Till the Cows Come Home
ONCE upon a time there was a small family consisting of Mr. Harvey Dunning and his wife Constance and his little boy Jack and they lived in a reclaimed farmhouse out beyond the suburban fringe. Mr. Dunning was an illustrator of animal stories. He was a sort of intellectual type. He took several newspapers and Time and the Survey Graphic and some other weeklies and read them thoroughly and often consulted the encyclopædia. Mrs. Dunning was not quite so intellectual. She read everything Dorothy Thompson wrote. But they were both pretty worried most of the time about the state of things.
They were kind of worried too about Jack, who was eight and had practically no interest in things of the mind. Things like democracy and the threat of fascism left him cold. He would rather play with the cat.
Well, one morning Mr. Dunning looked out of the window and said, ‘Lord, there’s Amos Macy’s bull! I must round him up and take him back.’ ‘Oh, be careful, Harvey!’ said Mrs. Dunning, but Mr. Dunning said, ‘Pooh! We’re old friends. He’s sat for me a dozen times. He’s harmless as a kitten.’
So when he got to the door the bull was almost up to the porch. ‘Hi, Jerry! ‘ said Mr. Dunning. ‘What are you doing here? Go on home.’ And then his legs went weak and he dropped into a rocking chair by the door. For the bull said, ‘Morning, Mr. Dunning.’
‘Jerry!’ said Mr. Dunning faintly. ‘Jerry!’ ‘Don’t be scared,’ said the bull. ‘I just came over to tell you you’d better stay indoors for a while. We’re taking over to-day.’ ‘Bu-but you’re talking!’ stammered Mr. Dunning. ‘Oh, we can talk,’ said Jerry. ‘Not that we’re proud of it. We prefer to stick to facts. You humans have been talking for ten thousand years and you’re further from the facts than ever. But you’ve come to the end now. Another five years and everything will be gone to wrack and ruin. That’s why we animals have finally decided to take charge.’
The shock of being talked to by a bull was less upsetting to Mr. Dunning than the shock of an unfamiliar idea. ‘But animals can’t run things!’ he said. ‘What you mean,’ said the bull, ‘is that they can’t run things the way humans do. Well, who the hell wants to?’ ‘No, I mean the work,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘The necessary work.’ ‘Yeah?’ said the bull. ‘How much human work is necessary? We don’t want power plants and factories. We’ll keep enough of you people to raise a little grain, maybe. Maybe build shelters for us. And maybe we won’t. That’ll be decided later.’
Mr. Dunning began to laugh a little wildly. ‘Excuse me, Jerry,’ he said,
‘ but it’s too fantastic. What are you going to do — kill off all the humans?' Jerry didn’t answer for a minute. Then he said, ‘Look here, Mr. Dunning. I came to warn you because you’ve always been pretty nice to animals. You’ve never hunted. You’ve never talked down to them or cursed them, even. When you were drawing pictures of me you used to give me bunches of carrots. Not that I couldn’t have got the carrots myself by just pulling them up. But you meant well. You even gave me a piece of pie once. Now, Mr. Dunning, you don’t realize what this means. Had your breakfast?’ ‘No,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Well, get it,’ said Jerry, ‘and then come for a walk with me. This talking doesn’t mean anything. But I can show you. You’ll be safe. They won’t touch you if you’re with me.’
So Mr. Dunning went back inside. Mrs. Dunning was sitting bolt upright by the window looking pale. ‘ I heard,’ she said. The phone rang and he went to answer it. In a few minutes he came back. ‘It’s Loren Marble,’he said. ‘He says all the cows have come down from the upper pasture and surrounded his house. They won’t let him come out. He says they were all right when he milked this morning and he don’t know what’s come over them. I guess I’ll go over that way with Jerry.’ ‘I wish you wouldn’t,’ said Mrs. Dunning. ‘I’m afraid I have to,’ he said.
‘ Darn it, Jerry,’ said Mr. Dunning as they walked down the road, ‘you can’t get away with it. You can’t upset our whole civilization — the cities — the —’ ‘Look, Mr. Dunning,’ interrupted the bull. ‘What’s caused the failure of most revolutions? Talk. Even those that have succeeded at first have gone down in a muddle of argument and wrangling. You men never can keep your mouths shut. This revolution is different. You might call it a general unorganized movement. Not being organized, it hasn’t any leaders and so no policy, nor ideology, nor differences of opinion. Pure force without any rationalization of motives. And say — don’t let on
I’ve been talking to you. Human characteristics aren’t very popular today.’
Half a mile down the road they came on two abandoned cars. The shoulders of the pavement and the ditches were cut up by the hoofs of animals. A little farther on they rounded a curve and ahead of them a flock of sheep jammed the space between the fences. Beyond them a small truck stood in the middle of the road. Some of the sheep faced around and glared menacingly at Mr. Dunning. He had never seen a sheep look menacing before. He shuddered faintly and thought miserably of the four lamb chops in his icebox at home.
