A.N. Due to popular demand—I have finally re-edited 'Hope'.
The cart was hot, and dusty, and cramped. Boxer kicked out at the wooden sides, his hooves thumping dully against the walls. He screamed for help at the top of his failing voice, but the rumpling wheels and the cracking of the whip drowned him out. He slumped, exhausted against the wall. The soft grinding sound of cartwheels moving over damp dirt had changed into the crack of iron shoes against cobblestones. He could hear the men outside talking, going about their business. And he was going off to die. It felt… strange. Boxer didn't have a word for it. He didn't have a word for a lot of things. But he understood things, even if he had trouble describing it. He understood that he was about to die. He understood that in Napoleon's eyes, he had outlived his usefulness. He understood that even though he had given everything he had to Napoleon, he was going to be sold to the knackers. He understood that Napoleon wasn't always right. Too little, too late. The cart bumped as it entered the slaughterhouse. A man came around to the small door at the front of the cart with a bridle in his hands. Boxer considered resisting—even if it was pointless. But at last he sighed, and let the man slip the bit into his mouth and back him up from the cart.
The slaughterhouse was cold and damp. It was made from cement and metal, and felt dark. Not dark as in the lack of light, but dark as in evil. Boxer imagined the ghosts of horses long gone watching him make his last walk. His legs were trembling, and he was already gasping for breath.
"Any problems?" a man asked from a metal pen.
"No," replied the man leading Boxer. "He kicked up a fuss coming here, but he settled down when we reached the town, and he let himself be lead away quietly." The man was leading him towards the metal pen. Boxer walked in slowly, and he trembled as he felt a metal bar lock behind him. Was this how he was going to die? Locked up in a small pen as the men aimed a gun and… He reared up onto his back legs.
"Easy boy!" The man leading him tried to pull his head down, but Boxer wanted to get out. He wanted Benjamin! He wanted his stall! If he had to, he would find a way to continue building the windmill, even if he had to work through the night to get it finished. He would even obey Napoleon, even if he did know the pig was a bully and a traitor. But it was too late. The metal bars were closing in around him, trapping him. There was no way out. Boxer didn't rear again. After all, there was no point.
"How much do you want for the Clydesdale?" Boxer looked up. A young man was leaning against the bars of the pen. He had soft looking brown hair, and kind blue eyes. His skin was pale, but dusted with freckles. He was standing strangely, almost as if… Boxer was distracted by that train of thought by the man's next action. He reached out with a white lump on his hand. Sugar! Boxer hadn't had sugar since he was a foal—after all, the ladies of Manor Farm didn't often visit the fields, and Mr. Jones was about as likely to give out sugar as he was to give out personal heaters for each animal. Boxer crunched up the treat delightedly, and nuzzled the hand being held out to him. The idea of 'four legs good, two legs bad' was already fading. This man was nice! Boxer reached over to rest his head on the man's shoulder with a sigh.
"Listen, you don't want that horse," the man from the slaughterhouse was telling the nice man. "He's old. He'll come with a bunch of vet bills. Besides, he's from that Animal Farm!" The nice man stroked Boxer's nose.
"Please, Clydesdales can live to be 25 years old! Besides, I'm not looking for a draft horse—I'm looking for a quiet companion who won't need constant supervision but who will still want to be near me. Health risks—well, I'll worry about that later. And from what I know about Mr. Jones, he deserved to have his animals revolt against him. Besides, the animals at Animal Farm sold off this sweet boy—I don't think that will be a problem."
The slaughterhouse man paused for a moment, then nodded. "Alright," he said. "For $275 I'll give you the horse, and I'll loan you my cart to get him home. I don't think he can stand a walk." The nice man smiled, and offered the hand that wasn't stroking Boxer's nose. "Deal. Now let's get him out of here." The metal gate fell away from Boxer's legs. He backed out, and got a look at the whole of his master's body. If he had been a human, his jaw would have dropped.
It was the night after the farmer's party at the newly renamed Manor Farm. Benjamin, Clover and Muriel had all taken one of their few spare moments to rest together by the gate. They were the few that were left of the original rebels—apart from the pigs. They rested together in the sunlight, thinking of the few weeks when time at Animal Farm had peaceful.
"I miss Boxer." Both Muriel and Clover looked stunned to hear Benjamin talk. After the death of his oldest friend, he had become more quiet and sullen than ever.
"I do too," Muriel said. "He was always so nice to me and my kids, and he was always willing to let them gambol around his stall at milking time." Clover nodded, her dim eyes blinking weakly. "Remember how hard he tried—we all told him to rest, but he wanted so badly to help. He was so hopeful that Animal Farm would be better than life with Mr. Jones."
A soft whinny got their attention. "It could have been—if Napoleon hadn't gotten greedy." Leaning over the fence was Boxer, looking sturdy and healthy, if a little older. Benjamin dashed over, and reached up to touch noses in a joyful greeting. Both Muriel and Clover were slower to respond, but they greeted their long-lost friend happily.
"Where have you been," Clover asked as the joyful greetings would down. "I was saved," Boxer admitted. "A man took mercy on me, and bought me from the knackers. He paid for the vet to save me, and now I live with him. I do not work. My only job is to keep him company, and in return I am allowed to graze all day and sleep in the sun for as long as I wish."
Muriel looked at Boxer in amazement. "You have such a good life now—why did you come back?" Boxer pawed at the ground with a massive hoof. "My master is willing to open his farm to you three if you want to leave. I was wondering if you wanted to come with me, and live out the rest of your lives in peace."
Benjamin looked at him in worry, troubled thoughts spinning across his sweet face. "Boxer—who's to say that things will remain good with this human? We had the same thoughts about the pigs, after all!" Boxer nodded. "Yes, my friends; but I don't think this particular human could cause us any trouble." Before the friends could argue, they heard a curious sound from the road. A man was approaching the house—the man that had become Boxer's master those months ago. He smiled at the group of animals, and made his way over—despite the fact that his movements were hampered by the loss of one of his legs. Instead, the man leant on a sturdy oak stick. Boxer instantly approached his master to help him balance, and the man rewarded him with a soft stroke across his velvet nose. The other three animals found themselves filled with longing for a master like the one who was caring for Boxer. Boxer looked at them, his broad face looking quizzically at them. "So—are you coming?" Silently, the animals walked out of the gate for the first time in years. Not one looked back at what had been the beautiful ideal of Animal Farm. Instead, they looked to the future—a time when they may not be equal, but at least everyone was happy.