Solomon Owl Sat Up And Listened.
When Johnnie Green was younger, it always scared him to hear Solomon Owl’s deep-toned voice calling in the woods after dark.
“Whoo-whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo, to-whoo-ah!” That weird cry was enough to send Johnnie Green hurrying into the farmhouse, though sometimes he paused in the doorway to listen — especially if Solomon Owl happened to be laughing. His “haw-haw-hoo-hoo,” booming across the meadow on a crisp fall evening, when the big yellow moon hung over the fields of corn-shocks and pumpkins, sounded almost as if Solomon were laughing at the little boy he had frightened. There was certainly a mocking, jeering note in his laughter.
Of course, as he grew older, Johnnie Green no longer shivered on hearing Solomon’s rolling call. When Solomon laughed, Johnnie Green would laugh, too. But Solomon Owl never knew that, for often he was half a mile from the farm buildings.
A “hoot owl,” Johnnie Green termed him. And anyone who heard Solomon hooting of an evening, or just before sunrise, would have agreed that it was a good name for him. But he was really a barred owl, for he had bars of white across his feathers.
If you had happened to catch Solomon Owl resting among the thick hemlocks near the foot of Blue Mountain, where he lived, you would have thought that he looked strangely like a human being. He had no “horns,” or ear-tufts, such as some of the other owls wore; and his great pale face, with its black eyes, made him seem very wise and solemn.
In spite of the mild, questioning look upon his face whenever anyone surprised him in the daytime, Solomon Owl was the noisiest of all the different families of owls in Pleasant Valley. There were the barn owls, the long-eared owls, the short-eared owls, the saw-whet owls, the screech owls — but there! there’s no use of naming them all. There wasn’t one of them that could equal Solomon Owl’s laughing and hooting and shrieking and wailing — at night.
During the day, however, Solomon Owl seldom had anything to say — or if he had, he was quiet about it. One reason for his silence then was that he generally slept when the sun was shining. And when most people were sleeping, Solomon Owl was as wide awake as he could be.
He was a night-prowler — if ever there was one. And he could see a mouse on the darkest night, even if it stirred ever so slightly.
That was unfortunate for the mice. But luckily for them, Solomon Owl couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a mouse left in Pleasant Valley — if he could have had his way.
And though he didn’t help the mice, he helped Farmer Green by catching them. If he did take a fat pullet once in a while, it is certain that he more than paid for it.
So, on the whole, Farmer Green did not mind much. And for a long time Solomon raised no objection to Farmer Green’s living near Swift River.
But later Solomon Owl claimed that it would be a good thing for the forest folk if they could get rid of the whole Green family — and the hired man, too.
Upon his arrival, as a stranger, in Pleasant Valley, Solomon Owl looked about carefully for a place to live. What he wanted especially was a good, dark hole, for he thought that sunshine was very dismal.
Though he was willing to bestir himself enough to suit anybody, when it came to hunting, Solomon Owl did not like to work. He was no busy nest-builder, like Rusty Wren. In his search for a house he looked several times at the home of old Mr. Crow. If it had suited him better, Solomon would not have hesitated to take it for his own, but in the end he decided that it was altogether too light to please him.
That was lucky for old Mr. Crow. And the black rascal knew it, too. He had noticed that Solomon Owl was hanging about the neighborhood. And several times he caught Solomon examining his nest.
But Mr. Crow did not have to worry long. For as it happened, Solomon Owl at last found exactly what he wanted. In an old, hollow hemlock, he came across a cozy, dark cavity. As soon as he saw it he knew that it was the very thing! So he moved in at once. And except for the time that he spent in the meadow — which was considerably later — he lived there for a good many years.
Once Fatty Coon thought that he would drive Solomon out of his snug house and live in it himself. But he soon changed his mind after one attempt to oust Solomon. Solomon Owl — so Fatty discovered — had sharp, strong claws and a sharp, strong beak as well, which curled over his face in a cruel hook.
It was really a good thing for Solomon Owl — the fight he had with Fatty Coon. For afterward his neighbors seldom troubled him — except when Jasper Jay brought a crowd of his noisy friends to tease Solomon, or Reddy Woodpecker annoyed him by rapping on his door when he was asleep.
But those rowdies always took good care to skip out of Solomon’s reach. And when Jasper Jay met Solomon alone in the woods at dawn or dusk he was most polite to the solemn old chap. Then it was “How-dy-do, Mr. Owl!” and “I hope you’re well to-day!” And when Solomon turned his great round black eyes on Jasper, that bold fellow always felt quite uneasy; and he was glad when Solomon Owl looked away.
