The Heron That Liked Crab-Meat

There was once a heron in a certain place on the edge of a pond. Being old, he sought an easy way of catching fish on which to live. He began by lingering  at the edge of his pond, pretending to be quite irresolute, not eating even the fish within his reach.

Now among the fish lived a crab. He drew near and said: “Uncle, why do you neglect today your usual meals and amusements?” And the heron replied: “So long as I kept fat and flourishing by eating fish, I spent my time pleasantly, enjoying the taste of you. But a great disaster will soon befall you. And as I am old, this will cut short the pleasant course of my life. For this reason I feel depressed.”

“Uncle,” said the crab, “of what nature is the disaster?” And the heron continued: “Today I overheard the talk of a number of fishermen as they passed near the pond. ‘This is a big pond,’ they were saying, ‘full of fish. We will try a cast of the net tomorrow or the day after. But today we will go to the lake near the city.’ This being so, you are lost, my food supply is cut off, I too am lost, and in grief at the thought, I am indifferent to food today.”

Now when the water-dwellers heard the trickster’s report, they all feared for their lives and implored the heron, saying: “Uncle! Father! Brother! Friend! Thinker! Since you are informed of the calamity, you also know the remedy. Pray save us from the . . . this death.”

Then the heron said: “I am a bird not competent to contend with men. This, however, I can do. I can transfer you from this pond to another, a bottomless one.” By this artful speech they were so led astray [78} that they said: “Uncle! Friend! Unselfish kinsman! Take me first! Me first! Did you never hear this?

Then the old rascal laughed in his heart, and took counsel with his mind, thus: “My shrewdness has brought these fishes into my power. They ought to be eaten very comfortably.” Having thus thought it through, he promised what the thronging fish implored, lifted some in his bill, carried them a certain distance to a slab of stone, and ate them there. Day after day he made the trip with supreme delight and satisfaction, and meeting the fish, kept their confidence by ever new inventions.

One day the crab, disturbed by the fear of death, importuned him with the words: “Uncle, pray save me, too, from the jaws of death.” And the heron reflected: “I am quite tired of this unvarying fish diet. I should like to taste him. He is different, and choice.” So he picked up the crab and flew through the air.

But since he avoided all bodies of water and seemed planning to alight on the sun-scorched rock, the crab asked him: “Uncle, where is that pond without any bottom?” And the heron laughed and said: “Do you see that broad, sun-scorched rock? All the water-dwellers have found repose there. Your turn has now come to find repose.”

Then the crab looked down and saw a great rock of sacrifice, made horrible by heaps of fish-skeletons.

Why, he has already eaten these fish whose skeletons are scattered in heaps. So what might be an opportune course of action for me? Yet why do I need to consider?

So, before he drops me there, I will catch his neck with all four claws.”

When he did so, the heron tried to escape, but being a fool, he found no parry to the grip of the crab’s nippers, and had his head cut off.

Then the crab painfully made his way back to [80} the pond, dragging the heron’s neck as if it had been a lotus-stalk. And when he came among the fish, they said: “Brother, why come back?” Thereupon he showed the head as his credentials and said: “He enticed the water-dwellers from every quarter, deceived them with his prevarications, dropped them on a slab of rock not far away, and ate them. But I – further life being predestined – perceived that he destroyed the trustful, and I have brought back his neck. Forget your worries. All the water-dwellers shall live in peace.”

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