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The Crane and the Crab

A Panchantantra Tale

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THERE was a certain Crane, who took up her abode on the borders of a lake There she lived for many years, catching and eating fish, and living a life of ease and luxury. At length, when she had grown old and feeble, she could no longer fish. Then she looked back sorrowfully on the days of her youth and sighed"-
"Alas, why did I not make some provision for my old age when I was young and strong? Now I am too weak to fish, and must. Therefore live upon my wits"; and she took her stand upon the margin of the lake, sighing and moaning.
From the bottom of the pond, a Crab heard her wails and swam to the surface.
"Why, what is the trouble, Friend Crane?" he asked, when he saw her mournful expression.
"Trouble enough!" replied the Crane. As you know, I have, always lived on the banks of this lake, and have caught a few fish every day for my dinner. But now I must soon die, for in a few weeks there will be no more fish here to catch."
"Why, how can that be?" questioned the Crab, now swimming nearer.
"Listen to me," the Crane continued, in the same sad voice. "Yesterday two fishermen passed this way, and one said to the other, 'Here is a pond full of fish. Let us throw our lines in here!' But the other fisherman urged him to go on to another lake not far distant. 'There we shall find even more fish than there are here,' he said. 'Let us therefore clear out that pond first, and then we can come back here.' Agreeing to this, they went off in search of the other lake. Now it is only a few weeks before they will return, and then I must surely die, for they will catch all the fish."
She had no sooner finished than the Crab sank quickly to the bottom to tell the bad news to the fish. Meantime the Crane stood on one leg and waited. Before long, she saw all the fish in the lake swimming rapidly towards her and flapping their fins in great excitement.
"We have just heard the news from the Crab," they gasped, "and our anxiety is so great that we have come to you for help, even though you have always been our enemy. We, as well as you, are now in danger of losing our lives if the fishermen return. Can you think of any escape, good Crane? If so, we beg you to tell us."
The Crane stood very still for a few moments, with her head on one side. Finally she spoke.
"I know of a pool not far from here," she began gravely, "where the water is so clear that you can easily count the grains of sand on the bottom. There you would find plenty of food and be safe from all fishermen, for that pool is enchanted. Now, if you will trust yourselves to me, I will carry three or four of you every day to that pond. I cannot carry more, for I am too old. This is the only escape for you."
The fish, who had listened very attentively to the words of the Crane, could not thank her enough for her kind offer. So it was agreed that that very morning she should begin to carry the fish to the other pond, so that no time should be lost. The Crane took the eager fish gently in her long bill and flew carefully away with them. But no sooner was she out of sight and hearing, than she alighted upon the ground and ate the fish. So, day by day, without any labor, the Crane had plenty of food.
Finally the Crab became anxious to be moved to the enchanted pond. The Crane knew that the Crab was her natural enemy, so she thought that this would be a good chance to get rid of him, too.
"Clasp your claws around my neck and hold fast," said the Crane. Then she spread her wings and flew off. But as they came near to the Crane's feeding-place, the Crab caught sight of the white fish-bones lying on the ground. In an instant he realized the cunning of the Crane.
"So this is the enchanted pond," he cried; and pressing his claws into the Crane's neck, he strangled her, and she fell to the ground dead.

SOURCE: "The Tortoise and the Geese and Other Fables of Bidpai" retold by Maude Barrows Dutton and illustrated by E. Boyd Smith, and published in Boston and New York by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908.

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