‘You’re all right with me,’ murmured Jerry. He went forward and Mr. Dunning followed. A man stuck his head out of the truck and shouted, ‘Hey, what’s the matter with these critters? I never see sheep like these. They been tryin’ to climb in here and bite me.’ ‘You better drive back to town,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘All the animals are on the warpath today.’ The man started to say something else and then he said, ‘Holy smoke, look at that!’ and pointed across the fields. A man was standing on a rock in the middle of a hayfield and laying about him with a hoe. Around him the grass kept moving and now and then small brownish animals came into sight as they leaped up toward him. ‘ Rabbits, by Judas!’ yelled the man in the truck. He jammed on the accelerator and, knocking aside one or two sheep, backed around and roared off down the road.
So they pushed through the sheep and went on to the Marblc farm. The dooryard was full of cows and as they came up to the gate two of them came toward Mr. Dunning with lowered horns. Jerry shoved them aside and went in and then waited for Mr. Dunning, who took a deep breath and followed him. But the cows stood back and let him go up to the kitchen door.
Loren Marble and his wife were sitting in the kitchen, and as soon as Mr.
Dunning had talked to them for a while he understood how little resistance the farmers were going to offer to the revolutionaries. If the Marbles had been besieged by humans they would have barricaded doors and windows and fought them off with shotguns and rifles. But to see harmless and stolid domestic animals suddenly turn savage and act in concert like a pack of wolves had broken their spirit. ‘We got to get out of this,’ said Mr. Marble dully. ‘We got to get away.’
‘Well,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘for some reason they haven’t bothered me, so maybe I can help. I’ll try to get your car to the door. Get your stuff together.’ So he went out again. The cows didn’t molest him as he went to the barn and started the car and drove it up to the kitchen door. They even moved aside so that when the Marbles came out and scrambled into the car a free passage was left to the gate.
As soon as the Marbles had driven off there was a rush for the open kitchen door, and Jerry led Mr. Dunning to a knoll up behind the house. ‘You’d better see this,’ he said. There was a smashing and banging inside the house, and after a few minutes a great crash. ‘That would be the stove,’ said Jerry. A puff of smoke came out of the door and then the cows came tumbling out. One had a clock impaled on her horns. ‘I guess we better move along,’ said Jerry. ‘The girls are kind of excited and it’s just as well if they don’t see you around.’
‘But you mean to tell me,’ said Mr. Dunning as they went up over the hill, ‘that you think this is going to get you anywhere?’ ‘Listen,’ said Jerry, ‘this is happening to nine out of every ten farms in the country. Even on the big wheat farms out West. If we can’t take over the farms, we can trample down the grain. We drive the farmers into the towns. By and by we starve them out of the towns into the cities — for of course the farms aren’t producing any more. No food in the cities either, after a while. We don’t care much about that. It’s the country we want.’ ‘Sure,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘but you don’t think the cities are going to stand for that, do you?’ ‘What can they do?’ said the bull. ‘Send out the army against us? Oh sure, they could kill a lot of us off. But remember the army has got to be fed, and before they get under way we’ll have disorganized the food supply. But I’m talking too much.’
‘I don’t see why you’re talking to me anyway,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Why don’t you chase me into the village too?’ ‘Oh, well,’ said Jerry, ‘you ain’t a farmer. Another thing — you always been kind to animals.’ ‘Well, so has Loren,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Oh sure, in his way,’ said Jerry. ‘But he’s made ‘em work. And I suppose there ain’t a cow in that bunch that he ain’t twisted her tail good one time or another. Not as I blame him much. Cows can be pretty exasperating. But no cow forgets a thing like that.’
At the top of the hill they stopped and looked back. Black smoke was rolling from the farmhouse windows. Some of the cows were eating corn in the garden and the rest were bunched by the gate. ‘I expect you want to be getting back,’ said Jerry. ‘Your wife’ll be anxious. We’ll go around by the Falls Road.’ ‘Look,’ said Mr. Dunning suddenly, ‘there’s Shep.’ A collie had appeared from somewhere and was chasing the cows out of the corn. He darted at them and nipped their legs, dodging away when they tried to hook him. ‘Darn the dogs, anyway,’ said Jerry. ‘You can’t count on ‘em. Maybe I better go down.’
Shep had begun to herd the cows. Already he had them bunched and moving back toward the pasture. Jerry snorted angrily. ‘ Blast those fool cows!’ he said. ‘All full of hereditary compulsions! What do they think the dog can do to them, for Pete’s sake? If I didn’t have to see you home — But they’ll have to look after themselves.’
