Chapter Sixteen: In Praise of the Cow
In spite of discontents I might have remained to this day by the Otter, in the daily and hourly expectation of seeing some new and wonderful thing in Nature in that place where a crimson-eyed carrion-crow had been revealed to me, had not a storm of thunder and rain broken over the country to shake me out of a growing disinclination to move. We are, body and mind, very responsive to atmospheric changes; for every storm in Nature there is a storm in us—a change physical and mental. We make our own conditions, it is true, and these react and have a deadening effect on us in the long run, but we are never wholly deadened by them—if we be not indeed dead, if the life we live can be called life. We are told that there are rainless zones on the earth and regions of everlasting summer: it is hard to believe that the dwellers in such places can ever think a new thought or do a new thing. The morning rain did not last very long, and before it had quite ceased I took up my knapsack and set off towards the sea, determined on this occasion to make my escape.
Three or four miles from Ottery St. Mary I overtook a cowman driving nine milch cows along a deep lane and inquired my way of him. He gave me many and minute directions, after which we got into conversation, and I walked some distance with him. The cows he was driving were all pure Devons, perfect beauties in their bright red coats in that greenest place where every rain-wet leaf sparkled in the new sunlight. Naturally we talked about the cows, and I soon found that they were his own and the pride and joy of his life. We walked leisurely, and as the animals went on, first one, then another would stay for a mouthful of grass, or to pull down half a yard of green drapery from the hedge. It was so lavishly decorated that the damage they did to it was not noticeable. By and by we went on ahead of the cows, then, if one stayed too long or strayed into some inviting side-lane, he would turn and utter a long, soft call, whereupon the straggler would leave her browsing and hasten after the others.
He was a big, strongly built man, a little past middle life and grey-haired, with rough-hewn face—unprepossessing one would have pronounced him until the intelligent, kindly expression of the eyes was seen and the agreeable voice was heard. As our talk progressed and we found how much in sympathy we were on the subject, I was reminded of that Biblical expression about the shining of a man’s face: “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man”—I hope the total abstainers will pardon me—“and oil that maketh his face to shine,” we have in one passage. This rather goes against our British ideas, since we rub no oil or unguents on our skin, but only soap which deprives it of its natural oil and too often imparts a dry and hard texture. Yet in that, to us, disagreeable aspect of the skin caused by foreign fats, there is a resemblance to the sudden brightening and glory of the countenance in moments of blissful emotion or exaltation. No doubt the effect is produced by the eyes, which are the mirrors of the mind, and as they are turned full upon us they produce an illusion, seeming to make the whole face shine.