Many years ago, there lived in the Black Forest an old clock-maker who barely earned a living with his work. His little house was surrounded by Linden trees and when the windows were open in the summertime, he could hear the merry songs of the birds of the forest all day long. When winter came and the snow covered the ground and lay heavily on the linden trees and icicles decorated the window sill, all was quiet.
How happy the old man became when the first cuckoo came to announce the arrival of spring with his distinctive “cuckoo cuckoo” The other birds of the forest did not like the cuckoo bird because it is very lazy and has the bad habit of laying it’s eggs in the nests of the other birds. It was always a surprise when among young fledglings, a cuckoo appeared who would open its beak wider than all the others and steal the best morsels that the mother bird brought to the nest. Sometimes the birds’ parents became very angry at the intruder and threw the stranger out of the nest.
One day the old clock maker was on his way home from the village and found a little cuckoo bird on the ground not far from his little cottage. It had been thrown out of the nest and fluttered to the ground since it had not yet learned how to fly by itself. The old man took pity on the poor little frightened bird. He was afraid that a cat might get the helpless little bird, so he picked it up and took it home with him. It did not take the cuckoo long to realize that the old clock-maker was his friend. Soon he gained strength and learned to fly. The bird liked it in the old clock-shop and would fly around the room and sit on the different clocks happily singing his cuckoo song. Sometimes when the window was open he flew into the forest but he always returned at the end of the day.
Then one day things began to happen in the forest. The king and all his men had come to hunt the big stag that lived in the Black Forest. The village was buzzing because the king had brought along his young daughter, the princess. She was a beautiful child but was very frail and unhappy. The king thought that the excitement of the hunt and the ride in the Black Forest would bring color to her cheeks and a smile to her lips.
The old man was working hard in his shop among the friendly tick-tock of his clocks. From far away he heard the sound of the hunter’s horn. The little cuckoo must have heard it too and was greatly disturbed. He flew back from the open window and hid among the clocks for he was not accustomed to all this commotion and the strange people wandering about.
When the king came to the cottage, he remembered that this was the home of the old clock-maker and he decided to show the princess how clocks were made. He was very disappointed because the princess had remained sad and disinterested despite all the merriment of the hunt. The clock-maker was very frightened when the king and the princess and all the king’s men in their fancy dress entered his humble shop but he did his best to show the princess his clocks with their beautifully painted faces, their carved cases and their busy “tick-tock”. The little princess still did not seem interested. Then the little cuckoo peeked out from his hiding place and felt sorry for the princess. He flew to the top of the prettiest of all clocks and began to sing “cuckoo, cuckoo” in his loudest voice. When the princess heard and saw this, she clapped her hands in glee and broke out in merry laughter.
The king and all his men were pleased to see the change in the princess and decided that she should have the clock and the little bird. Just as the king called for his money, the bird became frightened and flew out the window into the forest. The king was very disappointed that he could not give his daughter the present that gave her so much joy and the princess became very sad again and began to cry. This scene touched the old clock-maker’s heart. He thought hard and finally took her hand and promised to make her a Black Forest cuckoo clock and have it ready for Christmas if she would only laugh and smile again.
The king was very pleased and promised the old man much gold and high honor at his court.
After the hunters had left, the old man thought over what he had promised and became worried. How could he possibly keep his promise to deliver a clock and a cuckoo? Who would take care of the little bird? Would the little bird continue to sing in the big palace away from his home in the forest? He thought and thought and finally the idea came to him that instead of a real live bird he would carve one out of wood and make it sing like a real cuckoo.
He worked day and night and finally when the first snow of the winter again covered the ground like a blanket of white, his masterpiece was finished. He had placed the wooden cuckoo inside the clock case and made it come out of a little door every hour and half hour to call out the time with its friendly song. He had decorated the case with the leaves and branches of the forest to make the little bird feel at home.
He carefully wrapped the clock and hurried to the far away palace of the king. What joy the princess had when the old clock-maker gave her the clock with the cuckoo bird. She stood on her tip-toe to watch the little bird come out of the door and was happy all day long.
The king was so pleased that he gave the clock-maker much gold and wanted him to stay at the palace. The old man shook his head and said that he would rather go home to his shop in the Black Forest. The king had many visitors and the princess would always show them her Black Forest cuckoo clock. Thus it came about that many people wanted cuckoo clocks just as the princess and the old man of the forest was kept busy making many, many more.