Mr. Dunning thought Jerry didn’t seem very anxious to go to help the cows. As he followed the bull down the other side of the hill, the valley with the Falls Road winding through it was spread out below him, and at several points smoke was rolling up from burning farmhouses. At two places on the road groups of animals were busy. ‘The barricades are up,’ said Jerry, and when they got farther down Mr. Dunning saw that the animals were shoving stones and dirt and fence rails into a heap on the road to block traffic. ‘You see?’ said the bull. ‘By night there won’t be a truck rolling on any road in the country.’ ‘ I still think you can’t win,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘We probably couldn’t a hundred years ago,’ said Jerry. ‘But it only takes a small monkey wrench to put as complicated machinery as you’ve built up out of kilter.’
Well, they got back to Mr. Dunning’s house and Mrs. Dunning ran out and grabbed her husband. ‘Oh, Harvey,’ she said, ‘I was so worried! And there was a big troop of pigs came into the yard and rooted up all the vegetables in the garden and when I tried to drive them away they chased me into the house. And Jack got out. He was out there with them. He thought they’d come to play with him. But they didn’t hurt him.’ ‘We don’t make war on children,’ said the bull stiffly. ‘Well, Jerry,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘I suppose I ought to thank you for showing me what’s going on. You think I better drive into town?’ ‘Town won’t be very nice,’ said Jerry. ‘The animals around here like you. It ain’t as if you’d farmed it and worked animals and raised ‘em to be killed. You’re better off here. Well,’ he said, ‘so long. I’ll drop in again in a day or two.’
So Mr. Dunning stayed. There was plenty of food in the house. And he still couldn’t quite believe that the animals were really taking over. Nobody could believe it. Mr. Dunning’s telephone went dead almost at once and the rural mail service stopped, so that he and Mrs. Dunning could only speculate as to what Heywood Broun and General Johnson thought about it all, but the radio kept working and the news bulletins told them what was going on. And at first nothing much was done. Everybody thought that some strange disease had broken out among domestic animals all over the country, but that it wasn’t really serious. In their fear of producing a panic the authorities put off acting until the conditions themselves had stampeded the people. The food riots began before the food shortage had really made itself felt.
The Dunnings got on pretty well. It was queer not to see any cars going by. On the third day the electricity failed and that was a nuisance. But what bothered them most was the lack of newspapers and magazines. The radio gave them the facts, but they had lost the faculty of forming any opinion upon them. Without their favorite commentators they didn’t know what to think. For under normal conditions they read them all and had no trouble holding conflicting opinions on a subject so long as they had printed authority for both. But they could hardly draw the simplest and most obvious conclusion without journalistic support. So instead of drawing any they went on with those that had been already drawn for them and, ignoring the implications of what was happening under their noses, continued to worry about the RomeBerlin Axis and the administration’s spending program.
Had they drawn conclusions, they would have been pretty alarming. The countryside was deserted. Motor traffic was at a standstill. Food prices had shot up and then dropped under government stabilization orders, but supplies were dwindling and there had been serious rioting in all big cities. By the end of the second week, martial law was declared over practically the entire nation. The need for reclaiming farms and rounding up the animals was now seen, but the entire force of the National Guard was needed in the cities and only a little unorganized work was being done by CCC boys and volunteer groups.
And on the tenth day the radio went dead. ‘Oh, dear,’ said Mrs. Dunning, ‘I’ve been trying all afternoon to explain to Jack about the Polish situation, but without knowing what has been going on—well, I mean anything may have happened.’ ‘I’m afraid so,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘I’m afraid so. I’m awfully worried about what may have happened in Tunis.’ ‘If we only had Dorothy Thompson!’ said Mrs. Dunning, and Mr. Dunning said, ‘Or even H. V. Kaltenborn.’
Well, it was on the eighteenth day of the revolution that half a dozen motor trucks with a guard of CCC boys with rifles, and preceded by a snowplough tractor, came rumbling along the road and stopped at the Dunning gate. They had come out to pick up supplies of food left on abandoned farms. ‘But we haven’t found anything,’ said the leader. ‘The animals have spoiled everything that was left. We’ve shot a few sheep, but they won’t go very far. Don’t you and your family want to go back to the city with us?’ ‘No,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘From what I hear we’re better off here.’ ‘I guess you are at that,’ said the man. But before he left he took Mr. Dunning aside. ‘I gather you’ve got plenty of food for yourselves,’ he said, ‘but if I were you I’d hide it. Some of these volunteer bands aren’t as considerate as we are.’
So Mr. Dunning spent the next day burying supplies under the floor of the barn. He had just finished when he heard a dog bark and then three cows came trotting into the barn and behind them the Marbles’ collie. ‘Hi, Shep!’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Well, good for you!’ He came out and slammed the door on the cows.
