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Chapter 31 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

“Isn't it a strange thing,” said Miss Laura, “that a little thing like a fly, can cause so much annoyance to animals as well to people? Sometimes when I am trying to get more sleep in the morning, their little feet tickle me so that I am nearly frantic and have to fly out of bed.”

“You shall have some netting to put over your bed,” said Mrs. Wood; “but suppose, Laura, you had no hands to brush away the flies. Suppose your whole body was covered with them; and you were tied up somewhere and could not get loose. I can't imagine more exquisite torture myself. Last summer the flies here were dreadful. It seems to me that they are getting worse and worse every year, and worry the animals more. I believe it is because the birds are getting thinned out all over the country. There are not enough of them to catch the flies. John says that the next improvements we make on the farm are to be wire gauze at all the stable windows and screen doers to keep the little pests from the horses and cattle.

“One afternoon last summer, Mr. Maxwell's mother came for me to go for a drive with her. The heat was intense, and when we got down by the river, she proposed getting out of the phaeton and sitting under the trees, to see if it would be any cooler. She was driving a horse that she had got from the hotel in the village, a roan horse that was clipped, and check-reined, and had his tail docked. I wouldn't drive behind a tailless horse now. Then, I wasn't so particular. However, I made her unfasten the check-rein before I'd set foot in the carriage. Well, I thought that horse would go mad. He'd tremble and shiver and look go pitifully at us. The flies were nearly eating him up. Then he'd start a little. Mrs. Maxwell had a weight at his head to hold him, but he could easily have dragged that. He was a good dispositioned horse, and he didn't want to run away, but he could not stand still. I soon jumped up and slapped him, and rubbed him till my hands were dripping wet. The poor brute was so grateful and would keep touching my arm with his nose. Mrs. Maxwell sat under the trees fanning herself and laughing at me, but I didn't care. How could I enjoy myself with a dumb creature writhing in pain before me?”

“A docked horse can neither eat nor sleep comfortably in the fly season. In one of our New England villages they have a sign up, 'Horses taken in to grass. Long tails, one dollar and fifty cents. Short tails, one dollar.' And it just means that the short-tailed ones are taken on cheaper, because they are so bothered by the flies that they can't eat much, while the long-tailed ones are able to brush them away and eat in peace. I read the other day of a Buffalo coal dealer's horse that was in such an agony through flies, that he committed suicide. You know animals will do that. I've read of horses and dogs drowning themselves. This horse had been clipped and his tail was docked, and he was turned out to graze. The flies stung him till he was nearly crazy. He ran up to a picket fence, and sprang up on the sharp spikes. There he hung, making no effort to get down. Some men saw him, and they said it was a clear case of suicide.

“I would like to have the power to take every man who cuts off a horse's tail, and tie his hands, and turn him out in a field in the hot sun, with little clothing on, and plenty of flies about. Then we would see if he wouldn't sympathize with the poor, dumb beast. It's the most senseless thing in the world, this docking fashion. They've a few flimsy arguments about a horse with a docked tail being stronger-backed, like a short-tailed sheep, but I don't believe a word of it. The horse was made strong enough to do the work he's got to do, and man can't improve on him. Docking is a cruel, wicked thing. Now, there's a ghost of an argument in favor of check-reins, on certain occasions. A fiery, young horse can't run away, with an overdrawn check, and in speeding horses a tight check-rein will make them hold their heads up, and keep them from choking. But I don't believe in raising colts in a way to make them fiery, and I wish there wasn't a race horse on the face of the earth, so if it depended race on me, every kind of check-rein would go. It's pity we women can't vote, Laura. We'd do away with a good many abuses.”

Miss Laura smiled, but it was a very faint, almost an unhappy smile, and Mrs. Wood said hastily, “Let us talk about something else. Did you ever hear that cows will give less milk on a dark day than on a bright one?”

“No; I never did,” said Miss Laura.

“Well, they do. They are most sensitive animals. One finds out all manner of things about animals if he makes a study of them. Cows are wonderful creatures, I think, and so grateful for good usage that they return every scrap of care given them, with interest. Have you ever heard anything about dehorning, Laura?”

“Not much, auntie. Does uncle approve?”

“No, indeed. He'd just as soon think of cutting their tails off, as of dehorning them. He says he guesses the Creator knew how to make a cow better than he does. Sometimes I tell John that his argument doesn't hold good for a man in some ways can improve on nature. In the natural course of things, a cow would be feeding her calf for half a year, but we take it away from her, raise it as well as she could and get an extra quantity of milk from her in addition. I don't know what to think myself about dehorning. Mr. Windham's cattle are all polled, and he has an open space in his barn for them, instead of keeping them in stalls, and he says they're more comfortable and not so confined. I suppose in sending cattle to sea, it's necessary to take their horns off, but when they're going to be turned out to grass, it seems like mutilating them. Our cows couldn't keep the dogs away from the sheep if they didn't have their horns. Their horns are their means of defense.”

