Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)
TITLE: The Gentle Shepherd
By Ann Grover
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“That’s it, Lucy, you’ll be borning yer lambie afore long,” Thomas whispered before taking a long sip of steaming tea from his mug. The collie beside him tipped his head to the side, eyed the bleating sheep, and leaned against Thomas’s knee.
“Aye, Kip, another lamb.”
Thomas gazed at the rest of the flock grazing in the meadow below. A few lambs gamboled about, fluffy scraps of white springing lightly in the grass. Thomas finished the tea with a few swallows and set the mug on the window sill of the cottage.
“Let’s go, Kip.”
The two ambled in companiable silence toward the sheep, and as they neared the animals, Kip trotted on ahead. A few curious lambs bounded out to greet the dog, touching noses while Kip sniffed their woolly bodies. Thomas caught up and wandered through the feeding sheep, reaching out to pat a back here, fondle an ear there, speaking in low tones.
“Mornin’, Ruthie. ‘Allo, Elsa. How are you, sweet Maria.” The ewes lifted their heads to his gentle caresses and went back to their eating. Kip roamed the perimeter of the meadow, alert for predators and stray sheep. Thomas kept one eye on Lucy, lying down by the thicket.
By then, the ram was turning an arrogant eye on the approaching Thomas. “Take it easy, Midas.” Thomas ran a hand over the ram, pulling a few twigs and leaves from the thick fleece. “There ye be, handsome fellow.”
Thomas headed up to Lucy, now in full labour, both bags of water broken. “Not long now, girl.”
Two tiny hooves appeared, followed by a nose. Lucy strained and the small head was exposed, then suddenly the whole body slithered free. Thomas pulled the membrane away from the nose, then let Lucy begin licking her lamb dry.
“It’s a fine lambie,” Thomas murmured as he wiped blood from his hands on a knot of grass. “You done well, Lucy.”
He made sure the wee lamb could stand and suckle, smiled and went back to the cottage. He came out shouldering a wool bale and whistled low for Kip who circled the flock and ran to Thomas.
“Mind the sheep, Kip. Stay.” Kip panted and his tongue lolled in a dog smile.
Thomas sauntered down the narrow path to the village, enjoying the sunshine, the breeze, and the melody of the birds in the trees. He was exultant over the successful birth of the lamb, indeed, the health of his whole flock.
“Good day, Thomas. What ‘ave ye got, lad,” Mistress Agatha asked when she saw Thomas.
“Wool, as usual. Enough for a blanket, methinks.”
But before Thomas and Mistress Agatha could discuss a trade, a trio of rough looking boys surrounded Thomas.
“Well, if it ain’t the sheep boy,” said the black haired one.
“Come for a sight o’ the city? Tired of being in the hills, are ye?”
The bushy bearded one circled Thomas. “Can’t speak? Are ye dumb like those sheeps you tend?”
The black haired boy stepped close. “He be sheepish, all right. Smells just like a sheep, he do.”
“Oh, ye be witty, Bart.” The boys guffawed and smacked each other.
“Move along,” encouraged Mistress Agatha. “I don’t need no trouble.”
“We’re just funnin’ ‘im,” said the red head.
“Y’oughta come to town more often, sheep boy, git yerself some civilized manners,” suggested Bart. “Might learn to talk.”
“I can talk, sir, and I suggest you do as Mistress Agatha asked before I call the constable.” Thomas spoke quietly, but the boys backed away, then disappeared down the lane.
“Thank you, Thomas. Them fellows are trouble everywhere they go. You’ve more manners in yer little toe than they have put together. Methinks living with yer sheep has made ye a kindly and gentle young man. Can’t be rough and loud like, can ye?”
“No, Mistress, not iffen they’re to trust their shepherd. I must be calm and watchful of danger.”
“Aye. Well, let’s see yer wool and do some tradin’. What’ll ye have?”
“Not much, Mistress. Flour, sugar, butter. And, Mistress?”
“When I’m carin’ for my sheep, I think o’ me own Shepherd, how calm and quiet He is with me. He don’t ever get excited and loud, just gentle, like. Ain’t that a marvel?”
“To be sure, Thomas, to be sure.”
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