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To a Cow
By OLIVER HERFORD
ORNIFEROUS wet-nurse of the human race,
To the brown goddess who with rustic grace Bends o'er the shining pail her knees embrace,
Clad in a simple smock and apron wide.
Her homeward way across the field, and now
Till gathered in the purple of its brow
Her fading shape into the twilight blends,
HE other day, just as I stepped out the front door of my office on Fourth Avenue, intending to walk uptown, I met Mr. Bond, also walking up
Mr. Bond is an imposing man. supposed to be one of the biggest exporters or importers or something in the city. He looks like a whole corporation on two legs. Whenever I meet him, which is not often, his dignity oppresses me with the thought that I, too, am a man of affairs and should show by my conversation that I am engaged with matters of moment. The thought is too much for me. Usually I see Mr. Bond some distance away and slip quietly across the street. But this time we met squarely.
"Hullo," he said. "Walking up-town?" I looked for a street-car. There was none in sight.
"Yes," I replied, and fell in beside him. Immediately I cast about for something to say. The weather? No man of affairs begins with the weather. Besides, the weather was n't anything in particu
lar; it was n't too warm or too cool or too windy or perfectly beautiful or thoroughly nasty; it was just a gray, neutral, ordinary afternoon. The news of the day? I had been too busy to see a newspaper. Politics? The subject frightened me; Mr. Bond would get me beyond my depth in no time.
We crossed Twenty-sixth Street. Mr. Bond said nothing.
"Well," I began boldly, "how 's the export business going to-day?"
"Import," he corrected. "Oh, it might be worse."
That finished that. I groped again. Usually, when I have nothing to say, I follow a simple plan. Suppose I meet X. The last time I saw him was at Y's. I say, "Well, have you recovered from that party that old Y gave?" And when he says he has, we tell each other what a bully chap Y is. I considered this possibility. But Mr. Bond and I had last seen each other at a small luncheon five weeks before, and it seemed over-solicitous to assure myself of his recovery. As I was
making this decision we crossed Twentyseventh Street and approached Twentyeighth. The silence was unbroken.
"This is ridiculous," I thought. “Anything will do. I don't have to say anything important. Any remark will do." I opened my mouth to make any remark. I could n't think of any remark.
Let me see something I had been doing? Rapidly I reviewed my day. A letter from my family, scrambled eggs and a baked apple for lunch, an important button missing from my favorite soft shirtit would be impossible to interest an exporter, or, rather, importer, in any of these matters. My life seemed devoid of incident. The silence hung heavy about us.
Then I had an idea -the theater. What had I been to recently? I meditated rapidly. (Twentyninth Street.) I might ask Mr. Bond if he had been to "Does your Mother Know you 're Out?" It seemed distinctly an importer's entertainment. Again I opened my mouth.
falling out of the tenth-story window. One does n't often see that even in New York." But Fourth Avenue was as quiet as Sunday. Better plunge on the drama. (Thirty-first Street.) I cast the die.
"Have you been to 'Does your Mother Know you 're Out?" I asked timidly. My voice sounded weak. What a silly question after six blocks!
"No, I have n't," Mr. Bond replied. "How is it?"
I wanted to go on; I had interesting critical ideas about the show, which I was in the habit of expressing forcibly to my friends. But such matters would be beneath the notice of Wall Street. Again we came to a full stop. Flight became imperative.
"The silence was unbroken "
I could not say it. If I had asked him right off, it might have passed; but it was a silly question to take four blocks to work up to. Mr. Bond probably thought a knotty business problem filled my mind; it would be better to start off with something deep. Meanwhile I took a couple of deep breaths and put on a bit of swagger, to indicate that if I did n't talk much, it was because I enjoyed walking for the air and the exercise. (Thirtieth Street.)
Perhaps there was something about us to call Mr. Bond's attention to-something unusual which men of the world could discuss. A timely accident might serve. It would be a relief to be able to clutch my companion's arm and remark, "By Jove! that 's the third traffic policeman I've seen run over this autumn! I tell you, the situation is becoming intolerable," or, "I say, just watch that chap
Street. Mr. Bond would clearly be continuing up-town. Probably he was bound for the Grand Central Station. I held my breath till
we almost reached the curb. "Well," I said smoothly, "I leave you here. Glad to have seen you."
"This is my street, too, as it happens," said Mr. Bond.
My heart sank. "Good!" I cried. "What a lucky chance!"
