The Cow with Golden Horns was published in Freeman’s collection, The Pot of Gold and Other Stories in 1893.
An illustration for the story The Cow with Golden Horns by the author Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Once there was a farmer who had a very rare and valuable cow. There was not another like her in the whole kingdom. She was as white as the whitest lily you ever saw, and her horns, which curved very gracefully, were of gold.
She had a charming green meadow, with a silvery pool in the middle, to feed in. Almost all the grass was blue-eyed grass, too, and there were yellow lilies all over the pool.
The farmer’s daughter, who was a milkmaid, used to tend the gold-horned cow. She was a very pretty girl. Her name was Drusilla. She had long flaxen hair, which hung down to her ankles in two smooth braids, tied with blue ribbons. She had blue eyes and pink cheeks, and she wore a blue petticoat, with garlands of rose-buds all over it, and a white dimity short gown, looped up with bunches of roses. Her hat was a straw flat, with a wreath of rose-buds around it, and she always carried a green willow branch in her hand to drive the cow with.
She used to sit on a bank near the silvery pool, and watch the gold-horned cow, and sing to herself all day from the time the dew was sparkling over the meadow in the morning, till it fell again at night. Then she would drive the cow gently home, with her green willow stick, milk her, and feed her, and put her into her stable, herself, for the night.
The farmer was feeble and old, so his daughter had to do all this. The gold-horned cow’s stable was a sort of a “lean-to,” built into the side of the cottage where Drusilla and her father lived. Its roof, as well as that of the cottage, was thatched and overgrown with moss, out of which had grown, in its turn, a little starry white flower, until the whole roof looked like a flower-bed. There were roses climbing over the walls of the cottage and stable, also, pink and white ones.
Drusilla used to keep the gold-horned cow’s stable in exquisite order. Her trough to eat out of, was polished as clean as a lady’s china tea-cup. She always had fresh straw, and her beautiful long tail was tied by a blue ribbon to a ring in the ceiling, in order to keep it nice.
The gold-horned cow’s milk was better than any other’s, as one would reasonably suppose it to have been. The cream used to be at least an inch thick, and so yellow; and the milk itself had a peculiar and exquisite flavor—perhaps the best way to describe it, is to say it tasted as lilies smell. The gentry all about were eager to buy it, and willing to pay a good price for it. Drusilla used to go around to supply her customers, nights and mornings, a bright, shining milk-pail[Page 29] in each hand, and one on her head. She had learned to carry herself so steadily in consequence that she walked like a queen.
Everybody admired Drusilla, and all the young shepherds and farmers made love to her, but she did not seem to care for any of them, but to prefer tending her gold-horned cow, and devoting herself to her old father—she was a very dutiful daughter.
Everything went prosperously with them for a long time; the cow thrived, and gave a great deal of milk, customers were plenty, they paid the rent for their cottage regularly, and Drusilla who was a beautiful spinner, had her linen chest filled to the brim with the finest linen.
At length, however, a great misfortune befell them. One morning—it was the day after a holiday—Drusilla, who had been up very late the night before dancing on the village green, felt very sleepy, as she sat watching the cow in the green meadow. So she just laid her flaxen head down amongst the blue-eyed grasses, and soon fell fast asleep.
When she woke up, the dew was all dried off, and the sun almost directly overhead. She rubbed her eyes, and looked about for the gold-horned cow. To her great alarm, she was nowhere to be seen. She jumped up, distractedly, and ran over the meadow, but the gold-horned cow was certainly not there. The bars were up, just as she had left them, and there was not[Page 30] a gap in the stonewall which extended around the meadow. How could she have gotten out? It was very mysterious!
Drusilla, when she found, certainly, that the gold-horned cow was gone, lost no time in wonderment and conjecture; she started forth to find her. “I will not tell father till I have searched a long time,” said she to herself.
So, down the road she went, looking anxiously on either side. “If only I could come in sight of her, browsing in the clover, beside the wall,” sighed she; but she did not.
After a while, she saw a great cloud of dust in the distance. It rolled nearer and nearer, and finally she saw the King on horseback, with a large party of nobles galloping after him. The King, who was quite an old man, had a very long, curling, white beard, and had his breast completely covered with orders and decorations. No convenient board fence on a circus day was ever more thoroughly covered with elephants and horses, and trapeze performers, than the breast of the King’s black velvet coat with jeweled stars and ribbons. But even then, there was not room for all his store, so he had hit upon the ingenious expedient of covering a black silk umbrella with the remainder. He held it in a stately manner over his head now, and it presented a dazzling sight; for it was literally blazing with gems, and glittering ribbons fluttered from it [Page 31] on all sides.
When the King saw Drusilla courtesying by the side of the road, he drew rein so suddenly, that his horse reared back on its haunches, and all his nobles, who always made it a point to do exactly as the King did—it was court etiquette—also drew rein suddenly, and all their horses reared back on their haunches.
“What will you, pretty maiden?” asked the King graciously.
“Please, your Majesty,” said Drusilla courtesying and blushing and looking prettier than ever, “have you seen my gold-horned cow?”
“Pardy,” said the King, for that was the proper thing for a King to say, you know, “I never saw a gold-horned cow in my life!”
