Hector opened his eyes. Daylight shone from outside. He lifted his head and blinked hard, then he began to laugh. The great bull had a deep, hearty laugh, but it had been a long time since he used it. He looked at the straw before him and around him; he wiggled his ears and listened. With a shuddering sigh of relief, he laid his head on the straw and closed his eyes. The straw by his rear end swayed beneath a thunderclap of flatulence. Hector took a grateful breath, then shifted his giant body and prepared to get up. “Wait,” said a joyful voice.
Hector turned to see Esmerelda poking her head out from behind one of the milking stalls. “Esmerelda?” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“Don’t get up yet,” she said, approaching him. “Did you sleep well?”
“Better than I have slept in weeks.”
“And did you hear any persistent voices last night?”
“Not a single one,” said Hector. “Not a single beetle.” He leaned forward onto his knees.
“Wait,” said Esmerelda. “Don’t stand up yet. Look.” She motioned with her nose for Hector to look above him.
Hector raised his eyes to see, just two feet above his head, an intricate canopy of spider webs stretching his entire stall. Fine strands of glistening silk, as delicate as dandelions, circled and criss-crossed above him in perfect patterns, layer upon layer to form a dense net. Little black spiders crept here and there across the webs, moving as gracefully as swans upon water. And stranded in the web, some still twitching, some already bound in silk, were no fewer than a hundred shiny orange beetles. Hector gasped. “Did… Did you…?”
“I thought the spiders could help you,” said Esmerelda. “Now don’t stand up or you’ll break the webs. You’ll have to crawl in and out of your stall from now on, but as long as you do, the spiders will keep the beetles away.”
“What a clever little calf you are,” said Hector, as he shuffled out of his stall on his knees. He stood up and looked in wonder at the spiders upon their webs. He turned to Esmerelda, with shame in his eyes. “Did I hurt you, when I threw you across the barn that night?”
“Yes,” said Esmerelda. “I hit the wall so hard I could barely walk the next day. But I’m all right now.”
“I’m very sorry,” said Hector.
“I forgive you,” said Esmerelda.
Hector smiled and looked at the spider webs. “Look at all those beetles. All those little voices.”
“What did the beetles say to you?” asked Esmerelda.
Hector’s face became grave. He stood quietly a moment, then answered, “The beetles told me the tractor is going to try to kill Mr McGinley. They said if I don’t destroy the tractor, Mr McGinley will die.” The two cows stood silently and peered at the beetles caught in the webs. Finally, Hector turned to Esmerelda. “But beetles are liars. Aren’t they?”
“That’s what my mother says,” said Esmerelda, looking uncertainly up at Hector.
“I hope mothers are right,” said the great bull.
They watched the beetles in the webs. After a couple of minutes, Hector stepped to the side and shoved Esmerelda with his belly. She toppled and slid on the floor. “Now get out into the paddock and eat the grass before it grows too tall.”
Esmerelda giggled, stood up and skipped out of the barn. Hector strode out behind her with a fearsome glare on his face, the mighty, commanding, great bull of Butterberry Farm.
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