A Night with a Stork by W. E. Wilcox

Four individuals—namely, my wife, my infant son, my maid-of-all work, and myself—occupy one of a row of very small houses in the suburbs of London. I am a thoroughly domestic man, and notwithstanding that my occupation necessitates absence from my mansion between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., my heart is generally at home, with my diminutive household. My wife, and I, love regularity and quiet above all things; and although, since the arrival of my son, and heir, we had not enjoyed that peace which we did during the first year of our married life, yet his juvenile, though somewhat powerful, little lungs, had as yet failed in making ours a noisy house. Our regularity had, moreover, remained undisturbed, and we got up, went to bed, dined, breakfasted, and took tea at the same time, day after day.

We had been going on in this clockwork fashion for a year and a half, when one morning the postman brought to our door a letter of ominous appearance, and on looking at the direction, I found that it came from an old, rich, and very eccentric uncle of mine, with whom, for certain reasons, we wished to remain on the best of terms. "What can uncle Martin have to write about?" was our simultaneous exclamation, and I opened it with considerable curiosity.

"Martin House, Herts, Oct. 17, 18—.

"Dear Nephew,—

      "You may perhaps have heard that I am forming an aviary here. A friend in Rotterdam has written to me to say that he has sent by the boat, which will arrive in London to-morrow afternoon, a very intelligent parrot and a fine stork. As the vessel arrives too late for them to be sent on the same night, I shall be obliged by your taking the birds home, and forwarding them to me the next morning.—With my respects to your good lady,

"I remain your affectionate uncle,            
"Ralph Martin."

I said nothing, but got a book on natural history, and turned to "Stork." With trembling fingers I passed over the fact of "his hind toe being short, the middle too long, and joined to the outer one by a large membrane, and by a smaller one to the inner toe," because that would not matter much for one night; but I groaned out to my wife the pleasant intelligence that "his height is four feet, his appetite extremely voracious," and "his food—frogs, mice, worms, snails, and eels." Where were we to provide a supper and breakfast of this description for him?

I went to my office, and passed anything but a pleasant day, my thoughts constantly reverting to our expected visitors. At four o'clock I took a cab to the docks, and on arriving there, inquired for the ship, which was pointed out to me as "the one with the crowd upon the quay." On driving up, I discovered why there was a crowd, and the discovery did not bring comfort with it. On the deck, on one leg, stood the stork. Whether it was the sea-voyage, or the leaving his home, or, being a stork of high moral principle, he was grieving at the continual, and rather joyous and exulting swearing of the parrot, I do not know, but I never saw a more melancholy looking object in my life.

I went down on the deck, and did not like the expression of relief that came over the captain's face when he found what I had come for. The transmission of the parrot from the ship to the cab was an easy matter, as he was in a cage, but the stork was merely tethered by one leg; and although he did his best, when brought to the foot of the ladder, in trying to get up, he failed utterly, and had to be half-shoved, half-hauled, all the way—which, as he got astride, after the manner of equestrians, on every other bar, was a work of some difficulty. I hurried him into the cab, and ordering the man to drive as quickly as possible, got in with my guests. At first, I had to keep dodging my head about, to keep my face away from his bill as he turned round; but all of a sudden he broke the little window at the back of the cab, thrust his head through, and would keep it there, notwithstanding I kept pulling him back. Consequently, when we drew up at my door, there was a mob of about a thousand strong around us. I got him in as well as I could, and shut the door.

How can I describe the spending of that evening? how can I get sufficient power out of the English language to let you know what a nuisance that bird was to us? How can I tell you the cool manner in which he inspected our domestic arrangements?—walking slowly into rooms, and standing on one leg until his curiosity was satisfied; the expression of wretchedness that he threw over his entire person when he was tethered to the banisters, and had found out that, owing to our limited accommodation, he was to remain in the hall all night; the way in which he ate the snails specially provided for him, verifying to the letter the naturalist's description of his appetite. How can you, who have not had a stork staying with you, have any idea of the change which came over his temper after his supper—how he pecked at everybody who came near him; how he stood sentinel at the foot of the stairs; how my wife and I made fruitless attempts to get past, followed by ignominious retreats how; at last we outman[oe]uvred him by throwing a table-cloth over his head, and then rushing by him, gaining the top of the stairs before he could disentangle himself.

Added to all this, we had to endure language from that parrot which would have disgraced a pothouse; indeed, so scurrilous did he become, that we had to take him and lock him up in the coal-hole, where, from fatigue, or the darkness of his bedroom, he soon swore himself to sleep.

We were quite ready for rest, and the forgetfulness which, we hoped, sleep, that "balm of hurt minds," would bring with it; but our peace was not to last long. About 2 a.m., I was awakened by my wife, and told to listen; I did so, and heard a sort of scrambling noise outside the door. "What can that be?" thought I. "He has broken his string, and is coming up stairs," said my wife; and then, remembering that the nursery door was generally left open, she urged my immediately stopping his further progress. "But, my dear," said I, "what am I to do in my present defenceless state of clothing, if he should take to pecking?" My wife's expression of the idea of my considering myself before the baby, determined me at once, come what might, to go and do him battle. Out I went, and sure enough there he was on the landing, resting himself, after his unusual exertion, by tucking one leg up. He looked so subdued, that I was about to take him by the string and lead him downstairs, when he drew back his head, and in less time than it takes to relate, I was back in my room, bleeding profusely from a very severe wound in my leg. I shouted out to the nurse to shut the door, and determined to let the infamous bird go where he liked. I bound up my leg and went to bed again; but the thought that there was a stork wandering about the house, prevented me from getting any more sleep. From certain sounds that we heard, we had little doubt but that he was passing some of his time in the cupboard where we kept our spare crockery, and an inspection the next day confirmed this.

In the morning I ventured cautiously out, and finding he was in our spare bedroom, I shut the door upon him. I then went for a large sack, and with the help of the table-cloth, and the boy who cleans our shoes, we got him into it without any personal damage. I took him off in this way to the station, and sent him and the parrot off to my uncle by the first train.

We have determined that, taking our chance about a place in my uncle's will or not, we will never again have anything to do with any foreign animals, however much he may ask and desire it.