The Greedy Shepherd
: STORIES FROM IRELAND
: Boys And Girls Bookshelf
Once upon a time there lived in the South Country two brothers, whose
business it was to keep sheep. No one lived on that plain but shepherds,
who watched their sheep so carefully that no lamb was ever lost.
There was none among them more careful than these two brothers, one of
whom was called Clutch, and the other Kind. Though brothers, no two men
could be more unlike in disposition. Clutch thought of nothing but how
to make some profit for himself, while Kind would have shared his last
morsel with a hungry dog. This covetous mind made Clutch keep all his
father's sheep when the old man was dead, because he was the eldest
brother, allowing Kind nothing but the place of a servant to help him in
looking after them.
For some time the brothers lived peaceably in their father's cottage,
and kept their flock on the grassy plain, till new troubles arose
through Clutch's covetousness.
One midsummer it so happened that the traders praised the wool of
Clutch's flock more than all they found on the plain, and gave him the
highest price for it. That was an unlucky thing for the sheep, for after
that Clutch thought he could never get enough wool off them. At shearing
time nobody clipped so close as Clutch, and, in spite of all Kind could
do or say, he left the poor sheep as bare as if they had been shaven.
Kind didn't like these doings, but Clutch always tried to persuade him
that close clipping was good for the sheep, and Kind always tried to
make him think he had got all the wool. Still Clutch sold the wool, and
stored up his profits, and one midsummer after another passed. The
shepherds began to think him a rich man, and close clipping might have
become the fashion but for a strange thing which happened to his flock.
The wool had grown well that summer. He had taken two crops off the
sheep, and was thinking of a third, when first the lambs, and then the
ewes, began to stray away; and, search as the brothers would, none of
them was ever found again. The flocks grew smaller every day, and all
the brothers could find out was that the closest clipped were the first
Kind grew tired of watching, and Clutch lost his sleep with vexation.
The other shepherds, to whom he had boasted of his wool and his profits,
were not sorry to see pride having a fall. Still the flock melted away
as the months wore on, and when the spring came back nothing remained
with Clutch and Kind but three old ewes. The two brothers were watching
these ewes one evening when Clutch said:
"Brother, there is wool to be had on their backs."
"It is too little to keep them warm," said Kind. "The east wind still
blows sometimes." But Clutch was off to the cottage for the bag and
Kind was grieved to see his brother so covetous, and to divert his mind
he looked up at the great hills. As he looked, three creatures like
sheep scoured up a cleft in one of the hills, as fleet as any deer; and
when Kind turned he saw his brother coming with the bag and shears, but
not a single ewe was to be seen. Clutch's first question was, what had
become of them; and when Kind told him what he saw, the eldest brother
scolded him for not watching better.
"Now we have not a single sheep," said he, "and the other shepherds will
hardly give us room among them at shearing time or harvest. If you like
to come with me, we shall get service somewhere. I have heard my father
say that there were great shepherds living in old times beyond the
hills; let us go and see if they will take us for sheep-boys."
Accordingly, next morning Clutch took his bag and shears, Kind took his
crook and pipe, and away they went over the plain and up the hills. All
who saw them thought that they had lost their senses, for no shepherd
had gone there for a hundred years, and nothing was to be seen but wide
moorlands, full of rugged rocks, and sloping up, it seemed, to the very
By noon they came to the stony cleft up which the three old ewes had
scoured like deer; but both were tired, and sat down to rest. As they
sat there, there came a sound of music down the hills as if a thousand
shepherds had been playing on their pipes. Clutch and Kind had never
heard such music before, and, getting up, they followed the sound up the
cleft, and over a wide heath, till at sunset they came to the hill-top,
where they saw a flock of thousands of snow-white sheep feeding, while
an old man sat in the midst of them playing merrily on his pipe.
"Good father," said Kind, for his eldest brother hung back and was
afraid, "tell us what land is this, and where we can find service; for
my brother and I are shepherds, and can keep flocks from straying,
though we have lost our own."
"These are the hill pastures," said the old man, "and I am the ancient
shepherd. My flocks never stray, but I have employment for you. Which of
you can shear best?"
"Good father," said Clutch, taking courage, "I am the closest shearer in
all the plain country; you would not find enough wool to make a thread
on a sheep when I have done with it."
"You are the man for my business," said the old shepherd. "When the moon
rises, I will call the flock you have to shear."
The sun went down and the moon rose, and all the snow-white sheep laid
themselves down behind him. Then up the hills came a troop of shaggy
wolves, with hair so long that their eyes could scarcely be seen. Clutch
would have fled for fear, but the wolves stopped, and the old man said:
"Rise and shear--this flock of mine have too much wool on them."
Clutch had never shorn wolves before, yet he went forward bravely; but
the first of the wolves showed its teeth, and all the rest raised such a
howl that Clutch was glad to throw down his shears and run behind the
old man for safety.
"Good father," cried he, "I will shear sheep, but not wolves!"
"They must be shorn," said the old man, "or you go back to the plains,
and them after you; but whichever of you can shear them will get the
On hearing this, Kind caught up the shears Clutch had thrown away in his
fright, and went boldly up to the nearest wolf. To his great surprise,
the wild creature seemed to know him, and stood quietly to be shorn.
Kind clipped neatly, but not too closely, and when he had done with one,
another came forward, till the whole flock were shorn. Then the man
"You have done well; take the wool and the flock for your wages, return
with them to the plain, and take this brother of yours for a boy to keep
Kind did not much like keeping wolves, but before he could answer they
had all changed into the very sheep which had strayed away, and the hair
he had cut off was now a heap of fine and soft wool.
Clutch gathered it up in his bag, and went back to the plain with his
brother. They keep the sheep together till this day, but Clutch has
grown less greedy, and Kind alone uses the shears.