COME, draw your chairs up to the fire, and listen to the tale I am about to tell. But mind and put three pocket-handkerchiefs on the table beside me, neither more nor less, and don't forget your own, for sad, sad is the telling, and tearful the conclusion of the story; and I should like us to be prepared for every emergency.
"What a smell of cooking!" said the auld wife, as she came home from the village to the foot of the brae. "Farmer M'Nab must be having a rare feast to-night!"
Stay a minute; I am beginning at the wrong end of the story. Let us commence properly at the first
line. You would not understand it otherwise, I know, though, of course, you are all so very clever.
It was a silly mutton that got behind the flock that summer's day, and lost itself on the road. No one was to blame but itself, neither the shepherd nor the collie dog was in fault, for,--greedy thing,--as the flock was being driven over the moor, the silly mutton saw a bit of nice, tasty grass by the roadside, and determined to have it at any price. So it hid behind a boulder of granite till the flock and shepherd and collie dog had gone past, and then, with a low "baa, baa" of satisfaction, it proceeded to browse on the coveted pasture.
But it was not long before it began to repent its folly, for the sky grew suddenly dark and lowering, rain began to fall, and night-time to approach. Where was the silly mutton to find refuge now, or seek companionship? The flock was far away, and the shepherd and kind collie dog out of sight and call. With anxious heart the silly mutton wandered all over the moorland waste in a rare fright, hopeful that some friend might take pity upon it, for it was Young, and had never been really alone before in its life. Ah! it was such a lonely spot. A nasty growl of thunder increased the fears of the silly animal, while the hideous and ominous croak of a raven from a neighbouring pine-tree nearly drove all the little sense it had left out of its head.
"Baa, baa, baa!" moaned the silly mutton, as it galloped hither and thither; "Baa, baa, baa! where shall I seek refuge? baa, baa! Oh, there's something
at last!" it cried, as it spied the smoke of a bothy curling up from behind a heathery hillock, and, turning a corner, it ran through a little wicket gate up between a patch of kale and potatoes, and never rested till, with a butt of its head, it burst open the low door, and entered the humble abode.
"Good life and sour scones!" exclaimed the auld wife, as she started up in a fright at the sudden intrusion; but she soon recovered herself when she saw what it was, and in another moment was congratulating herself upon such a lucky treasure-trove.
"Come in, come in, my pretty mutton," quoth she. Good luck has fallen to me to-day, I must admit. Before long I shall make some money out of this visitor, I feel sure. I will feed it and look after it till the good time comes; it will repay me all my trouble." So the silly mutton had a rare time of it--shelter overhead, and enough to eat and drink in all conscience, and the only thing it had to do was to eat, sleep, chew the cud, and grow fat at the auld wife's fireside.
The silly mutton was not quite lost to all sense of gratitude: perhaps it would have been better if it had been; and it thought one day, as it lay before the hearth and considered what good quarters it had, "Let me see; how can I do the kind auld wife a favour? Truly, I would like to do her one, if it was in my power. I will listen carefully, and, the first time I see a chance, I will do my best to please her."
I told you the silly mutton was lying before the fire at the moment of which I am speaking. It was
evening, and the auld wife had just finished her supper--a good meal of porridge, with just a taste of herring, potatoes, and salt, to make it go down, while a bowl of fresh milk, half emptied, was by her side, to be put away in the press with the remains of the feast, for next morning's breakfast.
"Oh, dearie me!" said the auld wife, yawning, for she was very tired, having been out all day in the turnip-field till her back ached; "oh, dearie me! how I do wish the supper would clear itself off the table by itself! and that I could find myself bedded just as I am, without having to get up and undress!"
"Ah!" thought the silly mutton, "now is my chance to do the auld wife a favour. I've grown so and filled out so the last month, I'm sure I'm strong enough for that." And, would you believe it? before the auld wife could say "Gizzard," the silly mutton had butted the table upside down, so that all the supper was cleared off it on to the floor, and the auld wife found herself pitched slap on her back in the bed, for the silly mutton had deftly put his head between her legs, and, with a kick out behind, sent her flying across the room!
"Baa, baa, baa!" said the silly mutton, grinning from ear to ear at his success; baa, baa, baa! what d'ye think o' that, auld wife?
"Baa, baa, baa!" yelled the auld wife from the bed. "Just wait a minute, and I'll baa, baa you!" Then, painfully crawling from the bed, she reached out her hand for the broomstick and made for the silly mutton. "Now comes the reward," thought the
silly mutton, and, indeed, it never knew how it happened, but in less than a minute it found himself out of the door, down the road, with many a sore place on its hide.
