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In the middle of the night somebody began to cry outside of Chauntecleer's Coop. If it had been but a few sprinkled tears with nothing more than a moan or two, Chauntecleer would probably not have minded. But this crying was more than a gentle moan. By each dark hour of the night it grew. It became a decided wail, and after that it became a definite howl. And howling - particularly at the door of his Coop, and in the middle of the night - howling Chauntecleer minded very much.
Chauntecleer the Rooster had trouble sleeping anyway, though this was no one's fault but his own. He snored. Well, Chauntecleer called it a snore, and everybody else who lived in his Coop called it a snore, too. But everybody else knew secretly that it was a positive crow.
This is the way that it went: As dusk fell, the whole company of the Coop would take to their roosts, tuck their heads deep into their neck and shoulder feathers, ruffle, Cluck, and fall asleep - Chauntecleer among them. For the space of several hours, silence and contentment would fill the Coop, and sleep was good. But then Chauntecleer would begin to dream; and with his dream he would set up such a sudden, loud, and raucous snoring that every living soul in the neighborhood of the Coop would wake up. Immediately they all had a job to do. They had to pretend that they were still asleep, because it was Chauntecleer's snore, after all.
When his snores came close to the sound of thunder, then Chauntecleer woke up, too. With a headache. And he wouldn't pretend: He was awake, and he was angry aboutit. He'd cock his eye angrily at this creature and that, looking for guilt, waiting until one poor soul 'couldn't stand it any longer - and moved!
"You!" Chauntecleer would cry, and the Hen would wilt, moving very much all of a sudden. "Ah- ha -ha! You!" The Rooster's comb would stand up like a fan on the top of his head. He would flut down and strut up to the sad Hen and fix her with a one-eyed stare from the side of his rooster head.
"You! You! You! Sleep on my straw. Eat my grain. Hide from the wind, and dry from the rain. And how do you repay my great goodness to you? You woke ME! How do you like that? And what's more, you woke me UP "
Then Chauntecleer would make a noise which he considered to be something better than a snore. It was a true crow; and it entered the shivering Hen's ear with such a force that she wouldn't sleep for the rest of the night. Back to his perch the Rooster would grump, twisting and turning and mumbling his perturbation: He did most certainly despise to be awakened from his dreams. But finally he would nod and dream again.
It was more than a fact that Chauntecleer the Rooster had trouble sleeping. It was also a well-known fact. All the Coop had a healthy fear of awakening his feathered thunder. Therefore, when someone began to weep outside of his Coop one night, everybody heard it, but nobody moved. And when weeping became wailing, they pretended with a skill both admirable and desperate. And when wailing developed into pure howling, why, every last Chicken turned into a stone.
Oh, their hearts were moved. Who wouldn't be moved to pity by that sad, sad voice? Who wouldn't let a tear roll down her beak to hear of the grief which this voice had to tell? All the world seemed a lonely place at the sound of this voice, it wept so pitifully. This voice could make even the stones to cry - which became a particular problem for some thirty Chickens who were trying hard to be stones.
"Marooned," he cried, whoever he was out there. "Marooooned," he wailed. Three stones sniffed, and sixty eyes shot frightened glances at Chauntecleer; but the Rooster slept on.
The voice sounded like ancient shoe leather.
"Don't listen to me," he cried out. "Every good heart should sleep on. No one should be troubled with the burdens which it is given me to bear. Sleep!" he sighed. "Sleep on, peaceful souls!" he wailed. And then he howled: "Marooooooooooned!"
A little dribble hung down from Chauntecleer's beak, a wet string which went from the tip of his beak to the bottom of his wattle. This was a good sign. It meant that he was sleeping very deeply, and perhaps the Chickens would be safe. Yet no sign was absolute; and this was a most unusual occurrence, this voice abroad; so the Chickens continued to pretend and to fear.
The voice sounded like a mud slide.
"Ah, me! What I could have been in a better place. Such a wonderful somebody I should have been," he wept, "that it would have been a pleasure to look at. But this is the place, and this is the me. Look at me, and be sad. See me and be sorrowful. No!" he wailed suddenly. "No, don't look! No one should be burdened with such a sight - a walking sin. But sleep," he wailed. "Sleep and be what I can never be. It does my soul good to know that someone is at peace. Sleep." And then he howled like the north. wind: "Maroooooooned!"
Chauntecleer stirred. He pulled one claw off the perch. Two Chickens fainted; but it was just motion in his sleep. Restless sleep, now; but sleep all the same.
"And what about this nose?" cried the voice outside, wounded deeply by this new sorrow. "All of you, count yourselves blessed. Go home and call yourselves fortunate before the mirror! For if you wish, you can turn your eyes and look away from this monster of a nose. But me?"
Excerpted from The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Copyright © 2003 by Walter Wangerin
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.