Toward the evening of a fine summer’s day, a gentleman, who lived in the country, took his son William with him to the top of a neighboring hill. While they were admiring the beauty of the setting sun, which made everything around them look bright and happy, they saw a shepherd driving his flock and heard the bleating of the playful lambs.
The sides of the road which they were obliged to travel were lined with thorn bushes and thistles, and every sheep in passing, rubbed against the briers and lost some of its wool. This troubled little William very much.
“See, Father,” he said, “see how the naughty thorns steal the wool from the sheep. Why does God, Who is so good to everything, let the thorns grow to do such mischief? Why do not men destroy every one of them? Poor sheep! Tomorrow morning, I will come with my knife and cut down all these bushes. Will you not come and help me, Father?”
“I will see about it,” said his father. “But why are you so angry with the briers and thorns? Do you not know that we ourselves rob the sheep by shearing them? Instead of taking a few pieces of wool, we take the whole coat.”
“True,” replied William, “but we need it to make our clothes; and it grows all the better after being cut off. Besides, I have heard you say, that sheep always shed their wool in summer; and it is surely better that we should cut it off and make some use of it, than that it should be entirely lost.
“But these thorns do not need the wool. They rob the sheep of wool which is of no use to them nor to anybody. Will you, Father, come with me tomorrow morning and help me cut them down?”
“Perhaps I will,” said his father. “We will take a walk at break of day, and then we will see about it.”
William, who thought himself a great hero because he was going to destroy the hurtful bushes, could hardly sleep; so much was his mind occupied with his glorious project. He waked his father as soon as the singing of the birds gave notice that morning was coming.
Both of them enjoyed the clear air and the glorious spectacle of the rising sun, and went along singing merrily until they arrived at the foot of the hill. William was running to the bushes with his knife in his hand to cut them down, when his father called to him to stop.
A great number of birds were flying round the thorns, and his father told William to watch and see what they came there for. He soon saw that each little bird carried away in his bill a piece of the wool which the briers had torn from the sheep. Wrens, linnets, goldfinches, and robins all went away with full loads of wool.
“You now see,” said his father, “that God takes care of everything. The thorns, which you thought did nothing but mischief, furnish these pretty birds with wool to line their nests. The sheep do not miss these few locks of wool, and the birds are made rich and happy by them. And does my boy now wish to cut down the thorn bushes?”
“Oh no!” said William. “I now see I was too hasty. God is wise and good and has made everything for the best.”
The Moore McGuffey Readers, Book 2, 145–148.