There was a vision, just a half-guessed vision, of our cat shooting straight upwards through the air, and outwards over the still waters of the dike; there was a number one splash that set the reflected stars dancing, and the water-voles ("rats,” if you like) bolting to their holes; and there was the sighing “frou-frou-frou!” of great wings as the big bird rose and fled majestically. There was the sucking gurgle and drip-drip of a furred body leaving the water on the far side, eyes that glared more hate than pen can set down, and a deep, low, malignant feline curse. That cat had swum the rest of the way over the dike which he could not jump.
The bird was only a heron, and that does not sound much unless you are acquainted with the ways of the heron and all his beak implies. A heron is one of those birds that can fight at need, and—knows it. Moreover, in his long beak, set on his steel-spring neck, he has a weapon of awful “piercefulness,” and—knows that too. The bird is an example of armed defense.
This one had merely been fishing for eels in that pessimistic way peculiar to all fishermen, and seeing the tail-tip waving in the grass, and nothing else, had mistaken the same for his quarry. And this will be the easier to believe because we know, and probably the heron did also, that eels are given at times to overland journeys on secret errands of their own.
The cat crawled away down the dike in offended silence. He was wet, and the only cat I ever knew who did not seem to be scandalized past speech at the fact. Indeed, he went farther. He came upon a ripple and a dot, some fifty yards farther on, which to the initiated such as he, represented a water-vole ("rat,” if you will) swimming.
Then, before you could take your pipe from your mouth to exclaim, the water-vole was not swimming. He was squealing in a most loud and public-spirited fashion from between Pharaoh’s jaws, and it was the cat who was swimming. He had just taken a flying leap from the bank and landed full upon the dumbfounded water-vole—splash! Then he swam calmly ashore and dined, all wet and cold. Now, what is one to say of such a cat?
[Illustration: “Landed full upon the dumbfounded water-vole—splash!”]
Long did the keepers, in Colonel Lymington’s woods and along the hedges, search with dog and gun for Pharaoh, and many traps did they set. The dogs truly found a cat—two cats, and the guns stopped them, but one had a nice blue ribbon round his neck, and the other had kittens; the traps were found by one cat—and that was the pet of the colonel’s lady—one stoat, one black “Pom”—and that was the idol of the parson’s daughter—and one vixen—and she was buried secretly and at night—but Pharaoh remained where he had chosen to remain, and he remained also an enigma.
Then the colonel’s rare birds began to evaporate in real earnest. Hawkley’s little efforts at depleting them were child’s-play to those of Pharaoh that followed, although, of course, Pharaoh himself did not know, or care the twitch of a whisker, whether the birds he slew were rare or not.