In former days when the birds shared a language that every one understood, it came into the their mind, that they would choose one of themselves to be their king. Only one among them, the green plover, was against this. He had lived free, and would die free, and anxiously flying here and there, he cried, "Where shall I go? where shall I go?" He retired into a solitary and unfrequented marsh, and showed himself no more among his fellows.
The birds now wished to discuss the matter, and on a fine May morning they all gathered together. Even the cuckoo came, and the hoopoe, and a very small bird which as yet had no name, mingled with the band. The hen was astonished at the great gathering.
"What, what, what is going to be done?" she cackled; but the cock calmed his beloved hen, and said, "Only rich people".
It was decided that the one who could fly the highest should be their king. A tree-frog which was sitting among the bushes, when he heard that, cried a warning, "No, no, no! no!" because he thought that many tears would be shed because of this, But the crow said, "Caw, caw," and that all would pass off peaceably.
It was now determined that on this fine morning they should at once begin to ascend, so that no one should be able to say afterwards: "I could easily have flown much higher, but the evening came on, and I could do no more."
On a given signal, therefore, the whole troop rose up in the air. The dust rose from the sand and soil as the birds started to flutter and whirr and beat with their wings. It looked as if a dirty cloud was rising up.
The little birds were soon left behind. They could go no farther, and fell back to the ground. The larger birds held out longer, but none could equal the eagle, who mounted so high that he saw that the others could not get up to him,. Then he thought, "Why fly still higher, now that I have shown I am the king already?". So he began to let himself down again.
The birds beneath him at once cried to him. "You must be our king, no one has flown so high as you."
"Except me," screamed the little fellow without a name, who had crept into the breast-feathers of the eagle. And as he was not at all tired, he rose up and mounted so high that he soon called down with a clear and penetrating voice, "I am the king! Yes!"
"You, our king?" cried the birds angrily. "It was a feat of trick and cunning!" So they made another condition. He should be King who could go down lowest in the ground. How the goose did flap about with its broad breast when it was once more on the land! How quickly the cock scratched a hole! The duck came off the worst of all, for she leapt into a ditch, but sprained her legs, and waddled away to a neighbouring pond, crying, "Cheating, cheating!" The little bird without a name, however, sought out a mouse-hole, slipped down into it, and cried out of it with his small voice, "I am the king! Ah, the king!"
"You our king!" cried the birds still more angrily. "Do you think your cunning makes you worthy?" They determined to keep him a prisoner in the hole and starve him out. The owl was placed as sentinel in front of it, and was not to let the rascal out if she treasured her own life, they threatened her.
When evening had come all the birds were feeling very tired after exerting their wings so much, so they went to bed with their wives and children. The owl alone remained standing by the mouse-hole, gazing steadfastly into it with her great eyes. In the meantime she, too, had grown tired and thought to herself, "I might certainly shut one eye, I will still watch with the other, and the little miscreant shall not come out of his hole."
So she shut one eye, and with the other looked straight at the mouse-hole. The little fellow put his head out and peeped, and wanted to slip away, but the owl came forward at once, and the little bird drew his head back again. Then the owl opened the one eye again, and shut the other, intending to shut them in turn all through the night. But when she next shut the one eye, she forgot to open the other, and as soon as both her eyes were shut she fell asleep. The little fellow soon observed that, and slipped away.
From that day on, the owl has never dared to show herself by daylight, for if she does the other birds chase her and pluck her feathers out. She only flies out by night. Then she seeks out mice. The little bird, too, is very unwilling to let himself be seen, because he is afraid it will cost him his life if he is caught. He steals about in the hedges, and when he is quite safe, he sometimes cries, "I am the king!".
No one, however, was so happy as the lark at not having to obey that little bird. As soon as the sun appears, she ascends high in the air and cries, "Ah, how beautiful that is! beautiful that is! beautiful, beautiful! ah, how beautiful that is!"
