That morning the woods were cold and covered in grains of ice; these grains were giving off steam, as they were trying to turn into water as quickly as they could.
An old owl was quickly toddling home to his den after having hooted all night. It was still dark and he was carrying a lantern.
“I really have got old, oh for my youth, how time flies! Life doesn’t even give you time to build a nest like you want! Well…it went like it went and it’s no use complaining. Oh, all the things that I’ve seen and done…brr…brrrr…It’s freezing. Come, come now my old man, I’m old now, I’ve made it. Don’t make a fuss:
just count the years you have left and shut up.” This is what the old owl mumbled.
Suddenly two big teardrops rolled from his eyes, as his little brain was stacked-high with images of all his friends who had died young, killed by hunters. He picked a dried leaf off the ground and wiped his eyes. He didn’t blow his nose, so this was how he heard the wailing of a small great tit just there by. He quickly ran and spotted it.
The great tit was shaking all over, standing among piles of broken dried eggs. The old owl laid the lantern on the ground and wrapped his wings around the little creature. Then he fixed his eyes on the greenery of the tree and spotted the nest: “The cuckoo! He was born a cuckoo and you were born a great tit. You a great tit, him a cuckoo. What a lot of cuckoos…there are in this wood! And…I’m an owl, and then there are the foxes and wolves and rabbits and frogs and geese… a bit of everything, a bit of everything! Oh I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting the hunters!”
He grasped the lantern with his beak and started to totter off. The old owl looked up at the sky and said: “See? You see? There are no more stars in the sky: they come out at night and go to bed during the day. I wonder, I really wonder what the stars’ beds are like!”
The great tit was cold and trembled, keeping her eyes shut as the lantern’s rays were strange and frightened her. “Don’t be scared, don’t be scared: the lantern’s rays are good.”
The owl got home to his den and quickly shut himself inside.
He placed the lantern in a corner and lovingly laid down the titmouse on the straw mattress. The owl then left the den to catch worms here and there, then patiently cut them into small pieces with his beak and fed them to the little bird.
The great tit ate, warmed herself up and fell asleep. The old owl caressed the bird for a long, long time.
The old owl had never had a son, as his owl wife had never been able to lay eggs: who knows, maybe she had had an illness. Only once had she laid an egg, but in the end all that had come
out of it was a fly.
The old owl put his head in his wings. Who knows what he was thinking about, maybe it really was about the egg with the fly. Why, that day there had been a procession in his den, and many were the inquisitive birds that turned up. Some had even thought that the devil had been in the egg, and that he had turned himself into a fly in order to buzz away.
The days went by and the great tit was recovering well, what with all the worms she was eating!
Meanwhile the old owl spent whole days perched on a big branch outside his den, scratching his head, thinking and reasoning: it wouldn’t be long before the titmouse grew up and flew away. She couldn’t stay there; what was she doing with an old owl?
The old owl wanted the great tit to fly away in the end. It was only right, it was the law of the woods. But he didn’t want…how could he? That was the law of the woods as well.
She was a titmouse, and she would have to brood the cuckoo’s egg unawares with her own. Her children would end up the same way, thrown down from the nest by the cuckoo. She would then bring up a cuckoo, mistaking it for one of her own children, just like her mother had before her.
What was she doing with an old owl? Who knows, maybe he could be her nest-watchman! Or even drive the cuckoo away! Oh if only…he knew which was the cuckoo egg, so he could throw it down before it hatched and…
The old owl’s little whitish head, with its frolicsome twinkling eyes looked as if it was smoking.
He understood, he understood that it would have been pointless to tell the great tit everything, to tell her her story in the hope that she…but she was born a titmouse! She was a titmouse, and then there was the cuckoo!
Then he thought that there weren’t many old owls like him, and that…but, enough! These were the woods!
The titmouse ate such a lot of food; she was crazy for chopped worms…but the day came when the law of the woods
took her away and the old owl never wanted to tell her her story: for she was a great tit!
And when he saw her on the wing for the last time, he wished that all that ever hatched from cuckoo’s eggs were flies.