The Cunning Crane and the Crab
Once upon a time a number of fish lived in a little pool. It was all very well while there was rain; but when summer came, and it began to be very hot, the water dried up and got lower and lower, until there was hardly enough to hide the fish.
Now not far away there was a beautiful lake, always fresh and cool; for it lay under the shadow of great trees, and it was covered all over with water-lilies. And a Crane lived on the banks of this lake.
The Crane used to eat fish, when he could catch any; and one day, coming to the little pool, he saw all the fish gasping in it, and thought of a neat trick to get hold of them without trouble.
“Dear Fish,” said the Crane, “I am so sorry to see you cooped up in this hole. I know a beautiful lake close by, deep and fresh and cool, and if you like I will carry you there.”
The Fish did not know what to make of this, because never since the world began had a crane done a good turn to a fish. You see it is just as absurd to suppose that a crane would help fish, as to think that a cat would be kind to a mouse.
So they said to the Crane, “We don’t believe you; what you want is to eat us.”
This was just what the Crane did want, but he did not say so. “No, no!” said he; “I’m not so cruel as all that. I have eaten a fish now and then”—he saw it was of no use denying that, because they knew he had—“but I have plenty of other food, and it goes to my heart to see you here. In this hot water you will all be boiled fish before long!”
“That’s true enough,” said the Fish; “the water is hot.” Well, the end of it was, they persuaded an old Fish with one eye to go and see.
The Crane took the one-eyed Fish in his beak and put him in the lake; and when he had seen that what the Crane said was true so far, he carried the Fish back again to tell the others.
The old Fish could not say enough to praise the lake. “It’s ever so big,” he said, “and deep and cool, just as the Crane said; and there are trees overshadowing it, and water-lilies are growing in the mud; and the whole of it is covered with fine fat flies! Ah, what a feast I have had!” And he rolled up his one eye at the thought of it.
Then all the Fish were eager to go. And now it was who should be first; every Fish was anxious to remain no longer in the pool. They came to the top of the water, all begging the Crane to take them to this beautiful lake.
“One at a time!” said the Crane. “I have only one beak, you know!” And he smiled to himself, for that beak was made to eat fish, not to carry them.
However, it was decided that as the one-eyed Fish had been so brave as to trust himself in the Crane’s beak, before he knew what the truth was, he certainly deserved to go first.
So the Crane took the one-eyed Fish in his beak, and carried him over to the lake. But this time he did not drop the Fish in; he laid him in the cleft of a tree, and pecked his one eye out with his beak; then he killed him, and ate him up, and dropped his bones at the foot of the tree.
By-and-by the Crane came back for another. “Now then, who’s next?” asked the Crane. “Old One-eye is swimming about, as happy as a king!” He picked up another fish, and served him like the first, dropping his bones at the foot of the tree.
And so it went on, until in a few days the pool was empty. The cunning Crane had eaten every single one of the fish! He stood on the bank, peering into every hole, to see whether there might not be a little one left somewhere. There was one, surely! No, it was a Crab. Never mind, he thought; all’s fish that comes to my net!
So he invited the Crab to come with him to the lake.
“Why, how are you going to carry me?” asked the Crab.
“In my beak, to be sure!” replied the Crane.
“You might drop me,” said the Crab, “and then I should split.”
“Oh no, I promise I won’t drop you!” said the Crane. But the Crab had more sense than all the fish put together, and he did not believe in the Crane’s friendship at all. So he still pretended to hesitate, and at last he said:
“Well, I’ll tell you what. I can hold on tighter with my claws than you can with your beak. I’ll come, but you must let me hold on to your neck with my claws. Then I shall feel safe.”
The Crane was so hungry that, without stopping to think, he agreed; and then the Crab got tight hold of his neck with his claws, and the Crane carried him towards the lake.
But after a while the Crab saw that he was being carried somewhere else, indeed to that tree where the Crane used to sit and eat the fish.
“Crane dear,” said he, “aren’t you going to put me in the lake?”
“Crane dear, indeed!” said the Crane, “do you suppose I was born to carry crabs about? Not I! Just look at that heap of bones under yon tree! Those are the bones of the fish that used to live in your pool. I ate them, and I’m going to eat you!”
“Are you, though!” said the Crab, and gave the Crane’s neck a little nip.
Then the Crane saw what a fool he had been to let a Crab put a claw round his neck. He knew that the Crab could kill him if he liked, and he was frightened to death at the thought. People who try to deceive others often pay for it themselves; and that is what happened to the Crane.
“Dear Crab!” said he, with tears streaming from his eyes, “forgive me! I won’t kill you, only let me go!”
“Just put me in the lake, then,” said the Crab.
The Crane stepped down to the lakeside, and laid the Crab upon the mud. And the Crab, as soon as he felt himself safe, nipped off the Crane’s head as clean as if it had been cut with a knife.
So perished the treacherous Crane, caught by his own trick. And the Crab lived happily in the beautiful lake for the rest of his life.