Posted on: 2011-04-30
"It's this road, Miss Bates" said Mr Larkins over a cup of tea "Some people say that sheep are just silly critters that are all alike; but it ain't so. They're much like yuman bein's in many ways."
"Why Mr Larkins, you must tell me what you mean!" said Miss Bates.
"William, are you about to produce an allegory?" asked Mr George Knightley, also drinking tea with Miss and Mrs Bates; he knew well enough that Mr Larkins concealed a dry humour beneath his dour and taciturn exterior.
"Why Mr Knightley, I do not know as you would take it that way" said Mr Larkins "I meant but to describe one or two of our sheep with the names I give them to amuse Miss Bates."
"I fancy I too am likely to be amused" murmured Mr Knightley "Pray not TOO outrageous, Will."
Mr Larkins gave a rare, shy grin.
"Well now, Miss Bates, I was going to explain that of the ewes and wethers, the steadiest and most orthodox wether is given a bell and called the bell-wether; one as leads the flock as you might say. And our bell-wether is called Pip; he know exactly where he ought to be going, but if any of the others annoy him, well, he's like to leap off and go his own way afore returning, like as not with burrs in his coat" said Mr Larkin. "Mortal convinced of his own rightness is Pip, and though he know the right road to take home and foller it accordingly, he have no more sense than to walk in dirt. And there's an ewe as would like to do the leading and keeps agitatin' at Pip; Gussie I calls her. Boughten in she be; and think herself someat special to be part merino but when all's said and done she were got rid of in a hurry account of the herd she be from be mostly Herdwicks as have dark fleeces. And don't she hate Emblem, what have the softest fleece outside of Sussex; though she's a wild one is Emblem, allus tryin' to second guess where she'm bein' led."
"Steady, William" said Mr Knightley
Mr Larkins grinned.
"Well, Emblem is to be put to tup so happen having lambs will steady her" he said.
"Close to the knuckle" warned Mr Knightley. "I think you should lay off Emblem – and her line."
"As you wish, Mr Knightley" said Mr Larkins "Maybe I should speak more of one of the young tups as I call Fop; what think a lot of hisself and like to make sure that all the ewes notice him cavortin' and showin' off his horns; why I dare swear that tup think enough of hisself that he'd like to go into London to be shorn. Then there's Duck, a wether and when he bleat it sound like a quack. He have a very good opinion of hisself, and plenty of weight on him but his wool's not so good as it look when first shorn; and when he take it into his head to go off, and if any foller, ten to one they end up with more harm nor good."
Mr Knightley chuckled.
"Why William, I fancy you have your work cut out with those sheep" he said.
"Ar, no worse nor any magistrate might have with people" Mr Larkins replied.
"Touché" said Mr Knightley.
"Why Mr Larkins, Mr Knightley, can there have been a HIDDEN MEANING in Mr Larkins' talk of sheep?" asked Miss Bates.
Mr Knightley bowed.
"Never to one who has such delicacy of mind as yourself Miss Bates who is too nice to recognise that William seeks but to tease" he said. "And you William have no delicacy of mind at all."
Mr Larkins gave his rare smile.
"Ar, but reckon it mean I can be more tolerant for having the last laugh" he said.