Once on a time there was a sheep who stood in the pen to be fattened; so he lived well, and was stuffed and crammed with everything that was good. So it went on, till, one day, the dairymaid came and gave him still more food, and then she said,
'Eat away, sheep; you won't be much longer here; we are going to kill you to-morrow.'
It is an old saying, that women's counsel is always worth having, and that there is a cure and physic for everything but death. 'But, after all,' said the sheep to himself, 'there may be a cure even for death this time.'
So he ate till he was ready to burst; and when he was crammed full, he butted out the door of the pen, and took his way to the neighbouring farm. There he went to the pigsty to a pig whom he had known out on the common, and ever since had been the best friends with.
'Good day!' said the sheep, 'and thanks for our last merry meeting.'
'Good day!' answered the pig, 'and the same to you.'
'Do you know,' said the sheep, 'why it is you are so well off, and why it is they fatten you and take such pains with you?'
'No, I don't,' said the pig.
'Many a flask empties the cask; I suppose you know that,' said the sheep. 'They are going to kill and eat you.'
'Are they?' said the pig; 'well, I hope they'll say grace after meat.'
'If you will do as I do,' said the sheep, 'we'll go off to the wood, build us a house, and set up for ourselves. A home is a home be it ever so homely.'
Yes! the pig was willing enough. 'Good company is such a comfort,' he said, and so the two set off.
So, when they had gone a bit they met a goose.
'Good day, good sirs, and thanks for our last merry meeting,' said the goose; 'whither away so fast to-day?'
'Good day, and the same to you,' said the sheep; 'you must know we were too well off at home, and so we are going to set up for ourselves in the wood, for you know every man's house is his castle.'
'Well!' said the goose, 'it's much the same with me where I am. Can't I go with you too, for it's child's play when three share the day.'
'With gossip and gabble is built neither house nor stable,' said the pig, 'let us know what you can do.'
'By cunning and skill a cripple can do what he will,' said the goose. 'I can pluck moss and stuff it into the seams of the planks, and your house will be tight and warm.'
Yes! they would give him leave, for, above all things piggy wished to be warm and comfortable.
So, when they had gone a bit farther--the goose had hard work to walk so fast--they met a hare, who came frisking out of the wood.
'Good day, good sirs, and thanks for our last merry meeting,' she said, 'how far are you trotting to-day?'
'Good day, and the same to you,' said the sheep; 'we were far too well off at home, and so we're going to the wood, to build us a house, and set up for ourselves, for you know, try all the world round, there's nothing like home.'
'As for that,' said the hare, 'I have a house in every bush--yes, a house in every bush; but, yet, I have often said, in winter, 'if I only live till summer, I'll build me a house;' and so I have half a mind to go with you and build one up, after all.'
'Yes!' said the pig, 'if we ever get into a scrape, we might use you to scare away the dogs, for you don't fancy you could help us in house building.'
'He who lives long enough always finds work enough to do,' said the hare. 'I have teeth to gnaw pegs, and paws to drive them into the wall, so I can very well set up to be a carpenter, for "good tools make good work," as the man said, when he flayed the mare with a gimlet.'
Yes! he too got leave to go with them and build their house, there was nothing more to be said about it.
When they had gone a bit farther they met a cock.
'Good day, good sirs,' said the cock, 'and thanks for our last merry meeting; whither are ye going to-day, gentlemen?'
'Good day, and the same to you,' said the sheep. 'At home we were too well off, and so we are going off to the wood to build us a house, and set up for ourselves; for he who out of doors shall bake, loses at last both coal and cake.'
'Well!' said the cock, 'that's just my case; but it's better to sit on one's own perch, for then one can never be left in the lurch, and, besides, all cocks crow loudest at home. Now, if I might have leave to join such a gallant company, I also would like to go to the wood and build a house.'
'Ay! ay!' said the pig, 'flapping and crowing sets tongues a-going; but a jaw on a stick never yet laid a brick. How can you ever help us to build a house?'
'Oh!' said the cock, 'that house will never have a clock, where there is neither dog nor cock. I am up early, and I wake every one.'
'Very true,' said the pig, 'the morning hour has a golden dower; let him come with us;' for, you must know, piggy was always the soundest sleeper. 'Sleep is the biggest thief,' he said; 'he thinks nothing of stealing half one's life.'
So they all set off to the wood, as a band and brotherhood, and built the house. The pig hewed the timber, and the sheep drew it home; the hare was carpenter, and gnawed pegs and bolts, and hammered them into the walls and roof; the goose plucked moss and stuffed it into the seams; the cock crew, and looked out that they did not oversleep themselves in the morning; and when the house was ready, and the roof lined with birch bark, and thatched with turf; there they lived by themselves, and were merry and well. ''Tis good to travel east and west,' said the sheep, 'but after all a home is best.'
But you must know that a bit farther on in the wood was a wolf's den, and there lived two graylegs. So when they saw that a new house had risen up hard by, they wanted to know what sort of folk their neighbours were, for they thought to themselves that a good neighbour was better than a brother in a foreign land, and that it was better to live in a good neighbourhood than to know many people miles and miles off.
So one of them made up an errand, and went into the new house and asked for a light for his pipe. But as soon as ever he got inside the door, the sheep gave him such a butt that he fell head foremost into the stove. Then the pig began to gore and bite him, the goose to nip and peck him, the cock upon the roost to crow and chatter; and as for the hare he was so frightened out of his wits, that he ran about aloft and on the floor, and scratched and scrambled in every corner of the house.
So after a long time the wolf came out.
'Well!' said the one who waited for him outside, 'neighbourhood makes brotherhood. You must have come into a perfect paradise on bare earth, since you stayed so long. But what became of the light, for you have neither pipe nor smoke.'
'Yes, yes!' said the other; 'it was just a nice light and a pleasant company. Such manners I never saw in all my life. But then you know we can't pick and choose in this wicked world, and an unbidden guest gets bad treatment. As soon as I got inside the door, the shoe-maker let fly at me with his last, so that I fell head foremost into the stithy fire; and there sat two smiths who blew the bellows and made the sparks fly, and beat and punched me with red hot tongs and pincers, so that they tore whole pieces out of my body. As for the hunter he went scrambling about looking for his gun, and it was good luck he did not find it. And all the while there was another who sat up under the roof, and slapped his arms and sang out,
'Put a hook into him, and drag him hither, drag him hither.' That was what he screamed, and if he had only got hold of me, I should never have come out alive.