It may not have been a law in the old days, but there certainly was an understanding that gentlemen cows, noted for argumentative tendencies, would not be permitted to run at will in a pasture, at least not when they had achieved a certain age. This ran contrary to my grandfather's precept that a gentleman cow, about to become involved in a sale, should always be shown in the field, never at a stanchion in the tie-up.
The reason for this, he explained to me in his effort to keep me informed plentifully, was that a bull always looks bigger in the pasture than he does in the barn. The buyer, desiring to get all he can for his money, is thus beguiled by a sort of merchandising mirage and is likely to offer more, and the seller is pleased.
Not long after we had an instructive conversation in this beneficent deceit, my grandfather and I were sitting after supper at a game of drafts, at which I believe the old man had a perfect record of never winning a game. And when Ludger Purdue, Grandfather's dog that was named after a man Grandfather didn't like, roused and barked, we found a truck had driven into the driveway and a man was coming to the door. Grandfather called, "Come in, and be received in due form!"
The gentleman who came in said, "I'm told you have a steer you might sell?"
"I do, I do," Grandfather said, "but it's late in the day, and I have supped. And as my bull is up in the pasture, I'd like to have you come back tomorrow."
I could see how I might jump two on the next play, and I knew that the bull was at his stanchion in the tie-up. So I said nothing, and the gentleman declared he believed that would be entirely possible.
"Anytime in the afternoon," my grandfather stipulated, and the gentleman said his name was so-and-so and he would govern himself accordingly. I think the only checker games I ever won were those I played with Grandfather, and we played three before bedtime that evening. True, bedtime was before it got dark under the table in those happy days, and as Grandfather always arose before cockcrow, he never sat up for one more game.
This time, though, we put the checkers in the box, and he defended his fib by explaining: "I know where the bull is, and I'm some glad you didn't speak up!" I was now an accomplice in his affairs, and after breakfast he turned the bull loose in the lane up to the pasture, and he guided the animal up behind the pasture bars, which he now closed, and came back to the house. The man came about 2 o'clock, and he and Grandfather walked up to look at the bull.
Illusion as it is, it is all the same so. A steer within the confines of a stable never looks as big as the same steer standing against the sky, his feet braced in sturdy dignity, his head high surveying his domain, his turf, in full command of the situation. Since size, heft, and importance have a bearing on value, my grandfather's precept was pertinent, and I could see right there that he was right. He wouldn't do business the previous evening because his bull was in the barn.
As Grandfather pointed out the fine points of this beast, said beast pawed the ground and shook his head and managed to convey the impression that he was big as all outdoors and inwardly felt much larger. Grandfather said that he was indeed reluctant to let such an animal go for such a pittance, but to save time he would mention a price, take it or leave it. The gentleman took.
I have no intention of leaving this portrait of my grandfather so anybody will have the suspicion that he was a crook. He was not. He was a respected citizen, esteemed by all for his probity and good habits. He was reasonably devout and read his Bible daily, except when I was with him and he asked me to read a few pages. He was steadfast in attending services at the Free Will Baptist Church, not because he embraced that theology, but because it was the nearest church to his farm, and he went the two miles by horse and buggy. Anybody who has ever had anything to do with a Maine farm horse will see instantly that his reasoning was sound.
Grandfather was also a Grand Army of the Republic pensioner and consequently influential in local public affairs, being active in the agitation for higher benefits for old soldiers. When a paper was to be signed, he was always the first in line, and when a subscription for the needy was taken up he led the contributors who passed along to drop in their 50 cents. Among his benefactions was a box of comb honey to neighbor ladies who produced a baby, and two boxes if it was a boy.
THERE was no aspect of my grandfather's life that didn't show his finer qualities. In all his dealings, both personal and for profit, he held to scrupulously impeccable principles, even if at times it caused him chagrin or anguish. At the moment, having sold his bull in the pasture, his anguish was that he had to catch the thing and deliver him to the buyer, who had a truck down the lane at the farmhouse.
That was precisely when I learned, in my constant search for knowledge, that the small difference of pasture vs. barn, in a trade involving a bull, needs considerable additional thought. Grandfather had deposited the cash received in the wallet, the wallet was now in his pocket, and the fun began.
The animal was clearly upset at being so shabbily treated and did not wish to go away with a stranger. I draw the curtain on an awkward scene. We got the bull in the truck, and the man drove away; but before he left, he commented that the bull no longer seemed as big as he was up in the pasture.