Bessie munched the corn with a loud hollow crunching sound

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 16, 1933.

“Oh, is that so!” shouted Jimmie Frise to a startled-looking gentleman who collided with me in the office doorway as I came in and he went out.

“What the dickens!” I said to Jim. “That isn’t like you.”

“That guy,” said Jimmie, obviously flustered, “is a bum. He is a soak. He is a dead beat. He is a loafer.”

“Some of the nicest people are the unfortunate,” I said piously.

“I agree,” said Jim, instantly getting control of himself. “I dislike successful people as a rule. But that guy, after I’ve lent him I don’t know how many dollars, just informed me that I had no heart.”

“He was perhaps upset,” I said gently.

“Don’t be so sweet and tender,” cried Jimmie. “You bet he is upset. He is down and out. He is flat. He is in the gutter. I’ve lifted that guy up so many times and stood him on his feet, my hands are sore from dusting him off. I’ve got up out of bed and dressed and got the car out and driven half way across this city to save him from being evicted. And now because I am broke, too, he says I have no heart.”

“I guess it must be terrible to be up against it,” I said.

“He’s not up against it,” said Jim. “He’s down against it. Down against the pebbles. at in A mistake to try and help some people. A big mistake. Nature intended them to be failures. They were designed, modelled and constructed to fail. They are equipped to fail. And unless they fail, they are not happy. Do you follow me?”

“It sounds incredible,” I said.

“Now look,” said Jim. “That man that just went out the door would be unhappy if he were succeeding. He would be worse. His health would suffer. Nature built him to fail. He’s got to fail in order to function naturally.”

“Preposterous,” I said.

“We go along,” said Jim, “with the sappy notion that it is within the power of all men to succeed. To be good. To win. I think all the evidence points to the fact that nature, in her careless and haphazard way of breeding mankind, has no such intention at all. And that there are some men as naturally equipped to fail and to suffer as some men are naturally equipped to succeed and to be happy.”

“What an idea!” I gasped. But I saw it, just the same. And with a sinking sensation.

“Therefore,” said Jim, “when we go around picking men up out of the gutter and setting them on their feet, we are really injuring them. Making them unhappy. Making man stand up who is wholly designed by nature to lie down. It’s cruel of us, that’s what it is.”

“Why, Jimmie,” I expostulated, “you are striking right at the roots of civilization! Our whole world structure is on the basis of elevating our less fortunate or able brethren.”

“It’s swell-looking civilization,” said Jim. “Isn’t it? I suppose you are the sort of man who, on seeing a poor cow standing in pasture, suddenly is smitten with conscience. You say to yourself, ‘Ah, poor cow. Standing out there in the wind and the weather, with nothing but grass to eat. While I, I live in comfortable sheltered home, with all manner of good things to eat.'”

For Philosophy’s Sake

“I do feel sort of sorry for cows,” I admitted. “Their lives seem so frustrated.”

“So,” went on Jimmie, “I suppose you would go and take that cow into your home and feed it macaroons and ice cream?”

“A cow, Jimmie,” I said, “is, when you come to think of it, as sad a spectacle as there is in the world. If they are not intended for beef, thus dooming them to an early death, they are bound to spend their entire lives, maybe fifteen years, raising an endless succession of calves, which they hardly get to know before their infants are stolen from them, so that we may take milk from them. Slavery of the worst sort. Inhuman and monstrous slavery, to take those dumb animals and convert nature’s sublime purpose to our own selfish ends.”

“What,” asked Jimmie, “was nature’s sublime purpose as regards cows?”

“Er, ah,” I said.

“Precisely, er, ah,” said Jimmie. “Nature intended the cow to be somebody’s goat. But you, you sentimentalist, would try to elevate the lot of the cow and bring it into your home.”

“It would be interesting, Jimmie, to bring cow into our homes and observe its reactions. After all,” I said, “we are not merely philosophers, Jimmie. We are practical philosophers. We do not merely think things. We do them.”

“Your family is still away?” asked Jim.

“Yes,” I said. “Ah, me.”

“Then we could bring the cow into your house,” said Jimmie. “Where do you suggest we get a cow?”

“It is only a little way from where we live to the stock yards,” I said. “I think we could get a cow up there for fifteen or twenty dollars. Some poor old cheap cow. Some cow thrust ungratefully out of its happy home, after fifteen years of faithful and devoted service, because it’s milk is failing. Think of it, Jimmie!”

