A blanket covered the donkey from his shoulders to his tail, and in front of him lay a small pile of straw and two carrots, untouched. Henry approached slowly. “Samson? Did you stay here all night? I missed you at the hill this morning.” After waiting a silent minute, the piglet wandered around. He inspected the orange tree saplings Mr McGinley had planted; he was both curious to see them now in the ground, and disappointed that they had not yet borne fruit. He walked back to Samson and waited. He eyed the carrots on the ground. “I didn’t have breakfast,” he said. “I’d better go back to the pigsty and eat. You’ll be all right without me, Samson? Hmm. I’ll come back later and see you. Samson?” Henry nuzzled the rigid donkey’s leg, and then trotted down the hill, looking back occasionally as he went.
After lunch, Henry returned to the north paddock, with a small green apple in his mouth. The piglet was surprised to see a gathering of animals up the hill, surrounding the donkey. Henry weaved through the murmuring group until he came to Samson. The cattle dog was there too; he snickered. “An apple in the mouth—that’s a good look for you, Henry,” he said.
Henry laid the apple down on the straw in front of Samson. “I brought you a snack,” he said, looking up at his friend. Samson didn’t move.
“You sure helped the donkey, Runt,” said Fergus, with a satisfied grin.
“I did?” said Henry.
“He hasn’t spoken or moved since yesterday,” said Henry. “Is he okay?”
“Well,” said Fergus, “he isn’t dead—but almost. You did that to him, Henry, jumping into the dam the way you did. You frightened Samson, and now look at him.”
Henry stepped back and looked up at the donkey. “Oh no,” he whispered.
The crowd hushed and moved apart to make a path; even Lily the Clydesdale, who had been standing next to Samson, resting her head against his, moved back. Henry didn’t notice; he just stared up at Samson. Up the hill came the chief rooster, walking assertively but without hurry, accompanied by a young hen. He marched through the crowd and stood before the donkey. With a solitary cluck he roused Henry from his daze; the piglet turned around. Henry’s eyes widened, then he quickly lowered his head and backed away. The rooster walked around the donkey, examining him. He stopped at Samson’s side, squatted a little then leapt with a violent flapping up onto the donkey’s back. Taking slow, mechanical paces, the rooster walked along Samson’s spine, up his long neck and onto his head. He stood between the donkey’s ears, and then lowered his head down to stare him in the eye. The other animals gathered around. After a moment, the chief rooster raised his head. He looked around at the animals, and then looked above them, staring off toward the front gate of the farm. After a long silence, he spoke.
“This donkey won’t see another sunrise.”
The animals murmured to each other; Lily dropped her head; Henry looked about, trying to read in the surrounding faces an explanation of the chief rooster’s words. Fergus stepped forward, unimpressed. “What makes you the expert?” he said.
A fearful silence gripped the crowd. The chief rooster stared without a hint of emotion at the cattle dog.
“Well?” growled Fergus. He looked around. “Good grief—why are you all standing there worshiping a chicken?”
The young hen stepped in front of Fergus and looked him in the eye. “Winston is the chief rooster,” she said.
Fergus bared his teeth and looked up at Winston. “Yeah, well, he can play chief in the chicken yard if he wants, but out here he’s nobody.”
The crowd took a collective step back, and voiced—in all manner of fearful grunts and yelps and quacks—that the cattle dog did not speak on its behalf. Fergus snarled up at Winston, who only leaned his head to the side with a short, gallinaceous jerk. The noise of the crowd grew, until the Clydesdale stamped her hoof with a tremendous thud. Henry felt the ground shudder beneath his trotters. The crowd silenced.
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED