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On the roof of the last house in a little
village was a stork's nest. The mother stork sat in it with her four
young ones, who stuck out their heads with their little black beaks.
(You see, their beaks had not yet turned red as they would in time.)
And a little way off, all alone on the ridge of the roof, stood
Father Stork, very upright and stiff. He was really a sentry on
guard but, so that he would not be entirely idle, he had drawn up
one leg. My, how grand he looked, standing there on one leg! So
still you might have thought he was carved from wood!
"It must look pretty fine for my wife to have
a sentry standing by her nest!" he thought. "People don't know I'm
her husband; they'll think I'm a servant, ordered to stand here on
guard. It looks very smart, I must say."
So he went on, standing on one leg.
A crowd of children were playing down in the
street, and, as soon as they saw the storks, one of the boldest
boys, followed by the others, began to sing the old song about
storks. They sang it just as their leader remembered it:
"Stork, stork, long-legged stork,
Off to your wife you'd better fly.
She's waiting for you in the nest,
Rocking four young ones to rest.
"The first he will be hanged,
The second will be stabbed,
The third he will be burned,
And the fourth will be slapped!"
"Just listen to what they are saying!" cried
the little stork children. "They say we're going to be hanged and
"Don't pay any attention to that," replied the
mother stork crossly. "Don't listen to them, and then it won't make
But the boys went on singing and pointing
mockingly at the storks with their fingers. Only one boy, whose name
was Peter, said it was a shame to make fun of the birds, and he
wouldn't join the others.
The mother stork tried to comfort her
children. "Don't let that bother you at all," she said. "Look how
quietly your father is standing, and only on one leg, too!"
"But we're very much frightened!" insisted the
young storks, and they drew their heads far back into the nest.
Next day, when the children came out to play
and saw the storks, they began their song again:
"The first he will be hanged,
The second will be burned!"
"Are we really going to be hanged and burned?"
asked the young storks.
"No, certainly not", replied their mother.
"You're going to learn to fly! I'll teach you. Then we'll fly out
over the meadows and visit the frogs; they'll bow down to us in the
water and sing, 'Co-ax! Co-ax!' and then we'll eat them up. That'll
be a lot of fun!"
"And then what?" asked the young storks.
"Then the storks from all over the country
will assemble for the autumn maneuvers," their mother continued.
"And it is of great importance that you know how to fly well then,
for if you can't, the general will stab you dead with his beak; so
when I start to teach you, pay attention and learn well."
"Oh, then we'll be stabbed, just the way the
boys say! And listen, there they go, saying it again!"
"Never mind them; pay attention to me," said
Mother Stork. "After the big maneuvers, we'll fly away to the warm
countries, oh, so far away from here, over mountains and forests.
We'll get to Egypt, where they have four-cornered houses of stone
that come up to a point higher than the clouds. They call them
pyramids, and they're even older than a stork could imagine. They
have a river there too, that runs out of its banks, and turns the
whole land to mud! We walk about in that mud, eating frogs."
"Oh!" cried the young storks.
"Yes, indeed. It's wonderful there. You don't
do anything but eat all day long. And while we're so comfortable
there, back here there isn't a green leaf left on the trees, and
it's so cold that the clouds freeze to pieces and fall down in
little white rags."
She meant snow of course, but she didn't know
any other way to explain it to the young ones.
"And do the naughty boys freeze to pieces,
too?" asked the young storks.
"No, they don't quite do that," their mother
replied. "But they come pretty close to it, and have to sit moping
in a dark room. But we, on the other hand, fly about in foreign
lands, among the flowers and in the warm sunshine."
Some time passed, and the young storks grew
large enough so that they could stand up in the nest and look at the
wide world around them. Every day Father Stork brought them
beautiful frogs and delicious little snakes and all sorts of
dainties that storks like. And how they laughed when he did tricks
to amuse them! He would lay his head entirely back on his tail, and
clap his beak as if it were a rattle. And then he would tell them
stories, all about the marshes that they would see some day.
At last one day Mother Stork led them all out
onto the ridge of the roof.
