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Seela, the Seal by Ellen Velvin

There had been a terrible storm on the Pacific coast—such a storm as even the oldest fisherman, who had lived in the same little fishing village on the North American shore all his life, never remembered to have seen before.

For days sulky, smoke-like clouds had been gathering in the sky, while the sea grew darker and darker in hue, until its darkness was accentuated into an inky appearance by the white-capped waves, which grew bigger and fiercer as each hour drew on. And at last the storm had burst after a deadly silence that could almost be felt—burst with such vindictive fury that houses and buildings, which had stood steadfast for years, toppled and fell down like a house of cards, while the stately vessels which had braved many a storm were tossed about and wrecked upon the rocks.

Even the fish in the sea were surprised, and after a little consultation decided to swim nearer the shore and keep quiet until the storm had spent itself. The fish were not the only ones that came to the conclusion that the shore was the best place.

Seela, a full-grown seal, who thought a great deal of himself and all belonging to him, liked the sea to be a little rough at times. He knew perfectly well that roughness always meant a good meal of fish afterwards, but so much roughness as all this he did not care about. Therefore, when he had stood it for some time, and found that he could hardly keep himself from being dashed against the rocks, and the big pieces of ice which came floating along on the top of the waves, he spoke to his wives and told them to follow him to the shore.

And when they arrived there and scrambled up in their awkward, shambling manner, their sleek, lithe bodies looking as though there were no bones in them, but only soft, flexible muscles, the fishermen on the shore looked at one another in despair. For they knew only too well what the advent of seals meant. It meant that, instead of their catching the fish and so feeding their wives and families, the seals would do both for themselves.

It was not often that seals visited that part of the land, but they had been there before, and a bad time they made for the poor fishermen, who had nearly been ruined the last time, and had made up their minds that, should the seals ever come there again, they would not rest until they had destroyed them. Not that they were of much value, except for the fat of their oily bodies, for they were neither hair seals nor fur seals, but just common seals, with nothing to speak of but the habits, traits and characteristics of all other families of seals and sea lions.

"There's that old rascal that was here last year," one of the fishermen exclaimed, pointing at Seela. "I know him because he has only one eye, a part of one of his front flippers has been torn off, and he is covered with scars and wounds."

Seela was certainly not handsome, and as he shambled up to a place of safety he looked a very sorry object indeed. As a rule he never went on shore when the fishermen were there, but he was sure of two things at that time, and one was that the shore was the best place for the time being, and the second was that it was far too dangerous and treacherous a spot where he had landed for the fishermen to venture close enough to harm him.

So, cunning old rogue as he was, he shambled up and settled himself as well as the still terrific wind would let him, taking very good care, however, to keep close enough to the water to be able to slip in at a moment's notice. His wives followed him obediently, and seemed gentle and meek enough for anything. In his curious, hoarse voice he told them it was pretty safe, and that they need not be concerned about the fishermen.

Accordingly, they stayed where they were until the storm began to subside, and then, seeing the fishermen prepare to come closer, Seela gave the alarm, and, shambling down to the water with peculiar, little jumpy movements, they all, with one turn of their slim, lithe bodies, slipped into the water as though they had been oiled.

Then they had a fine time. As it happened, they met a large shoal of fish just making for the shore, and, being tremendously hungry—and all seals have enormous appetites, being able to easily eat ten pounds of fish a day, and it takes about forty herrings to make ten pounds— they caught and swallowed as many as ever they could eat. Not only that. When they had gorged themselves, and their jaws ached with the constant gulping, they amused themselves by chasing the fish for miles—so many miles that the shoal returned no more to that particular place, and the poor fishermen suffered again, and their wives and babies went hungry.

But Seela cared nothing for the fishermen or their wives and children. He had his own wives to think of, and, as he liked that particular part of the shore in stormy weather, he determined to visit it again after a while.

So, for a time, he and his wives enjoyed themselves. They swam and dived, turned and twisted about in the water, went down to the bottom of the sea and up again, snorting, puffing, panting, and just making as much fuss as only seals can. Sometimes Seela would take a good, long breath and disappear for some time, and, while his wives were looking out for him to appear in one direction, he would suddenly pop up in another, and this he seemed to think was great fun.

When they had led this sort of life for some months, and had made occasional visits to the land on various parts of the coast, one or two of his wives told Seela they wanted to go to some nice, quiet, sunny place, where there were plenty of fish to be had, and then it was that Seela decided to pay another visit to the shore where the fishermen lived.

It seemed ages since they had last been there; the storms were nearly over now, for it was May and getting nice and warm. The coast by the fishermen's village was not only a nice place in stormy weather, but nice and sunny in fine weather, and Seela thought those even banks by the shore would be the very place for his wives just now. So he led the way, and the fishermen found them all one morning comfortably settled on the shore close to the water, basking lazily in the sun.

At first there was general alarm among the fisher folk, and plans and schemes were set afloat to either capture or kill the seals, for there was every probability that a whole herd would shortly appear if Seela and his wives were allowed to remain. But, by the time they were ready to carry out the scheme they had adopted, an event happened on the beach which made the fishermen decide to wait awhile, and this was the appearance of two or three little baby seals. Such funny-looking, little things they were, only about twelve inches long and each weighing about three or four pounds apiece.

Unlike most newly-born animals, their bright, quick little eyes were wide open, and they looked around in the most inquisitive manner, and were just as curious as seals always are, even in their infancy. They were wonderfully active, too, and began moving about within a few minutes of their birth, uttering soft little "bahs" for their mother, and making themselves quite at home.

