A Second Chance -- Chapter 20

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Here is the long awaited farm day. And tomorrow I will have another chapter just as long about more of the adventures of the Cartright family: Dawn.

SATURDAY, May 13, 2016

The Cartright family was up early on Saturday, and Rachael made pancakes and biscuits for breakfast. The night before she had baked a batch of cookies after Bobby fell asleep, and they were in her backpack as a gift to give to the Jackson’s for having her, snuggled in on top of her apples.

Maria and Bobby were at the door to leave when a pickup truck pulled into the lane. Inside were Robert and an older boy who clearly was his brother based on the similar features in their face and identical hair color.

Maria took a minute to say hello to Robert, who introduced his brother Steve as the truck driver. But then she and Bobby had to hustle to get to the bakery by eight.

Rachael grabbed her bag, and then got into the cab of the dusty truck between the two boys. After Steve pulled out, she reached into her bag, and pulled out a buttered biscuit for each boy.

“Ummm, these are good,” Steve said, driving with one hand as he munched with the other. “Better than Mom’s, I think. But don’t tell her I said so.”

“I have cookies too,” Rachael said, “but they are for supper.”

“What else is in there?” Steve asked, “You have a pretty full backpack.”

“Nothing more to eat, I’m sorry,” she said. “There are apples, but they are for something special.”

The ride only took 10 minutes, and soon they were in a rural area, pulling into a lane with a mailbox in the front that read “Jackson.”

Robert hopped out of the truck, checked the mailbox in case there were weekend flyers in it, and then opened the gate, closing it after the pickup went through. He hopped back into the cab and Steve drove them up to the house, letting Robert and Rachael off, and then drove towards the barn.

Inside the house Donna Jackson warmly greeted Rachael. “Welcome to our farm,” she said. “This little one if Lisa, but everyone else is out working. A farm doesn’t take weekends off.”

“No, and a dairy farmer can’t even have a half day off, can you,” Rachael said. “Cows have to be milked at least twice a day.”

“Oh, you know a bit about farming then,” Mrs. Jackson said. “We get up at 6 for first milking, and we actually milk three times a day. You will be able to see the 2 p.m. milking, although you will miss the late milking.”

“I have been on a farm before,” Rachael admitted (hundreds of times as Ron) “and Robert has been telling me a lot about the farm. I am really quite excited about the visit.”

“You come at an interesting time,” the woman continued. “One of our prize cows is due to delivery and it may be today. When we set the date for your visit, we expected Queenie to deliver later this week, but Frank, my husband, feels she is going to be early, and it could happen today.”

“Queen Isadora del Guernsey et Hollerand” Robert said. “She is our top producing cow, and this will be her eighth calving. Her daughters are all top producers, and generate high levels of butterfat. They have made our herd one of the top ones in the county.”

“Wow. I hope I get a chance to meet Queenie,” Rachael said, handing Mrs. Jackson the cookies she had made.

“Oh, these smell wonderful. Thank you so much. So what do you have planned with your friend,” Mrs. Jackson asked her son.

“I was hoping we could go riding this morning,” Robert said. “Rachael can ride, and I thought that would be the best way to tour the farm. Unless you say I can use the truck.”

“No truck,” his mother said sternly. “You have only started driving, and I don’t want you doing it without your dad or one of your brothers with you. And certainly not with another youngster.”

“Yeah, I kind of thought that. We’ll just go to the barn and get a couple of the horses out of there.”

“You can ride Duchess,” little Lisa piped up. “The big horses are pretty scary sometimes. Duchess is my pony.”

“Why thank you,” Rachael said to the cute little girl. “You are so polite to offer. I will keep that in mind in case the big horses scare me.” The girl beamed at the compliment, and Mrs. Jackson smiled.

“Be careful in the corral,” she called out as Robert led Rachael out of the farmhouse. “The twins are trying to break Blackie this morning.”

The two walked out of the house and headed away from the road. The farm had several buildings and Robert pointed them out. A milk house, main barn, stable, and equipment shed were all identified. Near the stable was a corral and Rachael hopped up onto the split rail fence to watch Steve and his twin, who Robert identified as Peter, trying to rope a beautiful black stallion.

