The Seven Sheepfolds

By Constance Armfield

Illustrated by Maxwell Armfield

Once upon there was a shepherd who lived on a mountain in a wild and lonely part of Hungary. Wild dogs, foxes, and wolves abounded in the deep ravines filled with dark forests, and among the crags of the mountain peaks, and the shepherd had to be forever on the watch whilst his sheep were grazing. He had several fine sheep-dogs to aid him in his work, and when the lambs strayed down the mountain side, or frisked away to play round the rocky boulders, the faithful sheep-dogs would follow and drive them back to the sheepfold.

This sheepfold was built of stones, and no wolves could enter; it stood near the shepherd’s little hut, so that he could easily go back and fro on a dark night when a sick lamb needed attention. It would have been a lonely life for some people, but the shepherd found his dogs good companions; he loved his sheep and was always busy looking after them; and when the sheep were grazing quietly, he would take out his flute, cut from a willow in the plains below, and play pretty melodies which chimed with the roar of the mountain springs and torrents.

Several waterfalls fell from the rocks, plunging down through the forests to the streams below, and so the shepherd was always sure of delicious water for his flock and himself. For food, he gathered wild strawberries which grew in abundance; grew corn in a little clearing by his hut; and kept a few hens so that there was always a new laid egg for his breakfast. Then he had a little flock of goats from whom he received excellent milk, which he made into cheese. His life was very pleasant in the summer, and winter did not lack occupation, for he was fond of carving and painting, and his clever hands decorated everything in his little hut till it looked as gay as a posy of mountain flowers.

One summer day, Bebeck was busy dyeing yarn with juice pressed from various herbs and flowers; he had his pot boiling on a fire of twigs, and was stirring and whistling and thinking of the beautiful coat he would embroider in the coming winter evenings, when he heard an old ewe baa-ing in a piteous manner. The dogs were running around with their noses to the ground and all the sheep were collecting as if something were the matter.

So the shepherd had to scatter his fire, and go to see what was doing. As he got to his troubled flock, two of the dogs went off at a great pace, and it was not long before he noticed a lamb was missing. So off went the shepherd after his faithful sheep-dogs.

Soon the pleasant green pasture land was left behind and he found himself in a desolate part of the mountain. Great rocks towered overhead at a terrifying height, the air grew colder and colder, and the perpetual roar and rush of the streams had a melancholy sound.

The dogs had disappeared round some boulders and it was as much as he could do to leap from stone to stone, clamouring after them. Then, as he rounded the crag behind which they had vanished, he beheld a dark opening, within which he could hear a dreadful snarling and barking going on; and as he hurried forward to go to his dogs’ assistance, they rushed out, one of them bearing the lamb safely in its mouth, and the others dragging out the carcase of a savage wolf.

The shepherd’s first thought was for the lamb, which he found to be quite unhurt; he laid it on a tuft of moss, commanding one of the dogs to guard it, and then turned to the others. What was his amazement to find the wolf’s hair covered with sparkling gems, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and all manner of stones of great size, flashing brilliantly. Inside the cave, the floor must be covered with precious jewels!

Bidding the sheep-dogs stay on guard, the shepherd went boldly into the dark entrance; he had to stoop, for the roof was low, and soon he found several passages leading in various directions, so that he was puzzled to know which way to go; but he was a lad of great resolution and when he started on anything, never gave in till he had accomplished his purpose. Somewhere inside this cave, there must be a pile of treasure and the shepherd was determined to find it. On he went, therefore, until a light appeared at the end of a narrow passage, and he hastened to it.

From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.

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