“Do your cattle stand in these stalls all winter?” asked Miss Laura.

“Oh, yes, except when they're turned out in the barnyard, and then John usually has to send a man to keep them moving or they'd take cold. Sometimes on very fine days they get out all day. You know cows aren't like horses. John says they're like great milk machines. You've got to keep them quiet, only exercising enough to keep them in health. If a cow is hurried or worried or chilled or heated, it stops her milk yield. And bad usage poisons it. John says you can't take a stick and strike a cow across the back, without her milk being that much worse, and as for drinking the milk that comes from a cow that isn't kept clean, you'd better throw it away and drink water. When I was in Chicago, my sister-in-law kept complaining to her milkman about what she called the 'cowy' smell to her milk. 'It's the animal odor, ma'am,' he said, 'and it can't be helped. All milk smells like that.' 'It's dirt,' I said, when she asked my opinion about it. 'I'll wager my best bonnet that that man's cows are kept dirty. Their skins are plastered up with filth and as the poison in them can't escape that way, it's coming out through the milk, and you're helping to dispose of it.' She was astonished to hear this, and she got her milkman's address, and one day dropped in upon him. She said that this cows were standing in a stable that was comparatively clean, but that their bodies were in just the state that I described them as living in. She advised the man to card and brush his cows every day, and said that he need bring her no more milk.

“That shows how you city people are imposed upon with regard to your milk. I should think you'd be poisoned with the treatment your cows receive; and even when your milk is examined you can't tell whether it is pure or not. In New York the law only requires thirteen per cent. of solids in milk. That's absurd, for you can feed a cow on swill and still get fourteen per cent. of solids in it. Oh! you city people are queer.”

Miss Laura laughed heartily. “What a prejudice you have against large towns, auntie.”

“Yes, I have,” said Mrs. Wood, honestly. “I often wish we could break up a few of our cities, and scatter the people through the country. Look at the lovely farms all about here, some of them with only an old man and woman on them. The boys are off to the cities, slaving in stores and offices, and growing pale and sickly. It would have broken my heart if Harry had taken to city ways. I had a plain talk with your uncle when I married him, and said, 'Now my boy's only a baby and I want him to be brought up so that he will love country life. How are we going to manage it?'

“Your uncle looked at me with a sly twinkle in his eye, and said I was a pretty fair specimen of a country girl, suppose we brought up Harry the way I'd been brought up. I knew he was only joking, yet I got quite excited. 'Yes,' I said, 'Do as my father and mother did. Have a farm about twice as large as you can manage. Don't keep a hired man. Get up at daylight and slave till dark. Never take a holiday. Have the girls do the housework, and take care of the hens, and help pick the fruit, and make the boys tend the colts and the calves, and put all the money they make in the bank. Don't take any papers, or they would waste their time reading them, and it's too far to go the postoffice oftener than once a week; and' but I don't remember the rest of what I said. Anyway, your uncle burst into a roar of laughter. 'Hattie,' he said, 'my farm's too big. I'm going to sell some of it, and enjoy myself a little more.' That very week he sold fifty acres, and he hired an extra man, and got me a good girl, and twice a week he left his work in the afternoon and took me for a drive. Harry held the reins in his tiny fingers, and John told him that Dolly, the old mare we were driving, should be called his, and the very next horse he bought should be called his too, and he should name it and have it for his own; and he would give him five sheep, and he should have his own bank book and keep his accounts; and Harry understood, mere baby though he was, and from that day he loved John as his own father. If my father had had the wisdom that John has, his boys wouldn't be the one a poor lawyer and the other a poor doctor in two different cities; and our farm wouldn't be in the hands of strangers. It makes me sick to go there. I think of my poor mother lying with her red hands crossed out in the churchyard, and the boys so far away, and my father always hurrying and driving us I can tell you, Laura, the thing cuts both ways. It isn't all the fault of the boys that they leave the country.”

Mrs. Wood was silent for a little while after she made this long speech, and Miss Laura said nothing. I took a turn or two up and down the stable, thinking of many things. No matter how happy human beings seem to be, they always have something to worry them. I was sorry for Mrs. Wood for her face had lost the happy look it usually wore. However, she soon forgot her trouble, and said:

“Now, I must go and get the tea. This is Adele's afternoon out.”

“I'll come, too,” said Miss Laura, “for I promised her I'd make the biscuits for tea this evening and let you rest.” They both sauntered slowly down the plank walk to the house, and I followed them.

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