Fifty miles south of the mighty Columbia River, along the banks of Big Muddy Creek near Antelope, sits the Prince family ranch. Eight-year-old Larry Prince loves where he lives. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. The preacher at the little church the family attends often mentions heaven where “… we will be forever with God in a perfect world.” As far as Larry is concerned, he already lives in heaven. At least, that’s the way he looks at the hills, valleys and rivers near the family’s comfortable home. Well, almost heaven. He tolerates school because he has to. But, he’d rather be trotting along a dirt trail in Ponderosa Canyon south of the Prince Ranch or sitting on the bank of Big Muddy Creek with his fish line testing the water.
Last Sunday, while sitting on his favorite boulder, he saw a huge eagle circling high in the azure sky.
“That would be like heaven too,” he thought. “Flying like an eagle… maybe being in an airplane is like that.”
But he’d flown. At least in his imagination he could soar like an eagle… ride the thermals, look down on the rolling hills and delightful valleys of the expansive prairie far below.
Suddenly, Larry’s eye caught movement of something nearby. The best looking jackrabbit he’d ever seen hopped into view and assumed an alert stance on a mound of dirt overlooking the creek.
Larry eased to his feet and began inching his way toward the handsome rabbit hoping he might make friends with him.
“You look like a Ringo Rabbit to me,” Larry said out loud.
Larry thought for a moment that the rabbit… that Ringo wanted to answer back… but instead the large animal jumped into the air and scampered off and disappeared into a clump of scrub juniper 50 yards to the east.
“That’s my Ringo,” Larry called, “But you watch out… someday we’ll be friends.”
Larry picked up his pole, his tackle box and started back to the ranch house. The eagle was lower now in the sky. Larry wondered what had attracted its attention. He hoped it wasn’t Ringo. But, he had no control over that.
He turned and trotted north toward home. He knew his mother would soon be calling him in for supper.
Rusty Eagle circled and glided down to settle on a sturdy limb of a scrubby oak, his giant wings folding in on themselves against his enormous body. He’d been to the Columbia River visiting friends and scouting for salmon. He was on his way to his home near the Rogue River in Southern Oregon.
From his perch, his eagle-eye spotted his friend, Ringo Rabbit, scavenging the parched ground for morsels of grass and other leafy weeds that managed to survive the arid conditions in this part of Oregon. He began his descent.
Far below, Ringo nibbled on a yellow flower.
Scarcity of food was not the only threat wild rabbits faced living near Antelope, Oregon. To survive, they also had to avoid sneaky bobcats, wolves, coyotes, eagles and other big birds that feed on rabbits. Rabbits learned to share hideouts. Hundreds of burrows dotting the landscape ensured that a rabbit was never far from sanctuary. And fortunately, the maker designed rabbit’s eyes so that they have a wide field of vision on both sides of their heads
Suddenly, Ringo froze. Above and to his left rear he spotted an eagle resting on the oak branch. Ringo had seconds to decide weather to scamper for cover or stay frozen to see what the eagle had in mind. If the eagle came for him, he would thump hard on the ground several times to warn other nearby rabbits and then scamper in a zigzag pattern for the opening of a burrow he knew to be close by
“It’s okay,” the eagle said.
Ringo turned to face it directly. It was Rusty Eagle.
“You scared me,“ the nervous rabbit said dropping his ears and taking a deep breath.
“… Knew I would!” Rusty said laughing.
“ … Haven’t seen an eagle in a couple of days. I was getting careless,” Ringo said taking two hops toward the oak on which Rusty sat.
The big eagle hopped from the branch, glided to the ground next to Ringo and asked, “What’s been happening in the lives of range rabbits?”
“Same ol’ eating, scampering, scratching, hopping, resting and sleeping,” the lanky rabbit said. He paused and added, “ … Barely escaped the slither of a slimy snake two days ago.”
“Wouldn’t know what that’s like,” Rusty said, half to himself.
“It was a huge red-tailed hawk before that…”
“Hawks are a nuisance… for sure.”
“… A creepy bobcat keeps after me… and the coyotes, and cougars…” Ringo added.
“Mercy…. “ Rusty returned.
“And I have to keep a sharp eye out for sly fox.
“Yeah,” Rusty drawled… then changed the subject, “It sure is hot… not that way in winter, I bet.”
“Nah… cold in winter… I’ve seen it freeze shut the eyes of range cattle…. forced to stay in the burrow for days on end… coldest times, food’s hard to find… nothin’ green. Ever try eating dry, yellow straw?”
You got it rough Ringo”, Rusty chuckled. “Doesn’t seem fair. Nice range of temperatures down in Rogue National. Why don’t you join me down there?” Rusty added half joking.
Ringo’s ears shot up, “How far is that?”
“See that field over there?”
“It’s about 2000 of those, that’s all.”
“You kidding!? That’d take at least seven lifetimes of hopping… I only got one.”
“Maybe I could carry you…” Rusty grinned.
“Those claws in my back? You kidding … I’ll pass.”
“Got an idea… another possibility for you to have the easy life,” Rusty said cocking his head. This morning, when I stopped in Antelope for a quick rest on my way, I noticed a sign that said a rabbit show’s coming…”
Ringo snorted at the idea.
“No, listen… they were inviting the hutch rabbits to compete.”
“Hutch rabbits… I’ve heard about hutch rabbits… How’d I compete with them… with their fluffy, soft coats, pink eyes and pretty noses … I’m just a range rabbit.”
