Rules for Dogs
Harold R. Thompson
Orwell the brown poodle stretched in the grass at the top of Tayo Hill, his tweed jacket hanging open, the early September sun warming his curly chest. He drew a slow breath in through his long snout. With his eyes alone, the sky above and the edge of the nearby forest were shades of gray, some blue and the occasional spark of red, but with his eyes and nose together he sensed the deep jade of the grass, the seared blue of the sky, and the speckled browns and greens of the woods. There were other smells too, the hot steel, gray and angry crimson of the distant foundry, and the dusty silver stench of the mines. Worst of all was the coal smoke, oily black and papery ash, that wafted from the town. That could not be helped. There had already been some cool nights, and dogs needed to heat their houses.
“There you are,” said Tuppence as she crested the hill, her scent all burnt orange, the breeze tousling her wheaten hair. “A letter has arrived. It has Lady Hourglass’s seal on it.”
Orwell folded his forepaws across his belly. “Can you bring it here? I’m enjoying this.”
“I’m not your servant and messenger,” Tuppence said. “Stay here and get it later, or come down now. I suggest the latter, since breakfast is ready.”
Orwell sat up, grumbling. Tuppence was already halfway back down the hill, tail swinging. Orwell watched her and a sudden wave of frustration and sadness passed over him, dispelling his moment of happiness. He shook his head, making his ears flap, uncertain of the source of this darkness but suspecting that it was something to do with the view. There below lay his house, low and rambling the way dogs liked it, all heavy beams and plaster, with a square four-storey tower at one end, an unusual feature, but Orwell liked it that way. Between him and the house was his workshop, a long wooden structure like a barn, the place where he kept his machines and his laboratory and the results of his experiments.
That was it, he decided. Looking at the workshop in the clear morning light, so beautiful and full of promise, reminded him of how stagnant he had become.
“Orwell!” Tuppence shouted up to him. “Stop worrying and come down! Schuster made pancakes.”
The kitchen had that comfy den feeling, with pots hanging from the beams and a massive oak slab of a table under the east windows. Orwell took his customary seat while Schuster, a light gray schnauzer and the youngest of the four dogs that lived in the house, busied himself at the cast iron stove. As usual, Schuster wore his goggles as he tended three sizzling pans.
“It’s ready!” the pup announced, flipping pancakes, bacon, and fresh duck eggs onto four crockery plates, then plunking each plate down on its mat.
Bronte put his long nose against one of the cakes. “You put raisins in them,” he said, his eyebrows twitching.
Schuster’s ears fell. “You don’t like them?”
“It’s okay,” Bronte said, looking away and licking his lips, as he always did when he was a little embarrassed. “I’ll just spit them out.”
Bronte was a Scottish terrier, one of the Old Breeds, just as Orwell and Tuppence and Schuster were all of different Old Breeds, dogs who stayed with their own kind, as decreed by the Masters centuries ago. Or so it was said. Orwell was not so sure. He was not even sure he knew what “Scottish” meant, whether it referred to a type of fur, a smell, or maybe a place.
He grabbed the pot of maple syrup with a scowl, irritated with his own ignorance.
“Another fine breakfast, Schuster,” Tuppence said as she took her seat and placed Lady Hourglass’s letter on the table.
Schuster shrugged and pushed his goggles to the top of his head. “I forgot that Bronte doesn’t like raisins. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Bronte repeated, spitting a raisin onto his plate.
Orwell put down his fork and picked up the letter. Lady Hourglass was the mayor of Washport. Orwell cracked the wax seal and began to read.
“The mayor wants me to come into town and meet someone,” he said, “this morning if it’s convenient. At ten o’clock. She doesn’t say who.” He made a face. “I admit to being curious, but I’m not at her beck and call!”
Tossing down the letter, he finished his breakfast in one massive bite, cramming bacon, eggs and pancakes into his mouth all at once before rising from the table and taking his cleared plate to the washtub. Next to the tub sat his windup dish washing machine, with its automatic scrubber, one of his many inventions, now gathering cobwebs. It had not worked in months due to a chipped gear, and he had made no effort to fix it.
He tossed his plate into the washtub and turned to glare at his companions.
“All right, I assume you’re all coming with me?” he said by way of insisting.
