COUNTRY NEIGHBOUR

COUNTRY NEIGHBOUR
by Mark Head

 
Just inland and slightly to the North of a smog-bound capital was a coastal mountain range famed for two things. The first was numerous and solid, perambulated on all fours and spent much time ruminating cow-pats until milking time. The second, something no city high rise building could ever supply in spite of mighty air conditioning machines, was a continuous fresh air breeze that flowed around the torsos of cows and herders alike all day long, an hypnotic brew of freshness with million dollar coastline views and the faintest tint of sea breeze flavouring the existence of what should have been Nirvana for man and beast alike.
Not only did the sun shine at the appointed hour here, but the rains fell in due season and water appeared whenever a depression was dammed and soon filled to overflowing, such was the bountiful nature of the earth, and farmers who had been in the area for generations knew this and resented the influx of ‘townies’ who began arriving and buying acreage lots as families died out and farms were sold off piecemeal at great profit by inheritors who cared nothing for tradition; and the loss of use of arable land caused deep fear of change and resentments unbridgeable by nothing except a return to the past.
Some of the more settled newcomers were not ‘townies’, but folk whose philosophies, much older and stockier than those of the original settlers and hardened by the bloodied history of the rocky soils from which their peasant ancestors came, were not accepted by the established folk either.
One such a settled newcomer was Beny, who struggled hard to pay for the land he owned, but unlike the old generation farmers, used his land to raise Bramin cattle instead of dairy. He also used other lands as well, for Beny was a master of the ‘long paddock’, as roadside verges were called, grazing his herd along them whenever his pastures failed, a common occurrence for him, for Beny had not learned nor would he ever master the art of sustainable grazing.
Beny had a neighbour on either side of his fence line. The oldest resident, an old couple whose garden had a profusion of flowers within its borders, were not farmers any longer and considered the area a quiet and pleasant place to retire until Beny came and bought the acreage next door. The other neighbour, Mikey, knowing nothing whatever of Beny or his ways, was a ‘townie’ who bought his block for the sight and song of wild birds and built a comfortable house amongst the trees to indulge his passion in feeding them every morning and afternoon, until one day Beny decided to come to the fence line opposite Mikeys’ house to fire one of the many guns he owned every day and frightened them all away.
Situated right alongside Mikey’s front gate was Beny’s house and vegetable garden. Mikey saw Beny tending his vegetables, so stopped and accosted him regarding his concerns about the gunshots being so close to his house, only to be told there were dingoes about. Mikey doubted this, but gave up attempting communication after realizing that Beny was totally impervious to reason or change if it interfered with his convenience. The gunshots continued and some of Mikey’s water tanks, built high on cross braced timbers each five inches thick and tarred for long protection, began to weep from gunshot wounds since Beny had other reasons for his bullet intrusions into another’s domain.
Mikey had a friend called Douglas who lived in an old wooden farm house, and from his verandah had full view of the sloping vacant acreage next door that was directly opposite and on the other side of the road to both Benys’ and Mikeys’ land. He was well used to Benys’ ways, and knew that Bramin cattle did not respect fences, as everyone who lived along that road well knew. Beny, an early riser, did not mind in the least numerous early morning phone calls concerning the immediate removal of livestock from places they had no right to be, considering this minor phone call irritation from folk he had no respect a cheap payment for the grass his cattle consumed free of charge. Beny did not believe in asking permission for use or making payment of agistment either and made no attempt whatever to maintain the property he used.
Mikey could never leave his property without Beny’s wife knowing about it. An experienced mother who well understood the power of routine, she soon relayed her observations to husband Beny that Mikey left promptly at six am on Wednesdays returning late on Fridays every week was a routine that seemed concerned with work.
Early one Wednesday morning Douglas awoke to hear a familiar “wooeep wooeep” sound accompanied by a more than usually heavy dirt muffled sound of hooves moving quickly over soil, but thought this familiar sound sequence, allied to the property next door meant the usual presence of over a hundred Bramin cattle grazing in full moonlit view. They were never there during the day. The next mid morning as he checked his fenceline, Douglas noticed over a hundred head of Bramin cattle grazing on Mikey’s land.
“Interesting,” Douglas murmured to himself, methodically repairing a barbed wire section of the roadside fence that passed inspection a month earlier and should not have required replacement under normal usage. Beny’s cattle were much larger than normal, deep red in colour and in bulk similar to their relation the buffalo.
Douglas was slowly becoming angry.
To him, a working day was a working day, and apart from the inevitable livestock accidental breakout that occurred from time to time, considered daily labour a constructive matter aimed at earning income, and did not at all appreciate having to splice piece after piece of barbed wire into strand after strand of fencing wire that showed all the signs of stretch then fracture after resisting an irresistible force. Douglas knew the colour and type of animal responsible, for barbed wire had a way of capturing such evidence in its tines, and dark red Bramin hairs were unmistakable evidence as far as he was concerned.
At dusk on the Friday, and Mikey due to return, Douglas heard “wooeep wooeep” sound the recall, and knew that Mikey’s paddock would have no Bramin cattle within its bounds very shortly after, and all that would remain behind was the inevitable evidence of still moist cowpats everywhere, and a sure sign of over grazing since each pat was only two feet from the next.