“You’re a handsome ‘bit… you got nothing to loose and maybe a lot to gain… those rabbits don’t have to worry about anything. They have it pretty easy… Enter the contest. Impress ‘em and you’re set …”
“Hmmm… do you think?” Ringo mused. He’d heard about hutch rabbits from his grandpa… but had never seen one. All he knew about life was what he’d learned from living among country rabbits. He wondered what would it be like to be set.
“Some of those uppity girl rabbits are lookers,” Rusty said.
“Prettier than Sally Rabbit?”
“I doubt it… but worth noticing I’ll bet,” Rusty said. Then, stretching an enormous right wing, then left, he continued. “Listen… I gotta be headin’ out… want to make Waldo Lake before dark…”
“Hey, thanks for stopping by…”
“Glad I did,” Rusty said flapping both wings in preparation for takeoff. “But,” he added, “I’ll be back for the hutch rabbit judging… you can count on it. What-da you say?”
Ringo hopped away a few feet to avoid the dust in Rusty’s wake and called out, “I’ll think about it.”
Rusty circled and returned to hover just above Ringo. “You don’t want to make me make the trip for nothing!” he warned.
Ringo’s eyes widened. It was easy to say he would think about it to the big eagle. But promising to make himself vulnerable to uncertainty and even ridicule by entering the Hutch Rabbit contest was something else. He nervously thumped the ground several times with his fig foot. You don’t make promises to eagles lightly and then break them.
“And the blue ribbon for bravest rabbit goes to Ringo Rabbit,” Rusty shouted.
“I don’t see how… but, I promise,” Ringo yelled and swallowed hard.
With that, Rusty pumped his powerful wings, lifted himself high above Ringo and flew away to the south.
Ringo watched his friend become a speck in the sky. Then, his sharp ears picked up a familiar sound… the scratching of a twig across the ground. It was the unmistakable sound of a bobcat sneaking up on him. Ringo didn’t have to worry about predators as long as Rusty was near. But now it was different… the sober reality of being a range rabbit had returned. Ringo was lucky the bobcat had made a slight misstep. Ringo shot into action scampering a zigzag route into a nearby cluster of rabbit brush and dove into a burrow out of reach of the hungry cat.
Twelve-year-old Eric Prince, named his fussy American Chinchilla rabbit, His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire. The uppity rabbit lived in a cage on the family’s back porch in an area Eric called “Hutch Manor.”
After a meal of diced carrots, His Excellency pushed the silver platter to the side, dabbed his mouth with his spotless right paw, yawned and lapsed into droopy-eyed slumber. He only tolerated the presence of the slender boy big, dressed in blue denim pants, white shirt and smartly placed baseball cap, sitting near the enclosed chamber reserved for himself and the other special hutch rabbit living at Hutch Manor.
Though pampering is all His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esq. had ever known, he was annoyed when the wiry big scooted from the sitting stool on which he rested, rushed to the sizable chamber, reached in and with an angel white cloth wiped the single specks off His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire’s foot. It was the same for Her Grace Eleanor Elizabeth Margaret Diana Rabbit that occupied the sumptuous hutch across the room. As far as the two purebreds were concerned bigs seemed to be their servants and the two privileged rabbits made the most of it by not ever lifting a foot or wrinkling their noses for the slightest want.
Gourmet foods, puffy comforts, gentle words, delicate touches and immaculate cleanliness were routine at Hutch Manor. On Mondays, His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esq. and the other Roosevelt rabbits could expect filet mignon of clover. On Tuesdays, barbequed spare lettuce; Wednesdays soufflé of spinach; Thursdays, caviar glazed celery; Fridays, mist sprinkled halibut grass and Saturdays turnip green crepes. And everyday, the refined rabbits had come to expect generous portions of biscotti of carrot.
Two of the young Prince family bigs, had been working since last year’s Rabbit Breeder Association’s competition in Madras to prepare the two rabbits to compete in this year’s show. Eric’s entry was a senior American Chinchilla, while his 10-year-old sister, Lisa, groomed a junior Lionhead. Their mother, Elsie, tried to persuade the youngest family member, Larry, to participate in rabbit show but he was of another mind. He didn’t care about those kinds of things. They seemed reserved for uppity folks. He didn’t see anything special about His Excellency or Her Grace. And he wanted people to see the specialness in ordinary rabbits… the ones he saw every day during his walk down the lane that connected the county road to the ranch house. To him those rabbits were better looking than the spoiled rabbits tended by his brother and sister. In fact to him the wild rabbits looked tougher and smarter.
He could hardly wait to get off the school bus, down the lane and into the ranch house. He yelled “Hi,” to his mom as he dashed through the kitchen, grabbing a cookie on his way out the back door and across the yard to the supply shed standing next to the gray barn.
His grandpa had taught him to make rabbit traps and every summer he did. However, he had never managed to catch a rabbit.
“This time it’ll be different,” he thought as he gathered the materials he would need to construct his new trap.
He hoped to get the trap built and ready for action before he heard his mother’s voice calling him in for supper.
He grabbed a hammer, a handful of rusty nails, a stretch of bailing wire, several chunks of leftovers cedar boards, some binder twine and 10 strait pieces of the sage brush his mother used to stake tomatoes. At Grandpa’s workbench he began pounding and tying the lumber into shape. The next morning, when he didn’t have school, he planned to head for Sandy Draw, set the trap and wait for the action.
