THE OWL AND THE EAGLE
(From the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.)
Once upon a time, in a country where the snow lies deep
for many months in the year, there lived an owl and an
eagle. Though they were so different in many ways
they became great friends, and at length set up house
together, one passing the day in hunting and the other
the night. In this manner they did not see very much
of each other—and perhaps agreed all the better for that;
but at any rate they were perfectly happy, and only
wanted one thing, or, rather, two things, and that was a
wife for each.
‘I really am too tired when I come home in the evening
to clean up the house,’ said the eagle.
‘And I am much too sleepy at dawn after a long
night’s hunting to begin to sweep and dust,’ answered
the owl. And they both made up their minds that wives
they must have.
They flew about in their spare moments to the young
ladies of their acquaintance, but the girls all declared
they preferred one husband to two. The poor birds
began to despair, when, one evening, after they had been
for a wonder hunting together, they found two sisters
fast asleep on their two beds. The eagle looked at the
owl and the owl looked at the eagle.
‘They will make capital wives if they will only stay
with us,’ said they. And they flew off to give themselves
a wash, and to make themselves smart before the girls
For many hours the sisters slept on, for they had
come a long way, from a town where there was scarcely
anything to eat, and felt weak and tired. But by-and-by
they opened their eyes and saw the two birds watching
‘I hope you are rested?’ asked the owl politely.
‘Oh, yes, thank you,’ answered the girls. ‘Only we
are so very hungry. Do you think we could have something
‘Certainly!’ replied the eagle. And he flew away to
a farm-house a mile or two off, and brought back a nest
of eggs in his strong beak; while the owl, catching up a
tin pot, went to a cottage where lived an old woman and
her cow, and entering the shed by the window dipped
the pot into the pail of new milk that stood there.
The girls were so much delighted with the kindness
and cleverness of their hosts that, when the birds
inquired if they would marry them and stay there for
ever, they accepted without so much as giving it a
second thought. So the eagle took the younger sister to
wife, and the owl the elder, and never was a home more
peaceful than theirs!
All went well for several months, and then the
eagle’s wife had a son, while, on the same day, the owl’s
wife gave birth to a frog, which she placed directly on
the banks of a stream near by, as he did not seem to like
the house. The children both grew quickly, and were
never tired of playing together, or wanted any other companions.
One night in the spring, when the ice had melted,
and the snow was gone, the sisters sat spinning in the
house, awaiting their husbands’ return. But long though
they watched, neither the owl nor the eagle ever came;
neither that day nor the next, nor the next, nor the next.
At last the wives gave up all hope of their return; but,
being sensible women, they did not sit down and cry,
but called their children, and set out, determined to seek
the whole world over till the missing husbands were
Now the women had no idea in which direction the
lost birds had gone, but they knew that some distance
off was a thick forest, where good hunting was to be
found. It seemed a likely place to find them, or, at any
rate, they might hear something of them, and they walked
quickly on, cheered by the thought that they were doing
something. Suddenly the young sister, who was a little
in front, gave a cry of surprise.
‘Oh! look at that lake!’ she said, ‘we shall never get
‘Yes we shall,’ answered the elder; ‘I know what to
do.’ And taking a long piece of string from her pocket,
fastened it into the frog’s mouth, like a bit.
‘You must swim across the lake,’ she said, stooping
to put him in, ‘and we will walk across on the line behind
you.’ And so they did, till they got to about the middle of
the lake, when the frog boy stopped.
‘I don’t like it, and I won’t go any further,’ cried he
sulkily. And his mother had to promise him all sorts of
nice things before he would go on again.
When at last they reached the other side, the owl’s wife
untied the line from the frog’s mouth and told him he might
rest and play by the lake till they got back from the forest.
Then she and her sister and the boy walked on, with the
great forest looming before them. But they had by this
time come far and were very tired, and felt glad enough
to see some smoke curling up from a little hut in
front of them.
‘Let us go in and ask for some water,’ said the eagle’s
wife; and in they went.
The inside of the hut was so dark that at first they
could see nothing at all; but presently they heard a
feeble croak from one corner. Both sisters turned to look,
and there, tied by wings and feet, and their eyes sunken,
were the husbands that they sought. Quick as lightning
the wives cut the deer-thongs which bound them; but the
poor birds were too weak from pain and starvation to do
more than utter soft sounds of joy. Hardly, however,
were they set free, than a voice of thunder made the two
sisters jump, while the little boy clung tightly round his
‘What are you doing in my house?’ cried she. And
the wives answered boldly that now they had found their
husbands they meant to save them from such a wicked
‘Well, I will give you your chance,’ answered the
ogress, with a hideous grin; ‘we will see if you can slide
down this mountain. If you can reach the bottom of the
cavern, you shall have your husbands back again.’ And
as she spoke she pushed them before her out of the door
to the edge of a precipice, which went straight down several
hundreds of feet. Unseen by the witch, the frog’s mother
fastened one end of the magic line about her, and whispered
to the little boy to hold fast to the other. She had
scarcely done so when the witch turned round.
‘You don’t seem to like your bargain,’ said she; but
the girl answered:
‘Oh, yes, I am quite ready. I was only waiting for
you!’ And sitting down she began her slide. On, on,
she went, down to such a depth that even the witch’s eyes
could not follow her; but she took for granted that the
woman was dead, and told the sister to take her place.
At that instant, however, the head of the elder appeared,
above the rock, brought upwards by the magic line. The
witch gave a howl of disgust, and hid her face in her hands;
thus giving the younger sister time to fasten the cord to
her waist before the ogress looked up.
‘You can’t expect such luck twice,’ she said; and the
girl sat down and slid over the edge. But in a few
minutes she too was back again, and the witch saw that
she had failed, and feared lest her power was going.
Trembling with rage though she was, she dared not show
it, and only laughed hideously.
‘I sha’n’t let my prisoners go as easily as all that!’
she said. ‘Make my hair grow as thick and as black as
yours, or else your husbands shall never see daylight
‘That is quite simple,’ replied the elder sister; ‘only
you must do as we did—and perhaps you won’t like the
‘If you can bear it, of course
I can,’ answered the
witch. And so the girls told her they had first smeared
their heads with pitch and then laid hot stones upon
‘It is very painful,’ said they, ‘but there is no other
way that we know of. And in order to make sure that all
will go right, one of us will hold you down while the
other pours on the pitch.’
And so they did; and the elder sister let down her hair
till it hung over the witch’s eyes, so that she might believe
it was her own hair growing. Then the other brought
a huge stone and clove in her skull, and she died, groaning
So when the sisters saw that she was dead they went
to the hut and nursed their husbands till they grew
strong. Then they picked up the frog, and all went to
make another home on the other side of the great lake.