The next afternoon Douglas had a visit from Mikey. As was customary at the beginning of a weekend, some tall bottle home brew beer appeared to match those brought by Mikey. No mention was made of livestock, unless Mikeys changing true loves, whom appeared from time to time could be regarded as such, for Mikey had marriage very much on his mind at this time.
When Douglas remarked that Beny had lost one his prize winning Bramin bulls in mysterious circumstances and had he heard about it, decided to make mention of the herd he’d seen munching away contentedly on his land.
“What herd?” Mikey asked, puzzled.
“There’s been a herd of cows on your place the last couple of days,” Douglas replied. “Has there indeed,” came the reply. “Bramins by any chance?”
“Uhuh. A hundred head at least.”
“Beny!” both said simultaneously.
“Did he ask your permission to graze them there?”.
“Fat chance,” Mike snorted. “He’d never get it and knows it. Especially since the last time. That s.o.b. put two hundred head on my little forty acre block and wouldn’t take ‘em off until I threatened to let them out onto the road after they trampled my gardens and ate everything when the grass ran out. You know he even threatened to sue me for damage to one of his cows?”
‘You have to be careful when Benys around,” Douglas replied. “-which brings me to the story of the loss of his prize winning bull. You’ll love this. He did his usual dusk release long paddock trick-” Mikey snorted- “-only this time the bull was in with the heifers when he let them out and didn’t notice.” Douglas took a swig of beer, then continued, “-so passing by the old folks’ place the bull took a liking to the flowers, went straight through their fence like it wasn’t there and started eating everything. The old missus didn’t like that and began to bash it about the head with a broom to make it go away, but the bull started towards her so she backed into the kitchen, but it still kept on coming and was halfway through the kitchen door before hubby decided enough was enough and shot it through the head because it didn’t look like stopping. And you know how big they are. I saw Tony the abattoir truckie the next day go past with the carcass in the back, so I waved him down and asked him who the pet mince was for. I could smell burnt clutch and Tony’s greeting was similar, I have to say. Seems he burnt the winch clutch out getting it onto the truck and was not impressed.”
“Wooeep,” said Mikey, grinning.
“Refill?” said Douglas. “-and ‘wooeep’ has a lot to do with it”
“Aah,” Mikey said, “-the sound a certain Bramin owner makes recalling his herd from places they shouldn’t be. I’ve seen them appear from nowhere sometimes.”
“Hmm. Better watch for boogie men ha ha.”
“Ho ho.” Mikey was not smiling.
Mikey decided to leave for home shortly afterwards, but returned an hour later.
“There’s a hole in my water tank. Can you help?”
“How bad’s the leak?”
Mikey held out a pointed finger. “That round and pouring out.” He moved the pointed finger in an arc towards the ground. “It’s a very round hole. And smooth.”
“Smooth? Rusted? Any jagged edges?”
“No rust. Its a new tank.”
Douglas turned and went inside his shed, returning shortly afterwards with a hammer, tapered wooden bungs of various sizes and a tin of bituminous sealant. He did not wish to alarm his friend unduly, so made no comment concerning his suspicion that a bullet might have made that hole.
When Douglas approached Mikeys’ gate in his Toyota with Mikey seated alongside, Beny and his wife, deep within the bowels of their vegetable garden, looked up and made the customary arm raising greeting reserved for those they wished to recognise, only to drop their arms sharply after recognising the passenger within. Douglas, not particularly surprised, thrummed his Toyota across the cattle grid past their directly gazing faces, giving the merest hand sign etiquette permitted as polite reply.
Driving the Toyota alongside the water tank in question, Douglas saw his friend had not exaggerated concerning the damage, confirming a .303 bullet the cause if size were any guide. Brushing bituminous compound around the hole and about the point of a wooden bung deemed appropriate for size, he placed its pointed end into the hole and hammered it into the hole. Immediately the water flow stopped. Douglas painted more compound around the repair, and after a moment said “The wood will swell. It’s fixed. You practice gunnery around here?”
Mikey, startled by this remark, said, “No. Don’t like guns. Is that -?” and pointed to the bung standing proud from the side of the tank.
“Yup. Bullet hole. Bit too close to the house for my liking,” Douglas said, pointing out the area where he thought the shot had come from with an outstretched arm. “That way.”
“Beny,” said Mikey. ‘He’s got a .303.”
Mikey poured another beer, his pouring hand shaking as he did so.
Douglas was beginning to get very angry indeed.
Leaving Mikeys house, Douglas drove down the driveway towards the gate. Beny and his wife, still in their vegetable patch, looked at each other in surprise when Douglas rattled past them without any acknowledgement whatever.
Dusk settled, and Douglas, at home and teacup in hand, went out to his verandah seat to watch the sunset panorama, and as usual, heard a distant ‘Wooeep wooeep’ and the muffled sound of cattle following a well known path. The Bramins were coming in to feed in the paddock next to his place.
Douglas had things to do that night.
