On the beautiful, undulating hills of Sussex feed many flocks
sheep, which are tended by many shepherds and shepherdesses, and
of these flocks used to be cared for by a poor woman who supported
herself and her little girl by this means.
They lived in a small cottage nestled at the foot of one of the
and each morning the mother took her crook and started out with
sheep, that they might feed upon the tender, juicy grasses with
the hills abounded. The little girl usually accompanied her mother
sat by her side upon the grassy mounds and watched her care for
ewes and lambs, so that in time she herself grew to be a very
So when the mother became too old and feeble to leave her cottage,
Little Bo-Peep (as she was called) decided that she was fully
manage the flocks herself. She was a little mite of a child, with
flowing nut-brown locks and big gray eyes that charmed all who
into their innocent depths. She wore a light gray frock, fastened
about the waist with a pretty pink sash, and there were white
around her neck and pink ribbons in her hair.
All the shepherds and shepherdesses upon the hills, both young
old, soon came to know Little Bo-Peep very well indeed, and there
many willing hands to aid her if (which was not often) she needed
Bo-Peep usually took her sheep to the side of a high hill above
cottage, and allowed them to eat the rich grass while she herself
upon a mound and, laying aside her crook and her broad straw hat
its pink ribbons, devoted her time to sewing and mending stockings
her aged mother.
One day, while thus occupied, she heard a voice beside her say:
"Good morning, Little Bo-Peep!" and looking up the
girl saw a woman
standing near her and leaning upon a short stick. She was bent
double by weight of many years, her hair was white as snow and
eyes as black as coals. Deep wrinkles seamed her face and hands,
her nose and chin were so pointed that they nearly met. She was
pleasant to look upon, but Bo-Peep had learned to be polite to
aged, so she answered, sweetly,
"Good morning, mother. Can I do anything for you?"
"No, dearie," returned the woman, in a cracked voice,
"but I will sit
by your side and rest for a time."
The girl made room on the mound beside her, and the stranger
and watched in silence the busy fingers sew up the seams of the
frock she was making.
By and by the woman asked,
"Why do you come out here to sew?"
"Because I am a shepherdess," replied the girl.
"But where is your crook?"
"On the grass beside me."
"And where are your sheep?"
Bo-Peep looked up and could not see them.
"They must have strayed over the top of the hill,"
she said, "and I
will go and seek them."
"Do not be in a hurry," croaked the old woman; "they
presently without your troubling to find them."
"Do you think so?" asked Bo-Peep.
"Of course; do not the sheep know you?"
"Oh, yes; they know me every one."
"And do not you know the sheep?"
"I can call every one by name," said Bo-Peep, confidently;
I am so young a shepherdess I am fond of my sheep and know all
The old woman chuckled softly, as if the answer amused her, and
"No one knows all about anything, my dear."
"But I know all about my sheep," protested Little Bo-Peep.
"Do you, indeed? Then you are wiser that most people. And
know all about them, you also know they will come home of their
accord, and I have no doubt they will all be wagging their tails
behind them, as usual."
"Oh," said Little Bo-Peep, in surprise, "do they
wag their tails? I
never noticed that!"
"Indeed!" exclaimed the old woman, "then you are
not very observing
for one who knows all about sheep. Perhaps you have never noticed
their tails at all."
"No," answered Bo-Peep, thoughtfully, "I do n't
know that I ever
The woman laughed so hard at this reply that she began to cough,
this made the girl remember that her flock had strayed away.
"I really must go and find my sheep," she said, rising
to her feet,
"and then I shall be sure to notice their tails, and see
if they wag
"Sit still, my child," said the old woman, "I
am going over the
hill-top myself, and I will send the sheep back to you."
So she got upon her feet and began climbing the hill, and the
heard her saying, as she walked away,
"Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And does n't know where to find 'em.
But leave 'em alone, and they 'll come home,
All wagging their tails behind 'em."
Little Bo-Peep sat still and watched the old woman toil slowly
hill-side and disappear over the top. By and by she thought, "very
soon I shall see the sheep coming back;" but time passed
still the errant flock failed to make its appearance.
Soon the head of the little shepherdess began to nod, and presently,
still thinking of her sheep,
Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep,
And dreamt she heard them bleating;
But when she awoke she found it a joke,
For still they were a-fleeting.
