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Long, long ago, when the animals were not as wise as they are now, they were all very much afraid of the sheep. Even the lion and tiger were afraid of him. They had never seen him angry, but he had such a solemn look, and his beard was so long, and his horns so strong and curly, that they were sure he would be very dangerous indeed if he were once roused.
One day old Papa Sheep invited Mr Tiger to come and spend the day with him, and he also invited him to bring Little Tiger along to play with Little Sheep, for Mr Tiger’s little boy was just the same age as Papa Sheep’s little boy.
Mr Tiger was very pleased at this invitation. He was glad to come himself, and he was glad to have Little Tiger become friendly with Little Sheep, for after a while Little Sheep would probably grow up and be just as big and strong and dangerous as his father was.
Mr Tiger and his little boy arrived quite early in the morning at the sheep’s house, and they brought a present with them, so that Papa Sheep would feel pleased with them. The present they brought was a basket of nice fresh green things such as all sheep like.
Papa Sheep thanked them for the present, and patted Little Tiger on the head, and then he told the two children to run out of doors and play, because he and Mr Tiger wanted to talk big talk together.
The little ones were very glad to do this, for it was bright and pleasant outside, and they liked it better than staying in the house.
Little Tiger was very frisky and frolicsome, and Little Sheep was too. At first they ran about and chased each other, and tried which could jump highest, but after a while they grew rougher in their play. Little Sheep butted Little Tiger with his forehead, and then Little Tiger raised his paw and gave Little Sheep a blow on the side of the head.
Though the Tiger was young and small, he was also very strong, and his blow sent Little Sheep tumbling heels over head. Little Sheep was not angry however. He got up and laughed and laughed. When he laughed he opened his mouth wide, and Little Tiger was very much surprised to see what little teeth the sheep had. He did not say anything at the time, however, but only went on with his play.
But when Little Tiger and his father were walking home together that evening, Little Tiger said, “Papa, I saw Little Sheep’s teeth to-day, and he only has little, little bits of teeth. They do not look as though they could bite anyone.”
“Hush, hush,” cried the Tiger. “You mustn’t talk in that way. Some one might hear you.”
“But it is true,” said Little Tiger. “Why, I wouldn’t be afraid of Little Sheep now, even if he did get angry.”
“Will you be quiet?” cried the Tiger angrily. “If you ever say such a thing again I will box you so hard that you will forget whether you ever saw his teeth or not.”
All the same Mr Tiger could not help wondering whether what Little Tiger had said was true. How strange it would be if Little Sheep only had little weak teeth, and stranger still if Papa Sheep’s teeth were just the same!
That night, after all the Tiger family had gone to bed, Mr Tiger began to talk to his wife in a low tone.
“Do you know what Little Tiger said to-day?”
“No; how should I know? Some nonsense, no doubt.”
“He said he saw Little Sheep’s teeth, and that they were so small and weak he did not believe he could bite anybody.”
“Oh! oh! be quiet,” cried his wife. “Are you crazy to talk so? Suppose some one heard you, and went and told Papa Sheep what you had been saying. He certainly would come and tear us all to pieces.”
Mr Tiger said nothing in answer to this, but the less he said, the more he thought. At last he made up his mind to find out for a certainty whether Papa Sheep had biting teeth or no. For this purpose he in his turn invited Papa Sheep and Little Sheep to come and spend the day with him and his family.
Papa Sheep accepted the invitation, and on the day named he and Little Sheep arrived bright and early at the tiger’s house.
As before, the little ones went out of doors to play, and the big animals sat and talked inside the house.
Presently Mr Tiger brought out a bottle of wine and set it on the table, and he and the sheep began to drink together. The more Papa Sheep drank, the merrier he grew. He quite lost his solemn look. He began to laugh loudly, and he threw back his head and opened his mouth so wide that the tiger could see every tooth he had. And very poor teeth they were too—so small and weak that they were not fit for biting anything tougher than grass.
