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A Short Tale of A Rabbit by Nellie McClung

 

(Reprinted by permission of Canada West Monthly.)

Johnny was the only John rabbit in the family that lived in the poplar bluff in the pasture. He had a bold and adventurous spirit, but was sadly hampered by his mother's watchfulness. She was as full of warnings as the sign-board at the railway crossing. It was "Look out for the cars!" all the time with mother. She warned him of dogs and foxes, hawks and snakes, boys and men. It was in vain that Johnny showed her his paces—how he could leap and jump and run. She admitted that he was quite a smart little rabbit for his age, but—oh, well! you know what mothers are like.

Johnny was really tired of it, and then, too, Johnny had found out that what mother had said about dogs was very much exaggerated. Johnny had met two dogs, so he thought he knew something about them. One was a sleek, fat, black puppy, with a vapid smile, called Juno; and the other was an amber-eyed spaniel with woolly, fat legs. They had run after Johnny one day when he was out playing on the road, and he had led them across a ploughed field. Johnny was accustomed to add, as he told the story to the young rabbits that lived down in the pasture, that he had to spurt around the field a few times after the race was over just to limber up his legs—he was so cramped from sitting around waiting for the dogs. So it came about that Johnny, in his poor, foolish little heart, thought dogs were just a joke.

Johnny's mother told him that all men were bad, and the men who carried guns were worst of all, for guns spit out fire and death. She said there were men who wore coats the color of dead grass, and drove in rigs that rattled and had dogs with them, and they killed ducks and geese that were away up in the air. She said those men drove miles and miles just to kill things, and they lived sometimes in a little house away out near the lakes where the ducks stayed, and they didn't mind getting up early in the morning or sitting up at night to get a shot at a duck, and when they got the ducks they just gave them away. If half what old Mrs. Rabbit said about them was true, they certainly were the Bad Men from Bitter Creek! Johnny listened, big-eyed, to all this, and there were times when he was almost afraid to go to bed. Still, when he found out that dogs were not so dangerous, he began to think his mother might have overstated the man question, too.

One day Johnny got away from his mother, when she was busy training the other little rabbits in the old trick of dodging under the wire fence just when the dog is going to grab you. Johnny knew how it was done—it was as easy as rolling off a log for him, and so he ran away. He came up at the Agricultural Grounds. He had often been close to the fence before, but his mother had said decidedly he must never go in.

Just beside the gate he found a bread crust which was lovely, and there might be more, mightn't there? There wasn't a person in sight, or a dog. Johnny went a little farther in and found a pile of cabbage leaves—a pile of them, mind you—he really didn't know what to think of his mother—she certainly was the limit! Johnny grew bolder; a little farther on he found more bread crumbs and some stray lettuce leaves—he began to feel a little sorry for his mother—lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves and bread crumbs—and she had said, "Don't go in there, Johnny, whatever you do!"

The band was playing, and there were flags in the air, but Johnny didn't notice it. He didn't know, of course, that the final lacrosse match of the season was going to be played that afternoon. Johnny had just gone into one of the cattle sheds to see what was there, when a little boy, with flopped-out ears and a Cow Brand Soda cap on, stealthily closed the gate. Johnny didn't know he had on a Cow Brand Soda cap, and he didn't know that the gate was shut, but he did know that that kind of a yell meant business. He wasn't afraid. Pshaw! He'd give young Mr. Flop-Ears a run for his money. Come on, kid—r-r-r-r-r! Johnny ran straight to the gate with a rabbit's unerring instinct, and hurled himself against it in vain. The flop-eared boy screamed with laughter. Then there were more Boys. And Dogs. All screaming. The primitive savage in them was awake now. Here was a wild thing who defied them, with all his speed. Johnny was running now with his ears laid back, mad with terror, dogs barking, boys screaming, even men joining in the chase, for the lust for blood was on them. Again Johnny made the circuit of the field—the noise grew—a hundred voices, it seemed, not one that was friendly. It was one little throbbing rabbit against the field, with all the odds against him, running for his life, and losing! "Sic him, Togo! Sic him, Collie! Gee! Can't he run? But we've got him this time. He'll soon slow up." A dog snapped at him and his hind leg grew heavy. Some one struck at him with a lacrosse stick, and then—

He found himself running alone. Behind him a dog yelped with pain, and above the noise someone shouted: "Here, you kids, let up on that! Shame on you! Let him alone! Call off your dogs, there! Poor little duffer, let him go. Get back there, Twin!"

Johnny ran dazed and dizzy, and once more made the circuit and dashed again for the gate. But this time the gate was open, and Johnny was free! Saved, and by whom?

Well, of course, old Mrs. Rabbit didn't believe a word of it when Johnny went home and told her who called off the dogs and opened the gate for him. She said,—well, she talked very plainly to Johnny, but he stuck to it, that he owed his life to one of the Bad Men who wear clothes the color of grass, and whose gun spits fire and death. For old Mrs. Rabbit made just the same mistake that many people make of thinking that a man that hunts must be cruel, forgetting that the true sportsman loves the wild things he makes war on, and though he kills them, he does it fairly and openly.