Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation | Annotated Tale

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How Old Craney-Crow Lost His Head

ONE day, while Uncle Remus was preparing some wild cherry bark for a decoction which he took for his rheumatism, the little boy, who was an interested spectator of the proceedings, chanced to hear a noise overhead. Looking up, he saw a very large bird flying over. He immediately called the attention of Uncle Remus to the bird, which was indeed a singular-looking creature. Its long neck stretched out in front, and its long legs streamed out behind. Its wings were not very large, and it had no tail to speak of, but it flew well and rapidly, apparently anxious to reach its destination in the shortest possible time.

                Uncle Remus shaded his eyes with his right hand as he gazed upward at the bird. “Laws-a-mussy!” he exclaimed; “is dey anybody yever see de beat er dat!” He knew well that the bird was a blue heron going to join its kindred in Florida, but he affected great surprise at sight of the bird, and continued to gaze at it as long as it remained in sight. He drew a long breath when it could no longer be seen, and shook his head sadly. “Ef she ain’t got no mo’ sense dan what her great-grandaddy had, I’m mighty sorry fer her,” he declared.

                “What kind of a bird is it, Uncle Remus?” the child inquired.

                “Folks useter call um Craney-Crows, honey, but now dey ain’t got no name but des plain blue crane--an’ I dunner whedder dey er wuff sech a big name. Yit I ain’t got nothin’ ag’in um dat I knows un. Mo’ dan dat, when I ermembers ’bout de ol’ grandaddy crane what drifted inter deze parts, many’s de long time ago, ’twouldn’t take much fer ter make me feel right sorry fer de whole kit an’ bilin’ un um--dey er sech start natchul fools.”

                “But what is there to be sorry about, Uncle Remus?” the little boy asked. He was rapidly learning to ask questions at the proper time.

                “’Bout dey havin’ sech a little grain er sense, honey. Ef you know’d what I does, I dunner ef you’d be tickled, er ef you’d feel sorry, an’ it’s de same way wid me. When I think er dat ol’ Great-Grandaddy Crane, I dunner whedder ter laugh er cry.”

                This was small satisfaction to the little boy, and he was compelled to inquire about it. As this was precisely what the old negro wanted him to do, he lost nothing by being inquisitive. “Dey wuz one time--I dunno de day, an’ I dunno de year, but ’twuz one time--dey come a big storm. De win’ blow’d a harrycane, an’ de rain rained like all de sky an’ de clouds in it done been turn ter water. De win’ blow’d so hard dat it lifted ol’ Craney-Crow fum his roost in de lagoons way down yan’ whar dey live at, an’ fotch ’im up in deze parts, an’ when he come, he come a-whirlin’. De win’ tuck ’im up, it did, an’ turn ’im roun’ an’ roun’, an’ when he lit whar he did, he stagger des like he wuz drunk--you know how you feel when you been turnin’ roun’ an’ roun’. Well, dat wuz de way wid him; he wuz so drunk dat he hatter lean up ag’in a tree.

                “But ’twant long ’fo’ he ’gun ter feel all right, an’ he look roun’ fer ter see whar he at. He look an’ he look, but he ain’t fin’ out, kaze he wuz a mighty fur ways fum home. Yit he feel de water half-way up his legs, an’ ef ol’ Craney-Crow is in a place whar he kin do a little wadin’, he kinder has de home-feelin’--you know how dat is yo’se’f. Well, dar he wuz, a mighty fur ways fum home, an’ yit up ter his knees in water, an’ he des stood dar, he did, an’ tuck his ease, hopin’ fer better times bimeby. Now, de place whar he wuz blow’d ter wuz Long Cane Swamp, an’ I wish I had time fer ter take you over dar an’ show you right whar he wuz at when he lit, an’ I wish I had time fer ter take you all thoo de Swamp an’ let you see fer yo’se’f what kinder Thing it is. ’Tain’t only des a Swamp; it’s sump’n wuss ’n dat. You kin stan’ in de middle un it, an’ mos’ hear it ketch its breff, an’ dat what make I say dat ’tain’t no Swamp, fer all it look like one.