“We just got Blackie in last week,” Robert said. “He’s one, and never been ridden before. The twins are trying to break him.”

“Why would they do that,” Rachael said. “Do they want a broken horse?”

“Breaking a horse just means to be able to ride it,” Robert explained.

“Ow, the bastard bit me,” Peter said, although in more colorful language.

Rachael put down her bakcpack and reached in for two apples, popping one into each pocket of her jacket. Then she hopped up on the fence, and a second later was over it.

“Rachael, stop,” Robert shouted. “It’s not safe in there.” His two brothers also stopped, and watched open-mouthed as Rachael walked to about 20 feet from the snorting, steaming horse. Then she stopped, and started talking softly.

“Are they hurting you, sweetheart,” she cooed to the horse. “That isn’t the way to make friends, is it? Why don’t you come over here and we can be friends. Maybe we can show those mean boys a better way of getting a horse ready to ride.”

She continued in a like manner for another three or four minutes, while the three boys hollered and tried to get her to come back to the fence and safety. Suddenly the horse ran a few steps towards her, and then halted quickly. He clearly expected to scare her, but she stood her ground, continuing to speak softly.

The charge did throw the three watchers into a panic, and Robert climbed the fence and was about to go in to bring her out, but his bigger brothers held him back.

In the corral, Rachael reached into her pocket and pulled out an apple. She held it out, causing the horse to look at it. She then took a bite from the good side, opening the skin of the apple and letting its aroma out. The horse was now staring intently at her. It could smell the apple, and wondered if he could snatch it away. He moved closer, but the girl continued to hold the apple out towards it.

“Please little girl, come back,” Peter cried out. “He is vicious. He will bite.”

Rachael ignored him, and the horse did too. The boys were another 50 feet away, and out of range for him to worry. The girl was only five feet away, and she didn’t seem afraid of him. He bared his teeth.

“He’s gonna bite,” Steve shouted, and again had to hold Robert back.

“Now that’s no way for friends to act,” Rachael quietly chastised the horse, and it stopped baring his teeth. “This is for you. All you need to do is come a little closer and you can have it. No fingers, mind you, just apple. Can you do that?”

The horse came closer, one step, then another. Finally it reached out and snatched the apple away, and darted back a few feet. It munched the apple happily and tried to work out what had just happened. Ever since they had brought him here in that scary truck, people had just shouted and yelled, and put ropes around his neck and pulled and hurt him. Now this girl spoke softly and gave him treats. And now she was walking towards him. For a second the horse backed away, but then took two steps forward.

Finally Rachael was able to put her hand on the horse’s neck, and it immediately felt calmness flow through its body. The fear it had been feeling for days was gone, and he felt as free as when he had been a colt in the meadow.

Rachael felt her gift calming the horse. She reached into her other pocket, and pulled out another apple. She held it out in front of the horse. “You can have this if you let me sit on your back,” Rachael said. The horse knew exactly what she was saying when she was touching him. He shook his head no, but still stared at the apple. He looked at the girl. She was pretty small. Probably wouldn’t weigh much. And he liked her touching him. If she was on his back, she would be touching him more. He finally snapped the apple up.

Rachael walked to his side.

“Don’t go behind him, little girl,” Steve yelled out. “He could kill you if he kicks.”

“Don’t worry,” Rachael shouted back, no longer afraid of spooking the horse now that she was touching him. “I know what I am doing.” She then reached up to the stallion’s mane and grabbed hold, pulling herself onto the horses back.

She could feel the terror rising in the horse, and fed more energy in to calm him back down. Soon the horse took a step, then another, and soon was trotting around the corral. Blackie actually looked as though he was proud to have the girl sitting on his back.

Using her legs, Rachael directed the horse over to where the three boys were standing. He wouldn’t come any closer than 10 feet from where they stood. “You fellows may want to close your mouths, or is this some kind of rural fly catching method I’m not aware of?” she quipped. “If you two could let my boyfriend be, I’d like to introduce him to my new friend. Robert, get two more apples from my bag, and then come into the corral.” She turned the horse, and it trotted away, glad to put distance between them and his former tormentors.

