But the black rats! The brown rats died, at intervals, fighting horribly, as cornered brown rats do. In five minutes they were, all five, dead—that is, all that had come into the room and been cut off. The black rats, however, in five minutes, were not dead. Nobody seems to have seen them, after the hunt had once begun, till the others were killed. Even then all four men aver that they could never rightly swear that they saw them. They saw lines, and streaks, and flashes, and whirls, and halos of black, which might have been rats—and the dogs said they were—but no one could swear to it. At times these giddy phenomena were among the rafters, at other times they were on the floor, and yet again they were going up or coming down the walls; but all the while both men and dogs seemed to be everlastingly too late, and hunting them where, half-a-second before, they had been. In fact, they perpetually had been, and were always where snapping jaws and beating sticks were not.
At the end of half-an-hour the men, mopping their foreheads, even in that cold, gasped, “Lor’ love yer! Did yer ever see th’ like?”
At the end of three-quarters of an hour the men flung themselves, gasping, on to the sacks of flour, and the dogs, panting, on to the floor—done. And the black rat and his mate, lively as ever, perkily watched them from the rafters.
Then the men and dogs went away, the light went out, and presently great sounds of war below suggested that the brown rats on the ground-floor were having the time of their lives. So were the two black rats, but a different sort of time. They were feasting upon meal and grain. And there, so far as I know, as they were like birds, flying among the rafters like black lightning if molested, they live to this day.
LAWLESS LITTLE LOVE
She rolled over and regained her feet in a flash, to find herself facing a dark beast, with a huge, bushy, white tail, held up straight like a pleased cat’s—but this was a sign of warning, not pleasure—that shone ghostily in the gloom of the mysterious, dread thorn-scrub. And the face of the beast was the face of a black and grinning devil, and its eyes shone red.
She stood there, shivering a little, with the tiny young thing crawling weakly away from almost under her feet, and the long, vivid, raw gash that the white-tailed beast, coming from nowhere special out of the night, had set upon her shoulder—a murderess caught in the act.
On three legs—her left hindleg had been bitten off by a trap set for a hyena—emaciated, with all her natural buoyant courage gone out of her, her wonderful agility gone too, she felt instantly in her heart that she could neither face this diabolical-faced foe, nor yet get away from it. This same crippled condition had spoilt her hunting forays, and, driven by hunger, had made her nose into other people’s nurseries, and be caught just on the point of slaying somebody else’s baby, when the owner had come home, like a streak out of the night.