                “Well, dar wuz ol’ Craney-Crow, an’ dar wuz de Thing you call de Swamp, an’ bimeby de sun riz an’ let his lamp shine in dar in places; an den’ ol’ Craney-Crow had time fer ter look roun’ an’ see whar he wuz at. But when he fin’ out, he ain’t know no mo’ dan what he know at fus’. Now, you kin say what you please, an’ you kin laugh ef you wanter, but I’m a-gwine ter tell you dat de Swamp know’d dat dey wuz somebody dar what ain’t b’long dar. Ef you ax me how de Swamp know’d, I’ll shake my head an’ shet my eyes; an’ ef you ax me how I know it know’d, I’ll des laugh at you. You’ll hatter take my word er leave it, I don’t keer which. But dar ’twuz. De Swamp know’d dat somebody wuz dar what ain’t b’long dar, an’ it went ter sleep an’ had bad dreams, an’ it keep on havin’ dem dreams all day long.”

                The little boy had accepted Uncle Remus’s statements up to this point, but when he said that the Swamp went to sleep and had bad dreams, the child fairly gasped with doubtful astonishment. “Why, Uncle Remus, how could a swamp go to sleep?”

                “It’s des like I tell you, honey; you kin take my word er you kin leave it. One way er de yuther, you won’t be no better off dan what you is right now. All I know is dis, dat you can’t tell no tale ter dem what don’t b’lieve it.”

                “Do you believe it, Uncle Remus? Mother says the stories are fables.” Thus the little boy was imbued, without knowing it, with the modern spirit of scientific doubt.

                “Does you speck I’d tell you a tale dat I don’t b’lieve? Why, I dunner how I’d put de words one atter de yuther. Whensomever you ain’t b’lievin’ what I’m a-tellin’, honey, des le’ me know, an’ I won’t take de time an’ trouble fer ter tell it.”

                “Well, tell me about the Swamp and old Craney-Crow,” said the little boy, placing his small hand on Uncle Remus’s knee coaxingly.

                “Well, suh, ef so be I must, den I shill. Whar wuz I? Yasser! de Swamp, bein’ wide-awake all night long, is bleeze ter sleep endurin’ er de day, an’ so, wid ol’ Craney-Crow stannin’ in de water, when de sun rise up, de Swamp know dat sump’n wuz wrong, an’ it went ter sleep an’ had mighty bad dreams. De sun riz an’ riz; it come up on one side er de Swamp, an’ atter so long a time stood over it an’ look down fer ter see what de matter. But bright ez de lamp er de sun wuz, it can’t light up de Swamp, an’ so it went on over an’ went down on t’er side.

                “De day wuz in about like deze days is, an’ whiles de sun wuz s’archin’ roun’ tryin’ fer ter fin’ out what de trouble is in de Swamp, ol’ Craney-Crow wuz wadin’ ’bout in de water tryin’ ter fin’ some frog steak fer his dinner, er maybe a fish fer ter whet his appetite on. But dey wa’n’t nary frog ner nary fish, kaze de Swamp done gone ter sleep. De mo’ ol’ Craney-Crow waded de mo’ shallerer de water got, twel bimeby day wa’n’t nuff fer ter mo’ dan wet his foots. He say, ‘Hey! how come dis?’ But he ain’t got no answer, kaze de Swamp, wid all its bad dreams, wuz soun’ asleep. Dey wuz pools er water roun’ an’ about, an’ ol’ Craney-Crow went fum one ter de yuther, an’ fum yuther ter t’other, but ’tain’t do him no good. He went an’ stood by um, he did, but whiles he stannin’ dar, dey wa’n’t a riffle on top un um. Bimeby he got tired er walkin’ about, an’ he stood on one leg fer ter res’ hisse’f--dough ef anybody’ll tell me how you gwineter res’ yo’se’f wid stannin’ on one leg, I’ll set up an’ tell um tales fum now tell Chris’mus, kaze ef I git tired I kin stan’ on one leg an’ do my restin’ dat a-way.

                “Well, den, dar wuz ol’ Craney-Crow, an’ dar wuz de Swamp. Ol’ Craney-Crow wuz wide-awake, but de Swamp wuz fast asleep an’ dreamin’ bad dreams like a wil’ hoss an’ waggin gwine down hill. But de Swamp wa’n’t no stiller dan ol’ Craney-Crow, stannin’ on one leg wid one eye lookin’ in de tops er de trees, an’ de yuther one lookin’ down in de grass. But in de Swamp er out’n de Swamp, time goes on an’ night draps down, an’ dat’s de way it done dis time. An’ when night drapped down, de Swamp kinder stretch itse’f an’ ’gun ter wake up. Ol’ Brer Mud Turkle opened his eyes an’ sneeze so hard dat he roll off de bank inter de water--kersplash--an’ he so close ter ol’ Craney-Crow dat he fetched a hop sideways, an’ come mighty nigh steppin’ on Mr. Billy Black Snake. Dis skeer’d ’im so dat he fetched an’er hop, an’ mighty nigh lit on de frog what he been huntin’ fer. De frog he say ‘hey!’ an’ dove in de mud-puddle.

