1. Laughing Boy’s revelation
When Bright Eyes broke her leg and was shot by the owner, Laughing Boy began to question why such things should be.
He hated that name – Laughing Boy – but he was stuck with it, because the owners could never have pronounced a horse’s true name, even supposing they ever bothered to think any animal might have a name not conferred upon them by a two-legged human. He was called Laughing Boy to indicate that he was out of his mother, Minnehaha, by Boys’ Town, but then he had never really known his father, who was put to stud in the field where his mother was grazing, and was never seen again. Bright Eyes, for her part, was out of Bright Water by Eyes Front – more human foolishness.
What got him thinking was the fact that the owner’s daughter, Deidre, had broken her leg in the same accident that injured Bright Eyes, but she wasn’t shot. There appeared to be one law for two legs and another for four legs, and he wondered why this should be.
Deidre had limped up to him on her crutches and slipped a lump of sugar between his teeth. He didn’t really like sugar, but he knew she’d get upset if he refused it, so he swallowed it down with a momentary shudder.
“I expect you’re pining for your lady love,” she said, reminding him once again how little two-legs understood about animal feelings. He was not pining; he was angry.
He had heard the way the male two-legs spoke about Deidre. If that was how two-leg males felt about two-leg females, then he was glad he was a horse.
The Old’uns warned him about that kind of thinking. “Look what happened to Old Boxer,” they said. But when he asked what it was that happened to Old Boxer, they told him not to ask. It was safer to keep your head down and eat your hay.
But Deidre meant well, he knew that. She couldn’t help being human, any more than he could help being the fastest over-the-sticks in the stable.
The way the Old’uns told it, speaking in hushed, tremulous voices of the time when Manor Farm became for a short time Animal Farm, those days were a terrible memory and a dreadful warning, of what could happen when four-legs got ideas above their station.
Moses, the son of Moses and the latest in long generations of ravens of that name who spoke of matters beyond the sky they flew in, said that all had been pre-ordained, and even to think of such changes was to tempt the anger of the Creator of all things.
The idea that there could be a supreme ruler over all beings, superior to the Old’uns, and even superior to the Owner and his Family, seemed so outrageous that Laughing Boy could not even begin to consider how it might be. Things just were, it seemed to him, and while changes might happen, as the warmth of summer mutated through autumn into winter, there was nothing fixed or final.
But then Moses was a kind of two-leg, so must have had the wisdom of all two-legs, and there must be something in what he said. On, the other hand, if Moses and the Owner were but two kinds of two-legs, how did it come about that the human two-legs could not fly? Such thoughts made Boy’s head hurt. How could anything be so and not so at the same time? It did not make sense.
He had heard that old slogan whispered when no Old’uns were around to condemn the words – something about four legs being better than two legs – and that meant Moses’ wisdom was worth less than whatever it was Old Boxer had taught that led everyone astray. Or so it was said.
“I’ll not be riding you until my leg heals,” said Deidre, startling him out of his reverie. “It’ll be my brother, who’ll be taking you out to exercise. He’ll have to fit you in between tending for the cattle.”
Boy groaned inwardly. Young Mister Pilkington was a nice enough fellow, to be sure, and he didn’t pull at the bit like some of the less experienced riders on the farm, but he didn’t have Deidre’s sureness of touch.
Just then, thunder cracked across the sky, and the young women led him into the stable to shelter from whatever storm was brewing. It would not do for a prime racehorse to be left out in the rain all night, like the common draught creatures, who pulled the hay wains and other carts around.
When he was settled in the stable, having been rubbed down by one of the stable-lads, she patted him on the nose and gave him another cube of the dreadful sugar, and left him to ruminate on the way things were, and to wonder if Moses was right, and all things were the way they should be, and ever would be.
2. The rediscovery
Meanwhile, something happened which troubled the rest of the farm animals.
