Once upon a time a kindhearted old man lived
with his wife in a little house deep in the woods. The old couple were
happy with their simple, quiet life, although it did get a bit lonely at
times. They often tholight how nice it would be if only they had a child
of their own.
One day, as usual, the old man went out to gather firewood in the mountains near his home. He was on his way back that evening when he heard what sounded like a cry for help. He followed the sound to a frozen marsh by the side of the road. And there he found a beautiful white crane with its leg caught in a hunter's trap.
The old man got down on his knees and opened the trap to set the crane free. It flap, ped its wings, cried out for joy, and flew off into the snow,filled sky. That night, sitting before the fire, the old man told his wife what had happened. "How happy that crane looked!" he chuckled. The old woman smiled, and they sat chatting idly and thinking pleasant thoughts until it was time to go to bed. They were about to do just that when someone knocked at the front door.
Knock, knock. Knock, knock.
Who could it be so late at night, so deep in the woods, and with all that snow outside?
The old man went to the door and opened it. And there, to his astonishment, stood a lovely young maiden.
"Forgive me for disturbing you, sir," she said. "But I seem to have lost my way. . ."
"Come inside, child. My goodness, you must be freezing!" The old man asked his wife to prepare a bowl of hot rice gruel, and offered the girl a seat near the fire. "You'd better stay here tonight," he told her. "We've plenty of room. "
"Oh, thank you, sir," said the girl. "You're very kind."
The old woman served the gruel and waited until the girl had eaten it before asking, "Where are you traveling to, miss?"
"Well. . ." The girl hesitated. "I haven't natty decided yet."
A mere girl, traveling all alone with nowhere to go? She must have met with some great misfortune, thought the old man. He felt sorry for her and told her she was welcome to stay with him and his wife for as long as she liked. They'd be glad, he said, for the help and companionship.
"Do you really mean it?" cried the girl. "Oh, that would be wonderful! I'd like very much to stay with you."
"Well, then, it's settled," the old man said. "Now let's get some sleep. We can talk more in the morning."
The old couple slept very well indeed that night. They were still snoring softly when the girl got up, well before dawn, and went to the kitchen. She wanted to have breakfast ready for them when they awoke. But every barrel and cupboard she looked in was bare. There wasn't a grain of rice or a pinch of miso to be found.
What she did find, however, was a basket filled with spools of thread. She took this and disappeared into the workroom next to the kitchen, closing the door behind her. Soon from behind the closed door came the sound of a loom.
Creak, tap, clack.. . Creak, tap, clack. . .
Creak, tap, clack. . .
The old man and woman awoke shortly after sunrise and saw that the girl wasn't in her bed. Before they even had a chance to wonder what had happened to her, however, she appeared in the doorway, carrying a thick roll of woven brocade.
"What beautiful cloth!" exclaimed the old man.
"Yes, it really is lovely," the old woman agreed. She took the brocade in her hands and marveled at its wonderful design. "I made it for you," said the girl. "Please take it and sell it. Then buy some rice and miso, and anything else you might need."
The old man was delighted. He took the brocade to town that morning and sold it for a very good price. With the money he bought lots of food and a pretty comb for the girl. That night, after a delicious dinner, the three of them chatted contentedly by the fire.
"Well," said the old man when it had grown quite late, "why don't we turn in? We're sure to have sweet dreams tonight."
"Please go ahead," said the girl. "I have a bit more work to do."
"Oh no you don't. You've got to get your rest, child."
"I'm fine, really. I only want to weave a little more cloth for you. " The girl looked down at her delicate white hands. "But I have a favor to ask. I want you to promise you'll never open the door to the workroom when I'm in there."
"Hm? You don't want us to see you weaving?"
"That's right. Please promise."
The old man and woman were puzzled by this odd request. But the girl was so insistent that finally they gave their word not to disturb her while she worked. Each night from then on, the girl would
weave a roll of beautiful brocade. And each day the old man would take the cloth to town and sell it at an excellent price. Soon there was enough rice and miso in the old couple's kitchen to last for months.
But with each passing day the girl grew paler and thinner. One evening the old man no, ticed her sitting by the open door, gazing wearily at the setting sun. She looked as if she might collapse at any moment. And later, at dinner, she hardly touched her food at all.
"Eat, child. You've got to eat..."
"I've had enough, thank you. There's a little more work I want to do."
"You're overdoing it, dear," said the old woman. "You have to rest. It's not good for you to work so hard."
But the girl wouldn't listen. She stood up, swaying, to leave the table.
"Look how weak you've become! " cried the old man. He rose to stop her, but the girl shook her head and looked deep into his eyes.
"Just one more roll," she said, and walked unsteadily into the workroom, closing the door behind her.
That night, the old couple were so worried about the girl that they couldn't get to sleep.
"Dear," whispered the old woman. "Listen to the loom. It sounds. . . different tonight, somehow. I have a feeling something's very wrong. "
The old man had the same feeling. "I'm going to have a look," he said, get, ting up.
"You can't do that, dear.
You promised her . . ." But the old man was too concerned about the girl to let the promise stop him. He tiptoed to the workroom, opened the door a crack, and peered inside.
"Good heavens!" he gasped.
Sitting before the loom was a slender white crane. As the old man watched, the crane plucked one of its own feathers and carefully wove it into the cloth. Trembling, the bird was about to take hold of another feather when the old man flung open the door. The startled crane noticed him now for the first time and, right'before his unbelieving eyes, slowly began transforming back into the lovely young maiden.
"You . . . You're . . ."
The girl hung her head and said, "Yes. I'm the crane you set free."
"Ah! That night in the marsh..."
"Yes. You saved my life. I wanted to repay you somehow. But now that you've discovered my secret . . ." The girl ran out of the workroom to the front door. "I must go. I wish I could stay forever, but..."
With a sad glance back at the old man, the girl dashed out across the yard. And as she ran, she turned once again into a beautiful white crane. Spreading her wings, she lifted off gracefully into the night sky.
"Remember us, child! Don't ever forget us!" the old man called after her. "We love you!" He reached for the comb he had bought the girl, ran outside, and threw it into the air.
The crane circled back, caught the comb in her beak, and uttered a sorrowful cry of parting. Then she rose higher in the sky and vanished amid the moonlit clouds.