Chapters 15–16 Summary

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Last Updated on August 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 777

Chapter 15: For Whom the Bell

With Stuart’s help, Macdonald affixes a small bell to Mabel’s tail feathers. Mabel will also wear a tiny radio transmitter. Still, Macdonald is terrified of losing the hawk. On the village playing fields, she watches as Mabel flies straight past her and doesn’t touch the food on her glove. Stuart says that Mabel just needs to lose weight and that nothing else is wrong; he offers to take the two of them out with him and his own hawk tomorrow. Laying aside her previous conception of herself as an expert falconer, Macdonald gratefully accepts Stuart’s help.

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In his diary, White wrote, “Need to excel in order to be loved.” Macdonald considers the unspoken assumptions in the phrase—what if even in your success you are still unloved, unloveable? Achieving success in something creates vulnerability, because when you become an expert, you also become the target of judgment. Terrified by his recent successes with Gos and the idea of other falconers criticizing him and his book, White began to self-sabotage.

Macdonald accompanies Stuart to a field outside the city, and Mabel flies poorly again. Stuart insists that she still just needs to lose a bit of weight, but Macdonald remains worried. Before they leave for home, Stuart and Macdonald stop to admire a beautiful sight: countless threads of spider silk revealed by the last rays of the sun, covering the field. It reminds Macdonald of a strange evening during her research trip to Uzbekistan last year, when she witnessed tiny spiders sailing through the air on silken squiggles.

The next day Macdonald takes the train to London, leaving Mabel behind. She meets the canon, her mother, her brother, and her father’s editor at a church, where they plan a memorial service for her father being given by his colleagues at the newspaper. Macdonald contemplates the absurdity of the “offices of death,” the service programs and themed coffins. On the train home, Macdonald misses her father terribly. She remembers the spider silk in the field, how she walked over it without knowing it was there, and it occurs to Macdonald that the “bareness and wrongness of the world” that she feels might be illusory—that “things might still be real, and right, and beautiful.”

When Macdonald and Stuart return to the hill, Macdonald admits to Stuart that she’s been feeling depressed, though she doesn’t describe the details. Exhausted and hopeless, she thinks of going home, but when she unhoods Mabel, Stuart remarks that the hawk has reached her flying weight. This time Mabel flies right to Macdonald, “like a promise finally kept.”

Macdonald wonders if by confessing her feelings to Stuart and experiencing some relief, she has made herself more inviting to Mabel. For the hawk’s sake, she resolves to try harder to be happy.

Chapter 16: Rain

Hoping to catch one of the hawks in...

(The entire section contains 777 words.)

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