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 IF the Rattlesnake is the king of the forest in the
daytime, the Great Horned Owl is the king at night.
Indeed, he is much the more powerful of the two, for he
is king of air and earth alike and can go wherever he
wishes, while the snake can only rule over those who
live near the ground or who are so careless as to come
to him there.
There was but one pair of Great
 Horned Owls in the
forest, and they lived in the deepest shade, having
their great clumsy nest in the hollow of a tall tree.
You might have walked past it a hundred times and never
have guessed that any Owls lived there, if you did not
notice the round pellets of bone and hair on the grass.
They are such hungry fellows that they swallow their
food with the bones in it. Then their tough little
stomachs go to work, rolling all the pieces of bone and
hair into balls and sending them back to be cast out of
the Owls' mouths to the ground.
The Great Horned Owl was a very large bird. His whole
body was covered with brown, dull yellow, and white
feathers. Even his feet and legs were covered, and all
that you could see besides were his black claws and his
black hooked bill. Yes, at night you could see his
eyes, too, and they were wonderful great eyes that
could see in the dark, but they
 were shut in the
daytime when he was resting. His wife, who was the
queen of the forest at night, looked exactly like him,
only she was larger than he. And that is the way among
Owls,—the wife is always larger than her husband.
Every night when the sun had gone down, the Great
Horned Owl and his wife would come out of their hollow
tree and sit blinking on a branch near by, waiting
until it got dark enough for them to see quite plainly.
As the light faded, the little black spots in their
eyes would grow bigger and bigger, and then off they
would go on their great soft, noiseless wings, hunting
in the grass and among the branches for the supper
which they called breakfast.
Mrs. Owl could not be gone very long at a time, for
there were two large round white eggs in the nest which
must not get cold. Her husband was on the wing most of
the night, and he often flew home
 with some tender
morsel for her. He was really a kind-hearted fellow,
although you could never have made the small birds
think so. Sometimes his wife would sigh and tell how
tired she was of sitting still, and how glad she would
be when the eggs were hatched and she could go more
with him. When she began to speak of that, the Great
Horned Owl would get ready for another flight and go
off saying: "It is too bad. I am so sorry for you.
But then, one would never have young Owlets if one
to the nest." He was always proud of his
children, and he thought himself a very good husband.
Perhaps he was; still he had never taken his place on
the nest while his wife went hunting.
One night, after they had both been flying through
forest and over field, he came back to the hollow tree
to rest. He expected to find Mrs. Owl, for she had
started home before he did. She
 was not there and
he grew quite impatient. "I should like to know what
keeps her so long," he said, fretfully. After a while
he looked into the nest and saw the two big white eggs.
"It is a shame," he said. "Our beautiful eggs will
be chilled, and it will be all her fault if we have no
Owlets this summer."
You see, even then he did not seem to think that he
could do anything to keep them warm. But the next time
he looked in, he put one feathered foot on the round
eggs and was surprised to find how cool they were.
It fairly made his head feathers stand on end to think
of it, and he was so frightened that he forgot to be
cross, and stepped right in and covered them with his
own breast. What if they had already been left too
long, and the Owlets within would never hatch? Would
Mrs. Owl ever forgive him for being so stupid? He
began to wonder if any of the other
 fellows would
see him. He thought it so absurd for the king of the
forest to be hatching out a couple of eggs, instead of
swooping around in the dark and frightening the smaller
The night seemed so long, too. It had always been
short enough before, and he had often disliked to have
daylight come, for then he had to go to bed. He was
very much upset, and it is no wonder that when he heard
a doleful wail from a neighboring tree, and knew that
his cousin, the Screech Owl, was near, he raised his
head and called loudly, "Hoo-hoo-oooo? Waugh-hoo!"
The Screech Owl heard him and flew at once to a branch
beside the nest hollow. He was a jolly little fellow
in spite of his doleful call, and before he could talk
at all he had to bend his body, look behind him, nod
his head, and shake himself, as Screech Owls always do
when they alight. Then he looked into the
and saw his big cousin, the Great Horned Owl, the night
king of the forest, sitting on the eggs and looking
very, very grumpy. How he did laugh! "What is the
matter?" said he. "Didn't you like your wife's way
of brooding over the eggs? Or did she get tired of
staying at home and make you help tend the nest?"
"Matter enough," grumbled the Great Horned Owl. "We
went hunting together at twilight and she hasn't come
home yet. I didn't get into the nest until I had to,
but it was growing very cold and I wouldn't miss
having our eggs hatch for anything. Ugh-whoo! How my
legs do ache!"
"Well," said his cousin, "you are having a hard time.
Are you hungry?"
The Great Horned Owl said that he was, so the Screech
Owl went hunting and brought him food. "I will look
in every night," he said, "and bring you a
I'm afraid something has happened to your wife and that
she will not be back."
As he flew away he called out, "It is too bad. I am
very sorry for you. But then, I suppose you would
never have the Owlets if you didn't stick to the
This last remark made the Great Horned Owl quite angry.
"Much he knows about it," he said. "I guess if he
had ever tried it he would be a little more sorry for
me." And then he began to think, "Who have I heard
say those very words before? Who? Who? Who?"
All at once the Great Horned Owl remembered how many
times he had said just that to his patient wife, and he
began to feel very uncomfortable. His ears tingled and
he felt a queer hot feeling under his face feathers.
Perhaps he hadn't been acting very well after all!
He knew that even when he told her
 he was sorry,
he had been thinking she made a great fuss. Well, if
she would only come back now, that should all be
changed, and he shifted his weight and wriggled around
into a more comfortable position.
Now, if this were just a story, one could say that Mrs.
Owl came back and that they were all happy together;
but the truth is she never did come, and nobody ever
knew what became of her. So her husband, the night
king of the forest, had to keep the eggs warm and rear
his own Owlets. You can imagine how glad he was on the
night when he first heard them tapping on the inside of
their shells, for then he knew that he would soon be
free to hunt.
A finer pair of children were never hatched, and their
father thought them far ahead of all his other broods.
"If only Mrs. Owl were here to see them, how lovely it
would be!" he said. Yet if she
 had been there he
would never have had the pleasure of hearing their
first faint cheeps, and of covering them with his soft
breast feathers as he did each day. He forgot now all
the weary time when he sat with aching legs, wishing
that his cousin would happen along with something to
eat. For that is always the way,—when we work for
those we love, the weariness is soon forgotten and only
It is said that the Screech Owl was more thoughtful of
his wife after his cousin had to hatch the eggs, and it
is too bad that some of the other forest people could
not have learned the same lesson; but the Great Horned
Owl never told, and the Screech Owl kept his secret,
and to this day there are many people in the forest who
know nothing whatever about it.