Robert walked into the center of the corral, holding out an apple. Rachael slid off the horse and stood beside, keeping one hand on its neck. “This is my friend, Robert,” she told Blackie. “He is a friend too. And he brings treats too. Do you want another apple?”

The stallion reached out and snapped up the third apple. As he munched it, he allowed Robert to stroke his neck. The stallion noted that when the boy touched him, it was not as nice as the girl, but it was still pleasant. Much nicer than a rope.

Now was the big step. “Do you want to try riding him?” Rachael asked. Robert’s eyes went wide. He considered for a few seconds, then shook his head yes. “Then get out the other apple.”

Now she spoke to the horse. “Riding is fun, isn’t it? Would you let Robert ride you for a bit? He has another apple for you if you let him try. Will you do that?”

This time the horse didn’t hesitate at all. It shook its head yes, and snatched up the last apple. Then it stood still. Rachael bent a knee for Robert to stand on and he mounted the horse much more smoothly than she had. She managed to keep a hand on Blackie’s neck all through the process, and was able to damp down any fear or panic the horse felt in the new person on his back.

Then it was the big step. For a minute Rachael trotted alongside the horse and rider, keeping contact, but now it was time to see if they could ride without her using her power. She stopped, and Robert managed to steer the stallion around the corral almost as well as Rachael had. After two minutes, she could see panic building in the eyes of the horse, so she whistled. Blackie ignored the commands Robert was giving, and came straight back to Rachael, who quickly reached out a hand to calm the rising panic in the horse.

“You should go into the stable and get another horse,” she said. “I will ride Blackie today.”

“But we don’t have a saddle or reins for him,” Robert protested.

“I don’t seem to need them, do I,” Rachael said. “But you should saddle your horse. It will do Blackie good to see another horse with the full gear on. You realize that he is your horse now. He will never let your brothers ride him. You are going to have to use that same calming method to get him into a saddle and reins. Just bring lots of apples.”

Robert gave Rachael a knee to mount the horse, then trotted off to the barn to stable another horse. Rachael trotted the stallion around the corral, and again approached the older boys, although again Blackie would not come close to them, no matter how much calming she gave.

“How did you do that, girl?” Steve said.

“My name is Rachael, Steve. And you must be Peter. We haven’t met but I am a friend of Robert’s. We are going for a ride.”

“On that?” Peter said. “He’s never been ridden.”

“Of course he has, silly. I just rode him, and so did Robert. And I’m riding him right now.”

“I’ve never seen anyone break a horse like that,” Steve said. “How did you do it?”

“I didn’t break him,” Rachael said. “I made friends with him. When you break a horse, you get a slave. He will do what you want, but only out of fear. But if you make a horse your friend, he will do anything you want, out of friendship. Which kind of horse would you prefer?”

Robert appeared on top of a brown mare, trotting out to where Rachael and Blackie were standing near the boys. The brown nuzzled up to the bigger stallion, who seemed pleased to be able to show that he too, had a rider.

“Would one of you boys open the gate for us?” Rachael asked.

“You can’t take that stallion out without tack,” Steve said. “He’ll run away for sure. And probably leave you in a ditch somewhere along the way.”

“Wanna bet?” Rachael said, leading Blackie into a small circle, and then making him walk backwards, getting more open-mouthed stares from the twins.

“You’re a witch,” Peter said, but he opened the gate, and the two horses raced out of the corral.

“I’d like to take them for a run,” Rachael said. “Blackie has been cooped up for a long time, and wants to stretch his legs. Where can we run to?”

“This road goes to the back pasture area. The horses would prefer to ride off the road, but it is a good mile back there.”

“A mile isn’t much, but it will be a start,” Rachael said, and she let Blackie loose. The horse ran, glad to be free and wild again, and happy to have the girl on his back. Rachael saw a crossroad coming, and knew there would be ditches on either side. She told Blackie he would have to leap over them, and he did, shifting to keep her stable on his back. Finally they came up to a fence, which Rachael assumed was the end of the pasture, and made Blackie veer to the left. She looked back, and saw Robert on the brown, valiantly trying to catch up to the faster horse. She asked Blackie to slow down, and stop showing off for the mare. Soon a panting Robert caught up to them.

