Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Beside the Sea  by Lisa M. Ripperton

The Greedy Shepherd

O NCE upon a time there lived in the south country two brothers, whose business it was to keep sheep on a great grassy plain, which was bounded on the one side by a forest, and on the other by a chain of high hills. No one lived on that plain but shepherds, who dwelt in low cottages thatched with heath, and watched their sheep so carefully that no lamb was ever lost, nor had one of the shepherds ever travelled beyond the foot of the hills and the skirts of the forest.

There were none among them more careful than these two brothers, one of whom was called Clutch, and the other Kind. Though brethren born, two men of distant countries could not be more unlike in disposition. Clutch thought of nothing in this world but how to catch and keep some profit for himself, while Kind would have shared his last morsel with a hungry dog. This covetous mind made Clutch keep all his father's sheep when the old man was dead and gone, because he was the eldest brother, allowing Kind nothing but the place of a servant to help him in looking after them. Kind wouldn't quarrel with his brother for the sake of the sheep, so he helped him to keep them, and Clutch had all his own way. This made him agreeable. For some time the brothers lived peaceably in their father's cottage, which stood low and lonely under the shadow of a great sycamore-tree, and kept their flock with pipe and crook on the grassy plain, till new troubles arose through Clutch's covetousness.

On that plain there was neither town, nor city, nor market-place, where people might sell or buy, but the shepherds cared little for trade. The wool of their flocks made them clothes; their milk gave them butter and cheese. At feast times every family killed a lamb or so; their fields yielded them wheat for bread. The forest supplied them with firewood for winter; and every midsummer, which is the sheep-shearing time, traders from a certain far-off city came through it by an ancient way to purchase all the wool the shepherds could spare, and give them in exchange either goods or money.

One midsummer it so happened that these traders praised the wool of Clutch's flock above all they found on the plain, and gave him the highest price for it. That was an unlucky happening for the sheep: from thenceforth Clutch thought he could never get enough wool off them. At the shearing time nobody clipped so close, and, in spite of all Kind could do or say, he left the poor sheep as bare as if they had been shaven; and as soon as the wool grew long enough to keep them warm, he was ready with the shears again—no matter how chilly might be the days or how near the winter. Kind didn't like these doings, and many a debate they caused between him and his brother. Clutch always tried to persuade him that close clipping was good for the sheep, and Kind always strove to make him think he had got all the wool—so they were never done with disputes. Still Clutch sold the wool, and stored up his profits, and one midsummer after another passed. The shepherds began to think him a rich man, and close clipping might have become the fashion, but for a strange thing which happened to his flock.

The wool had grown well that summer. He had taken two crops off them, and was thinking of a third,—though the misty mornings of autumn were come, and the cold evenings made the shepherds put on their winter cloaks,—when first the lambs, and then the ewes, began to stray away; and search as the brothers would, none of them was ever found again. Clutch blamed Kind with being careless, and watched with all his might. Kind knew it was not his fault, but he looked sharper than ever. Still the straying went on. The flocks grew smaller every day, and all the brothers could find out was, that the closest clipped were the first to go; and, count the flock when they might, some were sure to be missed at the folding.

Kind grew tired of watching, and Clutch lost his sheep with vexation. The other shepherds, over whom he had boasted of his wool and his profits, were not sorry to see pride having a fall. Most of them pitied Kind, but all of them agreed that they had marvellous ill luck, and kept as far from them as they could for fear of sharing it. Still the flock melted away as the months wore on. Storms and cold weather never stopped them from straying, and when the spring came back nothing remained with Clutch and Kind but three old ewes, the quietest and lamest of their whole flock. They were watching these ewes one evening in the primrose time, when Clutch, who had never kept his eyes off them that day, said:

"Brother, there is wool to be had on their backs."

"It is too little to keep them warm," said Kind. "The east wind still blows sometimes"; but Clutch was off to the cottage for the bag and shears.

Kind was grieved to see his brother so covetous and to divert his mind he looked up at the great hills; it was a sort of comfort to him, ever since their losses began, to look at them evening and morning. Now their far-off heights were growing crimson with the setting sun, but as he looked, three creatures like sheep scoured up a cleft in one of them as fleet as any deer; and when Kind turned, he saw his brother coming with the bag and shears, but not a single ewe was to be seen. Clutch's first question was, what had become of them; and when Kind told him what he saw, the eldest brother scolded him with might and main for ever lifting his eyes off them:

"Much good the hills and the sunset do us," said he, "now that we have not a single sheep. The other shepherds will hardly give us room among them at shearing time or harvest; but for my part, I'll not stay on this plain to be despised for poverty. If you like to come with me, and be guided by my advice, we shall get service somewhere. I have heard my father say that there were great shepherds living in old times beyond the hills; let us go and see if they will take us for sheep-boys."

