One day a crane was sitting on a rock far out in the water, when he heard a voice say, "Grandfather Crane, Grandfather Crane, please come and carry us across the lake." It was the voice of a child, and when the crane had come to the shore, he saw two little boys holding each other's hands and crying bitterly.
"Why do you cry?" asked the crane, "and why do you wish to go across the lake, away from your home and friends?"
"We have no friends," said the little boys, crying more bitterly than ever. "We have no father and no mother, and a cruel witch troubles us. She tries all the time to do us harm, and we are going to run away where she can never find us."
"I will carry you over the lake," said the crane. "Hold on well, but do not touch the back of my head, for if you do, you will fall into the water and go to the bottom of the lake. Will you obey me?"
"Yes, indeed, we will obey," they said. "We will not touch your head. But please come quickly and go as fast as you can. We surely heard the voice of the witch in the woods."
It really was the witch, and she was saying over and over to herself, "I will catch them, and I will punish them so that they will never run away from me again. They will obey me after I have caught them."
The crane bore the two little boys gently to the other shore, and when he came back, there stood the witch.
"Dear, gentle crane," she said, "you are so good to every one. Will you carry me over the lake? My two dear children are lost in the woods, and I have cried bitterly for them all day long."
The spirit of the lake had told the crane to carry across the lake every one that asked to be taken over; so he said, "Yes, I will carry you across. Hold on well, but do not touch the back of my head, for if you do, you will fall into the water and go to the bottom of the lake. Will you obey me?"
"Yes, indeed, I will," said the witch; but she thought, "He would not be so timid about letting me touch the back of his head if he were not afraid of my magic. I will put my hand on his head, and then he will always be in my power." So when they were far out over the lake, she put her hand on the crane's head, and before she could say "Oh!" she was at the bottom of the lake.
"You shall never live in the light again," said the crane, "for you have done no good on earth. You shall be a whitefish, and you shall be food for the Indians as long as they eat fish."