On the roof of the last house in the village lay a stork’s nest. The mother stork sat in it with her four little young storks, who were stretching out their heads with their pointed black beaks that had not yet turned red. At a little distance, on the top of the roof, stood the father stork, upright and as stiff as could be. So that people might not think he was doing nothing while standing guard, he had lifted one leg up under him, as storks generally do. He was so still that you might have thought he was made of marble.
“It must look very grand for my wife to have someone to guard her nest,” he thought. “They can’t know that I am her husband and will, of course, think that it is my job to stand here, which will make her look very important.”
Below, in the street, a crowd of children were playing. When they noticed the storks, one of the boldest of the boys began to sing an old song about the stork. The others soon joined him, but each sang the words that he happened to have heard. This is one of the ways:
“Stork, stork, fly away
Stand not on one leg to-day.
Your dear wife sits in the nest,
To lull the little ones to rest.
“A cage for one,
Let’s cook another,
For the third there’s a gun,
And we’ll roast his brother!”
“Only listen,” said the young storks, “to what the boys are singing. Do you hear them say we’re to be shot and cooked?”
“Don’t listen to what they say. If you don’t pay attention, it won’t hurt you,” said the mother.
But the boys went on singing, and mocked the stork husband on guard. Only one boy, who they called Peter, said it was a shame to make fun of animals and he would not join in the singing at all.
The mother stork tried to comfort her young ones. “Don’t mind them,” she said, “see how quiet your father stands on one leg there.”
“But we are afraid,” said the little ones, drawing back their beaks into the nest.
The children assembled again on the next day, and no sooner did they see the storks than they again began their song:
“The first will be fried,
The second will be boiled.”
“Tell us, are we to be fried and boiled?” asked the young storks.
“No, no, certainly not,” replied the mother. “You are to learn to fly, and then we will pay a visit to the frogs. They will bow to us in the water and sing ‘Croak! croak!’ and we shall eat them up, and that will be a great treat.”
“And then what?” questioned the young storks.
“Oh, then all the storks in the land will get together, and the autumn sports will begin, only then you must be able to fly well, for that is very important.”
“Yes, but then, after that, we shall be killed, as the boys say. They are singing it again.”
“Listen to me and not to them,” said the mother stork. “After the great sports we shall fly away to warm countries, far from here, over hills and forests. To Egypt we shall fly, where are the three-cornered houses of stone, one point of which reaches to the clouds; they are called pyramids and are older than a stork can imagine. In that same land there is a river which overflows its banks and turns the whole country muddy. We shall go into the mud and eat delicious frogs.”
“Oh! oh!” exclaimed all the youngsters.
“Yes, it is indeed a delightful place. We need do nothing all day long but eat and while we are eating there so comfortably, in this country there is not a green leaf left on the trees. It is so cold here that the clouds freeze in lumps or fall down in little white rags.” It was hail and snow that she meant, but she did not know how to say it better.
“And will the naughty boys freeze in lumps?” asked the young storks.
“No, they will not freeze in lumps, but they will be cold, and they will sit in gloomy rooms while you are flying about in foreign country, among bright flowers and warm sunshine.”
Some time passed and the stork chicks had grown so large and strong that they could stand upright in the nest and look all about them. Every day the father stork came with delicious frogs, nice little snakes, and other such tasty food that storks love. How funny it was to see the clever feats he performed to keep them happy! He would lay his head right round upon his tail. Sometimes he would make a clattering sound with his beak like a rattle, or he would tell them stories.
“Come, children,” said the mother stork one day, “now you must learn to fly.” And all the four young storks had to go out on the edge of the roof. How they did wobble about! They tried to balance themselves with their wings, but came very near falling to the ground.
“Look at me!” said the mother. “This is the way to hold your head. And here’s how you place your feet. Left! right! left! right! That’s what will help you on in the world.”
Then she flew a little way and the young ones took a clumsy little leap. Bump! plump! down they fell, for their bodies were still too heavy for them.
“I will not fly,” said one of the young storks, as he crept back to the nest. “I don’t care about going to warm countries.”
“Do you want to stay here and freeze when the winter comes? Will you wait till the bold boys come for you? Well, then, I’ll call them.”
“Oh, no!” cried the stork, hopping back to the roof with the rest.
By the third day they actually began to fly a little. Then they knew that they would be able to soar or hover in the air, carried up by their wings. And this they tried to do, but down they fell, flapping their wings as fast as they could.
Again the boys came to the street, singing their song, “Storks, storks, fly home and rest.”
“Shall we fly down and peck them?” asked the young ones.
“No, leave them alone. Listen to me; that’s far more important. One—two—three! now we fly round to the right. One—two—three! now to the left, round the chimney. There! that was very good. That last flap with your wings and the kick with your feet were so good that to-morrow you shall fly with me to the marsh. Several of the nicest stork families will be there with their children. Show me that mine are the best of all. Carry your heads high and walk around proudly.”
“But shall we not teach those naughty boys a lesson?” asked the young storks.
“No, no; let them scream away, as much as they please. You are to fly up to the clouds and away to the land of the pyramids, while they are freezing and can neither see a green leaf nor taste a sweet apple.”
“But we will do something nice for the boys who didn’t sing those songs,” they whispered one to another. And then the training began again.
Among all the children down in the street the one that was singing the song that made fun of the storks the most was the boy who had begun it, and he was a little fellow hardly more than six years old. The young storks, to be sure, thought he was at least a hundred, as he was much bigger than their parents, and, besides, what did they know about the ages of either children or grown men? It was him who always began the song and persisted in mocking them. The young storks were very angry, and as they grew larger they also did not want to allow this, and their mother had to promise them at last that they could do something to teach him a lesson — but not until the day they were leaving.
“We must first see how you get on at the great sports event.”
“Yes, you shall see!” cried all the young storks and they took the greatest pains, practicing every day, until they flew so evenly and so lightly that it was a pleasure to see them.
The autumn now set in; all the storks began to gather together, in order to start for the warm countries and leave winter behind them. And such sports they had! Young storks had to fly over forests and villages, to see if they were able for the long journey that was before them. So well did our young storks perform that, they got excellent marks with a present of a frog and a snake, which they wasted no time in eating.
“Now,” they said, “it’s time.”
“Yes, certainly,” said their mother; “and I have thought of a way that will surely be the fairest. I know a pond where all the little human children lie till the stork comes to take them to their parents. There lie the pretty little babies, dreaming more sweetly than they ever dream afterwards. All the parents are wishing for one of these little ones, and the children all want a sister or a brother. Now we’ll fly to the pond and bring back a baby for every child who did not sing the naughty song that made game of the storks.”
“But the very naughty boy who was the first to begin the song,” cried the young storks, “what shall we do with him?”
“We won’t bring a little brother for him,” she replied.
“But that good boy,—you have not forgotten him!—the one who said it was a shame to make fun of the animals, we’ll bring him two babies, both a brother and a sister. And because his name is Peter, all of you shall be called Peter, too.”
All was done as the mother had said, the storks were named Peter and so in some countries are still called Peter to this day.