There were once two cocks; one of them stood on a dunghill, the other on the roof. Both were conceited, but the question is, Which of the two was the more useful?
A wooden partition divided the poultry yard from another yard, in which lay a heap of manure sheltering a cucumber bed. In this bed grew a large cucumber, which was fully aware that it was a plant that should be reared in a hotbed.
"It is the privilege of birth," said the Cucumber to itself. "All cannot be born cucumbers; there must be other kinds as well. The fowls, the ducks, and the cattle in the next yard are all different creatures, and there is the yard cock—I can look up to him when he is on the wooden partition. He is certainly of much greater importance than the weathercock, who is so highly placed, and who can't even creak, much less crow—besides, he has neither hens nor chickens, and thinks only of himself, and perspires verdigris. But the yard cock is something like a cock. His gait is like a dance, and his crowing is music, and wherever he goes it is instantly known. What a trumpeter he is! If he would only come in here! Even if he were to eat me up, stalk and all, it would be a pleasant death." So said the Cucumber.
During the night the weather became very bad; hens, chickens, and even the cock himself sought shelter. The wind blew down with a crash the partition between the two yards, and the tiles came tumbling from the roof, but the weathercock stood firm. He did not even turn round; in fact, he could not, although he was fresh and newly cast. He had been born full grown and did not at all resemble the birds, such as the sparrows and swallows, that fly beneath the vault of heaven. He despised them and looked upon them as little twittering birds that were made only to sing. The pigeons, he admitted, were large and shone in the sun like mother-of-pearl. They somewhat resembled weathercocks, but were fat and stupid and thought only of stuffing themselves with food. "Besides," said the weathercock, "they are very tiresome things to converse with."
The birds of passage often paid a visit to the weathercock and told him tales of foreign lands, of large flocks passing through the air, and of encounters with robbers and birds of prey. These were very interesting when heard for the first time, but the weathercock knew the birds always repeated themselves, and that made it tedious to listen.
"They are tedious, and so is every one else," said he; "there is no one fit to associate with. One and all of them are wearisome and stupid. The whole world is worth nothing—it is made up of stupidity."
The weathercock was what is called "lofty," and that quality alone would have made him interesting in the eyes of the Cucumber, had she known it. But she had eyes only for the yard cock, who had actually made his appearance in her yard; for the violence of the storm had passed, but the wind had blown down the wooden palings.
"What do you think of that for crowing?" asked the yard cock of his hens and chickens. It was rather rough, and wanted elegance, but they did not say so, as they stepped upon the dunghill while the cock strutted about as if he had been a knight. "Garden plant," he cried to the Cucumber. She heard the words with deep feeling, for they showed that he understood who she was, and she forgot that he was pecking at her and eating her up—a happy death!
Then the hens came running up, and the chickens followed, for where one runs the rest run also. They clucked and chirped and looked at the cock and were proud that they belonged to him. "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed he; "the chickens in the poultry yard will grow to be large fowls if I make my voice heard in the world."
And the hens and chickens clucked and chirped, and the cock told them a great piece of news. "A cock can lay an egg," he said. "And what do you think is in that egg? In that egg lies a basilisk. No one can endure the sight of a basilisk. Men know my power, and now you know what I am capable of, also, and what a renowned bird I am." And with this the yard cock flapped his wings, erected his comb, and crowed again, till all the hens and chickens trembled; but they were proud that one of their race should be of such renown in the world. They clucked and they chirped so that the weathercock heard it; he had heard it all, but had not stirred.
"It's all stupid stuff," said a voice within the weathercock. "The yard cock does not lay eggs any more than I do, and I am too lazy. I could lay a wind egg if I liked, but the world is not worth a wind egg. And now I don't intend to sit here any longer."
With that, the weathercock broke off and fell into the yard. He did not kill the yard cock, although the hens said he intended to do so.
And what does the moral say? "Better to crow than to be vainglorious and break down at last."
Notes: This is the second volume of Andersen's fairy tales edited by J. H. Stickney.
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Editor: J. H. Stickney
Publisher: Ginn and Company - Boston; New York; Chicago; London