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THE CALF — ANOTHER FOOTRACE
EXPERIENCED farmers have all united in an opinion that a cow should go dry at least six weeks before the calf comes. This serves a double purpose. The cow gets a rest and a chance to recuperate from the strain of giving a pint of milk in a ten-quart pail twice a day, and the merry farmer has six weeks to get the cramps out of his hands, caused by trying to get the cow to part with that pint of milk, and the stain out of his soul, caused by his lying about the amount.
In this way much good is done to the old line-back and to the old moss-back, and both are benefited to a very great degree. The cow grows fat on good food and inaction, but the farmer grows thinner, if possible, because one source of income, to-wit the milk, is cut off.
However, as I was assured that this was the proper thing, I was determined to carry it out at all hazards. I didn't just know how to go to work. If the cow had been addicted to smoking, I could have made her smoke rattan, which, as every boy knows, dries up the blood, and, of course, could have no other effect upon the milk.
This being out of the question, I then thought of giving her doses of alum. You see, when I was a boy and had a canker in my mouth, which was always explained to me by my mother as being the direct result of saying bad words, and which for many good reasons I could not deny, a little alum rubbed on the affected part puckered up my lips so that they looked like the stem end of a green tomato, and made my mouth so dry that I couldn't spit through my teeth, another accomplishment of mine, for a week. But how I could whistle!
Naturally, this occurred to me as a facile means of drying up the old cow, but before putting it in operation I consulted the fountainhead of all bucolic knowledge, Daniel, my rosy and jocose neighbor.
"How much milk does she give?" queried Daniel, in answer to my request for instructions.
"About a pint and a half," I replied.
"Dry! How much drier do you expect to get her?" exclaimed Daniel with some heat. "If I had a cow that didn't give but a pint at a milking, I should think she was pretty almighty dry. You don't want to endanger your premises by getting her so dry that you can't take a lantern into the barn, do you?"
"Well, no," I replied doubtfully, "but I want her dry."—
"Don't milk her to-morrow," said Daniel.
So the next morning I omitted to milk her, and before noon my wife was in tears, three small children in the neighborhood had convulsions, and five complaints were entered to the proper authorities that I was maintaining a nuisance in keeping a bellowing cow.
So at noon I milked her and got a quart. Then I went to Daniel again.
"Don't feed her," said Daniel.
So that noon I didn't fill the manger, but tied her under an open shed. Before night, several old ladies in the neighborhood were taken with nervous prostration, and I was served with a quo warranto, a mandamus, a ne exeat regno, a notice of a hearing on a petition for an injunction, a libel for divorce, and arrested on a warrant on a complaint charging me with conspiracy to make a tumult in the compact part of the village.
As the last-mentioned instrument was returnable before my own court, I did not worry about it, but hastily fed the querulous and bellowing animal, and returned to my office where I drew up as an answer to the other actions: "Necessarium est quod non potest aliter se habere." This calmed my mind somewhat. I had at least got some cases on the docket to defend.
I then returned to Daniel.
"Damn the cow!" said Daniel.
"That don't amount to anything," I replied, "I have done that for months."
"Kill her then," he retorted, and washed his hands of the affair.
This was perhaps the best advice he had given, but I couldn't bring myself to do violence to so old and tried a chum. We had had too many wildly exciting times together. She was rough, but I always could depend on her to do the best she could and give me a square tussle.
In due time the calf came and was pronounced a beauty. He — much to my regret it was a he — did not seem exactly handsome or shapely. On the contrary, he seemed a sprawling heap of awkward, bony, wobbly legs.
Indeed, he spent the best part of the first day in awkward attempts to rise, and prodigious successes in the way of heavy crumpled-up tumbles. But in a few days, Moses! how that calf could run, kick and butt.
We naturally had a little reception for it. You see, a calf is a new thing to us and we were proud of it, — her, — him, I mean. So one day as I was exhibiting it, — him — to several neighbors, he reached forward, caught hold of a button on my vest, just over the pit of my stomach, and mouthed it in the most cunning manner. I held my breath so as not to scare it, and the ladies were in ecstasies. I did not hold my breath long, however, for suddenly the animal, with the natural intent to increase the flow of milk, gave me a terrific bunt with its nose, in which all the weight of its body and all the convulsive power of its suddenly stiffened legs were expended.
All the breath in my body was expelled with such violence that I only regained it after a paroxysm of hoarse gasps and startling hawks, which antics and involuntary inch-wormings, I am sorry to say, entertained my callers far more than the antics of the calf.
When the calf was three weeks old, it had developed speed of a race-horse quality and frequently dragged me about the premises with unparalleled swiftness, and at the end of a stout rope. This was good exercise for both of us, and kept down the increasing flesh of over-maturity.
One day, as I was coming from the office, I saw the calf coming down the street from my premises at a wild gallop, flinging up his heels and dragging a long rope. I was not quick enough to head him off, but with rare presence of mind jumped with both feet on the rope as the animal shot by me like a flash of lightning. When I lit I was nearly a rod from the starting-place and on my head and shoulders. People who saw me in the air said I looked like a pinwheel, so rapid were my revolutions.
I was mad! Thoroughly mad! Fighting mad! I would catch that devilish calf if I burst something; and I took up the running.
Scientists say that the wild ass of the desert is the swiftest of all animals. Be it so; but without desiring to institute any comparisons, I must acknowledge that a certain tame one developed the most astonishing burst of speed on Pine and Front Streets on that day that ever drew the attention of the sporting world.
Round the corner of Pine and Front we went, I on one wheel and the calf heeling dangerously to leeward and with its keel half out of water.
Righting ourselves, we flew along like International Cup winners. In front of the Seminary entrance, by terrific sprinting, I had nearly closed the gap between us. From the Seminary entrance to Tan Lane the calf drew away from me, as my spark-plug fell out or my carbureter failed to carburet.
At the lower part of the Academy yard I was almost within reach of my opponent's rudder, but failed to grasp it. Suddenly he tacked abruptly into Elm Street, while I skidded to Conner's fence and ripped off a tire, but kept on with frantic gasping jumps. Just in front of the Unitarian Church I had made up my lost space, when the calf suddenly stopped and we came together like two football tackles, amid a cloud of dust. I had run down my prize.
I was mad! Thoroughly mad! Fighting mad!
As I slowly returned up Front Street, breathless but triumphant, I received many laughing congratulations over my fleetness and determination. Just as I was about to reenter my yard, I heard Daniel from his piazza across the way shout, "Say, old man, no end obliged to you for bringing back my calf. Saved me lots of trouble. Let the man hitch him in my barn, please."
Sure enough, a glance showed my calf lying quietly under a tree, safely tethered to a crowbar, while I had chased his infernal calf over two miles at race-horse speed. In a sort of daze I handed the grinning man the rope, looked at my torn and dusty clothes, my shoe with the sole gone and my ruined hat.
"Curse your calf!" I hissed, and limped painfully into my house.