Written by Clara D. Pierson.
When the Sand-Hill Cranes were married, they began to work for a home of their own. To be sure, they had chosen a place for it beforehand, yet there were other things to think about, and some of their friends told them it would be very foolish to build on the ground. “There are so many accidents with ground nests,” these friends said. “There are Snakes, you know, and Rats, and a great many other people whom you would not want to have looking in on your children. Besides, something might fall on it.”
The young couple talked this all over and decided to build in a tree. “We are not afraid of Snakes and Rats,” they said, “but we would fear something falling on the nest.” They were talking to quite an old Crane when they said this.
“Do you mean to build in a tree?” he said. “My dear friends, don’t do that. Just think, a high wind might blow the nest down and spoil everything. Do whatever you wish, but don’t build in a tree.” Then he flew away.
“Dear me!” exclaimed young Mrs. Crane, “one tells me to do this and never to do that. Another tells me to do that and never to do this. I shall just please myself since I cannot please my friends.”
“And which place do you choose?” asked her husband, who always liked whatever she did.
“I shall build on the ground,” she said decidedly. “If the tree falls, it may hit the nest and it may not, but if we build in the tree and it falls, we are sure to hit the ground.”
“How wise you are!” exclaimed her husband. “I believe people get in a way of building just so, and come to think that no other way can be right.” Which shows that Mr. Sand-Hill Crane was also wise.
Both worked on the nest, bringing roots and dried grasses with which to build it up. Sometimes they went to dance with their friends, and when they did they bowed most of the time to each other. They did not really care very much about going, because they were so interested in the nest. This they had to build quite high from the ground, on account of their long legs. “If I were a Duck,” said Mrs. Sand-Hill Crane, “it would do very well for me to sit on the nest, but with my legs? Never! I would as soon sit on two bare branches as to have them doubled under me.” So she tried the nest until it was just as high as her legs were long.
When it was high enough, she laid in it two gray eggs with brown spots. After that she did no more dancing, but stood with a leg on either side of the nest, and her soft body just over the eggs to keep them warm. It was very tiresome work, and sometimes Mr. Crane covered the eggs while she was fishing. The Cranes are always very kind to their wives.
This, you know, was the first time that either had had a nest, and it was all new and wonderful to them. They thought that there never had been such a beautiful home. They often stood on the ground beside it, and poked it this way and that way with their bills, and said to each other, “Just look at this fine root that I wove in,” or, “Have you noticed how well that tuft of dried grass looks where I put it?” As it came near the time for their eggs to hatch, they could hardly bear to be away long enough to find food.
One day young Mr. Sand-Hill Crane came home very excited. “Our neighbors, the Cranes who live across the pond,” he said, “had two children hatched this morning.”
“Oh, how glad I am!” cried his wife. “How glad I am! Those eggs were laid just before ours, which means ours must hatch very soon now.”
“That is what I thought,” he said. “I feel so sorry for them, though, for I saw their children, and they are dreadfully homely,—not at all like their parents, who are quite good-looking.”
“I must see them myself,” said his wife, “and if you will cover the eggs while I go for food, I will just peep in on them. I will hurry back.” She flew steadily across the pond, which was not very wide, and asked to see the babies. She had never seen any Crane children, you know, since she herself was little. She thought them very ugly to look at, and wondered how their mother could seem bright and cheerful with two such disappointing children. She said all the polite things that she honestly could, then got something to eat, and flew home. “They are very, very homely,” she said to her husband, “and I think it strange. All their older children are good-looking.”
She had hardly said this when she heard a faint tapping sound in the nest. She looked, and there was the tip of a tiny beak showing through the shell of one egg. She stood on one side of the nest, watching, and her husband stood on the other while their oldest child slowly made his way out. They dared not help for fear of hurting him, and besides, all the other Cranes had told them that they must not.
“Oh, look!” cried the young mother. “What a dear little bill!”
“Ah!” said the young father. “Did you ever see such a neck?”
“Look at those legs,” she cried. “What a beautiful child he is!”
“He looks just like you,” said the father, “and I am glad of it.”
“Ah, no,” she said. “He is exactly like you.” And she began to clear away the broken egg-shell.
Soon the other Crane baby poked her bill out, and again the young parents stood around and admired their child. They could not decide which was more handsome, but they were sure that both were remarkable babies. They felt more sorry than ever for their neighbors across the pond, who had such homely children. They took turns in covering their own damp little Cranes, and were very, very happy.
