— Many years ago, I, a little girl of eleven years, was visiting old friends of the family in a quiet country town. Two children, living near, and I, became great friends, and on stormy autumn days we played together in their rambling old house.
One afternoon we had been popping corn, and the fleecy white morsels suggested a flock of sheep. We appropriated a large table for a sheep ranch, slender sticks formed boundary lines, some chessmen were transformed into shepherds, and we played till supper time, eating up our flocks before we ended.
This game proved interesting, and was continued, with many additions, on succeeding days. Other chessmen were begged or borrowed, and arrayed in gay robes of tissue paper ; and gradually, from a peaceful pastoral life three stately courts grew up, though always retaining their popcorn flocks, — a combination of mediæval castle life and a Montana sheep ranch. The red knights were princes, the white ones princesses, the pawns acted as domestics and shepherds, while our kings took an active interest in farm matters, not disdaining to sally forth each morning to inspect the sheep and select those they wished served up for dinner.
Events followed in quick succession, — weddings, births, and funerals, picnics, riding parties, and visits. We became deeply conversant, also, with matters relating to our flacks ; we pored over encyclopædias and agricultural works, and I doubt if many little, maidens could have been found who knew so well the fancy breeds and their market value, and the quality of mutton and wool. The finest, poppiest kernels were Southdowns (I cannot at this moment remember why) ; the next in quality, I believe, were Cotswolds ; but those least in favor, and often too numerous when the fire was hot, were the merinos. These were the browned and slightly charred kernels which had failed to pop fully. Merinos had a high market value, as we knew, and could not, conscientiously, be laid aside ; so we ate merinos patiently for every-day dinners, and used many in the servants’ quarters, but our tenderest, biggest Southdowns were reserved for grand occasions. At such times the consumption was enormous. No Viking feast or Southern barbecue of antebellum days could compare with these festivities, when whole flocks were swept away.
But the days brought tragic events also to our courts. I remember one stormy day (so we “ made believe ”) when the young and lovely wife of my prince was taken violently ill, and there was no doctor for miles and miles,—quite the other end of the table. With his own hands the distracted husband saddled a steed and galloped forth into the wild night. How real it was, that midnight ride ! Quite carried away by my own acting, I lost all sense of my surroundings. I was no longer a little girl playing “ sheep,” that autumn day ; I was the young prince riding in the darkness for my bride’s life. With what slowness the distance was passed ! But at last I drew rein at the doctor’s house, to find him (he was a stout red castle) in bed, fast asleep. He was old, and slow to comprehend the desperate situation, and in an agony of impatience I exclaimed, “ Oh, my God ! my God ! make haste ! my wife is dying ! ” Then came an awestruck silence as we three children looked at one another in dismay, — a silence broken at last by a tremulous small voice saying, “ Oh-h-h ! youswore ! ” and instinctively we glanced up at the ceiling as if expecting divine wrath to fall upon us ; for had I not taken “ his name is vain ” by using it while playing “ sheep ” ?
We played no more that day, soon packed away farm and court, and the conscience-stricken culprit hastened home in the fast-gathering dusk, weighed down by a sense of her guilt.
That was long ago, and for years the old childish play had not been thought of, when to-night the children brought to me a newly bought popper, asking my aid in popping corn. The fire was too bright, many kernels were charred, and as I turned out the fragrant mass I found myself murmuring regretfully, “ Dear me ! how many merinos there are here ! ”