                “Atter dat, when ol’ Craney-Crow move ’bout, he lif’ his foots high, an’ he done like de ladies does when dey walk in a wet place. De whole caboodle wuz bran’ new ter ol’ Craney-Crow, an’ he look wid all his eyes, an’ lissen wid all his years. Dey wuz sump’n n’er gwine on, but he can’t make out what ’twuz. He ain’t never is been in no swamp befo’, mo’ speshually a Swamp what got life in it. He been useter ma’shy places, whar dey ain’t nothin’ but water an’ high grass, but dar whar he fin’ hisse’f atter de harrycane, dey wa’n’t no big sight er water, an’ what grass dey wuz, wa’n’t longer ’n yo’ finger. Stidder grass an’ water, dey wuz vines, an’ reeds, an’ trees wid moss on um dat made um look like Gran’suh Graybeard, an’ de vines an’ creepers look like dey wuz reachin’ out fer ’im.

                “He walked about, he did, like de groun’ wuz hot, an’ when he walk he look like he wuz on stilts, his legs wuz so long. He hunt roun’ fer a place fer ter sleep, an’ whiles he wuz doin’ dat he tuck notice dat dey wuz sump’n n’er gwine on dat he ain’t never is see de like un. De jacky-ma-lantuns, dey lit up an’ went sailin’ roun’ des like dey wuz huntin’ fer ’im an’ de frogs, dey holler at ’im wid, ‘What you doin’ here? What you doin’ here?’ Mr. Coon rack by an’ laugh at ’im; Mr. Billy Gray Fox peep out’n de bushes an’ bark at ’im; Mr. Mink show ’im de green eyes, an’ Mr. Whipperwill scol’ ’im.

                “He move ’bout, he did, an’ atter so long a time dey let ’im ’lone, an’ den when dey wa’n’t nobody ner nothin’ pesterin’ ’im, he ’gun ter look roun’ fer hisse’f. Peepin’ fust in one bush an’ den in an’er, he tuck notice dat all de birds what fly by day had done gone ter bed widout der heads. Look whar he mought, ol’ Craney-Crow ain’t see na’er bird but what had done tuck his head off ’fo’ he went ter bed. Look close ez he kin, he ain’t see no bird wid a head on. Dis make ’im wonder, an’ he ax hisse’f how come dis, an’ de onliest answer what he kin think un is dat gwine ter bed wid der heads on wuz done gone out er fashion in dat part er de country.

                “Now, you kin say what you please ’bout de creeturs an’ der kin’--’bout de fowls dat fly, an’ de feathery creeturs what run on de groun’--you kin say what you please ’bout um, but dey got pride; dey don’t wanter be out’n de fashion. When it comes ter dat, deyer purty much like folks, an’ dat ’uz de way wid ol’ Craney-Crow; he don’t wanter be out er fashion. He ’shame’ fer ter go ter bed like he allers been doin’, kaze he ain’t want de yuthers fer ter laugh an’ say he ’uz fum de country deestrick, whar dey dunno much. Yit, study ez he mought, he dunner which a-way ter do fer ter git his head off. De yuthers had der heads un’ der wing. But he ain’t know dat.

                “He look roun’, he did, fer ter see ef dey ain’t some un he kin ax ’bout it, an’ he ain’t hatter look long nudder, fer dar, settin’ right at ’im, wuz ol’ Brer Pop-Eye.”

                “But, Uncle Remus, who was old Brother Pop-Eye?” inquired the little boy.

                “Nobody in all de roun’ worl’, honey, but Brer Rabbit. He had one name fer de uplan’ an’ an’er name fer de bottom lan’--de swamps an’ de dreens. Wharsomever dar wuz any mischieviousness gwine on, right dar wuz Brer Rabbit ez big ez life an’ twice ez natchul. He wuz so close ter ol’ Craney-Crow dat he hatter jump when he seed ’im. Brer Pop-Eye say: ‘No needs fer ter be skeer’d, frien’ Craney-Crow. You may be mo’ dan sho dat I’m a well-wisher.’ Ol’ Craney-Crow ’low: ‘It do me good fer ter hear you sesso, Mr. Pop-Eye, an’ seein’ dat it’s you an’ not some un else, I don’t min’ axin’ you how all de flyin’ birds takes der heads off when dey go ter bed. It sho stumps me.’ Brer Pop-Eye say, ‘An’ no wonder, frien’ Craney-Crow, kaze youer stranger in deze parts. Dey ain’t nothin’ ter hide ’bout it. De skeeters is been so bad in dis Swamp sence de year one, an’ endurin’ er de time what’s gone by, dat dem what live here done got in de habits er takin’ off der heads an’ puttin’ um in a safe place.’

