Peter Rabbit sat on the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch, staring up
into the sky with his head tipped back until it made his neck ache. Way,
way up in the sky was a black speck sailing across the snowy white face
of a cloud. It didn't seem possible that it could be alive way up there.
But it was. Peter knew that it was, and he knew who it was. It was King
Eagle. By and by it disappeared over towards the Great Mountain. Peter
rubbed the back of his neck, which ached because he had tipped his head
back so long. Then he gave a little sigh.
"I wonder what it seems like to be able to fly like that," said he out
loud, a way he sometimes has.
"Are you envious?" asked a voice so close to him that Peter jumped.
There was Sammy Jay sitting in a little tree just over his head.
"No!" snapped Peter, for it made him a wee bit cross to be so startled.
"No, I'm not envious, Sammy Jay. I'm not envious of any bird. The ground
is good enough for me. I was just wondering, that's all."
"Have you ever seen King Eagle close to?" asked Sammy.
"Once," replied Peter. "Once he came down to the Green Meadows and sat
in that lone tree over there, and I was squatting in a bunch of grass
quite near and could see him very plainly. He is big and fierce-looking,
but he looks his name, every inch a king. I've wondered a good many
times since how it happens that he has a white head."
"Because," replied Sammy, "he is just what he looks to be,--king of the
birds,--and that white head is the sign of his royalty given his
great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather by Old Mother Nature, way back in
the beginning of things."
Peter's eyes sparkled. "Tell me about it, Sammy," he begged. "Tell me
about it, and I won't quarrel with you any more."
"All right, Peter. I'll tell you the story, because it will do you good
to hear it. I supposed everybody knew it. All birds do. That is why we
all look up to King Eagle," replied Sammy.
"Way back in the beginning of things, old King Bear ruled in the Green
Forest, as you know. That is, he ruled the animals and all the little
people who lived on the ground, but he didn't rule the birds. You see
the birds were not willing to be ruled over by an animal. They wanted
one of their own kind. So they refused to have old King Bear as their
king and went to Old Mother Nature to ask her to appoint a king of the
air. Now Mr. Eagle was one of the biggest and strongest and most
respected of all the birds of the air. There were some, like Mr. Goose
and Mr. Swan, who were bigger, but they spent most of their time on the
water or the earth, and they had no great claws or hooked beak to
command respect as did Mr. Eagle. So Old Mother Nature made Mr. Eagle
king of the air, and as was quite right and proper, all the birds
hastened to pay him homage.
"So King Eagle ruled the air and none dared to cross him or to disobey
him. Unlike old King Bear, he accepted no tribute from his subjects but
hunted for himself, and instead of growing fat and lazy, as did old King
Bear, he grew stronger of wing and feared no one and nothing. Now this
was in the days when the world was young, and Old Mother Nature was very
busy trying to make the world a good place to live in, so she had very
little time to look after the birds and the animals. Thus she left
matters very much to King Eagle and old King Bear. They settled all the
quarrels between their subjects, and for a while everything went
"King Eagle made his home on the cliff of a mountain, so that he could
look down on all below and see what was going on. Every day he went down
to the Green Forest and sat on the tallest tree while he listened to the
complaints of the other birds and settled their disputes, and none
questioned his decisions. Now after a while, this little part of the
earth where the animals and the birds first lived became overcrowded. It
became harder and harder to get enough to eat. Quarrels became more
frequent, until King Eagle had little time for anything but
straightening out these troubles and trying to keep peace.
"Old Mother Nature had been away a long time trying to make other parts
of the world fit to live in. No one knew when she was coming back or
just where she was. King Eagle, sitting on the edge of the cliff on the
mountain, thought it all over. Old Mother Nature ought to know how
things were. He would send a messenger to try to find her. So the next
day he called all the birds together and asked who would go out into the
unknown Great World to look for Old Mother Nature and take a message to
"No one offered. This one had a family to look after. That one was not
feeling well. Another had a pain in his wings. One and all they had an
excuse until Hummer, the tiniest of all the birds, was reached. He
darted into the air before King Eagle. 'I'll go,' said he.
"All the others laughed. The very idea of such a tiny fellow going out
to dare the dangers of the unknown Great World seemed to them so absurd
that they just had to laugh. But King Eagle didn't laugh. He thanked
Hummer and told him that his heart was as big as his body was small,
but that he would not send him out into the Great World, for he would go
himself. He had been but trying out his subjects, and he had found but
one who was worthy, and that one was the smallest of them all. Then King
Eagle said things that made all the other birds hang their heads for
shame and want to sneak out of sight.
"After that, he told them that no king who was worthy to be king would
ask his subjects to do what he would not do himself, and that where
there was danger to be faced or something hard to do, it was the king's
place to do it, so he himself was going out into the unknown Great World
to find Mother Nature and see what could be done to make things better
and happier for them. Then he spread his great wings and sailed away,
every inch a king. They watched him until he was a speck in the sky,
and finally he disappeared altogether.
"Day after day they watched for him to come back, but there was no sign
of him; they began to shake their heads and openly talk of choosing a
new king. Only little Mr. Hummer kept his faith and day after day flew
away in the direction old King Eagle had gone, hoping to meet him coming
back. At last a day was set to choose a new king. That morning, as soon
as it was light enough to see, little Mr. Hummer darted away, and his
heart was heavy. He would take no part in choosing a new king. He would
go until he found King Eagle or until something happened to him. Pretty
soon he saw a speck way up against a cloud, a speck no bigger than
himself. It grew bigger and bigger, and at last he knew that it was
King Eagle himself. Little Mr. Hummer turned and flew as he never had
flown before. He wanted to get back before a new king was chosen, so
that King Eagle might never know that his subjects had lost faith in
"He was so out of breath when he reached the other birds that he
couldn't say a word for a few minutes. Then he told them that King Eagle
was coming. The other birds had proved that they were not brave when
they had refused to go out in search of Old Mother Nature, and now they
proved it again. Instead of waiting to give King Eagle a royal welcome,
they hurried away, one after another. They were afraid to meet him,
because in their hearts they knew that they had done a cowardly thing in
deciding to choose a new king. So when King Eagle, weary and with torn
wings and broken tail feathers, dropped down to the tall tree in the
Green Forest, there was none to give him greeting save little Mr.
"King Eagle said nothing about the failure of the other birds to give
him greeting but at once sent little Mr. Hummer around to tell all the
others that far away he had found Old Mother Nature preparing a new land
for them, and that when she gave the word, he would lead them to it.
Then King Eagle flew to his home on the cliff of the mountain, and not
one word did he ever say of his terrible journey, of how he had gone
hungry, had been beaten by storms, and had suffered from cold and
weariness, yet never once had turned back.
"But when Old Mother Nature came later and announced that the new land
was ready for the birds, she first called them together and told them
all that King Eagle had suffered, and how he had proved himself a royal
king. As a reward she promised that his family should be rulers over the
birds forever, and as a sign that this should be so, she reached forth
and touched his black head, and it became snowy white, and all the birds
cried 'Long live the king!'
"Then Old Mother Nature turned to tiny Mr. Hummer and touched his
throat, and behold a shining ruby was there, the reward of loyalty,
faith, and bravery.
"Then King Eagle mounted into the air and proudly led the way to the
promised land. And so the birds went forth and peopled the Great World,
and King Eagle and his children and his children's children have ruled
the air ever since and have worn the snowy crown which King Eagle of
long ago so bravely won."