Mr. Wood had a dozen calves that he was raising, and Miss Laura sometimes went up to the stable to see them. Each calf was in a crib, and it was fed with milk. They had gentle, patient faces, and beautiful eyes, and looked very meek, as they stood quietly gazing about them, or sucking away at their milk. They reminded me of big, gentle dogs.
I never got a very good look at them in their cribs, but one day when they were old enough to be let out, I went up with Miss Laura to the yard where they were kept. Such queer, ungainly, large-boned creatures they were, and such a good time they were having, running and jumping and throwing up their heels.
Mrs. Wood was with us, and she said that it was not good for calves to be closely penned after they got to be a few weeks old. They were better for getting out and having a frolic. She stood beside Miss Laura for a long time, watching the calves, and laughing a great deal at their awkward gambols. They wanted to play, but they did not seem to know how to use their limbs.
They were lean calves, and Miss Laura asked her aunt why all the nice milk they had taken had not made them fat. "The fat will come all in good time," said Mrs. Wood. "A fat calf makes a poor cow, and a fat, small calf isn't profitable to fit for sending to the butcher. It's better to have a bony one and fatten it. If you come here next summer, you'll see a fine show of young cattle, with fat sides, and big, open horns, and a good coat of hair. Can you imagine," she went on, indignantly, "that any one could be cruel enough to torture such a harmless creature as a calf?"
"No, indeed," replied Miss Laura. "Who has been doing it?"
"Who has been doing it?" repeated Mrs. Wood, bitterly; "they are doing it all the time. Do you know what makes the nice, white veal one gets in big cities? The calves are bled to death. They linger for hours, and moan their lives away. The first time I heard it, I was so angry that I cried for a day, and made John promise that he'd never send another animal of his to a big city to be killed. That's why all of our stock goes to Hoytville, and small country places. Oh, those big cities are awful places, Laura. It seems to me that it makes people wicked to huddle them together. I'd rather live in a desert than a city. There's Ch--o. Every night since I've been there I pray to the Lord either to change the hearts of some of the wicked people in it, or to destroy them off the face of the earth. You know three years ago I got run down, and your uncle said I'd got to have a change, so he sent me off to my brother's in Ch--o. I stayed and enjoyed myself pretty well, for it is a wonderful city, till one day some Western men came in, who had been visiting the slaughter houses outside the city. I sat and listened to their talk, and it seemed to me that I was hearing the description of a great battle. These men were cattle dealers, and had been sending stock to Ch--o, and they were furious that men, in their rage for wealth, would so utterly ignore and trample on all decent and humane feelings as to torture animals as the Ch--o men were doing.
"It is too dreadful to repeat the sights they saw. I listened till they were describing Texan steers kicking in agony under the torture that was practised, and then I gave a loud scream, and fainted dead away. They had to send for your uncle, and he brought me home, and for days and days I heard nothing but shouting and swearing, and saw animals dripping with blood, and crying and moaning in their anguish, and now, Laura, if you'd lay down a bit of Ch------o meat, and cover it with gold, I'd spurn it from me. But what am I saying? you're as white as a sheet. Come and see the cow stable. John's just had it whitewashed."
Miss Laura took her aunt's arm, and I walked slowly behind them. The cow stable was a long building, well-built, and with no chinks in the walls, as Jenkins's stable had. There were large windows where the afternoon sun came streaming in, and a number of ventilators, and a great many stalls. A pipe of water ran through the stalls from one end of the stable to the other. The floor was covered with sawdust and leaves, and the ceiling and tops of the walls were whitewashed. Mrs. Wood said that her husband would not have the walls a glare of white right down to the floor, because he thought it injured the animals' eyes. So the lower parts of the walls were stained a dark, brown color.
There were doors at each end of the stable, and just now they stood open, and a gentle breeze was blowing through, but Mrs. Wood said that when the cattle stood in the stalls, both doors were never allowed to be open at the same time. Mr. Wood was most particular to have no drafts blowing upon his cattle. He would not have them chilled, and he would not have them overheated. One thing was as bad as the other. And during the winter they were never allowed to drink icy water. He took the chill off the water for his cows, just as Mrs. Wood did for her hens.
"You know, Laura," Mrs. Wood went on, "that when cows are kept dry and warm, they eat less than when they are cold and wet. They are so warm-blooded that if they are cold, they have to eat a great deal to keep up the heat of their bodies, so it pays better to house and feed them well. They like quiet, too. I never knew that till I married your uncle. On our farm, the boys always shouted and screamed at the cows when they were driving them, and sometimes they made them run. They're never allowed to do that here."
"I have noticed how quiet this farm seems," said Miss Laura. "You have so many men about, and yet there is so little noise."
"Your uncle whistles a great deal," said Mrs. Wood. "Have you noticed that? He whistles when he's about his work, and then he has a calling whistle that nearly all of the animals know, and the men run when they hear it. You'd see every cow in this stable turn its head, if he whistled in a certain way outside. He says that he got into the way of doing it when he was a boy and went for his father's cows. He trained them so that he'd just stand in the pasture and whistle, and they'd come to him. I believe the first thing that inclined me to him was his clear, happy whistle. I'd hear him from our house away down on the road, jogging along with his cart, or driving in his buggy. He says there is no need of screaming at any animal. It only frightens and angers them. They will mind much better if you speak clearly and distinctly. He says there is only one thing an animal hates more than to be shouted at, and that's to be crept on--to have a person sneak up to it and startle it. John says many a man is kicked, because he comes up to his horse like a thief. A startled animal's first instinct is to defend itself. A dog will spring at you, and a horse will let his heels fly. John always speaks or whistles to let the stock know when he's approaching."
