The ewe lay on the ground. It was quite dead. The sight of it startled and saddened the shepherd, who, cresting the English hillside, spotted it in the yellowish-brown grass at the summit. He approached the animal and touched it gently on its soft muzzle.
"Poor Weebajim,” he said, “we wondered where you’d gone.
The reason for the young ewe’s demise was unclear. It had been looking poorly of late, and the shepherd and his wife had worried on its account. Feeling depressed about the discovery of the family’s beloved pet in this condition, the man sat upon a nearby rock to grieve and reminisce.
Notwithstanding their having a large flock to mind, this sheep was special to Walter and Barbara Woolrich. Their daughter, Prunella (named after the woolen academic-gown fabric), was two years old when Weebajim was born. Touched and amused by its weak cries and first awkward attempts to stand and walk, Prunella had pointed at the lamb and prattled, “Weebajim, Weebajim!” in her sweet child’s voice. What this meant no one exactly knew, but the animal was called such from then on.
Having a name, and because of Prunella’s especial fondness for it, the lamb began to seem more a family member than a mere commodity. Perhaps out of that instinctive sympathy that youth has for youth, Prunella and Weebajim became inseparable, much like Mary and her little lamb. Mr. and Mrs. Woolrich spent many sunset evenings cuddled against a tree in their front yard, watching the two happy young creatures frolicking in the lush green grass that Weebajim’s mother would eat sedately as she too looked on.
Remembrance of these simple, idyllic scenes brought a stab of pain to Mr. Woolrich, caused not by the sheep’s death as much as by the child’s absence. For Prunella, their sweet Prunella, had been gone this last year and a half and was lost to them,
“And though none could ever take her place, there’s been no child come after to help comfort us—not for lack of trying, either,” the shepherd mused.
Mr. Woolrich seated himself more securely on the boulder, which he referred to as “Pondering Rock”and favored for his frequent ruminations.
“We will have to do what we can,” he determined. “We can’t go on like this, missing her so much and no other little one to give us purpose. Unconventional measures may have to be taken.
Unbeknownst to the deeply thoughtful shepherd, the rock beneath him continued to emit its slow poison.
* * *
Some three quarters of a year later and five miles distant, the summer solstice of 1849 had arrived in Restinstump, a tranquil Suffolk village that was picturesque in its wild yet cozy beauty and virtually unknown despite its excellence. Here, the earth—warm, green, and full of life—prepared to produce its abundant bounty in a few months’ time. There was yet no hint of that autumn crispness in the air that could persuade a man to put aside his work and dance a brief jig at the slightest provocation during the height of the day and send him scurrying home for warm currant buns, hot tea, and a good fire at evening. The atmosphere was instead balmy and relaxing, inspiring a sense of well-being and anticipation. Sanguine farmers began to imagine the time when they might gather their crops of corn, barley, wheat, beans, pumpkins, and squash, and load them onto carts bound for market.
But inside the modest farmhouse of the Barstool family, a diligent and experienced laborer of another sort had no need to wait for autumn. She had, this day, already produced her harvest, much to the relief and delight of her husband.
“Nelly, me gal, you’ve done it again!” exclaimed Mr. Horace Barstool to his exhausted but beaming wife, who lay nursing their sixth child, a son.
As time went by and this infant grew to toddlerhood, he was affectionately nicknamed “Wobbly” by his slightly older sister Fanny, in honor of his first struggling efforts to walk. The name stuck, and young Walter Barstool became known as “Wobbly Barstool” from then on to anyone he met.
The Barstool family was quite a happy clan, with three daughters, three sons, and two loving parents who were reasonably free from marital strife. In the tiny community of Restinstump, if children received schooling, they received it at home. Mr. and Mrs. Barstool, both possessing the ability to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic, acquainted their children with these subjects. Wobbly, being the youngest child, was in large part instructed by his siblings. He was taught by his eldest sister, Bella, to lace his shoes, by his eldest brother, Floyd, to milk the cow, by his eldest sister but one, Maggie, to wash his face and hands, by his next eldest brother, Bob, to throw pebbles against stiles so that they made a satisfying noise, and by his slightly older sister, Fanny, to cross his eyes at the dog to make it bark. All in all, he received a thorough and eclectic education.
Young Wobbly one day sat in his father’s lap in a worn rocking chair next to a comfortable fire. He raised his good-natured brown eyes to his father and asked him once again to read aloud the words over the fireplace.
“Amiableness is better than Cleverness,” recited Mr. Barstool, who had proudly hewn this credo. “Not that one necessarily precludes the other, mind you,” he added, “but if I had to choose one quality over the other in meself, me wife, me children,
me friends, me business acquaintances, and me dog, I’d pick amiableness over cleverness nine times out o’ ten. There’s times when cleverness comes in handy, o’ course, but at the end of the day, amiableness is much better company.”
Wobbly rested his head against his father’s chest. He loved this nightly discussion of “The Saying”. The firelight danced over the carefully carved words, making them seem alive and friendly like a playful young animal.
“Tell me about the saying,” murmured Wobbly.
“Well, Wobbly,” Mr. Barstool began, “it was a quiet evenin’ many years ago, when your mother and I had been married only a short while. Our neighbor, Mrs. Lemmingsole, was in for a chat and a cup o’ tea and was talkin’ about her husband’s accomplishments.
“‘He’s just innovated a way to plant green peas that braid together as they grow, so as to actually shell themselves when picked,’ she boasted. ‘That’s the third agricultural advancement he’s come up with this year.’
“We congratulated her, and after a bit more talk, she left us to ourselves. I gave your mother a squeeze and asked her if she hadn’t rather have married such a man as the one whose virtues had just been extolled for the past half hour.
“‘Horace,' she said, ‘Mr. Lemmingsole gives me the jim-jams. He’s as cold as ice, and I’ve seen a hurt look on his wife’s face often enough when she didn’t know anyone was lookin’. You, on the other hand, my dear, are amiableness personified--and with enough sense to come in out of the rain. Amiableness is better than cleverness. Remember that.’
“So that I might not forget these words of wisdom from your good mother, I put ’em up there within easy reach of the eye.”
Wobbly, comforted by his father’s arms and words, drifted off to sleep, resolving, as he did each night, to be amiable his whole life long.