IN A lovely swamp on the borders of a river lived a family of grey herons. Each one was tall and thin, with a long graceful neck and a thin pointed beak, and they were a very grave family. None of them ever smiled; they stood in the water for hours together quite silently, and every now and then they ate up something that passed by.
One day the old father heron was standing near the swamp-bridge, nearly hidden by the shady papyrus which waved far over his head, when a frog hopped on to the bridge. At that moment a snake wriggled out of the grass, and stopped in front of the frog. The frog was terrified, but he pretended to be brave.
"Where are you going?" said the snake.
"I have been to the Capital to see my cousins," answered the frog; "and I am returning to my home on the other side of the swamp."
"What is the news in the Capital?" asked the snake.
"They have made a new law," said the frog; "he who assaults his neighbour on the high road will be killed."
"Really," said the snake, laughing; "and who will kill him?"
"The King's soldiers, who are dressed in grey barkcloth," said the frog.
"Well, let them come," laughed the snake, and he opened his mouth to eat the frog; but at that moment the grey heron, who had been standing silently listening to the conversation, suddenly darted forward and picked up the snake in his beak, and held him wriggling in the air.
"Didn't I tell you," said the frog, "that he who assaults his neighbour on the high road will be killed?"
Then the grey heron gobbled up the snake. The frog thanked him very much for saving his life, and he stayed a little while, telling him the news of the Capital.
Just then an eagle flew over the swamp carrying a large branch in his talons. Something must have startled him, for he dropped the branch; the frog saw it dropping and hopped out of the way, but he did not warn the grey heron, and the branch fell on the poor bird and broke his neck.
The other herons came hurrying up and were very angry with the frog.
"Our father saved your life, you ungrateful creature," they said, "and now you let him be killed; if ever we meet you or your children again we will kill you."
Then they took the old grey heron away and made him a beautiful grave under the papyrus where the pink and blue water-lilies grow. And ever since that time grey herons always eat frogs.
I don't think they could ever have been great friends, even in the old days, for the grey herons are quiet, dignified birds, and the frogs have always been noisy chatterboxes, who talk all night when nice people are in bed and asleep.