                “De Craney-Crow ’low: ‘But how in de name er goodness does dey do it, Brer Pop-Eye?’ Mr. Pop-Eye laugh ter hisse’f ’way down in his gizzard. He say: ‘Dey don’t do it by deyse’f, kaze dat ’ud be axin’ too much. Oh, no! dey got some un hired fer ter do dat kin’ er work.’ ‘An’ whar kin I fin’ ’im, Brer Pop-Eye?’ sez ol’ Craney-Crow, sezee. Brer Pop-Eye ’low: ‘He’ll be roun’ terreckly; he allers hatter go roun’ fer ter see dat he ain’t miss none un um.’ Ol’ Craney-Crow sorter study, he did, an’ den he ’low: ‘How does dey git der heads back on, Brer Pop-Eye?’ Brer Pop-Eye shuck his head. He say: ‘I’d tell you ef I know’d, but I hatter stay up so much at night, dat ’long ’bout de time when dey gits der heads put on, I’m soun’ asleep an’ sno’in’ right along. Ef you sesso, I’ll hunt up de doctor what does de business, an’ I speck he’ll commerdate you--I kin prommus you dat much, sence you been so perlite.’ Ol’ Craney-Crow laugh an’ say: ‘I done fin’ out in my time dat dey don’t nothin’ pay like perliteness, speshually ef she’s ginnywine.’

                “Wid dat, Brer Pop-Eye put out, he did, fer ter fin’ Brer Wolf. Knowin’ purty well whar he wuz, ’twant long ’fo’ here dey come gallopin’ back. Brer Pop-Eye say: ‘Mr. Craney-Crow, dis is Mr. Dock Wolf; Mr. Dock Wolf, dis is Mr. Craney-Crow; glad fer ter make you ’quainted, gents.’” At this point, Uncle Remus paused and glanced at the little boy, who was listening to the story with almost breathless interest. “You ain’t got yo’ hankcher wid you, is you?” the old man inquired gently.

                “Mother always makes me carry a handkerchief,” the child replied, “and it makes the pocket of my jacket stick out. Why did you ask, Uncle Remus?”

                “Kaze we er comin’ ter de place whar you’ll need it,” said the old man. “You better take it out an’ hol’ it in yo’ han’. Ef you got any tears inside er you, dey’ll come ter de top now.”

                The child took out his handkerchief, and held it in his hand obediently. “Well, suh,” Uncle Remus went on, “atter dey been made ’quainted, ol’ Craney-Crow tell Dock Wolf ’bout his troubles, an’ how he wanter do like de rest er de flyin’ creeturs, an’ Dock Wolf rub his chin an’ put his thumb in his wescut pocket fer all de worl’ like a sho nuff doctor. He say ter ol’ Craney-Crow dat he ain’t so mighty certain an’ sho dat he kin he’p ’im much. He say dat in all his born days he ain’t never see no flyin’ creetur wid sech a long neck, an’ dat he’ll hatter be mighty intickler how he fool wid it. He went close, he did, an’ feel un it an’ fumble wid it, an’ all de time his mouf wuz waterin’ des like yone do when you see a piece er lemon pie.

                “He say: ‘You’ll hatter hol’ yo’ head lower, Mr. Craney-Crow,’ an’ wid dat he snap down on it, an’ dat wuz de last er dat Craney-Crow. He ain’t never see his home no mo’, an’ mo’ dan dat, ol’ Dock Wolf slung ’im ’cross his back an’ cantered off home. An’ dat’s de reason dat de Craney-Crows all fly so fas’ when dey come thoo dis part er de country.”

                “But why did you ask me to take out my handkerchief, Uncle Remus?”

                “Kaze I wanter be on de safe side,” remarked the old man with much solemnity. “Ef you got a hankcher when you cry, you kin wipe off de weeps, an’ you kin hide de puckers in yo’ face.”

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How Old Craney-Crow Lost His Head
Tale Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Book Title: Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation
Book Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1903
Country of Origin: United States
Classification: unclassified

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