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Squirrel and Hare and Big Grey Rabbit all lived together in a well-fortified hide-out with a good look-out in front and a quick getaway door behind. Hare was the muscleman of the set-up, and if any climbing or breaking and entering was needed then Squirrel was your man, but Big Grey Rabbit was the brains of the outfit. Old Wise Owl had long suspected her of being behind the Home Farm young wheat raid and the Top Meadow asset-stripping job, but he couldn’t pin it on her.
            ‘Keep your eyes on her,’ he said to Moldy Warp the mole. Moldy Warp nodded and walked into a tree. Owl sighed. You just couldn’t get officer material these days.
            One day Hare and Squirrel burst through the door and kissed Big Grey Rabbit on either cheek.
            ‘Happy Birthday!’ they cried.
            ‘Lay off,’ she growled
            ‘Come on, Big Grey,’ they said. ‘Come up to Big Field and see the birthday treat we’ve got for you.’
            ‘Oh, come on!’ said Big Grey. ‘Don’t you know it’s the Anti-Rabbit Month? With posters everywhere saying: “Wanted For Every Crime In The Book: Rabbits”? And you want me to go up to Big Field? Forget it!’
            ‘But we’ve got a real nice surprise for you,’ said Hare plaintively.
            And eventually, protesting, she allowed herself to be persuaded. Big Grey Rabbit put on her galoshes and scarf, then her bullet-proof vest and dark glasses, and together they went up to Big Field where the new barley swayed in the wind, mostly headless on account of previous visits by the same syndicate.
            ‘So where’s my big treat?’ said Big Grey suspiciously.
            Four shots rang out. She fell dead. By the time the farmer stepped from behind the tree to reload, Hare and Squirrel were already back home.
            ‘It’ll be lonely without Big Grey,’ said Hare, giving himself a stiff Scotch.
            ‘We’ve got the reward to keep us warm,’ said Squirrel. ‘Fancy paying all that just for one rabbit. Anyway, she was getting too big for her two-tone bootees. Good riddance, I say.’
            ‘Let’s hope they don’t declare an anti-hare or anti-squirrel month,’ mused Hare.             ‘Because I don’t trust you no further than I can see you.’
            They clinked glasses frostily. Back in Big Field Wise Old Owl moodily stirred Big Grey Rabbit with his toe and sighed. Another unsolved murder.
            ‘Go and ask Hare and Squirrel where they were at the time of the killing,’ he told Moldy Warp heavily.
            ‘What killing?’ said the mole, squinting at what seemed to be a grey rug wearing trendy shoes, on the ground. Owl groaned. Moldy Warp thought he’d better carry out the order, saluted smartly, and knocked himself out cold.


Who killed Buck Rabbit?
I, said the farmer,
I shot the varmin:
I killed Buck Rabbit.
Who’ll cook Buck rabbit?
I, said his wife.
I’m sharpening
My knife- I’ll cook Buck rabbit.
Who’ll shoot another?
I, said his brother;
No fuss, No bother,
I’ll kill another!
Who’ll get the rest?
We, said the county
We don’t need a bounty,
We just loathe the pest!
We’ll kill the rest.
All the folk of the countryside soon made it a habit
To grab it or stab it or otherwise nab it
As soon as they ran into any Buck Rabbit.

 

            It was one of those oppressive days in mid-June when the sunshine is so strong that it manages to penetrate even the dark recesses of the Wild Woods and mottle the forest floor, but the Weasel had found a cool patch of shadow on a damp mat of green moss and sat quite happily staring around him. Even in the depth of summer, he thought, the woods were still the best place on earth to live. And as he stared, he suddenly realised that the pile of dead leaves at which he had been unconsciously staring for five minutes had given a little twitch. There! It gave another. A little opening appeared near the top. Then there was a small flurry of leaves and a face appeared. A sharp, whiskery face, with friendly, tiny narrow-set eyes. It was the Stoat!
            ‘Hello, Stoaty!’ cried Weasel. ‘How grand to see you. Have you been having an adventure?’
            Stoat shook off the last leaves and came out.
            ‘To tell you the truth, I’ve been having a good long sleep,’ he yawned. ‘All this sunshine makes a chap dozy. Give me winter any day, when the woods are a lovely dank grey and the nights are long for hunting. You can’t touch a long dark cold winter’s night. There’s nothing… nothing at all… quite half so good as simply messing about in the dark.’
            ‘Well, I feel like an adventure,’ said the Weasel, stoutly. ‘Couldn’t we just go and see what lies beyond the woods? Just once?’
            ‘Don’t be an ass,’ said Stoat very sharply. ‘My dear good fellow, we woodlanders never go beyond the tree. It’s enemy territory. It’s the Open Fields! Here is home and friendship; out there danger lurks behind every hedge, in every ditch. The place is swarming with nasty creatures that live in water and down holes and have big sharp teeth which they would use on you in a second. Rabbits, water rats, badgers, moles. And beyond that is…The River!’
            ‘The River?’ said Weasel.
            But Stoat had disappeared.
            The more Weasel thought about it, the less he felt disposed to obey Stoaty’s warning. He could look after himself. He was old enough to have an adventure by himself. He would go out in the Open Fields!
            And that night, when the sun had set and everything was wonderfully cool again, he set off into the fields. But out of sight of the friendly trees he felt his courage begin to ebb. He had never been in such places before. As far as he looked there seemed to be no cover, no hollows in which to hide, nowhere he could sink into invisibly. A sudden panic overtook him and he rushed back blindly the way he had come, as fast as he could, until out of nowhere something seemed to grab at his feet and he fell, painfully, into a horrible, slimy, shapeless mass, unable to move.
            He was still there an hour later when Stoat, flashing a torch and calling his name, found him.
            ‘Oh, Stoaty,’ moaned Weasel. ‘I have been so silly and so frightened, and now I have hurt my leg.’
            ‘Let this be a lesson,’ Stoat reproved him. You are lucky to be alive. You have run into a molehill, one of the many traps left by the great and terrible Mole, the enemy of all humans and animals, the digger of pits and ravager of the landscape. Now come with me and try to be a sadder but, I hope, a wiser Weasel.’

PUNCH February 18 1976

 

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