THE young seagull was alone on his ledge. His two
brothers and his sister had already flown away the
day before. He had been afraid to fly with them.
Somehow when he had taken a little run forward to
the brink of the ledge and attempted to flap his
wings he became afraid. The great expanse of sea
stretched down beneath, and it was such a long
way down — miles down. He felt certain that his
wings would never support him; so he bent his head
and ran away back to the little hole under the ledge
where he slept at night. Even when each of his
brothers and his little sister, whose wings were far
shorter than his own, ran to the brink, flapped their
wings, and flew away, he failed to muster up courage
to take that plunge which appeared to him so
desperate. His father and mother had come around
calling to him shrilly, upbraiding him, threatening
to let him starve on his ledge unless he flew away.
But for the life of him he could not move.
That was twenty-four hours ago. Since then
nobody had come near him. The day before, all day
long, he had watched his parents flying about with
his brothers and sister, perfecting them in the art
of flight, teaching them how to skim the waves and
how to dive for fish. He had, in fact, seen his older
brother catch his first herring and devour it,
standing on a rock, while his parents circled around
raising a proud cackle. And all the morning the
whole family had walked about on the big plateau
midway down the opposite cliff taunting him with
The sun was now ascending the sky, blazing on
his ledge that faced the south. He felt the heat
because he had not eaten since the previous nightfall.
He stepped slowly out to the brink of the ledge,
and standing on one leg with the other leg hidden
under his wing, he closed one eye, then the other,
and pretended to be falling asleep. Still they took
no notice of him. He saw his two brothers and his
sister lying on the plateau dozing with their heads
sunk into their necks. His father was preening the
feathers on his white back. Only his mother was
looking at him. She was standing on a little high
hump on the plateau, her white breast thrust
forward. Now and again, she tore at a piece of fish
that lay at her feet and then scrapped each side of
her beak on the rock. The sight of the food maddened
him. How he loved to tear food that way, scrapping
his beak now and again to whet it.
“Ga, ga, ga,” he cried begging her to bring him
some food. “Gaw-col-ah,” she screamed back
derisively. But he kept calling plaintively, and
after a minute or so he uttered a joyful scream.
His mother had picked up a piece of the fish and
was flying across to him with it. He leaned out
eagerly, tapping the rock with his feet, trying to
get nearer to her as she flew across. But when
she was just opposite to him, she halted, her
wings motionless, the piece of fish in her beak
almost within reach of his beak. He waited a
moment in surprise, wondering why she did not
come nearer, and then, maddened by hunger, he
dived at the fish. With a loud scream he fell
outwards and downwards into space. Then a
monstrous terror seized him and his heart stood
still. He could hear nothing. But it only lasted a
minute. The next moment he felt his wings spread
outwards. The wind rushed against his breast
feathers, then under his stomach, and against his
wings. He could feel the tips of his wings cutting
through the air. He was not falling headlong now.
He was soaring gradually downwards and outwards.
He was no longer afraid. He just felt a bit dizzy.
Then he flapped his wings once and he soared
upwards. “Ga, ga, ga, Ga, ga, ga, Gaw-col-ah,” his
mother swooped past him, her wings making a
loud noise. He answered her with another scream.
Then his father flew over him screaming. He saw
his two brothers and his sister flying around him
curveting and banking and soaring and diving.
Then he completely forgot that he had not always
been able to fly, and commended himself to dive
and soar and curve, shrieking shrilly.
He was near the sea now, flying straight over
it, facing straight out over the ocean. He saw a
vast green sea beneath him, with little ridges
moving over it and he turned his beak sideways
and cawed amusedly.
His parents and his brothers and sister had
landed on this green flooring ahead of him. They
were beckoning to him, calling shrilly. He dropped
his legs to stand on the green sea. His legs sank
into it. He screamed with fright and attempted to
rise again flapping his wings. But he was tired and
weak with hunger and he could not rise, exhausted
by the strange exercise. His feet sank into the green
sea, and then his belly touched it and he sank no
farther. He was floating on it, and around him his
family was screaming, praising him and their beaks
were offering him scraps of dog-fish.
He had made his first flight.
THE moon was coming up in the east, behind me,
and stars were shining in the clear sky above me.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was happy to be
alone high up above the sleeping countryside. I was
flying my old Dakota aeroplane over France back to
England. I was dreaming of my holiday and looking
forward to being with my family. I looked at my
watch: one thirty in the morning.
