HOW OLD CRANEY-CROW LOST HIS HEAD
There was one time—I don't know the day, and I don't know the year, but it was one time—there come a big storm. The wing blowed a hurricane, and the rain rained like all the sky and the clouds in it done been turn to water. The wind blowed so hard that it lifted old Craney-Crow from his roost in the lagoons way down yonder where they live at, and fetch him up in these parts, and when he come, he come a-whirling. The wind took him up, it did, and turn him round and round, and when he lit where he did, he stagger just like he was drunk—you know how you feel when you been turning round and round. Well, that was the way with him; he was so drunk that he had to lean up against a tree.
But it weren't long 'fore he begun to feel all right, and he look round for to see where he at. He look and he look, but he ain't find out, 'cause he was a mighty far ways from home. Yet he feel the water half-way up his legs, and if old Craney-Crow is in a place where he can do a little wading, he kind of has the home-feeling—you know how that is yourself. Well, there he was, a mighty far ways from home, and yet up to his knees in water, and he just stood there, he did, and took his ease, hoping for better times by and by.
Now the place where he was blowed to was Long Cane Swamp. It ain't only just a Swamp; it's something worse than that. You can stand in the middle of it, and most hear it catch its breath, and that what make I say that it ain't no Swamp, for all it look like one. Well, there was old Craney-Crow, and there was the thing you call the Swamp, and by and by the sun riz and let his lamp shine in there in places; an then old Craney-Crow had time for to look round and see where he was at. But when he find out, he ain't know no more than what he know at first.
Now, you can say what you please, and you can laugh if you want to, but I'm a-going to tell you that the Swamp knowed that there was somebody there what ain't belong there. If you ask me how the Swamp knowed, I'll shake my head and shut my eyes; and if you ask me how I know it knowed, I'll just laugh at you. You'll had to take my word or leave it, I don't care which. But there it was. The Swamp knowed that somebody was there what ain't belong there, and it went to sleep and had bad dreams, and it keep on having them dreams all day long. The Swamp, being wide-awake all night long, is pleased to sleep enduring of the day, and so, with old Craney-Crow standing in the water, when the sun rise up, the Swamp know that something was wrong, and it went to sleep and had mighty bad dreams.
The sun riz and riz; it come up on one side of the Swamp, and after so long a time stood over it and look down for to see what the matter. But bright as the lamp of the sun was, it can't light up the Swamp, and so it went on over and went down on the other side. The day was in about like these days is, and whiles the sun was searching round trying for to find out what the trouble is in the Swamp, old Craney-Crow was wading about in the water trying to find some frog steak for his dinner, or maybe a fish for to whet his appetite on. But there weren't nary frog nor nary fish, 'cause the Swamp done gone to sleep. The more old Craney-Crow waded the more shallerer the water got, till by and by day weren't enough for to more than wet his foots.
He say, "Hey! how come this?" But he ain't got no answer, 'cause the Swamp, with all its bad dreams, was sound asleep.
There was pools of water round and about, and old Craney-Crow went from one to the other, and from other to the other, but it ain't do him no good. He went and stood by 'em, he did, but whiles he standing there, there weren't a riffle on top of 'em. By and by he got tired of walking about, and he stood on one leg for to rest hisself—though if anybody'll tell me how you going to rest yourself with standing on one leg, I'll sit up and tell 'em tales from now till Christmas, 'cause if I get tired I can stand on one leg and do my resting that a-way.
Well, then, there was old Craney-Crow, and there was the Swamp. Old Craney-Crow was wide-awake, but the Swamp was fast asleep and dreaming bad dreams like a wild horse and wagon going down hill. But the Swamp weren't no stiller than old Craney-Crow, standing on one leg with one eye looking in the tops of the trees, and the other one looking down in the grass. But in the Swamp or out of the Swamp, time goes on and night drops down, and that's the way it done this time. And when night dropped down, the Swamp kind of stretch itself and begun to wake up.
Old Brer Mud Turkle opened his eyes and sneeze so hard that he roll off the bank into the water—kersplash—and he so close to old Craney-Crow that he fetched a hop sideways, and come mighty nigh stepping on Mr. Billy Black Snake. This scared him so that he fetched another hop, and mighty nigh lit on the frog what he been hunting for. The frog he say "Hey!" and dove in the mud-puddle.
After that, when old Craney-Crow move about, he lift his foots high, and he done like the ladies does when they walk in a wet place. The whole caboodle was brand new to old Craney-Crow, and he look with all his eyes, and listen with all his ears. There was something or other going on, but he can't make out what it was. He ain't never is been in no swamp before, more specially a Swamp what got life in it. He been used to marshy places, where there ain't nothing but water and high grass, but there where he find hisself after the hurricane, there weren't no big sight of water, and what grass there was, weren't longer than your finger. Instead of grass and water, there was vines, and reeds, and trees with moss on 'em that made 'em look like Grandsire Graybeard, and the vines and creepers look like they was reaching out for him.
