Dudley Kalloch and Larry Short

The Calf  





ommy stood watching as Higgins, the hired man, milked Betsy. The new calf stood nearby and mooed.

"Will there be any milk left over for Calfie?" the boy asked.

"Why, yes, Tommy. Plenty!" Higgins replied. "Calfie can have her breakfast as soon as we are through."

Tommy watched the weatherbeaten farmhand get up from the stool and lift the heavy pail of milk. He thought again about what his father had promised him before Calfie was born – that she would be his very own, and that some day perhaps he could get a lot of money from her. He tried, in his mind, to picture the little calf big and plump like Betsy, her bags full of warm milk.

Tommy went over to the wobbly-kneed little calf and rubbed his hand on her back. Her fur was soft, brown and curly. She moved a little closer to him as he scratched her ear, and mooed softly. Around Calfie's neck was a collar that had once belonged to Husky, the big dog that had been run over by a car.

"If they would let me," Tommy whispered in Calfie's ear, "I would take you to my room, and you could live there and sleep in my bed with me." But Tommy knew the calf would be just as comfortable in the big red barn with all its soft, fresh hay.

Many days went by, and Calfie grew bigger and bigger, until Tommy almost felt a little funny calling her "Calfie," and began to try to think of a better name for his cow. He liked "Lady," but his dad said that sounded too much like a dog's name. Finally, he settled on "Katie."

One day at breakfast, Tommy heard his father tell his mama, "The butcher is coming tomorrow to get Katie." Tommy didn't know what a "butcher" was, so he went out behind the house, where Higgins was pulling up weeds in the garden.

"Higgins! What's a 'butcher?'" Tommy asked.

"Why, a butcher is a man who kills animals and sells them for meat," Higgins answered.

When Tommy heard this he felt just like he had felt the day Husky was run over. "So," he thought, "they are going to take Katie away from me and kill her!"

He turned away quickly because he was afraid Higgins might see him cry. "I won't let them do it!" he said to himself, as he found Katie in the barn, munching on some hay, and threw his arms around her neck. "I won't let them take my Katie! If only I could think of a good place to hide her."

Tommy remembered when Katie was just a little calf, how he wished he could take her into his bedroom. He thought maybe he could hide her there now and lock the door so the butcher couldn't come in and take her. But just then, Katie mooed in his ear, and he knew he could never hide her from his father and mother in his bedroom. So he thought harder than ever.

Then, all of a sudden, Tommy remembered the cave in the side of the hill which rose near one side of the farm. He did not think anyone else knew about this secret place.

Tommy took a lantern and went to the cave and looked around. "Yes," he said aloud, "this will be a fine place to hide Katie. It's kind of dark, and not very big, but if I bring some of her hay in here she ought to like it just about as well as the big red barn."

Against the wall and not too near the opening Tommy saw a heavy old log. With one end of a rope around this, he thought, and the other tied to Katie's collar, he was sure she would be all right. He put out the lantern and returned to the house.

That afternoon he went into the barn and found a rope. He fastened one end of the rope to Katie's collar so he could lead her out when it was dark. He also found his little red wagon and put some hay in it, and a pail for water, so Katie would have something to eat and drink. All he had to do now was wait.

Picking up a rubber ball, he began throwing it against the wall of the barn. He could hear Betsy mooing anxiously in one corner. "Maybe she too knows the butcher is coming for her baby tomorrow," he thought. He went over to the mother cow and patted her gently on the nose, saying: "Don't be afraid, Betsy, I will save Katie for you." But he wondered to himself whether he could really do it. He knew if the butcher came tomorrow and couldn't find Katie, he would be angry. He didn't care about that, though. Tonight he would wait until everyone was asleep, and then he would take Katie quietly to the cave.

That night he ate his dinner silently, and kept his eyes on his plate. His father was talking excitedly about buying a new mowing machine with the money they would get from butchering Katie, so no one noticed that the boy had nothing to say.

When dinner was over Tommy told his father and mother he was tired and wanted to go to bed. His mother looked puzzled. "It's not so often you want to go to bed this early," she said, but she smiled anyway and kissed him goodnight.

He went upstairs and got into his warm pajamas, then lay down on the covers. He thought about what he had to do. He looked at the big clock with long, silver hands and saw that it was only half past seven. He had a long time to wait before everyone would be asleep.

As he thought about Katie he got sleepier and sleepier. He would just close his eyes for a minute and rest them, he thought, then he would open them again and see what time it was getting to be.

As you can imagine, Tommy fell fast asleep, even though he didn't want to. In his sleep he had a dream, and in the dream he saw a big, mean looking man with an axe running after Katie, then grabbing her by the collar and taking her away in a big black truck. It was the butcher. Tommy ran after the truck and tried to call out for the man to stop, but found that he couldn't get any sounds to come out of his mouth.

Tommy woke with a start and sat straight up in his bed. He rubbed his eyes, and looked at the clock. "Gracious!" he cried. "It's three o'clock!"

As Tommy slipped on his shoes and coat, he tried not to think what could have happened if he had not had the terrible dream and woken up while it was still dark. He opened the door carefully, holding his breath when it creaked on its hinges, then tiptoed softly past his parents' bedroom, and down the stairs.