Bronte and Schuster stared back with wide eyes, while Tuppence gave him one of her, “I know you better than you do yourself,” looks.
“Of course we’re coming!” she barked.
They took the autowagon, another of Orwell’s contraptions, a light wooden carriage that rolled on four massive wheels. The wheels had studded rims about a foot wide, and the vehicle was powered by a small wood-fueled steam engine. Orwell hated the engine’s huge water boiler and thought there must be a better way.
“I could run faster than this thing,” Tuppence quipped as they chuffed along.
“Then get out and run,” said Orwell, knowing that she would not, that she just enjoyed teasing him.
“I would have to go on all fours,” she said, “and that would be awkward.”
Schuster drove. He wore his goggles and a leather coat with many pockets. Bronte sat next to him on the front bench, cradling a long wooden club wrapped in leather. Orwell had questioned the terrier’s decision to bring the club, and Bronte had simply stated that, “Something’s making me nervous.”
Orwell had not argued with that. Something smelled off.
The autowagon took them down the hill, through the belt of woods known as the Mouseline, and into Washport. The smell of the sea grew stronger, seaweed and fish and sand and rocks, all green and gray and tan, but now overlaid with the odor of many dogs. Down the wide earthen main street they went, between the rows of low and sprawling houses, some of plaster and beam, and many made from hollowed-out mounds of earth. Dogs came out of the squat doorways to watch as the autowagon passed, and a few pups fell in and followed, skipping and barking and laughing, while an old grey-snout pushing a wheelbarrow raised her paw and called out, “Orwell!”
Orwell flicked a forepaw in response, but pulled his head down into the collar of his jacket.
The autowagon rolled into the Town Square and Schuster brought it to a hissing stop next to the Town Hall, one of the few multi-storey buildings in town. Parked at the bottom of the hall’s wide stone steps was a large open carriage, harnessed to two massive neohorses.
Schuster pushed back his goggles and stared up at the Town Hall’s tall clock tower.
“I’ll stay here,” he said. “Keep the boiler hot.”
Orwell nodded, but he was looking at the neohorse carriage. It was somewhat luxurious, with spring wheels and leather seats. Two dogs sat in front, terriers of the fighting sort, each with a red wool scarf wrapped around its neck. They looked at Orwell, and he looked back.
“Something’s wrong,” Bronte said in a quiet voice. “I smell something… funny.”
One of the mayor’s aides, a tiny Breedless, met and escorted them into the main office, a circular room with dark wood panelling and a high domed ceiling. Sitting in one of the stuffed chairs gathered around the fireplace was Lady Hourglass, a silky white Pomeranian. Next to her reclined a large white poodle with well combed and powdered hair. The poodle wore a mauve jacket and matching trousers, and over his shoulders was a sort of robe or cape of fine sheep’s wool. He smelled like flowers.
“That’s it,” Bronte whispered, pointing.
Orwell snorted and stood with his forepaws clenched behind his back. Tuppence uttered a derisive grunt.
“Ah, Orwell,” said Lady Hourglass. “Thank you for coming. Won’t you sit?”
Orwell muttered thanks and sank into one of the chairs, as did Tuppence and Bronte.
“Good, good,” the mayor said, and she waved one tiny paw at her companion. “Have you met Burwell?”
The fancy poodle stood. Orwell did the same. He was about to lean forward to touch noses with the stranger in greeting, but something about the other’s haughty manner stopped him.
“No, no, we haven’t met,” he said.
“I am a scientist and inventor,” said Burwell, looking down a fine poodle snout fully three inches longer than Orwell’s. “My family has property here, and I have returned to claim it. The old castle estate on Ragged Point.”
“Burwell’s family,” the mayor said, “is one of the founding families of our town. He has deep roots here, and has offered to do something about the smell of the coal.”
“I see,” Orwell said. “Then maybe we’ll get a chance to work together.”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Burwell said, “as there can be only one scientist in Washport.”
Orwell thought perhaps Burwell had made a poor joke. “What do you mean?”
“So say the Rules for Dogs, as handed down by the Masters. ‘There shall be no more than one scientist for each city state, to act as advisor to the head of that state.’”
Orwell laughed. “The Rules for Dogs? What?”
