Why the Cow Turned Her Head Away

by Abby Morton Diaz

"Moolly Cow, your barn is warm, the wintry winds cannot reach you, nor frost nor snow. Why are your eyes so sad? Take this wisp of hay. See, I am holding it up? It is very good. Now you turn your head away. Why do you look so sorrowful, Moolly Cow, and turn your head away?"

"Little girl, I am thinking of the time when that dry wisp of hay was living grass. When those brown, withered flowers were blooming clovertops, buttercups, and daisies, and the bees and the butterflies came about them. The air was warm then, and gentle winds blew. Every morning I went forth to spend the day in sunny pastures. I am thinking now of those early summer mornings,—how the birds sang, and the sun shone, and the grass glittered with dew! and the boy that opened the gates, how merrily he whistled! I stepped quickly along, sniffing the fresh morning air, snatching at times a hasty mouthful by the way; it was really very pleasant! And when the bars fell, how joyfully I leaped over! I knew where the grass grew green and tender, and hastened to eat it while the dew was on.

"As the sun rose higher I sought the shade, and at noonday would lie under the trees chewing, chewing, chewing, with half-shut eyes, and the drowsy insects humming around me; or perhaps I would stand motionless upon the river's bank, where one might catch a breath of air, or wade deep in to cool myself in the stream. And when noontime was passed and the heat grew less, I went back to the grass and flowers.

"And thus the long summer day sped on,—sped pleasantly on, for I was never lonely. No lack of company in those sunny pasture-lands! The grasshoppers and crickets made a great stir, bees buzzed, butterflies were coming and going, and birds singing always. I knew where the ground-sparrows built, and all about the little field-mice. They were very friendly to me, for often, while nibbling the grass, I would whisper, 'Keep dark, little mice! Don't fly, sparrows! The boys are coming!'

"No lack of company,—O no! When that withered hay was living grass, yellow with buttercups, white with daisies, pink with clover, it was the home of myriads of little insects,—very, very little insects. O, but they made things lively, crawling, hopping, skipping among the roots, and up and down the stalks, so happy, so full of life,—never still! And now not one left alive! They are gone. That pleasant summer-time is gone. O, these long, dismal winter nights! All day I stand in my lonely stall, listening, not to the song of birds, or hum of bees, or chirp of grasshoppers, or the pleasant rustling of leaves, but to the noise of howling winds, hail, sleet, and driving snow!

"Little girl, I pray you don't hold up to me that wisp of hay. In just that same way they held before my eyes, one pleasant morning, a bunch of sweet clover, to entice me from my pretty calf!

"Poor thing! It was the only one I had! So gay and sprightly! Such a playful, frisky, happy young thing! It was a joy to see her caper and toss her heels about, without a thought of care or sorrow. It was good to feel her nestling close at my side, to look into her bright, innocent eyes, to rest my head lovingly upon her neck!

"And already I was looking forward to the time when she would become steady and thoughtful like myself; was counting greatly upon her company of nights in the dark barn, or in roaming the fields through the long summer days. For the butterflies and bees, and all the bits of insects, though well enough in their way, and most excellent company, were, after all, not akin to me, and there is nothing like living with one's own blood relations.

"But I lost my pretty little one! The sweet clover enticed me away. When I came back she was gone! I saw through the bars the rope wound about her. I saw the cart. I saw the cruel men lift her in. She made a mournful noise. I cried out, and thrust my head over the rail, calling, in language she well understood, 'Come back! O, come back!'

"She looked up with her round, sorrowful eyes and wished to come, but the rope held her fast! The man cracked his whip, the cart rolled away; I never saw her more!

"No, little girl, I cannot take your wisp of hay. It reminds me of the silliest hour of my life,—of a day when I surely made myself a fool. And on that day, too, I was offered by a little girl a bunch of grass and flowers.

"It was a still summer's noon. Not a breath of air was stirring. I had waded deep into the stream, which was then calm and smooth. Looking down I saw my own image in the water. And I perceived that my neck was thick and clumsy, that my hair was brick-color, and my head of an ugly shape, with two horns sticking out much like the prongs of a pitchfork. 'Truly, Mrs. Cow,' I said, 'you are by no means handsome!'

"Just then a horse went trotting along the bank. His hair was glossy black, he had a flowing mane, and a tail which grew thick and long. His proud neck was arched, his head lifted high. He trotted lightly over the ground, bending in his hoofs daintily at every footfall. Said I to myself, 'Although not well-looking,—which is a great pity,—it is quite possible that I can step beautifully, like the horse; who knows?' And I resolved to plod on no longer in sober cow-fashion, but to trot off nimbly and briskly and lightly.

"I hastily waded ashore, climbed the bank, held my head high, stretched out my neck, and did my best to trot like the horse, bending in my hoofs as well as was possible at every step, hoping that all would admire me.

"Some children gathering flowers near by burst into shouts of laughter, crying out, 'Look! Look!' 'Mary!' 'Tom!' 'What ails the cow?' 'She acts like a horse!' 'She is putting on airs!' 'Clumsy thing!' 'Her tail is like a pump-handle!' 'O, I guess she's a mad cow!' Then they ran, and I sank down under a tree with tears in my eyes.

"But one little girl stayed behind the rest, and, seeing that I was quiet, she came softly up, step by step, holding out a bunch of grass and clover. I kept still as a mouse. She stroked me with her soft hand, and said,—

"'O good Moolly Cow, I love you dearly; for my mother has told me very nice things about you. Of course, you are not handsome. O no, O no! But then you are good-natured, and so we all love you. Every day you give us sweet milk, and never keep any for yourself. The boys strike you sometimes, and throw stones, and set the dogs on you; but you give them your milk just the same. And you are never contrary like the horse, stopping when you ought to go, and going when you ought to stop. Nobody has to whisper in your ears, to make you gentle, as they do to horses; you are gentle of your own accord, dear Moolly Cow. If you do walk up to children sometimes, you won't hook; it's only playing, and I will stroke you and love you dearly. And if you'd like to know, I'll tell you that there's a wonderful lady who puts you into her lovely pictures, away over the water.'

"Her words gave me great comfort, and may she never lack for milk to crumb her bread in! But O, take away your wisp of hay, little girl; for you bring to mind the summer days which are gone, and my pretty bossy, that was stolen away, and also—my own folly."