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THE GIRL IN THE GOAT SHED




THEY shut the door behind her and they pulled the latch down on it: she knew that it was either Buttercup or Berry-bright that did this. The Si latching of the door was like as if some-one had pushed her: she went away from the house.

She went from the house and away into the little dell where she used to sit when she wanted to talk to herself. A tree grew in that dell, a rowan tree that had lots of bright red berries on it. She used to sit under that tree when her seven Goats hadn't to be minded. She would talk to herself about the clouds and the moon, how the clouds were great Goats that a great Goat-herd was driving: first the white fleecy Goats and then the dark Goats that went slower and slower, and how the Moon was a Girl like herself, having to go far out into the sky for a pitcher of water. When she was in this dell she was, not Girl-go-with-the-Goats, but Maid-alone. And the things that she owned and that she alone knew of were in that dell: a red bees' nest that hummed and hummed to her all the hours she was there; tall blue-bells; a little spring of water that she had set round with the white stones that she had found on the hill; a flat stone that had the moving shadow of the leaves, each leaf as clear as it was on the tree. And she had a box hidden under the grass; she kept in it all the things that were her very own: a half of a buckle that looked beautiful set in a bracelet of grass; four beads of different colors, and a ball of red thread.

She came to that dell and she laid down in the grass and she cried and cried, for she thought there was no one in the world as lonely as she. But the nest of red bees hummed to her and hummed to her, and she sat up, thinking that her loneliness was like something she herself had found, her own too, like the half buckle and the beads and the ball of red thread, and the nest of red bees, and the blue-bells, and the little spring with the white stones round it. She sat up then and she looked at the sky with the clouds going over it, and at the bunches of bright red berries on the rowan tree.

Then down from the rowan tree flew the two starlings that had lighted on her shoulders when she gathered the berries for the King's son in the garden. They perched on her shoulders again and they sang to her. And the song they sang to her was "Down the long meadows we go."

Down the long meadows we go, we go,
Down the long meadows we go.

I'll pluck you three willow rods down by the stream,
I'll pluck you three willow rods down by the stream,
I'll pluck you three willow rods down by the stream,
And give you the sun that's upon them.

A Cuckoo all blue will sing on a branch,
A Cuckoo all blue will sing on a branch,
A Cuckoo all blue will sing on a branch,
And the Swan that's King Connor's will seek you.

The Son of the King of the Hill will be there,
The Son of the King of the Hill will be there,
The Son of the King of the Hill will be there,
Making game of his Grandmother's dancing.

Down the long meadows we'll go, we'll go,
Down the long meadows we'll go.

And when Girl-go-with-the-Goats — but Maid-alone she was there — when Maid-alone had heard the song the starlings sang to her, she did not feel herself half so lonesome.


And now Girl-go-with-the-Goats rose up, her mind bent on the work of the house that she did not now belong to. When she came before it the door was still closed. Smoke was coming out of the chimney and she knew that supper was being made ready. She brought peat from the stack and left them beside the door so that they could be brought in to the fire. She went and brought up the clothes she had washed and that had been left drying on the stones beside the stream. When she did this she found her supper laid on a board at the gable end of the house, and while she ate it the two starlings perched on her shoulders. Then she took the two pitchers down to the well and brought back the water for the morning.

The next thing was to bring the Goats from the high places and the rocky places. She stood on a high place and called to them. One Goat lifted her head and came to her. Then three others came, stopping now and again to crop the tops of the little bushes. Beyond the bushes, somewhere, was an old Goat that never answered to her call. She had to slip off and find that other one and pull her or drive her to this place before the others found out that she was gone. Then there were two others to get. One she saw on a high rock very far up, but this was a good Goat and would come when she called, "Nannie, Nannie, Nannie." The other was a Goat without horns and one never knew where she was, but one found her joining the others as they were making for home. Girl-go­ with-the-Goats struck the old cantankerous Goat with a switch, dodged her horns as she reared up, and got her started to the place where most of the other Goats had gathered together.

It was hard to get them home. On the way there were scores of little paths, and one Goat would try one path and another Goat would try another path, and Girl-go-with-the-Goats would have to follow first one and then the other, and no sooner would she have them together than they would scatter again. Oh, it was the worst trouble in the whole world, this fending for seven Goats!

She got them in the green before the Goat-shed, and she took off the doorstep the pitcher that she was to milk into. For some reason or another the Goats gave little milk that evening and she knew that Dame Dale would say that she had milked them badly or that she spilled their milk.

Then she got the Goats into the shed, and she took the pitcher and she left it in the stream. It was getting dark now, and as she crossed a wall of stones on her way back a little newt came out from a crack and looked at her. She was frightened of the little creature that is like nothing else in the world, that moves so strangely, and that has its house in the stones. She might see the door of Dame Dale's house open, she thought, and Dame Dale standing there to call her in, now that she had done her work and that dark night was coming on. But the door was closed. She waited and waited, but no one opened it to her. And as she stood there all the loneliness came back to her and she thought that if her mother knew that she was standing there with a door closed to her she would come back from the Dead.

Then Girl-go-with-the-Goats went where the Goats were. A big wooden cradle was in the shed, the cradle that Buttercup and Berry-bright had been rocked in, and that had been taken out of the house. She found the cradle and she lay down in it. She covered herself all over with dried fern, and she looked out through the door that would not close. She thought and thought of the hundreds and hundreds of strange things that were outside. She slept, but she wakened up sometimes, and she saw the black Goats and the brown Goats and the white Goats standing up or lying down, and she wished that she could be as contented as the Goats.


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