A Short Story for Kids
Snowball Lamb and The Bear
The first time Snowball Lamb had attempted to lead the flock in a game of “Follow My Leader” had worked beautifully. Farmer Green's flock of sheep had followed Snowball over the fence and back again into the pasture. And soon every one of them was grazing again as if nothing had happened.
Now, Snowball was greatly pleased, for it was the first time he had ever started that game called Follow My Leader. And there wasn't a sheep nor a lamb that hadn't gone chasing after him when he showed them the way.
Snowball saw many merry games ahead of him. "I'll give them some good runs!" he promised himself.
And he did. Before that morning was over he led the flock up to the furthest corner of the pasture in a mad scramble. And before the afternoon was over he took them on a brisk run to the bars.
That made three times for the day.
On each summer's day that followed Snowball played Follow My Leader more often than he had the day before. So it happened that by the end of a week, when evening came, the older sheep were weary from all the running they had done, all the scrambling over fences and stone walls.
For Snowball's favorite trick was to lead the sheep over the wall and into the tangle of raspberry bushes where Uncle Jerry Chuck lived.
Snowball had soon learned that there was nothing to fear over there. He discovered that it was the noise the flock made when leaping down upon the ledge that alarmed Uncle Jerry Chuck. Drowsing in his underground chamber Uncle Jerry had thought there must be an earthquake. That was why his teeth chattered. That was why his nose twitched, when he peeped out of his doorway.
As soon as Snowball learned all this he took great pains to land upon the ledge as heavily as he could. He liked to hear Uncle Jerry Chuck's teeth chatter; he liked to see Uncle Jerry shiver. He liked the sound of Uncle Jerry's squeaky voice asking what was the matter.
So Snowball enjoyed his days in the pasture—or in and out of it. In fact he enjoyed them more than anybody else in the flock. For the others began to grow tired of being led helter-skelter in a headlong flight. And the old folks especially became annoyed because Snowball took them so often over the stone wall.
At last the old dame known as "Aunt Nancy," all hung with great folds of thick fleece, spoke her mind plainly to Snowball himself.
"You're making a nuisance of yourself," she told him. "In all my days I never knew another youngster—a mere lamb!—to lead the flock. And here you're making us run our legs off every day! When I was your age we children never started a game of Follow My Leader. We followed behind the rest of the flock. We never led."
All this was a great surprise for Snowball. "D-don't you like the game?" he stammered.
"The game's all right," the old lady said. "But nobody cares to play it a dozen times a day. And nobody enjoys having to clamber over the stone wall again and again."
Snowball said nothing for a few minutes. He was thinking.
"When I run, why do you follow me if you don't wish to?" he inquired at last.
"I don't know," the old lady confessed. "Maybe I fell into the habit of following when I was young. Anyhow, I can't help myself now. I just have to go along with the others."
Snowball really meant to be kind to the elderly dame, Aunt Nancy, who had objected to being led on the wild goose chases in which he delighted.
"I mustn't start another game of Follow My Leader," he said to himself. "Aunt Nancy says she can't help following. And for a person of her years it must be hard work to run."
But Snowball soon learned that he had set himself a hard task. Soon afterward he found himself suddenly running. He hadn't meant to run. Yet there he was, bounding along towards the stone wall as fast as he could jump! And the whole flock was following him, with Aunt Nancy puffing hard among the stragglers, doing her best to keep up.
Over the wall went Snowball. Over the wall went all the rest. Aunt Nancy was the last to leap down upon the ledge where Snowball had stopped. And he could see that she was upset. He edged away from her. But she shouldered her friends aside (she was a huge person!) and walked straight up to him.
"You're a spoiled child," she told Snowball. "Here you've gone and led us over this wall again! And I just told you I didn't want to run anywhere—over this wall least of all places!"
Snowball felt much ashamed.
"I—I didn't mean to do it," he faltered. "Something set my feet a-going. I had to go along with them!"
"Is that so?" she cried in dismay. "My goodness! You've been and gone and got the habit of being leader! And you can't stop! . . . I don't know what I'm going to do!" she wailed. "There'll be nothing left of me if this keeps up. I'll be nothing but fleece and bones if I have to run so much."
Somehow her friends didn't seem alarmed. Aunt Nancy was very fat. In fact she was so very, very fat that nobody thought she could waste away. And everybody smiled a little.
But she didn't notice that. And then a squeaky voice piped up:
"Is there an earthquake?"
It was Uncle Jerry Chuck peeping out of his hole, with his teeth chattering so fast that it seemed as if they must all drop out of his mouth.
"There's no earthquake," Aunt Nancy told him. "We just jumped off the wall upon this ledge—that's all."
"I was sure there was an earthquake," he said. "And the last quake was the worst of all."
There were more smiles then, for Aunt Nancy herself had been the last of the flock to plump down off the wall.
"I wish—" said Uncle Jerry Chuck—"I wish, when you folks jump the wall, you'd pick out a different place. You disturb me a dozen times a day. I'm losing lots of sleep on your account. And if I continue to lose my rest I'll be nothing but fur and bones."
Well, Uncle Jerry was fat, too. He looked as if it would do him a world of good to be thinner. But Aunt Nancy felt sorry for him.
"Whoever leads the way over the wall must pick out another spot," she declared, looking straight at Snowball as she spoke. "It's a shame to annoy this gentleman."
