TALES FROM MOTHER AFRICA; WHY THE OSTRICH HAS A LONG NECK

Mr. Ostrich was a sober minded, serious
husband, who was always willing to assist his
wife in her family duties. “My Dear”, he said to her one evening, when their large clutch of eggs seemed almost ready to hatch, “my black feathers can not be seen in the darkness, so I will guard our eggs by night, and at the same time keep them warm for you. That will leave you free to relax and enjoy yourself until daybreak each morning.”

He settled down clumsily to his unaccustomed task, while his flighty wife was more than thankful to be relieved of a duty which she already found a trial.

She fluffed up her feathers and, to show how pleased she was, she set off in a joyful high-stepping dance among the low termite-mounds that surrounded their nest.

The big birds had chosen the site with care, for they knew that a sitting ostrich hen, with her head down, looks from the distance like a grey mound of earth. They had decided to rear their young on the short-grassed plainlands because they could see all round them, for in those days the ostrich had a short neck like a guinea-fowl and partridge.

They had learned the hard lesson that in long grass their enemies could attack them before they realised their danger.

To keep their precious eggs safe from the
dreaded fires that swept across the plains, the two birds had carefully scratched away a broad band of dusty earth in the grass round the slight hollow that was their nest. On the whole they were a happy pair-although from time to time the husband had disapproved of his wife’s high-spirited ways.

At this particular time, she should behave more sensibly as she had her eggs to look after. He wriggled his massive thighs on the ground as he had seen his wife do, to shift the position of the eggs so that they lay more comfortably in their bed, and settled down to his long night’s wait.

It was full moon. The silvery light shed strange shadows and threw up ghostly figures among the surrounding mounds of earth. His head was beginning to nod with weariness, when he became aware of his wife’s hissing laugh.

He was wide awake in a moment. Straining his short neck to its utmost limit, he saw her
dodging in and out between the termite mounds in a wild game of hide-and-seek with a handsome young ostrich in hot pursuit.

This would never do. He half rose from the nest- but sank down again with a sigh. He dare not leave the precious eggs, whatever the reason.

What if they were to grow cold while he went to tell his flirting wife what he thought of her disgraceful behaviour?

He settled down again with a feeling of annoyance, but strained his neck further and further, to try to catch sight of her as she dodged and raced between the termite mounds on the moonlit veld.

From time to time he did catch a glimpse of
her, and heard her foolish giggles – and each
time that he did so, he strained and stretched his neck trying to see further and yet further between the nearby termite mounds.

At last, the long, tedious night came to an end. As it did so, his wife appeared out of the grey distance to take over her duties once more. The ostrich rose stiffly, prepared to punish his wife for her undignified behaviours; but as he did so, he felt a strangeness in the muscles of his neck. He looked down at his feet, and was alarmed to discover how very faraway from his head they were – and realised with a shock that,
as a result of all the straining that he had done during the long night, his neck and stretched, and stretched, and stretched. He tried to shake it back to its former length, but no matter what he did, it stayed just the same: he had stretched beyond return.

And that is why the ostrich has a long neck- a lasting memory of a flighty wife.

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