He was not quite finished when his mother’s voice interrupted his industry.
“It won’t take long in the morning,” he thought laying the hammer beside his masterpiece. He brushed his hand against his chest and dashed to the house.
On the last Saturday of each month purebred and pedigreed rabbit breeders living in and around Antelope gathered at the local grange hall to show off their prizes. They compete with each other in preparation for the fierce state competition soon to take place in Madras 30 miles away (as those pesky crows fly).
Eric and Lisa were up early before anyone else to prepare their rabbits for the trip into town.
His Highness Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III Esquire and Her Grace Eleanor Elizabeth Margaret Diana Rabbit were annoyed at being aroused so early, but were soon placated by the adoring looks and delicate touches they received from the two bigs hovering over them… not to mention the generous portion of minced spinach set before them.
Soon the rest of the Prince family was up getting ready for the trip to the grange hall. The now velvet covered enamel rabbit cages were paced in the van.
“Larry, you can’t wear that,” Else said to her youngest, “Put on your corduroys.”
“Mom, I’m not going to go,” Larry responded.
“Why?” Else asked. “You always have good time. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Mom. I just don’t want to go, this time.”
“Well, I’ll wonder… something to do with what you were doing in the shed last night?”
“Yeah, I’m making a rabbit trap and want to try it out….”
Else laughed. “That again… well, as long as grandpa is here with you… I guess…”
“We’ll be fine…” grandpa grunted sipping his coffee.
“Thanks Mom,” Larry grinned.
The white van loaded with four Prince’s and two rabbits headed down the lane.
Larry hugged grandpa, skipped out the door and to his project.
“Need any help,” Geepa called, “just holler.”
Larry pounded the last nail and tied the final sticks into place.
Geepa inspected his grandson’s work.
“What do you think, Geepa? Think it’ll work?”
“Don’t see why not… let’s just secure this a little,” Geepa said tightening several wires and pounding five nails into place. “Where you going to put it?”
“Up Sandy Draw,” Larry answered.
“Put it in the shade near a clump of rabbit brush and watch out for rattle snakes. Don’t take any chances…. You do that?
“Yeah, Geepa… I know about rattlers. I’ll watch out,” Larry said picking up the rabbit trap and heading south and into untamed brush land.
His Excellency and Her Grace didn’t like the monthly trips into town, especially when Darrell had to drive faster than normal because they got a late start. The country roads were rough. Big Muddy Road was little more than potholes and Tube Springs Road. wasn’t much better. It was not until the van reached Cold Camp Road that the people and rabbits could enjoy pavement.
Ordinarily, when they got to the grange and the competition, His Excellency and Her Grace were in their elements. They had become accustomed to setting the standard as to what champion rabbits should look like and their demeanor on the judge’s table had become legendary. The two pampered rabbits had no reason to believe that today would be any different. Well, they did look a little car sick.
Though it needed levels of repair, the grange hall in Antelope was kept immaculate and ready for any occasion… especially for the gathering of fussy rabbit breeders. Their insistence on cleanliness and tidiness was non-negotiable.
And though rules had never been put down on paper, the protocol for potluck food served to humans at the monthly event was no less stringent. Though they did their best to hide their anxiety, those who prepared and displayed dishes always worried that their offerings didn’t quite measure up to expectations. Joan Carroll brought appetizer kabobs displayed on a bright orange platter. Trudy Puckett brought cream cheese wontons neatly laid out on a silver dish and George Hacker put down a tan wicker tray containing two-dozen Italian biscuit cups.
An objective observer might have concluded that the competition over who presented the tastiest finger food with the most graceful ambience was as important as the rabbit competition… but ribbons were never given and words of judgment were never spoken. Nevertheless, if a food contest were announced, the expressions on faces and a study of eyes revealed how attendees would likely have cast their votes.
Else Prince prepared dates wrapped in bacon for this Saturday’s meeting. Her grandmother had given her a large Dithridge milk glass platter. It was the most elegant display piece of glassware she owned. It was an antique and, though Else stewed with worry over the possibility that the family prize might get damaged or broken, she continued to take her chances and use it.
Eric and Lisa weren’t the only children in attendance. Every school age child in Wasco County (probably all of Oregon) raised rabbits. “Initiation dues into becoming a grownup,” Geepa called it.
Ordinarily, you would expect a group of 8 to 13 year olds to behave like a herd of stampeding buffalo, but not so at the Rabbit Breeder Association meeting in Antelope. There, the young ones were expected to behave like pedigreed rabbits… quiet, poised, gentle.
A mock competition of the rabbits that had gathered, would begin in about an hour. Eric and Lisa had their rabbits ready to go… so could hang out with their friends until then. The young ones didn’t care what the food looked like so long as it tasted good and there was enough of it. They began to make the rounds.
His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire wiggled his nose, picked at the alfalfa sprouts and practiced his ear poses. Her Grace napped.
Ringo Rabbit was hungry. He’d left his burrow in Sandy Draw early to avoid the bigs, who might come to work in the vegetable garden. The handy food supply laid a few hops from the gray structure where the bigs imprisoned cows and a horse. In spring and summer the vegetable garden helped supplement Ringo’s diet. He was capable of foraging for himself, but having a reliable diet of delicious foods made life a bit easier for him.
