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 will return 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; "for though I am so young a shepherdess I am fond of my sheep and know all about them."
The old woman chuckled softly, as if the answer amused her, and replied,
"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 if you know all about them, you also know they will come home of their own 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 have."
The woman laughed so hard at this reply that she began to cough, and 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 them."
"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 girl 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 up the hill-side and disappear over the top. By and by she thought, "very soon I shall see the sheep coming back;" but time passed away and 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 had 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 cheese and cookies she had brought with her. After she had finished her meal and taken a drink of cool water from a spring near by, she decided she 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 a green valley and another hill beyond.
Now really alarmed for the safety of her charge, Bo-Peep hurried into the valley and up the farther hill-side. Panting and tired she reached the summit, and, pausing breathlessly, gazed below her.
Quietly feeding upon the rich grass was her truant flock, looking as peaceful and innocent as if it had never strayed away from its gentle shepherdess.
Bo-Peep uttered a cry of joy and hurried toward them; but when she came near she stopped in amazement and held up her little hands with a 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 tail should be, and Little Bo-Peep was so heart-broken that she sat down beside them and sobbed bitterly.