Ambrose sighed and sniffled. The cool September breeze ruffled his feathers. A tear ran down his beak. Another summer was over and the other ducks were all flying south for the winter. He looked out over the French countryside and wished that he was headed for warmer weather too. Ambrose straightened his scarf and walked slowly back down the hill to the Montgolfier’s paper mill where he lived.
“Bonjour!” called Gustave.
“Hello,” sniffed Ambrose.
“What a beautiful day it is. Would you like to go to the barn with me?” Gustave suggested. “Claire is counting the crates of wallpaper for the big shipment.”
“No thank you,” said Ambrose sniffling again.
“We could go see Jacques and Joseph— I heard from the cows that they are working on a new project in the shed. They are always working on such interesting inventions.”
“I’d rather not,” Ambrose sighed.
“Don’t be so glum Ambrose!” said the rooster. “There are so many things we can do here!”
“I’ve never been anywhere but here!” wailed Ambrose as he burst into tears. “I’m tired of the living at the paper mill, I’m tired of the cold, and I want to see the world!”
It was Gustave’s turn to sigh.
“If only I had learned to fly,” Ambrose continued. “But it is too late. You can’t teach an old duck new tricks.”
Gustave left Ambrose sitting in the yard. He felt just as glum as his friend now. It was lousy to see Ambrose so down. He would ask Claire what to do. Claire was the smartest sheep on the farm and she always had good advice.
“Was that Ambrose I heard crying?” Claire asked when Gustave came marching into the barn.
“Yes,” said Gustave. “He is feeling miserable about not flying south again this year. I wish I could help him but my feathers are only for decoration. I can’t fly any more than he can and all of the geese from the pond over the hill have already left or I would ask them.”
“Hmmm…” Claire looked around the barn at the crates of paper. “We have a lot of scraps left over from our last order. Maybe there is something we can do to cheer him up.”
Later that evening Claire called Ambrose into the barn.
“Surprise!” they shouted and Ambrose flapped excitedly.
“It’s beautiful!” he cried. “Is all of this for me?”
“Yes!” said Gustave tooting a party horn. “We are celebrating the start of winter. We are so glad we get to spend it with you each year. We would miss you so terribly if you left.”
“Thank you,” Ambrose said, “I would miss you too.” But he smiled sadly at his friends and they knew that he still wanted to fly south.
“Oh dear,” whispered Claire when Ambrose stepped out into the night. “I was sure that would work but we will have to think of something else. Jacques and Joseph are always working on new contraptions—maybe they have something for Ambrose to help with that will take his mind off of flying south.”
The next morning Gustave went to ask the mill owner’s sons for help.
“Is there anything you can do to help Ambrose?” he pleaded over a cup of tea. “He is so blue. We need to lift his spirits!”
“Well, I don’t know about his spirits,” replied the older brother Joseph. “But I do know a way we could give him a lift…”
“But Joseph,” said the younger brother Jacques. “We have already asked the dog, the cat, and the pig to try out the new flying-device first.”
“The pig has been miserably sick every time and the cat is still afraid of heights,” argued Joseph. “Besides, this makes more sense. Two of them already have wings!”
“The point is that they won’t need their wings!” Jacques countered. “They aren’t ready; they haven’t had time to prepare.”
“Claire will be with them,” said Joseph. “She’ll make sure they are ready.”
Gustave wasn’t sure what they were talking about but if it would keep Ambrose from thinking about his troubles then it was worth a try.
“Fine,” agreed Jacques turning to Gustave. “You will have to work hard to catch up. The other animals have been practicing since July.”
“We’ll do anything!” exclaimed Gustave. “Thank you!”
Joseph explained their plan and Gustave’s heart soared. This was perfect!
“We’ll order some new supplies and you can get started right away.” They shook hand and wing and Gustave ran to tell Claire the good news.
A few days later an enormous package arrived at the mill addressed to Ambrose.
“What’s this?” he asked, eyeing the brightly colored box. “It’s not my birthday, yet is it?”
When they tore off the wrappings he could not believe his eyes. Inside the box were three brand new shiny pairs of flying goggles, three soft brown leather helmets, and two scarves for each of his friends. His heart skipped a beat. Could it be? Was he really going to fly? Claire and Gustave watched him nervously.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” shouted Ambrose and they grinned.
For the next two weeks, the trio studied the maps and plans Joseph had given them. Jacques had suggested getting used to the height slowly so each day they found new and more daring ways to practice around the mill. At last they stood atop the silo together, looking out across the rolling hills. “What an adventure this will be!” shouted Gustave merrily. Ambrose didn’t reply-- now he was not so sure about their plan.
Finally, it was the big day. Claire, Ambrose, and Gustave climbed into a carriage to join the Montgolfier brothers at the palace. Ambrose could feel his knees shaking as they stood in the grand courtyard at Versailles waiting to meet the king and queen. He had been longing for this his whole life. Would he be brave enough to go through with it? He hoped Jacques and Joseph knew what they were doing.
Everyone gathered outside beyond the garden. The flames were lit inside the canister and the enormous paper and cloth envelope began to stretch above the crowd. The three friends scrambled into the large blue basket. They waved merrily as the brothers released the ropes...
...and the world’s first hot-air balloon lifted them into the sky.
Ambrose sighed and sniffled. The cool September breeze ruffled his feathers. Tears of joy ran down his beak. He was flying south at last.
The basket thumped down near a quiet little pond on a soft green hillside. Gustave and Claire laughed as their friend threw aside his helmet and goggles.
“It is so exotic!” Ambrose gushed.
“No more paper--only sunshine and relaxation for the rest of the winter!” Claire chuckled.
“I won’t need my scarf either, now that I have migrated,” Ambrose added.
Claire smiled sideways at Gustave, “Why don’t you keep it just in case?”
“I can never thank you enough,” said Ambrose. “You’ve made me the happiest duck in France.”
“It was our pleasure,” said Claire as they shared a good-bye hug. Gustave and Claire were so proud of their friend and promised to write to him often.
“Have a safe trip home!” Ambrose shouted, settling down next to the pond.
“Have a wonderful winter,” Gustave called back to his friend.
“Do you think we should tell him we only made it two miles?” Gustave whispered to Claire as they strolled down the hill towards the paper mill.
“No,” smiled Claire wisely, “Let him enjoy this. We’ll tell him when we walk back to get him in the spring.”