“That was amazing. You just took off like a rocket. And when you jumped the crossroad, I was sure Blackie would break a leg. But he took it like he was a trained jumper.”

“Well, maybe you can train him to be a jumper,” Rachael said.

“Do you think I could ride him bareback like you did? That looked so cool. You looked like you were having so much fun.”

“I was having fun. The most fun I’ve had in … a long time. But we should walk them for a while to cool them down. Blackie could go for a while, but your brown is almost spent.”

“This is Chocky,” Robert said. “Short for Chocolate. She is the horse I was going to have you ride today, because she is so gentle. I didn’t know you were a horse whisperer.”

Rachael decided to go with that story. Horse whisperer was a lot more believable than powers from heaven for most people. “What is that over there,” she pointed out a barn complex a quarter mile away.

“That is the Peters farm,” Robert said. “They are egg farmers. We get their old hens for chicken dinners. They are tougher than broilers, but cheaper. Mom knows how to cook them up right tasty.”

“I should check them out,” Rachael said. “Cheaper chickens would stretch my food budget. Let’s walk over there.”

A few minutes later they went through a gate to the other farm, and trotted in between the big barn and a few small ones. There was a young woman with a sling of feed that she was casting about the yard, which was full of chickens, mostly clustered around her.

“Hi Robert,” she said in a friendly manner. “Who is your friend and what happened to her saddle?”

“This is Rachael, from my school. She rides without a saddle too. Rachael, this is Keri Peters. Her dad runs this farm.”

“I didn’t know you had broken Blackie,” Keri said.

“She’s not broken,” Rachael said. “We became friends.”

“I’ve heard of that,” Keri said. “I like the idea. Our farm has recently gone to enhanced cages. We used battery cages for years until the new barn was built, and then we tried cage-free. But that seemed to cause too many problems with disease and cleanliness, so we brought in enhanced cages a few years ago. And of course these ladies are free-range. We sell their eggs for a premium.” She waved at the birds surrounding her.

Rachael was glad to hear that the barn held enhanced cages. As a veterinarian, Ron had seen many horrific battery-cage farms, where hens were crammed into tiny cages for their entire lives. Enhanced cages were larger, and usually had roosting spots so that the birds could have a more natural life span. Free range was ideal, of course, but few consumers were willing to pay a dollar to two extra for a dozen free-range eggs. The eggs were no better tasting, and few people were willing to pay extra just so the hens could have a better life.

“I’m interested in your chickens,” Rachael said. “Robert says you sell the old hens at a reasonable cost.”

“We do. About half the cost of a grocery store bird. But be warned, it can be hard to get used to the tougher bird. We have a lot of people who try them once or twice, and then go back to the store-bought.”

“Well, I’d like to try them. But I can’t get out to the farm easily. Do you bring them into town anywhere?”

“We make egg deliveries in town three days a week,” Keri said. “Where do you live?”

“Hmmm, right now we aren’t sure. We are going to be moving. But do you know the Bread Baron bakery?”

“No,” Keri perked up. “A new bakery? Where is it? I’ll have to get in and see if they will buy eggs from us. Our price is competitive to the big dealers, and the eggs are fresher, and in my opinion better. There are several restaurants in town that swear our eggs are better.”

“You need to talk to Geoff Barron, the owner. You will want to get to him early, he usually leaves about 2 p.m. Tell him Rachael sent you. My mom works for him.”

“If I can get him to buy our eggs, then I could deliver chickens whenever you want. We cull twice a month. Just phone and say how many you want,” Keri said.

“Do you want to see in the barn?” Keri said as she threw the last of her feed out of the sling.

“I would love to,” Rachael said, sliding off of Blackie.

“Rachael, you can’t leave him loose,” Robert said.

“Sure I can. You tie up Chocky, and I will tell Blackie to stay close to her. He will be fine.”

“If you are sure,” the boy said, dismounting. Rachael could see that he wasn’t convinced, but had seen such amazing things today that he couldn’t complain. Rachael put her hand on Blackie’s neck. “Now you stay close to your lady friend here, and I’ll be back out soon to give you a ride home. Okay?” The horse snorted and then moved over to stand next to Chocky, as though he was lashed to the same fence.

