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Main > South African folktales > Fairy tale "Why the Heron has a Crooked Neck"

Why the Heron has a Crooked Neck

The flames leapt gaily upward in the wide fireplace, throwing strange shadows on the painted walls and gleaming on the polished wood of floor and beam and cupboard. Little Jan basked contentedly in the warmth, almost dozing—now absently stroking the terrier curled up beside him, now running his fingers through the softer fur of the rug on which he lay. It was made of silver-jackal skins—a dozen of them, to judge from the six bushy tails spread out on either side; and as Outa Karel’s gaze rested on them, he remarked reminiscently—

“Arré! but Oom Jakhals was a slim kerel! No one ever got the better of him without paying for it.”

In an instant little Jan was sitting bolt upright, every symptom of sleep banished from his face; the book from which Willem had been laboriously trying to gain some idea of the physical features of Russia was flung to the far end of the rustbank; while Pietie, suspending for a brief moment his whittling of a catapult stick, slid along the floor to get within better sight and sound of the story-teller.

“Yes, my little masters, sometimes it was Oom Leeuw he cheated, sometimes it was Oubaas Babiaan or Oom Wolf, and once it was the poor little Dove, and that is what made me think of how he was cheated himself.”

“Did the little Dove cheat him?” asked Pietie eagerly.

“No, baasje, the Dove is too frightened—not stupid, baasje, but like people are when they are too gentle and kind and believe everything other people tell them. She was sitting on her nest one day singing to her little children, ‘Coo-oo, coo-oo coo-oo,’ when Oom Jakhals prowled along under the tree and heard her.

“‘Alla wereld! Now I’ll have a nice breakfast,’ he thought, and he called out, ‘Good morning, Tante. I hear you have such pretty little children. Please bring them down for me to see.’

“But the Tante was frightened of Jakhals, and said, ‘I’m sorry, Oom, they are not well to-day, and I must keep them at home.’

“Then Jakhals lost his temper, and called out, ‘Nonsense, I’m hungry and want something to eat, so throw down one of your little children at once.

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