The Sheep by Francis C. Woodworth


Sheep, as well as many other animals, show a great fondness for music. The following anecdote in proof of such a taste, is given on the authority of the celebrated musician, Haydn. He and several other gentlemen were making a tour through a mountainous part of Lombardy, when they fell in with a flock of sheep, which a shepherd was driving homeward. One of the gentlemen, having a flute with him, commenced playing, and immediately the sheep, which were following the shepherd, raised their heads, and turned with haste to the spot whence the music proceeded. They gradually flocked around the musician, and listened with the utmost silence and attention. He stopped playing. But the sheep did not stir. The shepherd, with his staff, now obliged them to move on; but no sooner did the fluter begin to play again, than his interested audience returned to him. The shepherd got out of patience, and pelted the sheep with pieces of turf; but not one of them moved. The fluter played still more sweet and beautiful strains. The shepherd worked himself up into a storm of passion. He scolded, and pelted the poor creatures with stones. Some of the sheep were hit, and they made up their minds to go on; but the rest remained spell-bound by the music. At last the shepherd was forced to entreat the flute-player to stop his music. He did stop, and the sheep moved off, but still they continued to look behind them occasionally, and to manifest a desire to return, as often as the musician resumed his playing.

The life of a shepherd is very favorable for study and for improvement in knowledge, if one has the natural genius and the industry to make use of his spare time. Some of the most eminent men the world ever saw began their career by the care of a flock of sheep. Did you ever hear of Giotto, the great painter Giotto? No doubt you have. He was the man who made that famous design for a church, at the request of Pope Benedict IX. The messengers of the pope entered the artist's studio, and communicated the wish of their master. Giotto took a sheet of paper, fixed his elbow at his side, to keep his hand steady, and instantly drew a perfect circle. "Tell his holiness that this is my design," said he. His friends tried to persuade him not to send such a thing to the pope; but he persisted in doing so. Pope Benedict was a learned man, and he saw that Giotto had given the best evidence of perfection in his art. He invited the painter to Rome, and honored and rewarded him. "Round as Giotto's O," from that time, became an Italian proverb. But I must give a glance at the early history of this man. In the year 1276—according to that invaluable publication, "Chambers' Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge"—about forty miles from Florence, in the town of Vespignano, there lived a poor laboring man named Bondone. This man had a son whom he brought up in the ignorance usual to the lowly condition of a peasant boy. But the extraordinary powers of the child, uncultivated as they necessarily were, and his surprising quickness of perception and never-failing vivacity, made him the delight of his father, and of the unsophisticated people among whom he lived. At the age of ten, his father intrusted him with the care of a flock. Now the happy little shepherd-boy strolled at his will over meadow and plain with his woolly charge, and amused himself with lying on the grass, and sketching, as fancy led him, the surrounding objects, on broad flat stones, sand, or soft earth. His sole pencils were a hard stick, or a sharp piece of stone; his chief models were his flock, which he used to copy as they gathered around him in various attitudes. One day, as the shepherd-boy lay in the midst of his flock, earnestly sketching something on a stone, there came by a traveler. Struck with the boy's deep attention to his work, and the unconscious grace of his attitude, the stranger stopped, and went to look at his work. It was a sketch of a sheep, drawn with such freedom and truth of nature, that the traveler beheld it with astonishment. "Whose son are you?" cried he, with eagerness. The startled boy looked up in the face of his questioner. "My father is Bondone the laborer, and I am his little Giotto, so please the signor," said he. "Well, then, Giotto, should you like to come and live with me, and learn how to draw, and paint sheep like this, and horses, and even men?" The child's eyes flashed with delight, "I will go with you any where to learn that," said he; "but," he added, as a sudden thought made him change color, "I must first go and ask my father; I can do nothing without his leave." "That is quite right, my boy, and so we will go to him together, and ask him," said the stranger. It was the celebrated painter, Cimabue. Old Bondone consented to the wish of his son, and the boy went to Florence with Cimabue. Giotto soon went beyond his master in his sketches. His former familiarity with nature, while tending his sheep, doubtless contributed a good deal to his astonishing progress. One morning the master came into his studio, and looking at a half finished head, saw a fly resting on the nose. He tried to brush it off with his hand, when he discovered that it was only painted, and that it was one of the tricks of his young pupil. It was not long before the fame of the new artist spread all over Europe.