Of course he knew the Rules, a document that dated from the founding of the city states, when, it was thought, the Masters had left the earth. The Rules were a legal code, at times sensible and at times strange and seemingly arbitrary. The most incomprehensible sections had, for the most part, been replaced by newer laws, but no one would argue that the Rules had ever been completely extinguished.
“My ancestors were among the founders of this city state,” Burwell added, laying one paw upon his mauve chest. “I am the first son of a first litter. This is my birthright. This is my jurisdiction. This is also laid down in the Rules.”
“I have property here, too,” Orwell growled, angry now. “And if this state can only have one scientist, it already does. Me!”
Burwell sighed. “My family is older. That gives me precedence. So say the Rules.”
Orwell struggled to keep his temper. Rounding on the mayor, he said, “This is what you invited me here for? You’re going along with this?”
The mayor looked concerned, a look that had helped win her elections, and clasped her paws. She did not need to say anything, for Orwell could smell it, smell the truth of it, an ugly slimy green thing. The mayor was taking this nonsense seriously!
“I have a proposal,” she said. “The Rules still have some force in law. The city needs its scientist, and it has been Orwell for some time, I suppose. But now we have a challenge, and to meet a challenge, we need a contest. Am I right?”
Orwell just stared at her, but Burwell said, “What sort of contest?”
The mayor hopped down from her chair. She stood about as high as Burwell’s waist.
“Whoever can come up with the best solution to our coal stink problem,” she said, “will win the honor of becoming the city scientist.”
Tuppence was outraged, her hair standing straight out from the sides of her head.
“One scientist for each city state?” she said as Schuster piloted the autowagon homeward. “What does that even mean? What if every dog in the town decided to conduct experiments, just for their own satisfaction? That would be illegal? Pure barbarism!”
Orwell shrugged and looked at Bronte, who was cradling his truncheon in the crook of one foreleg and looking even sadder than usual.
“Dog society was barbaric at the time of the Rules,” Orwell said.
“Take it to the Court of Justice!” Tuppence said. “This rule needs to be overturned.”
Orwell shook his head. That was an option, of course, but the court was slow, and the date of the contest had been set for the final day of September.
“I can do this,” Orwell said. “I can win this contest. I’m Orwell.”
Tuppence looked at him for a moment.
“We’ll give you whatever help you need,” she said after a while.
Orwell glanced at the passing trees, scenting the sunlight on their bright green leaves, which was wonderful, but not wonderful enough to stop his heart from sinking.
“You see it,” he said. “I know you do. All I do is stare at the sky and the trees and daydream… I’ve stopped making discoveries, and haven’t invented anything new or useful.”
She leaned toward him and pressed her nose into his side.
“But that’s what a scientist does best,” she said. “Daydreams, wonders and questions.”
“No, no, don’t try to deny it,” he told her. “A good scientist questions and then experiments and finds answers. I’ve been idle. And even before that… what have I really done? Built gadgets. I’m nothing but a tinker.”
Tuppence laughed. “And what’s Burwell done that’s so incredible? He came here riding a wagon drawn by big dumb neohorses. We rode in your autowagon!”
“It’s just a gadget,” he insisted. “And something I did a long time ago.”
Schuster made a special dinner. “To cheer us all up,” he said. There was venison chops, farmed bovine steaks, brook trout in his own special batter, apples and blueberries. Orwell could not eat a bite, and afterwards just sat at the table while the others fell to mundane tasks. Bronte polished one of his long curved swords, while Tuppence washed the dishes and brought in a bundle of firewood, and Schuster went out to the barn to service the autowagon.
At last, Orwell climbed to the top of the tower, to his Brooding Room, where he kept his books and had his favourite chair. Despite what he had said to Tuppence on the drive home, he would not allow himself to wallow in self-pity for long. He would keep going, despite everything.
Throwing open the tower window, he sniffed the late afternoon air. The coal stink had already started. It was the smell of industry, of progress, but it had always bothered him. Why must progress pollute? Why must something that made some things better end up making new problems? The Masters had found the answer, but they were gone. It was up to dogs, now.
A memory came to him then, a dim memory of an old idea.
He went to his workshop. There in a corner was a bucket of Washportite, a soft, almost oozy black mineral that was peculiar to the region, but that the Diggers discarded as inferior to the harder coal. Orwell had often wondered if it was a kind of congealed oil. It did burn, though in a sputtering way, as if full of impurities.