Everybody agreed with her good-naturedly. And Snowball said meekly that if he found himself running towards the wall he would try to turn his steps in another direction.
No one said anything more about the matter. For somebody suddenly cried, "Baa! baa!" and scrambled over the wall.
Of course the whole flock followed instantly, leaving Uncle Jerry Chuck to creep out of his hole and watch the last tail of all bob out of sight.
It was Aunt Nancy's.
"They're a queer lot," Uncle Jerry said aloud. He gave a long whistle. "I'm glad I'm not one of 'em," he added.
All was quiet once more, after the race from the ledge near Uncle Jerry Chuck's home. The flock was feeding again. And if you hadn't noticed how Aunt Nancy Ewe puffed from her fast running you wouldn't have supposed there had just been a wild scramble over the stone wall and back.
Aunt Nancy was still feeling sorry for Uncle Jerry Chuck, whose rest had been disturbed by the thud of hoofs above his head. "Remember!" she said to Snowball sternly. "Don't go near Uncle Jerry's home again!"
"I won't!" he promised. "That is," he added, "I won't if I can help it. If I find myself running that way I may not be able to stop myself."
Now, that sort of promise wasn't enough for Aunt Nancy.
"You must turn aside!" she told Snowball. "Just make believe that there's a bear beyond the stone wall, instead of Uncle Jerry Chuck! Then," she said, "then you'll turn quickly enough!"
"That's a good idea!" cried Snowball. "If only I don't forget it!"
Aunt Nancy's words never left his mind all the rest of the morning. Just thinking about bears made Snowball frightfully uneasy. Whenever one of the flock happened to stray up behind him Snowball jumped, fearing for a moment that it was a bear.
If anybody said baa in his ear he leaped to one side, expecting the baa to turn into a woof!
He began to wish that Aunt Nancy hadn't told him of her idea.
And all at once, when somebody came up behind him and gave him a nudge, Snowball started to run.
"There's a bear behind me!" he thought.
Of course the rest of the flock thought he was only playing Follow My Leader. So they followed him, every one of them.
Snowball went bounding across the pasture towards the stone wall, headed straight for the spot where Uncle Jerry Chuck had his home. When he was only a few jumps away from the wall he glanced back. He saw then that there was no bear behind him. But he did notice Aunt Nancy Ewe, doing her best to keep up with the rest. And then Snowball remembered what she had said to him. If a bear—instead of Uncle Jerry Chuck—lived in the hole at the foot of the ledge!
Well, that thought was enough to make Snowball swerve sharply to his right. And a few moments later he bobbed over the wall a little further up the hillside.
Just beyond the wall grew a tangle of berry bushes. And into the midst of them Snowball jumped. And out of the midst of them, right in front of him, there rose up on his hind legs—a bear!
Snowball gave a frightened, frantic blat. The next instant he was scrambling back over the wall.
The foremost of the oncoming flock of sheep saw him. They couldn't think what had happened. Anyhow, they couldn't stop. Close behind them pressed the flock, all bunched together and hurrying blindly on.
There was a terrible mix-up. Some sheep were trying to cross the stone wall in one direction. Some were trying to cross it in the other. And in the midst of the fleecy tangle Snowball struggled in vain. He found himself face to face with Aunt Nancy Ewe, who was so huge that he couldn't budge her. He pushed and shoved until she cried out, "Where are your manners, young man?"
"I—I don't know," Snowball stammered. "Maybe I left them in the berry bushes, with the bear."
Well, the moment she heard the word bear, Aunt Nancy blatted at the top of her lungs. With a mighty heave she turned about on the top of the wall, sweeping Snowball off it as if he were nothing but a fly.
He fell backwards among the raspberry bushes, fully expecting to be eaten by the bear. He shut his eyes and held his breath, and lay with his feet in the air, waiting for the bear to seize him.
"Oh, dear!" he groaned. "I wonder if he'll begin with my head or my tail!"
Just then he felt a terrible nip at the end of his tail.
"He's begun! The bear has begun to eat me!" Snowball thought.
As for the bear, he didn't say a single word. And that seemed odd. Somehow Snowball didn't quite like it because the bear didn't exclaim how nice and tender he was. His tail was still held fast. And that was as much as Snowball knew.
At last he slowly opened his eyes. To his astonishment he saw no bear. In fact he saw nobody at all. For the last of Farmer Green's flock of sheep had vanished. And Snowball noticed, resting on the tip of his tail, a stone. Though he did not know it, the last sheep to leave had kicked it down upon him purely by accident.
Snowball gave a baa of surprise and relief. With a little effort he managed to jerk his tail from under the stone. Then he sprang to his feet. And since there was no knowing where the bear was, Snowball made all haste to get on the other side of the stone wall and join the flock of sheep once more.
When Aunt Nancy saw him she did not act half as pleased as he had expected she would.
"You got us into a pickle, young man!" she greeted him.
"It seems to me," he replied, "that you are the one that made all the trouble. If you hadn't made me jump the wall——"
"If I hadn't made you——" Aunt Nancy interrupted. And turning to her companions she cried, "Did you ever hear anything like that in all your days?"
And everybody said, "No!"
And then somebody asked, "Where's the bear?"
But nobody could answer that question.
The only one that could have answered it was Cuffy Bear himself. And he was way up under the mountain—and still running.
There wasn't a sheep in the flock that had been more frightened than he.
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