For fully a minute Baree had no use of his jaws. Then, by accident, he wedged Papayuchisew in a crotch of a low ground shrub, and a bit of his nose gave way. He might have run then, but instead of that he was back at the owlet like a flash. Flop went Papayuchisew on his back, and Baree buried his needlelike teeth in the bird’s breast. It was like trying to bite through a pillow, the feathers fangs, and just as they were beginning to prick the owlet’s skin, Papayuchisew—jabbing a little blindly with a beak that snapped sharply every time it closed—got him by the ear.
The pain of that hold was excruciating to Baree, and he made a more desperate effort to get his teeth through his enemy’s thick armor of feathers. In the struggle they rolled under the low balsams to the edge of the ravine through which ran the creek. Over the steep edge they plunged, and as they rolled and bumped to the bottom, Baree loosed his hold. Papayuchisew hung valiantly on, and when they reached the bottom he still had his grip on Baree’s ear.
Baree’s nose was bleeding. His ear felt as if it were being pulled from his head; and in this uncomfortable moment a newly awakened instinct made Baby Papayuchisew discover his wings as a fighting asset. An owl has never really begun to fight until he uses his wings, and with a joyous hissing, Papayuchisew began beating his antagonist so fast and so viciously that Baree was dazed. He was compelled to close his eyes, and he snapped blindly. For the first time since the battle began he felt a strong inclination to get away. He tried to tear himself free with his forepaws, but Papayuchisew—slow to reason but of firm conviction—hung to Baree’s ear like grim fate.
At this critical point, when the understanding of defeat was forming itself swiftly in Baree’s mind, chance saved him. His fangs closed on one of the owlet’s tender feet. Papayuchisew gave a sudden squeak. The ear was free at last—and with a snarl of triumph Baree gave a vicious tug at Papayuchisew’s leg.
In the excitement of battle he had not heard the rushing tumult of the creek close under them, and over the edge of a rock Papayuchisew and he went together, the chill water of the rain-swollen stream muffling a final snarl and a final hiss of the two little fighters.
To Papayuchisew, after his first mouthful of water, the stream was almost as safe as the air, for he went sailing down it with the lightness of a gull, wondering in his slow-thinking big head why he was moving so swiftly and so pleasantly without any effort of his own.