Together we turned to the left and walked westward along Thirty-second Street. In the next few blocks there were actually a couple of perfunctory rallies of talk. Mr. Bond was the server each time, and each rally ended quickly with a clean ace for him. I am afraid my mind was too busy with plans for escape.
This was how I reasoned it out: Mr. Bond was evidently bound for the Pennsylvania Station, not the Grand Central. He must therefore continue straight ahead on Thirty-second Street. I could hardly turn off to the left; for if I did this, he would wonder why I had stayed on
Fourth Avenue as long as I did. If I turned off to the right, I would have to have a destination between Thirty-second and Thirty-third, or else he would wonder why I had turned off Fourth Avenue as soon as I did. He might conclude that I had done so to rid myself of his company. Perish the thought! I was between two fires. Therefore I kept a sharp eye out for possible destinations within one block. to the right.
We crossed Madison Avenue in the midst of a short rally on the situation in Wall Street. I saw no plausible excuse for turning off here. We crossed Fifth Avenue in silence. I could not make up my mind in time. Better to wait and turn off up Broadway.
"Well," I said, as we approached the next corner, "I 'm afraid-"
"Not going up Broadway!" Mr. Bond was all hearty astonishment, and I chilled as I heard him. "Why, that 's funny; so am I."
It was too late to
man? I seemed to be doomed to go to Jersey with him. I did n't want to go to Jersey. I don't like Jersey. Besides, I must get home for dinner. But no selfrespecting man in my place, having gone as far as I had, could keep from boarding a Jersey train. One was about to start. Mr. Bond and I stepped in.
After all, I said to myself, one should at least be cheerful. Be the clouds never so sullen, one should be sprightly and gay, should laugh and make jokes. I looked out the car-window, and my eye caught the posts which support the roof of the Thirty-third Street Tube Station. These posts are numerous and fat, and as each
Simultaneously Mr. Bond and I announced, Well, I'm taking the tube here""
play another card. Into the noisy northwest we turned together.
I became reckless. There are moments when we wish the earth would swallow us up. This was one of them for me. I should escape by diving into a hole in the ground.
We approached the Hudson Tube entrance. I chose my moment, fixed my most winning smile of farewell on my face, and began
Then a remarkable thing happened. Simultaneously to the instant, as if we were rehearsing a speech marked All in a play, Mr. Bond and I announced, "Well, I'm taking the tube here."
The laugh that we laughed was forlorn, and the words that we murmured about "delightful coincidences" were feeble, as we descended the steps.
Was I never going to be free of this
is marked "33" in large figures, the traveler is confronted by 3's wherever he looks. A happy witticism occurred to me. I pointed at the posts.
"One can't see the woods for the threes," I said to Mr. Bond.
The moment I got it off I was ashamed of it. It was n't a good line. It did n't mean anything at all. But I could n't unsay it now.
The train started with a grunt and a heave.
"What?" said the importer. Again I pointed at the window. "You can't see the woods for the threes," I repeated flatly.
Mr. Bond looked again, and as he looked, the platform swept by and was left behind. He considered. The train roared on through the blackness.
"I'm afraid I did n't quite get that," he said above the uproar.
Have you ever had to repeat a fleeting jest in a forty-two centimeter voice to a deaf grandmother?
"It is n't important," I shouted at the top of my lungs. "I only said that you could n't see the woods for the threes. There were lots of threes on the posts in
the station, and-and the idea occurred to me. It's all over now. It's gone by. It was back in the station."
I wished to heaven Mr. Bond would drop the subject. He merely looked puzzled. I knew he was asking himself what was back in the station.
"Did you say woods?" he asked finally.
A pause for further reflection.
How could I explain to him that the thing did n't make sense? Discretion had left me.
"No woods," I yelled.
The train was just stopping for the Twenty-eighth Street Station. The door beside us slid open, and in a panic I stepped out.
Mr. Bond stepped out beside me.
Two or three other people pushed by. Then quickly, before I could make a dash for the door again, the importer stepped
back into the car. Clearly he had merely moved out to let the passengers by. The door shut.
I waved to him through the window. The train went off, carrying Mr. Bond with it. I was free.
Whenever I get complacent nowadays I try to imagine what Mr. Bond thinks of a publisher who goes from Fourth Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street to Sixth Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street by way of Thirty-second Street and the Hudson Tube. Then I writhe.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if Mr. Bond was really bound for Jersey that afternoon. I wonder if he really stepped off the train just to let those passengers by. I wonder why he went all the way up to Thirty-third Street to take the Hudson Tube. I wonder Then I stop writhing.
Personally, I think importers are pretty dull talkers.