"Well, there's no accounting for the ingratitude
PITCHED INTO THE BED.
of some folks;" moaned the silly mutton. "I shall certainly be careful how I do a kindness next. time, if I ever get a chance! Let's hope I shall get the chance;" and it disconsolately wandered along the moorland road.
"Baa, baa, baa! Will no one take pity upon a poor silly mutton that has lost its way? Baa, baa, baa! Ali, there's something at last!" said the silly mutton, as it saw another auld wife carrying her spinning-wheel up a narrow path that seemed to enter a wood by the side of the highway. "I'll follow her. She can't carry that thing far; I fancy we must be near her home." So it followed the auld wife at a short distance.
"Holloa!" said the auld wife, turning round as she heard footsteps after her; "my patience me! why, here's a mutton coming up the road! Well, if we only wait long enough luck will come surely to our doors, and a good fleece into the bargain. The poor thing looks a bit banged about; but still, a day or two of combing will put that all to rights. I shall shear a good fleece. Come in, silly mutton, come in and welcome!" And saying this, she held the low door of the bothy open, and the silly mutton, nothing loth, went in and sat down by the peat-fire.
And since it knew how to behave well in the house, this auld wife and the silly mutton got on capitally, and she chuckled to herself over her luck, for her stock of wool was getting very low, and here was enough to keep her wheel going again for a long time to come. So the silly mutton throve, and got quite fat, and its fleece shone bright, so silky was it; for the auld wife took great care of it., combing and washing it daily, till the mutton could not help wishing it could do something in return. The wife was so very kind, that the mutton looked out daily for an
opportunity to repay her, until one fine morning quite unexpectedly, just before shearing-time, the chance came.
"One never can get all one wants," muttered the auld wife out loud, just as she was starting for a walk. "What a trouble it will be for me to have that mutton sheared! I must go, I suppose, this very day to Farmer M'Nab up the valley, and see if one of his gillies can lend me a hand, or I shall be late. Oh, how I do wish the fleece would come off of itself, and save me all the bother! But there, I must not complain." So off she started up the valley.
"Ah, auld wife," muttered the silly mutton, "I think I can do that job for you without troubling any Farmer M'Nabs or tiresome gillies. You really have been so kind, that, however much it hurts, I will try my very best; and, when I get my fleece off, it will be nice and cool, the weather is so sultry, so I shall gain too by the good action, I'm sure."
The garden of the auld wife, I may tell you, was full of groset bushes; there was also a quickset hedge round the patch, and some very prickly old whins one side the fence. "This is the very thing for me," said the silly mutton; and there and then it rolled about on the top of the whins, it capered in and out of the quickset hedge, and it danced the Flowers of Edinburgh round and between the groset bushes. In less than ten minutes there were left on the silly mutton's back but a few wretched shreds of wool, hanging down in a miserable tangle here and there, while with scratches and cuts from head to
tail it presented a most deplorable appearance. And there on the whins, the hedge, and the groset bushes hung scraps of fleece in festoons of every length, till a west wind springing up sent a good half of them flying along the road like bits of foam, a pleasant surprise to meet the auld wife on her return from the farmer's.
Now came the auld wife. She had been longer than she had expected, having been detained picking tip a few scraps of the wool which she spied on the road, thinking, poor soul, they were shed from a passing flock, and, though not of much worth, were still useful to make up in odds and ends. But, when she arrived at the bothy and saw the hideous desolation, and the wretched object standing making faces at her in the pathway, though her mouth flew wide open in surprise, she was absolutely dumb with her astonishment and rage.
"Baa, baa, baa! see what I have done for you!" cried the silly mutton; "baa, baa, baa! Ah, here comes the reward!" For now it saw the auld wife striding up towards him along the pathway at a great rate.
The silly mutton never knew how it was done, but the next moment it found itself shot through the quickset hedge into the road beyond, smarting behind with the most dreadful pain it had ever felt, for there the auld wife's uplifted boot had struck it, disappointment and rage lending power to the blow!
"Oh dear, oh dear! the auld wife's brogues must have been shod with iron spikes!" moaned the silly
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mutton, as it galloped down the road as fast as three legs could carry it. The fourth leg, let me remark in passing, was of no use: it was so sore, so very sore. "The auld brute, to behave so! Well, there's certainly no accounting for the ingratitude of some people," said the silly mutton. "I shall certainly be very careful how I do a favour--next time, if I ever get the chance. Let's hope I shall get the chance; and he painfully wandered down the moorland road.
"Baa, baa, baa! will no one take pity upon a poor silly mutton that has lost his way? Baa, baa, baa! Ah! there's something at last, surely," as he saw another auld wife picking up sticks in a little copse beside the way. "I'll just sit down in the ditch here till she's finished her gathering, and then follow her home."
