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FriedrichVoltzOx

Portrait of an Ox by Friedrich Voltz (1817-1886)

"The Stalled Ox" is a humorous short story by the British author Hector Hugh Munro who wrote under the pseudonym of Saki. The story first appeared in the Morning Post newspaper. It was later collected in the 1914 anthology Beasts and Super-Beasts.

In the story, a painter who specializes in pastoral landscapes with grazing cows is asked by a neighbor to drive a stray ox out of her garden. Unfortunately, his reluctant attempts only result in causing the ox to move from the garden into her house. Having received enough verbal abuse from the ungrateful neighbor for all his trouble, the painter finally decides to take charge of the situation.

Plot

Theophil Eshley is a painter. He lives in a villa next to a small picturesque meadow where a neighbor pastures some cows. Ever since his painting of drowsing cows, Noontide Peace, was accepted and exhibited by the Royal Academy, Eshley has been known as a "cattle painter." His attempts at other subjects such as birds and wolves have met with scorn by the traditionalist Academy.

One autumn afternoon, Eshley is interrupted in his studio by one of his neighbors, Adela Pingsford. Adela announces agitatedly that an ox has strayed into her garden. Remembering that Eshley is a cattle painter, she has come to him for help. Eshley tells her that he paints dairy cows but has no experience with stray oxen. Nevertheless, Adela impatiently leads him to her garden.

They find the huge ox eating Adela's chrysanthemums. Eshley tries to shoo it away, but he is completely ignored by the beast. Adela sarcastically compliments Eshley on the effort and icily points out that the ox is now chewing on her Mademoiselle Louise Bichot chrysanthemums. Eshley calmly clarifies that it is an Ayrshire ox eating her Mademoiselle Louise Bichot. Adela's stormy response prompts Eshley to back away from her and towards the less threatening ox. Eshley then tries throwing sticks at the ox, and the animal finally starts to move.

Unfortunately, rather than go back towards the gate, the ox decides to go through the open French window into the morning room. It then begins to eat the chrysanthemums and autumn leaves arranged in vases around the room. Adela complains to Eshley that she did not ask him to drive the ox into her house. Eshley reminds her that he told her at the beginning that he has no experience in cattle drives. Adela insults the painter on his limited abilities then remarks, "Perhaps you’d like to do a nice sketch of that ox making itself at home in my morning-room?"

Eshley walks out and returns a few minutes later with his easel and painting supplies. Overriding Adela's furious objections, Eshley begins to paint. When the ox finishes eating the flowers and the cover of a book, Eshley throws some leaves to encourage it to stay longer. Adela departs in a rage to find a telephone to call the police. The ox soon decides to leave on its own, and Eshley packs up his tools and goes home.

Ox in a Morning-room, Late Autumn becomes an international sensation, and Eshley's career takes off. Two years later, the Royal Academy proudly displays his Barbary Apes Wrecking a Boudoir. Although Eshley has replaced Adela's book and flowers, the neighbors have not yet reconciled.

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