Tommy was able, by the light of the full moon, to pick his way to the barn and find the lantern on the wall. He struck a match and lit it then adjusted the wick so it burned low and soft. He tiptoed over to the stall where Betsy and Katie stood in the darkness, watching him with big brown eyes. He untied Katie and led her outside, whispering in her ear to be as quiet as she could. She reached out with her long pink tongue and licked his hand, as if to thank him for saving her.

Tommy and his cow stopped beneath his parents' window and listened. All was dark and quiet.. When Tommy was sure no one had heard them, he continued on around the house.

He had just passed the little shed where Higgins slept and was heading toward the hill, when a voice behind him in the darkness made him almost jump out of his shoes.

"Tommy? Is that you, son?" It was Higgins, the hired man, who stood squinting in the darkness at the boy and his cow.

Tommy said nothing. His heart fell to his feet, now that he knew his plan had been discovered. Nothing could save Katie now, he thought!

"What are you doing, Tommy? Don't you know it's the middle of the night?"

Tommy walked over to Higgins and whispered, "I'm taking Katie where the butcher won't find her, to the cave in that hill over there. She's my cow, and I can't let them kill her!"

Higgins was silent. He scratched his chin sleepily and looked the boy over. Finally, he said, "So she is, son. So she is." Then he turned and walked back to the shed, quietly shutting the door behind him.

"Please don't tell the butcher, Mr. Higgins," Tommy said softly under his breath, as he looked after the hired man. Then he and Katie turned and continued on up the hill.

When Tommy's mother called for him to come to breakfast the next morning, Tommy saw quickly that his father looked worried. "Someone was in the barn last night," he said, "and they took the cow."

"Which one?" Tommy asked timidly, his eyes on his cereal bowl. He tried not to sound too scared.

"Katie," his father answered grimly. "And today was the day I was going to have her butchered, too!"

After breakfast, Tommy followed his father outside. "Good morning, Higgins!" his father called out to the hired man, who was gathering eggs in the hen house. "Did you see that the cow was missing?" Tommy held his breath.

"Yessir," Higgins answered Tommy's father. "Darndest thing, it is. Seems like they came right into the barn and took her while we slept."

"You didn't hear anything?" his father asked.

"Not a sound, sir." Higgins winked at Tommy, when his father wasn't looking.

"It looks like they took my good pail, too!" his father growled, kicking around in the hay. "Well, if I ever find out who it was, I'll see that they go to prison." Tommy shivered. He had heard that prison was a dark and damp place, where they gave you only bread and water to eat, and you had to wear a dirty striped shirt.

No one said anything more about the cow the rest of that day. Several times Tommy wanted to go to the cave and take a peek at her, but he thought it would be safer to wait until after the sun had gone down.

Each night after that, while everyone was asleep, Tommy would get up and tiptoe past his parents' bedroom and down the stairs, then go out to the barn, put a load of hay in his little red wagon, and take it to Katie. He would quietly rinse out her pail and pump clean water into it, and then, after petting his cow for awhile, would return to the house and go back to sleep.

One month went by, and then two. Everyone except Tommy seemed to have forgotten about Katie. Higgins never said anything about it, though once Tommy thought he saw the prints of Higgins' work boots in the dirt outside the cave.

One night Tommy had fed Katie as usual, then returned to the house. He shut the door quietly behind him and was tiptoeing up the stairs, when he almost bumped into his father, standing at the top of the stairs in the darkness and looking down at him.

"What are you doing, Tommy?" his father demanded.

"I was just getting a drink of water, sir," Tommy lied.

His father was silent. Tommy knew that he didn't believe him.

"There is a piece of hay on your collar," his father observed. "Were you in the barn?"

"Yes, sir." Tommy knew it would be useless to lie any longer to his father.

"What were you doing there?" his father asked.

"I was getting hay to take to Katie," Tommy confessed. "I have her hidden in the cave by the hill."

His father looked very surprised, but said nothing for a long time. Finally, he told Tommy, "Go to bed now, son. Tomorrow we will go and visit her."

Tommy cried as he climbed back into his bed. He had hidden Katie so long, that he thought for sure he had saved her. Now his father would call the butcher, and there would be nothing at all the boy could do to stop him.

In the morning Tommy's father fetched him and Higgins, and they walked over together to see Katie.

"She has been well cared for," his father said, after he looked her over.

"Yes, sir," Higgins said, and Tommy saw that his father looked at the hired man with surprise on his face.

On the way back, his father drew Higgins aside, and they talked in low tones. Tommy couldn't hear what was said.

After they got to the house, Tommy went up to his bedroom, and sat on his bed with his head in his hands. Soon, there was a gentle knock on the door. It was Tommy's father.

"Tommy, I want to talk about your cow," he said.

"Oh, Father," Tommy cried, "are you going to call the butcher?"

"No." His father shook his head. "I made a promise to you, a long time ago. I told you that the calf would be yours, but then I forgot all about my promise. I'm sorry, son. I won't call the butcher -- unless, of course, you want me to."

Tommy threw his arms around his father's neck and gave him a great, big hug. So he had saved the calf after all! "Oh, Father!" he said. "I'm so happy!"

His father smiled. "Perhaps it is better this way," he nodded. "Betsy is getting along in years, and we will be needing a new milk cow soon."

So his father brought Katie back home to the barn, and in time she had a calf of her own, and gave more milk than even Betsy ever did. And every time Tommy came into the barn, he would stop and scratch behind Katie's ear, and she would moo softly as if to say, "Thank you!"

Copyright 1999 Larry Short