It had been a stormy night. Patience, the young heifer, had been restless, as a loose board in the roof shifted and clattered in the rain, allowing a fine shower of rain to spray down into her stall each time it moved about. She huddled close to the partition, not so much to shelter from the storm – she had experienced worse when April showers had turned into sudden squalls across the hilly fields – but so she could hear the stories told by the older cows. Ancient fables they sounded like, impossible, fantastical tales of animals in charge of their own lives, with no farmers sending them to the slaughterhouse or the knacker’s yard when they had outlived their usefulness.
She doubted that there had ever been a boar named Old Major, a teaching pig called Snowball – who ever heard of animals being able to read, even should they desire to? – a noble cart-horse called Boxer, nor even Napoleon, the villain of the piece, for whom she had a sort of sneaking affection. Every story needs a villain, surely?
At about dawn, the storm calmed down and as the animals left the cowshed, a watery sun was breaking through the clouds and a rainbow was arching across the sky.
The violence of the rain had washed the barn’s clap-boarding almost down to the bare wood. Some strange painted symbols showed faintly, but of course Patience could not decipher their meaning.
The farmer’s son, and Deidre’s brother – young Mister Pilkington she’d heard him called – was gazing up at it in amazement.
“The Seven Commandments of Animalism?” she heard him say, as if questioning the very meaning of what he could see.
“Reckon that’ll date back to the rebellion,” said one of the farm hands. “Bloody cows and sheep made such a bloody mess of things on their own they had to beg yer dad te come back and run things properly, human style.”
“But this is a valuable historical document,” said the young man. “It should be preserved, put under glass or something. You can barely read them, as it is.”
“Best let sleeping dogs lie,” said the man. “Sleeping pigs, you mean,” said young Pilkington, and they both laughed and went on their way.
The mind of Patience was in a whirl as the herd made its way to pasture. So the old cows’ tales of a rebellion were not such a fantasy. The farmer’s son was clever, it was said, had been away to college (whatever that was, but Patience had heard the farmer say it had filled the boy’s head with all sorts of nonsensical ideas about animal rights and suchlike. As if animals could have any rights beyond chewing the cud, calving, and giving milk, which it was said humans put into a hot drink called tea, instead of feeding it to their calves – or children, as they called them.)
She wished there was a Snowball to teach her to read, so she could learn something about animalism. If only the young man had read out the words, so she could memorise them, and perhaps teach them to the other beasts.
That was an amusing thought, to be sure. Imagine her, a mere heifer never yet served by a bull, presuming to tell anything to her elders and betters, who had borne more calves than she had seen new moons!
She kept repeating the words over and over in her head: “The seven commandments of animalism. The seven commandments of animalism. The seven commandments of animalism.”
And so she passed the first part of the day, munching the damp, green grass and enjoying the way she belched up the gas from her two stomachs.
Until day became night, until Rosebud’s turn to tell her part of the tale brought Patience to the partition to see if she could make sense of what she had heard.
3. Rosebud’s Tale
“This was how the windmill came to be built,” Rosebud began, “and how the genius of the humans can turn the wind that blows the clouds across the sky into the very light that drives the darkness away from this barn.
“You will have heard it said that the windmill was first erected by the animals, and indeed it is true that it was we beasts who first tried to harness the power of the winds.”
The cows shifted uneasily in their stalls, for it was this part of the story which raised unpleasant thoughts about this mythical past. How could mere beasts imagine such a thing, still less attempt to carry it out? Patience wanted to urge Rosebud get on with the story, but she knew that the old girl had to take her time, and tell it in her own way.
“It was those very winds,” continued Rosebud, “that caused the windmill to fall, but not the winds alone. It was sabotage!”
The animals gasped at this revelation, and Patience wondered who could have done such a thing. Her question was soon answered.
“It was sabotage by Snowball, the so-called hero of the Battle of the Cowshed. Napoleon revealed that he had been in the pay of the two-legs all along.”
Then a voice rang out in the darkness, the voice of Laughing Boy.
“That is nonsense,” he whinnied. “Snowball was not perfect, no animal is. But my late mother told me the windmill collapsed because its construction was faulty. The walls were too thin.”
“Please allow me to tell the story as it has been handed down from the Old’uns. Yes, it’s true that the walls were too thin. But who made the specification for the walls, eh? Answer me that!”
