“‘Who may you be?’ hissed the owl, and glared with its fiery eyes into the cleft.
“‘We come from Hencastle, where there are hundreds of mice, who devour our corn day and night.
“‘Whoo–hoo! I’ll come, I’ll come,’ screamed the owl, snapping its beak with pleasure.
“In the grey of the dawn the fowls sat on the roof-tree, listening to Mark, the watchman, who stood on the top of, his chimney, and cried,
“‘What do I see?
Here come the three!
And with them, I reckon,
A bird with no neck on.’
“Thereupon the owl and the three messengers flew up with a rush to the top of the castle.
“‘Ha! ha! I smell mice,’ shrieked the new comer, and dashed through a hole in the roof, from whence it shortly reappeared with a mouse in its claws.
“This sight filled all the fowls with joy; and as they sat on the edge of the roof in a row, they nudged each other, and remarked,
“‘This has indeed been a happy venture.’
“For a few days everything went as smoothly as possible, but after a time the mice began to find out that the owl could only see really well at night, that it saw badly by day, and hardly at all when the midday sun was shining through the window into the loft. So they only came out at noon, and then dragged enough corn away into their holes to last them till the following day.
“One night the owl did not catch a single mouse, and so, being very hungry, drove its beak into some hen’s eggs that lay in a corner, and ate them. Finding them more to its taste than the fattest mouse, and much less trouble to catch, henceforth the owl gave up mouse-hunting, and took to egg-poaching. This the fowls presently discovered, and the three wise cocks were sent to tell the owl to go away, as it was no longer of use to anybody, for it never caught mice but only ate eggs.
“‘Whoo–hoo! whoo–hoo! More eggs–give me more eggs, or I’ll scratch your eyes out,’ shrieked the owl, and began to whet its beak on a beam in such a savage manner that the three cocks fled in terror to the top of the chimney.
“Having somewhat recovered from their alarm, they went down and told Flaps, who was basking in the sunshine, that the owl must be got rid of.
“‘What, are all the mice eaten, then?’ inquired he.
“‘Alas!’ answered one of the cocks, ‘the brute will eat nothing but eggs now, and threatens to scratch our eyes out if we don’t supply as many more as it wants.’
“‘Wait till noonday,’ said the dog, ‘and I’ll soon bring the rascal to reason.’
“At twelve o’clock Flaps quietly pushed the door open and went up into the loft. There sat the old owl winking and blinking in a corner.
“‘So you are the robber who is going to scratch people’s eyes out,’ said Flaps. ‘For this you must die!’
“‘That remains to be seen,’ sneered the owl; ‘but eyes I will have, and dogs’ eyes too!’ and with that it swooped down upon Flaps’ head; but the old dog seized the bird between his teeth and killed it, though not before one of his own eyes had been scratched out in the struggle.
“‘No matter,’ said Flaps; ‘I’ve done my duty, at any rate, and I don’t know why I should want more than one eye to see with;’ and so saying, he went back to his post.
“The fowls made a great feast, which lasted the whole day, to celebrate the owl’s death.
“But the mice remained in the castle, and continued to increase and multiply. So the three wise cocks had to go forth on a second voyage of discovery, in order to try and find a remedy against the intruders.
“They flew on for a night and a day without any result; but towards morning, on the second day, they alighted to rest in a thick wood, and there, in one of the forest glades, just as the sun was rising, they saw a red-coated animal watching a mouse-hole. It was a fox, who had come out to find something for breakfast. They soon saw him catch a mouse and eat it, and then heard him say, ‘Heaven be praised for small mercies! I have managed to secure a light breakfast at last, though I’ve been hunting all night in vain.’