However, trips to the garden weren’t without peril. The big, who lived on this plot of ground, had a dog that roamed at will. Ringo didn’t understand why bigs imprisoned cows and horses, but let the loud vicious dog be free to growl, snarl and chase rabbits and other creatures. Ringo appreciated the dog’s help in dealing with snakes… he had seen the lanky dog take a snake in his mouth and shake it to death. He didn’t want the dog shaking him that way, so when the dog came around Ringo scampered into the wild desert.
This morning it looked clear. The dog was somewhere else and no bigs had come to work in the garden. He consumed three carrots, a tuft of turnip greens and four spinach leaves before heading out to spend the rest of the morning grazing on patches of hay and buffalo grass.
The sun had reached its apex and had started down the other side of the sky. It was hot, very hot. Ringo decided to head for his burrow to escape the heat and take a little rabbit rest. A hundred hops or so from his home, Ringo spotted strange bush he’d never seen before.
It wasn’t there when he passed this way this morning on his way to the garden. His suspicious eyes surveyed the terrain in all directions for any sign of a big, the dog, coyote, cat, hawk or other sign of his natural enemies. The path seemed clear. Instinct told Ringo to staunch his curiosity and bypass the contraption, but he didn’t. He considered himself to be a smart rabbit, one who had experienced almost every threat confronting the rabbit populations of South Wasco County. He’d never found a situation he couldn’t handle and felt the same way about this one.
He hopped up to the bush and stopped. In its shadow lay a carrot. It was clean…no dirt anywhere and the rough skin had been scrapped off. Ringo didn’t mind carrot skin, but it wasn’t the tastiest part of his favorite vegetable.
Ringo wondered how the carrot got there, but didn’t have the experience or reasoning power to conjure a good answer and his taste buds could already taste it.
He took two hops to the carrot. He’d just taken a bite when KaaWaOMP! The sticker bush slammed around him. Frantically, Ringo searched every part of his prison for a way out. He flung himself against the sides in an attempt to escape… but it was no use. He was trapped and there was nothing he could do about it.
The mood in the Prince family van on the trip home from Antelope was somber. While Darrel mentally checked the list of materials he needed to repair a portion of the fence at the eastern edge of his property, Elsie rehearsed preparation for the evening meal.
Eric sat behind his father looking out the left window at the dry patches of sagebrush that struggled to maintain life in the harsh climate. The landscape matched his feelings. While His Excellency, showed well in the morning’s judging, the ordinarily stately rabbit looked, anemic, unsteady and tentative. Harold Womack’s American Chinchilla was outstanding… in the Best of Show category. The happy rabbit had the poise of a champion. Its coat was spotless and shiny. If he hoped to compete at the November show in Madras, Eric had work to do.
Harold’s rabbit wasn’t the only competition from Antelope Eric would likely face in Madras. Monica Alpert’s American Chinchilla also had all the qualities of a champion. Monica’s rabbit would be hard to beat. Eric wasn’t sure he’d mind that. If his rabbit lost, he’d prefer to loose to Monica than to Harold or some unknown.
Lisa’s Lionhead didn’t do any better. She sat behind mother staring at the print pattern on her dress debating whether or not she should just give up. She’d done the best she knew how. And getting her prize rabbit to show championship energy and alertness seemed to be beyond her capabilities. At the event Her Grace sat on her haunches like a lifeless beanbag. Lisa attempted to coax her prize rabbit to life but nothing she did seemed to make any difference. Her Grace remained as if in a hypnotic trance, while Sally Hampton’s Champagne d’Argent was near perfection.
The white van sped off the blacktop pavement of Cold Camp Road and onto the pothole-studded gravel of Big Muddy Road jarring the silent family from their trance.
“When they going to fix this road?” Else asked breaking the silence and looking at Darrell.
Darrell chuckled, “When I become president most likely.”
Lisa turned around to steady the hutches and calm the rabbits. Eric turned around to help. Both His Excellency and Her Grace shook with fright. Eric’s steady friendly hand seemed to help but, obviously, the sensitive rabbits did not like being shook up.
“It’ll take more people living along the Big Muddy clamoring for better roads,” Darrell continued.
“Those people don’t have rabbits, or they’d do something!” Lisa complained stroking Her Grace.
Darrell laughed again, “Rabbits don’t count.”
“I’ll bet that English Angora didn’t get his guts shook up before he came to show this morning,” Eric complained, “That’s the difference… It wasn’t fair.”
“Life’s not always fair,” Else declared.
“Life’s not over yet,” Darrell grinned. “You two get those bunnies in top shape and we’ll find a way to get them to Madras as calm as cantaloupe.”
By now the van had eased down the long lane leading from Big Muddy Road to the ranch house. It rolled to a stop near the back porch where the rabbits were kept.
Eric and Else lifted His Excellency’s carrying hutch from the van and made their way to the porch steps. Darrell and Lisa followed with Her Grace’s cage.
Suddenly, the kitchen door burst door open. Larry dashed through yelling excitedly, “Guess what I caught today?”
“I hope it wasn’t a snake,” Else said helping Eric put His Excellency on the stand near the window.
“Nope! Not a snake!” Larry snapped smugly.
“A hawk, I’ll bet,” Darrell said taking the other cage from his daughter and placing it on the stand near the other.
“Not a hawk, either,” Larry said moving across the porch and putting his hand on the makeshift hutch containing his prize catch.
Geepa leaned against the kitchen door knowing Larry was in for a difficult time.