The girl now became quite anxious, and wondered why the old woman
not driven her flock over the hill. But as it was now time for
luncheon she opened her little basket and ate of the bread and
and cookies she had brought with her. After she had finished her
and taken a drink of cool water from a spring near by, she decided
would not wait any longer.
So up she took her little crook,
Determined for to find them,
and began climbing the hill.
When she got to the top there was never a sight of sheep about--only
green valley and another hill beyond.
Now really alarmed for the safety of her charge, Bo-Peep hurried
the valley and up the farther hill-side. Panting and tired she
the summit, and, pausing breathlessly, gazed below her.
Quietly feeding upon the rich grass was her truant flock, looking
peaceful and innocent as if it had never strayed away from its
Bo-Peep uttered a cry of joy and hurried toward them; but when
came near she stopped in amazement and held up her little hands
pretty expression of dismay. She had
Found them, indeed, but it made her heart bleed,
For they 'd left their tails behind them!
Nothing was left to each sheep but a wee little stump where a
should be, and Little Bo-Peep was so heart-broken that she sat
beside them and sobbed bitterly.
But after awhile the tiny maid realized that all her tears would
bring back the tails to her lambkins; so she plucked up courage
dried her eyes and arose from the ground just as the old woman
up to her.
"So you have found your sheep, dearie," she said, in
"Yes," replied Little Bo-Peep, with difficulty repressing
a sob; "but
look, mother! They 've all left their tails behind them!"
"Why, so they have!" exclaimed the old woman; and then
she began to
laugh as if something pleased her.
"What do you suppose has become of their tails?" asked
"Oh, some one has probably cut them off. They make nice
winter-time, you know;" and then she patted the child upon
and walked away down the valley.
Bo-Peep was much grieved over the loss that had befallen her
sheep, and so, driving them before her, she wandered around to
by any chance she could find the lost tails.
But soon the sun began to sink over the hill-tops, and she knew
must take her sheep home before night overtook them.
She did not tell her mother of her misfortune, for she feared
shepherdess would scold her, and Bo-Peep had fully decided to
the tails and find them before she related the story of their
Each day for many days after that Little Bo-Peep wandered about
hills seeking the tails of her sheep, and those who met her wondered
what had happened to make the sweet little maid so anxious. But
is an end to all troubles, no matter how severe they may seem
It happened one day, as Bo-Peep did stray
Unto a meadow hard by,
There she espied their tails side by side.
All hung on a tree to dry!
The little shepherdess was overjoyed at this discovery, and,
up her crook, she knocked the row of pretty white tails off the
and gathered them up in her frock. But how to fasten them onto
sheep again was the question, and after pondering the matter for
time she became discouraged, and, thinking she was no better off
before the tails were found, she began to weep and to bewail her
But amidst her tears she bethought herself of her needle and
"Why," she exclaimed, smiling again, "I can sew
them on, of course!" Then
She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye
And ran o'er hill and dale, oh.
And tried what she could
As a shepherdess should,
To tack to each sheep its tail, oh.
But the very first sheep she came to refused to allow her to
the tail, and ran away from her, and the others did the same,
finally she was utterly discouraged.
She was beginning to cry again, when the same old woman she had
met came hobbling to her side and asked,
"What are you doing with my cat tails?"
"Your cat tails!" replied Bo-Peep, in surprise; "what
do you mean?"
"Why, these tails are all cut from white pussycats, and
I put them on
the tree to dry. What are you doing with them?"
"I thought they belonged to my sheep," answered Bo-Peep,
"but if they are really your pussy-cat tails, I must hunt
until I find
those that belong to my sheep."
"My dear," said the old woman, "I have been deceiving
you; you said
you knew all about your sheep, and I wanted to teach you a lesson.
For, however wise we may be, no one in this world knows all about
anything. Sheep do not have long tails--there is only a little
to answer for a tail. Neither do rabbits have tails, nor bears,
many other animals. And if you had been observing you would have
all this when I said the sheep would be wagging their tails behind
them, and then you would not have passed all those days in searching
for what is not to be found. So now, little one, run away home,
try to be more thoughtful in the future. Your sheep will never
the tails, for they have never had them."
Little Bo-Peep no more did weep;
My tale of tails ends here.
Each cat has one,
But sheep have none;
Which, after all, is queer!