He was a strange figure for that lonely place and that humble occupation-a branch of faded beauty from some royal garden tossed by rude winds into the wilderness-a pleasure craft adrift, buffeted and broken, on rough seas.
But he seemed to have passed beyond caring. His young face was frayed and threadbare as his garments. The splendor of the moonlight flooding the wild world meant as little to him as the hardness of the rugged track which he followed. He wrapped his tattered mantle closer around him, and strode ahead, looking on the ground.
As the path dropped from the summit of the ridge toward the Valley of Mills and passed among huge broken rocks, three men sprang at him from the shadows. He lifted his stick, but let it fall again, and a strange ghost of a smile twisted his face as they gripped him and threw him down.
“You are rough beggars,” he said. “Say what you want, you are welcome to it.”
“Your money, dog of a courtier,” they muttered fiercely; “give us your golden collar, Herod’s hound, quick, or you die!”
“The quicker the better,” he answered, closing his eyes.
The bewildered flock of sheep and goats, gathered in a silent ring, stood at gaze while the robbers fumbled over their master.
“This is a stray dog,” said one, “he has lost his collar, there is not even the price of a mouthful of wine on him. Shall we kill him and leave him for the vultures?” “What have the vultures done for us,” said another, “that we should feed them? Let us take his cloak and drive off his flock, and leave him to die in his own time.”
With a kick and a curse they left him. He opened his eyes and lay quiet for a moment, with his twisted smile, watching the stars.
“You creep like snails,” he said. “I thought you had marked my time tonight. But not even that is given to me for nothing. I must pay for all, it seems.”
Far away, slowly scattering and receding, he heard the rustling and bleating of his frightened flock as the robbers, running and shouting, tried to drive them over the hills. Then he stood up and took the shepherd’s pipe, a worthless bit of reed, from the breast of his tunic. He blew again that plaintive, piercing air, sounding it out over the ridges and distant thickets. It seemed to have neither beginning nor end; a melancholy, pleading tune that searched forever after something lost.
While he played, the sheep and the goats, slipping away from their captors by roundabout ways, hiding behind the laurel bushes, following the dark gullies, leaping down the broken cliffs, came circling back to him, one after another; and as they came, he interrupted his playing, now and then, to call them by name. When they were nearly all assembled, he went down swiftly toward the lower valley, and they followed him, panting. At the last crook of the path on the steep hillside a straggler came after him along the cliff. He looked up and saw it outlined against the sky. Then he saw it leap, and slip, and fall beyond the path into a deep cleft.