Quick as only a reptile can be, he canted, to remedy the error, but the impetus of his ten-foot bulk was still upon him; it carried him by. You cannot stop ten feet of bulk and five-feet-seven of girth of flesh and bone and muscle and armor-plates, going at Old Nick may know how many knots, in half-a-yard, you know; and it was the half-a-yard that did the trick.
The king’s son was aware, as he half-rose and delivered that desperate blow, of a mighty bulk shooting by, of an overpowering, sickening stench of musk, and of eyes, through the foam and the water—two little, wicked, unspeakably cruel eyes on knobs.
His chance! And, quick as light, he took it. Ough!
The rest was chaos.
And that is about all, I think—unless you would like to know that their mother, the king’s consort, who had been working grimly along on their trail since dusk, slid swiftly down the bank in that crisis, a fiery-eyed, long, gliding shape, and plunging into the watery inferno utterly recklessly, brought out, one by one, dripping, shivering, and by the scruff of the neck, first the king’s son, then the king’s daughter, and stopped not till she had placed them high up the bank, safe among the thorn-scrub, where they crouched together, side by side, listening to the cataclysmal threshings of the blind devil down in the black waters below there; and their father, the king, came up—pad-pad-pad-pad—behind them, to thunder out defiance at all the world above their sturdy, broad, intelligent heads, and purr his joy at their return. Moreover, he looked proud as he stood there in the moonlight, that royal beast; and I like to think it was not all looks either.
THE HIGHWAYMAN OF THE MARSH
There was some sort of violent trouble going on down in the reeds beside the dike. The reed-buntings—some people might easily have mistaken them for sparrows, with their black heads and white mustaches—said so, swaying and balancing upon the bending reeds, and calling the makers of that trouble names in a harsh voice.
And all the rest of the reed-people were saying so, too. It was an amazing thing how full of wild-folk that apparently deserted reed-patch was. Each bit of the landscape, each typical portion, is a world of its own, with its special kind of population. This one produced unexpectedly a pair of sedge-warblers and a reed-warbler, atoms who gyrated and grated their annoyance; a willow-tit, who made needle-point rebukes; a water-rail, with a long beak and long legs, running away like a long-legged pullet; a moorhen very much concerned as to her nest; a big rat very much concerned as to the moorhen’s nest, too, but in a different way; a grass snake, who glistened as if newly painted in the sun; and a spotted crake, who is even more of a running winged ventriloquial mystery than the corn-crake of our childhood’s hay-times.