Eagle's Flight

This is the story of a young eagle which in its yellow-beaked infancy was found by some boys and taken to the old parsonage, where kind people cared for it and became so attached to it that they kept it there. Like the Ugly Duckling of the fairy tale it grew up among quacking ducks and cackling hens and bleating sheep, and so well did it thrive in these surroundings that it grew large and broad and, as the minister said, "actually acquired a belly."

It was usually perched on an old fence near the pigsty, where it sat and waited for the maid to bring garbage from the kitchen. As soon as old Dorothy came in view, it would throw itself on the pavement and waddle toward the filled trough with the burlesque sack race stride peculiar to the kings of the ether when moving on earth.

Once in a while, especially on windy days or before a thunderstorm, a vague longing, like a dim homesickness, might awaken in the bosom of the captive prince of the air. Then it would sit for days with its beak buried in the dirty plumage of its breast, and would refuse to stir or eat.

Then suddenly it would spread its wings as if embracing the air and start boldly toward the sky—but its flight was always brief. Its wings were well clipped, and after fluttering clumsily for a moment it would fall to the ground where, perplexed, it would take a few sidewise hops, and with craned neck run and hide in some dark corner, as if ashamed.

When it had lived in this way for a couple of years, it happened that the old minister was taken ill and died. In the following confusion the royal bird, which had been given the plebeian name of Claus, was for a while forgotten. As usual it waggled around peacefully and a little timidly among the other birds of the poultry yard, being used to cuffings from the minister's daughters when once in a while it resolved to assert its innate superiority over the small fry.

But when one day a fresh south wind blew spring and warmth over the country, the strange thing happened that the eagle suddenly found itself upon the ridge of the big barn, without any idea of how this had come to pass. As so often before, it had been perched on the fence, dreaming dejectedly, and then in a sudden vague yearning for liberty had spread its wings for flight. But instead of dropping down on the pavement as usual, it had been lifted into the air so swiftly that, frightened, it had hurried to the nearest foothold.

Now it was sitting up there on the high roof, quite dazed by the course of events. Never before had it seen the world from such a lofty place. Eagerly it turned its head, now one way, now the other; then, irresistibly drawn by the drifting clouds and the azure of the sky, it spread its wings anew and soared upward, at first carefully and tentatively, soon with greater boldness and assurance, until at last with a wild scream of joy it swung itself high up in the air and made a great circle. In a flash it knew what it meant to be an eagle.

Villages, forests, sunny lakes passed under it. The eagle rose higher and higher toward the blue sky, dizzy from the wide horizon and the strength of its wings

But suddenly it stopped. The empty vastness all around frightened it, and it began to search for a resting-place.

By good luck it reached a projecting rock high above the river valley. But looking around, still a little dizzy, in search of the parsonage and the ridge of the barn, it received a new shock. All around, wherever it glanced, spread a strange and unknown country. Not one familiar spot, not one refuge was there as far as the eye could see.

Above its head rose rock upon rock—steep bare stone walls without a single shelter from the wind. In the west, beyond the open country, the sun was just setting in scarlet evening clouds which boded storm and dark nights.

A crushing sense of loneliness seized the young royal bird, as the yellowish mists of the dusk enveloped the valley far beneath. Depressed, it gazed after a flock of crows which with shrill cries were passing it on the way home to their nests, down there near the cozy human dwellings. With closely folded wings, and its beak plunged into its breast feathers, it sat solitary and still on the silent, desolate rock.

Suddenly a whir of wings is heard overhead. A white-breasted female eagle is circling above it under the red evening sky.

For a while the young eagle remains where it is, craning its neck and pondering on this strange sight. But all at once its indecision is swept away. With a mighty rushing of its stretched wings it soars upward and in a moment is close to its mate.

Now begins a wild chase over the mountains, the she-eagle always ahead and above, Claus doing his best to overtake her, though heavier and panting.

Soon they are among the high mountains. The sun is still illuminating the loftiest peaks, but they sail over the mountain-tops, into the growing darkness. Far beneath is heard the somber rustling of huge forests and the hollow boom of the rivers in the deep gorges.

"Will she never sit down?" he thinks, frightened by this sinister unknown roaring. He is almost exhausted, and his wings feel tired and heavy.

Higher and higher soars his beloved, farther and farther above the crimson peaks, calling, coaxing him to follow.

They have reached a vast stone desert, a chaos of gigantic blocks tumbled upon each other like the ruins of an overthrown tower of Babel. Suddenly the view before them opens. High above the drifting clouds spreads like a vision the unearthly realm of perpetual snow, unsoiled by swarming life, the home of the eagle and the great stillness. The last rays of day seem to be resting in quiet slumber on the white snow. Behind it rises the dark blue sky covered with calm stars.

Terrified, Claus stops his flight and settles on a rock. He sits there trembling with cold and discomfort, gazing at this white spectral land, these large stars which twinkle at him through the darkness like so many evil cat's eyes. Sadly his thoughts turn back anew to the home which he left behind. He recalls his warm place on the fence and the cozy poultry yard where his small friends are now sitting on their perches, sleeping peacefully with their heads under their wings. He thinks of the chubby little pigs which are now lying in a heap close to their mother, dreaming and sucking at the same time, and of fat old Dorothy who will come from the kitchen with the steaming food, when the church bells announce the rising of the sun.

The call of the female comes down through the frosty air. But Claus spreads his wings noiselessly and steals back, first irresolutely, fluttering from block to block, but soon swiftly, eagerly, chased by his terror, his anxiety, his sweet longing—home—home—home!

Not until next morning did the poor bird reach the parsonage after his headstrong flight. For some moments it remained hovering over its beloved home, as if wanting to make sure that everything down there was as usual.

Then it descended slowly.

But a disaster was to take place. The hired man, who happened to notice it, and had not heard of the disappearance of Claus, ran quickly to the house for his gun, and took his stand behind a tree, to give fire when the supposed poultry thief should be near enough.

The shot fell.

A few feathers fluttered in the air, and the dead eagle fell like a stone straight down on the dung-hill.

It avails but little to have come from an eagle's egg, if one is raised in the poultry yard.