Big Bad Mavis
The best thing about Ben’s birthday was that he turned Old Enough.
For such a long time he had wanted to go with big sister, Matilda, to stay on the farm. But all he ever heard was “You’re not quite Old Enough.”
The farm belonged to Gran’s friends, Madge and Joe. Sometimes Gran took Ben to visit them for a day. When Matilda went, she stayed for a week. It wasn’t fair.
But one more birthday and whoo-hoo! Ben was Old Enough for his first holiday on the farm.
He was even Old Enough to pack his own suitcase. Mum only had to put in a few small things, like Ben’s toothbrush and his pyjamas.
“Are you sure he’s old enough?” sighed Matilda.
Wouldn’t Ben just show her!
On his first morning at the farm, Ben woke up at half-past five. A rooster named Reggie was shouting “Oootle, rootle, roo!” in the yard outside.
Ben opened his window and looked out. He saw Rascal, the farm dog, creep out of his kennel. Rascal gave a big stretch and trotted off. Ben thought he’d probably gone to count the sheep.
Then the back door slammed and Matilda came into the yard.
“Come on, Ben!” she called. “You’ll miss the milking.”
Five minutes later Ben hurried out, just as Joe was driving the cows over to the milking shed.
Dolly was the house cow. She gave half of her milk to the farm and half to Ollie, her calf. Ollie had been shut in a small paddock so that he didn’t drink all the milk. He was bellowing loudly, as if to say, “Mum! Where are you going with the milk?”
Dolly was mooing back, “Don’t worry, dear. You can have some later!”
Jostling and pushing behind came Mavis. She was an older cow and she didn’t get milked any more. But she came to the milking anyway, because she had to know everything that was going on.
Ben liked Dolly and Ollie, but he didn’t like Mavis. She was bigger and bossier than Dolly and her horns were longer. He’d only ever looked at her over a paddock fence before. Now, with no fence between them, he felt very nervous.
When she saw Ben, Mavis stopped and stared at him. Then she came trotting straight towards him.
Ben turned and ran. He heard Mavis’s hooves clattering behind him. Ben ran faster, but Mavis ran faster, too. Into the shed, Ben raced and with all his strength he closed the heavy door.
But then the door started to open again. There was nowhere to hide. Ben watched in horror, waiting for Mavis push her way in.
But it was Joe who appeared in the doorway.
“You’re all right, lad,” he said.
Matilda was laughing. “Watch out for Big Bad Mavis!” she cried.
“Don’t you worry about Mavis,” said Joe. “She’s just curious, that’s all.”
But Ben did worry about Mavis. He felt sure she was waiting for her chance to charge him again.
He kept well away while Joe and Matilda drove the cows into the shed. He peered in at the doorway, ready to run if Mavis as much as looked at him.
Joe put a rope halter on each of the cows and tethered them up with some hay to munch on. Then he sat on a stool and began to milk Dolly.
Ben watched as Joe squeezed the milk from Dolly’s teats and squirted it into a metal bucket. One day he would have a try at that himself.
But as soon as the milking was over and Joe went to untether the cows, Ben ran back to the farmhouse. It seemed a much safer place to be.
He found Madge watering her garden. It was a beautiful garden, with bright flowerbeds, green lawns, a hedge and a little wooden gate. This was Madge’s special place and she loved it very much.
Ben told Madge how Mavis had chased him.
“Oh, I don’t think she was really chasing you,” smiled Madge. “She just wants to say hello.”
Ben didn’t believe that. With a name like Big Bad Mavis, that cow had to be dangerous!
“Why don’t we go and feed the hens and collect the eggs?” said Madge.
Madge had six hens and, thankfully, none of them was named Big Bad anything.
When Ben carried the bucket of chicken feed, it banged against his legs. But he carried it anyway.
“That really is a big help,” said Madge.
After the hens had been let out to feed and have a scratch around, Ben looked in the nesting boxes for eggs. He loved the warm smoothness of them as he lifted them out of the hay and put them into Madge’s basket.
By that time everyone was hungry. Scrambled eggs on toast, with butter made from Dolly’s milk, was the best breakfast ever. At least, so Joe said. Madge said her favourite breakfast was mushrooms on toast.
After breakfast, Joe said, “Matilda, why don’t you take Ben for a walk?”
“All right,” said Matilda, “But stay by me, Ben, and do as you’re told.”
“We could get some mushrooms for Madge,” said Ben.
“Just as long as you know what a mushroom looks like,” warned Matilda. “I’ll be checking to make sure they’re not toadstools.”
So Joe gave them a basket and off they went along the lane.
Ben and Matilda had plenty of time. They stopped to pat the donkeys, Bonnie and Jake. They stopped to watch Poppy the pig feeding her squealing, squirming piglets.
Then Matilda opened the gate to a paddock. “I saw heaps of mushrooms in here last year,” she said.
They went into the paddock and started searching the grass for round white blobs. Soon they had five mushrooms, big as saucers, in their basket.
