By now the class
was drawing to its close. "Let's try to end this in a civilized
fashion," I muttered to my kestrel. "For you, soon, a new partner on
Course No. 18. For me, an exit into the wet Gloucestershire night, another
illusion shattered." Glasier had said no more about our expedition with
Brimstone. Just as well, perhaps. The sight of the mighty hawk eagle in action
might have waked again the absurd, romantic notions that had drawn me to the
I said as much to
Roger in the bar of the Yew Tree that evening. "Oh," he told me.
"Mr. Glasier's going to fly Brimstone tomorrow. If it's not
Why the savage
Brimstone was incapable of hunting while it rained was beyond me. "Am I
invited as well?" I said suspiciously. Maybe Glasier had favorites, but I'd
paid my $45 for tuition like the others, and if there was going to be a grand
finale I would insist on being present.
said Roger. "Everybody's coming. Only we've got to do exactly what Mr.
Glasier says." Since we'd been doing that all week, it shouldn't be any
hardship, I figured.
I wish, as a
farewell gesture, that I could have personally tied my kestrel's leash up when
I left him for the last time. But Roger had to, so there wasn't the chance to
tell it that I'd finally discovered its birdy secret. What do you do when
you've been trained 16 times before, if you are smart and intelligent? You
don't go crazy for your food, winging around the sky. No, you just sit there in
the comfortable knowledge that in the end someone who has paid $45 for the
privilege is going to hand it to you. I wrote "imperceptible" under
Training Progress and rendezvoused with the others. For the first time all week
it wasn't raining.
Our task force
assembled on the road: we five novitiates; a box containing, it turned out, two
white polecat ferrets; the German bird dog and Glasier with the satanic
Brimstone on his wrist, bells jangling, great ferocious head and beak swiveling
around psychopathically. In procession, we drove away from the farmhouse into
misty Gloucestershire, twisting through lanes, then bumping along a farm track.
The command car flagged us down to stop. Emerging with Brimstone, his dog at
his side, Glasier was a lordly figure. Roger, entrusted with the ferret box,
took second place with ill-concealed pride. "Keep well back," warned
Glasier, "at least 20 yards behind me!" Respectfully, we stood aside as
he clambered over a locked farm gate. Then we followed him purposefully across
a downward slope of grass toward a thick hedgerow giving onto a bramble
As we neared it,
half a dozen white rabbit tails flickered and disappeared. Much good would it
do them. The murderous little ferrets would be following them into the warren,
and outside, when they fled, the doomsday weapon, yellow eyes aflame, would be
waiting for them.
Roger moved in
ceremoniously with the ferrets, like a picador at a bullfight. After some
reluctance, they disappeared. We drew back gravely to watch. Time passed, a
surprisingly long time. Once a white ferret head popped up, only to disappear
again. Brimstone shifted restlessly on Glasier's glove. And then the misty
autumn afternoon exploded. Something small came twisting out of cover.
Simultaneously, with a great clashing of bells, the terrible Brimstone launched
itself from the glove in a blur of broad wings. We ran forward for the kill.
Frankly, I turned away. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a falconer, but there was
something all too purposeful about that violent launch.
But, oddly, the
bells continued to jangle and the sound appeared to be diminishing. I looked
up. No scrap of bloody fur lay on the grass. The bramble patch was still. A
hundred yards away, Brimstone circled aimlessly, then settled on a low bough in
the hedge. Glasier swung the lure to bring him back to the fist. He watched it
inscrutably for a bit, then came. "An interesting flight," said
Glasier. It was the first time in a week I had seen him on the defensive,
something well attested by the adjective he used. If somebody tells you he's
had an interesting day's fishing, you know it was blank. Interesting is the
word you use for a ball game when your side lost and you want to sound like a
We left the
bramble patch, and with it Roger. He was on his knees whistling frantically
into the rabbit warren, trying to persuade the ferrets to come out again.
"Follow us when you can," said Glasier ruthlessly.