Once upon a time a gull laid her eggs on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Peru. There were three eggs altogether and the whole day long the mother gull sat on them to keep them warm, only leaving the nest very occasionally to go and catch herself a fish from the lake.
At last the eggs were ready and three little gulls pecked and chirped their way into the world.
Their mother was tremendously proud of them, for this was her first family, and she was kept very busy flying to the lake to catch small fish for her children, or up to the cliffs behind the nest, to search for insects.
As the little gulls grew bigger, the mother had to spend more and more time away from the nest, searching for food to satisfy their healthy appetites; and so it happened that she did not notice her old enemy, the fox, hiding behind a small outcrop of rocks not far from the nest, watching her every moment.
The country around Lake Titicaca was almost all desert, so there were very few trees and bushes about and practically no smaller animals for the fox to feed on.
‘Be patient!’ the fox muttered to himself, for he was very hungry! ‘Don’t make a sound and you will soon have the best meal of your life.’
Waiting until the mother gull had flown high up the cliffs to search for insects, the fox crawled stealthily towards the young gulls in their nest.
On his way he noticed an old sack. Which had been blown by the wind from a near-by village, and picking it up he exclaimed:
‘Just what I wanted! Now I can put the gulls in this sack and carry them right away from their nest before I eat them. Then their mother will not hear their cries, and will not come and peck me to pieces.’
Closer and closer the fox crawled to the nest until suddenly he pounced upon the first gull and thrust it in his sack. The second and third gulls had scarcely time to utter more than a few surprised chirps when they too were seized by the fox, who slung the sack over his shoulder and hurried away as fast as he could go.
But the few weak cries of the gull-chicks had been heard by the mother as she was flying back with her mouth full of fish for her children.
Looking down she could see the fox running away from the lake towards some rocky hillocks where he hoped to hide while he ate his meal.
The cunning gull did not swoop down on the fox at once, but followed him at a distance so that he did not know she was there.
‘O my poor children!’ she cried to herself as she flew. ‘How can I get you away from that evil creature?’
The sun was hot and the earth was dry and dusty, and before long the fox was feeling very exhausted with all his running. Added to this his back was getting sore, for the young gulls had sharp beaks and they continually pecked at him through the sack as he ran.
Presently he stopped, and, giving the top of the sack an extra twist or two, he put it on the ground, placed a heave stone on top of it and sank down nearby to have a rest.
‘I’m exhausted!’ he said. ‘I’ll just have a short nap and then make for that pile of rocks on the other side of the valley. Nobody will see or hear anything there!’
Closing his eyes the fox was soon fast asleep, and then the mother gull, who had been silently flying above him for some time, glided down to the earth.
‘Hush, my children!’ she whispered with her beak close to the sack. ‘Don’t make a sound or you will wake the wicked fox. Just do exactly as I tell you and all will be well.’
The little gulls were delighted to hear their mother’s voice, and lay quietly while she pushed the heavy stone off the sack and untwisted the top.
‘Creep out now!’ she whispered, ‘and go and bring me some thorny twigs from that dead bush.’
The little gulls blinked from the sunlight for a moment of two, and then they staggered over to a shriveled bush nearby and picked as many thorny, prickly twigs as they could.
‘Push them in the sack quickly,’ said the mother gull, and as soon as they had done this, she twisted the neck of the sack up again and put the large stone back on top of it.
‘Now, follow me!’ she said softly, and the little gulls hopped and ran behind her until they had reached the safety of a small cave in the cliffs.
‘Now I shall take you home on my back, one by one,’ said the mother gull, for her children were not yet old enough to fly on their own. ‘But don’t make a sound while I am away, or the fox will hear you.’
So the mother gull got her children safely home again. But she found a new place for her nest, right on the other side of the lake, where the fox would not be able to seize her children again once he found he had been tricked.
Now the fox had been very tired when he fell asleep, and it was not until an hour or two later that he woke.
Looking up at the sun and seeing how much of the day he had wasted, he slung the bag onto his back again and hurried off in the direction of the pile of rocks he had chosen for eating his meal.
He thought that the sack seemed a little lighter than before, but the thorns pricked his back in the same way that the little gulls’ beaks had done, and so he did not realize that the birds were not there.
At last he reached the place where he though he could eat them without anyone seeing or hearing, and cautiously he opened the sack, and reached in to take out the first bird.
With a cry he withdrew his front leg, covered with scratches and with a branch of the thorn entangled in his fur.
‘I have been tricked!’ he screamed. ‘Who put these thorns in my bag and let out the gulls?’
He knew the answer to this at once, for only the mother bird could have done it. So, leaving the bag on the ground he hurried back to the lakeside to the place where the gull had had her nest.
But of course it was not there, and peering across the lake the fox saw what looked like the mother gull sweeping down to a nest with food for her chicks.
The fox was determined to have his revenge, but could see no way of getting across to the other side of the lake.
All night long he lay on the shore trying to decide on a plan to get the better of the gulls, and when morning came he thought he had one.
‘I will drink and drink and drink,’ he said to himself, ‘until the lake is dry and then I can go across on the mud and seize those little gulls again.’
So he lay down at the edge of the lake and began to drink swallowing the muddy water as fast as he could.
Gradually he began to swell and soon he was feeling most uncomfortable. Bigger and bigger grew his body and still he went on drinking.
‘There can’t be much water left now,’ he puffed, his eyes half closed, and body swollen to six times its normal size.
Gasping and gurgling, he swallowed a few more mouthfuls, and then ‘Crack!’, the sound of a loud explosion filled the air.
The fox had drunk so much water that he had burst, and now lay dead on the shore of the lake.
Across the water the gulls heard the strange noise, and the mother flew off to see what it was all about.
‘The fox is dead, my children,’ she cried happily when she returned. ‘Now we need have no fear that he will try to take you away again.’
So the gulls lived happily and peacefully beside the lake until the children learned to fly and were able to go off and have families of their own.