Gateway to the Classics: Among the Farmyard People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
Among the Farmyard People by  Clara Dillingham Pierson


Why the Sheep Ran Away

I T was during the hottest summer weather that the wind-storm came. The farmyard people always spoke of it as "the" wind-storm, because not even the Blind Horse, who had lived on the farm longer than any of his neighbors, could remember anything like it. "I recall one time," he said, "when a sweet-apple tree was blown down in the fall. The Hogs found it and ate all the fruit before the farmer knew that it was down. You should have heard them grunt over it. They were afraid the farmer would drive them away before they had eaten it all. Eh, well! They ate all they wanted, but one of the Pigs told me afterward that it made them sick, and that he never wanted to see another sweet apple as long as he lived. That was a hard storm, but not like this, not like this."

It had come in the night when the farmyard people were asleep, and there was much scampering to shelter. The fowls, who were roosting in the old apple-tree, did not have time to oil their feathers and make them water-proof. They just flew off their perches as fast as they could and ran for the open door of the Hen-house. When they were once inside, they ruffled up their feathers and shook themselves to get rid of the rain-drops. Fowls do not like wet weather, and it vexes them very much to be in the rain. Their neighbors know this so well that it has become their custom to say of an angry person that he is "as mad as a wet Hen."

The Cows were in their part of the barn with their necks between the stanchions, so there was nothing for them to do but to keep still and think of those who were out of doors. The Horses were in their comfortable stalls. They had been working hard all day and the farmer had gotten a good supper of oats ready for them in their mangers, so that they could eat quickly and go to sleep, instead of staying awake and walking around to get their own suppers in the pasture.

Out in the meadow the Sheep huddled close together under a low-branching tree, and stood still until the storm passed. They had been so warm that the cool rain made them comfortable, but the wind pushed them and swayed the branches of the trees. The loud thunder made the Lambs jump. They liked the lightning and made a game out of it, each one telling what he had seen by the last flash. The clouds, too, were beautiful, and flew across the sky like great dark birds with downy breasts, dropping now and then shining worms from their beaks.

At last the air became cool and clear, and the clouds flew far away toward the east. Next, the stars peeped out, first one, then two, then six, then twenty, and then so many that you could not have counted them,—more than the leaves on a maple-tree, more than the grass-blades of the meadow. The Sheep ran around a little to shake off the rain-drops and warm themselves, then they huddled down again to sleep.

When the sun arose in the eastern sky, his warm beams fell upon the Sheep and awakened them. "How cool and beautiful a day," they said. "What a morning for a run!"

"I can beat you to the tall grass!" called one little Lamb to the rest, and they all scampered around the field, throwing up their heels for joy. They had been away from their mothers for a while, and had learned to eat grass instead of milk. They were quite proud of the way in which they broke it off, with quick upward jerks of their heads, and their teeth were growing finely. They did not expect any upper front teeth, for in place of them the Sheep have only a hard pad of flesh.

Soon they came running back to the flock. "There is a Dog over there," they cried, "a strange Dog. He doesn't look like Collie. He is coming this way, and we are afraid."

Their uncle, the Bell-Wether, looked over to where the strange Dog was, then turned quickly and began to run. The bell around his neck clinked at every step. When the other Sheep heard the bell they raised their heads and ran after him, and the Lambs ran after them. The strange Dog did not follow or even bark at them, yet on they went, shaking the shining rain-drops from the grass as they trod upon it. Not one of them was thinking for himself what he really ought to do. The Bell-Wether thought, "I feel like running away from the Dog, and so I will run."

The other Sheep said to themselves, "The Bell-Wether is running and so we will run."

And the Lambs said, "If they are all running we will run."

Along the fence they went, the bell clinking, their hoofs pattering, and not one of them thinking for himself, until they reached a place where the fence was blown over. It was not blown 'way down, but leaned so that it could be jumped. If a single one of the flock, even the youngest Lamb, had said, "Don't jump!" they would have stayed in the pasture; but nobody said it. The Bell-Wether felt like jumping over, so he jumped. Then the Sheep did as the Bell-Wether had done, and the Lambs did as the Sheep had done.

