Once, there was a very rich man named Rhinehart, who, having reached his latter years, had retired to a beautiful country manor. There, he kept a menagerie of rare and exotic animals with the centrepiece of the collection being a small yellow sheep.
One dark day, as he was walking about his grounds and enjoying the sight of his animals, he realised with great shock (and not too little awe) that his yellow sheep was missing. And his heart, overcome by the thought of life without his sheep, all but gave way.
Rhinehart, however, was a wise man, and quickly hit upon a way to find his most prized possession: he would ask his sons to search for it. So, from the sickbed in which he had retired, he called for his eldest son, Horace. And once the young man had come to his father’s side, Rhinehart told him of the request.
“Horace,” he said, “I am old and have few pleasures left in life. In fact, since the passing of your mother (God bless her soul!) the only thing that has been able to give me pleasure has been my yellow sheep. And now, that too has been lost to me and you thus you see me here, a sad old man. Find it for me, Horace, and I shall leave my entire fortune to you. But do so quickly, for I fear that if I do not have my sheep soon, I shall die.”
Now Horace, though a truly dull fellow, knew an opportunity when he saw one. He immediately promised his help and rushed off to find the sheep. He found a few servants and had them scour the manor and surrounding village for the yellow sheep. They returned to him after many hours and told him that the sheep was nowhere to be found. So Horace, saddened at the thought of his lost fortune, went and told his father that he had not been able to find the sheep.
But Rhinehart, though further distraught by the continued absence of his sheep, was not so easily dissuaded. He called for his second son, Abernathy, and told him as he had told Horace: “Find my sheep and my fortune shall be yours. But be quick, for I am sad and can feel that my death is near.”
Abernathy, like Horace, seized the opportunity and immediately found some servants to look for the sheep, sending them throughout the country this time. And scour the country they did, searching far and wide. But they too returned without the sheep. And so, Abernathy also returned to his father empty handed.
Thus, Rhinehart was left with only his youngest son, James, to turn to. He called him and repeated what he had said to Horace and Abernathy: “Find my sheep, James, and all that is mine will be yours. But quickly my son, for my death is upon me. Bring me my sheep, or I shall die a sad man!”
James, being the wisest and bravest of the three, gathered some servants and set off to find the sheep. After scouring the surrounding countryside, he made his way throughout the country. And when his search through the country yielded nothing, he made his way to the surrounding countries and even beyond.
Finally, after many years of searching, he returned home. He rushed to his father’s bedside and fell down next to him. “Father,” he said, “I have been gone many years – I have searched the whole world over. And I have failed. I have not found your sheep.”
And so, Rhinehart died.