Mathilde lived opposite the rear of our Moulin just over the other side of the river. The problem was that she preferred our place to her own and took it upon herself to visit-often! It’s not that we are anti social. When you make the move to another country with different ways and customs it is natural to try to embrace all that the new country offers you. So, we did try-we really did! But, there comes a time when, as much as we wanted to fit in, some things can get a little too much and you find it necessary to make a stand. So it was with Mathilde. The island at the back of the Moulin is shaped like a horseshoe as the river has slowly contoured it over hundreds of years and ‘Horseshoe Island’, as we call it, was where we first saw Mathilde. She was on her own, quiet, not causing a problem. She had found her way across the river and was taking a close interest in the willow trees and landscape. It was a bit of a novelty at first. She did not take any notice of us; she just seemed to love being there, which we can understand because we do as well, it is a lovely private and peaceful place overlooking countryside. She seemed to have taken possession of the island. It was as if we were the visitors and it was her home not ours.

Live and let live?

Communication was difficult so we just, sort of, let her get on with it. In retrospect it was the wrong decision but we began to feel quite attached to her in an odd kind of way and looked out for her visits. Anxious to avoid her feeling that she was not wanted but without deliberately encouraging the visits, her presence increased in regularity and we started to feel rather uncomfortable. By allowing it to happen we had created a situation that, coming from a previous suburban existence, we were just not equipped to deal with. Rebus, our dog, used to bark at her. She just ignored him; he soon gave that up and returned to his slumbers.  Sometimes she would disappear for weeks at a time, often to our relief. But, as sure as eggs are eggs, she would return, almost every day on some weeks. Nobody else from over the river bothered us in this way or, any those beside us for that matter. Only Mathilde.  

Orders from above

It had been going on for a few months when Susan suggested I do something about it. She did not say what I should do but gave a strong indication that doing nothing was not an option. I pondered on it for a few days, or maybe it was a few weeks, but a growing awareness of Susan’s rather stern looks at me together with some ‘tut tuts’ thrown in for good measure, convinced me that the time had come to galvanise myself into action and solve the Mathilde ‘Problem’ for once and for all.

Plan of Action

The last thing I wanted to do was to be unpleasant about it. I decided that maybe the best way to approach the problem was to make it very clear to Mathilde that this was our home and that she should seriously think about staying in her own home over the river. How could I achieve this without causing bad feeling was the question?  Actions speak louder than words I thought!  So, I decided to walk around Horseshoe island with my walking stick, (well, you never know do you? Mathilde was quite a big girl), all this without speaking, totally ignoring Mathilde but making it clear, by my manner and demeanour, that I was the owner of this land and I did not take kindly to trespassers. This certainly got me Mathildes attention. She stopped, turned and faced me. She looked me straight in the eyes. I didn’t waiver but, for some inexplicable reason, my legs felt like jelly. ‘Come on you Wuz’, I said to myself. Ah, time for a quick change of plan. Forget the strong silent approach-speak to her! But my mouth had gone dry, the tongue would not move and courage had deserted me. Okay, revert to plan B-except I did not have a plan B. I decided to speak to her tomorrow. Mathilde saved me the bother. She snorted, turned away and totally ignored me, then just carried on as before!  

The look says it all!

Susan had been looking through the window. The look said it all!  ‘Well’, she said, ‘was that it?’  It worked I told her. I think I am now getting through to her and she understands that she should not keep coming here. If she comes again tomorrow I will have to be more forceful with her.

Time to get tough!

Tomorrow came; Mathilde was there even earlier than usual. Susan’s eyes were upon me, there was no backing out now. I took a deep breath, or two, put on my big boots, hat and coat and picked up my walking stick and went to face my destiny. Mathilde will see who the boss is now!  I stomped as loudly as possible on the grass and stood a short distance away from Mathilde. In my deepest voice I called out, ‘Mathilde’. No reaction at all. I said it again, louder, ‘Mathilde’, mainly because by then I had forgotten what I intended to say to her next. It came back to me when I saw Susan was looking at me through the window. ‘Mathilde’, I said for the third time, in my deepest, most authorative voice, ‘It’s got to stop, you cannot keep coming here. Your home is over there.’ I raised my walking stick to show her. Mathilde took a step toward me; I was paralysed, my stick still waving in the air. Suddenly Mathilde turned, simply walked through the river up the other bank and without looking back strode away.  I started to walk forward, as if to follow. But then she suddenly turned around to stop and stare at me. We exchanged unblinking stares. Suddenly I was distracted by the sound of applause.  It was Susan at the window. ‘Well done’, she shouted and clapped, ‘you’ve done it’. I felt very pleased with myself although a little confused and totally amazed my plan had worked. ‘Yes,’ I said in my most manly voice,’ that’s sorted her out.’ ‘She has got the message now.’ This proved somewhat presumptuous.

If at first you don’t succeed

Next day I looked out of the window. My heart sunk; there was Mathilde, as usual! I got angry, grabbed my walking stick and went out to have a serious word with her oblivious to the language difficulties!  She carefully watched me approach but did nothing. I raised my stick and shouted to her in anger. She turned away and went quickly towards the river. I followed her but then she stopped and faced me again. I raised my stick at her again and shouted at her once more. She started to run, but not across the river, she suddenly swerved around the edge of the island. I strode after her shouting and waving my stick but she increased speed and was moving quickly now. I had generated a head of steam but it was clear, despite her size that Mathilde was running faster than me. As we pounded the loop of the island I realised that she was running behind me instead of me chasing her! Things had taken a turn for the worst! Mathilde was a big lump, probably well over a tonne. She had horns bigger than those on Desperate Dan’s Pie and they were very sharp and pointed at the ends. It was not entirely certain who was chasing whom but I was running for dear life. I briefly considered jumping into the river and going over to Mathildes side to get away but, the activity had now gained us an audience of all the other cows lined up on the opposite bank, watching us running in circles after each other.  I decided that it was not a good idea.

Who let the Dogs out?

They say that a dog is man’s best friend and so it was that day. Rebus, seeing his beloved master being chased by a massive, angry, frightened and enormous cow bounded over the bridge and around the corner barking like crazy with all paws flying and commenced running in parallel with Mathilde’s giant hoofs, snapping at her legs oblivious of the danger to him. Mathilde changed direction and took a flying jump into the river throwing up a massive spray of water and mud before running up the steep bank to join her friends on the other side.

With us in spirit

We did not see much of Mathilde after that. Occasionally she would break away from the herd and stand stubbornly and rather sadly staring at us from the other bank. In between time I had remonstrated with her farmer owner and he had erected a strong fence on his river bank. That ended Mathildes visits. A few months later she, and her friends, disappeared altogether, we believe, following a visit to the great butchers shop in the sky. We do miss seeing her and even her visits but, somehow she ensured that her legacy lives on. A year later we woke up to find the entire herd of new ‘Mathildes’ in the garden! Rock on Mathilde. Who said cows are dumb?

Cows in France