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THE DANCE OF THE SAND-HILL CRANES
NE fine day in spring, a great flock of Sand-hill Cranes
came from the south. They were flying high and quietly
because the weather was bright. If it had been stormy,
or if they had been flying by night, as they usually
did, they would have stayed nearer the ground, and
their leader would have trumpeted loudly to let his
followers know which way he was going. They would also
have trumpeted, but more softly, to tell him that they
were coming after.
They were a fine company to look upon, orderly, strong,
and dignified. Their long necks were stretched out
straight ahead, their long legs straight behind, and
 beat the air with slow, regular strokes of the strong
wings. As they came near the pond, they flew lower and
lower, until all swept down to the earth and alighted,
tall and stately, by the edge of the water.
They had eaten nothing for several days, and were soon
hunting for food, some on land, and some in the water,
for they had stopped to feed and rest. Those who
hunted in the water, did so very quietly. A Crane
would stand on one leg, with his head against his
breast, so quietly that one might think him asleep:
but as soon as anything eatable came near, he would
bend his body, stretch out his neck, open his long,
slender bill, and swallow it at one gulp. Then he
would seem to fall asleep again.
While most of the Cranes were still feeding, some of
them were stalking through the woods and looking this
way and that, flying up to stand on a tree, and then
flying down to stand on the ground.
 They were those who thought of staying there for the
When the flock arose to fly on again, eight Cranes
stayed behind. They watched their friends fly away,
and stood on the ground with their necks and bills
uplifted and mouths open, while they trumpeted or
called out, "Good-bye! Stop for us in the fall!" The
flying Cranes trumpeted back, "We will! Don't forget
That night they slept near together, as they had done
when with the large flock, and one Crane kept awake to
watch for danger while the others tucked their heads
under their wings. They were fine looking, even when
they slept, and some people never look well unless they
are awake. They were brownish-gray, with no bright
markings at all, and their long legs gave them a very
genteel look. The tops of their heads were covered
with warty red skin, from which grew short
 black feathers that looked more like hairs.
One morning, when the Cranes awakened, a fine young
fellow began to strut up and down before the rest,
bowing low, and leaping high into the air, and every
now and then whooping as loudly as he could. The
Gulls, who had spent the winter by the pond, screamed
to each other, "The Crane dance has begun!" Even the
Frogs, who are afraid of Cranes, crept quietly near to
It was not long before another young Crane began to
skip and hop and circle around, drooping his wings and
whooping as he went. Every Crane danced, brothers and
sisters, and all, and as they did so, they looked
lovingly at each other, and admired the fine steps and
enjoyed the whooping. This went on until they were so
tired they could hardly stand, and had to stop to eat
When they were eating, the young
fel-  low who had begun to dance, stalked up to the sister of one
of his friends, as she stood in the edge of the pond,
gracefully balanced on one leg. She did not turn her
head towards him, although, having such a long and
slender neck, she could have done so with very little
trouble. She stood with her head on her breast and
looked at the water. After a while, he trumpeted
softly, as though he were just trying his voice. Then
she gave a pretty little start, and said, "Oh, are you
here? How you did frighten me!"
"I am sorry," he said. "I did not want to frighten
you." And he looked at her admiringly.
"It was just for a minute," she answered. "Of course I
am not frightened now that I know who it is."
Then they stood and fished for a long time without
saying anything. When she flew away, she said, "That
is a very pleasant fishing-place." He stood on the
 other leg for a while, and thought how sweet her voice
sounded as she said it. Then he thought that, if she
liked the place so well, she might come there again the
next day. He wondered why he could not come too,
although everybody knows that a Crane catches more if
he fishes alone.
The next morning, when the Cranes danced, he bowed to
her oftener than to any of the rest, and he thought she
noticed it. They danced until they were almost too
tired to move, and indeed he had to rest for a while
before he went to feed. As she stalked off toward the
pond, she passed him, and she said over her shoulder,
"I should think you would be hungry. I am almost
starved." After she had gone, he wondered why she had
said that. If he had been an older Crane, and
understood the ways of the world a little better, he
would have known that she meant,
"Aren't you coming to
 fishing-place? I am going now." Still, although he
was such a young Crane and had never danced until this
year, he began to think that she liked him and enjoyed
having him near. So he flew off to the fishing-place
where he had seen her the day before, and he stalked
along to where she was, and stood close to her while
she fished. Once, when he caught something and
swallowed it at one gulp, she looked admiringly at him
and said, "What fine, big mouthfuls you can take!"
"WHAT FINE, BIG MOUTHFULS YOU CAN TAKE!"
That pleased him, of course, because Cranes think that
big mouthfuls are the best kind, so he tipped his head
to one side, and watched his neck as the mouthful slid
down to his stomach. He could see it from the outside,
a big bunch slowly moving downward. He often did this
while he was eating. He thought it very interesting.
He pitied short-necked people. Then he said, "Pooh! I
 bigger mouthfuls than that. You ought to see what big
mouthfuls I can take."
She changed, and stood on her other leg. "I saw you
dancing this morning," she said. Now it was not at all
queer that she should have seen him dancing, for all
the eight Cranes had danced together, but he thought it
"Did you notice to whom I bowed?" he asked. He was so
excited that his knees shook, and he had to stand on
both legs at once to keep from falling. When a Crane
is as much excited as that, it is pretty serious.
"To my sister?" she asked carelessly, as she drew one
of her long tail-feathers through her beak.
"No," said he. "I bowed to her sister." He thought
that was a very clever thing to say. But she suddenly
raised her head, and said, "There! I have forgotten
something," and flew off, as she had done the day
before. He wondered
 what it was. Long afterward he asked her what she had
forgotten and she said she couldn't remember—that she
never could remember what she had forgotten.
It made him feel very badly to have her leave him so.
He wanted a chance to tell her something, yet, whenever
he tried to, it seemed to stick in his bill. He began
to fear that she didn't like him; and the next time
the Cranes danced he didn't bow to her so much, but he
strutted and leaped and whooped even more. And she
strutted and leaped and whooped almost as loudly as he.
When they were all tired out and had stopped dancing,
she said to him, "I am so tired! Let us go off into
the woods and rest."
You may be very sure he was glad to go, and as he
stalked off with her, he led the way to a charming
nesting-place. He didn't know just how to tell what
he wanted to, but he had seen another Crane bowing to
her, and was afraid she might
 marry him if he was not quick. Now he pointed with one
wing to this nesting-place, and said, "How would you
like to build a nest there?"
She looked where he had pointed, "I?" she said. "Why,
it is a lovely place, but I could never have a nest
"Let me help you," he said. "I want to marry and have
"Why," said she, as she preened her feathers, "that is
a very good plan. When did you think of it?"
So they were married, and Mrs. Sand-Hill Crane often
told her friends afterward that Mr. Crane was so much
in love with her that she just had to marry
him. They were very, very happy, and after a while—but
that is another story.