Then Drusilla told him about her loss, and the King gazed at her while she was talking, and admired her more and more.
You must know that it had always been a great cross to the King and his wife, the Queen, that they had never had any daughter. They had often thought of adopting one, but had never seen any one who exactly suited them. They wanted a full-grown Princess, because they had an alliance with the Prince of Egypt in view.
The King looked at Drusilla now, and thought her the most beautiful and stately maiden he had ever seen.
“What an appropriate Princess she would make!”[Page 32] thought he.
“Suppose I should find the gold-horned cow for you,” said he to Drusilla, when she had finished her pitiful story, “would you consent to be adopted by the Queen and myself, and be a princess?”
Drusilla hesitated a moment. She thought of her dear old father and how desolate he would be without her. But then she thought how terribly distressed he would be at the loss of the gold-horned cow, and that if he had her back, she would be company for him, even if his daughter was away, and she finally gave her consent.
The King always had his Lord Chamberlain lead a white palfrey, with rich housings, by the bridle, in case they came across a suitable full-grown Princess in any of their journeys; and now he ordered him to be brought forward, and commanded a page to assist Drusilla to the saddle.
But she began to weep. “I want to go back to my father, until you have found the cow, your Majesty,” said she.
“You may go and bid your father good-by,” replied the King, peremptorily, “but then you must go immediately to the boarding school, where all the young ladies of the Court are educated. If you are going to be a Princess, it is high time you began to prepare. You will have to learn feather stitching, and rick-rack and Kensington stitch, and tatting, and point lace, and[Page 33] Japanese patchwork, and painting on china, and how to play variations on the piano, and—everything a Princess ought to know.”
“But,” said Drusilla timidly, “suppose—your Majesty shouldn’t—find the cow”—
“Oh! I shall find the cow fast enough,” replied the King carelessly. “Why, I shall have the whole Kingdom searched. I can’t fail to find her.” So the page assisted the milkmaid to the saddle, kneeling gracefully, and presenting his hand for her to place her foot in, and they galloped off toward the farmer’s cottage.
The old man was greatly astonished to see his daughter come riding home in such splendid company, and when she explained matters to him, his distress, at first, knew no bounds. To lose both his dear daughter and his precious gold-horned cow, at one blow, seemed too much to bear. But the King promised to provide liberally for him during his daughter’s absence, and spoke very confidently of his being able to find the cow. He also promised that Drusilla should return to him if the cow was not found in one year’s time, and after a while the old man was pacified.
Drusilla put her arms around her father’s neck and kissed him tenderly; then the page assisted her gracefully into the saddle, and she rode, sobbing, away.
After they had ridden about an hour, they came to a large, white building.
“O dear!” said the King, “the seminary is asleep![Page 34] I was afraid of it!”
Then Drusilla saw that the building was like a great solid mass, with not a door or window visible.
“It is asleep,” explained the King. “It is not a common house; a great professor designed it. It goes to sleep, and you can’t see any doors or windows, and such work as it is to wake it up! But we may as well begin.”
Then he gave a signal, and all the nobles shouted as loud as they possibly could, but the seminary still remained asleep.
“It’s asleep most of the time!” growled the King. “They don’t want the young ladies disturbed at their feather stitching and rick-rack, by anything going on outside. I wish I could shake it.”
Then he gave the signal again, and all the nobles shouted together, as loud as they could possibly scream. Suddenly, doors and windows appeared all over the seminary, like so many opening eyes.
“There,” cried the King, “the seminary has woke up, and I am glad of it!”
Then he ushered Drusilla in, and introduced her to the lady principal and the young ladies, and she was at once set to making daisies in Kensington stitch, for the King was very anxious for her education to begin at once.
So now, the milkmaid, instead of sitting, singing, in a green meadow, watching her beautiful gold-horned[Page 35] cow, had to sit all day in a high-backed chair, her feet on a little foot-stool with an embroidered pussy cat on it, and do fancy work. The young ladies worked by electric light; for the seminary was asleep nearly all the time, and no sunlight could get in at the windows, for boards clapped down over them like so many eye-lids when the seminary began to doze.
Drusilla had left off her pretty blue petticoat and white short gown now, and was dressed in gold-flowered satin, with an immense train, which two pages bore for her when she walked. Her pretty hair was combed high and powdered, and she wore a comb of gold and pearls in it. She looked very lovely, but she also looked very sad. She could not help thinking, even in the midst of all this splendor, of her dear father, and her own home, and wishing to see them.
She was a very apt pupil. Her tatting collars were the admiration of the whole seminary, and she made herself a whole dress of rick-rack. She painted a charming umbrella stand for the King, and actually worked the gold-horned cow in Kensington stitch, on a blue satin tidy, for the Queen. It was so natural that she wept over it, herself, when it was finished; but the Queen was delighted, and put it on her best stuffed rocking-chair in her parlor, and would run and throw it back every time the King sat down there, for fear he would lean his head against it and soil it.