Taking a piece of the Washportite from the bucket, he crushed it with a hammer and then ground it in a pestle, pouring the resulting dust in turpentine where, he hoped, it would dissolve. He then set up an array of glassware to begin the fractional distillation process: a fish oil burner, a still pot, condenser and receiving beaker.
After that there was nothing else to be done, so he went to bed.
At sunrise, he returned to the workshop, munching a piece of toast, where he was pleased to see that the crushed Washportite had turned to black ooze.
He worked throughout the day, distilling the oil from the rock. The first attempt produced a dark brown sludge, but the second resulted in a golden liquid. Two more distillations led to something that resembled water.
“But will it burn?” he said to the room.
He looked at the fish oil burner. The Washportite oil should burn in the same way.
Taking a rag from his work bench, he tore a strip from it and dipped one end in the new oil. He then held this over fish oil lamp’s weak flame. The bit of rag ignited with a flash and burned with a bright white flame that had no odor.
He should have been pleased, even triumphant, but instead he dropped onto a stool, murmuring, “Why didn’t I follow this up before? What’s wrong with it?”
The answer was not obvious. He extinguished the lamp and the bit of burning cloth, returned to the house and went to bed.
He awoke to the sound of barking and the overwhelming stink of smoke. The room was lit by the lurid glare of fire from outside the windows.
“The workshop,” he said, leaping out of bed and dashing into the yard.
The roof of the workshop was engulfed in flames. Bronte and Tuppence were running to and fro, removing small items from the burning building and piling them on the ground. Schuster was sitting in the grass, holding one paw to his head.
“Get away from the building before it collapses, you idiots!” Orwell shouted. “Fetch the fire pump! We have to keep the fire away from the house!”
The fire pump was stored next to the well instead of in the workshop, a bit of fortune or foresight. Bronte and Tuppence rushed to it and uncoiled its long fabric intake hose, dropping it down into the water. Tuppence then operated the spray nozzle while Bronte started working the large hand pump lever. Orwell checked on Schuster, who waved him away, saying, “Deal with the fire!”
After half an hour, the workshop was a blackened ruin, but the house was safe. Exhausted, wet from leaks in the pump hose and covered in soot, Orwell at last knelt beside Schuster.
“Okay, tell me what happened. Are you badly hurt?”
Schuster shook his head. “I just came out to check on the autowagon, like I do every night. There were dogs in the yard. They had torches. I shouted at them and one of them hit me and took my goggles. I grabbed this from one of them,” he held up a scrap of cloth, “but they got away.”
“I’m supposed to protect us,” Bronte whined. “I failed. I failed in my duty!”
“Enough of that,” Orwell snapped. “When has anything like this ever happened? You had no way of knowing.”
He took the bit of cloth from Schuster and examined it. Tuppence had brought a candle lamp from the house, and in its dim light, Orwell could see that the bit of cloth was a scarf. A red woven scarf.
“Burwell was behind this!” she said. “The contest is off! He should be arrested.”
“All we can prove,” said Orwell, taking the scarf, “is that one of his dogs was involved. He can just deny that he had any knowledge of it.”
The hair on either side of Tuppence’s head was standing out again. “So you’re just going to do nothing?”
Orwell wanted to be outraged and devastated from his loss of property, but another part of his brain, a larger part, considered such emotions a needless distraction. That part of his brain was still thinking about his distillation of Washportite.
“What we’re going to do,” he said, “is get some shovels. If we still have shovels?”
A minute later, Schuster and Bronte, kerchiefs over their snouts, cleared away some of the still smouldering ash and rubble from the destroyed workshop, turning up a small boiler housing, blackened but still intact, that they rolled to one side. A little more digging revealed a trap door in the workshop’s brick floor.
“Some of your caution seems to have rubbed off on me, Bronte,” Orwell said. “I moved my lab into the old root cellar.”
Beneath the trap door, down a short flight of steps, all of Orwell’s work benches, and his distillation apparatus, were just where he had left them, untouched by the fire.
A sense of urgency gripped him. He could still do this! There was an answer waiting for him, if he could just discover what it was.
“What have you been working on?” Tuppence said, looking around in wonder.