When Mr Tiger saw how small the sheep’s teeth were, he became very angry. He was in a rage to think he had ever been afraid of Papa Sheep, and had treated him with respect. With a roar he sprang at the old sheep, and gave him such a blow with his paw that the sheep fell down dead.
Little Tiger, outside, heard the noise, and he ran and looked in at the window. As soon as he saw what had happened, he called to Little Sheep, “Run, Little Sheep! Run away, quick! My papa is biting your papa, and if you do not run away he will bite you next.”
When Little Sheep heard this he was very much frightened. He did not stop to ask any questions. He took to his heels and ran home, crying bitterly all the way.
Old Mother Sheep saw him coming and hurried out to meet him. “What is the matter?” she cried. “Where is your father, and why are you crying so bitterly?”
“Oh! oh!” wept Little Sheep. “The Tiger! He has bitten Papa to pieces, and I’m afraid he’ll come and bite me too.”
When Mother Sheep heard this, she too began to weep and lament. “What shall we do now?” she cried. “Where shall we go? The Tiger will certainly come in search of us next, and tear us to pieces as he did your father.”
At this the Little Sheep raised his voice and wept more bitterly than ever.
Now it so chanced that when Mother Sheep ran out to meet Little Sheep she met him under a tall tree, and in this tree the Queen of the Birds was sitting. The Queen heard everything the two below her said, and she felt very sorry for them because they were in such distress and terror. She flew down to a branch just over their heads and spoke to them in a soothing manner.
“I have overheard all that you have been saying. This Tiger that you speak of is indeed a very wicked animal. You are in great danger, but do not be afraid. I will help you. I have a plan that may rid us of him for ever. Go back to your home. Shut yourself in and remain there quietly until I send you further word.”
When Mother Sheep heard this she was comforted, for she saw at once that it was a queen that was speaking to her. She promised to do as she was told, and with Little Sheep at her side she returned quickly to the house. There they shut themselves in and sat down to wait for what might happen.
Meanwhile the Queen flew away to the forest where she lived, and called all the birds together. “Listen now,” she said to them. “Do you know what the wicked Tiger has done? He has killed poor old Papa Sheep, who never did harm to anyone. We all know how cruel the Tiger is, but this is the worst thing he has done yet. It is time for us to rid the forest of him.”
The Queen then told them that she was going to give a grand ball. To this ball she intended to invite the Tiger. And not only should he be invited, but he should be her own partner for the dance.
“When the music begins, you also must take partners,” said she. “We will all stand up to dance, and then I will give a sign, and all the herons must clap their wings together. When they do this, the rest of you must instantly hide your heads under your wings. When I make another sign, they will again clap their wings, and then you must take your heads out again. If the plan I have in my mind only works out well, we will soon put an end to this Tiger.”
The birds promised to obey their Queen exactly in everything, and then she sent several of them away to the Tiger’s house to invite him to the ball.
The Tiger was at home when the birds arrived, and he was very much flattered when he heard that the Queen wished him to come to her ball. He was even more delighted when he found that he was to be the Queen’s own partner in the dance.
He at once began to make himself ready, smoothing his whiskers, and brushing his coat until it shone.
The Tiger’s wife, however, was not at all pleased. “What nonsense is this?” cried she. “Why should you want to go to a ball? You have never been to court before, and you will not know how to act. You will be sure to do something foolish, and then every one will laugh at you.”
The Tiger became very angry when she said this. “Of course I shall go,” he cried. “I know how to behave as well as anyone. You only talk this way because you are jealous at not being asked. If you had been invited too, you would have been eager enough to go. But you cannot dissuade me, whatever you say.” The Tiger then hurried away through the forest to the place where the ball was to be held.
As soon as the Queen of the Birds saw him coming, she made haste to welcome him. A fine feast was already spread, and the Queen made the Tiger sit down at her right hand, and she offered him so many delicious things that he ate and drank a great deal more than was good for him. She also flattered him until he hardly knew what he was doing.