The author of that pleasant little book, called "Stories of the Instinct of Animals," relates a pleasing anecdote of a sheep in England. "One afternoon, in summer," he says, "after an illness which had confined me some time to the house, I went out into the field, to enjoy awhile the luxury of a walk at leisure among the beauties of nature. I had not been long in the field, before my attention was attracted by the motions of one of the sheep that were grazing there. She came up close to me, bleating in a piteous manner; and after looking wishfully in my face, ran off toward a brook which flowed through the pasture. At first I took but little notice of the creature; but as her entreaties became more importunate, I followed her. Delighted at having attracted my notice, she ran with all her speed, frequently looking back, to see if I was following her. When I reached the spot where she led me, I discovered the cause of all her anxiety. Her lamb had fallen into the brook, and the banks being steep, the poor little creature was unable to escape. Fortunately, the water, though up to the back of the lamb, was not sufficient to drown it. I rescued the sufferer with the utmost pleasure, and to the great gratification of its affectionate mother, who licked it with her tongue, to dry it, now and then skipping about, and making noisy demonstrations of joy. I watched her with interest, till she lay down with her little one, caressing it with the utmost fondness, and apparently trying to show me how much she was indebted to me, for my friendly aid."

A man was once passing through a lonely part of the Highlands in Scotland, when he perceived a sheep hurrying toward the road before him. She was bleating most piteously at the time; and as the man approached nearer, she redoubled her cries, looked earnestly into his face, and seemed to be imploring his assistance. He stopped, left his wagon, and followed the sheep. She led him quite a distance from the road, to a solitary spot, and at length she stopped. When the traveler came up, he found a lamb completely wedged in between two large stones, and struggling, in vain, to extricate himself. The gentleman immediately set the little sufferer free, and placed him on his feet, when the mother poured out her thanks and joy, in a long-continued and animated strain of bleating.

I am indebted to a correspondent of mine—Dr. Charles Burr, residing in the state of Pennsylvania—for a good story about a sheep which belonged to his father a number of years ago. This sheep, he says, was a cosset, was quite tame, and very much of a pet. One day, a young lamb of hers was wounded; and "my father (I must let the doctor tell his story in his own words) being out of the door, noticed the mother upon the hill by the barn, being as near the house as she could come. She appeared to be in great distress, running about, looking toward him, and bleating; evidently wishing to attract his attention. Supposing that something must be wrong, my father started to see what was the matter. The old sheep waited till he had got almost up to her, when she started and ran a few rods from him and stopped, turned round, looked at him, and bleated. My father followed on. The old sheep waited until he had got nearly up to her again, when she ran on, and went through the same operation as before. In this way she led my father to the farthest end of the pasture, where lay her lamb, bleeding and helpless. The little thing had bled so much that it could not raise its head, or help itself in the least. My father took the lamb, stanched the bleeding wound, took it in his arms and carried it home—the old sheep, in the mean time, following, and expressing her joy and gratitude, not by words, it is true, but by looks and actions more truthful, and which were not to be mistaken. Suffice it to say, that with proper care and nursing, the lamb was saved, and restored to health and strength, to the great satisfaction of both parties concerned."

I have a mind to tell you one of my own youthful adventures, in which a poor wight of a sheep had a prominent share. The adventure proved of immense service to me, as you will see in the sequel. Perhaps the story of it will be valuable to you, in the same manner.

I shall never forget the first time I sallied out into the woods to try my hand at hunting. Rover, the old family dog, went with me, and he was about as green in the matter of securing game as myself. We were pretty well matched, I think. I played the part of Hudibras, as nearly as I can recollect, and Rover was a second Ralph. I had a most excellent fowling-piece; so they said. It began its career in the French war, and was a very veteran in service. Besides this ancient and honorable weapon, I was provided with all the means and appliances necessary for successful hunting. I was "armed and equipped as the law directs," to employ the words of those semi-annual documents that used to summon me to training.

Well, it was some time before we—Rover and I—started any game. Wind-mills were scarce. For one, I began to fear we should have to return without any adventure to call forth our skill and courage. But the brightest time is just before day, and so it was in this instance. Rover began presently to bark, and I heard a slight rustling among the leaves in the woods. Sure enough, there was visible a large animal of some kind, though I could not determine precisely what it was, on account of the underbrush. However, I satisfied myself it was rare game, at any rate; and that point being settled, I took aim and fired.

Rover immediately ran to the poor victim. He was a courageous fellow, that Rover, especially after the danger was over. Many a time I have known him make demonstrations as fierce as a tiger when people rode by our house, though he generally took care not to insult them until they were at a convenient distance. Rover had no notion of being killed, knowing very well that if he were dead, he could be of no farther service whatever to the world. Hudibras said well when he said,

"That he who fights and runs away,
May live to fight another day."

That was good logic. But Rover went farther than this, even. He was for running away before he fought at all; and so he always did, except when the enemy ran away first, in which case he ran after him, as every chivalrous dog should. In the case of the animal which I shot at, Rover bounded to his side when the gun was discharged, as I said before. For myself, I did not venture quite so soon, remembering that caution is the parent of safety. By and by, however, I mustered courage, and advanced to the spot. There lay the victim of my first shot. It was one of my father's sheep! Poor creature! She was sick, I believe, and went into the thicket, near a stream of water, where she could die in peace. I don't know whether I hit her or not. I didn't look to see, but ran home as fast as my legs would carry me. Thus ended the first hunting excursion in which I ever engaged; and though I was a mere boy then, and am approaching the meridian of life now, it proved to be my last.