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Main > South African folktales > Fairy tale "When the Birds would choose a King which tells also why the white owl only flies by night"

When the Birds would choose a King which tells also why the white owl only flies by night

The three children were lounging with the dogs under the tall blue-gums by the house corner, when the old Hottentot stepped out of the kitchen to find a shady spot for his afternoon nap. Before he could settle anywhere, however, the eldest boy lifted his face and caught sight of a mere speck, far up in the still hot sky, where a vulture hung motionless in the blue.

“Oh, look!” cried he at once. “There’s Old Baldy, the Aasvo’el, almost out of sight. Ain’t he just high! I bet there ain’t any other bird can fly as high as he can.”

The old Hottentot turned, first to look at the vulture and then at the little boy. “Well,” said he, “dere was one time, dough, when it took a whole big indaba of all de birds to say which flew de highest—him or Young Tink Tinky.”

“Young Tink Tinky!” echoed the eldest boy scornfully. “Why! he’s the very littlest, teeniest bird in the veldt!”

“Yes, dat’s yust de way Ou’ Jackalse talked,” answered Old Hendrik gleefully. “But he find out ’fore he finis’ dat it ain’t de size but de sense dat counts.”

“Well, I bet I could soon settle which flew the highest,” returned the boy.

“Mebbe,” said Hendrik. “But anyhow, it took de birds a deal o’ time to settle it. An’ trouble—dere was trouble, too, ’fore dey finis’, an’ de White Owl he ain’t never fly about in de daytime from dat day to dis. He’s mighty big, an’ he’s a mighty ole beak an’ clawses, but he darsent on’y fly about o’ nights since den.”

“Oh, now, you must tell us all about it, Ou’ Ta’,” commanded little Annie. “You’ll see how soon we’ll settle it.”

“Will I, Ainkye?” answered the old fellow, with his deepest smile. “Well, here’s de tale an’ you can try anyhow. You see, it was all along o’ dese yere birds dat on’y come in de summer an’ don’t stay for de hard times in de winter. De Af’icander birds dat live here all de time dey got to studyin’ about dese outlander birds what yust comes to skim de cream o’ de year; an’ nawtin’ ’ud do ’em but dey’s goin’ to make a King. Dey reckon de King he’ll tell dese outlander birds he’s had yust about enough o’ deir hanky panky, an’ dey’ll ha’ to stop here all de year roun’ or stop som’ere’s else; but dey cahnt do bofe.

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