The mothers were very devoted to the calves, and tended and fed them in the same way that all mammals feed their young. They had all been very quiet and docile before the birth of the calves, but, as soon as they became mothers, the wonderful mother-love made them alert and fierce in defence of their children. Seela looked on at it all with great satisfaction. It was just what he had expected, and, having seen that the mothers and babies were happy and comfortable, he proceeded to enjoy himself by sliding into the water at every opportunity, and gorging himself with fish to his heart's content.

For some time the mother-seals and their young made the rocks their home, basking in the warm sun by day, and taking short excursions into the sea in order to get a little exercise and food for the mothers. The calves had not been allowed to go into the water until their first coats of very thick, soft and greyish fur had dropped off, and then, as some of them seemed a little reluctant, their mothers pushed them in, and, once having found how enjoyable swimming and diving were, they were only too ready to follow afterwards.

Indeed, sometimes they wanted to go in too often, and, as the mothers did not always like them to go in alone, there were some fine scoldings and grumblings occasionally. But, on the whole, they were very happy. They had been joined by other seals now, and their numbers had increased to nearly a hundred, and, although there were a few terrific fights every now and then among the fathers of the various families, the herd behaved well and appeared to have quite settled down.

By this time the fisher folk had got so interested in the little seal calves that they gave up all thoughts of killing their fathers and mothers, and just let them alone. They were kindly, warm-hearted people, and, had it not been that they had been obliged to face so many hardships and difficulties caused by the seals chasing away the fish, they would never have so much as thought of lifting a finger to hurt them. As long as they behaved themselves, they resolved not to molest them.

And so things went on until there came one unfortunate day when Seela, going out for his usual feast and frolic, discovered a beautiful array of fishing nets, arranged in such a manner that any fish would be tempted just to go in and see what they were. But Seela resolved to do a little bit of mischief himself, and, taking the lead, got adroitly between the shoal of fish and the nets, and so drove the fish exactly in the opposite direction. Not content with this, he chased them until he could chase them no longer, and then found that he had left all the other seals behind.

It took him until the next day to find his way back, and when he got home he found everything in confusion and uproar. Two of his wives had been killed, and one was a favorite, for it had taken several desperate fights to win her, and he therefore, naturally, valued her more than the others.[Footnote: It is a well-known fact that no seal cares for a wife unless he has had a good fight for her. The fiercer the fight, the more valuable the wife.—Author.] Some of his children, too, had disappeared, and only a few seals were on the shore.

The fact was, the fisher folk, driven wild by this last crafty and treacherous act of Seela's, resolved to have no more pity, but just to destroy as many of the intruders as they could. So, as soon as the seals returned and settled themselves down again, the fishermen, armed with clubs and knives, surrounded the animals and dispatched a good many, by first giving them a good blow on the nose with a club, and then finishing them with knives.

They did not mind killing the adult seals, but there was something very pathetic about killing the calves. The poor, awkward little things did their very best to run away, and kept uttering their peculiar little "bahs" all the time, but their walk or shamble was very tiring, and required a great effort, and only too soon they sank down utterly exhausted, asking, in their poor, dumb way, that their lives might be spared.

But the only lives which were spared were those of the seals who were quick and fortunate enough to slide into the water, and so swim out of danger. The others were all killed, and this was the reason Seela found such uproar and confusion on his return. In vain he looked for his favorite wife—in vain he called his other wives and children. No one answered, and the few remaining seals seemed subdued and frightened.

The only effect the sound of Seela's hoarse, harsh voice had was to bring out the fisher folk again, and these, armed with their clubs and knives, were overjoyed to find Seela himself, for whom they had been on the lookout. They made straight for him, but Seela was too old a hand. With one turn of his flexible body and limbs, he was in the water again, and no weapon could touch him but a harpoon, and this they did not possess.

He took care not to go on land again, and would have kept away altogether, but that, as he was swimming and diving, he came up once to breathe, and, as he was puffing and panting, he suddenly heard some very enticing sounds, which made him stop and listen. It was only one of the fishermen playing a simple tune on a little whistle, but Seela loved music of all kinds, and was always attracted by it.

In this case he promptly left the water, and although he knew there were enemies and danger about, he went recklessly on, his harsh, hoarse bark or grunt giving place to a plaintive bleat. He scrambled up to his old spot, and the farther he went the farther off the music seemed to be, and although he was getting very tired, he could not resist the charm and fascination of the music, and so shambled on until he was quite a distance from the water.

So taken up was he with the sweet sounds, and partly because of his blind eye, that he never noticed a fisherman coming up on one side of him—never realized that anyone was near him until he felt a sharp, stinging sensation on his nose, and then a much sharper, far deeper pain in his side. He knew well enough then what it was, and with a loud, harsh cry he turned fiercely round to find the fisherman had crept round to his other side and stabbed him again.

Seela thought no more of the fisherman after this; he only thought of the agonizing pain all over him and of the water—the cool sea water, where he would not only be eased and comforted, but where he would be safe. But alas! he had gone so far from the water in his eagerness to get near that treacherous music that it was now impossible to get back. It was always a great effort for him to walk on land and very exhausting, but now he was getting so weak that he could scarcely move at all.

In vain he looked round for that fisherman, but the fisherman took very good care to keep on the blind side of him, for a wounded seal is a dangerous animal to face. In vain he tried over and over again to turn round and make his way back to the sea, all the time sending forth harsh cries, which filled the air with curious echoes.

His voice grew hoarser and fainter after a few minutes, and his flabby, soft body was now lying in a pool of thick, dark blood, which trickled down the banks and crept in between the grass, stones and pebbles as though to hide itself.

Presently there was a convulsive struggle, a faint sound like a soft, hoarse whisper, and Seela was dead. He had been a real old rascal in his time, and had scarcely ever thought of any one but himself: moreover, he had robbed the fishermen time after time of their food, and yet he had died at last, not from any fresh treachery or meanness, but simply from a love of music, which had drawn him on and led him to his death.