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Glasier looked at him with pity. "First thing that would happen," he said, "is that the bloody bird would blow the candles out flapping its wings. And why candles, hey? Why not switch the light on?"
"It said candles in the book," Roger said defensively.
"Well, you won't find any candles here," Glasier told him. "I'll be taking you out in a minute to introduce you to your birds. You are here for five days, by the end of which you should have trained your falcons to come to you from 50 yards. Without the aid of candles."
Glasier stood, and we gathered up our papers. This, at last, was what we had signed up for. He led us out through the creaky corridor of the farmhouse, through the yard and out to a low, iron-roofed open shed. There they were waiting for us, five kestrels spaced out and leashed to stumps. Glasier restrained us from moving too close to them. "One at a time," he said, and naturally it was Roger who sidled in first, clucking at his falcon as if it were a kitten, extending a left hand gloved with one of the leather gauntlets Glasier had issued to us.
The kestrel took one horrified look at the King Charles beard and went mad, flying out at the end of its leash, battering its wings on the earth floor. Roger still moved in, tenaciously clucking all the while, but on his hands and knees now. The falcon lay still, wings spread on the ground, not looking at him. He insinuated his hand beneath it, and suddenly, in some miraculous way, the bird was up on his fist staring impassively ahead.
Roger backed away and stood upright. He looked as if the archangel Gabriel had just made him a fully paid-up member of the heavenly host. "Next!" said Glasier.
One by one, the others got their falcons on their fists, slipped off the leashes from the stumps and wrapped them around their fingers so that the end knot held tight. For me was reserved the last and smallest bird. It wouldn't look at me as I sneaked up on it, but at least it didn't bate—that is, lash frenziedly with its wings. I put my hand on the stump, then eased it up a little higher. Falcons always perch on the highest point they can find, so the theory is that in this situation they will always hop up to your glove.
And so, praise be, mine did. I untied the leash with my free hand, and there I was, like the others, bird on fist.
This, it turned out, was to be the peak of my relationship with this anonymous six-ounce kestrel. Everything declined after that, but it was a good moment while it lasted, a Robin Hood moment that everybody was sharing, so that it was difficult for any of us not to strut as we moved between the privet hedges that Glasier called the Hawk Walk. Betty was emboldened to stroke hers gently, and I did the same to my bird. It turned and savagely bit me across the knuckles of my ungloved right hand, drawing blood. After that, things were never really the same between us. "It bit me," I said to Glasier. He didn't seem deeply affected by this. "It'll get tired of doing that," he said. Soon we had established a truce. I didn't stroke it. It didn't bite me.
But we could not ignore each other like that forever. Next, Mr. Glasier informed us, we would go one by one into the hawk room, weigh our charges and draw a piece of horsemeat to feed the bird, a candy-bar-sized chunk that you held in your left hand directly under its beak. You had to enter the room alone, bolt the door, go over to the scales, unleash the falcon and pray that it would hop up onto the weighing bar and stay there while you weighed it. I suggested to Mr. Glasier that this time, anyway, he come in with me. I had grave suspicions that as soon as the bird and I were locked up alone together, six ounces of fighting kestrel was going to hurl itself in a Kamikaze attack on my face. It had that nasty aggressive look in its eye again.