The Seven Sheepfolds

Terrible was the storm and difficult indeed it was to battle up against the wind and rain, but clad in his stout sheepskin cloak and additionally protected by the pile of sheepskins on his shoulders, Bebeck pressed forward until the faithful sheep-dogs showed him that the entrance of the cave was reached. He went in, undismayed by the terrific grumblings and rumblings which seemed to be proceeding from the heart of the mountain itself. But as he advanced further and further in, the noise became deafening, the walls of the passage heaved and the very earth seemed to shake under his feet. His dogs crept close to him and whined, and only their devotion to their master induced them to stay with him.

At last he saw a faint light glimmering, no longer bright, and hastening forward, perceived that the brilliant cave was now shaking and heaving as though the storm was convulsing it. Of the old gentleman there was no sign. But as Bebeck stood on the threshold, he perceived the ground was tilting so that a great stream of jewels was flowing down to him, not precious stones this time, but crowns, goblets and rings and brooches. He had but to open the mouth of his sack, and place it on the ground, and the sparkling treasures hastened, as if by their own free will, to fill his huge sack to overflowing.

Quickly he seized the rope and bound it round, then with the aid of his dogs, he dragged the burden through the passages, arriving outside as a terrific crash indicated that the roof of the cave had tumbled in. Now the storm grew less and by the time he beheld his hut, the stars were out and shining.

In the morning when he heard his guest moving, he quickly went in to prepare breakfast and give his news.

How amazed the King was when Bebeck invited him to the door and there on the hard snow he beheld the mighty pile of treasure.

Then King Bela begged the shepherd to ask him for some gift. “There must be something I can do to show my gratitude,” said the King.

“But no,” said Bebeck. “My joy consists in giving Your Majesty pleasure, and also in thinking of the prosperous cities and happy people you will now see round you.”

“If they are as happy as you, I shall indeed have a happy kingdom,” said King Bela, but he went on to beg the shepherd to think of something for himself, and at last Bebeck said, “Well, Your Majesty, as I wander about the mountains after my sheep, I come on flocks belonging to other shepherds; they suffer as I do, from their lambs and sheep straying into dangerous places. Grant me permission to build some sheepfolds on the mountain tops, so that there will always be a place of refuge and shelter for the straying sheep.”

Willingly this request was granted and the King departed, telling the shepherd to keep his cheese as the gems in the sack would be all and more than was needed for the King’s people on the plains below.

The King went down to the mountain therefore, and the next day sent people for the treasure, and after that he was busy, arranging for the cities to be built and the peoples’ homes restored, so that Bebeck, the shepherd, almost went out of his head.

But one day he received certain of his nobles who said they had come to tell him of a terrible thing that was happening. “There is a low-born shepherd by the name of Bebeck,” said they, “who is actually building castles on the top of the highest mountains round his home. They are as strong as fortresses and beautiful as palaces. Pray send an army at once to destroy them and punish the fellow for his presumption.”

“Nay,” said the King. “Let me go and see them first.”

He was smiling to himself, for he had a pretty good idea that the castles were sheepfolds, and sure enough, as he rode up the mountain to Bebeck’s hut, he beheld imposing walls rising on every peak around.

Fortunately Bebeck was in his hut when the King arrived, mixing some gruel for a sick lamb. By the happy radiant smile with which Bebeck met the King, the King knew he had done nothing wrong. “I have come to see your sheepfolds, Bebeck,” said the King.

“Oh, Your Majesty, I am more grateful than I can ever say,” cried Bebeck. “If the storm had not driven you to my cottage, my treasure would still have been hidden in that cheese, of no use to any one, and I would still have been selfishly happy, never thinking of any one outside my cottage. But thanks to Your Majesty’s wisdom, who knew I must wish to help others even as Your Majesty does, my treasure is now sold and hundreds of masons and carpenters are at work, making the sheepfolds stout and strong to last forever. We have built rooms for the shepherds too, and storehouses for provisions, so that if any one is belated with his flock, there will be good shelter for him. And as the mountain tops in winter are somewhat cheerless, beautiful pictures are being carved and painted on the walls.”

“So that is why your sheepfolds are thought to be palaces,” smiled the King, and went with Bebeck to look at their wonders, with the smile lurking in his eyes and round the corners of his mouth, for so generous had been Bebeck’s provision for strangers and wanderers, man or beast, that indeed most beautiful castles had been erected.

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

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