Keri just stared. “Definitely a horse whisperer,” she said. “Although I’ve never seen one so impressive.”

The tour of the barns took about an hour. Rachael was not just sightseeing, she was using her veterinarian eyes to evaluate the barn. It was clean and well equipped, with newer cages and healthy hens that appeared to be well fed. It was a small operation, probably 100,000 hens, in an industry where big operators counted their flocks in the millions.

“That is really impressive, Keri,” Rachael said. “It is clear that you people really care for your birds. I wish you all the success in the world with them.”

“Thank you Rachael. And thanks for the tip on the new bakery.”

“Rachael, where is Blackie,” a startled Robert said as they exited the barn. The stallion was no longer next to Chocky.

Rachael just whistled, and they heard a snort from around the free-range barn. Blackie trotted out and walked up to Rachael.

“I guess he got bored,” Rachael said as Robert kneeled to give her a leg up onto the tall horse. He then got into his mount.

“You look like an Amazon up there,” Keri said. “I hope to see you again Rachael. Bye Robert.”

The two got back to the barn just before noon, and spent several minutes rubbing down their horses. Robert noted that lunch on the farm usually happened at 1 p.m. leaving lots of time. Blackie had a stall of his own, and when Robert was finished with Chocky, Rachael had him come into it and give Blackie a little more attention. She knew that the horse knew and trusted Robert now, and would allow him to approach. Hopefully Robert could use the gentling technique to train the stallion to reins and a saddle.

They wandered through the complex, and Rachael was pleased to see that the milking barn was spotlessly clean, important in a dairy operation. She noticed one piece of equipment she had never seen before. “What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s the butter churn,” Robert said. “It is just a small unit that does 10 pounds of butter at a time. Queenie and her daughters produce milk so rich that we can skim off a bit of fat without missing the bonus. Mom makes butter once a week for her own baking. The butter is way better than store bought. And it is free, now that the churn is paid for.”

There was a loud moo that could be heard in the milking room. “That is the birthing room, Robert said. “We shouldn’t go in there.”

That didn’t stop Rachael, who stormed through the door, where she saw the twins and two older farmers clustered around a cow in distress. That must be Queenie, she thought, and she could instantly see that she was panicky and in pain.

“Hey, stop,” the older farmer said as Rachael squeezed past them and moved up to the cow. As soon as Rachael touched the animal she could see the problem. The calf was huge, and positioned incorrectly. And Queenie knew it, and was panicking.

Rachael first calmed the animal. Slowly, as she fed her energy into the animal, the cow became calmer. Then Rachael reduced her pain. Queenie realized that help was at hand, and stopped fighting against the wrongness she felt inside of her. She had given birth eight times since she was a heifer, and she knew that this time things were not right. But Rachael calmed the poor animal and made her feel that things would be all right.

Frank Jackson, the eldest man, and Robert’s father, was ready to throw the girl out for interfering in what looked to be a troubled birth for his prize cow. But when he saw how the cow quickly calmed down to her touch, and stopped, in amazement.

“She did it with Blackie too,” Steve said. “Calmed him down and rode him bareback.’

“What?” the farmer shouted. “Rode him where?”

“We went out back, and then over to the Peter’s place. We were out all morning,” Robert said.

“She rode Blackie, bareback, off the property?”

Rachael had calmed Queenie enough, and turned to the men and boys. “I need gloves, I assume you have them.” She looked around, and saw a sink close at hand. She turned on the hot water and got antiseptic soap and started to rinse up her arms, and use a brush to scrub her fingernails.”

Robert came up with a plastic glove. “This is the only size we have. They will probably be too big.”

“It will do,” Rachael said curtly. “She pulled a glove on one arm, and it went up past her shoulder. I could put my head into this, she thought to herself. Not that she needed to. She could see inside the cow without it. Once the sleeve was on, she used her free hand on the cow’s back, sending more calming. Queenie had started to panic again, but quickly relaxed when she felt that this ‘in-charge’ person was back.

“Okay honey,” Rachael cooed at the cow. “This might not feel very pleasant. With that she thrust her gloved hand into the cows uterus and reached deep inside. She could feel the calf inside. It was positioned incorrectly. It was going to be a breech birth, and with such a large calf that could be a problem. It might kill both the calf and the mother. Rachael tried to turn the calf, but her arms were too short, and she was too weak.

