what took place at the gap, gave it up, and went away over the grass to the shooters. The shooting ended with one last double shot, at one last old cock-pheasant driven reluctantly from the last hush of the covert; the dogs were out, galloping all over the ground for the wounded and the slain; the watchers in the road departed; the shooters gradually merged into groups, and drew farther and farther away up the park; and the boy, who was shy, mounted his bicycle and rode off into the sad blue-gray of the gathering dusk.
The big day was over, and the old cock-pheasant was alone with the melancholy song of a single robin, and a chaffinch calling “Chink!” And the cold breath of the sunset wind, shuddering and sighing all to itself across the face of the empty scene, touched the feathers that were left by the hen-pheasant attached to thorns and twigs in her last struggle, so that they danced and wavered and flickered before the old cock’s eyes, as a reminder of all that had been for them in the past—the past, which for him, but never for her, might be again.
That night he roosted in the covert, as usual.