Kind would rather have stayed and tilled his father's wheat-field, hard by the cottage; but since his elder brother would go, he resolved to bear him company. Accordingly, next morning Clutch took his bag and shears, Kind took his crook and pipe, and away they went over the plain and up the hills. All who saw them thought that they had lost their senses, for no shepherd had gone there for a hundred years, and nothing was to be seen but wide moorlands, full of rugged rocks, and sloping up, it seemed, to the very sky. Kind persuaded his brother to take the direction the sheep had taken, but the ground was so rough and steep that after two hours' climbing they would gladly have turned back, if it had not been that their sheep were gone, and the shepherds would laugh at them.

By noon they came to the stony cleft, up which the three old ewes had scoured like deer; but both were tired, and sat down to rest. Their feet were sore, and their hearts were heavy; but as they sat there, there came a sound of music down the hills, as if a thousand shepherds had been playing on their tops. Clutch and Kind had never heard such music before. As they listened, the soreness passed from their feet, and the heaviness from their hearts; and getting up, they followed the sound up the cleft, and over a wide heath, covered with purple bloom; till at sunset, they came to the hill-top, and saw a broad pasture, where violets grew thick among the grass, and thousands of snow-white sheep were feeding, while an old man sat in the midst of them, playing on his pipe. He wore a long coat, the colour of the holly leaves; his hair hung to his waist, and his beard to his knees; but both were as white as snow, and he had the countenance of one who had led a quiet life, and known no cares nor losses.

"Good father," said Kind, for his eldest brother hung back and was afraid, "tell us what land is this, and where can we find service; for my brother and I are shepherds, and can well keep flocks from straying, though we have lost our own."

"These are the hill pastures," said the old man, "and I am the ancient shepherd. My flocks never stray, but I have employment for you. Which of you can shear best?"

"Good father," said Clutch, taking courage, "I am the closest shearer in all the plain country; you would not find as much wool as would make a thread on a sheep when I have done with it."

"You are the man for my business," replied the old shepherd. "When the moon rises, I will call the flock you have to shear. Till then sit down and rest, and take your supper out of my wallet."

Clutch and Kind gladly sat down by him among the violets, and opening a leathern bag which hung by his side, the old man gave them cakes and cheese, and a horn cup to drink from a stream hard by. The brothers felt fit for any work after that meal; and Clutch rejoiced in his own mind at the chance he had got for showing his skill with the shears. "Kind will see how useful it is to cut close," he thought to himself; but they sat with the old man, telling him the news of the plain, till the sun went down and the moon rose, and all the snow-white sheep gathered and laid themselves down behind him. He then took his pipe and played a merry tune, when immediately there was heard a great howling, and up the hills came a troop of shaggy wolves, with hair so long that their eyes could scarcely be seen. Clutch would have fled for fear, but the wolves stopped, and the old man said to him:

"Rise, and shear—this flock of mine have too much wool on them."

Clutch had never shorn wolves before, yet he couldn't think of losing the good service, and went forward with a stout heart; but the first of the wolves showed its teeth, and all the rest raised such a howl the moment he came near them, that Clutch was glad to throw down his shears, and run behind the old man for safety.

"Good father," cried he, "I will shear sheep, but not wolves."

"They must be shorn," said the old man, "or you go back to the plains, and them after you; but whichever of you can shear them will get the whole flock."

On hearing this, Clutch began to exclaim on his hard fortune, and his brother who had brought him there to be hunted and devoured by wolves; but Kind, thinking that things could be no worse, caught up the shears he had thrown away in his fright, and went boldly up to the nearest wolf. To his great surprise the wild creature seemed to know him, and stood quietly to be shorn, while the rest of the flock gathered round as if waiting their turn. Kind clipped neatly, but not too close, as he had wished his brother to do with the sheep, and heaped up the hair on one side. When he had done with one, another came forward, and Kind went on shearing by the bright moonlight till the whole flock were shorn. Then the old man said:

"Ye have done well, take the wool and the flock for your wages, return with them to the plain, and if you please, take this little-worth brother of yours for a boy to keep them."

Kind did not much like keeping wolves, but before he could make answer, they had all changed into the very sheep which had strayed away so strangely. All of them had grown fatter and thicker of fleece, and the hair he had cut off lay by his side, a heap of wool so fine and soft that its like had never been seen on the plain.

Clutch gathered it up in his empty bag, and glad was he to go back to the plain with his brother; for the old man sent them away with their flock, saying no man must see the dawn of day on that pasture but himself, for it was the ground of the fairies. So Clutch and Kind went home with great gladness. All the shepherds came to hear their wonderful story, and ever after liked to keep near them because they had such good luck. They keep the sheep together till this day, but Clutch has grown less greedy, and Kind alone uses the shears.