Orwell did not answer. “I need to get at it,” he said. “There’s not much time.”
The days passed in a blur, and then it was the thirtieth of September. With Bronte’s help, Orwell loaded the results of his labours into the back of the autowagon. It was a small thing, a simple thing, but he felt it had a great deal of promise, and wished he had been able to develop it further. He wondered what he would do if he lost the contest. None of them had been willing to discuss the possibility, to face that reality. But it was real nonetheless.
“Well, I did my best,” he said, with a sigh. “Let’s just get going.”
The autowagon chuffed into town. The Town Square was crowded with dogs, maybe the entire population of Washport. They gave a ragged cheer at Orwell’s arrival and parted to let the autowagon through. A few cheered again as Orwell jumped down from his bench seat and turned to face the mayor and the council, arrayed on the steps of the Town Hall. The colonel of the Washport Regiment, a large Shepherd, stood with them, wearing a blue jacket with gold lace, a sabre at his side.
Burwell was there as well, waiting next to a tall object draped in a canvas tarpaulin. Behind him was the neohorse carriage, its seats stuffed with five of the fighting terriers in their red scarves.
“You’re late, Orwell,” Burwell said in a booming voice, grinning at the crowd. “We thought maybe you weren’t coming.”
“I’m here,” Orwell said.
The mayor stepped forward. She wore a green tunic and the seal of her office, a gold chain and a medallion in the shape of a dog’s forepaw.
“We are gathered here,” she said, addressing the crowd, “to witness two great minds in a contest of invention and imagination!”
There was another cheer, and Orwell’s stomach did a flip. The mayor was trying to turn something rather grim, something that could lead to his ruin, into a carnival!
“Let’s just get on with it!” he snapped.
The mayor nodded, her smile unwavering. “The challenge is to provide a solution to the overpowering smell of coal smoke, which pervades our good city state, primarily in the winter months, but also as a bi-product of our budding industry, and so interferes with our everyday perception of the world around us. Who shall present their offer first?”
Burwell strode forward before Orwell could react.
“Allow me to present my solution,” he said, pointing with both paws to the object under the tarp. One of the terriers jumped down from the carriage and pulled the tarp free, revealing what looked like a small clay smoke stack wrapped in bits of copper tubing.
Orwell stared at it. “What is it?”
“As you know,” Burwell continued, “coal is made of many chemical substances. When burned, some of these substances are released, and they overpower us with their stench. This simple device will remove those substances from the smoke, and thus much of the stink. It fits onto the top of any chimney. These pipes inject a mixture of cold water and powdered lime into the smoke. This filters the smoke and creates a useful gypsum mixture which is captured in this attached tank.”
He fixed Orwell with a smug grin.
Orwell stroked his chin with one forepaw. For a moment he forgot the contest, forgot his fear and anger. He thought Burwell’s device was brilliant.
“Not bad, Burwell,” he said.
The crowd applauded politely, but the mayor looked worried.
“It seems a little expensive,” she said. “Where will all that water come from? How will you power the pumps?”
Burwell’s grin wavered, and his eyes narrowed. “The water injectors are gravity fed. The water will come from the same place it comes from now. From rain water and wells.”
The mayor was shaking her head. “It seems expensive.”
“I assure you the concept is sound! And anyway, what has Orwell produced?”
A hush fell over the town square. All eyes turned to Orwell, Orwell the famous local wizard, with his funny devices and funny ways, and his odd family of different Breeds.
“Lads,” Orwell said, “get that thing down from the autowagon, will you?”
Schuster and Bronte hoisted the object from the back of the still hissing steamer and placed it on the flagstones in front of Orwell. It looked just like an old boiler on legs.
Burwell laughed. “What is this?”
Tuppence handed Orwell a jug she had taken from the autowagon. Orwell pulled the cork from the jug and poured a clear liquid into a small funnel built into the side of the boiler. A strange odor rose from the liquid, a somewhat coaly smell that quickly dissipated.
“This, my Lady Hourglass,” Orwell said, with just a touch of pride, pride he had not felt in his work in a long time, “is a heater. My suggestion is that we reduce coal stink by reducing our use of coal. This thing won’t power our machines of industry, but we can use it in our homes.”
