The Storks

: Hans Andersens Fairy Tales

ON the last house in the village there lay a stork's nest. The mother

stork sat in it with her four little ones, who were stretching out their

heads with their pointed black bills that had not yet turned red. At a

little distance, on the top of the roof, stood the father stork, bolt

upright and as stiff as could be. That he might not appear quite idle

while standing sentry, he had drawn one leg up under him, as is the

anner of storks. One might have taken him to be carved in marble, so

still did he stand.

"It must look very grand for my wife to have a sentinel to guard her

nest," he thought. "They can't know that I am her husband and will, of

course, conclude that I am commanded to stand here by her nest. It looks


Below, in the street, a crowd of children were playing. When they

chanced to catch sight of the storks, one of the boldest of the boys

began to sing the 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.

Thy dear wife sits in the nest,

To lull the little ones to rest.

"There's a halter for one,

There's a stake for another,

For the third there's a gun,

And a spit for his brother!"

"Only listen," said the young storks, "to what the boys are singing. Do

you hear them say we're to be hanged and shot?"

"Don't listen to what they say; if you don't mind, it won't hurt you,"

said the mother.

But the boys went on singing, and pointed mockingly at the sentinel

stork. Only one boy, whom they called Peter, said it was a shame to make

game 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 hanged,

The second be hit."

"Tell us, are we to be hanged and burned?" asked the young storks.

"No, no; certainly not," replied the mother. "You are to learn to fly,

and then we shall 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 assemble, and the autumn

sports will begin; only then one must be able to fly well, for that is

very important. Whoever does not fly as he should will be pierced to

death by the general's beak, so mind that you learn well, when the drill


"Yes, but then, after that, we shall be killed, as the boys say. Hark!

they are singing it again."

"Attend to me and not to them," said the mother stork. "After the great

review 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 into

mire. We shall go into the mire and eat 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 feasting there so comfortably, in this country

there is not a green leaf left on the trees. It is so cold here that the

very 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 come near it, and they

will sit moping and cowering in gloomy rooms while you are flying about

in foreign lands, amid bright flowers and warm sunshine."

Some time passed, and the nestlings 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 dainties that storks delight in. How funny it was to see the

clever feats he performed to amuse them! He would lay his head right

round upon his tail; and sometimes he would clatter with his beak, as if

it were a little rattle; or he would tell them stories, all relating to

swamps and fens.

"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 ridge of the

roof. How they did totter and stagger 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

thus you must 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 boys come to hang, to burn, or to roast you? Well, then,

I'll call them."

"Oh, no!" cried the timid stork, hopping back to the roof with the rest.

By the third day they actually began to fly a little. Then they had no

doubt that they could soar or hover in the air, upborne by their wings.

And this they attempted 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. Attend 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 graceful and proper

that to-morrow you shall fly with me to the marsh. Several of the nicest

stork families will be there with their children. Let me see that mine

are the best bred of all. Carry your heads high and mind you strut about

proudly, for that looks well and helps to make one respected."

"But shall we not take revenge upon the naughty boys?" asked the young


"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 revenge ourselves," they whispered one to another. And then

the training began again.

Among all the children down in the street the one that seemed most bent

upon singing the song that made game of the storks 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, for he was

much bigger than their parents, and, besides, what did they know about

the ages of either children or grown men? Their whole vengeance was to

be aimed at this one boy. It was always he who began the song and

persisted in mocking them. The young storks were very angry, and as they

grew larger they also grew less patient under insult, and their mother

was at last obliged to promise them that they might be revenged--but not

until the day of their departure.

"We must first see how you carry yourselves at the great review. If you

do so badly that the general runs his beak through you, then the boys

will be in the right--at least in one way. We must wait and see!"

"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 assemble, in order to

start for the warm countries and leave winter behind them. And such

exercises as there were! Young fledglings were set to fly over forests

and villages, to see if they were equal to the long journey that was

before them. So well did our young storks acquit themselves, that, as a

proof of the satisfaction they had given, the mark they got was,

"Remarkably well," with a present of a frog and a snake, which they lost

no time in eating.

"Now," said they, "we will be revenged."

"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?"

"There is a little dead child in the pond--one that has dreamed itself

to death. We will bring that for him. Then he will cry because we have

brought a little dead brother to him.

"But that good boy,--you have not forgotten him!--the one who said it

was a shame to mock at the animals; for him we will bring 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

they are called to this day.