Before this, it had been easy to get what food they wanted, for there had been two to work for two. Now there were two to work for four, and that made it much harder. There was no time for dancing, and both father and mother worked steadily, yet they were happier than ever, and neither would have gone back to the careless old days for all the food in the pond or all the dances on the beach.
The little Cranes grew finely. They changed their down for pin-feathers, and then these grew into fine brownish gray feathers, like those which their parents wore. They were good children, too, and very well brought up. They ate whatever food was given to them, and never found fault with it. When they left the nest for the first time, they fluttered and tumbled and had trouble learning to walk. A Mud Turtle Father who was near, told them that this was because their legs were too long and too few.
“Well,” said the brother, as he picked himself up and tried to stand on one leg while he drew the other foot out of the tangled grass, “they may be too long, but I’m sure there are enough of them. When I’m thinking about one, I never can tell what the other will do.”
Still, it was not long before they could walk and wade and even fly. Then they met the other pond people, and learned to tell a Stickleback from a Minnow. They did not have many playmates. The saucy little Kingfishers sat on branches over their heads, the Wild Ducks waddled or swam under their very bills, the Fish Hawks floated in air above them, and the Gulls screamed hoarsely to them as they circled over the pond, yet none of them were long-legged and stately. The things that the other birds enjoyed most, they could not do, and sometimes they did not like it very well.
One night they were talking about the Gulls, when they should have been asleep, and their father told them to tuck their heads right under their wings and not let him hear another word from them. They tucked their heads under their wings, but they peeped out between the feathers, and when they were sure their father and mother were asleep, they walked softly away and planned to do something naughty.
“I’m tired of being good,” said the brother. “The Gulls are never good. They scream, and snatch, and contradict, and have lots of fun. Let’s be bad just for fun.”
“All right,” said his sister. “What shall we do?”
“That’s the trouble,” he said. “I can’t think of anything naughty that I really care for.”
Each stood on one leg and thought for a while. “We might run away,” she said.
“Where would we go?” he asked.
“We might go to the meadow,” she said. So they started off in the moonlight and went to the meadow, but all the people there were asleep, except the Tree Frog, and he scrambled out of the way as soon as he saw them coming, because he thought they might want a late supper.
“This isn’t any fun!” said the brother. “Let’s go to the forest.”
They went to the forest, and saw the Bats flitting in and out among the trees, and the Bats flew close to the Cranes and scared them. The Great Horned Owl stood on a branch near them, and stared at them with his big round eyes, and said, “Who? Who?” Then the brother and sister stood closer together and answered, “If you please, sir, we are the Crane children.”
But the Great Horned Owl kept on staring at them and saying “Who? Who?” until they were sure he was deaf, and answered louder and louder still.
The Screech Owls came also, and looked at them, and bent their bodies over as if they were laughing, and nodded their heads, and shook themselves. Then the Crane children were sure that they were being made fun of, so they stalked away very stiffly, and when they were out of sight of the Owls, they flew over toward the farmhouse. They were not having any fun at all yet, and they meant to keep on trying, for what was the good of being naughty if they didn’t?
They passed Horses and Cows asleep in the fields, and saw the Brown Hog lying in the pen with a great many little Brown Pigs and one White Pig sleeping beside her. Nobody was awake except Collie, the Shepherd Dog, who was sitting in the farmyard with his nose in the air, barking at the moon.
“Go away!” he said to the Crane children, who were walking around the yard. “Go away! I must bark at the moon, and I don’t want anybody around.” They did not start quite soon enough to please him, so he dashed at them, and ran around them and barked at them, instead of the moon, until they were glad enough to fly straight home to the place where their father and mother were sleeping with their heads under their wings.
“Are you going to tell them?” asked the brother.
“I don’t know,” answered the sister. When morning came, they looked tired, and their father and mother seemed so worried about them that they told the whole story.
“We didn’t care so very much about what we did,” they said, “but we thought it would be fun to be naughty.”
The father and mother looked at each other in a very knowing way. “A great many people think that,” said the mother gently. “They are mistaken after all. It is really more fun to be good.”
“Well, I wish the Gulls wouldn’t scream, ‘Goody-goody’ at us,” said the brother.
“What difference does that make?” asked his father. “Why should a Crane care what a Gull says?”
“Why, I—I don’t know,” stammered the brother. “I guess it doesn’t make any difference after all.”
The next day when the Crane children were standing on the edge of the pond, a pair of young Gulls flew down near them and screamed out, “Goody-goody!”
Then the Crane brother and sister lifted their heads and necks and opened their long bills, and trumpeted back, “Baddy-baddy!”
“There!” they said to each other. “Now we are even.”