“What’s that?” Lisa said edging toward her younger brother. “That’s not a rat?” she exclaimed stepping back.
The Darrell and Eric moved to see the excitement.
“Dad, Its a wild rabbit!” Eric yelled.
“Oh my!” Else said moving to see.
“Yeah, I caught him this morning. Geepa helped me make a trap… isn’t he a beauty?” Larry beamed.
“Mom… He can’t keep it here! It may have fleas!” Lisa pleaded.
“Yeah, or sick!” Eric cried.
“He doesn’t have fleas! And he’s not sick!” Larry protested.
“Dad, All our work.” Lisa cried, “If ours catch something from it! … all our work!”
“Let’s have a look,” Darrell said leaning over the cage and eying Larry’s catch. “How’d you get him in the cage?” he asked turning to Geepa.
“The boy was careful,” Geepa said in answer to his son’s unspoken concern. “He used gloves… looks like a fine rabbit to me,” and added with a chuckle, “ … fleas maybe but no sickness… no rabies I’ll bet.”
“Well, he can’t stay here!” Eric said stepping between the wild rabbit’s cage and the hutch mansions.
“Move that wild thing and that stick cage outside,” Lisa demanded.
“That’s a good idea… Let’s get him out of here,” Eric agreed seeing no harm in such a move.
“The coyotes will get him!” Larry protested touching his dilapidated cage.
The wild rabbit nipped at Larry’s fingers.
“Careful!” Else snapped. “He may have something.”
“What do you think, Geepa?” Darrell asked turning to his father.
Geepa paused studying everyone’s faces. “Well, Larry could let him go…”
“Geepa!” Larry protested,
“ … back to his natural surroundings…” Geepa continued. “The fun was in the catching….”
“Geepa! You helped me catch him! They got theirs… He’s mine.”
You’ve got something there,” Geepa said touching Larry on the shoulder. Turning to Darrell he continued. “I think it’ll be okay to leave him on the porch… so long as he’s in the cage… the rabbits don’t get near each other…”
“Couldn’t we get Larry a Silver Marten… or something?” Eric suggested.
“Yeah!” Lisa agreed, “or a Belgian Hare. They kinda look like wild rabbits.”
“I don’t want another one,” Larry protested turning to admire his new friend. “His name’s Ringo.”
“Well, I don’t like it,” Lisa said walking toward the kitchen door realizing that the matter seemed to be settled.
“Yes, it’s time to get something to eat,” Else said following Lisa. “… Be ready in ten minutes,” she said over her shoulder.
“He gets near my Chinchilla and he’s outta here,” Eric warned.
“We’ll be careful,” Geepa said to Eric, “… and putting his hand on Larry’s shoulder added, “… won’t we Larry?
“Yeah,” Larry said, glad to have Geepa’s powerful support.
“We’ll make it work… I’ll check the wicker cage to make sure it’ll hold,” Darrell said examining Larry’s makeshift cage once more and added, “… Ringo… That’s a catchy name, Bud.”
Larry puffed and smiled at his father.
“I’m hungry,” Geepa said putting his arm around Eric and leading him into the kitchen.
Darrell tightened the twine securing two sticks on Ringo’s cage, then, followed the others into the kitchen.
Darkness seeped into the corners of the secluded porch, the only sounds on the porch were the steady hum of the cooling box in the corner, the sound of the uppity Hutch Manor rabbits nibbling shredded carrots and Ringo’s desperate clawing at the sticks that imprisoned him.
After a while, when it became clear to Ringo that there was no immediate escape from the clumsy jail, he began pushing clusters of straw into one corner of his cage to make a comfortable place to rest for the night. He settled into place. Yes, the straw had a sweet smell and felt good, but it couldn’t take the place of the familiar burrow he’d called home for most of his life… His thoughts returned to the moments before the trap slammed around him. How could he have been so careless? When light returned to the world, he would look further for an opportunity to escape the stifling prison in which he found himself. He would return to his beloved prairie.
With sundown, the air began to cool. The rabbits huddled further into their nests.
Ringo wondered whether the rabbits across the room would speak to him and, if they did, would they be able to understand each another. He’d heard from his cousin, Bounder, about rabbits that live with bigs. “They speak High Rabbit” he said, “and we speak Country Rabbit.”
Ringo thought he might as well give it a try, “Hey,” he said breaking the silence, “You been captives long?”
There was no answer. Ringo figured the other rabbits must not understand him…. But then he heard whispering… too soft for him to make out what they were saying.
“Why do bigs keep rabbits cooped up like this?” he asked hoping to connect with the strangers and to get a better understanding of what was happening to him.
“My dear fellow,” His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire said, “There’s no fathoming the ways of bigs… One just has to leverage them when and where one can.”
The rabbit was speaking High Rabbit. Ringo wasn’t certain he and the other rabbits could communicate on a meaningful level. Nevertheless, he would try. “Does that mean, we’re stuck in prison forever?” he asked.
“It’s a matter of preference,” His Excellency intoned, “Her Grace and I dine on the most elegant cuisine a American Chinchilla could want…”
“Oh,” Ringo said, not understanding, “… what do they feed you?”
His Excellency and Her Grace laughed.
Ringo didn’t know what was funny. He felt a little foolish… but plunged on. “I eat the tender shoots of weeds, and cactus fruit from the desert.”
“Ugh,” Her Grace exuded, “Weeds! How disgusting.”
