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I HAVE bought a cow. For many years I have looked, longed for, and languished after a cow, have studied the cow markets, have always attended auctions where cows were likely to be sold under the hammer, have made it a point to be present on the square Friday afternoons in the fall season, to see the droves, and have never sufficiently admired the shrewd and professional way in which huge and unwieldy men in slouch hats, blue frocks and leather boots, and carrying whips, will enumerate the good points of a particular animal to a prospective purchaser.
Indeed, it was always my ambition and my sincere determination, not only to own a cow, but on some bright day in October, when the frosts are sharp of a morning, the sunshine warm at noon, and the air cool and bracing towards evening, to make the trip from Gilmanton to Brighton with those same jolly, fat, and cattle-flavored men, whom I so much admired. How many times have I anticipated the pleasant evenings in the country taverns on the route, the long rides through the country roads piled high with red and yellow leaves, the chaffering and bargaining in the village squares, the meeting of strange droves and the locking of horns of rival leaders, the shouts of the drovers, the wild dashes after escaping cattle, the thousand and one bits of experience and information that one would glean, and the pleasant acquaintances one would make!
Alas! those days have passed, and with them the jolly giants of the road; the "Drover rides on his raids no more," and the only thing left is memory. No, I have forgotten, my cow is left, for I truly believe my cow is one of the first animals driven over the road in the old days. For she is old, my friends, a veritable antique, a sort of colonial sideboard of a cow, with curved, spindly legs, and knobs and peaks to hang things on, and hollows to hold things, and handles to take hold of.
The abandoned villain and former friend who sold me this cow assured me that this was a cow as was a cow, an easy milker, kind, eats next to nothing, cheapest cow to keep he ever saw, nearly fills a pail to the brim every milking, —so she does, a quart pail, — and all for thirty-five dollars.
Now I had inquired and found that a good cow ought to bring seventy-five dollars, and here was (at least according to my friend's description) a rather remarkable animal offered for thirty-five. It was too good a chance to lose, and I embraced the opportunity and made the purchase. If I had embraced the cow instead, I should have found out what a bony old hat-rack she was. But as she was in a close stall in a dark barn, I did not take the opportunity of examining my purchase with the care one should observe in making important deals.
I only knew that she had soulful eyes, a trusting manner, and smelled like a freshly fertilized lawn on a hot evening when the "Current Events Club" is dining with your wife.
As the place of the transaction was about ten miles from my residence, I sent a husky German with a cow-rack to bring her home. It seemed somewhat like sending a carriage for an invalid, but I was anxious to get her home and see if she could fill that ten-quart pail I had purchased the night before.
The German started before light Sunday morning, and at about noontime, when happy children in white were returning from church accompanied by their mothers and grandmothers, and smug gentlemen in frock-coats and white neckties, and bearing hymn books and "Day Springs" under their arms, were coming home from divine worship, and the air was full of the sweet incense of the Sabbath, Ludwig drove through Front
Street, perched on the rack, and smoking a long meerschaum. Inside the rack was a light russet-colored animal, evidently made of barrel-staves. Had the animal not been inside the rack, it would have been difficult if not impossible to distinguish the cow from the rack.
He drove into the yard, and without speaking unloaded the animal, received his pay, and started to leave. Just before he got out of the yard, he stopped and said, "Mist' Shute, dat cow he die pret' soon. He pretty old cow."
I dragged her into a stall, fed her with cornstalks, hay, carrots, middlings, gluten, cottonseed meal, shorts, sweet apples, and potato parings, until she was distended like a balloon, and waited expectantly for milking time.
Hours dragged slowly, but still the cow ate on. I made a hurried calculation on the back of a shingle, and found I had given her eighty-three cents' worth of food, and the supply in front of her was fast running short. But five o'clock came before she bellowed for a new supply, and I grasped my bright new pail, turned up a bucket for a milking-stool, took off my outer garments, my collar, cuffs, and necktie, hung them on various projections of her anatomy, sat down and began to milk. The first squeeze I made sent a hissing snowy stream into one shoe. The next connected with the palm of my hand and fizzled a fine spray all over me. The third did not materialize, because she side-stepped away from me so suddenly that she broke my grip and I found myself on all fours with my head in the milk-pail. I arose and apostrophized her profanely, then sat down and resumed practice. This time I hit the pail twice before she swung around in my direction and landed me, heels up. I arose, smote her several thumps with the bucket, and invented an entirely new cuss-word to suit the occasion.
Then I began, again taking the precaution to sit as far from her rear elevation as possible. This time she kicked me. It is astonishing how far forward a cow can reach with her hind foot. I retaliated with a drop kick in her stomach, which sounded like a bass-drum. She made another pass at me with her hind foot, but I saw it coming, dodged, and punted her to the forty-five yard line again, where she was held for downs. This closed the first round with honors even.
The next round commenced with both combatants feinting and dodging all over the ring. I secured a strangle hold on her, and extracted about a wine-glass full before she felled me to earth and trod over my prostrate person. I was not hurt, through that special providence that watches over fools and drunken men, and it is well known that I am a temperate man.
After I had put my knee in the pail and pulled and bent it into shape, I gave her a quart or more gluten to take up her attention, and fell to again. This time I succeeded better, and before she had eaten the gluten I had nearly covered the bottom of the pail with foaming milk, interspersed with hayseed, dandruff and sawdust. Having finished her gluten, she looked around, appeared surprised at my determination, and put her foot in the pail; I called time, emptied the pail for expectant fowl, which, by the way, have formed the habit of gathering around me during the milking hour, or hour and a half, wiped the pail out with my handkerchief, and took a fresh hold. This time I retired as far forward as her shoulder, reached a couple of yards backward, and, in spite of her kicking, she could not locate me.
Thus did my anatomical peculiarities, coupled with science, prevail over brute strength. I smiled grimly from my point of vantage, and squeezed and pulled manfully, while that wretched cow stood with her back humped and her belly drawn up, holding back with all her bovine might.
You have all heard how the crocodile lies in wait until his prey gets within reach of its powerful tail, when with a circular sweep it is thrown into the cavernous jaws. This cow suddenly reversed the programme, for she violently swung her head round, caught me in the rear with her knobby horns, butted me within reach of her hind leg, kicked me back, butted me again, and I escaped only by abjectly crawling out of the stall.
I threw up the sponge. It was a clean knockout. I could not have gone back into the ring if the referee had counted one hundred. But I felt that if that cow was not milked that night, there was danger of an explosion before morning, so I called in a neighbour of ripe experience, who, to my great horror, took a seat on the off side of the animal.
"Look out," I yelled, "don't get on that side, she will kill you."
"What are you talking about?" he inquired, with astonishment, "have you been milking on the right side?"
"Yes," I replied, "of course I have."
"Why, you plumb idiot, it was a wonder she didn't kill you," he replied.
"She has," I assured him.
Since that time my intimacy with that cow has ripened into true friendship. We get along charmingly. Like Bill Nye's cow, she gives milk frequently. She has phenomenal digestive powers and eats continuously. What becomes of her food is a question to baffle a government expert. She has not gained an ounce of flesh. Theoretically, she ought to give about forty quarts per day.
Practically, she reluctantly yields about three pints, of which one pint is distributed more or less impartially over my clothes, the cow, and the surroundings.
My milk costs me approximately twenty-six and one-half cents a quart.
Is there any one who wants to buy a cow that is a cow, an easy milker, kind, eats next to nothing, cheapest cow to keep you ever saw, nearly fills a pail to the brim at every milking? She is a blue-blooded animal with a pedigree. I haven't the pedigree, but I know she is blue-blooded, because she gives blue-edged milk.