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HOW SHASTA HID IN TIME
That fierce approach of Kennebec, sweeping up as from the remote ends of the hollow world, was a terrible thing to see. Also, when the sound of it reached Shasta’s ears, it was terrible to hear. He knew that there was only one thing to do, and that he must do it without an instant’s delay--to find some hiding-place where he would be safe from those awful claws and beak; for Kennebec’s anger would have no bounds when he discovered that the eaglets had been destroyed.
To descend the cliff as he had come up would be impossible for Shasta, as he was fully aware. Once exposed upon that naked face of rock, Kennebec would attack him with fury, and, ripping him from his foothold, dash him down below. He took in his surroundings with a swift glance. The place was composed entirely of rocks. They were jagged and splintered by the frosts and tempests of a million years. They wore a fierce and hungry look, like Kennebec himself. It was the raw edge of the world.
Shasta lost not a moment. He fled along the tumbled rocks, as the mountain sheep flee when they are pursued by wolves. He could not tell where he was going nor where the rocks would end. The instinct in him was to seek refuge among the trees. Surely upon the other side of the precipice he would find that the forest climbed! The forest was his friend, if he could reach it in time. Under the shelter of the spruces he would be safe. The great eagle could not reach him there.
But as he fled he heard the whistling rush of those fearful wings. They were close behind him now--closer and closer! He did not dare to look. He heard; he felt: that was enough.
Now the storming wings were over him. Beating the air Kennebec hovered, waiting for the swift downward rush, which, if it reached Shasta, would be the end. For the moment the air seemed darkened with the shadow of those wings! Then Kennebec swooped. But even as he did so Shasta darted suddenly to the left. He had seen an opening between the rocks, and, with the quickness which only wild animals possess, had bolted in.
By the tenth part of a second and the tenth part of an inch Kennebec missed his aim. Instead of the soft body of Shasta, those terrible claws of his met the hard rock.
For an hour or more he hovered, raging over the spot where Shasta had disappeared. But if he hoped that the boy would come out, he was disappointed. Shasta might be half-wolf in his mind, but that did not make him a fool. On the contrary, his wolf-like instincts taught him to stay where he was, and to lie low as long as that winged fury raged overhead.
The place into which he had crept was little more than a crevice between two enormous rocks, and could certainly not be called a cave. But, narrow as it was, there was ample room for Shasta’s little body; and settling himself into as comfortable a position as possible, he was presently asleep. That was part of his wolf-wisdom, learnt he didn’t know how: “When there’s nothing else to be done, sleep!”
After a time Kennebec grew tired of hovering over the crevice, so he settled down on a near pinnacle to watch. Noon came and went. A burning heat scorched the rocks. It would have been far cooler up in the high levels of the air. Nevertheless Kennebec chose to sit stewing on his rock, with the glare of his great eyes fixed on the spot where Shasta had disappeared. And the glare had a fierce intensity which seemed as if it were fiercer than even the sun’s. For the hard and cruel light in it meant death to whatever should come within Kennebec’s power to kill.
Late in the afternoon Shasta woke, and peeped out to see if there were any signs of Kennebec. But the pinnacle upon which the eagle had taken up his watch was just out of sight, and Shasta could not see him. In spite of the shade it was very stuffy in the crevice, and the thirst began to dry Shasta’s tongue. He thought of the cool green trails of the forest, and water sliding under the moss with a hollow trickle. Now that Kennebec seemed to have gone, it was a great temptation to slip out and make a bolt for the nearest trees. Although they were not in sight, he was sure they must be there, just over the other side of the rocks. Yet, in spite of the temptation, something told him that it was not safe to go. He could not see Kennebec, it is true, yet a feeling--the sense that seldom fails to warn the wild creatures when danger is at hand--told him to remain where he was. And this obedience to his instinct saved his life. For though Kennebec was out of sight, he was not gone. There he sat, on the burning rock, sultry with heat, but even sultrier with anger, watching and watching with the patience that is born of hate.
It was not until the dusk fell, and the tawny light of sunset faded from the peaks, that he rose from his perch and flapped heavily away.
When it was quite dark Shasta crept out from his hiding-place and made his way softly over the rocks. He went slowly, setting his feet with the utmost care, for he knew that the least sound might betray his presence, and bring Kennebec’s terrible talons upon him, even in the dark. At last, to his joy, he saw the summits of the spruces glowing against the stars, and in a few minutes more he was safe beneath the trees.