Ringo didn’t know what disgusting meant, but he could tell by the way the lady said it that she didn’t like the idea of eating weeds. “Not every weed… just tender, healthy weeds,” Ringo protested.
“An oxymoron,” His Excellency crooned with an air.
“I guess we can eat that too,” Ringo bluffed, “Yeah, and hay to get the roughage we need for healthy guts.”
“Oh my,” Her Grace gasped, “that word’s not polite … digestive system, rather.
“Whatever,” Ringo returned.
“The little big that brought you in off the prairie… that’s clear,” His Excellency droned. “It’s obvious you’ve got a lot to learn, if you’re going to leverage the bigs to your best advantage. Watch us and do what we do and you might become a prize rabbit too.”
“I just want to go back to the prairie… home,” Ringo returned.
“Silly boy,” Her Grace sang, “You have no idea what you’re saying. They treat us like royalty. We dine… eat the most delicious foods without lifting a paw and our backs are stroked with softest brushes…”
“The slightest sniffle and they come to us faster than Jack Rabbits,” His Excellency added.
“Faster than Jack Rabbits… that’s good,” Ringo chuckled and added, “But in a cage… You live in a prison. Not for me… I want to be free.”
“Ah, but aren’t you in continual danger of being devoured by a wolf, coyote or other ravenous predator? … while we are taken care of… our ever need instantly satisfied,” His Excellency observed.
“Yeah, you got something there,” Ringo conceded, “… Coyotes are always after me. But the open hillsides and the expansive valleys….” he said longingly.
“Just to think about all that dirt… those retched burrs in my coat… and snakes… oh my… make me shudder,” Her Grace observed.
“My dear chap,” His Excellency injected, “It appears you have no control over that as of today. So, you may as well learn to leverage like we do, don’t you think?
“And you might learn to like being pampered like a king,” Her Grace added. “The bigs are especially attentive to us these days… His Excellency and I are show rabbits… The bigs are entering us in a competition soon,” Her Grace paused lifting her nose in the air. ”It’s class… uppity,” she said and added, “If you are around long enough you may have the good fortune of watching the bigs get us ready.”
“Show rabbits…. Huh?” Ringo grunted sitting back on his haunches. “Rusty Eagle said something about that. He thought I ought to enter the contest…”
His Excellency and Her Grace interrupted with laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Ringo asked.
“My poor boy… You’ve no idea… PEDIGREE,” His Excellency mouthed shaping the word just so with his lips and holding the final vowel for snooty emphasis. “Purebred… you at least have to be a purebred to enter… No, my dear fellow… Be content to watch us… It’ll be an humbling experience for you… one you’ll never forget.”
“I doubt that,” Ringo protested. “ … But as you say, at this point what choice do I have?”
“To sleep now,” Her Grace said holding a paw over her mouth while yawning, “Must get our beauty sleep, you know.”
“Good night, my boy…” His Excellency said, “The bigs get up early… You’ll see.”
As the rabbits settle down, the box in the corner of the porch continued to hum its boring tune. For a long while Ringo crouched in the center of his cage pondering his fate. It was hard for him to digest what he’d heard from the aristocratic rabbits. All this was beyond the simple life he lived in the prairie. He was uneasy about what the next day would bring.
Sadly he crawled into his straw nest and waited for sleep to take him away.
Larry was up early the next morning before anyone else. He wanted to talk with Ringo before the rest of the family came around. Soon everyone would be up getting ready to go to church. Church was not Larry’s favorite thing to do on Sundays. He’d rather be hiking his favorite trail down to Big Muddy Creek or tramping a familiar haunt up Cottontail Canyon. But he respected his parents and wanted to please them. He trusted their assurances that someday the deeper meanings of words and symbols would all make sense to him.
He quietly tiptoed past his parent’s door and through the dimly lit kitchen. He stopped by the fridge to grab a carrot before easing through the back door and onto the porch. It was still chilly. His Excellency and Her Grace were huddled in their nests breathing quietly. Ringo was clawing at one corner of his hutch. It was clear he didn’t like being cooped up and wanted to return to his happy prairie.
“Hey Ringo! … Here!” Larry said quietly pushing the carrot through an open space. “It’ll be okay… you’ll like it here, when you get used to it.”
Ringo hopped to sniff at the carrot, then, turned and hopped away to a different corner and once again began biting and clawing at the cage.
“I didn’t like school at first, either, but now it’s okay… I like it.”
Ringo didn’t understand what the big was saying. It didn’t speak rabbit. It did have a carrot in its hand… a delicious smelling carrot. Ringo was hungry, but he was more scared. He clawed desperately at the cage. All he knew was the life of a range rabbit… the prairie… his home… and he wanted to go there.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” Larry said and moving to His Excellency’s hutch he lifted the lid, reached in and pulled the fluffy rabbit out by the scruff of the neck, sat on a stool near Ringo and began stroking the gentle rabbit. “See… how great that would feel.”
Ringo couldn’t believe his eyes… that braggart rabbit sitting there without protest letting that big paw him. He’d never experienced anything like that. It did feel good to rub his back against the trunk of a sagebrush bush, but to wallow in the hands of an enemy was too much for Ringo. Not knowing what else to do, he threw himself against the side of the cage hoping to burst through.
Suddenly the kitchen door opened and Lisa emerged. She took one look at Larry sitting close to the range rabbit and holding His Excellency, “Eric!” she cried, “Larry’s exposing your rabbit to the range rabbit!”