“I can’t do it,” she said. “The calf is breech, and the legs are wrong for a safe breech birth.”

“Should I call the vet?” Frank asked.

“Only if he does post mortems,” Rachael said. “He can’t get here in time unless he lives next door.” She pointed at the oldest of the boys. “You, what is your name?”

“Jacob. JJ,” he said.

“Glove up. I need longer arms and more strength,” Rachael said. “You look like what I need.” JJ started to pull on a glove and the girl snapped at him. “Scrub first.”

JJ went over to the sink and scrubbed as well as Rachael had, and then let Robert help him into a glove. He then stood next to the girl, towering over her. “I need something to stand on. I’m too short.”

Robert brought over a milk pail, which was inverted and Rachael climbed on top. She was now eye-to-eye with JJ. “Run your hand down my arm until you get to the hand,” she ordered.

“That is its hip,” she said, moving the man’s hand. “And the rear legs are here. Feel this? That is the umbilical cord, and it is wrapped around the legs here, and here. If we try to do a breech birth, the legs won’t come, and the calf will die. We’ll have to cut it out. And it might kill Queenie, or at least leave her unable to calve again.”

“What I need you to do is to push the cord up and get it free of the hooves. I can’t reach the hooves. Can you?”

“Yes I can,” a breathless JJ said. “Just. It’s like I can see right inside of him.” Rachael smiled a bit. She actually could see inside.

“Okay, can you work the cord up past them? Be gentle. If we tear that cord, it is game over.”

“No. Yes. No,” frustration sounded in his voice. Rachael could see that the cord was just too short to go around the hoof. She had an idea, and got Queenie to shift a bit, and suddenly the presentation of the calf changed. “I got it,” JJ said with glee.

“That is only half the job,” Rachael said. “I don’t want a breech birth if we can help it. I need you turn her around. Follow up the chest of the calf to the head. No, you are drifting up to the shoulder. Down a bit, yes, there.” It was easy when you could see inside. “Now I need you to go to the shoulder. Her head is twisted a bit, but if you pull the shoulder, it will twist her around a bit. This is going to take a long time.”

It did. Donna came out with sandwiches and some of Rachael’s cookies to feed the men in the birthing room. Her eyes went wide when she saw Rachael and her eldest son shoulder deep in the cow’s uterus. Those two didn’t eat at all, and nearly two hours later Rachael said it was over. While they had been working, the farmer has sent the twins to deal with the milking of the rest of the herd.

“She can do it on her own now,” she said as she pulled her arm free, and then peeled off the glove and put it into a disposal bin. A second later JJ did the same. She left one arm on Queenie’s back, and could feel contentment from the cow. Things now felt right, as they should, and the prize cow was confident that she could do what was needed.

“She is about 45 minutes away from the head cresting,” Rachael predicted, and then a half hour more to finish. “It is a big calf. So it is going to hurt her a lot, so I want to be here for her.”

“Robert. Run into the house and get something for your girlfriend and JJ to eat,” Frank Jackson ordered. “They missed lunch.”

JJ slumped on a stool, exhausted by what he had just gone through, but exhilarated at the same time. He had helped in many birthings in his time at the farm, but never one so difficult. He felt a glow of accomplishment.

Rachael, just as tired, was worried. How could she explain what had just happened? A girl of 13, leading an operation like that. She couldn’t think of anything that was believable. Finally the farmer asked the question.

“How did you do that … what is your name?”

“Rachael, sir.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirteen, sir. I’m in Robert’s class at school.”

“How did you know what to do? How could you do that? I’ve seen 50-year-old vets that couldn’t do what you just did.”

“Well sir, I have an affinity for animals,” Rachael said. “And I want to be a vet when I grow up. So I read a lot about animal husbandry and anatomy. I was reading about birthing problems last week. When I saw Queenie in distress, I just jumped in. I’m sorry, I should have asked first.”

“No problem,” the man said. “I’m just glad that you were here. Queenie is important to this farm. Without her … well, we would just be another farm. Now we are special.”

