Chapter XIX THE SLEET STORM
It was winter. And for several days a strong south wind had swept up Pleasant Valley. That–as Solomon Owl knew very well–that meant a thaw was coming. He was not sorry, because the weather had been bitterly cold.
Well, the thaw came. And the weather grew so warm that Solomon Owl could stay out all night without once feeling chilled. He found the change so agreeable that he strayed further from home than was his custom. Indeed, he was far away on the other side of Blue Mountain at midnight, when it began to rain.
Now, that was not quite so pleasant. But still Solomon did not mind greatly. It was not until later that he began to feel alarmed, when he noticed that flying did not seem so easy as usual.
Solomon had grown heavy all at once–and goodness knows it was not because he had overeaten, for food was scarce at that season of the year. Moreover, Solomon’s wings were strangely stiff. When he moved them they crackled.
“It must be my joints,” he said to himself. “I’m afraid this wetting has given me rheumatism.” So he started home at once–though it was only midnight. But the further he went, the worse he felt–and the harder it was to fly.
“I’ll have to rest a while,” he said to himself at last. So he alighted on a limb; for he was more tired than he had ever been in all his life.
But he soon felt so much better that he was ready to start on again. And then, to his dismay, Solomon Owl found that he could hardly stir. The moment he left his perch he floundered down upon the ground. And though he tried his hardest, he couldn’t reach the tree again.
The rain was still beating down steadily. And Solomon began to think it a bad night to be out. What was worse, the weather was fast turning cold.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to stay in bed a week after this,” he groaned. “If I sit here long, as wet as I am, while the thaw turns into a freeze, I shall certainly be ill.”
Now, if it hadn’t been for the rain, Solomon Owl would have had no trouble at all. Or if it hadn’t been for the freezing cold he would have been in no difficulty. Though he didn’t know it, his trouble was simply this: The rain froze upon him as fast as it fell, covering him with a coating of ice. It was no wonder that he felt strangely heavy–no wonder that he couldn’t fly.
There he crouched on the ground, while the rain and sleet beat upon him. And the only comforting thought that entered his head was that on so stormy a night Tommy Fox and Fatty Coon would be snug and warm in their beds. They wouldn’t go out in such weather.
And Solomon Owl wished that he, too, had stayed at home that night.
From midnight until almost dawn Solomon Owl sat there. Now and then he tried to fly. But it was no use. He could scarcely raise himself off the ground.
At last he decided he would have to walk home. Fortunately, a hard crust covered the soft snow. So Solomon started off on his long journey.
Flying, Solomon could have covered the distance in a few minutes. But he was a slow walker. By the time he reached his home among the hemlocks the sun was shining brightly–for the rain had stopped before daybreak.
Solomon wondered how he would ever succeed in reaching his doorway, high up in the hollow tree. He gazed helplessly upward. And as he sat there mournfully the bright sunshine melted the ice that bound his wings. After a time he discovered that he could move freely once more. And then he rose quickly in the air and in a twinkling he had disappeared into the darkness of his home–that darkness which to him was always so pleasant.