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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    In Praise of the Cow

    In spite of discontents I might have remained to this day by
    the Otter, in the daily and hourly expectation of seeing some
    new and wonderful thing in Nature in that place where a
    crimson-eyed carrion-crow had been revealed to me, had not a
    storm of thunder and rain broken over the country to shake me
    out of a growing disinclination to move. We are, body and
    mind, very responsive to atmospheric changes; for every storm
    in Nature there is a storm in us--a change physical and
    mental. We make our own conditions, it is true, and these
    react and have a deadening effect on us in the long run, but
    we are never wholly deadened by them--if we be not indeed
    dead, if the life we live can be called life. We are told
    that there are rainless zones on the earth and regions of
    everlasting summer: it is hard to believe that the dwellers in
    such places can ever think a new thought or do a new thing.
    The morning rain did not last very long, and before it had
    quite ceased I took up my knapsack and set off towards the
    sea, determined on this occasion to make my escape.

    Three or four miles from Ottery St. Mary I overtook a cowman
    driving nine milch cows along a deep lane and inquired my way
    of him. He gave me many and minute directions, after which we
    got into conversation, and I walked some distance with him.
    The cows he was driving were all pure Devons, perfect beauties
    in their bright red coats in that greenest place where every
    rain-wet leaf sparkled in the new sunlight. Naturally we
    talked about the cows, and I soon found that they were his own
    and the pride and joy of his life. We walked leisurely, and
    as the animals went on, first one, then another would stay for
    a mouthful of grass, or to pull down half a yard of green
    drapery from the hedge. It was so lavishly decorated that the
    damage they did to it was not noticeable. By and by we went
    on ahead of the cows, then, if one stayed too long or strayed
    into some inviting side-lane, he would turn and utter a long,
    soft call, whereupon the straggler would leave her browsing
    and hasten after the others.

    He was a big, strongly built man, a little past middle life
    and grey-haired, with rough-hewn face--unprepossessing one
    would have pronounced him until the intelligent, kindly
    expression of the eyes was seen and the agreeable voice was
    heard. As our talk progressed and we found how much in
    sympathy we were on the subject, I was reminded of that
    Biblical expression about the shining of a man's face: "Wine
    that maketh glad the heart of man"--I hope the total
    abstainers will pardon me--"and oil that maketh his face to
    shine," we have in one passage. This rather goes against our
    British ideas, since we rub no oil or unguents on our skin,
    but only soap which deprives it of its natural oil and too
    often imparts a dry and hard texture. Yet in that, to us,
    disagreeable aspect of the skin caused by foreign fats, there
    is a resemblance to the sudden brightening and glory of the
    countenance in moments of blissful emotion or exaltation. No
    doubt the effect is produced by the eyes, which are the
    mirrors of the mind, and as they are turned full upon us they
    produce an illusion, seeming to make the whole face shine.

    In our talk I told him of long rambles on the Mendips, along
    the valley of the Somerset Axe, where I had lately been, and
    where of all places, in this island, the cow should be most
    esteemed and loved by man. Yet even there, where, standing on
    some elevation, cows beyond one's power to number could be
    seen scattered far and wide in the green vales beneath, it had
    saddened me to find them so silent. It is not natural for
    them to be dumb; they have great emotions and mighty voices
    --the cattle on a thousand hills. Their morning and evening
    lowing is more to me than any other natural sound--the melody
    of birds, the springs and dying gales of the pines, the wash
    of waves on the long shingled beach. The hills and valleys of
    that pastoral country flowing with milk and honey should be
    vocal with it, echoing and re-echoing the long call made
    musical by distance. The cattle are comparatively silent in
    that beautiful district, and indeed everywhere in England,
    because men have made them so. They have, when deprived of
    their calves, no motive for the exercise of their voices. For
    two or three days after their new-born calves have been taken
    from them they call loudly and incessantly, day and night,
    like Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be
    comforted; grief and anxiety inspires that cry--they grow
    hoarse with crying; it is a powerful, harsh, discordant sound,
    unlike the long musical call of the cow that has a calf, and
    remembering it, and leaving the pasture, goes lowing to give
    it suck.

    I also told him of the cows of a distant country where I had
    lived, that had the maternal instinct so strong that they
    refused to yield their milk when deprived of their young.
    They "held it back," as the saying is, and were in a sullen
    rage, and in a few days their fountains dried up, and there
    was no more milk until calving-time came round once more.

