The hero of our story is the youngest of a flock of sheep and his name was Charles, Charles Lamb.
Charles had a problem: he could not stop talking. And all his family and friends were fed up of him. His mother had tried her hardest to get him to ‘interiorize his monologue’, but he would not.
One evening, the flock was grazing in a meadow adjacent to a dense woodland. Charles was describing to nobody in particular how different types of wool were graded and priced when he saw a pair of evil eyes scanning the flock from the edge of the woodlands.
“Ma?” he bleated.
Ma didn’t look up: having discovered some tender shoots, she was too engrassed to reply.
“Maa?” he baa-ed again.
“What?” she burped.
“Do you remember that story you once told us…?”
“The one about the little girl…?”
“The one about the little girl who goes through the woods?”
“I don’t know which woods. You didn’t tell.”
“I meant, which little girl?”
“She wore a red hood.”
“Yes, Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Yes, that one. You remember, she met an animal in the woods and told him where she was going?”
“The wolf!” and the Ma-sheep looked up, vaguely uneasy.
“Yes. Anyway, there is a wolf just behind that bush, where Elder Sister is munching away.”
And before Ma-sheep could utter a warning, the wolf pounced on Sister-sheep and dragged her back into the woods. Panic and alarm gradually gave way to grief and bitter remonstrances were poured out on poor Charles for not having warned the flock more urgently.
Charles was miserable that night.
The next day, the thoughtless shepherd boy once again brought the flock to the same meadow. But this time, young Charles did not speak at all. He was going to be the strong silent type henceforth. And the wolf appeared once again, gluttonously surveying the flock. But our hero held his tongue. It was the work of a minute for the wolf to drag off Ma-sheep into the woods.
Charles was grief-stricken. A thoughtless friend pointed out to him that if he hadn’t kept mum, he wouldn’t have lost mum, but the quip was poorly received by all.
Naturally, our shepherd, no more thoughtful the next day, brought the flock to the same meadow to browse, and the wolf, no less gluttonous, made his appearance again.
But this time Charles Lamb was ready.
He turned to face the flock squarely and bleated loud and clear:
And the sheep heeded him: they ran for their lives like they had never run before. And that dinner the wolf went vegetarian.
Charles learned the true power of speech. He went on to become a great essayist and poet.