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how the eyes of old mr owl became fixed.mp3.

by Thornton Burgess.
Age Rating 4 to 8.

Start of Story

Blacky the Crow had discovered Hooty the Owl dozing the bright day away in a thick hemlock-tree. Blacky knew that the bright light hurt Hooty's big eyes and half blinded him. This meant that he could have no end of fun teasing Hooty, and that Hooty would have to sit still and take it all, because he couldn't see well enough to fly away or to try to catch Blacky. Now if the day had been dark, as it sometimes is on cloudy days, or if the dusk of evening had been settling over the Green Meadows and the Green Forest, matters would have been very different. Blacky would have taken care, the very greatest care, not to let Hooty know that he was anywhere around. But as it was, here was a splendid chance to spoil Hooty's sleep and to see him grow very, very angry and do it without running any great risk. "Caw, caw, caw, caw, caw!" yelled Blacky at the top of his voice, and at once all his relatives came flocking over to join in the fun. Dear me, dear me, such a racket as there was then! They flew over his head, and they settled in the tree all around him, all yelling as hard as ever they could. Everybody within hearing knew what it meant, and everybody who dared to hurried over to watch the fun. Somehow most people seem to take pleasure in seeing some one else made uncomfortable, especially if it is some one of whom they stand in fear and who is for the time being helpless.

Most of the little meadow and forest people are very much afraid of Hooty the Owl as soon as it begins to grow dark, for that is when he can see best and does all his hunting. So, though it wasn't at all nice of them, they enjoyed seeing him tormented by Blacky and his relatives. But all the time they took the greatest care to keep out of sight themselves. Peter Rabbit was there. So was Jumper the Hare and Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and Striped Chipmunk and a lot more. Of course, Sammy Jay was there, but Sammy didn't try to keep out of sight. Oh, my, no! He joined right in with the Crows, calling Hooty all sorts of bad names and flying about just out of reach in the most impudent way. You see he knew just how helpless Hooty was. Hooty was very, very angry. He hissed, and he snapped his bill, and he told his tormentors what he would do to them if he caught them after dark. And all the time he kept turning his head with its great, round, glaring, yellow eyes so as not to give his tormentors a chance to pull out any of his feathers, as the boldest of them tried to do. Now Hooty can turn his head as no one else can. He can turn it so that he looks straight back over his tail, so that his head looks as if it were put on the wrong way. Then he can snap it around in the other direction so quickly that you can hardly see him do it, and sometimes it seems as if he turned his head clear around. That interested Peter Rabbit immensely. He couldn't think of anything else. He kept trying to do the same thing himself, but of course he couldn't. He could turn his head sideways, but that was all. He puzzled over it all the rest of the day, and that night, when his cousin, Jumper the Hare, called at the dear Old Briar-patch, the first thing he did was to ask a question.

"Cousin Jumper, do you know why it is that Hooty the Owl can turn his head way around, and nobody else can?" "Of course I know," replied Jumper. "I thought everybody knew that. It's because his eyes are fixed in their sockets, and he can't turn them. So he turns his whole head in order to see in all directions. The rest of us can roll our eyes, but Hooty can't." Peter scratched his long left ear with his long right hindfoot, a way he has when he is thinking or is puzzled. "That's funny," said he. "I wonder why his eyes are fixed." "Because his great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather rolled his eyes too much," replied Jumper, yawning. "He saw too much. It's a bad thing to see too much." "Tell me about it. Please do, Cousin Jumper," begged Peter. Jumper looked up at the moon to see what time of night it was. "All right," said he, settling himself comfortably. "All the Owl family, way back to the very beginning, have had very big eyes. Old Mr. Owl had them. He could move them just as we can ours. And because they were so big, and because he could roll them, there was very little going on that Mr. Owl didn't see. It happened one day that Old Mother Nature took it into her wise old head to put the little people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest to a test. She wanted to see just how many of them she could trust to obey her orders. So she lined them all up in a row. Then she made them turn so that their backs were to her.

"'Now,' said she, 'everybody is to keep eyes to the front. I am going to be very busy back here for a few minutes, but not one of you is to peek. I shall know if you do, and I shall see to it that you never forget it as long as you live.' "That sounded as if something dreadful might happen, so everybody sat perfectly still looking straight before them. Some of them felt as if they would die of curiosity to know what Old Mother Nature was doing, but for a while no one thought of disobeying. Old Mr. Rabbit just itched all over with curiosity. It seemed to him that he just must turn his head. But for once he managed to get the best of his curiosity and stared straight ahead. "Now Mr. Owl had tremendous great ears, just as Hooty has to-day. You can't see them because the feathers cover them, but they are there just the same." Peter nodded. He knew all about those wonderful ears and how they heard the teeniest, weeniest noise when Hooty was flying at night.

"Those, big ears," continued Jumper, "heard every little sound that Old Mother Nature made, and they sounded queer to Mr. Owl. 'If I roll back my eyes without turning my head, I believe I can see what she is doing, and she won't be any the wiser,' thought he. So he rolled his eyes back and then looked straight ahead again. What he had seen made him want to see more. He tried it again. Just imagine how he felt when he found that his eyes wouldn't roll. He couldn't move them a bit. All he could do was to stare straight ahead. It frightened him dreadfully, and he kept trying and trying to roll his eyes, but they were fixed fast. He could see in only one direction, the way his head was turned. "When at last Old Mother Nature told all the little people that they might look, Mr. Owl didn't want to look. He didn't want to face Old Mother Nature, for he knew perfectly well what had happened to his eyes. He knew that Old Mother Nature had seen him roll them back, and that as a punishment she had fixed them so that he would always stare straight ahead. He didn't say anything. He was too ashamed to. He flew away home the very first chance he got. For a long time after that, Mr. Owl never could see behind him at all. He could only turn his head part way, the same as most folks, and he couldn't roll his eyes to see the rest of the way. It made him dreadfully nervous and unhappy. He felt all the time as if people were doing things behind his back. But he didn't complain. He was ashamed to do that.

"Old Mother Nature was watching him all the time. After a long, long while, she decided that he had been punished enough. But she didn't want him to forget, so she kept his eyes fixed so that they would look straight ahead; but she gave him the power to turn his head farther than any one else, so that he could look straight behind him without turning his body at all. And ever since that time, all Owls have had fixed eyes, but have been able to turn their heads so as to make them look as if they were facing the wrong way." "Thank you, Cousin Jumper," cried Peter. "But there is one thing you forgot to tell. What was it that Old Mother Nature was doing when Mr. Owl rolled his eyes to look back." "That," replied Jumper, "Mr. Owl never told, and nobody else knew, so I can't tell you."

the end


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