If Solomon Owl chanced to hoot on those occasions, Jasper Jay would jump almost out of his bright blue coat. Then Solomon’s deep laughter would echo mockingly through the woods.
You see, though not nearly so wise as he appeared, Solomon Owl knew well enough how to frighten some people.
It was a warm summer’s evening — so warm that Mr. Frog, the tailor, had taken his sewing outside his tailor’s shop and seated himself cross-legged upon the bank of the brook, where he sang and sewed without ceasing — except to take a swim now and then in the cool water, “to stretch his legs,” as he claimed.
He was making a new suit of blue clothes for Jasper Jay. And since Jasper was a great dandy, and very particular Mr. Frog was taking special pains with his sewing.
Usually he did his work quickly. But now after every five stitches that he put into his work he stopped to take out ten. And naturally he was not getting on very fast. He had been working busily since early morning; and Jasper Jay’s suit was further than ever from being finished.
Since he was a most cheerful person, Mr. Frog did not mind that. Indeed, he was more than pleased, because the oftener he took a swim the fewer stitches he lost. So he sang the merriest songs he knew.
The light was fast fading when a hollow laugh startled Mr. Frog. It seemed to come from the willow tree right over his head. And he knew without looking up that it was Solomon Owl’s deep voice.
Mr. Frog tried to leap into the brook. But when he uncrossed his legs, in his haste he tangled them up in his sewing. And all he could do was to turn a somersault backward among some bulrushes, hoping that Solomon Owl had not seen him.
It is no secret that Mr. Frog was terribly afraid of Solomon Owl. Some of Mr. Frog’s friends had mysteriously disappeared. And they had last been seen in Solomon’s company.
As it happened, Mr. Frog had hoped in vain. For Solomon Owl only laughed more loudly than before. And then he said:
“What are you afraid of, Mr. Frog?”
The tailor knew at once that he was caught. So he hopped nimbly to his feet and answered that there was nothing to be afraid of, so far as he could see.
It was a true statement, too; because Mr. Frog had not yet discovered Solomon Owl’s exact whereabouts.
But he learned them soon; for Solomon immediately dropped down from the big willow and alighted on the bank near Mr. Frog — altogether too near him, in fact, for the tailor’s comfort.
Solomon looked at Mr. Frog very solemnly. And he thought that he shivered.
“What’s the matter? Are you ill?” Solomon Owl inquired. “You seem to be shaking.”
“Just a touch of chills and fever, probably!” replied Mr. Frog with an uneasy smile. “You know it’s very damp here.”
“You don’t look in the best of health — that’s a fact!” Solomon Owl remarked. “You appear to me to be somewhat green in the face.” And he laughed once more — that same hollow, mirthless laugh.
Mr. Frog couldn’t help jumping, because the sound alarmed him.
“Don’t be disturbed!” said Solomon Owl. “I like all the Frog family.”
At that remark, Mr. Frog started violently. That was exactly the trouble! Solomon Owl was altogether too fond of frogs, whether they were old or young, big or little.
It was no wonder that Mr. Frog swallowed rapidly sixteen times before he could say another word.
While Mr. Frog was swallowing nothing rapidly, he was thinking rapidly, too. There was something about Solomon Owl’s big, staring eyes that made Mr. Frog feel uncomfortable. And if he had thought he had any chance of escaping he would have dived into the brook and swum under the bank.
But Solomon Owl was too near him for that. And Mr. Frog was afraid his caller would pounce upon him any moment. So he quickly thought of a plan to save himself. “No doubt — ” he began. But Solomon Owl interrupted him.
“There!” cried Solomon. “You can speak, after all. I supposed you’d swallowed your tongue. And I was just waiting to see what you’d do next. I thought maybe you would swallow your head.”
Mr. Frog managed to laugh at the joke, though, to tell the truth, he felt more nervous than ever. He saw what was in Solomon Owl’s mind, for Solomon was thinking of swallowing Mr. Frog’s head himself.
“No doubt — ” Mr. Frog resumed — “no doubt you’ve come to ask me to make you a new suit of clothes.”
Now, Solomon Owl had had no such idea at all. But when it was mentioned to him, he rather liked it.
“Will you?” he inquired, with a highly interested air.
“Why, certainly!” the tailor replied. And for the first time since he had turned his backward somersault into the bulrushes, he smiled widely. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do!” he said. “First, I’ll make you a coat free. And second, if you like it I will then make you a waistcoat and trousers, at double rates.”