Chapter 23




A MYSTERY

As Snowball drew near the pasture bars he forgot about the blow on the head that the black ram had given him. The strange sights that greeted his eyes drove all unpleasant things out of his mind.

Snowball knew that the sheep he saw before him must be his old companions. But they were so changed, by shearing, that he couldn't tell who was who.

He stood still and stared at them and grinned.

"What amuses you, young man?" one of them asked him in a tart voice. The speaker was a big old dame. Even with her fleece closely cropped she looked undeniably fat. Yet she was wrinkled, too. And her neck had a scrawny look.

Not until she spoke did Snowball guess that this person was Aunt Nancy Ewe. The moment he heard her voice he knew her. And he couldn't help laughing right in her face.

"Don't be rude, young man!" Aunt Nancy scolded. "Anybody would think you had never seen a sheared flock before."

"I haven't," Snowball answered. "You're all so funny that I can't keep my face straight."

"Well," she said, "you'll have a chance to laugh at yourself a little later. For you'll certainly be sheared too."

Snowball turned sober instantly.

"Oh! Do you think so?" he cried.

"They'll never let you keep that fleece on all summer," Aunt Nancy declared.

She had scarcely finished speaking when Farmer Green came into the pasture. And Snowball was sure that Farmer Green looked directly at him. But before Snowball could make up his mind to run, Johnnie Green came hurrying after his father, and shouting.

"Don't touch Snowball!" he called. "Don't you shear him!"

"Why not?" his father asked him.

"Because," said Johnnie, "I want to shear him myself. He belongs to me."

"Very well!" his father replied. "Now we're here we may as well catch him. And you can begin shearing him. It will probably take you all day, because you've never sheared a sheep before."

"I don't want to shear him now," said Johnnie. "I'm going fishing to-day. I'll do it to-morrow."

Then Farmer Green and Johnnie went away. And they hadn't passed the bars when a great uproar broke out. The whole flock crowded around Snowball. And everybody except him said, "Baa!"

"He laughs best who laughs last," Aunt Nancy remarked to him. "To-morrow we'll laugh best—at you!"

But Snowball stood his ground and shook his head.

"I'm not going to be sheared," he declared. "I guess you don't know what Johnnie Green's 'to-morrow' means. . . . It means 'never!'"

Snowball really thought he was right about that.

The next morning he found that he had been mistaken. For Johnnie Green came and cornered—and caught—him. And amid a chorus of baas Johnnie led Snowball to the barn.

"Let's wait at the bars until Johnnie brings Snowball back!" cried the young black ram, who bad knocked Snowball down the day before. "We want to give him a good welcome when he comes back without his fleece."

"It's useless to wait," said Aunt Nancy. "You know Farmer Green said it would take Johnnie all day to shear him."

Along toward noon the black ram came hurrying to the upper end of the pasture, where most of the sheep were feeding.

"Snowball's here!" he blatted. "And he's sheared, too!"

And just then Aunt Nancy Ewe came puffing and panting to join the others.

"Snowball's back in the pasture!" she gasped. "And he isn't sheared at all!"

Well, nobody knew what to think of that.





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