CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Naronda: Sim-Sim, the oldest cow in the stables of the Ark, had been ailing for five days and would not touch any feed or water, when Shamadam sent for a butcher saying that it was more prudent to slaughter the cow and profit by the sale of her meat and hid than let her die and be a total loss.

When the Master heard of it he became exceeding thoughtful and straightway hurried to the stable and into Sim-Sim’s stall. The Seven followed in his wake.

Sim-Sim stood sad and almost motionless, her head hanging low, her eyes half-shut and her hair bristling and devoid of sheen. Now and then would she barely move an ear to chase away an impertinent fly. Here great milk-bag hung limp and empty between her thighs; for Sim-Sim towards the end of her long and fruitful life was denied the sweat heartaches of motherhood. Her hipbones jutted out, grim and forlorn, like two tombstones. Here ribs and vertebra could easily be counted. Her long and slender tail, with a heavy tuft of hair at the end, fell straight and stiff.

The Master approached the ailing animal and began to stroke here between the horns and eyes and under the chin. Occasionally he would pass his hand over her back and belly, speaking to her all the while as he would speak to a human being:

MIRDAD: Where is your cud, my generous Sim-Sim? So much has Sim-Sim given that she forgot to leave herself even a small cud to chew. And much as Sim-Sim yet to give, her snow white milk is till this day running crimson in our veins. Her sturdy calves are trailing heavy ploughs in our fields and helping us to feed many a hungry mouth. Here graceful heifers fill our pastures with their young. Even her refuse graces our board in succulent greens from the garden and luscious fruits from the orchard.

Our ravines still echo and re-echo good Sim-Sim’s lungful bellowing. Our springs still mirror here benign and lovely face. Our soil still cherishes and guards with jealously the ineffaceable prints of her hoofs.

Too glad are our grasses to feed Sim-Sim . Too pleased is our sun to caress her. Too happy are our breezes to glide over her soft and glossy fur. Too thankful is Mirdad to see her through the desert of Old age and be her guide to other pastures in the land of other suns and breezes.

Much has Sim-Sim given, and much has she taken; but more has Sim-Sim yet to give and to take.

Micaster: Can Sim-Sim understand your words that you should speak to her as if she had a human understanding?

MIRDAD: It is not the word that counts, good Micaster. It is what vibrates in the word. And to that even a beast is susceptible. Besides, I see a woman looking at me out of meek Sim- Sim’s eye.

Micaster: What is the good of speaking so to aged and failing Sim-Sim? Hope you thereby to stay the ravages of age and lengthen Sim-Sim’s days?

MIRDAD: A dreadful burden is Old Age to man as well as to beast. And men have made it doubly so by their neglectful heartlessness. Upon a newborn babe they lavish their utmost care and affection. But to an age-burdened man they reserve their indifference more than their care, and their disgust more than their sympathy. Just as impatient as they are to see a sucking to grow into manhood, just so impatient are they to see an old man swallowed by the grave.

The very young and the very old are equally helpless. But the helplessness of the young conscripts the loving, sacrificial help of all. While the helplessness of the old is able to command but the grudging help of few. Verily, the old are more deserving of sympathy than the young.

When the word must knock long and loud to gain admittance to an ear once sensitive and alert to the faintest whisper,

When the once limpid eye becomes a dancing floor for the weirdest blotches and shadows.

When the once winged foot becomes a lump of lead, and the hand that moulded life becomes a broken mould,

When the knee is out of joint , and the head is a puppet on the neck, When the mill-stones are ground out, and the mill itself is a dreary cave,

When to rise is to sweat with the fear of falling down, and to sit is to sit with the painful doubt of never rising again,

When to eat and drink is to dread the aftermath of eating and drinking, and not to eat and drink is to be stalked by hateful Death,

Aye, when Old Age is upon a man, then is the time, my companions, to lend him ears and eyes, and give him hands and feet, and brace his failing strength with love so as to make him feel that he is no whit less dear to Life in his waning years then he was in his waxing babyhood and youth.

Four-score years may not be more than a wink in eternity. But a man who has sown himself for four-score years is much more than a wink. He is the foodstuff for all who harvest his life. And which life is not harvested by all?

Are you not harvesting even this very moment the life of every man and woman that ever walked this Earth? What is your speech but the harvest of their speech? What are your thoughts but the gleanings of their thoughts? Your very clothes and dwellings, your food, your implements, your laws, your traditions and conventions, are they not the clothes, the dwellings,

the food, the implements, the laws, the traditions and conventions of those who had been and gone before?

Not one thing do you harvest at one time, but all things and at all times. You are the sowers, the harvest, the reapers, the field and the threshing floor. If your harvest be poor, look to the seed you have sown in others and the seed you allowed them to sow in you. Look also to the reaper and his sickle, and to the field and the threshing floor.

An old man whose life you have harvested and put away in granaries is surely worthy of your utmost care. Should you embitter with indifference his years which are yet rich with things to be harvested , that which you have gathered of him and put away, and that which are yet to gather would certainly be bitter in your mouth. So it is with the failing beast.

It is not right to profit by the crop, and then to curse the sower and the field.

Be kind to men of every race and clime, my companions. They are the food for your God-ward journey. But be especially kind to men in their old age lest through unkindness your food be spoiled and you never reach your journey’s end.

Be kind to animals of every sort and age. They are your dumb but very faithful helpers in the long and arduous preparations for the journey. But be especially kind to animals in their old age, lest through the hardness of your heart their faithfulness be turned into faithlessness, and their help become an hindrance.

It is rank ingratitude to thrive on Sim-Sim’s milk, and when she has no more to give, to lay the butcher’s knife to her throat.

Naronda: Hardly had the Master finished saying that when Shamadam with the butcher walked in. the butcher went straight to Sim-Sim. No sooner did he see here than we heard him shout in joyful mockery, ‘How say you this cow is ill and dying? She is healthier than I , excepting that she is starved – the poor animal – and I am not. Give her to eat.’

And great was our amazement, indeed, when we looked at Sim-Sim and saw her chewing the cud. Even Shamadam’s heart softened and he ordered the best of cow-delicacies brought to Sim-Sim. And Sim-Sim ate with a relish.