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The Way of the Wild eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 268 pages of information about The Way of the Wild.

Hawkley had come for, and found, his cat.

VI

THE CRIPPLE

It was gradually getting colder and colder as he flew, till at last, in a wonderful, luminous, clear, moonlit sunset, when day passed, lingering almost imperceptibly, into night, the wind fixed in the north, and a hard white frost shone on the glistening roofs—­far, far below.

Up there, at the three-thousand or four-thousand feet level, where he was flying, the air was as clear and sparkling as champagne, and as still as the tomb.  If he had been passing over the moon instead of over the earth, the effect would have been something like it, perhaps.

He was only a thrush, Turdus philomelus the songster, but big and dull and dark for his kind, and he had come from—­well, behind him, all shimmering and restless in the moonlight, like a fountain-basin full of quicksilver, lay the North Sea; ahead and beneath lay England; and across that sea, three hundred miles, as I count it, at the very least, to the lands of melting snow, he was going when late cold weather had caught him and warned him to come back.  And alone?  No, sirs, not quite.  Ahead, just visible, blurredly—­a little phantom form rose and fell on the magic air; behind, another; on his right, a third—­all thrushes, flying steadily westward in silence; and there may have been a few more that could not be seen, or there may not.

His crop, as were the crops of the others, was perfectly empty.  Indeed, he appeared to prefer traveling in ballast that way.  But his eyes shone, and his wing-strokes, with little pauses of rigidity between, such as many birds take—­only one doesn’t notice it much—­were strong and sure.

Once a large-winged, smudged shape, making no sound as it slipped across the heavens, came flapping almost up to him, peering this way and that at him and his companions, with amber flaming eyes set in a cat-like, oval face.  The thrush’s heart gave a great jump, and seemed threatening to choke him, for that shape—­and it howled at him suddenly, in a voice calculated to make strong men jump—­was death of the night, otherwise a short-eared owl.

But a gun went “boomp!” with that thick, damp sort of sound that smacks of black powder, somewhere down on earth, and a huge “herd” of green plover, alias peewits, which are lapwings, rose, as if blown up by an explosion, to meet them, their thousand wings flickering in the frost-haze like a shower of confetti, and the owl was so disconcerted by the disturbance that he dropped back into the night whence he came, as one who falls into a sea.

Then suddenly the thrush—­all the thrushes, indeed—­tipped tails, and flew downward—­offering no explanation to help one to understand why—­till they dropped, each one entirely on his own hook, apparently, in or about some gardens, as if they had tumbled out of the sky; and our thrush, in twenty seconds, had slipped into some apple-trees, and thence to some laurels round a shed, and—­was asleep!  I say “was asleep.”  Out of the starry sky, down, in under, and asleep—­all without emotion, and like a machine.  Now, what is one to make of such a bird?

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