“I wish I hadn’t mentioned cows,” said Jimmie. “I didn’t know this was one of your sentimental days.”

“A poor old cow,” I said, “world-weary, infirm and bereft of all its illusions. Carted down there to the stock yards in a motor truck. Maybe we could get it for ten dollars. And after our experiments are over, we might sell it for fifteen. I intend to fatten any cow I take into my home.”

“I’ll be glad to co-operate with you,” said Jimmie, who was born and raised on the farm. “How will we get it down to your house? I don’t fancy I see you driving a cow through the residential streets of Toronto.”

“For philosophy’s sake,” I said, “I would drive anything through the streets of Toronto.”

“As a matter of fact, you do,” said Jim. “But I guess we could get the farmers we buy the cow from to fetch it down in their truck.”

We went up Monday. I need not harass you with the touching scene of all those cows we saw, but we had not been fifteen minutes at the stock yards before we spotted the cow we knew was designed by nature for the purposes of social research.

She was a dear old cow, red in color, with large flat bones projecting from her in all directions. Her bones were intended for a much larger cow.

“Her name is Bessie,” said the young man who was in charge of her.

“She looks kind of poorly,” said Jimmie. “How old is she?”

“About eight,” said the young farmer. “She’s just a poor feeder, that’s all. We thought we’d run her in as a canner.”

Taking Bessie Home

“How much?” asked Jim.

“How would fifteen do?” bargained the young farmer.

“We want this cow delivered down into the city,” said Jim. “And we’ll offer twelve.”

“Sold,” said the farmer. “What’s the address?”

“We go with you,” said Jim.

And with no more sentiment than that, this young man disposed of Bessie. Bessie who had for eight years, probably, been part of the scenery around his home, whose sweet voice had waked him in the morning.

Bessie was led on to a platform and shoved into the truck. We climbed on to the front seat and we drove down to my house and into the side drive.

“How do we get her out of the truck?” I asked. “She doesn’t look like much of a jumper.”

Jim and the farmer got the planks out of my coal bin and, with the aid of the dog kennel, two dining room chairs and a boy’s express wagon, made ramp in about five minutes, and Bessie walked down and into my garden. I could see an expression of satisfaction as she looked about at the flower beds. She started cropping the short sweet grass.

The French windows at the back were opened, and with the aid of the young farmer, Jimmie and I led, shoved and heaved Bessie in through the dining room to the living room.

Cows have an instinct about these things. Bessie did not want to intrude in my house. She had a feeling she would be out of place. It is the feeling we humans experience when we are faced with the necessity of attending government house or calling on some rich relative. I explained this to Jimmie and the farmer.

The farmer left us, after pocketing the twelve dollars.

“Now, what would a cow like to eat, more than anything else in the world?” I asked Jimmie.

“Corn, apples, carrots,” said Jimmie. “A cow loves to chew a cob of raw corn sprinkled with salt.”

“Amuse her for a moment while I run over to the fruit store,” I asked.

When I got back with half a dozen corn, Bessie was lying down on the thick rug in the middle of the living room floor, and Jim was sitting on the chesterfield looking at her.

“She likes the place,” said Jimmie. “If I know my Bessies, you will have a fine time getting her up.”

I peeled a cob of corn and sprinkled the salt shaker on it. I held it out, and Bessie, after shyly turning her head away, suddenly reached out, licked and took the cob in her mouth. I sat down beside Jimmie to watch.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I cried. “Doesn’t she enjoy it, the comfort, the shelter.”

Bessie munched the corn with a loud, hollow crunching sound. She did not nibble off the kernels of corn, the way you or I might. She chewed it cob and all.

She chewed and chewed. She swallowed and chewed. She swallowed several times, with a far away gaze travelling around my living room, looking at the pictures of green fields, streams and trees.

Sharing Our Comforts

“Jimmie,” I said, “isn’t it wonderful to think you are entertaining a cow right in your own home?”

“It does seem strange,” said Jimmie.

“Doesn’t this prove that it is only our prejudice, our class feeling, our ignorance, that we deny to others the comforts we enjoy ourselves?”

“Wait till she gets up and starts walking around,” said Jimmie.

We fed Bessie the six cobs of corn, with salt on them, and except for a few bits dropped around on the rug, she ate it quite as nicely as an eight-year-old child would. Perhaps with more noise.

