Beside the Sea by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

One hot August day Phyllis went to the seashore to live.

"Such fun," she cried, as the train drew up at the seaside station. "Such fun as I shall have playing in the sand and wading in the water."

It was not half an hour before she was running along the beach beside the cliffs. Her feet were bare, and she wriggled her toes in the sand and splashed into the puddles of water.

Presently she saw a number of little birds running along the beach and flying over the water.

"How swiftly they fly, and how well they dive," she said. "How easily they swim, and they sometimes settle on the waves and rest. I wish they would come nearer!"

"I will tell you about them," said a solemn voice near by. Phyllis stumbled in her surprise and splashed the water into her eyes. When she could see again, a great blue heron was standing near.

"Oh!" cried Phyllis, a bit frightened. "It is strange that I did not see you. Yes, do tell me about the little sea-bird—and about yourself also!"

So the blue heron drew his head down between his shoulders, and, standing on one leg, told Phyllis what he knew of the little sea-doves.

"That little bird with brown back and white breast loves the sea," said the heron. "He is never tired of the blue waves.

"In stormy weather the little sea-dove is most happy, because it is then that the waves are laden with small fish and crabs. During stormy weather the little fisherman grows fat.

"Watch them as they fly. Do you see how they are constantly dipping their bills into the water? That is their way of fishing.

"The sea-doves' nests are among the cliffs. In them they lay just two bluish-white little eggs.

"Sometimes, when the winds are very strong, the sea-doves are blown far inland. Sometimes they find their way back to the sea. But there are other times when they do not return."

"And where is your own nest, O Great Blue Heron?" asked Phyllis, half laughing at the queer, long-legged bird.

"It is over yonder on a rock," said the heron. "There are now four dull blue-green eggs in the nest.

"Soon there will be four ugly, helpless birdlings, who will sit up and cry for food. It will be at least three weeks after they are hatched before they will try to wade out into these flat sea-marshes. I shall have to let no fish escape me, if I do not wish the fledglings to starve."

"You do not think your babies pretty?" asked Phyllis.

"No," said the heron, truthfully, "they are not even so good-looking as other birds' babies. But that I do not mind, for will they not some day be as beautiful as I myself?"

"Yes," said Phyllis, "I have seen your picture many a time. In mother's room is a large screen and on it is your likeness embroidered in silks. The long green grasses are growing about you in the picture. One foot is drawn up and your head is drawn down between your shoulders just as it now is."

"That is the way to rest," said the heron.

"What were you doing here?" Phyllis asked, wading a little closer to the long-legged bird.

"I was fishing," said the great blue heron. "It is the one thing I delight in. From morning till night—"

"My brother Jack—" began Phyllis, but the bird paid no attention.

"I sometimes stand here perfectly still for hours. I wait patiently for the fish or the frogs to appear.

"Then I strike suddenly with my strong, sharp bill. I snap up the fish or frog and give it a knock or two to kill it.

"Then I eat it. If it is a fish I swallow it, head first, so that the scales shall not scratch my throat.

"But see, Phyllis, the sun has set, and I have not yet had my supper. I really must leave you!"

Then the great blue heron rose slowly and silently and circled away over the flat sea-marshes. Barefooted Phyllis scampered back to the little seaside cottage, where a fish supper was awaiting her.