JJ and Rachael had just finished their sandwiches, and a cold glass of farm-fresh milk, when Queenie decided to finish up the job. She popped the head and forelegs perfectly, but got a bit bound up on the shoulders, and Frank and JJ had to pull to help. Rachael stood next to Queenie, feeding energy in to east the pain and keep the cow calm. Eventually the calf plopped to the ground, and Queenie let out a loud moo as it to say ‘never again’.

“Damn,” Frank said. “It’s a male.”

“Hamburger meat,” JJ said sadly. Most dairy farms consider a male calf as waste material, and don’t devote the resources to raise them.

“Not necessarily,” Rachael said. “Look at how big he is.”

“He is a big ‘un,” Frank said. “But no matter how big he gets, he’ll never give a drop of milk.”

“Tell me,” Rachael said. “Who was his sire?”

“A little tube that came by Fed-Ex,” JJ joked.

“AI. Makes sense,” Rachael said. “Was the sire a prize bull?”

“It should be for what I paid for that little tube,” Frank said.

“So he had a prize father, and a prize mother,” Rachael noted. “Don’t you think you need to see in a year or two if he might be a prize bull? I know your farm specializes in milk, but in a couple years he could be servicing all your cows, and improving the herd with Queenie’s genetics. And you could be selling those expensive little tubes yourself, to other farmers.”

Frank stared at the girl. “I would have done away with him in a week, once Queenie had gotten her milk in. But you are right. He could be a goldmine for the farm.” He turned to Robert. “You treat this girl right. She is something special. And your movie night next week? You take her. Treat her. I’ll make sure that one of the boys drives you in, and somebody picks you up.”

The family went in for dinner at about 6 p.m. and Rachael enjoyed a wonderful chicken dinner. The chicken was from the Peters’, and Rachael made Mrs. Jackson promise to teach her how to prepare it. It was as tender as store-bought. The woman agreed, only if Rachael would teach her how to make her cookies.

“Yours will probably be better than mine,” Rachael noted. “I understand you make your own butter.”

“Yes. I bake a lot and go through quite a bit. I use about four pounds a week, and sell another six pounds to ladies I know. They get better butter than any in the store for only $3 a pound. The only shortcoming is that it isn’t wrapped up into pretty little blocks like the store stuff. I just fill margarine containers that they return to me later.”

“You know, I might be able to sell more of that butter for you,” Rachael said. “My mom works in a bakery, and the baker said he buys 60 pounds a week. But it is the cheap stuff. If he got good butter from Queenie and her daughters, it might make his stuff taste even better. And he doesn’t want it in little packages either. You could just dump it into a clean old lard bucket or something. He uses butter by weight, not by the cup.”

“We could do 10 pounds a day, instead of 10 pounds a week. That would give your guy 60 a week, and net us … $180,” Frank let out a low whistle.

“Net me $180 a week,” Donna said. “I get the money from the butter. But now instead of $18 a week, it would be $198. We talked about me getting a job in town now that Lisa is getting older, but this would be even better. It only takes two or three hours to make butter, start to finish, with gaps in between. I’d be able to make butter, and still have time to do all I do here on the farm. If I wind up working in town, you folks will have to get used to eating packaged food.”

It was eight o’clock when Rachael packed up and got ready to leave. Robert took her to the barn, to say goodbye to both Queenie and her son, and to Blackie. She got back to the truck, where JJ was waiting to drive them back into town.

Just before getting into the truck, Rachael heard something. “Listen,” she said to Robert. “Do you hear that?”

“Mooing. Not ours, those are old man Barden’s. He’s got the next farm over. Not as big as ours.

“Are you kids coming?” JJ stuck his head out of the cab.

“Listen,” Rachael repeated. JJ, who had been in the truck before hadn’t heard it before.

“Cattle. Dairy. From Archie Barden’s place.”

“But they don’t sound right, do they?”

JJ’s eyes widened. “They are in distress. Those are cattle that haven’t been milked. Get in.” Thank goodness, Rachael thought. I’m glad you recognized it so I didn’t have to say it.

Instead of driving into town, JJ tore down the lane, around to the next farm, and into his lane. Rachael was the first to see it. “Look, over there.”