‘I should call Paris Control soon,’ I thought. As I
looked down past the nose of the aeroplane, I saw
the lights of a big city in front of me. I switched on
the radio and said, “Paris Control, Dakota DS 088
here. Can you hear me? I’m on my way to England.
The voice from the radio answered me immediately:
“DS 088, I can hear you. You ought to turn twelve
degrees west now, DS 088. Over.”
I checked the map and the compass, switched
over to my second and last fuel tank, and turned
the Dakota twelve degrees west towards England.
‘I’ll be in time for breakfast,’ I thought. A good
big English breakfast! Everything was going well —
it was an easy flight.
Paris was about 150 kilometres behind me when
I saw the clouds. Storm clouds. They were huge.
They looked like black mountains standing in front
of me across the sky. I knew I could not fly up and
over them, and I did not have enough fuel to fly
around them to the north or south.
“I ought to go back to Paris,” I thought, but I
wanted to get home. I wanted that breakfast.
‘I’ll take the risk,’ I thought, and flew that old
Dakota straight into the storm.
Inside the clouds, everything was suddenly black.
It was impossible to see anything outside the
aeroplane. The old aeroplane jumped and twisted
in the air. I looked at the compass. I couldn’t believe
my eyes: the compass was turning round and round
and round. It was dead. It would not work! The
other instruments were suddenly dead, too. I tried
“Paris Control? Paris Control? Can you hear me?”
There was no answer. The radio was dead too. I
had no radio, no compass, and I could not see where
I was. I was lost in the storm. Then, in the black
clouds quite near me, I saw another aeroplane. It
had no lights on its wings, but I could see it flying
next to me through the storm. I could see the pilot’s
face — turned towards me. I was very glad to see
another person. He lifted one hand and waved.
“Follow me,” he was saying. “Follow me.”
‘He knows that I am lost,’ I thought. ‘He’s trying
to help me.’
He turned his aeroplane slowly to the north, in
front of my Dakota, so that it would be easier for
me to follow him. I was very happy to go behind the
strange aeroplane like an obedient child.
After half an hour the strange black aeroplane
was still there in front of me in the clouds. Now
there was only enough fuel in the old Dakota’s last
tank to fly for five or ten minutes more. I was
starting to feel frightened again. But then he started
to go down and I followed through the storm.
Suddenly I came out of the clouds and saw two
long straight lines of lights in front of me. It was a
runway! An airport! I was safe! I turned to look for
my friend in the black aeroplane, but the sky was
empty. There was nothing there. The black
aeroplane was gone. I could not see it anywhere.
I landed and was not sorry to walk away from the
old Dakota near the control tower. I went and asked
a woman in the control centre where I was and who
the other pilot was. I wanted to say ‘Thank you’.
She looked at me very strangely, and then
“Another aeroplane? Up there in this storm? No
other aeroplanes were flying tonight. Yours was the
only one I could see on the radar.”
So who helped me to arrive there safely without
a compass or a radio, and without any more fuel in
my tanks? Who was the pilot on the strange black
aeroplane, flying in the storm, without lights?
If ever you should go by chance
To jungles in the east;
And if there should to you advance
A large and tawny beast,
If he roars at you as you’re dyin’
You’ll know it is the Asian Lion...
Or if some time roaming round,
A noble wild beast greets you,
With black stripes on a yellow ground,
Just notice if he eats you.
This simple rule may help you learn
The Bengal Tiger to discern.
If strolling forth, a beast you view,
Whose hide with spots is peppered,
As soon as he has lept on you,
You’ll know it is the Leopard.
’Twill do no good to roar with pain,
He’ll only lep and lep again.
If when you’re walking round your yard
You meet a creature there,
Who hugs you very, very hard,
Be sure it is a Bear.
If you have any doubts, I guess
He’ll give you just one more caress.
Though to distinguish beasts of prey
A novice might nonplus,
The Crocodile you always may
Tell from the Hyena thus:
Hyenas come with merry smiles;
But if they weep they’re Crocodiles.
The true Chameleon is small,
A lizard sort of thing;
He hasn’t any ears at all,
And not a single wing.
If there is nothing on the tree,
’Tis the Chameleon you see.
Boy and Lost Ball
What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over — there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him;
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take
Balls, balls will be lost always, little boy.
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.