First he changed into dark clothing and quiet rubber shoes. Since his task concerned fencing, he outfitted himself with tie wire and a pair of fencing pliers, and in case of emergency a miniature torch with lens area cut down to almost nothing with black tape, but since this full moon was bright doubted its necessity.
Douglas had no wish to attract attention.
After a decent interval, and sure the Bramin’s herdsman had gone inside his house to feast on his regular mental evening diet of naughty videos, Douglas left his house, and wraithlike, moved quickly towards his boundary fence and slipping quickly over it disappeared into the brush towards his goal, an open glade hidden by trees and adjacent to the only crossing that just happened to have stout fencing with an opening allowing the movement of livestock from one side of the property to the other. Douglas realized the opening had not been used as a gateway for some time, but a wire gate with wooden spreaders still lay alongside fastened to the upper fence king post and could again be used to close the opening. It did not take long to release the wire gate from the grasses that imprisoned it, and Douglas dragged it over to the king post on the other side, and just in time, for the ghostly forms of cattle had just begun to move across the glade, and having no doubt they would then proceed to cross, quickly found the customary wire ring fastened to the top of the gate and slipped it over the other king post after some effort. Standing back for a moment to check the robustness of the gate, Douglas realized some repair was needed, for there would have been little effort required in breaching it, so began by wiring each strand individually to the king post, a task normally reserved for converting a gate permanently into a fence. Douglas had a subtle message for the invisible herdsman who controlled this herd. Task complete, he walked up towards the old dairy, noting with satisfaction that already the closing of the gate had begun to cause some mild effect in bovine confusion.
The old dairy entrance was obvious, for animal control was achieved by means of stout wooden post pens with steel entrance and exit gates. It was physically impossible to allow livestock movement around the dairy, for its front faced the roadway common to all and its rear was the beginning of the vee shaped valley proper, with slopes steep enough to deter even the most determined animal.
Douglas was surprised to find that not all herd members had followed the lower route as expected, but split into two groups. Some fifty head or more were grazing on his side of the dairy already, and could only assume that the herd had split, one half moving towards the lower glade crossing and the other half across and through the old dairy itself. Curious, Douglas went down one side of the valley vee shape to check if another passage existed between the glade and the dairy, and found utter impassability. This suited him well, for if one group expected to return to their original entrance through the dairy and the other through the glade to meet up again, utter confusion could be caused by wiring each and every pen gate shut. Every piece of wire would be tied separately from any other. This was also done to the gates that had simple ring type fasteners pulled over an expanded knob, for first the gates were closed in the normal manner, then the rings were fitted over the knob and individual strands of wire were drawn through the gap between the knob and ring and after being twisted, cut in the most inaccessible manner so as to cause maximum irritation to anyone desirous of opening the gate again, for Douglas had worked out a way to flush this invisible herdsmen into the open. There were wire gates in various parts of the pens around the dairy, and Douglas took great care to wire each and every one shut, every strand individually tied and individually cut, for these gates, designed so long ago to maximise the efficiency of the dairy, had no further dairy use, and who was there to say this was not the desire of the unknown owners after all, for the real owners of this property Beny was using had no idea whatever their land was being used by anyone except themselves at all, and Douglas knew that earlier having spoken to them a week before, politely asking the appropriate question but not naming any names.
His work done, Douglas returned home, quietly retiring to sleep to be awakened after three by a low volume bellowing that grew louder and louder as gray light dawned to sunrise, but he did not mind, for he knew this disturbance would be the last he would have to hear from Benys’ Bramins.
Douglas, carrying out maintenance on his boat when Mikey walked into his yard the next morning, and the day being bright and sunny, thought it a good opportunity to open a beer, an offer gladly accepted. When Douglas drew his friends attention to the desultory mooing sounds emanating from despondent Bramins meandering around in circles next door, Mikey did not understand.
“In a hurry?” Douglas enquired.
“No.”
“Good.” Mikey had no idea about Douglas nocturnal activities, and Douglas then began to tell him.
An hour later a Toyota drove up alongside the old dairy. Both men knew the vehicle. Douglas motioned silence and winked.
In full view from all, Beny limped down the paddock, mutely calling “wooeep wooeep” as he did so, but all his Bramins ignored this well known command, for they were tired now and well out of their routine.
“Roundup time,” said Douglas quietly.
“Wooeep!” Mikey said suddenly, grinning, then asked “Why the limp?”
“Aah. That limp,” Douglas replied. “Two months ago Beny did it to himself. Doesn’t believe in maintainance. The handbrake failed on his tractor and it rolled and crushed his foot.”
Beny spent some long hours rounding up his Bramins, a strenuous exercise indeed in this hilly country in full breezeless sun.
Mikey, soft hearted, made mention of helping Beny, but Douglas said “After what he’s done to you and everybody else around here? Don’t bother. Some folk got to learn their manners the hard way, and he’s one of ‘em!”
Beny made one more attempt to use the block next door to Douglas, but gave up shortly after, for Douglas quickly rewired the gates Beny reopened with such toil and rewired them double single wire each time, for if there’s one thing every ‘townie’ ought to know in country life, it is that gates are always closed for a reason and always left that way.
Beny’s Bramins were never seen again in any block they had no right to be.

—–ENDE—–

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