(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The rather pastoral title of this story suggests that it might deal with animals and nature, two subjects common to Liam O’Flaherty’s writing. As the reader quickly discovers, however, the “two lovely beasts” are of only minor importance, for the true concerns of this story revolve around their human masters.

The story opens with the misfortunes of Kate Higgins, a widow whose cow has calved and then died. She brings her tale of woe to the kitchen of the Derranes, a neighboring family whose own cow has just given birth to a calf. Kate, in wild hysterics, begs Colm Derrane to buy her calf, so that she might purchase another cow. “I must have a cow for the children,” she tells Colm. “The doctor said they must have plenty of milk. . . . They are ailing, the poor creatures.”

Because “traditional law” allows only one cow for each family, Colm refuses her at once. Grazing land is scarce—there is only enough grass on each household plot to support one cow. By the same token, the milk is shared with those in the community who have been struck by misfortune—people such as Kate Higgins. As Mrs. Derrane, Colm’s wife, tells Kate, “We couldn’t leave neighbours without milk in order to fill a calf’s belly.”

Eventually, Colm agrees to allow his cow to feed her calf until she can find a buyer. She rejoices at this news, but soon she begins to tempt him again with the idea of owning two calves. “You’ll be the richest man in the village,” she whispers into his ear. “You’ll be talked about and envied from one end of the parish to the other.” Colm refuses her again, but with far less conviction than before.

The seed of temptation has been planted, and it comes into full blossom the following morning when Kate comes to him with the news that she can find no buyer. “Unless you buy him,” she tells Colm, “I’ll have to give him to the butcher at Kilmacalla.” He refuses her one last time but is unable to sleep at night because of the idea of...

(The entire section is 826 words.)