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Mr. Gully, edited by Andrew Lang

 

He was a herring gull, and one of the largest I have ever seen. He was beautiful to look at with his soft grey plumage, never a feather of which was out of place. Of his character I will say nothing; that can be best judged by reading the following truthful biography of my ‘dove of the waters.’

I cannot begin at the beginning. Of his youth, which doubtless, in every sense of the word, was a stormy one, I know nothing. He had already acquired the wisdom, or perhaps in his case slyness is a better word, of years by the time that he came to us.

Gully was found one day in a field near our house in a very much exhausted condition. He had probably come a long distance, which he must have accomplished on foot, as he was unable to fly owing to his wing having been pinioned.

He was very hungry and greedily bolted a small fish that we offered him, and screamed for more. We then turned him into the garden, where he soon found a sheltered corner by our dining-room window and went to sleep standing on one leg. The other one he always kept tucked away so that was quite invisible.

Next morning I came out to look for Gully and feed him. He had vanished! I thought of the pond where I kept my goldfish, forty beautiful goldfish. There sure enough was Mr. Gully swimming about contentedly, but where were the goldfish? Instead of the crystal clear  pond, was a pool of muddy water; instead of forty goldfish, all that I could make out, when Mr. Gully had been chased away and the water given time to settle, was one miserable little half-dead fish, the only survivor of the forty.

This was the first of Gully’s misdeeds. To look at Gully, no one could believe him to be capable of hurting a fly. He had the most lovely gentle brown eyes you ever saw, and seemed more like a benevolent old professor than anything else. He generally appeared to be half asleep or else sunning himself with a contented smile on his thoughtful countenance.

Gully next took to killing the sparrows; he was very clever at this. When he had finished eating, the sparrows were in the habit of appropriating the remnants of the feast. This Gully strongly disapproved of, so when he had eaten as much as he wanted, he retired behind a chair and waited till the sparrows were busy feasting, then he would make a rush and seize the nearest offender. He sometimes used to kill as many as from two to four sparrows a day in this manner. The pigeons then took to coming too near his reach. At first he was afraid of them and left them alone; but the day came when a young fan-tail was foolish enough to take his airing on the terrace, close to Mr. Gully’s nose. This was too much for Mr. Gully, who pounced upon the unfortunate ‘squeaker’ and slew him. L’appétit vient en mangeant, and after this Mr. Gully took the greatest delight in hunting these unfortunate birds and murdering them. No pigeon was too large for him to attack. I only just succeeded in saving the cock-pouter, a giant among pigeons, from an untimely death, by coming up in time to drive Mr. Gully away from his victim.

After this we decided to shut Mr. Gully up. We thought he would make a charming companion for the guinea-pigs. At that time I used to keep about fifty of various species in a hen-run. So to the guinea-pigs  Gully was banished. At first the arrangement answered admirably, Gully behaved as nicely as possible for about a month, and we were all congratulating ourselves on having found such a good way out of our difficulty, when all at once his thirst for blood was roused afresh. One day he murdered four guinea-pigs and the next day three more of these unfortunate little beasts.

We then let him join the hens and ducks. He at once constituted himself the leader of the latter; every morning he would lead them down to a pond at the bottom of the fields, a distance of about a quarter of a mile; and every evening he would summon them round him and lead them home. At his cry the ducks and drakes would come waddling up to him with loud quacks; he used always to march in the most stately manner about two yards ahead of them. Of the cocks and hens Gully deigned to take no notice. On two occasions he made an exception to this rule of conduct. On the first, he and a hen had a dispute over the possession of a worm. This dispute led to a fight of which Gully was getting the best when the combatants were separated. On the second occasion Gully was accused of decapitating a hen. No one saw him do it, but it looked only too like his work. He had a neat clean style.

One day he led his ducks to the pond as usual, but in the evening they returned by themselves. We came to the conclusion that the poor old bird must be dead. We quite gave him up for lost, and had mourned him for two or three weeks, when what should we see one day but Mr. Gully leading his ducks as usual to his favourite pond, as if he had never been away.

Where he had spent all the time he was absent remains a mystery to this day. After this he remained with us some time, during which he performed no new feat of valour with the exception of one fight which he had with a cat. In this fight he had some feathers pulled out, but  ultimately succeeded in driving her off after giving her leg such a bite that she was lame for many a long day.

Since then he has again disappeared. Will he ever return? Mysterious was his coming and mysterious his going.