Rebecca sat on the small bench beside the front door, grateful it was shaded by the large tree, and watched as James played in the grass around the cottage. It was warmer than usual for September, she had heard people saying, and with her advanced state of pregnancy, she was decidedly uncomfortable. She rubbed the sides of her belly, trying to ease the ache a little, and yawned.
There was still bread left from the loaf the neighbor woman, Annette, had brought over on her last visit, and cold ham. Perhaps that would do for supper once Frederick was home, and she would not have to try to heat anything. Hot food did not sound appealing at all.
She rested her head against the warm boards of the house and closed her eyes, letting the hot sun dapple her face through the leaves. James’ high-pitched babble became a soft drone as she sat, listening to the bird song and the wind through the branches. It was quite lovely out here. She’d enjoyed it for much of the summer, sitting with Annette and trying to learn to knit and sew.
Annette Babin and her husband, Louis, were their closest neighbors, only about a half mile down the road towards town, on a neat little farm. They were older, their children grown and married with children of their own. Louis had helped them find and rent the cottage, and Annette had taken Rebecca under her wing as a daughter and was teaching her to cook and other household tasks, things she hadn’t known before. Annette was patient and jovial, a round, pink woman who James absolutely adored and considered to be his grandmother, in absence of any other.
“Papa!” James exclaimed, jerking Rebecca out of a doze.
She sat up, her hands patting her cheeks to rouse herself. She blinked a few times, trying to focus. She peered down the road at Frederick walking quickly up the road towards them, his hair disheveled and his face red. She stood and smoothed her dress over her belly.
“Get in the house,” Frederick shouted, once he was close enough his voice could be heard. He sounded breathless.
She hesitated, confused, but reached for James. “Come James,” she called.
The little boy looked at her with confusion, then turned back to look towards his father. “Papa,” he said again, pointing.
“I know, but we shall wait inside. Come.” Her voice was firmer. He pouted but came this time. She took his hand and moved into the house with a suppressed sigh. Frederick, with his long legs and fast gait, was soon behind them, pulling the door shut and locking it.
“Whatever is the matter?” she asked, turning to him.
His face was red and sweat was trickling down his temples. He was panting as he removed first his satchel and then his jacket.
“The bull is out,” he managed after a bit.
“Bull?” she asked with confusion. “What bull?” She dipped a glass of water for him from the large barrel they kept for drinking and cooking. She handed him the glass and he accepted it readily.
“The Babin’s,” he managed, after gulping down half the water gratefully.
Rebecca frowned and wet a cloth, then handed him that as well. “The Babin’s? Louis and Annette?”
Frederick nodded, mopping at his face with the cool damp cloth. “Yes, dearest. Do you know of any others?”
She gave him a look. “I do not. I am just confused. They have a fence around their pasture.”
“It would seem as though the last storm damaged part of it and the bull has escaped,” Frederick muttered, gulping the rest of his water. “I was on my way home and saw it on the side of the road between our houses, grazing as calmly as you please.”
Rebecca was still frowning. “But Frederick, the Babins do not have a bull.”
Frederick’s hand froze and he stared at her, temporarily stunned. “Well, I saw a bull.”
“Are you certain?” she asked.
“Am I certain that I saw a bull?” he demanded. “I am not so addled that I do not know what animals are, Rebecca,” he scoffed.
She sighed and moved to the window at the front of the house, peering through the curtains to look down the road. “I do not see any rampaging bulls, Frederick. Perhaps I should go and see for myself.”
“In your condition? Certainly not,” he huffed, clearly affronted. “What kind of husband would I be to send my heavily pregnant wife out to face off with a crazed bull?”
She turned back to him, obviously trying to tamp down her amusement. “You said the bull was grazing calmly.”
He hesitated now, trying to find his footing in the conversation. “Well, but he may be done grazing now and ready to charge. Bulls can be fickle creatures.”
“So, then you go out there and confirm that it truly is a bull and not some other creature, such as a deer.”
“I most certainly will not. And I can assure you, it was not a deer, it was a bull.”
Rebecca put her hands on her hips. Or where her hips were hidden by a generous middle. “Describe the animal then, if you will not let me go to find it and you will not go to confirm what it was.”
Frederick narrowed his eyes at her. “It was a large bovine creature with horns. Also known as a bull.”
Rebecca tried not to laugh. “Fickle, you say. Much as husbands, it seems.”
Frederick crossed his arms over his chest. “When have I been fickle?”
“You are so concerned with our safety, but you do not want me to go confirm your statement, yet you refuse to go check as well, when I have told you the Babins do not have a bull. In fact, they sold their bull last spring. All they have is a cow. Also, a large bovine creature with horns.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “Did you happen to notice whether or not the bull had udders?”
