O N the last house in a small village the Storks had built a nest, and the mother Stork sat in it with her four young ones, who stretched out their necks, and pointed their black beaks, which had not yet turned red like those of the parent bird.
A little way off, on the edge of the roof, stood the father Stork, quite upright and stiff; not liking to be quite idle, he drew up one leg, and stood on the other, so still that it seemed almost as if he were carved in wood.
"It must look very grand," thought he, "for my wife to have a sentry guarding her nest. They do not know that I am her husband; they think I have been commanded to stand here, which is quite aristocratic;" and so he continued standing on one leg.
In the street below were a number of children at play, and when they caught sight of the Storks, one of the boldest among the boys, began to sing a song about them, and very soon he was joined by the rest. These are the words of the song, but each only sang what he could remember of them in his own way.
"Just hear what those boys are singing," said the young Storks; "they say we shall be hanged and roasted."
"Never mind what they say; you need not listen," said the mother. "They can do no harm."
But the boys went on singing and pointing at the Storks, and mocking at them, excepting one of the boys whose name was Peter; he said it was a shame to make fun of animals, and would not join with them. The mother Stork comforted her young ones, and told them not to mind. "See," she said, "how quiet your father stands, although he is only on one leg."
"But we are very much frightened," said the young Storks, and they drew back their heads into the nest.
The next day when the children were playing together, and saw the Storks, they sang the song again.
"Shall we be hanged and roasted?" asked the young Storks.
"No, certainly not," said the mother. "I will teach you to fly, and when you have learned, we will fly into the meadows, and pay a visit to the frogs, who will bow themselves to us in the water, and cry 'Croak, croak,' and then we shall eat them; that will be fun."
"And what next?" asked the young Storks.
"Then," replied the mother, "all the Storks in the country will assemble together, and go through their autumn maneuvers, so that it is very important for every one to know how to fly properly; if they do not, the general will thrust them through with his beak, and kill them. Therefore you must take pains and learn, so as to be ready when drilling begins."
"Then we may be killed after all, as the boys say; and hark! they are singing again."
"Listen to me, and not to them," said the mother Stork. "After the great review is over, we shall fly away to warm countries, far from hence, where there are mountains and forests. To Egypt, where we shall see three-cornered houses built of stone, with pointed tops that reach nearly to the clouds. They are called Pyramids, and are older than a Stork could imagine; and in that country, there is a river that overflows its banks, and then goes back, leaving nothing but mire; there we can walk about, and eat frogs in abundance."
"Oh, o-h!" cried the young Storks.
"Yes, it is a delightful place; there is nothing to do all day long but to eat, and while we are so well off out there, in this country there will not be a single green leaf on the trees, and the weather will be so cold that the clouds will freeze, and fall on the earth in little white rags." The Stork meant snow, but she could not explain it in any other way.
"Will the naughty boys freeze and fall in pieces?" asked the young Storks.
"No, they will not freeze and fall into pieces," said the mother, "but they will be very cold, and be obliged to sit all day in a dark, gloomy room, while we shall be flying about in foreign lands, where there are blooming flowers and warm sunshine."
Time passed on, and the young Storks grew so large, that they could stand upright in the nest and look about them. The father brought them, every day, beautiful frogs, little snakes, and all kind of Stork dainties that he could find. And then, how funny it was to see the tricks he would perform to amuse them. He would lay his head quite around over his tail, and clatter with his beak, as if it had been a rattle; and then he would tell them stories, all about the marshes and fens.
"Come," said the mother one day, "now you must learn to fly." All the young Storks were obliged to come out on the roof. Oh, how frightened they were at first, and how they tottered, and were obliged to balance themselves with their wings, or they would have fallen to the ground below.
"Look at me," said the mother, "you must hold your heads in this way, and place your feet so. Once, twice, once, twice—that is it."
Then she flew a short distance, and the young ones made a spring to follow her, but fell plump, as their bodies were still too heavy.
"I don't want to learn to fly, I don't care about going to warm countries," said one of the young Storks, creeping back into his nest.
"Would you like to stay here, and freeze when the winter comes, or till the bad boys come to hang you or roast you?" said the mother.
"Oh, no, no," said the young Stork jumping out on the roof with the others; and now all were attentive, and by the third day could fly a little. The boys came again in the street singing their song:
"Shall we fly down, and pick their eyes out?" asked the young Storks.
"No, leave them alone, and listen to me," said the mother.
"But may we not punish them?" asked the Storks, who felt quite brave now they could fly, and would not be quieted until their mother promised they could be revenged before they flew away, but they must wait until the day of their departure.
"We must first see how you acquit yourselves at the grand review," said she. "If you get on badly there, the general will thrust his beak through you, and you will be killed as the boys said, though not in the same manner, so we must wait and see."
"You shall see," said the young birds, and they took such pains, and practiced so well, it was quite a pleasure to see them fly so lightly, and prettily. As soon as Autumn came, all the Storks began to assemble together at the marsh, before taking their departure to a warm country for the winter. Then the grand review commenced. And the general pronounced them fine soldiers, and they received a mark of honor, and presents of frogs, and snakes, which they enjoyed most of all, for they could eat the frogs and snakes, which they did quickly.
"Now let us have our revenge," they cried.
"Yes, certainly," replied the mother. "I have thought upon the best way to be revenged. I know the pond in which all the little babies lie, waiting till the Storks come to take them to their parents. The prettiest little babies lie there, dreaming sweet dreams. All parents are glad to have a little child, and all children are much pleased to have the Storks bring them a little brother or sister. Now, we will fly to the pond, and fetch a little baby for each of the children who did not sing that naughty song.
"But that naughty little boy who always began to sing the ugly song first, what shall we do to him?" cried the young Storks.
The mother thought for awhile, and then replied:
"I will tell you what you may do; you will not take a baby to his home at all, but may take little Peter, (the little boy who told the others it was a shame to laugh at animals,) a brother and sister too, because he was so good, and after this, we will name all the Storks, Peter, after this good little boy."
So they all did what their mother had arranged, and then flew off for their winter home rejoicing.