The Cattle that Came
The moans of the poor creatures rose up to them, and the family at last saw what they had done, and came home weeping and quarrelling, each laying the blame on the other.
Then no one cared to do any work, for all feared that ill luck would come on everything; and indeed, everything they touched did seem to turn out badly. For the first time in their lives they sat down to heavy bread and soup with too much salt in it. John forgot to water his young cauliflower plants and found them withered quite away; the butter wouldn’t churn and the cheese wouldn’t set; and so it went from day to day. The worst effect of all was, that the children no longer played with one another, but threw stones and mud and said hard words even as their parents did.
No one had divided the lands yet, and no one had the heart to make a move in that direction. But at last one evening when they were round the fire, bemoaning their sad fate, Peter spoke out and said:
“We have all been to blame, every one of us, for we broke our promise to our father in the first place, and then, we stopped loving each other. Instead of being grateful for all the good that had been given us, we began to want more than we could use, and for the poor purpose of exulting over our neighbours, and even our own brothers. This punishment is deserved and at least we need not be cowardly enough to grumble at it.”
These were the first true words the family had heard for many a day and John was ready enough to agree, and so was James, and finally Rozsa and Pille chimed in with: “Yes, prosperity has gone from us forever but we can still keep our word to our father and go on living together. We ourselves will gladly do our best for every one again.”
“Yes, yes,” cried Baby Blue-eyes, “though the poor cattle are gone, I am grateful we are all left. I never wanted to cook for the King’s grand guests, and we will see that no more spoilt dishes come to table. At least we can do our best to help and happify each other.” All joined in with this, and that night all embraced on parting and, though all were saddened, once more love and kindness reigned.
From that day the family returned to their own ways, save that each worked with added diligence; and mothers, and fathers too, were quick to see that the little ones lived in friendship with each other and allowed no quarrelling to spring up again.
Then, to their great surprise, instead of their prosperity coming to an end, as they expected, everything they did succeeded more and more; never had they had such harvests as they beheld next year; never had the children looked so well and beautiful; never had their homes looked so charming. They asked one another how this could have happened, for the words of the lady and of their father must surely have been true; until Peter suddenly exclaimed, “Why, of course, we did not separate the cattle; we were saved in time, by the poor creatures’ fate.”
“Yet it was our selfishness that drove them to their doom,” said John very soberly. But at that moment what should they hear but a great shout of joy coming nearer and nearer, and rushing to the door of the house, in which they were waiting for the children to come home to dinner, they beheld the six pairs of cattle driven by the children. How the cattle had got out of the swamp and into the meadows none ever knew, but returning from the forest where the little ones had spent the morning gathering berries, the children had beheld the cattle quietly grazing, and had driven them home in joy and triumph, even as their parents had driven them, home, long years ago.
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.