    He replied that cows of that temper were not unknown in South
    Devon. Very proudly he pointed to one of the small herd that
    followed us as an example. In most cases, he said, the calf
    was left from two or three days to a week, or longer, with the
    mother to get strong, and then taken away. This plan could
    not be always followed; some cows were so greatly distressed
    at losing the young they had once suckled that precautions had
    to be taken and the calf smuggled away as quietly as possible
    when dropped--if possible before the mother had seen it. Then
    there were the extreme cases in which the cow refused to be
    cheated. She knew that a calf had been born; she had felt it
    within her, and had suffered pangs in bringing it forth; if it
    appeared not on the grass or straw at her side then it must
    have been snatched away by the human creatures that hovered
    about her, like crows and ravens round a ewe in travail on
    some lonely mountain side.

    That was the character of the cow he had pointed out; even
    when she had not seen the calf of which she had been deprived
    she made so great an outcry and was thrown into such a rage
    and fever, refusing to be milked that, finally, to save her,
    it was thought necessary to give her back the calf. Now, he
    concluded, it was not attempted to take it away: twice a day
    she was allowed to have it with her and suckle it, and she was
    a very happy animal.

    I was glad to think that there was at least one completely
    happy cow in Devonshire.

    After leaving the cowkeeper I had that feeling of revulsion
    very strongly which all who know and love cows occasionally
    experience at the very thought of beef. I was for the moment
    more than tolerant of vegetarianism, and devoutly hoped that
    for many days to come I should not be sickened with the sight
    of a sirloin on some hateful board, cold, or smoking hot,
    bleeding its red juices into the dish when gashed with a
    knife, as if undergoing a second death. We do not eat
    negroes, although their pigmented skins, flat feet, and woolly
    heads proclaim them a different species; even monkey's flesh
    is abhorrent to us, merely because we fancy that that creature
    in its ugliness resembles some old men and some women and
    children that we know. But the gentle large-brained social
    cow that caresses our hands and faces with her rough blue
    tongue, and is more like man's sister than any other non-human
    being--the majestic, beautiful creature with the juno eyes,
    sweeter of breath than the rosiest virgin--we slaughter and
    feed on her flesh--monsters and cannibals that we are!

    But though cannibals, it is very pleasant to find that many
    cowmen love their cows. Walking one afternoon by a high
    unkept hedge near Southampton Water, I heard loud shouts at
    intervals issuing from a point some distance ahead, and on
    arriving at the spot found an old man leaning idly over a
    gate, apparently concerned about nothing. "What are you
    shouting about?" I demanded. "Cows," he answered, with a
    glance across the wide green field dotted with a few big furze
    and bramble bushes. On its far side half a dozen cows were,
    quietly grazing. "They came fast enough when I was a-feeding
    of 'em," he presently added; "but now they has to find for
    theirselves they don't care how long they keeps me." I was
    going to suggest that it would be a considerable saving of
    time if he went for them, but his air of lazy contentment as
    he leant on the gate showed that time was of no importance to
    him. He was a curious-looking old man, in old frayed clothes,
    broken boots, and a cap too small for him. He had short legs,
    broad chest, and long arms, and a very big head, long and
    horselike, with a large shapeless nose and grizzled beard and
    moustache. His ears, too, were enormous, and stood out from
    the head like the handles of a rudely shaped terra-cotta vase
    or jar. The colour of his face, the ears included, suggested
    burnt clay. But though Nature had made him ugly, he had an
    agreeable expression, a sweet benign look in his large dark
    eyes, which attracted me, and I stayed to talk with him.

    It has frequently been said that those who are much with cows,
    and have an affection for them, appear to catch something of
    their expression--to look like cows; just as persons of
    sympathetic or responsive nature, and great mobility of face,
    grow to be like those they live and are in sympathy with.
    The cowman who looks like a cow may be more bovine than his
    fellows in his heavier motions and slower apprehensions, but
    he also exhibits some of the better qualities--the repose and
    placidity of the animal.

    He said that he was over seventy, and had spent the whole of
    his life in the neighbourhood, mostly with cows, and had never
    been more than a dozen miles from the spot where we were
    standing. At intervals while we talked he paused to utter one
    of his long shouts, to which the cows paid no attention. At
    length one of the beasts raised her head and had a long look,
    then slowly crossed the field to us, the others following at
    some distance. They were shorthorns, all but the leader, a
    beautiful young Devon, of a uniform rich glossy red; but the
    silky hair on the distended udder was of an intense chestnut,
    and all the parts that were not clothed were red too--the
    teats, the skin round the eyes, the moist embossed nose; while
    the hoofs were like polished red pebbles, and even the shapely
    horns were tinged with that colour. Walking straight up to
    the old man, she began deliberately licking one of his ears
    with her big rough tongue, and in doing so knocked off his old
    rakish cap. Picking it up he laughed like a child, and
    remarked, "She knows me, this one does--and she loikes me."
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    Chapter 16
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