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The forest was
full of shadows as a little girl hurried through it one summer evening
in June. It was already eight o'clock and Sylvie wondered if her
grandmother would be angry with her for being so late.
Every evening Sylvie left her grandmother's house at five-thirty to
bring their cow home. The old animal spent her days out in the open
country eating sweet grass. It was Sylvie's job to bring her home to be
milked. When the cow heard Sylvie's voice calling her, she would hide
among the bushes.
This evening it had taken Sylvie longer than usual to find her cow. The
child hurried the cow through the dark forest, following a narrow path
that led to her grandmother's home. The cow stopped at a small stream to
drink. As Sylvie waited, she put her bare feet in the cold, fresh water
of the stream.
She had never before been alone in the forest as late as this. The air
was soft and sweet. Sylvie felt as if she were a part of the gray
shadows and the silver leaves that moved in the evening breeze.
She began thinking how it was only a year ago that she came to her
grandmother's farm. Before that, she had lived with her mother and
father in a dirty, crowded factory town. One day, Sylvie's grandmother
had visited them and had chosen Sylvie from all her brothers and sisters
to be the one to help her on her farm in Vermont.
The cow finished drinking, and as the nine-year-old child hurried
through the forest to the home she loved, she thought again about the
noisy town where her parents still lived.
Suddenly the air was cut by a sharp whistle not far away. Sylvie knew it
wasn't a friendly bird's whistle. It was the determined whistle of a
person. She forgot the cow and hid in some bushes. But she was too late.
"Hello, little girl," a young man called out cheerfully. "How far is it
to the main road?" Sylvie was trembling as she whispered "two miles."
She came out of the bushes and looked up into the face of a tall young
man carrying a gun.
The stranger began walking with Sylvie as she followed her cow through
the forest. "I've been hunting for birds," he explained, "but I've lost
my way. Do you think I can spend the night at your house?" Sylvie didn't
answer. She was glad they were almost home. She could see her
grandmother standing near the door of the farm house.
When they reached her, the stranger put down his gun and explained his
problem to Sylvie's smiling grandmother.
"Of course you can stay with us," she said. "We don't have much, but
you're welcome to share what we have. Now Sylvie, get a plate for the
After eating, they all sat outside. The young man explained he was a
scientist, who collected birds. "Do you put them in a cage?" Sylvie
asked. "No," he answered slowly, "I shoot them and stuff them with
special chemicals to preserve them. I have over one hundred different
kinds of birds from all over the United States in my study at home."
"Sylvie knows a lot about birds, too," her grandmother said proudly. "She
knows the forest so well, the wild animals come and eat bread right out
of her hands."
"So Sylvie knows all about birds. Maybe she can help me then," the young
man said. "I saw a white heron not far from here two days ago. I've been
looking for it ever since. It's a very rare bird, the little white heron.
Have you seen it, too?" He asked Sylvie. But Sylvie was silent. "You
would know it if you saw it," he added. "It's a tall, strange bird with
soft white feathers and long thin legs. It probably has its nest at the
top of a tall tree."
Sylvie's heart began to beat fast. She knew that strange white bird! She
had seen it on the other side of the forest. The young man was staring
at Sylvie. "I would give ten dollars to the person who showed me where
the white heron is."
That night Sylvie's dreams were full of all the wonderful things she and
her grandmother could buy for ten dollars.
Sylvie spent the next day in the forest with the young man. He told her
a lot about the birds they saw. Sylvie would have had a much better time
if the young man had left his gun at home. She could not understand why
he killed the birds he seemed to like so much. She felt her heart
tremble every time he shot an unsuspecting bird as it was singing in the
But Sylvie watched the young man with eyes full of admiration. She had
never seen anyone so handsome and charming. A strange excitement filled
her heart, a new feeling the little girl did not recognize…love.
At last evening came. They drove the cow home together. Long after the
moon came out and the young man had fallen asleep Sylvie was still awake.
She had a plan that would get the ten dollars for her grandmother and
make the young man happy. When it was almost time for the sun to rise,
she quietly left her house and hurried through the forest. She finally
reached a huge pine tree, so tall it could be seen for many miles around.
Her plan was to climb to the top of the pine tree. She could see the
whole forest from there. She was sure she would be able to see where the
white heron had hidden its nest.
Syvlie's bare feet and tiny fingers grabbed the tree's rough trunk.
Sharp dry branches scratched at her like cat's claws. The pine tree's
sticky sap made her fingers feel stiff and clumsy as she climbed higher
The pine tree seemed to grow taller, the higher that Sylvie climbed. The
sky began to brighten in the east. Sylvie's face was like a pale star
when, at last, she reached the tree's highest branch. The golden sun's
rays hit the green forest. Two hawks flew together in slow-moving
circles far below Sylvie. Sylvie felt as if she could go flying among
the clouds, too. To the west she could see other farms and forests.
Suddenly Sylvie's dark gray eyes caught a flash of white that grew
larger and larger. A bird with broad white wings and a long slender neck
flew past Sylvie and landed on a pine branch below her. The white heron
smoothed its feathers and called to its mate, sitting on their nest in a
nearby tree. Then it lifted its wings and flew away.
Sylvie gave a long sigh. She knew the wild bird's secret now. Slowly she
began her dangerous trip down the ancient pine tree. She did not dare to
look down and tried to forget that her fingers hurt and her feet were
bleeding. All she wanted to think about was what the stranger would say
to her when she told him where to find the heron's nest.
As Sylvie climbed slowly down the pine tree, the stranger was waking up
back at the farm. He was smiling because he was sure from the way the
shy little girl had looked at him that she had seen the white heron.
About an hour later Sylvie appeared. Both her grandmother and the young
man stood up as she came into the kitchen. The splendid moment to speak
about her secret had come. But Sylvie was silent. Her grandmother was
angry with her. Where had she been. The young man's kind eyes looked
deeply into Sylvie's own dark gray ones. He could give Sylvie and her
grandmother ten dollars. He had promised to do this, and they needed the
money. Besides, Sylvie wanted to make him happy.
But Sylvie was silent. She remembered how the white heron came flying
through the golden air and how they watched the sun rise together from
the top of the world. Sylvie could not speak. She could not tell the
heron's secret and give its life away.
The young man went away disappointed later that day. Sylvie was sad. She
wanted to be his friend. He never returned. But many nights Sylvie heard
the sound of his whistle as she came home with her grandmother's cow.
Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been? Who can
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