Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE LAMB WITH THE LONGEST TAIL
HE Sheep are a simple and kind-hearted family, and of all
the people on the farm there are none who are more
loved than they. All summer they wander in the fields,
nibbling the fresh, sweet grass, and resting at noon in
the shadow of the trees, but when the cold weather
comes they are brought up to the farmyard and make
their home in the long low Sheep-shed.
That is always a happy time. The Horses breathe deeply
and toss their heads for joy, the Cows say to each
other, "Glad to have the Sheep come up," and even the
Oxen shift their cuds and look long over their
shoulders at the woolly
 newcomers. And this is not because the Sheep can do
anything for their neighbors to make them warm or to
feed them. It is only because they are a gentle folk
and pleasant in all they say; and you know when people
are always kind, it makes others happy just to see them
and have them near.
Then, when the cold March winds are blowing, the good
farmer brings more yellow straw into the Sheep-shed,
and sees that it is warm and snug. If there are any
boards broken and letting the wind in, he mends them
and shuts out the cold. At this time, too, the Horses
and Cattle stop often in their eating to listen. Even
the Pigs, who do not think much about their neighbors,
root in the corners nearest the Sheep-shed and prick up
Some bleak morning they hear a faint bleating and know
that the first Lamb is there. And then from day to day
they hear more of the soft voices as the new
 Lambs come to live with the flock. Such queer little
creatures as the Lambs are when they first
come—so weak and awkward! They can hardly stand
alone, and stagger and wobble around the little rooms
or pens where they are with their mothers. You can
just imagine how hard it must be to learn to manage
four legs all at once!
There is one thing which they do learn very quickly,
and that is, to eat. They are hungry little people,
and well they may be, for they have much growing to do,
and all of the food that is to be made into good stout
bodies and fine long wool has to go into their mouths
and down their throats to their stomachs. It is very
wonderful to think that a Cow eats grass and it is
turned into hair to keep her warm, a Goose eats grass
and grows feathers, and a Sheep eats grass and grows
wool. Still, it is so, and nobody in the world can
tell why. It is just one of the things that are, and
if you should ask "Why?" nobody
 could tell you the reason. There are many such things
which we cannot understand, but there are many more
which we can, so it would be very foolish for us to
mind when there is no answer to our "Why?"
Yes, Sheep eat grass, and because they have such tiny
mouths they have to take small mouthfuls. The Lambs
have different food for a while,—warm milk from
their mothers' bodies. When a mother has a Lamb to
feed, she eats a great deal, hay, grass and chopped
turnips, and then part of the food that goes into her
stomach is turned into milk and stored in two warm bags
for the Lamb to take when he is hungry. And how the
Lambs do like this milk! It tastes so good that they
can hardly stand still while they drink it down, and
they give funny little jerks and wave their woolly
tails in the air.
There was one Lamb who had a longer tail than any of
the rest, and, sad to say, it made him rather vain.
When he first
 came, he was too busy drinking milk and learning to
walk, to think about tails, but as he grew older and
stronger he began to know that he had the longest one.
Because he was a very young Lamb he was so foolish as
to tease the others and call out, "Baa! Your tails are
Then the others would call back, "Baa! Don't care if
After a while, his mother, who was a sensible Sheep and
had seen much of life, said to him: "You must not brag
about your tail. It is very rude of you, and very
silly too, for you have exactly such a tail as was
given to you, and the other Lambs have exactly such
tails as were given to them, and when you are older you
will know that it did not matter in the least what kind
of tail you wore when you were little." She might have
told him something else, but she
The Lamb didn't dare to boast of his tail after this,
but when he passed the
 others, he would look at his mother, and if he thought
she wouldn't see, he would wiggle it at them. Of
course that was just as bad as talking about it, and
the other Lambs knew perfectly well what he meant;
still, they pretended not to understand.
One morning, when his mother's back was turned, he was
surprised to see that she had only a short and stumpy
tail. He had been thinking so much of his own that he
had not noticed hers. "Mother," he cried, "why
have a long tail too?"
"I did have once," she answered with a sheepish smile.
"Did it get broken?" he asked in a faint little voice.
He was thinking how dreadful it would be if he should
"Not exactly," said his mother. "I will tell you all
about it. All little Lambs have long tails——"
"Not so long as mine, though," said he, interrupting.
"No, not so long as yours," she
re-  plied, "but so long that if they were left that way
always they would make a great deal of trouble. As the
wool grows on them, they would catch burrs and sharp,
prickly things, which would pull the wool and sting the
skin. The farmer knows this, so when the little Lambs
are about as old as you are now, he and his men make
their tails shorter."
"Oh!" cried the Lamb, curling his tail in as far
between his legs as he could, "do you mean that they
will shorten my tail, my beautiful long tail?"
"That is just what I mean," said his mother, "and you
should be very glad of it. When that is done, you will
be ready to go out into the field with me. A lot of
trouble we should have if the men did not look after
such things for us; but that is what men are for, they
say,—to look after us Sheep."
"But won't they laugh at me when my tail is shorter?"
asked her son.
 "They would laugh at you if you wore it long. No Lamb
who pretends to be anybody would be seen in the pasture
with a dangling tail. Only wild Sheep wear them long,
Now the little Lamb wished that he had not boasted so
much. Now, when the others passed him, he did not put
on airs. Now he wondered why they couldn't have short
tails in the beginning. He asked his uncle, an old
Wether Sheep, why this was and his uncle laughed.
"Why, what would you have done all these days if things
happened in that way? What would you have had to think
about? What could you have talked about?" The little
Lamb hung his head and asked no more questions.
"What do you think?" he called to a group of Lambs near
by. "I'm going to have one of the men shorten my tail.
It is such a bother unless one does have it done, and
mine is so very long!"