After the feast was ended the music began to play, and the birds all stood up to dance. Each one had a partner, but the Queen’s partner was the Tiger himself, as she had promised him. When all were in position, the Queen gave a sign, and the great herons clapped their wings together with a loud noise. The noise was so very loud and so very sudden that it made the Tiger blink, and in that moment that the Tiger blinked all the birds hid their heads under their wings.
When the Tiger looked about him again he was very much surprised to see all the birds standing there apparently without any heads. The Queen alone held her head high, and she looked at him with an angry air.
“How is this?” said she. “Are these your court manners? Do you not know that at court no one except the Queen ever dances without removing his head? Look about you. Do you see even a single one of the birds with his head on?”
“But—but—” stammered the Tiger, “after the dance is over, what will they do without their heads? Your Majesty, how could I take care of my wife and family without a head?”
“Oh,” said the Queen smiling, “after the dance is over they will have their heads again. It is only while they dance that they are without them. I will show you.”
With these words the Queen again gave a sign. At once all the herons clapped their wings, and in the instant when the Tiger blinked the birds drew their heads from under their wings. The Tiger looked about him. There the birds all stood just as before, only now their heads were in their proper places, and they were all looking at him with a scornful air.
“Oh, your Majesty,” cried the Tiger, “I am very much ashamed. I have never been to court before, and I did not know what was expected of me. If you will excuse me, I will run home and get rid of my head, and then I will return at once to dance with you.”
“Very well,” answered the Queen, “only do not be gone long”; and she smiled upon him sweetly.
At once the Tiger bounded away, but the Queen bade a little sparrow follow him and bring her word of what happened to him.
The Tiger hurried on, leaping over logs and breaking through bushes, while the sparrow fluttered overhead unnoticed.
He reached his home, and scarcely had he crossed the threshold before he began to bawl for his wife. “Wife! Wife! Come here, quick! Bring an axe and chop off my head.”
“Are you crazy?” cried his wife. “Chop off your head! Why should I do that?”
“You do not understand. I am to dance with the Queen, and no one may do that as long as he has a head on his shoulders.”
“All the better for you. Why should you dance with her? And I certainly shall not kill you, Queen or no Queen.”
When his wife said this, Mr Tiger fell into a terrible rage. “Am I the master of the house, or am I not?” he cried. “Do as I tell you, or I will tear you to pieces, as I did the poor silly Sheep.” He looked so fierce that his wife was terrified. She ran out and got the axe. When she returned with it, however, she again began to argue with him. “Think, husband—think well what you would have me do. If your head is once off, there will be no putting it on again. That will be the end of you.”
“You do not understand,” cried the Tiger. “The Queen will see to that. She will see that my head is put back again after the dance.” Then, as his wife still hesitated, he began to roar in such a terrible manner that she almost lost her wits, and seizing the axe, she cut off his head in a hurry. And that was the end of him, for even if the Queen had been able to do it, she would not have restored the head of such a wicked beast.
As soon as the sparrow had seen the end of the Tiger, he flew back to carry the news to the Queen. Then there was the greatest rejoicing all through the forest. Not a single bird or beast but was glad the Tiger was dead. No one, however, rejoiced as heartily as Mother Sheep and Little Sheep, for they were the ones who had been in most danger. Now they could come out from their house again and go about their usual business.
After a while, as time passed by, Little Sheep played so hard and ate so much that he grew up to be Big Sheep. He was larger and stronger than his father had ever been. His beard was longer, and his horns were curlier, and yet nobody was afraid of him. Word had gone to all the animals that the sheep’s teeth were too small and weak to hurt anyone. And so it has been ever since. Not one of the animals has been afraid of the sheep from that day to this.
SHORT STORY FOR KIDS WRITTEN BY KATHARINE PYLE
Header illustration from Pixabay, with thanks
LET’S CHAT ABOUT THE STORIES ~ IDEAS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
1. When Mr Tiger discovered that he was stronger than Papa Sheep, he killed him. Why was this a terrible thing to do?
2. Should the strong attack the weak? What would happen if everybody did this?
3. How might the strong instead use their strength to help the weak? Why might this be a good idea?