"Now", she said, "it's time for you to learn
to fly." Oh, how they wobbled and how they tottered, trying to
balance themselves with their wings, and nearly falling off the
"Watch me now," their mother called. "Hold
your head like this! Move your legs like that! One, two! One, two!
That'll help you get somewhere in the world!"
Then she flew a little way from the roof, and
the young ones made a clumsy attempt to follow. Bumps! There they
lay, for their bodies were still too heavy.
"I don't want to fly," complained the youngest
one, creeping back into the nest. "I don't care about going to the
warm countries at all!"
"Oh, so you want to freeze to death here, when
the winter comes, do you?" demanded his mother. "You want the boys
to come and hang you and beat you and burn you, do you? All right,
I'll call them!"
"Oh, no! Don't do that!" cried the little
stork, and hopped out on the ridge again with the others.
By the third day they could fly a little, and
so they thought they could soar and hover in the air without moving
their wings, but-when they tried it - bumps!-down they fell! They
soon found they had to move their wings to keep up in the air.
That same day the boys came back and began
their song again:
"Stork, stork, long-legged stork!"
"Shall we fly down and pick their eyes out?"
asked the young storks eagerly.
"Certainly not," replied their mother
promptly. "Let them alone. Pay attention to me. That's much more
important. One, two, three! Now we fly around to the right. One,
two, three! Now to the left around the chimney. That was very good.
That last flap of the wings was so perfect that you can fly with me
tomorrow to the marshes. Several very nice stork families go there
with their young ones, and I want to show them that mine are much
the nicest. Don't forget to strut about; that looks very well and
makes you seem important."
"But can't we take revenge on those rude boys
first?" asked the young storks.
"Oh, let them scream as much as they like,"
replied their mother. "You'll fly with the clouds, and way off to
the land of the pyramids while they'll be freezing. There won't be a
green leaf or a sweet apple here then."
"But we will have our revenge!" the
young storks whispered to each other, and went on practicing their
Now, among the boys down there in the street,
the worst of all was the boy who had begun the teasing song. He was
a very little boy, hardly more than six years old, but the young
storks thought he was at least a hundred, for he was much bigger
than Mother and Father Stork, and how could they know how old
children and grownups can be?
The young storks made up their minds to take
revenge upon this boy, because he was the first to start the song,
and he always kept on. As they grew bigger, they were determined to
do something about it. At last, to keep them quiet, their mother had
to promise them that they would be revenged, but they were not to
learn about it until the day before they left the country.
"First, we'll have to see how you behave at
the big maneuvers," she warned them. "If you don't do well, so that
the general has to stab you with his beak, the boys will be right,
at least in that way. We'll see."
"Yes, you'll see," replied the young ones, and
my! how they worked! They practiced every day, until they could fly
so neatly and lightly that it was a pleasure to watch them.
At last the autumn came on, and all the storks
began to assemble before flying away to the warm countries to get
away from the winter up here. What a review that was! All of the
young storks had to fly over forests and villages to show how well
they had learned, for they had a very long journey before them. And
the young storks did so well that their report cards were marked,
"Remarkably well, with frogs and snakes!" That was the highest mark,
and meant that they could eat frogs and snakes as a prize. And that
is what they did!
"Now we will have our revenge!" they cried to
"Yes," their mother agreed. "What I have
thought of will be just the right thing to do. I know the pond where
all the little human babies lie until the storks come to take them
to their parents. The pretty little babies lie in that pond,
dreaming more sweetly than they ever dream afterwards. All parents
want a little baby, and every child wants a little sister or
brother. Now, we'll go to that pond and bring a little baby sister
or brother for each of the children who didn't sing that wicked song
or make fun of us. But those that did won't get any."
"But that naughty, ugly boy who began the
song?" demanded the young storks. "What shall we do with him?"
"In that pond," said his mother slowly, "there
is a little baby that has dreamed itself to death; we'll bring that
to him. And then he'll cry because we've brought him a little dead
brother. But don't forget that good little boy who said it was a
shame to make fun of us! We'll take him both a brother and
a sister! And since his name is Peter, you shall all be called
It was done just the way she said. And all the
young storks were named Peter, and all storks are called Peter to
this very day.