“It was another clump of clothes, eerily like the man she had met the day before. JJ stopped the truck next to him. “Archie,” JJ shouted, and there was a low moan.

JJ turned to Robert. “Take the truck home. Tell Dad Archie is hurt. Get all the boys to his barn.”

Robert drove carefully home, and JJ lifted the old man, as Rachael led the way into the nearby house. JJ left the man on the sofa. Rachael got him a glass of water. As the man slowly sipped the water, he recounted.

“Was going to the barn to do the afternoon milking. Must have tripped or something. Just came to as you folk were driving in. The cows!” his eyes went wide, and he tried to get up. “They need milking.”

“You stay here,” JJ said, with a strong hand holding the man down. “This is Rachael, a friend of ours. I’ll go tend to your cattle if you promise to stay put. Robert has gone to get Dad and the boys. We’ll do what it needed.”

“Okay,” he slumped back into his sofa, and JJ headed out the door, running to let the anxious cattle into the barn.

“I’m going to have to sell the farm,” the old man moaned. “I’m too old to look after it myself. Maybe Frank will buy the quota and the cows, and I can rent out the land. I don’t want to have to move into the city.”

“You may not have to,” Rachael said. “JJ is a good man, he could run your farm.”

“I can’t afford to pay for a man. Well, I could for a while, but JJ will want his own place someday, then I have to hire and train somebody new.”

“What if you don’t hire JJ,” Rachael said. “Make him a partner. He saved your farm today, and maybe your life. Give him a quarter interest in the farm and let him get a quarter of the profits. No salary, but every year give him another 5 percent of the farm. In five years or so he should be able to marry that girl he’s dating, or someone else. And in 10 years he will have 75% and you will have 25%. Then you can retire, or slow down and let him do most of the work. You’ll just be his relief milker.”

“You know girl, that is one good idea. I’m going to think on that for a while. And it will let me keep my farm. I really love being a farmer.”

“I can understand that,” Rachael said. Just then Lisa and Mrs. Jackson burst into the house.

“All the men are in the barn,” Donna said. “We came over to see what we need to do. Should I call the ambulance?”

“NO!” Mr. Barden shouted.

“I think he will be okay,” Rachael said, wishing she could see inside of people as well as she could animals. He tripped or slipped out in the yard, and hit his head on something. He has a pretty decent welt back there, but the skin didn’t break. As you can see, he is pretty coherent.”

“Can we get you something to eat?” Donna asked.

“No need,” the stubborn old man said.

“Well there is an entire crew out in your barn, milking your herd. They’ll be hungry when they get in. We need to fix something up for them.”

“Oh. Right. There is a ham in the fridge. Maybe you could slice it up and make some sandwiches.”

Donna went in and made Archie a sandwich, which he happily and hungrily munched on as he waited for the men. She didn’t mention that the men had recently had supper, and would not be expecting Mr. Barden to feed them. She did make two more sandwiches, and then wrapped them in plastic so that he would be able to have a quick meal later.

Shortly thereafter, Frank came in. “Cows are all milked,” he reported tersely. “You’re going to be a bit short, but none of them dried up. Probably a day or two before they’re back to full production. I’m going to send Robert over in the morning to make sure you are okay, and able to do the milking on your own.”

“Could you send JJ instead,” Archie asked. “I’d like to talk to him about something.”

Rachael smiled hearing that. Then Frank turned to her. “And you, young lady, were expected home two hours ago. We have to start the last milking at our place, so Donna will drive you home. Lisa, you go with, so your Mom will have company on the ride home.”

Rachael was on the phone, reporting in to her worried mother and promising that she would be home in a few minutes.

That night, Rachael reported in to a higher power.

Dear Lord

What a day. I helped a horse. I helped a cow. I think I helped a baby calf get a chance at a decent life. I may have found suppliers for eggs and butter for Geoff. I hope he doesn’t think I am butting in on his business. I helped an old man who might have died. I might have helped JJ get started in farming. And that will mean the twins will be able to inherit the family farm. Robert … I think he would make a good vet. Apparently I need someone stronger with longer arms to help me.

Lord, I thank you for this life. And thank you for making people at the farm not ask so many questions. I know you did something there.

Amen



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