Burwell was still laughing. Orwell opened the lid on the top of the boiler, revealing a mostly empty metal canister. In its bottom was what looked like a covered pan to contain the clear liquid. In the center of the pan was a circular wick made from the red woven scarf.
“You see, I extracted this oil, which I call Orwellene, from the Washportite we discard from the mine. It’s a liquid fuel. This wick,” and he gave Burwell a knowing stare, “draws the liquid to the top. The fumes rise. Simply light it, and the rising oil fumes burn without burning much of the wick, heating the inside of the canister.”
Schuster produced one of Orwell’s pocket firestarters, lit it and touched the flame to the top of the wick. It caught. He quickly shut the boiler lid.
“The best part,” Orwell said, “is that Orwellene burns with no smell.”
He stood back. Somebody started clapping, and someone else cheered. Then the entire crowd erupted in applause and whistles. The mayor smiled.
Orwell felt warmth spreading through him, like the radiant heat from his invention. He scented the crowd’s approval, their genuine interest, and their admiration, a thing of gold and cream and glittering silver. It surprised him.
He thought perhaps he had just won the contest.
Burwell was scowling. “I cry foul! The object of the contest was to stop coal from smelling!”
“No,” said Orwell, “we were to solve the issue of the smell. It’s nothing to do with coal, really.”
“You seek to cheat me?” Burwell said.
The fighting terriers jumped down from the carriage and formed a line either side of the big poodle. The crowd again fell silent. Burwell’s cronies had their paws on their truncheons. Orwell could smell their hate, their desire to harm, sour purple and bruise blue, with a hint of pain red and scarlet arrogance.
“I won’t stand to be cheated,” Burwell said, and pointed at the Orwellene heater. “Knock this thing to bits!”
The terriers rushed forward, but in a dark blur, Bronte tackled the first, driving him to the ground and snatching his truncheon, and in a whirl of black fur, struck down the other four fighting dogs almost at the same time, leaving them whining and holding their heads on the cold flagstones.
“Not this time!” Bronte cried.
Burwell had backed into his panicking neohorses, which whinnied and stamped the flags. The colonel of the Washport Regiment drew his sword and advanced on him, but the mayor jumped in between them and shouted, “There must be no violence! No violence! Burwell, how dare you? I declare Orwell the winner!”
Another great roar of approval erupted from the crowd.
“And you,” the mayor added to Burwell, “you will have to leave.”
“I’m the first son of a first litter!” Burwell almost shrieked. “This is my town. I won’t leave!”
“The Rules say you must!”
“Wait,” said Orwell. “Wait.”
He took a few steps toward his enemy, careful not to tread on his injured cronies. Schuster and Bronte came up to stand on his left, Tuppence on his right.
“I want him to stay,” Orwell said.
There were gasps from the gathered dogs, and protests from the members of the Council. The mayor looked taken aback. “After this?”
Orwell held the lapels of his jacket. He thought of his workshop, deliberately destroyed. He thought of this arrogant son of an old wealthy family, throwing his weight around, making this ridiculous assault. And he thought of the brilliant smoke cleaner.
“Before this contest,” he said, “I’d lost my inclination to work. Burwell inspired me.” He pointed at Burwell’s invention. “This is good. We may be able to combine our two gadgets. They have different uses.”
Burwell stared at him with a mix of hatred and hope on his long face.
“Whatever the Rules say,” Orwell continued, “we need more than one dog in the pursuit of science in this town. The Rules need to change.”
He turned his back. His friends followed him. He did not wait for an answer. He did not need to. He was Orwell, and he was victorious.
In addition to writing short fiction in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, Harold R. Thompson is the author of the “Empire and Honor” series of historical adventure novels, which include Dudley’s Fusiliers, Guns of Sevastopol and Sword of the Mogul. His latest novel, The End of the Tether, was just released. He lives in Nova Scotia and, when not writing or spending time with his family, works for Parks Canada.
I enjoyed this. It was a clever way to relay a moral without sounding preachy.
This “ecological” tale is told in a dog society, which has the same polution problem humans do. The clever use of solutions for coal smell invokes a bit a science that comes across as genuine. I enjoyed the resolution of the contest. Perhaps the conflict between the scientists could have started earlier in the story and had some more direct confrontations, but the fantasy worked.