FLORENCE the sheep (called Florry by her very best friends) was trying to moo again.
As usual, it came out wrong. She still sounded like a sheep.
She opened her mouth to try once more, and at that moment, out of her left ear, she heard a scratching noise. And then she was covered all over with flying dirt.
This, she thought, could only mean one thing.
It must be Ben.
Ben the hen (called Benjamina by people who did not know her very well) had finished laying her egg and was out and about.
``M-m-m-m - good morning, Ben.''
``Pluck-pluck,'' said Ben. ``You're not trying to moo again are you, Florry?''
Mavis, one of the sheep who happened to be near, looked up from cropping the grass. ``Yup. She's at it again. Morning, noon, and night. Trouble with her is, she just don't like being a sheep. Davis!'' she yelled at her newborn lamb, who was jumping up trying to grab chestnut leaves, ``Davis! Come over here this minute! It's time for breakfast.''
And as Davis came over and rushed underneath his mother to have a good drink of morning milk, she went on speaking without taking a breath: ``Who ever heard of a sheep that wanted to be a cow! It's just ridibiculous and sillybillacious, that's what I say. Steady, Davis, you don't have to gulp it down!''
``Pluck-pluck,'' said Ben. She liked Florry and wanted her to be happy. ``But, but, but,'' she said, ``I don't see how you could ever be a cow, if you'll excuse the rhyme.''
``I know, I know,'' said Florry, ``but I feel different somehow. And I watch the cows. They have a shape to their lives, a routine, that we sheep don't have. We just wander about all day munching. What do you suppose they are doing when every morning and every evening....''
``Regular as cluckwork... ,'' put in Ben, who had heard all this so many time before she knew it by heart.
``Regular as clockwork,'' Florry went on. ``Off they go in a line along the path, through the gate, over the bridge, and into the barn. Then an hour later out they come.''
``Regular as clickpick,'' put in Ben.
``Regular as ... out they come again, licking their lips, frolicking and tail swishing and looking very, very pleased with themselves. What is it that they do in there? I wish I knew. Oh, I wish I could moo.''
``I know you do,'' said Ben. And then she added suddenly: ``You know something else? I've never told you this before. But you are different from the other sheep in the flock. You are smaller and neater and prettier, and your nose is more nicely shaped, and you are much, much more splick-quick intelligent.''
``Am I a tiny bit cowlike?'' asked Florry hopefully.
``Not in the least,'' replied the hen, ``but you are a splendid sheep.''
* * *
About three weeks later, not long after Florry had given birth to triplets, who, according to Ben, were all as different-looking as she was, and just while she was very busy feeding them, something amazing happened.
A young man and woman visited the farm.
Florry couldn't make out everything they said to the farmer, but she heard snatches.
``... interested only in ... with the triplets ... yes, new business ... cheese ... special....'' That is what she heard the young man and woman say.
Then she saw the couple hand the farmer some pieces of paper.
And a day later - a day she would never forget - Florry and her three thirsty youngsters moved house. Or rather - with the friendly assistance of a sheep dog - they moved field.
As they went (it was not far but it was rather hurried), Florry had just enough time to call excitedly to Ben. ``Ben, Ben, I think I'm going to a new farm. I'll write.''
* * *
It seemed a very long time before Ben received a letter from Florry. Written carefully on a sheet of green paper, it said:
From Florence Sheep
Little Nibbles Barn
Merryweather Sheep Cheese Farm
Cow Close Meadow
My dearest Ben,
At last I have found a charcoal stick to write to you with. I hope you are well and your eggs exceedingly brown. I am now the happiest sheep alive. Know why? Because every morning and evening, I join in with all the other sheep here (who look just like me, by the way) and walk in a line along the path, through the gate, across the bridge, and into the barn. One hour later out we come, licking our lips, frolicking, tail-swishing, and looking very, very pleased with ourselves. And there are big shining containers in the barn full of our lovely rich milk, all ready for turning into the best cheese in the world!
Yours, with mooving affection and clucky memories,
P. S. Don't worry. I'm still sheep-shaped. Come and visit and I'll tell you mooch more. Who wants to be a big black-and-white bovine brute anyway? Sheep are more refined than cows.
P. P. S. Hens are pretty good, too, by the way, although I never wanted to be one. Whoever heard of a hen being milked? Happy egg-laying, old friend!