He walked about, he did, like the ground was hot, and when he walk he look like he was on stilts, his legs was so long. He hunt round for a place for to sleep, and whiles he was doing that he took notice that there was something or other going on that he ain't never is see the like of. The jacky-my-lanterns, they lit up and went sailing round just like they was hunting for him and the frogs, they holler at him with, "What you doing here? What you doing here?" Mr. Coon rack by and laugh at him; Mr. Billy Gray Fox peep out of the bushes and bark at him; Mr. Mink show him the green eyes, and Mr. Whippoorwill scold him.
He move about, he did, and after so long a time they let him alone, and then when there weren't nobody nor nothing pestering him, he begun to look round for hisself. Peeping first in one bush and then in another, he took notice that all the birds what fly by day had done gone to bed without their heads. Look where he might, old Craney-Crow ain't see nary a bird but what had done took his head off 'fore he went to bed. Look close as he kin, he ain't see no bird with a head on. This make him wonder, and he ask hisself how come this, and the onliest answer what he can think and is that going to bed with their heads on was done gone out of fashion in that part of the country.
Now, you can say what you please about the critters and their kin — about the fowls that fly, and the feathery critters what run on the ground — you can say what you please about 'em, but they got pride; they don't want to be out of the fashion. When it comes to that, they are pretty much like folks, and that was the way with old Craney-Crow; he don't want to be out o* fashion. He ashamed for to go to bed like he always been doing, 'cause he ain't want the others for to laugh and say he was from the country district, where they don't know much. Yet, study as he might, he don't know which a-way to do for to get his head off. The others had their heads under their wing. But he ain't know that.
He look round, he did, for to see if they ain't someone he can ask about it, and he ain't had to look long neither, for there, sitting right at him, was old Brer Pop-Eye. Nobody in all the round world but Brer Rabbit! He had one name for the upland and another name for the bottom land — the swamps and the drains. Wheresomever there was any mischieviousness going on, right there was Brer Rabbit as big as life and twice as natural. He was so close to old Craney-Crow that he had to jump when he seed him.
Brer Pop-Eye say, "No needs for to be scared, friend Craney-Crow. You may be more than sure that I'm a well-wisher."
Old Craney-Crow allow, "It do me good for to hear you say so, Mr. Pop-Eye, and seeing that it's you and not someone else; I don't mind asking you how all the flying birds takes their heads off when they go to bed. it sure stumps me."
Brer Pop-Eye say, "And no wonder, friend Craney-Crow, 'cause you are stranger in there parts. There ain't nothing to hide about it. The mosquitoes is been so bad in this Swamp since the year one, and enduring of the time what's gone by, that them what live here done got in the habits of taking off their heads and putting 'em in a safe place."
The Craney-Crow allow, "But how in the name of goodness does they do it, Brer Pop-Eye?"
Mr. Pop-Eye laugh to hisself 'way down in his gizzard. He say, "They don't do it by theyself, 'cause that'd be asking too much. Oh, no! They got someone hired for to do that kind of work."
"And where can I find him, Brer Pop-Eye?" says old Craney-Crow, says he.
Brer Pop-Eye allow, "He'll be round directly; he always have to go round for to see that he ain't miss none of 'em."
Old Craney-Crow sort of study, he did, and then he allow, "How does they get their heads back on, Brer Pop-Eye?"
Brer Pop-Eye shook his head. He say, "I'd tell you if I knowed, but I had to stay up so much at night, that 'long about the time when they gets their heads put on, I'm sound asleep and snoring right along. If you say so, I'll hunt up the doctor what does the business, and I expect he'll accommodate you—I can promise you that much, since you been so polite."
Old Craney-Crow laugh and say, "I done find out in my time that there don't nothing pay like politeness, specially if she's genuine."
With that, Brer Pop-Eye put out, he did, for to find Brer Wolf. Knowing pretty well where he was, it weren't long 'fore here they come galloping back.
Brer Pop-Eye say, "Mr. Craney-Crow, this is Mr. Doc Wolf; Mr. Doc Wolf, this is Mr. Craney-Crow; glad for to make you acquainted, gents."
After they been made acquainted, old Craney-Crow tell Doc Wolf about his troubles, and how he want to do like the rest of the flying critters, and Doc Wolf rub his chin and put his thumb in his waistcoat pocket for all the world like a sure enough doctor. He say to old Craney-Crow that he ain't so mighty certain and sure that he can help him much. He say that in all his born days he ain't never see no flying critter with such a long neck, and that he'll had to be mighty particular how he fool with it.
He went close, he did, and feel of it and fumble with it, and all the time his mouth was watering. He say, "You'll have to hold you head lower, Mr. Craney-Crow," and with that he snap down on it, and that was the last of that Craney-Crow. He ain't never see his home no more, and more than that, old Doc Wolf slung him across his back and cantered off home.
And that's the reason that the Craney-Crows all fly so fast when they come through this part of the country.