For the second time that week, the cows broke through the fence.
Jane realized it as soon as she walked to the gate after her father had asked her to bring in the cows for the afternoon milking. Usually they were waiting near the dairy barn, their udders full and pink. But today, the herd looked smaller than usual. Jane walked partway into the paddock, her eyes scanning the fenced in field, hoping that, mayhems this time the cows were hidden behind the thick bushes near the border of the far fence line.
But they weren’t.
“Oh help,” Jane mumbled as she lifted the hem of her dress and made her way along the muddy path the cows had beaten down throughout the years. The holes in her Crocs did nothing to protect her feet from the mud and she cringed. If there was one thing she hated more than wayward cows, it was wet mud on her feet.
She examined the fence line and quickly found the spot where the cows had broken through. Right near the crest of the gently sloping hill that separated the property from their neighbors. It was the exact spot the cows had broken through earlier that month. The wire between the two fence posts must have been repaired rather than replaced. Clearly their neighbor, Old Man Coblentz, hadn’t done it properly the last time. Cows being smarter than people gave them credit for, they must have remembered where they had broken through before, she thought.
The cows sure were making a habit of trying to get to the other side of the fencing where the grass grew greener since Old Man Coblentz didn’t graze his cows there.
Muttering under her breath, Jane stooped down and climbed through the opening. She covered her eyes with her hand, shielding them from the bright August sun. The herd was well into the field this time. Old Man Coblentz would be furious. And Jane didn’t feel like getting an earful today. The last time the cows had broken through, Coblentz had screamed and yelled, threatening to go to the bishop if the Millers didn’t fix the fence that very day. He also coaxed her father into fixing some of his own fencing that needed of repair, and milking his cows.
Jane hadn’t thought that was fair. It was Coblentz’s fencing after all, not her father’s. But her father hadn’t even blinked an eye.
“No worries, Coblentz,” Joshua had said. “I’d be more than happy to lend a hand.”
Jane had tried to protest—they had their own cows to milk yet!—but her father silenced her with a look of reproach as he went about mending the fence before walking down the slope toward the dairy barn to help Coblentz with his herd.
Later that evening, as the three of them were eating supper, Jane had shared the details with her mother. When she got to the point in the story about the cow milking request, her father had set down his fork and faced her, a compassionate expression on his face.
“Old Man Coblentz lives alone, Jane,” he had said. “You know his only son died and he has no one to help him with chores. Serving him is the right thing to do.”
Even her mother chimed in. “Love one’s neighbors, Jane, isn’t that so, Joshua?”
“Even the cranky ones?” Jane asked.
Her father suppressed a smile at her question. “Especially the cranky ones.”
Still, Jane didn’t feel like being berated and tricked into doing Coblentz’s chores, old man or not! She had a lot of her own work to do that evening. It was Saturday and tomorrow the family needed to get up early to head over to Jacob Mast’s farm where worship was being held. Jane still needed to finish her weeding, help her mother with supper, and take a shower before bedtime.
Sighing, she approached the herd of Holstein cows. They eyed her suspiciously as if they knew what she wanted—and they certainly weren’t eager to comply. No wonder, Jane thought, as she looked around. Most of Coblentz’s pasture was still long and a luscious green color, unlike her father’s pasture where the grass was chewed down to stubs and patches of dry dirt were plentiful.
Old Man Coblentz had a larger farm than her father and, since he didn’t harvest corn anymore, he had plenty of paddock space for his cows to graze. He grew hay in some of the fields, like this one, and fresh, green hay was clearly too enticing for her father’s cows to stay put on the right side of the property line.
Coblentz would be furious, for sure and certain, when he saw what the cows had done to his hayfield.