And the silly mutton had not long to wait, for the auld wife's bundle was soon gathered, and, as she toddled off home, the silly mutton followed at a respectful distance until she arrived at her bothy; and, just as she opened the door, it slipped past her quickly and lay down by the peat-fire. Oh! it knew how to behave prettily by this time, you may take that for sure.
"Holloa!" said the auld wife, "a mutton in my bothy! Where in the wide world did that come from? Can it be Farmer M'Nab has sent it to me for my larder during the winter? At any rate, I'll think so until he, or whoever it belongs to, sends for it, which, I do hope sincerely, will never be. Oh, mercy me! what a state the poor thing is in! But
it is fat, for all that, and that's all I want." So she patched up the silly mutton's scars and tears, and cut off the ragged bits of fleece that still hung about him, .and washed the bruise where the last auld wife had given such a gruesome kick, and then, having fed the mutton with every good thing she could think of, sat down by the fire and congratulated herself on her good luck.
And from day to day she fed the silly mutton on all there was good and nourishing, and the silly mutton grew fat and sleek, so that now it barely cared to move from his seat by the hearth, but ate and slept, and slept and ate all day long.
And so delighted was the silly mutton with his new quarters and new mistress, that all former misfortunes were forgotten, and it thought: "Sure, so kind
an auld wife cannot be ungrateful. I will try and do her a favour if it is in my power, and if I only can discover what she wants."
And now the dark nights of November approached, when the auld wife thought it was time to salt the mutton and hang it up in the larder for winter use. So it happened one afternoon, while she sat considering how much of the mutton would do fresh for her present use, and how much was to be salted for the winter's store, she put out her hand and stroked the silly mutton tenderly down his sides. "Ah!" said she out loud, "what lovely chops! what bonnie chops are here! Oh, dearie me! if they only could be roasted without any bother on my part, what a lucky woman I should be, to be sure!" and she sighed as she put on her shawl and daundered off, for she had something that afternoon to do down in the village, and wanted to get back home before it was quite dark.
Now, I must tell you, when the auld wife put out her hand and stroked the silly mutton, though she did it very tenderly and softly, it awoke, and, looking up, heard the auld wife's last words. If it had heard all about the salting and the larder, perhaps it would not have been so precious obliging. But, said the silly mutton, "She wants my chops roasted without any trouble, does she? Dear old lass! so she shall; it is not very difficult, and only a step from this corner to the fire. As my fleece came again soon after I gave that away, it won't take much longer till I get my chops back again, I suppose. It is little enough she asks after all her trouble and attention to me, I
must say." So he got up and sat slap down in the midst of the burning embers in the centre of the hearth.
"Holloa!" said the silly mutton, "what a smell of cooking there is! Where's it coming from, I wonder?"
"Holloa!" said the silly mutton, "I'm getting a bit too hot; I hope the chops will be done soon!"
"Holloa!" said the silly mutton, "the smoke is choking me! Why can't the auld wife have better peats?"
"Holloa!" said the silly mutton. But it said no more, for it was a great deal too fat to move up when once it had sat down; and, choked with the smoke, it fell back suffocated on the auld wife's hearth.
. . . . . .
"What a smell of cooking!" said the auld wife, as she came from the village to the foot of the brae. "Farmer M'Nab must be having a grand feast! Why has he not asked me to it? the stingy old hunks! Dearie me! but it makes my mouth water. But I'll have as good a feast myself sooner or later, and I won't ask him to that--no, no, not I!" and she stopped for a moment to laugh as she thought of the silly mutton at home and his fat chops.
"What a smell of cooking!" said the auld wife, when at last she got to the top of the brae, and she turned her face to the wind and sniffed again. "It can't come from Farmer M'Nab for he is down to the right, and this good smell comes from further up the valley, and there is only my house further on.
[paragraph continues] It must be some strolling tinkers in the wood hard by making their supper. I do hope they have not been helping themselves to any of mine in my absence. They are nasty fellows, those tinkers!" and she picked up her petticoats and went on faster.
"What a smell of cooking!" said the auld wife, as she turned the corner of the pine wood by her bothy.
"Oh! oh! oh! oh! what do I see?"
Ah! how can I describe the spectacle that met her gaze-smoke in volumes pouring from the door and windows; at the top a burning roof-tree, and the frizzling remains of an animal lying in the middle of the blazing furniture!
And then it was, believe me, the auld wife opened her mouth and began,--no, I won't tell you what she said; it won't make the story any better to listen to, or the conclusion any less sad to relate. Suffice it to say it was neither pretty nor polite.
But, as the silly mutton said, there is no accounting for the ingratitude of some folk; and that's not such a silly remark if you look at it sideways, is it?