Drusilla also worked an elegant banner of old gold[Page 36] satin, with hollyhocks, for the King to carry at the head of his troops when he went to battle; also a hat-band for the Prince of Egypt. This last was sent by a special courier with a large escort, and the Prince sent an exquisite shopping-bag of real alligator’s skin to Drusilla in return. She was the envy of the whole seminary when it came.
The young ladies fared very delicately. Their one article of diet was peaches and cream. It was thought to improve their complexions. Once in a while, they went out to drive by moonlight; they were afraid of sunburn by day, and they wore white gauze veils, even in the moonlight, and they all had embroidered afghans of their own handiwork.
They used to sit around a large table over which hung a chandelier of the electric light, to work, and some young lady either played “Home, sweet Home, and variations,” or else “The Maiden’s Prayer,” on the piano for their entertainment.
It seemed as if Drusilla ought to have been happy in a place like this; but although she was diligent and dutiful, she grieved all the time for her father.
Meantime, the King was keeping up an energetic search for the gold-horned cow. Every stable and pasture in the Kingdom was searched, spies were posted everywhere, but the King could not find her. She had disappeared as completely as if she had vanished altogether from the face of the earth. It at last [Page 37] began to be whispered about that there never had been any gold-horned cow, but that the whole had been a clever trick of Drusilla’s, that she might become a Princess. An envious schoolmate, who had been very desirous of becoming Princess and marrying the Prince of Egypt herself, started the report; and it soon spread over the whole Kingdom. The King heard it and began to believe it; for he could not see why he failed to find the cow. It always exasperated the King dreadfully to fail in anything, and he never allowed that it was his own fault, if he could possibly help it.
At last the end of the year came, and still no signs of the gold-horned cow. Then the King became convinced that Drusilla had cheated him, that there never had been any such wonderful cow, and that she had used this trick in order to become a Princess. Of course, the King felt more comfortable to believe this, for it accounted satisfactorily for his own failure to find her, and it is extremely mortifying for a King to be unable to do anything he sets out to.
So Drusilla was dismissed from the seminary in disgrace, and sent home. Her jewels and fine clothes were all taken away from her, even her rick-rack dress, and she put on her blue petticoat and short gown, and straw flat again. Still, she was so happy at the prospect of seeing her dear old father again, that she did not mind the loss of all her fine things much. She[Page 38] did not ride the white palfrey now, but went home on foot, in the dewy morning, as fast as she could trip.
When she came in sight of the cottage, there was her father sitting in his old place at the window. When he saw his beloved daughter coming, he ran out to meet her as fast as he could hobble, and they tenderly embraced each other.
The King had provided liberally for the old man while Drusilla was in the seminary, but now that he was so angry at her alleged deception, his support would probably cease, and, since the gold-horned cow was lost, it was a question how they would live. The father and daughter sat talking it over after they had entered the cottage. It was a puzzling question, and Drusilla was weeping a little, when her father gave a joyful cry:
“Look, look, Drusilla!”
Drusilla looked up quickly, and there was the milk-white face and golden horns of the cow peering through the vines in the window. She was eating some of the pink and white roses.
Drusilla and her father hastened out with joyful exclamations, and there was the cow, sure enough. A couple of huge wicker baskets were slung across her broad back, and one was filled to the brim with gold coins, and the other with jewels, diamonds, pearls and rubies.
When Drusilla and her father saw them, they both[Page 39] threw their arms around the gold-horned cow’s neck, and cried for joy. She turned her head and gazed at them a moment with her calm, gentle eyes; then she went on eating roses.
When the King heard of all this, he came with the Queen in a golden coach, to see Drusilla and her father. “I am convinced now of your truthfulness,” he said majestically, when the Court Jeweler had examined the cow’s horns to see if they were true gold, and not merely gilded, and he had seen with his own eyes the two baskets full of coins and jewels. “And, if you would like to be Princess, you can be, and also marry the Prince of Egypt.”
But Drusilla threw her arms around her father’s neck. “No; your Majesty,” she said timidly, “I had rather stay with my father, if you please, than be a Princess, and I rather live here and tend my dear cow, than marry the Prince of Egypt.”
The King sighed, and so did the Queen; they knew they never should find another such beautiful Princess. But, then, the King had not kept his part of the contract and found the gold-horned cow, and he could not compel her to be a Princess without breaking the royal word.
So the cow was again led out to pasture in the little meadow of blue-eyed grasses, and Drusilla, though she was very rich now, used to find no greater happiness than to sit on the banks of the silvery pool where the[Page 40] yellow lilies grew, and watch her.
They had their poor little cottage torn down and a grand castle built instead: but the roof of that was thatched and over-grown with moss, and pink and white roses clustered thickly around the walls. It was just as much like their old home as a castle can be like a cottage. The gold-horned cow had, also, a magnificent new stable. Her eating-trough was the finest moss rose-bud china, she had dried rose leaves instead of hay to eat, and there were real lace curtains at all the stable windows, and a lace portière over her stall.
The King and Queen used to visit Drusilla often; they gave her back her rick-rack dress, and grew very fond of her, though she would not be a Princess. Finally, however, they prevailed upon her to be made a countess. So she was called “Lady Drusilla,” and she had a coat of arms, with the gold-horned cow rampant on it, put up over the great gate of the castle.