Two days later, the truck arrived.
Hector was at the far end of the paddock, working his way through a tasty clover patch, when his ears twitched at a faint rumble. He looked up at the cloudless sky. The rumble sounded again, and this time he seemed to feel it. Swallowing his half-chewed mouthful, he trotted up across the paddock to the north fence. He pressed himself against the fence until the wires tensed against his colossal neck. Across the horse yard and down the long dirt path to the farm’s eastern fence, Hector saw the distant little figure of Mr McGinley opening the wide front gate. And waiting just beyond the gate was the long truck, here to take the calves to slaughter. The truck was like a bull itself, with its flat nose, bulky body, and two long exhaust stacks pointing up like horns. The truck driver jumped down from the cab and went over to shake hands with Mr McGinley.
Coming up behind the great bull, Esmerelda’s happy voice sang, “Good morning, Hector.”
Hector closed his eyes and dropped his head. The fence wires creaked. Esmerelda’s hooves slowed then stopped beside him. Hector opened his eyes and turned to her. She stared down at the farm’s front gate. “Is that…” she whispered. “Is that the truck?”
Hector flicked his ears and groaned. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head and snorted. “Quick,” he said, turning around. “Get back down the hill.” He shoved Esmerelda with his head, almost bowling her over.
“Get back down the hill, keep out of sight! You can hide behind the barn—no, that won’t work. Maybe… in the barn.”
Esmerelda watched him. “Hector,” she said.
“It will be okay,” said Hector. He stamped his hoof on the turf and lashed out at the air with his horns. His breathing raced. “The sheep paddock! Yes! Come on, I’ll knock the fence down. Let’s go!” He raced down the hill. After only a short way, he turned back and saw Esmerelda still standing by the fence. “Come on, Esmerelda, you have to come with me now!”
Esmerelda swished her tail. The truck roared then rumbled through the front gate, slowly making its way up the long dirt path.
“Come on, Esmerelda! I’ll hide you in the sheep shed.”
Esmerelda looked at the truck, then turned to Hector. She walked gently down to him and rubbed her head against his mountainous shoulders. “It’s okay,” she said. “You know, I used to think that one day I would be as strong as you.” She laughed to herself. “No one is as strong as the great bull. But maybe I can be as brave as you.” She slid her head beneath Hector’s chin and nudged him, then walked away down the hill.
Hector stood there wide-eyed and silent and watched her go. The truck drove up in front of the farmhouse and then down the slope toward the cow paddock. It stopped and shuddered, then its rumbling ceased. The driver got out.
After shutting the adult cows in the barn (except for Hector, who had crossed to the far side of the paddock, so the farmer left him there), Mr McGinley backed his own small truck through the gate behind the barn and rolled three big hay bales onto the grass. The calves soon gathered. Then, with a bucket of feed in his hand, Mr McGinley led the calves one at a time through the gate and up the hill a little way to where the long truck waited. From there, the truck driver took each calf and walked them up a short ramp and into the long trailer. Only the driver returned. Hector made his way back and stood by the barn. He watched the calves be led away, just as he had seen calves be led away in prior years. And he stood there quietly, just as he had those other years. His face wore the same stony glare. Until Mr McGinley came for Esmerelda.
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