"Where is uncle this afternoon?" asked Miss Laura.
"Oh, up to his eyes in hay. He's even got one of the oxen harnessed to a hay cart."
"I wonder whether it's Duke?" said Miss Laura.
"Yes, it is. I saw the star on his forehead," replied Mrs. Wood.
"I don't know when I have laughed at anything as much as I did at him the other day," said Miss Laura. "Uncle asked me if I had ever heard of such a thing as a jealous ox, and I said no. He said, 'Come to the barnyard, and I'll show you one.' The oxen were both there, Duke with his broad face, and Bright so much sharper and more intelligent looking. Duke was drinking at the trough there, and uncle said: 'Just look at him. Isn't he a great, fat, self-satisfied creature, and doesn't he look as if he thought the world owed him a living, and he ought to get it?' Then he got the card and went up to Bright, and began scratching him. Duke lifted his head from the trough, and stared at uncle, who paid no attention to him but went on carding Bright, and stroking and petting him. Duke looked so angry. He left the trough, and with the water dripping from his lips, went up to uncle, and gave him a push with his horns. Still uncle took no notice, and Duke almost pushed him over. Then uncle left off petting Bright, and turned to him. He said Duke would have treated him roughly, if he hadn't. I never saw a creature look as satisfied as Duke did, when uncle began to card him. Bright didn't seem to care, and only gazed calmly at them."
"I've seen Duke do that again and again," said Mrs. Wood. "He's the most jealous animal that we have, and it makes him perfectly miserable to have your uncle pay attention to any animal but him. What queer creatures these dumb brutes are. They're pretty much like us in most ways. They're jealous and resentful, and they can love or hate equally well--and forgive, too, for that matter; and suffer--how they can suffer, and so patiently, too. Where is the human being that would put up with the tortures that animals endure and yet come out so patient?"
"Nowhere," said Miss Laura, in a low voice; "we couldn't do it."
"And there doesn't seem to be an animal," Mrs. Wood went on, "no matter how ugly and repulsive it is, but what has some lovable qualities. I have just been reading about some sewer rats, Louise Michel's rats----"
"Who is she?" asked Miss Laura.
"A celebrated Frenchwoman, my dear child, 'the priestess of pity and vengeance,' Mr. Stead calls her. You are too young to know about her, but I remember reading of her in 1872, during the Commune troubles in France. She is an anarchist, and she used to wear a uniform, and shoulder a rifle, and help to build barricades. She was arrested and sent as a convict to one of the French penal colonies. She has a most wonderful love for animals in her heart, and when she went home she took four cats with her. She was put into prison again in France and took the cats with her. Rats came about her cell and she petted them and taught her cats to be kind to them. Before she got the cats thoroughly drilled one of them bit a rat's paw. Louise nursed the rat till it got well, then let it down by a string from her window. It went back to its sewer, and, I suppose, told the other rats how kind Louise had been to it, for after that they came to her cell without fear. Mother rats brought their young ones and placed them at her feet, as if to ask her protection for them. The most remarkable thing about them was their affection for each other. Young rats would chew the crusts thrown to old toothless rats, so that they might more easily eat them, and if a young rat dared help itself before an old one, the others punished it."
"That sounds very interesting, auntie," said Miss Laura. "Where did you read it?"
"I have just got the magazine," said Mrs. Wood; "you shall have it as soon as you come into the house."
"I love to be with you, dear auntie," said Miss Laura, putting her arm affectionately around her, as they stood in the doorway; "because you understand me when I talk about animals. I can't explain it," went on my dear young mistress, laying her hand on her heart, "the feeling I have here for them. I just love a dumb creature, and I want to stop and talk to every one I see. Sometimes I worry poor Bessie Drury, and I'm so sorry, but I can't help it. She says, "What makes you so silly, Laura?""
Miss Laura was standing just where the sunlight shone through her light-brown hair, and made her face all in a glow. I thought she looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her before, and I think Mrs. Wood thought the same. She turned around and put both hands on Miss Laura's shoulders. "Laura," she said, earnestly, "there are enough cold hearts in the world. Don't you ever stifle a warm or tender feeling toward a dumb creature. That is your chief attraction, my child: your love for everything that breathes and moves. Tear out the selfishness from your heart, if there is any there, but let the love and pity stay. And now let me talk a little more to you about the cows. I want to interest you in dairy matters. This stable is new since you were here, and we've made a number of improvements. Do you see those bits of rock salt in each stall? They are for the cows to lick whenever they want to. Now, come here, and I'll show you what we call 'The Black Hole.'"
It was a tiny stable off the main one, and it was very dark and cool. "Is this a place of punishment?" asked Miss Laura, in surprise.
Mrs. Wood laughed heartily. "No, no; a place of pleasure. Sometimes when the flies are very bad and the cows are brought into the yard to be milked and a fresh swarm settles on them, they are nearly frantic; and though they are the best cows in New Hampshire, they will kick a little.
When they do, those that are the worst are brought in here to be milked where there are no flies. The others have big strips of cotton laid over their backs and tied under them, and the men brush their legs with tansy tea, or water with a little carbolic acid in it. That keeps the flies away, and the cows know just as well that it is done for their comfort, and stand quietly till the milking is over. I must ask John to have their nightdresses put on sometimes for you to see. Harry calls them 'sheeted ghosts,' and they do look queer enough standing all round the barnyard robed in white."