Boy had no answer for that, though he suspected Rosebud would remedy the omission.
“Snowball was the architect of the windmill, and the one responsible for its downfall,” she cried. “So say the Old’uns, and the Old’uns are always right.”
Boy felt that no one was always right, even the old mare his mother. But he snorted and moved into the darkest part of his stall, determined to hear no more.
And Patience resolved to hear what else he had to say about the credibility of the Old’uns.
4. Retrieving the “Seven Commandments”
Young Mister Pilkington observed his work with satisfaction. He had successfully removed the planks carrying the message of the Seven Commandments of Animalism – though, to be sure, he had needed the assistance of one of the farm labourers to prevent the shed from collapsing.
To get the work done he had risen early, before the time for milking and the other farmyard chores might prevent him from expediting his purpose. He intended to store the planks and their message somewhere they would be safe for further study.
He had not consulted his father about the work, and he could not have explained why not, if he had been asked.
But, while he assisted his father around the farm during his vacations, he was in truth a student, and preservation of data was at the core of his very being.
Unbeknownst to him, however, his labours had been observed. And as young Mister Pilkington read the Commandments out loud to himself as if memorising them for fear the planks were discovered and thrown upon the fire, his words were also being memorised by Laughing Boy, whose intellect was at least equal to his own, and his memory far better.
“THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS OF ANIMALISM,” he read out. And then they followed:
“One – Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, unless it has wings.
“Two – Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
“Three – No animal shall wear clothes.
“Four – No animal shall sleep in a bed.
“Five – No animal shall drink alcohol.
“Six – No animal shall kill any other animal.
“And seven – All animals are equal.”
Some of the Commandments made no sense to Boy. He knew about alcohol; it was used to rub him down when he had been racing round the lunge circle. He had smelled it on the breath of the grooms on occasion. But why would an animal even think of drinking it?
Of course all animals were equal. It was not other animals that sent cattle off to slaughter, but the farmer or his men. He knew cats and dogs on the farm killed rats and mice, and he supposed it would be good if such deaths could be avoided, though he doubted it was realistic to make it into a rule of life.
And was Deidre his enemy? Or even young Mister Pilkington? After all, if the young two-leg hadn’t cleaned the planks and read out the Seven Commandments, Boy wouldn’t be thinking about them now.
“But soft you, now,” he said to himself. “Here comes Patience.”
Horses and cows had little to do with each other. Boy knew the cattle were smarter than was thought by most of his kind , and sometimes a heifer like Patience could inspire something like friendship when she turned those huge eyes upon him.
But he was not really in a mood for conversation. He needed time to think.
“Did you hear Rosebud’s tale last night?” she asked.
“If you heard it, then you must know that I heard it too.”
“Yes, but you contradicted the tale told by the Old’uns. And the Old’uns are always right.”
“So it’s said, but I’m not so sure.”
“So why do you think the windmill fell down?”
Boy looked up at the hill, where the mill had been used for years to grind the corn, until the price fell and it was no longer profitable. It was now a ruin once again.
“I believe it was as Rosebud said,” replied the horse. “The walls were too thin. But I do not believe in the story of sabotage.”
“After you moved away,” continued Patience, “Rosebud told us how the two-legs eventually finished the windmill and got it working. The lesson, she said, is that we should stick at what we are good at.”
“Like bringing calves into the world so that they can be sent off to slaughter and served up on a platter on two-leg dining tables,” snorted Boy. “Is that all you’ll be good for, eh?”
“Or being shot when you break your leg?”
“They could have saved her,” protested Boy, knowing she was referring to Bright Eyes’ accident. “But the farmer said she was past her prime and he’d been thinking of sending her to the knacker’s yard anyway, so her fall was a blessing in disguise.”
“She was your friend,” said Patience, sympathetically.
“All animals are my friends,” Boy replied irritatedly, “even you, lass.”
And he bent his head to munch on the dew-bedecked grass, putting an end to their discussion. Patience looked at him for a few moments, then moved away to a place on the field where the grass was greener than this shady corner.