Once upon a time there was a little boy who lost his parents; so he went to live with his Auntie, and she set him to herd sheep. All day long the little fellow wandered barefoot through the pathless plain, tending his flock, and playing his tiny shepherd’s pipe from morn till eve.
But one day came a great big wolf, and looked hungrily at the small shepherd and his fat sheep, saying, ‘Little boy! shall I eat you, or your sheep?’ Then the little boy answered politely, ‘I don’t know, Mr. Wolf; I must ask my Auntie.’
So all day long he piped away on his tiny pipe, and in the evening, when he brought the flock home, he went to his Auntie and said, ‘Auntie dear, a great big wolf asked me to-day if he should eat me, or your sheep. Which shall it be?’
Then his Auntie looked at the wee little shepherd, and at the fat flock, and said sharply, ‘Which shall it be?—why, you, of course!’
So next morning the little boy drove his flock out into the pathless plain, and blew away cheerfully on his shepherd’s pipe until the great big wolf appeared. Then he laid aside his pipe, and, going up to the savage beast, said, ‘Oh, if you please, Mr. Wolf, I asked my Auntie, and she says you are to eat me.’
Now the wolf, savage as wolves always are, could not help having just a spark of pity for the tiny barefoot shepherd who played his pipe so sweetly, therefore he said kindly, ‘Could I do anything for you, little boy, after I’ve eaten you?’
‘Thank you!’ returned the tiny shepherd. ‘If you would be so kind, after you’ve picked the bones, as to thread my anklebone on a string and hang it on the tree that weeps over the pond yonder, I shall be much obliged.’
So the wolf ate the little shepherd, picked the bones, and afterwards hung the anklebone by a string to the branches of the tree, where it danced and swung in the sunlight.
Now, one day, three robbers, who had just robbed a palace, happening to pass that way, sat down under the tree and began to divide the spoil. Just as they had arranged all the golden dishes and precious jewels and costly stuffs into three heaps, a jackal howled. Now you must know that thieves always use the jackal’s cry as a note of warning, so that when at the very same moment Little Anklebone’s thread snapped, and he fell plump on the head of the chief robber, the man imagined some one had thrown a pebble at him, and, shouting ‘Run! run!—we are discovered!’ he bolted away as hard as he could, followed by his companions, leaving all the treasure behind them.
‘Now,’ said Little Anklebone to himself, ‘I shall lead a fine life!’
So he gathered the treasure together, and sat under the tree that drooped over the pond, and played so sweetly on a new shepherd’s pipe, that all the beasts of the forest, and the birds of the air, and the fishes of the pond came to listen to him. Then Little Anklebone put marble basins round the pond for the animals to drink out of, and in the evening the does, and the tigresses, and the she-wolves gathered round him to be milked, and when he had drunk his fill he milked the rest into the pond, till at last it became a pond of milk. And Little Anklebone sat by the milken pond and piped away on his shepherd’s pipe.
Now, one day, an old woman, passing by with her jar for water, heard the sweet strains of Little Anklebone’s pipe, and following the sound, came upon the pond of milk, and saw the animals, and the birds, and the fishes, listening to the music. She was wonderstruck, especially when Little Anklebone, from his seat under the tree, called out, ‘Fill your jar, mother! All drink who come hither!’
Then the old woman filled her jar with milk, and went on her way rejoicing at her good fortune. But as she journeyed she met with the King of that country, who, having been a-hunting, had lost his way in the pathless plain.
‘Give me a drink of water, good mother,’ he cried, seeing the jar; ‘I am half dead with thirst!’
‘It is milk, my son,’ replied the old woman; ‘I got it yonder from a milken pond.’ Then she told the King of the wonders she had seen, so that he resolved to have a peep at them himself. And when he saw the milken pond, and all the animals and birds and fishes gathered round, while Little Anklebone played ever so sweetly on his shepherd’s pipe, he said, ‘I must have the tiny piper, if I die for it!’
[Illustration: Old woman finding the pond of milk]
No sooner did Little Anklebone hear these words than he set off at a run, and the King after him. Never was there such a chase before or since, for Little Anklebone hid himself amid the thickest briars and thorns, and the King was so determined to have the tiny piper, that he did not care for scratches. At last the King was successful, but no sooner did he take hold of Little Anklebone than the clouds above began to thunder and lighten horribly, and from below came the lowing of many does, and louder than all came the voice of the little piper himself singing these words—
‘O clouds! why should you storm and flare?
Poor Anklebone is forced to roam.
O does! why wait the milker’s care?
Poor Anklebone must leave his home.’
And he sang so piercingly sweet that pity filled the King’s heart, especially when he saw it was nothing but a bone after all. So he let it go again, and the little piper went back to his seat under the tree by the pond; and there he sits still, and plays his shepherd’s pipe, while all the beasts of the forest, and birds of the air, and fishes of the pond, gather round and listen to his music. And sometimes, people wandering through the pathless plain hear the pipe, and then they say, ‘That is Little Anklebone, who was eaten by a wolf ages ago!’