A PIOUS COLLOQUY BETWEEN A LIVE OX AND AN OX IN A TEA-CUP
Live Ox (sniffing sadly at the Tea-cup): Alas? my poor brother.
The Ox in the Tea-cup: “Poor brother,” indeed! Why are you whimpering over me like that?
Live Ox: Because the worst has befallen you, brother. You are dead and bottled, are you not?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Listen, brother, and I will tell you something for your comfort. The best, not worst, has befallen me. My present condition leaves nothing to be desired.
Live Ox: What! Do you not desire the grass, and the running water, and the green shade?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: No, my brother. I have now nothing to do with such material things. I have been purged by the great sacrifice. I am no longer a body, brother, but a spirit. I am clarified, etherealised, translated.
Live Ox: You puzzle me, brother. What are you then? What am I to tell our brethren when they ask about you?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Tell them that I am an essence, a flavour, an extraction, a nutrient of absolute purity. I am no more a palpable Live Ox, needing daily food and drink, but a quintessence of Ox—I am myself food and drink—I am condensed vitality, I am culinary triumph—oh joy, I am Beef Tea!
Live Ox: But you have shrunk to such small proportions, brother. Are you sure (if I may ask the question) that you are “all there?”
The Ox in the Tea-cup: All: except the mere carnal parts of me—flesh, bone, skin, horns, hoofs, and the like. Of them I have no longer any thought. Is it not glorious, brother, to be thus emancipated?
Live Ox: H’m. I’m glad you’re satisfied, brother; but it sounds to me a little cheerless and uncomfortable. I think I’d rather be a live Ox in the paddock than an essence in the tea-cup.
The Ox in the Tea-cup: That is your gross earthly materialism, brother; you will know better anon. For, bethink you, it is even now Christmastide, when the Blue Man is busiest at his work.
Live Ox: Ah, horrible! Tell me of this “translation,” as you call it, brother. I feel a little nervous about it. Does it hurt?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Hurt! That is your poor mortal way of expressing it. Lift your soul up, brother, and think of what is beyond.
Live Ox: Oh, of course: but I remember that you did bellow rather loudly when the Blue Man took you away.
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Yes, because I was then ignorant as you are, brother; but now I know and can teach you. All is for the best. The Blue Man does but guide us to the gate of the fuller knowledge.
Live Ox: But how does he guide us, brother?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: That is one of the mysteries. Now tell me; for what purpose, think you, is your tail?
Live Ox: To brush the flies off, I suppose.
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Ah! No brother. Your tail is the heaven-ordained handle by which the Blue Man shall guide you to the sacrifice.
Live Ox: What! He’ll twist it, d’you mean? How horrible! Oh, the brutal cruelty of carnivorous man!
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Hush your blasphemous talk, brother! I tell you, it is carnivorous man who is our best friend. He loves us. It is for our sake that he does what he does.
Live Ox: For our sake he kills and eats us? Come now, brother, whatever you are—nutrient or not nutrient—I can’t swallow that!
The Ox in the Tea-cup: For our sake, I repeat. Now listen! To what end do we come into being, save to be fattened and eaten? And if we were not bred for the table, how should we live at all? No Blue Man—no Life. Therefore Blue Man is our best friend and helper. Is not that true bovine reasoning, brother?
Live Ox: It is, brother. I begin to understand at last. A light breaks in on me, and I realise the blessedness of our lot. How noble, how disinterested is He that called us into being! But tell me, why does the Blue Man fetch so many of us at Christmastide?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Because Christmas is the season of Peace and Good-will, brother; the time when every Christian would do kindness to his neighbour. Therefore the Blue Man spares himself not, but works double hours that we may be promoted to the fuller knowledge, and that other, and yet other, Oxen may succeed.
Live Ox: And what of yourself, brother? What share will you have in the celebration of this blissful time?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: A great share, brother. For know that, being an essence, I am now easily assimilable, and it may be that at this happy season some godly man shall imbibe me, and so shall I play a part with my stimulating properties in the very Pulpit itself.
Live Ox: But if you are imbibed, brother, what shall become of your own personality that you so cherish?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: In him that imbibes me, brother, I shall live, and speak, and have my being. For mark you, this assimilation is not wholly one side—the bovine thus translated into the human doth not wholly disappear—but in him, too, there will henceforth be a bovine element wherein our spirit shall live enshrined.
Live Ox: A bovine element, brother? Here is comfort indeed! Can it be, then, that we oxen find our own immortality in the great, good, respectable, stock-jobbling, religious, imperialistic JOHN BULL?
The Ox in the Tea-cup: Even so, brother. Bovine thought, bovine gesture, bovine utterance, bovine argument—look around, and you will see and hear them (most of all at this festive season) wherever John Bull says his say. For even as Bovril is the essence of his being, so is Bos Locutus the substance of his speech. But now adieu, brother, for I see the Cook approaching to prepare me for the supreme rite.
Live Ox (beaming happily at the Tea-cup): All hail, my happy brother! All hail!
H. S. S.
The Vegetarian, December 23, 1899