Once there was a great clover meadow divided into two equal parts by a clear river which ran between. One field was the home of the grey rabbits, the other of the white rabbits. Each one had enough; none had too much, and all were happy.
One day four white goats came to the field of the white rabbits and four black goats to the field of the grey rabbits, and the goats said to the rabbits: “This field is ours. Do not touch a stalk of clover.” “Who gave you the land?” asked the rabbits. “Our God and yours. The Man who lives on the Hill,” answered the goats. “Oh!” said the rabbits.
Presently some of the older rabbits got together and, with noses twitching, nervously asked the goats: “Where shall we go and how shall we live?” “You cannot go anywhere,” said the goats, “and if you will cut clover for us we will give you enough to keep yon alive, unless you are greedy. The greedy must die.” “Oh!” said the rabbits.
So the four white goats divided one field into quarters, each taking one as its own, and the four black goats divided the other field in the same way, and for a long time the rabbits brought the goats the hay which the goats sold to the pigs who lived on an island in the river. The goats became very fat and prosperous, but the rabbits had hardly enough to eat. The rabbits continued to have large families and grew more and more numerous, so that the clover allowed by the goats was not enough and the rabbits were starving. Some of the rabbits then said: “Brethren, four goats cannot harvest this clover. We do all the work. Let us stand together and refuse to labor unless we get more clover and shorter hours.”
So the rabbits formed a hundred and thirty-seven unions, so that each rabbit could find a union tor its kind. There was a union for rabbits with a spot on the right fore-foot, and a union for rabbits with a spot on the left fore-foot, and so on, for all manner of rabbits, including lop-eared rabbits and blind rabbits. Sometimes the rabbits with a spot on the
left fore-foot would walk out and sit by the edge of the field and look at the clover and refuse to work unless given more clover and shorter hours. This action was called “a squat.” Sometimes the rabbits with a spot on the right fore-foot would walk out on a squat. Sometimes it would be the lop-eared rabbits, or the three-toed rabbits, or the blind rabbits, or whichever was hungriest, and the others would do the work for the goats till those out on a squat would get so hungry looking at the clover they would, one by one, slip back into the field and go to work, and sometimes, if the crop was very big and the pigs were squealing for clover, and business was good, the goats would give the squatting rabbits a little more to eat and shorter hours.
But when the rabbits had bred to such a multitude that there were more rabbits than were needed for the work, poor, hungry, mangy or scabby rabbits would offer to work for less clover, and then the whole thing would be in a dreadful uproar; the union rabbits would squeal “Scab!” at the poor mangy rabbits, and the goats would bleat: “Let them alone. We have a God-given right to have them work for us for less clover.” And all the other union rabbits, left-foots, right-foots, fore-foots, hind-foots, lop-ears and so on — all except the ones who were squatting — would go on harvesting the goats’ clover for them, but crying continually: “Scab! Scab! Scab!”
Things went on this way for a long time, the white rabbits and the grey rabbits getting poorer and poorer, and the white goats and black goats getting fatter and fatter. But presently the black goats and the white goats quarreled over which should furnish clover to the pigs. The black goats declared war on the white goats, and each shouted to their own rabbits: “Quit working for us now for a while and come fight for us”; so the white rabbits rushed at the grey rabbits and the grey rabbits rushed at the white rabbits and they killed each other, squealing strange squeals: “Patriotism!” “Fatherland!” “Our Country!” “Our Flag!” “The Goats forever!” “God bless our Goats!”
The goats wept and gave a little clover to the orphan rabbits, and hung small yellow bells on the two-legged and three-legged rabbits who had lost legs in the war, so these rabbits sat all day tinkling their bells and were fed by the other rabbits and were greatly venerated for their intelligence.
During the war the white goats sent for white foxes to fight for them, and the black goats sent for black foxes to fight for them, and the rabbits were glad and said: “We will feed the foxes who fight for us.” After a long and bitter war, and the killing of many rabbits, peace was declared between the black goats and the white goats and they divided the Pigs’ Island between them by a solemn treaty, and were fatter than ever.
So the rabbits, white and grey, went back to their fields to work, only each had to labor harder because there were so many crippled rabbits and so many foxes to support. The rabbits were thus harder worked and poorer than ever, but every time they grumbled or one of their unions squatted the goats set the foxes on them and drove them back to work.
Things became so unbearable that an old grey rabbit called all the rabbits together, white and grey, and said to them: “Are we not all rabbits? Are we not all brothers? Are we not all enslaved? Our mistake was in admitting the right of the goats to own the land, because that has enslaved us. We must live from the land. Without it we die. Our remedy is to undo this error and to assert that not even our God, the Man on the Hill, can give away the ownership of the fields. They must be as before, open and free to whomsoever will use them. If the goats want clover, let them get what they can use, and no more. The same with the pigs, and the same with rabbits; and as for rabbits killing each other, it is worse than wicked — it is foolish.” “But,” said a large white rabbit, “what will become of the foxes?” “Let them die,” said the grey rabbit. “But they won’t die. They will eat us,” said the white rabbit. “No,” said the grey rabbit, “there are many more of us, and we can kick powerfully if we want to. Moreover, unless we work for the goats, how can they buy the chickens they feed to the foxes? Foxes cannot eat clover.” “But how are we to do this? The goats are larger than we are,” said the white rabbit “Easily,” replied the grey rabbit; “let us unite in one great brotherhood. Not lop-eared or blind rabbits, but just rabbits, all rabbits, in one common band. Then let us say to the goats; ‘We will harvest no more clover for you. Work yourselves, or starve. We deny your ownership of the fields. We will help ourselves.’ Oh, my brothers,” he added, “see this mutilated ear which was chewed by a white rabbit while each of us was fighting for the goats, he for the white goats, I for the black. Let it be so no more. Let us all get together as one band of brothers. Let us break this ownership of our fields by the goats, and then no more shall our little ones starve in meadows of abundance.” “Very fine words,” said the white rabbit, “but only words. Do not listen to him. He is a visionary. A dreamer. Labor is not vision. Labor is life. Life is labor. Let us all go back to our jobs. That is life. We can from time to time squat and kick as before, separately and independently, for more clover and shorter hours. That also is life. Anything beyond a little more clover or shorter hours is vision, and sensible rabbits will not bother with it.”
So the rabbits all returned to labor for the goats, while the foxes watched them from the shade.