Eric rushed through the door buttoning his shirt. “Larry, are you crazy … I just knew we should have put them outside last night.” He grabbed the prize from Larry and rushed him back to Hutch Manor.
“I didn’t hurt anything. Ringo’s okay… Your snotty rabbits aren’t going to get anything from Ringo.”
By now Else and Darrell had arrived.
“Dad, can’t we put that cage outside?” Eric pleaded.
Darrell moved close to Ringo’s cage for a close look at the gangly rabbit.
Lisa and Eric picked up their rabbits and transported them away from the range rabbit and into the kitchen. Else followed.
“Dad,” Larry began “Ringo’s not sick… he doesn’t have fleas… does he?”
“Well, he might,” Darrell answered. “No matter, we need to keep him away from the others. Eric and Lisa have worked too hard to let their efforts be spoiled by some bug from a wild animal…”
“He won’t stay wild… you’ll see… I’ll take care of him… I’ll brush him everyday and give him a bath,” Larry pleaded.
“Well, wildness isn’t the issue… it’s wellness… Let’s keep him away from the pedigrees a few days. He can stay in the barn where he’s safe from coyotes and others.
“It’s cold out there at night,” Larry protested.
“You think he’s not used to cold… living in the open prairie. He’ll be just fine out there. I’ll help you move him,” Darrel said lifting the wicker cage from the floor and moving out the screen door and toward the barn.
Ringo spent the morning alone in the barn. He didn’t mind being alone. He was used to that, but being along in captivity left him with a vacant feeling. There were birds in and out of the barn and mice scurrying here and there. A rat came close once in an attempt to steal Ringo’s carrot but was frightened away by kick from the big rabbit’s powerful hind legs.
In early afternoon Larry brought water along with some spinach and put it in Ringo’s cage.
“I’ll brush your fur, if you promise you won’t bite me,” Larry said reaching his gloved hand through an opening in the cage and petting Ringo.
Ringo shivered, afraid of what the strange big might do to him. He clamped down with his teeth on one of the things stroking his back. He held on. The big shook Ringo’s head back and forth until Ringo was forced to let go. Ringo expected his attack on the big’s paw would cause it to leave him alone, but the big continued to stroke Ringo’s back.
It felt good. The thing had bristles that massaged this fur clear down to the skin… “ahhhh”… It was like rubbing his back against a fence post near his burrow… only this massage followed the contours of his back… “Ahhh…” Ringo repeated. This treatment must be what the pedigree rabbits were taking about… being treated like kings… whatever that word means…”
Though the stroking felt good… like nothing he’d ever experienced… his body continued to tremble. He was suspicious that the next instant something unexpected would happen… something frightening… something painful or worse.
But it didn’t. Instead the big stopped stroking his back and put leaves of dark green spinach to his nose. It smelled sweeter more succulent than the weeds and straw he was used to. For reasons that mystified him, he was being served delicious vegetables he found in the big’s garden during growing season. Ringo took a nibble at the tender, green spinach. It was good.
Larry placed an apple slice before Ringo and watched the handsome Jackrabbit take it down in three nibbles. The big rabbit eagerly focused on the samples of food Larry kept putting before him. Larry took the glove from his hand, carefully slipped it in the cage, onto the loose skin behind Ringo’s ears and began kneading the roots of his ears. Larry was relieved that Ringo didn’t seem to notice.
“I told you you’d like it,” he said.
He pulled the tufts of rabbit hair from the grooming brush and once more began stroking Ringo’s back.
“You’ll be the best looking rabbit in the county,” he said cleaning the grooming brush once again.
During the days and weeks that followed, Ringo stayed in the barn, while His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire and Her Grace Eleanor Elizabeth Margaret Diana Rabbit occupied the favored comforts of the back porch.
Eric and Lisa, practically lived with their prizes as they continued to pamper the pedigreed rabbits… carefully grooming them for the Madras rabbit show in November.
Every chance he got, Larry was in the barn with his foundling, finessing his sable coat and coaxing Ringo to strike handsome poses that would display the most attractive features of wild rabbits.
Darrell had the vet check Ringo for viruses and other threatening bugs. He reassured Eric and Lisa that it was safe to bring Ringo back onto the porch, but Larry wanted to keep caring for Ringo in the barn. Eric and Lisa were relieved. Darrell and Else were perplexed. Geepa understood. The primitive atmosphere permeating the barn better suited Ringo and his maverick caretaker than the clinical whiteness of the back porch, where His Excellency and Her Grace held court.
Over the weeks that followed, Else kept Larry supplied with food and insisted that he keep warm. Darrell watched with wonder as his youngest son turned the straggly looking rabbit in to a sleek mustang. And he also was glad to see that the spirited rabbit didn’t loose his independence. He repeatedly warned Larry however, to be realistic about the outcome of his efforts.
“There are no categories for wild rabbits at the Madras show,” he warned. “Ringo’s a fine fellow, but he’s not a purebred and has no pedigree.”
“Why not?” Larry asked polishing Ringo’s right paw. “How come they don’t like jackrabbits?”
“It’s not that they don’t like them,” Geepa said joining in the discussion. “Purebreds are from pure strains… Pedigrees have the paper work to prove it… The wild ones are a mixture of what ever rabbit comes wandering onto the prairie.”
