He reared up. He struck, pat! pat! right and left, with the terrible, rending, full stroke of his kind. He met open jaws with open jaws—you could hear fang clash against fang. He grabbed, scrunched, drew back, grabbed, scrunched again, as a lion will—for the cats neither hold fast like a weasel nor snap like a wolf. Then, as the full force of the charge and the weight of the enemy’s body—some twenty-seven and a half pounds—took him, he hugged, round-arm fashion, with his talons, and, still grabbing and scrunching, rolled over backwards.
Cat and badger turned into a ball—a parti-colored ball, very lively as to its center, and it whirled. Unfortunately there was not much room to whirl in. That made things all the more grisly. You could almost see the grim skeleton shape of death, hovering over that growling, snarling, spitting, worrying, tearing, kicking, gnashing, scrunching, foaming, blood-flecked Catherine-wheel—almost see death, I say, bending down with upraised arm ready to strike. But death never struck.
In an instant there came, sounding strangely hollow in that still, damp air of dusk, as though it were in a cave, the unmistakable noise of a deep, dry, hacking cough. Truly, it was nothing much—just a good old churchy and human cough. But it might have been a blast from the trumpet of the archangel Gabriel himself by the effect it had upon the two combatants. They shot apart like released electrified dust-atoms, and—pff!—they were gone—wiped out. Like pricked bubbles, they had ceased to be. And neither gave any explanation. Being wild things, of course they wouldn’t.
The cough had only come from a laborer, who, passing along a pathway through the furze, had heard the commotion, and stopped. He never saw anything, though he crashed into the furze and hunted—he never saw anything, which was no wonder, seeing that he could hardly have selected a way to see less. The cat was four hundred yards away by that time, and goodness knows where the badger was—–deep down in his den, one presumes.
Later the cat slept, in a fortress of nature safe enough, surrounded by a hundred unseen sentries with brown jackets and white tails—rabbits, who would give him all the warning he required.
The lean night wind next evening came down, and day went out almost imperceptibly. Blackness grew under the furze caverns, and the last glimpse of the estuary faded away in a steely glimmer; a brown ghost of an owl slid low over the spiked ramparts, and wings—the wings of fighting wild-duck coming up from the sea to feed—“spoke” like swords through the star-spangled blue-black canopy of heaven.
The night-folk began to move abroad. You could hear them pass—now a faint rustle here, now a surreptitious “pad-pad” there. Once some bird-thing of the night cried out suddenly, very far away in the sky, “Keck! keck!” and was gone.