Now contrast these domestic animals with a much more necessary and useful one, the cow. Any stockman knows that a cow is a beast of very high nervous organization, but she has no very large number of ways of telling us how she feels: just a few tones to her lowing, a few changes of expression to her eye, a small number of shades of uneasiness, a little manner with her eyes, showing the whites when troubled or letting the lids droop in satisfaction—these things exhausted, and poor bossy’s tale is told. You can get nothing more out of her, except in some spasm of madness. She is driven to extremes by her dumbness.
I am brought to this sermon by two things: what happened to me when Rowena Fewkes came over to see me in the early summer of 1859, a year almost to a day from the time when Magnus and I left Blue-grass Manor after our spell of work there: and what our best cow, Spot, did yesterday.
We were trying to lead Spot behind a wagon, and she did not like it. She had no way of telling us how much she hated it, and how panicky she was, as a dog or a cat could have done; and so she just hung back and acted dumb and stubborn for a minute or two, and then she gave an awful bellow, ran against the wagon as if she wanted to upset it, and when she found she could not affect it, in as pathetic a despair and mental agony as any man ever felt who has killed himself, she thrust one horn into the ground, broke it off flush with her head, and threw herself down with her neck doubled under her shoulder, as if trying to commit suicide, as I verily believe she was. And yet dogs and cats get credit for being creatures of finer feelings than cows, merely because cows have no tricks of barking, purring, and the like.
It is the same as between other people and a Dutchman. He has the same poverty of expression that cows are cursed with. To wear his feelings like an overcoat where everybody can see them is for him impossible. He is the bovine of the human species. This is the reason why I used to have such fearful crises once in a while in my dumb life, as when I was treated so kindly by Captain Sproule just after my stepfather whipped me; or when I nearly killed Ace, my fellow-driver, on the canal in my first and successful rebellion; or when I used to grow white, and cry like a baby in my fights with rival drivers. I am thought by my children, I guess, an unfeeling person, because the surface of my nature is ice, and does not ripple in every breeze; but when ice breaks up, it rips and tears—and the thicker the ice, the worse the ravage. The only reason for saying anything about this is that I am an old man, and I have always wanted to say it: and there are some things I have said, and some I shall now have to say, that will seem inconsistent unless the truths just stated are taken into account.
But there are some things to be told about before this crisis can be understood. Life dragged along for all of us from one year to another in the slow movement of a new country in hard times: only I was at bottom better off than most of my neighbors because I had cattle, though I could not see how they then did me much good. They grew in numbers, and keeping them was just a matter of labor. My stock was the only thing I had except land which was almost worthless; for I could use the land of others for pasture and hay without paying rent.