Mother West Wind 'Why' Stories by Thornton W. Burgess
XII. Why There is a Black Head in the Buzzard Family
Ol' Mistah Buzzard had just told the story of why he has a bald head and is proud of it. You know he hasn't a feather on it, and it is very, very red. It was a very interesting story, and it had been listened to with the closest attention by a lot of the little meadow and forest people. Unc' Billy Possum, who is Ol' Mistah Buzzard's particular friend, both having come from "way down souf," happened along just in time to hear the end of it.
"May Ah ask yo' a question, Brer Buzzard?" said he.
"Cert'nly, Brer Possum. Cert'nly," replied Ol' Mistah Buzzard.
"Is Buzzard really your fam'ly name?" asked Unc' Billy.
"No, Brer Possum, it isn't," replied Ol' Mistah Buzzard. Everybody looked surprised. You see, no one ever had heard him called anything but Buzzard. But no one said anything, and after a minute or two Ol' Mistah Buzzard explained.
"Mah fam'ly name is Vulture," said he. "Yes, Sah, mah fam'ly name is Vulture, but we-uns done been called Buzzards so long, that Ah don' know as Ah would know Ah was being spoken to, if Ah was called Mistah Vulture."
"An' do Ah understand that all of your fam'ly have red haids?" inquired Unc' Billy.
Ol' Mistah Buzzard looked down at Unc' Billy, and he saw a twinkle in Unc' Billy's shrewd little eyes. Ol' Mistah Buzzard grinned.
"Ah knows jes' what yo' done got in your mind, Brer Possum," said he. "It's that trifling, no 'count cousin of mine. He's a Buzzard, or a Vulture, if yo' like that better, jes' like Ah am, but he belongs to another branch of the fam'ly. He has a bald haid, jes' like Ah have, but his haid is black instead of red. That's because his grandpap was trifling an' po' trash, jes' like he is."
Peter Rabbit pricked up his ears. This sounded like another story. He was curious about that black-headed cousin of Ol' Mistah Buzzard, very curious indeed. He wondered if Ol' Mistah Buzzard would have to be teased for a story, like Grandfather Frog. Anyway, he would find out. There would be no harm in trying.
"If you please, how does your cousin happen to have a black head?" asked Peter as politely as he knew how.
"Because his grandpap asked too many questions," replied Ol' Mistah Buzzard, slyly winking at the others.
Everybody laughed, for everybody knows that no one asks more questions than Peter Rabbit. Peter laughed with the rest, although he looked a wee bit foolish. But he didn't mean to give up just because he was laughed at. Oh, my, no!
"Please, Mr. Buzzard, please tell us the story," he begged.
Now Ol' Mistah Buzzard is naturally good-natured and accommodating, and when Peter begged so hard, he just couldn't find it in his heart to refuse. Besides, he rather enjoys telling stories. So he shook his feathers out, half spread his wings to let the air blow under them, looked down at all the little meadow and forest people gathered about the foot of the tall, dead tree where he delights to roost, grinned at them in the funniest way, and then began this story:
"Way back in the days when Grandpap Buzzard had his lil falling out with ol' King Eagle and done fly so high he sco'tch the feathers offen his haid, he had a cousin, did Grandpap Buzzard, and this cousin was jes' naturally lazy and no 'count. Like most no 'count people, he used to make a regular nuisance of hisself, poking his nose into ev'ybody's business and never 'tending to his own. Wasn't anything going on that this trifling member of the Buzzard fam'ly didn't find out about and meddle in. He could ask mo' questions than Peter Rabbit can, an' anybody that can do that has got to ask a lot."
Everybody looked at Peter and laughed. Peter made a funny face and laughed too.
"Seemed like he jes' went 'round from mo'ning to night asking questions," continued Ol' Mistah Buzzard, "Got so that eve'ybody dreaded to see that no 'count Buzzard coming, because he bound to pester with questions about things what don't concern him no ways.
"Now yo' know that way down in Ol' Virginny where Ah done come from, mah fam'ly done got the habit of sitting on the tops of chimneys in the wintertime to warm their toes."
"Why, I thought it was warm down south!" interrupted Peter Rabbit.
"So it is, Brer Rabbit! So it is!" Ol' Mistah Buzzard hastened to say. "But yo' see, ol' Jack Frost try to come down there sometimes, an' he cool the air off a right smart lot before he turn tail an' run back where he belong. So we-uns sit on the chimney-tops whenever ol' Jack Frost gets to straying down where he have no business. Yo' see, if we-uns keep our toes warm, we-uns are warm all over.
"One day this no 'count, trifling cousin of Grandpap Buzzard get cold in his feet. He look 'round right smart fo' a chimney fo' to warm his toes, an' pretty soon he see one where he never been before. It was on a lil ol' house, a lil ol' tumble-down house. Mistah Buzzard fly right over an' sit on that chimney-top fo' to warm his toes. Of course he right smart curious about that lil ol' tumble-down house and who live there. He hear somebody inside talking to theirself, but he can't hear what they say, jes' a mumbling sound that come up the chimney to him.
"He listen an' listen. Then he shift 'round to the other side of the chimney an' listen. No matter where he sit, he can't hear what being said down inside that lil ol' tumble-down house. Then what do yo' think Mistah Buzzard do? Why, he jes' stretch his fool haid as far down that chimney as he can an' listen an' listen. Yes, Sah, that is jes' what that no 'count Buzzard do. But all he hear is jes' a mumbling and a mumbling, an' that make him more curious than ever. It seem to him that he must go clean outen his haid 'less he hear what going on down inside that lil ol' house.
"Now when he stretch his haid an' neck down the chimney that way, he get 'em all black with soot. But he don't mind that. No, Sah, he don' mind that a bit. Fact is, he don' notice it. He so curious he don' notice anything, an' pretty soon he plumb fo'get where he is an' that he is listening where he have no business. He plumb fo'get all about this, an' he holler down that chimney. Yes, Sah, he holler right down that chimney!
"'Will yo'-alls please speak a lil louder,' he holler down the chimney, jes' like that.
"Now the lil ol' woman what lived by herself in that lil ol' tumble-down house hadn't seen that no 'count Buzzard light on the chimney fo' to warm his toes, an' when she hear that voice coming right outen the fireplace, she was some flustrated and scared, was that lil ol' woman. Yes, Sah, she sho'ly was plumb scared. She so scared she tip over a whole kettleful of soup right in the fire. Of course that make a terrible mess an' a powerful lot of smoke an' hot ashes fly up the chimney. They like to choke that no 'count Buzzard to death. They burn the feathers offen his haid an' neck, an' the soot make him black, all but his feet an' laigs an' the inside of his wings, which he keep closed.
"Mistah Buzzard he give a mighty squawk an' fly away. When he get home, he try an' try to brush that soot off, but it done get into the skin an' it stay there. An' from that day his haid an' neck stay black, an' he never speak lessen he spoken to, an' then he only grunt. His chillen jes' like him, an' his chillen's chillen the same way. An' that is the reason that mah cousin who lives down souf done have a black haid," concluded Ol' Mistah Buzzard.
A little sigh of satisfaction went around the circle of listeners. As usual, Peter Rabbit was the first to speak.
"That was a splendid story, Mr. Buzzard," said he, "and I'm ever and ever so much obliged to you. It was just as good as one of Grandfather Frog's."
Ol' Mistah Buzzard grinned and slowly winked one eye at Unc' Billy Possum as he replied: "Thank yo', Brer Rabbit. That's quite the nicest thing yo' could say."
"But it's true!" shouted all together, and then everybody gave three cheers for Ol' Mistah Buzzard before starting off to attend to their own private affairs.