As I was working away in the office yesterday, the unfortunate door was flung open most abruptly, and Mr. Ridgetop – very tardy indeed, in coming back from his lunch break – threw down his hat on his desk and ran out again.
The poor door (I do think it is on its last legs) swung madly on its hinges in his wake. I righted it before I went after him, both because it seemed like the kind thing to do, and because I was deeply apprehensive about what I should find outside.
As I learned after the event, the infamous dreyflies of New Britain are not normally found out on the plains near Kingstowne. They like to lay their eggs in the stills of otherwise free-flowing water, and although very little else is known about them, it is known that if they do appear on the plains it will most likely be in late summer – despite the counter-intuitive dearth of moisture here in said season. The one other thing I learned about them is that their bite, while it releases a substance which could be termed a poison, has fascinated entomologists for many decades because of its extraordinary hallucinogenic effects.
Out on Main Street, in the blinding sun, I peered about and was both relieved and disappointed not to see a scene of chaos as I had imagined. There was indeed a cow within view; it was of the butchering variety, brown and hefty. There was also a general congregating of people, drawn like magnets, and all looking rather grimmer than seemed necessary.
I saw our good Mr. Lorelli, and ducked my head to him; the local smith, whose name was Gibbons, according to my landlady; a middle-aged rancher, who had introduced himself to me one morning on my walk to the Office, and whose name I had forgotten, but who gave off a relative air of well-to-do-ness; there was also the latter’s wife, clutching his arm, and fanning herself into an excited swoon. Meanwhile, the cow plodded along towards us, her lead trailing and her head swaying gently. For a brief interval she picked up her feet to skip (lumber, more like) along, and then she stopped, and looked here and there, and kept plodding.
There were at least a dozen or so other people about, some whose faces I recognized but without names to put to them, and others I did not know at all. As I grew less interested in the cow I became aware that a great many of my fellow human beings present were glancing at me. Almost as if there were something on my face, or as if they expected me, at any moment, to do something.
Another minute or two and I surely would have retreated into the Office, but then with a muffled commotion a man with a great burlap sack in his fist bounded into sight, followed by Ridgetop, with a great lot of rope.
Now the cow took exception – now that she was approached, she became more worthy of that epithet, “rogue”. The poor, dear thing, Kate, had looked so very pleased with itself – floating along as if in a fairy land, seeing who knows what. But upon noticing the two men her feet stomped and I do believe that if she could have growled she would have. Can she be blamed? This is my own reaction when being disturbed from a most enchanting dream.
The well-to-do rancher’s wife gave a little shriek. The cow snorted. Ridgetop threw his lasso and the other fellow ran forward headlong, sack thrust out before him as if he were armed with a crucifix against a devil, a rope of garlic against a vampire. For a moment it was very thrilling.
Then the lasso fell home and the bag was simultaneously thrust over her nose; all fight went out of the cow, and, with a surprised look, she began contentedly chewing at whatever was in that bag.
A cheer rose all around, and being a little too excited to go straight back to my desk, I made my way over to Mr. Lorelli. Here I had his explanation of the dreyflies, one of which had evidently bitten this cow, and throughout his voluminous discourse I was discomfited by the sidelong, almost sly looks that other Kingstownians were throwing me as they dispersed, and by Mr. Lorelli’s own alternating sympathetic looks and stifled chuckles.
I finally had to interrupt him, and ask if I had any ink on my chin.
“Oh, no, Ms. Walker. Right as rain! You must be thinking it strange, this whole dreyfly business. It doesn’t happen too often. But when we do get them roague cows, it was always Mr. Inglethorp rushing out, to go about catching them. Master wrangler, he was. Well, you have a good afternoon, Ms. Walker.”
And isn’t that one of the most unhelpful pieces of information you have ever heard? Better to let me think they were all looking at a pimple of mine, rather than expecting me to leap forth like my cowboy predecessor! I can hardly change the truth, that I have never before wrangled a cow.
At least I was left to my own devices that afternoon, for of course Ridgetop went off with the inebriated cow. In the Office I was able to daydream about secretly practising knots, and throwing, or whatever else is necessary for trussing up unsuspecting animals by their feet or necks, and thereby astonishing all the townsfolk. Only I determined by the end of the afternoon that it all seemed like more bother than it was worth, and I wandered home regretting not having actually done my work.
The latter sentiment, I think, must embody the very essence of being “adult”. What a great number of children we could terrorize, Kate, if we went about disseminating this truth!