A sparrow had four young ones in a swallow's nest. When they were fledged, some naughty boys pulled out the nest, but fortunately all the birds got safely away in the high wind. Then the old bird was grieved that as his sons had all gone out into the world, he had not first warned them of every kind of danger, and given them good instruction how to deal with each.
In the autumn a great many sparrows assembled together in a wheatfield, and there the old bird met his four children again, and full of joy took them home with him. 'Ah, my dear sons, how I have been worrying about you all through the summer, because you got away in the wind without my teaching. Listen to my words, obey your father, and be well on your guard. Little birds have to encounter great dangers.' And then he asked the eldest where he had spent the summer, and how he had supported himself.
'I stayed in the gardens, and looked for caterpillars and small worms, until the cherries were ripe.'
'Ah, my son,' said the father, 'tit-bits are not bad, but there is great risk about them. On that account take great care of yourself henceforth, and particularly when people are going about the gardens who carry long green poles which are hollow inside and have a little hole at the top.'
'Yes, father, but what if a little green leaf is stuck over the hole with wax,' said the son.
'Where have you seen that?'
'In a merchant's garden,' said the youngster.
'Oh, my son, merchant folks are smart folks,' said the father. 'If you have been among the children of the world, you have learned worldly craftiness enough, only see that you use it well, and do not be too confident.'
Then he asked the next, 'Where have you passed your time?'
'At court,' said the son.
'Sparrows and silly little birds are of no use in that place. There one finds much gold, velvet, silk, armor, harnesses, sparrow-hawks, screech-owls and lanners. Keep to the horses, stable where they winnow oats, or thresh, and then fortune may give you your daily grain of corn in peace.'
'Yes, father,' said the son, 'but when the stable-boys make traps and fix their gins and snares in the straw, many a one is caught.'
'Where have you seen that?' said the old bird.
'At court, among the stable-boys.'
'Oh, my son, court boys are bad boys. If you have been to court and among the lords, and have left no feathers there, you have learnt a fair amount, and will know very well how to go about the world, but look around you and above you, for the wolves often devour the wisest dogs.'
The father examined the third also, 'Where did you seek your fortune?'
'I have cast my tub and rope on the cart-roads and highways, and sometimes met with a grain of corn or barley.'
'That is indeed dainty fare,' said the father, 'but take care what you are about and look carefully around, especially when you see anyone stooping and about to pick up a stone, for then you have not much time to waste.'
'That is true,' said the son, but what if anyone should carry a bit of rock, or ore, ready beforehand in his breast or pocket?'
'Where have you seen that?'
'Among the miners, dear father. When they get out of the pit, they generally take little bits of ore with them. Mining folks are working folks, and clever folks.'
'If you have been among mining lads, you have seen and learnt something, but when you go thither beware, for many a sparrow has been brought to a bad end by a mining boy throwing a piece of cobalt.'
At length the father came to the youngest son, 'You, my dear chirping nestling, were always the silliest and weakest. Stay with me, the world has many rough, wicked birds which have crooked beaks and long claws, and lie in wait for poor little birds and swallow them. Keep with those of your own kind, and pick up little spiders and caterpillars from the trees, or the houses, and then you will live long in peace.'
'My dear father, he who feeds himself without injury to other people fares well, and no sparrow-hawk, eagle, or kite will hurt him if he commits himself and his lawful food, evening and morning, faithfully to God, who is the creator and preserver of all forest and village birds, who likewise heareth the cry and prayer of the young ravens, for no sparrow or wren ever falls to the ground except by his will.'
'Where have you learnt this?'
The son answered, 'when the great blast of wind tore me away from you I came to a church, and there during the summer I have picked up the flies and spiders from the windows, and heard this discourse preached. The father of all sparrows fed me all the summer through, and kept me from all misfortune and from ferocious birds.'
'Indeed, my dear son, if you take refuge in the churches and help to clear away spiders and buzzing flies, and chirp unto God like the young ravens, and commend yourself to the eternal creator, all will be well with you, and that even if the whole world were full of wild malicious birds. He who to God commits his ways, in silence suffers, waits, and prays, preserves his faith and conscience pure, he is of God's protection sure.'