Then Ben saw something that wasn’t a white blob, but a brown splat. It was a cow poo splat. He was in the cow paddock!
Ben hardly dared to look around. Slowly he turned his head – and there they were!
From the shade of a tree, Dollie and Ollie were quietly gazing at him. Behind them loomed Big Bad Mavis.
With a loud bellow, she galloped out from under the tree.
Ben dropped the basket and ran. For the second time that day Mavis was chasing him. This time she would catch him for sure!
He ran and ran and until he was safely on the other side of the gate. By that time he was out of breath and almost crying. Ben didn’t want to be on the farm any more, he wanted to go home. Maybe he wasn’t Old Enough after all.
Fearfully he peered through the gate. Matilda was standing in front of Mavis. She spread her arms and yelled at the cow. For a moment, it looked as though Mavis was going to keep coming and just knock Matilda flying if she had to. But then the great black beast stopped and stared. Matilda waved her arms even more wildly and yelled, “Yaaah!!” Ben was almost too frightened to watch, but as he peered through squinty eyes, Mavis turned and jogged back under the tree. She kept on staring at Matilda, but she stayed right where she was.
Oh, how Ben wished he could be as brave as his sister. Even Big Bad Mavis did as Matilda told her.
He watched as Matilda picked up the basket and the scattered mushrooms. Then she calmly walked across the paddock.
“You are such a baby, Ben,” she said as she came through the gate. “There’s no need to be scared of Mavis.”
Ben didn’t say anything. Nobody seemed to understand that, for him, Mavis was something to be scared about!
When they got back to the farmhouse, Madge was very pleased with the mushrooms.
“We’ll have them for breakfast tomorrow,” she said.
“I’m taking the truck into town to get some fencing wire,” said Joe.
“Can I come?” asked Ben.
“Tomorrow you can,” said Joe. “There’s only room for two in the truck. Matilda’s turn today.”
Ben wondered why he couldn’t have his turn first. Even Rascal was going to town on the back of the truck. It wasn’t fair.
But then Madge said, “I’m just going to bake some chocolate chip muffins, Ben. You’ll be the first to try one when they are done!”
Ben went and sat at the bottom of the garden. He didn’t really know what to do with himself. But he tried very hard not to think about Big Bad Mavis. He was worried that he might have a bad dream about her tonight.
It was nice and peaceful in the garden. Ben watched a butterfly settle on a pink rose. He bent over the rose to take a closer look, but that made the butterfly flutter away.
Then, suddenly, he heard a clop-clop of hooves on the other side of the hedge. A black, hairy head with huge horns poked over the garden gate and went “Mwoo-Aaah!”
Big Bad Mavis had escaped! She was still looking for Ben, and she’d found him!
“Madge! Madge!” called Ben. But Madge was in the kitchen and couldn’t hear.
Ben heard more stomping and mooing. Dolly and Ollie had escaped, too, and they had followed Mavis down the lane. Now all three of the cows were right outside the gate.
Mavis pushed against the gate and it burst open. At any moment, the cows would be trampling all over Madge’s garden. They would absolutely ruin it!
Ben had never been more terrified in his life. But he had to do something.
He stood in front of the gate and spread his arms like he’d seen Matilda do.
“Y..you are n..not coming in here!” he shakily cried.
The cows stopped and stared and shuffled their hooves. Ben could hardly believe it, but they were backing off. They were doing as they were told!
“Go on!” he yelled boldly. Dolly and Ollie backed away further. But, oh horror, Mavis had been tricking him. Suddenly she began to move in.
As she lumbered towards Ben, his legs went so wobbly that he fell over backwards. This time there was no escape. Any moment now he would be stomped on or chewed up.
Mavis loomed over him, so close that he could feel her warm, grassy breath on his face. She sniffed at him noisily and he found himself looking into her eyes.
Mavis didn’t look angry or fierce. She just looked curious … perhaps even quite friendly. The huge cow nuzzled him with her nose and then she turned and ambled back to the others.
Ben slowly got to his feet as Madge came running down the path.
“Good boy!” she said. “Someone obviously didn’t fasten the cow paddock gate properly. Can you help me drive them back in?”
Ben help drive the cows? All of a sudden he felt sure that he could.
Madge walked in front of the cows, ready to stop them from wandering off the road or stopping to eat the leaves from the hedgerows.
Ben’s job was to walk at the back and keep them moving forward. “Go on! Go on!” he called, just like Joe did.
Big Bad Mavis looked back over her shoulder at Ben. “Go on!” he yelled again. And she did!
Together Ben and Madge got the cows back to their paddock and Madge closed the gate firmly.
Later, when Joe was told how Ben had saved Madge’s garden, he said, “Well done lad!”
Matilda gave Ben a hug. “That was so brave,” she whispered.
Ben smiled happily. Sometimes his sister could be very nice. He knew she’d never mention how scared he’d been of Mavis.
And he would never mention that it could have been Matilda who hadn’t fastened the paddock gate.