Now they were in the road and the Bell-Wether turned away from the farm-house and ran on, with the Sheep and the Lambs following. Even now, if anybody had said, "Stop!" they would have stopped, for they knew that they were doing wrong; but nobody said it.

After a while a heavy wagon came rumbling down the road behind them, and the Bell-Wether jumped over a ditch and ran into a hilly field with woodland beyond. Because he went the Sheep did, and because the Sheep went the Lambs did, and nobody said "Stop!" You see, by this time they were very badly frightened, and no wonder. When they saw the strange Dog they were a little scared, for they thought he might chase them. If they had made themselves stay there and act brave they would soon have felt brave. Even if the Dog had been a cruel one, they could have kept him from hurting them, for Sheep have been given very strong, hard foreheads with which to strike, and the Bell-Wether had also long, curled horns with three ridges on the side of each. But it is with Sheep as it is with other people,—if they let themselves be frightened they grow more and more fearful, even when there is no real danger, and now all of their trouble came from their not stopping to think what they ought to do.

They hurried up to the highest ground in the field, and when they were there and could go no farther, they stopped and looked at each other. One Lamb said to his mother, "Why did we come here? It isn't nearly so nice as our own meadow."

"Why, I came because the Bell-Wether did," she answered. Then she turned to the Bell-Wether and said, "Why did you bring us here?"

"I didn't bring you here," he replied. "I felt like coming, and I came. I didn't make you follow."

"N-no," answered the Sheep; "but you might have known that if you came the Sheep would come."

"Well," said the Bell-Wether, "you might have known that if you Sheep came the Lambs would, so you'd better not say anything."

"Baa!" cried the Lambs. "We are hot and thirsty and there isn't any water here to drink. We want to go back."

Everybody was out of patience with somebody else, and nobody was comfortable. They did not dare try to go home again, for fear they would have more trouble, so they huddled together on the top of the hill and were very miserable and unhappy. They hadn't any good reason for coming, and they could not even have told why they ran to the hilltop instead of staying in the pleasant hollow below.

There was a reason for their running up, however, although they didn't know it. It was because their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and -grandmother were wild Sheep in the mountains, and when frightened ran up among the rocks where there was nobody to hurt them. They got into the habit of running up-hill when scared, and their children did the same, and their children's children did the same, and now even the farmyard Sheep do so, although they long ago forgot the reason why.

"Bow-wow-wow!" rang out on the still morning air.

"There's Collie!" cried the Lambs joyfully. "He's coming to take us home. Let's bleat to help him find us more quickly." All the Lambs said, "Baa! Baaa!" in their high, soft voices, and their mothers said "Baa! Baaa!" more loudly; and the Bell-Wether added his "Baa! Baaa!" which was so deep and strong that it sounded like a little, very little, clap of thunder.

Collie came frisking along with his tail waving and his eyes gleaming. He started the flock home, and scolded them and made fun of them all the way, but they were now so happy that they didn't care what he said. When they were safely in the home meadow again and the farmer had mended the fence, Collie left them. As he turned to go, he called back one last piece of advice.

"I'm a Shepherd Dog," he said, "and it's my work to take care of Sheep when they can't take care of themselves, but I'd just like to be a Bell-Wether for a little while. You wouldn't catch me doing every foolish thing I felt like doing and getting all the flock into trouble by following me! Nobody can do anything without somebody else doing it too, and I wouldn't lead people into trouble and then say I didn't think. Bow-wow-wow-wow!"


Collie and the Bell-Wether

The Bell-Wether grumbled to himself, "Well, the rest needn't tag along unless they want to. Pity if I can't jump a fence without everybody following." But down in his heart he felt mean, for he knew that one who leads should do right things.


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