Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Ladder Book by E. Hershey Sneath
 
The Golden Ladder Book by  E. Hershey Sneath

The Story of a Sea Gull

I

He was a young sea gull. He had lately learned to fly; and sea gulls need to fly very well; for often they have to go many miles without a rest, when they are out at sea.

There was very stormy weather the year this sea gull and his brothers and sisters were hatched. And sometimes the father and mother sea gulls were frightened to let them try to fly, for fear they should be beaten down by the wind, and not have strength to rise again.

It is quite different when little land birds learn to fly. They can flutter from one twig to another near the ground, so that, if they do fall, they will not be much hurt. Sea gulls need to have brave hearts when they are little.

This sea gull was very brave—almost too brave. He loved the sea so dearly that while he was still a nestling he peeped out from his home, high up on a ledge of rock, at the dancing waves below; and he longed to be among them.

He would scarcely believe his mother, when she told him that it was not as easy to fly as it looked, and that birds had to learn by degrees.

At last one day the father, who had been out sniffing about, came in and told the mother that it would be a good day for a beginning. So all the four young ones got ready, and stood at the edge of the nest in great excitement.

It was very funny to see them at first, they were so awkward and clumsy. When they could fly a little better, the father and mother took them to a little bay, where there was nice soft sand, and where they got on very well.

They should have been content to stay there till the spring storms were over and their wings had grown stronger. And they all were content, except the one I am telling you of; and he was very discontented.

He looked longingly over the sea, wishing to be with the flocks of birds he saw sparkling in the sunshine. And one morning, when his father and mother had gone off for a good fly by themselves, he stood up in the nest, flapped his wings, and said to the other three that he was going off on his own account.

His brothers and sisters begged him not to go; but it was no use, he was in such a hurry to see the world, and to be his own master.

He got on pretty well at first; the sea was far out, and there were several rocks sticking up, that he could rest on. He found it so easy that he was tempted to go out farther than he had intended.

He did not notice how far he had gone, until he had been resting awhile on a rock a good way out. Then he looked around, and could not tell where he was, for there was nothing but sea all around him.

Just as he was beginning to feel rather frightened, a number of gulls flew up and lighted on the rock. They were all chattering, and very much excited.

"We trust make haste," they said, "and get to the shore as fast as we can, before the storm is on us."

They only rested a moment or two, and then got ready to start again.

The young sea gull stood up, and flapped his wings to attract attention.

"May I fly with you?" he said. "I am afraid I don't quite know the way."

They looked at him in surprise.

"What are you doing away from your home, a young fledgling like you?" they said. "Come with us, if you like. It is your only chance; but probably you will never get to the shore."

Oh, how frightened he was, and how he wished that he had stayed at home! But he flew with them, for it was his only chance, and he suffered dreadfully. When at last he reached the shore, it was only to drop down on the sands gasping and bruised, and almost dying.

II

A man, who was passing, picked up the poor bird. He thought that his little master might like to have the feathers if the bird died, or to make a pet of him if he lived.

When the sea gull, who was quite faint by this time, awoke, he found himself lying in a tool house in a garden. A little boy was stooping over him.

"I don't think he is going to die," said the boy. "I have made him a bed of hay in the corner. We will see how he is to-morrow."

The poor sea gull felt very strange and sad. It took him several days to get better, and he did not like the food they gave him, though of course they meant to be kind. At last, one day he was able to flop about, and even to flap his wings a little.

"Now I shall soon be able to fly home again," he thought joyfully. "If I can once get to the sea, I shall be sure to meet some gulls who can show me the way."

"He seems to be quite well now," said the boy to the gardener, one morning. "We can let him out into the garden, can't we, and see whether he is a good slug catcher?"

"But first we must clip his wings, or else he will be flying away," said the gardener And he took up the sea gull, stretched out his wings, and snipped them with a large pair of shears.

It did not hurt the sea gull, any more than it hurts us to have our nails cut; but it frightened him dreadfully. He was still all shaking and confused, when the gardener set him down on the garden path, but he got better in a minute, and looked about him.

It was a pretty garden, and he felt pleased to be out in the air again. He ran a few steps; just to try his legs, and then turned around, meaning to say good-by to the boy, and thank him in his sea gull way for his kindness, before starting off.

Having done this, he stretched his wings to fly. But, oh dear, what was the matter? He could not raise himself more than a few inches above the ground; and, with a pitiful cry, he rolled over on the ground in despair.

"Poor bird!" said the boy. "I wish we had not clipped his wings. It would have been better to let him fly away."

"He is too young to fly far," said the gardener. "He would never have got home."

So all the summer the poor sea gull spent in the garden. He got more used to it after awhile; but he always had a pain at his heart.

He used to rush along the paths, as if he were in a desperate hurry to get to the end. He pretended to himself that when he got to the end of the path, he would feel the salt air, and would see the waves dancing.

The children of the house, of course, did not understand his thoughts; and they used to laugh at him, and call him "that absurd creature." But his heart was too sore for him to mind.

So the poor sea gull lived all through the summer and the autumn, till the winter came round again; and all this time, whenever his wings began to grow longer, the gardener snipped them short again.

III

The winter was a dreadfully cold one. The frost lasted so long that nothing seemed alive at all; there was not a worm or a slug or an insect of any kind in the garden.

The little boy and his brothers and sisters all went away on a visit to an aunt, when it began to get so cold. Before they went they told the gardener not to leave the sea gull in the garden, but to shut him up for the winter in the poultry house, with the cocks and hens.

"There is nothing for him to eat outside, and you might forget to feed him," the children said. So the sea gull passed the winter safely, though sadly enough. He had plenty to eat, and no one teased him; but he longed for freedom and for the fresh air of the sea.

He often felt that he would die if he were kept a prisoner much longer. But he had to bear it, and he did not die, and he grew at last so patient that no one would have thought that he was the same discontented bird.

There was a little yard, covered over with netting, outside the hen house; and the poor sea gull could see the sky from there. The clouds scudding along on a windy day reminded him a little of the waves, which he thought he would never see again.

The stupid, peaceful cocks and hens used to wonder what he found to stare up at for hours together. They thought the most interesting thing in life was to poke about on the ground for the corn that was thrown to them.

At last—at last—came the spring. The poor sea gull could not understand what made everything feel so different, and why the sky looked blue again, till one day the gardener's wife opened the door of the covered yard, and let them all out.

The sea gull, being thinner and quicker than the hens, slipped past her and got into the garden. She saw him when he had got there; but she thought it was all right—he might begin his slug catching again.

He hurried along the path in his old way, feeling thankful to be in the open air once more, but with the longing at his heart stronger than ever.

It was so long since he had tried to fly, that he had almost forgotten that he had wings. All of a sudden something startled him—a noise in the trees—and without thinking what he was doing, he stretched out his wings in the old way.

But fancy his surprise. Instead of flopping about as they had done ever since the gardener had cut them, they stood out firm and steady, quite able to support his weight.

He tried them again and again. There was no mistake about it. Up he soared, up, up, up, into the clear spring sky, strong and free, for his wings had grown again! That was what they had been doing all the long, dull winter.

He met some gulls on his way to the sea, and they told him exactly how to go. You can imagine how delighted he was to see his father and mother and brothers and sisters again, and to feel the sea wind, and to see the waves dancing in the sunshine. So happiness came to the pour sea gull at last, when he had learned to wait.

Mrs. Molesworth

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