It was the early afternoon milking hour on a Sunday when one may take a daun’er round the buildings with an easy conscience, and I thought I should like to have a peep at Princess — a 1000 gallon cow — and her day-old calf — a bull calf to the chagrin of her owner.
It was more than a week since I had ventured near the cow-sheds for the south-eastern counties appear to be right in the path of the latest villainous depression travelling from Iceland over the harvest fields of Britain, leaving behind it sodden stooks, blackening hay, and potatoes under water, and the roadways around our dwelling make one pause and wonder whether army boots are to be bought in women’s sizes.
Peeping down the stockyard towards the byre door I calculated that the mud was too much for my old shoes and decided to skirt the buildings and seek entrance at a door on the farther side opening from the stackyard.
But, before I was half-way round, I was almost swamped in the “grove” — a wide pleasance bordered with trees from the southern end of which there is a lovely glimpse of the downs, stretching faintly blue eight miles away. I gazed not at the view — to-day hidden behind a wet grey fog — but at the pathless mud, every hoof-print filled with water.
I took courage from the thought. “If I can get through this I shall be all right in the stackyard.” But the ditch next to the fence I had to climb was filled with blackish water and the grass long and thick. No use turning back now! And I forget which of the swamping ways I chose to get to the other side of the fence.
I was unreasonable enough to be surprised that the ground here felt boggy to my feet not yet familiarised with a wet Sussex. Carefully picking my way from one deceptive “humplock” to another, my stockings now thoroughly wet, I reached the dry steps leading to the door and lifted the latch. It was fastened on the inside.
There was nothing for it but to find my way back, and I tried the other way round, going half-way down a field to skirt the overflow caused by the constant rains from the dung heap. The only dry moment of my journey was when I paused astride, on a fence next to the bull stall, and peeped round the wall at his majesty who gazed quietly back at me and never gave a groan or put out his tongue at me or tossed his chain in the way I had heard described. “But you try to open the door!” they say.
Here now I am out in the open again and I think the worst is past but a dozen steps brings me into the thickest of sticky mud that I ever tried to negotiate. And then I remember that this is the very part that has been described to me as impassable for ordinary footgear in winter.
A few more circuits in vain attempts to get decent ford stones, and at last I come back to where I started and laughed at my stupidity as I walked through the yard, dirty to the unaccustomed eye, but with a good solid stone foundation on which to place one’s feet — not really dirty at all as cattle yards go in wet weather.
Princess didn’t relish my scrutiny of her. Her calf had been taken from her, and she suspected me of being the thief, turned a wild eye upon me and bellowed resentfully. Her offspring was lying contentedly two stalls away, tethered to the neck of a foster-mother, a cow giving two gallons a day, sufficient for this baby calf. This is an easier way of feeding a young calf than we used to follow, and the same quantity of milk sucked in the natural way has superior feeding properties.
He is attached to his foster mother three times a day for an hour or two during the milking, sucks his fill, has a sleep, and rises for another draw. He will make a good price and excellent veal in a few weeks’ time. As I write, Princess, the bereaved mother, is roaring outside the byre door. She calved in the field through the night, and it will take her another day or so to forget the smell of her offspring and his easeful tug at her teats.
When I described my adventures in search of the best roadway to the byre I was told that it was a waste of time to pick your footsteps in Sussex mud: “You just go right on” in the same way as the true Londoner threads his way across Piccadilly. It is the novice who looks about with a calculating eye and makes short rushes from one supposed point of safety to another.