Frederick opened his mouth once, then closed it. A red flush started to creep up from his collar. “I did not,” he finally admitted. “I was more concerned with the fact that it was quite large and…it looked at me and…bellowed.”
Rebecca burst out laughing. “It bellowed at you?”
“I have never been that close to a bull before,” he protested. “I thought it was going to charge me.”
Rebecca covered her face with her apron, her whole body shaking with laughter. “Rosey would have snuffled your face and perhaps licked you, but that is the worst you would have endured. She is a dear, sweet thing. Almost an enormous dog. She is old and has a habit of getting out and into the vegetable garden. I shall go and take her back. She likes me.” She started for the door.
“In your condition?” Frederick protested.
“Of course, in my condition,” Rebecca retorted. “I am not afraid of bulls.” She gave him a look. “You can start supper. Cold ham and bread should do nicely in this weather. We can eat outside, as soon as I take the rampaging bull back home.” She laughed again as she stepped outside into the evening sunshine.
It wasn’t too far down the road where she found Rosey, placidly pulling up wildflowers in the ditch, her brown tail twitching to keep the flies away. She turned her head and moo’d a hello at Rebecca when she heard approaching footsteps.
“Hello, old girl,” Rebecca smiled back. She was now met with an interesting dilemma. If she went down into the ditch with the cow, she’d have no way of getting out on her own. But there was no way to bring the cow out. Now she saw a reason to have sent Frederick. She stood for a moment, contemplating her situation, then decided there was nothing for it but to continue on to the Babins house.
A few yards down the road, she heard scuffling behind her. When she turned, she saw the little brown cow climbing her way out of the ditch and following her down the road. Apparently, Rosey was tired and ready to go home now, and just needed an excuse.
It didn’t take long before they reached the faded red door of the cozy squat cottage. Rebecca knocked and a moment later, the door swung open, and Annette stood there, her face lit up with the pleasure of seeing her friend. Then she saw the cow behind her.
“Oh, bless me. Louis, the cow’s got out again,” She shouted over her shoulder. She turned back to Rebecca. “Did she make it all the way up to yours?” Her eyes dropped to Rebecca’s middle. “And you in your condition.”
Rebecca laughed. “No, halfway. Frederick ran into her on the way home. He thought she was a bull.” Her eyes sparkled with laughter.
“Rosey a bull.” Louis looked affronted. “She is obviously a cow. Got an udder and everything.”
“I think it was the horns that confused him,” Rebecca confided, rubbing the cow on the forehead. “He has never seen cows up close. Not much opportunity before now.” She couldn’t help the laugh. “She bellowed at him, and he was certain she was going to charge. She gave him quite the fright.”
The Babins started to chuckle. “We never knew we had a watchcow,” Louis chortled. “Perhaps we should keep her at the front of the pasture to scare away highwaymen.”
“Perhaps you should,” Rebecca nodded.
“Do you need anything before you go?” Annette asked, as Rebecca turned to leave.
Rebecca shook her head. “No, we were just about to dine, but thank you. Just please: make sure you keep your terrifying cow away from my husband, or I shall have to speak to someone about it.”
“Oh, I shall have a word with her, you can be sure.” Annette grinned at her. “Louis, walk her home to make sure no other rouge bulls accost her.”
Louis grinned. “We cannot have that, can we?”
Rebecca laughed and linked her arm in the older man’s and the two set off through the yard while Annette took charge of the disobedient cow and took her back to her spot in the barn.
“Have you had an otherwise pleasant day?” he asked conversationally as they reached the road.
“Oh, tolerable enough,” Rebecca replied, smiling. “And yours?”
“I found the break in the fence where she got out. I did not see her, and thought she was at the other end of the pasture. Serves me right for thinking. I should always leave that to Annette.” He laughed good naturedly. “I am getting old. It took me all day to repair that fence.” He frowned, suddenly melancholic. “Were I younger, it would have taken me half a day. I should let my son take over the farm, like he wants. But it was my father’s and his father’s. I am not sure I am ready to pass it on. Maybe today is a sign to pass it on.”
Rebecca patted his arm comfortingly. “I am sure when the time is right, it will feel right. But do not feel pressured by a cow who desires to see beyond her home. Or my husband who has no idea of the difference between a heifer and a bull.” She giggled softly and Louis grinned, drawn out of his melancholy.
“Did he not notice the udder?” he chuckled.
She shook her head. “He was too distracted by the horns.”
“Ah well. City folks.”
They stopped at the door and Rebecca hugged him. “Thank you for the escort. You will find your way with the farm, Louis. I know it.” She kissed his cheek. “Have a good evening.”
He nodded and touched the brim of his worn hat. “You as well.”