We turned on the radio. Bessie turned a slow, astonished gaze on the source of the music. She stretched out her nose and sniffed. It was jazz. Bessie, without warning, suddenly mooed loudly. I turned off the radio.

Bessie began swinging her head.

“She’s going to get up now,” said Jim, rising.

Bessie rose rear end first. It was really rather astonishing. With a good deal of effort and fidgeting, she hoisted her hind end into the air, and then, with a sort of helpless creaking and grunting, she got her front legs under her and stood up. She shook her head.

First she turned around and started into the front hall. It was dark and cool. She nuzzled the curtains on the tall windows alongside the front door. Then she turned heavily around, her feet making a clacking sound on the hardwood floor, and walked, with that curious knock-kneed style of a cow, through the pantry into the bright kitchen. She snuffed and whoofed around the kitchen and then turned and went back into the dining room.

“I don’t suppose she would walk upstairs,” I said.

“I doubt it,” said Jim. “I imagine she is older than she admits. It might strain her heart or something.”

She stood for a moment staring out through the French windows into the garden, and then she did a silly thing.

She started to walk right through the windows, glass and all!

“Hey!” I yelled.

Bessie’s forehead and horns crashed into the windows and she leaped back, dragging yard of lace curtain on one of her horns. She fell back against the dining room table which upset with a terrific sound, and Bessie wheeled and charged into the living room.

“Head her back, I’ll open the French doors,” yelled Jimmie.

But the rug in the living room floor skidded under Bessie and she went down with a loud thud, if you can imagine a loud thud, and her four legs went under the chesterfield. Meanwhile, I was chasing after her trying to explain.

As she kicked and fought the chesterfield off her, the small table with the stand lamp collapsed, and with a bellow of terror, Bessie who a few moments before had got to her feet with such slow undignity, almost leaped to her feet, and avoiding me as if I were trying to persecute her, rather than help her, dashed into the hall, out through the pantry and so back into the dining room again.

“Hey-up!” shouted Jimmie, trying to steer her toward the wide open French doors, but Bessie wheeled to the left, jumped the dining room table which lay on its side, and on arriving in the living room again, slid on the rumpled rug and with another awful crash, skidded into the radio, which folded up like paper bag.

Giving the Guest Away

This time Bessie lay. She just lay, her sides heaving. She let her neck stretch along the floor and her head rest gratefully on the cool hardwood. And all around was chaos.

Jimmie had disappeared, and when I went to the French window I found him sitting on the stone step outside, his head in his hands, laughing.

“She is lying down,” I said to him.

“She’s better that way,” said Jim. “Let her lay.”

“I guess we ought to get her out,” I said.

Jimmie got up and came in the house with me. Bessie was still lying there on the cool floor, breathing spasmodically, but heavily.

“Hey-up,” said Jimmie, taking her by the horns, and lifting her head up.

Jim pulled and I shoved from the sides. Finally, Bessie rose up, the way she did the first time, and with Jim holding her horns, we led her out the French door into the garden where she started cropping the grass as if life was just a matter of the moment anyway.

With Jim holding her horns, we led Bessie out the French door.

“I intended,” I said, “to have her for my guest for a couple of days. But under the circumstances….”

“I’d turn her in,” said Jim. “We could phone the stock yards and get someone come for her.”

While I sat in the garden and watched Bessie walk about cropping the grass, Jim went in and bargained with the stock yards. As a matter of fact, we gave Bessie away. Neither Jim nor I had the heart to sell her. The way her former owner had disposed of her without a thought was an object lesson to me. When Jimmie said he had got a man to take Bessie away for two dollars as the cost of the trucking, I told him it was just the bargain I would have made myself.

The man came in a few minutes. He had whiskers. I did not like his looks and I fear for Bessie. But you can’t think such thoughts and enjoy your roast beef.

“That experiment,” said Jim, “was worth ten dollars to me. That guy that was in the office and started all this show by saying! had no heart, wanted ten bucks. I’m going to drive down where he lives, and give it to him. Do you want to come?”

We drove down through the beautiful city, and into queer small streets with old faded houses, and in one of the most faded of all houses, we walked up two flights of stairs and into a dim room where we me the gentleman who had collided with me in the office door.

And Jim gave him the money and said he hoped he would soon be on his feet again.

Which shows at any rate that Jim is a practical philosopher.

Editor’s Notes: This is one of the early stories, where they would do weird things, just for the experience.

$12 in 1933 would be $239 in 2021.