Shep ran into the shed where Mr. Dunning’s car was standing and put his forepaws on the running board and barked. ‘You want to take a ride?’ said Mr. Dunning. Shep barked furiously and at last Mr. Dunning got in. ‘I suppose you know what you want,’ he said. ‘Well, get in. We’ll try it.’
There were two barricades between his place and the Marble farm, but they were unguarded and by moving a rail or two he got through. Loren Marble’s house had burned down, but the other buildings were intact. Before the open door of the cow barn sat a long-eared hound who got up and barked gloomily as they drove up. Mr. Dunning could hear a rattle of stanchions and an occasional moo from inside. ‘We’ll have to water and feed them,’ he said. ‘Do you suppose we can manage, Shep?’ But they had no trouble. The uncowlike ferocity and fire of the first days of the revolt were gone. ‘You’ve certainly got ‘em scared, Shep,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Well, I’ll be over again tomorrow.’
On the way home he stopped at the Macy farm, which was deserted but hadn’t been burnt. Here too the cows had been rounded up and were grazing peacefully, guarded by Amos Macy’s dog Jigger. Only Jerry was missing. ‘I suppose Amos and Loren are in the village,’ said Mr. Dunning to himself. But it was eight miles to the village and he had no dog with him now. So he drove home.
Next morning he went over to the Marbles’ again. At the first barricade a dozen pigs burst out of the bushes and drove him back into his car, but he got through them all right and he was greeting Shep in the barnyard when he heard a shout and looked up to see half a dozen farmers with dogs and guns coming down the hill. ‘I wondered when you’d show up,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘I guess the dogs have been doing your work for you.’ ‘Well, I tell you, Harvey,’ said Mr. Marble sheepishly, ‘some of us had a bad time that first week. Henry Quett and the Bailiff boys are missing. Warren Beale was pulled down by a whole mob of rabbits and darn near et up. Old Mrs. Haddock was treed by skunks. She escaped, but she’s still in the contagious ward, as you might say. We went out a few times and got chased back and then we give up.’ ‘Where were the dogs?’ asked Mr. Dunning. ‘They didn’t show up for four or five days,’ said Mr. Macy, ‘and then we couldn’t figure out what they wanted. It was only yesterday when they drove Olsen’s sheep right into the village that we see what was up.’ ‘Well, if you’re going to take charge,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘I’ll go home.’
At Mr. Marble’s suggestion he took Shop for protection on the way. The pigs didn’t show up again, but when he drove into his own yard Jerry was there. ‘Hello,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Well, your revolution has sort of gone pop, I’m afraid.’ ‘The darn dogs!’ said the bull petulantly. ‘Selling us out like that! They sold their birthright, that’s what they did! For a few old bones.’ ‘Well, I don’t know,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘I expect they were just loyal to their early training. Just being themselves. Just as the other animals are when they’re afraid of the dogs. The cows are cowed and the sheep are sheepish and the bull — ‘
‘Yeah, I know,’ said Jerry. ‘I talk too much, all right. Well, I tell you one thing,’ he said, ‘I’m not going back. I’ve had a taste of a free life and — Hey!’ he bellowed as Shep suddenly jumped out of the car and began harrying his heels. ‘Call that dog off. Call him off before I hurt him.’
‘Here, Shep,’ said Mr. Dunning. But Shep went right on nipping and dodging until he had Jerry backed into the shed, and then he lay down and looked at him. ‘Get him by the collar and hold him until I get away, will you?’ said the bull. ‘I don’t want to hurt him.’ ‘You know very well you can’t hurt him,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘Anyway, why don’t you go back home, Jerry? It’s the only sensible thing. I was over at your place a little while ago and Jigger had rounded all the cows up in the pasture.’ ‘He had, hey?’ said Jerry. ‘Well, I dunno. Maybe you’re right. Living by myself in the hills wouldn’t be so much fun. And there’s always something to be said for family life. Well, if you’ll hold Shep, I’ll start along home.’
So Mr. Dunning held the dog. At the gate Jerry turned. ‘I hope you’ll remember,’ he said, ‘that I tried to give you the breaks.’ ‘Sure, Jerry,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘I won’t forget.’ ‘We pretty near pulled it off, you know,’ said the bull. ‘Anyway, I guess we’ve taught you humans a lesson.’ ‘Don’t kid yourself,’ said Mr. Dunning. ‘We never learn.’
So after Jerry had gone he went into the house and told Mrs. Dunning what had happened. ‘Goodness,’ she said, ‘I’m glad, Harvey, aren’t you? Now I suppose we’ll get papers again.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Dunning, ‘it’s awful being cut off from the world this way. Good Lord, Germany may have declared war on somebody, for all we know!’ ‘Those awful Nazis!’ said Mrs. Dunning. ‘Oh, I shall feel so relieved when we have Dorothy Thompson again!’