Seven Swabians were once together. The first was Master Schulz; the second, Jackli; the third, Marli; the fourth, Jergli; the fifth, Michal; the sixth, Hans; the seventh, Veitli. All seven had made up their minds to travel about the world to seek adventures, and do great deeds. But in order that they might go in security and with arms in their hands, they thought it would be advisable that they should have one solitary, but very strong, and very long spear made for them. This spear all seven of them took in their hands at once; in front walked the boldest and bravest, and that was Master Schulz. All the others followed in a row, and Veitli was the last.
Then it happened one day in the hay-making month (July), when they had walked a long distance, and still had a long way to go before they reached the village where they were to pass the night, that as they were in a meadow in the twilight a great beetle or hornet flew by them from behind a bush, and hummed in a menacing manner.
Master Schulz was so terrified that he all but dropped the spear, and a cold perspiration broke out over his whole body. "Hark! hark!" cried he to his comrades, "Good heavens! I hear a drum."
Jackli, who was behind him holding the spear, and who perceived some kind of a smell, said, "Something is most certainly going on, for I taste powder and matches."
At these words Master Schulz began to take to flight, and in a trice jumped over a hedge, but as he just happened to jump on to the teeth of a rake which had been left lying there after the hay-making, the handle of it struck against his face and gave him a tremendous blow.
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" screamed Master Schulz. "Take me prisoner; I surrender! I surrender!"
The other six all leapt over, one on the top of the other, crying, "If you surrender, I surrender too! If you surrender, I surrender too!"
At length, as no enemy was there to bind and take them away, they saw that they had been mistaken, and in order that the story might not be known, and they be treated as fools and ridiculed, they all swore to each other to hold their peace about it till one of them accidentally spoke of it.
Then they journeyed onwards.
The second danger that they survived cannot be compared with the first. Some days afterwards, their path led them through a fallow-field where a hare was sitting sleeping in the sun. Her ears were standing straight up, and her great glassy eyes were wide open. All of them were alarmed at the sight of the horrible wild beast, and they consulted together as to what it would be the least dangerous to do. For if they were to run away, they feared that the monster would pursue and swallow them whole. So they said, "We must go through a great and dangerous struggle. Boldly ventured, is half won," and all seven grasped the spear, Master Schulz in front, and Veitli behind.
Master Schulz was always trying to keep the spear back, but Veitli had become quite brave while behind, and wanted to dash forward and cried,
"Strike home, in every Swabian's name,
But Hans knew how to meet this, and said,
"Thunder and lightning, it's fine to prate,
"Nothing is wanting, not even a hair,
Then it was Jergli's turn to speak,
"If it be not, it's at least his mother,
And now Marli had a bright thought, and said to Veitli,
"Advance, Veitli, advance, advance,
Veitli, however, did not attend to that, and Jackli said,
"It's Schulz's place to be the first,
Then Master Schulz plucked up his courage, and said, gravely,
"Then let us boldly advance to the fight,
After this they all together set on the dragon. Master Schulz crossed himself and prayed for God's assistance, but as all this was of no avail, and he was getting nearer and nearer to the enemy, he screamed "Oho! oho! ho! ho! ho!" in the greatest anguish. This awakened the hare, which in great alarm darted swiftly away. When Master Schulz saw her thus flying from the field of battle, he cried in his joy.
"Quick, Veitli, quick, look there, look there,
But the Swabian allies went in search of further adventures, and came to the Mosel, a mossy, quiet, deep river. There were few bridges across, and in many places people had to cross in boats. The seven Swabians did not know this; they called to a man who was working on the opposite side of the river, to know how people managed to get across
The distance to them and their way of speaking made the man unable to understand what they wanted, and he said "What? what?" in the way people speak in the neighbourhood of Treves.
Master Schulz thought he was saying, "Wade, wade through the water," and as he was the first, began to set out and went into the Mosel River. It was not long before he sank in the mud and deep waves drove at him. However, his hat was blown on the opposite shore by the wind. A frog sat down beside it, and croaked "Wat, wat, wat."
The other six on the opposite side heard that, and said, "Oho, comrades, Master Schulz is calling us; if he can wade across, why cannot we?"
So they all jumped into the water together in a great hurry, and were drowned. In this way a frog took the lives of all six of them. Not one of the Swabian allies ever reached home again.