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 uncertain how to act, 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 prey?” And the heron replied: “So long as I kept fat and flourishing by eating fish, I spent my time pleasantly. 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 cast our net tomorrow or the day after. But today we will go to the lake near the city.” This being so, you are going to get caught. My food supply would be cut off, I would go hungry, and in grief at the thought, I am indifferent to food today.”

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

Then the heron said: “I am a bird; not competent to fight with men. However, using my flight, I can transfer you from this pond to another, a bottomless one.” By this artful speech they were so led astray that they said: “Uncle! Friend! Take me first! Me first!”

Then the old rascal laughed in his heart, and thought: “My shrewdness has brought these fish 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 had a belly full of meal.

One day the crab asked the heron, “Uncle, you are taking everyone to the faraway lake and not me. Why don’t you take me there today and save my life?” Tired with eating fish every day, the heron too was happy to carry the crab to the lake that did not exist. 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 rest there. Your turn has now come to find peace.”

Then the crab looked down and saw a great rock of sacrifice, made horrible by heaps of fish-bones. He thought, “This heron has already eaten these fish whose skeletons are scattered in heaps. So what might be an opportune course of action for me? He may be old and elder to me but he is wicked and deserves punishment for his trickery. I must quickly think of a way to save myself. 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 defence to the grip of the crab’s nippers, and had his head cut off.

Then the crab painfully made his way back to 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 lies, dropped them on a slab of rock not far away, and ate them. But I perceived that he destroyed the trustful, and I have brought back his neck. Forget your worries. All the water-dwellers shall live in peace.”