O FTEN, after a thunder-storm, when one passes a field in which buckwheat is growing, it appears quite blackened and singed. It is just as if a flame of fire had passed across it; and then the countryman says, "It got that from lightning." But whence has it received that? I will tell you what the sparrow told me about it, and the sparrow heard it from an old willow-tree which stood by a buckwheat-field and still stands there. It is quite a great venerable Willow-tree, but crippled and old: it is burst in the middle, and grass and brambles grow out of the cleft; the tree bends forward, and the branches hang quite down to the ground, as if they were long green hair.
On all the fields round about corn was growing, not only rye and barley, but also oats; yes, the most capital oats, which when ripe, looks like a number of little yellow canary birds sitting upon a spray. The corn stood smiling, and the richer an ear was the deeper did it bend in pious humility.
But there was also a field of buckwheat, and this field was exactly opposite to the old Willow-tree. The Buckwheat did not bend at all, like the rest of the grain, but stood up proudly and stiffly.
"I'm as rich as any corn-ear," said he. "Moreover, I'm very much handsomer; my flowers are beautiful as the blossoms of the apple-tree; it's quite a delight to look upon me and mine. Do you know anything more splendid than we are, you old Willow-tree?"
And the Willow-tree nodded his head just as if he would have said, "Yes, that's true enough!"
But the Buckwheat spread itself out from mere vainglory, and said: "The stupid tree! he's so old that the grass grows in his body."
Now a terrible storm came on; all the field flowers folded their leaves together or bowed their little heads while the storm passed over them, but the Buckwheat stood erect in its pride.
"Bend your head like us," said the Flowers.
"I've not the slightest cause to do so," replied the Buckwheat.
"Bend your head as we do," cried the various Crops. "Now the Storm comes flying on. He has wings that reach from the clouds just down to the earth, and he'll beat you in halves before you can cry for mercy."
"Yes, but I won't bend," quoth the Buckwheat.
"Shut up your flowers and bend your leaves," said the old Willow-tree. "Don't Look up at the lightning when the cloud bursts; even men do not do that, for in the lightning one may look into heaven, but the light dazzles even men; and what would happen to us if we dared do so—we, the plants of the field, that are much less worthy than they?"
"Much less worthy!" cried the Buckwheat. "Now I'll just look straight up into heaven."
And it did so, in its pride and vainglory. It was as if the whole world were on fire, so vivid was the lightning.
When afterward the bad weather had passed by, the flowers and the crops stood in the still, pure air quite refreshed by the rain; but the Buckwheat was burned coal-black by the lightning, and it was now like a dead weed upon the field.
And the old Willow-tree waved its branches in the wind, and great drops of water fell down out of the green leaves, just as if the tree wept.
And the Sparrows asked: "Why do you weep? Here everything is so cheerful; see how the sun shines; see how the clouds sail on. Do you not breathe the scent of flowers and bushes? Why do you weep, Willow-tree?"
And the Willow-tree told them of the pride of the Buckwheat, of its vainglory, and of the punishment which always follows such sin.
I, who tell you this tale, have heard it from the sparrows. They told it me one evening when I begged them to give me a story.