“Are humans purebreds? Do you have pedigrees?” Larry asked gesturing toward Darrell and Geepa while flicking a piece of straw from Ringo’s back.
Darrell and Geepa looked at one another and laughed. “I guess not, Darrell said, “That would be politically incorrect, wouldn’t it Geepa?”
“Purebred humans,” Geepa snorted. “… I’d say it’s been tried before … but not any more… at least that I know of,” Geepa answered. “… Maybe the Japanese came closest to being purebreds,” he chuckled.
“Well, the Breeders Association could add a group… to judge,” Larry reasoned. “They could call it Wild Rabbit or Jackrabbit something.”
“A category called ‘mixed breeds’ might work,” Darrell said thoughtfully.
Three Saturdays before the Madras rabbit fair Larry was allowed to take Ringo to the grange hall showing in Antelope. Darrell found that when the family gave themselves an extra hour to travel the bumpy roads into town, the rabbits remained in showcase form.
At first the other Antelope rabbit breeders were scandalized and quickly erected space and social barriers between their prize rabbits and Larry’s wild intruder. But when they had a closer look at Larry’s transformed jackrabbit and the certificate from the vet Darrell produced guaranteeing Ringo a clear bill of health, the pedigree owners showed varying degrees of acceptance.
During the following week Darrell persuaded the Rabbit Breeders Association to add a Wild Hare category to the coming contest. Keith Wilber pushed the idea through the executive committee saying that including the harebrained idea would add a lighthearted element to the otherwise cutthroat atmosphere of the competition.
Finally, the week before Madras, Darrell insisted that Larry bring Ringo onto the back porch in preparation for the coming trip to Madras.
“You can’t be the same dilapidated chap the big brought in several times ago,” His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire observed, when Ringo’s cage was in place on the porch.
“The same!” Ringo snapped knowing what His Excellency meant and resenting the uppity rabbit’s tone. “Ringo Rabbit, that’s me. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m the rabbit that has accompanied you and the fluffy lady to the showoffs in Antelope the past several weeks.”
“Couldn’t help but notice,” His Excellency said condescendingly and added, “As I’m an American Chinchilla, you’d be he… That’s certain.” His Excellency paused surprised at what he was about to say. Then, he said it, “I have to say… your coat now has the beginnings of a somewhat attractive sheen to it. Really…the transformation is quite remarkable. Astonishing! It’s hard to believe.”
“Without question, you do look better!” Her Grace said admiringly of Ringo… and added, “Quite handsome, actually.”
“You can have handsome,” Ringo answered, “I’ll take ugly prairie any day. Open this cage and I’m outta here.”
“Surely you’re not serious my dear fellow, ” His Excellency retorted. “Look at you… clean, looking smart… well fed, safe, comfortable…”
“What’s out there that could be better than that?” Her Grace asked.
Ringo didn’t hesitate, “Freedom!” he said thumping the floor several times with a restless foot.
“What’s that… freedom?” Her Grace asked.
Ringo stopped short. He looked wide-eyed at the fluffy bunny. He couldn’t imagine not knowing what it is like to roam free over the hills.
“What’s freedom?” he began, “You can choose, that’s what… Look at you… cooped up here with no sky… can’t go anywhere but where the bigs want you to go… eating what they bring, sleeping where they want you to sleep, posing for them like groveling slaves… that’s what.”
“That’s frightening even to think about,” Her Grace responded. “What about the coyotes and all? His Excellency and I don’t live with the constant fear of being eaten by coyotes or some other disgusting creature…. Isn’t that freedom… freedom from fear?”
His Excellency added, “I’ll choose to eat tender spinach, baby carrots or whatever the bigs provide. It always tastes good, and more to the point, I can count on it being there for me without lifting a paw.”
“Yeah …” Ringo conceded, “the food is good and life would be easier not worrying about eagles or wolves and or snakes.” He paused remembering the feel of big fingers running through his fur. “And getting all those back rubs… pretty nice.”
“There, you see… Her Grace and I are free to enjoy life,” His Excellency crooned.
“Enjoy life….” Ringo repeated, mulling the words.
Her Grace raised a paw to cover a yawn and excused herself to prepare to retire. His Excellency hopped to the water tank took several sips and climbed into his nest. “Sleep is sweet in the safety of Hutch Manor… sleep well, lad.”
“Enjoy life in the safety of Hutch Manor,” Ringo said making his way to his comfortable bed. He had to admit to himself that he liked the good food and the safety of the big’s back porch. He’d grown accustomed to the comforts over the past several moons.
He settled in to wait for sleep. The only sounds Ringo heard was the annoying contraption the bigs used to keep food in and the familiar voices of the prairie… the distant concert of frogs along the banks of the Big Muddy and crickets singing in the night. Drowsiness clouded his mind dimming thoughts of his beloved prairie…. The sun… puffy clouds against an azure sky… friendly dirt, strong rocks, the shade of sturdy ponderosa pine, thickets of sagebrush and fields of cheat grass for secluded hours of rest in the heat of day….
Sleep overtook him. He began to dream. He found himself running from a giant wolf. Every time he put distance between himself and the wolf he would enter a patch of spinach, which slowed him down but it didn’t affect the wolf. The huge animal was on him baring his teeth and emitting nerve-gripping growls… nipping at his hindquarters… then a black hole into which Ringo escaped.
Then, the dream would start all over again with a different predator… an eagle, a bobcat, a snake… on through a night of restless sleep.
November arrived and along with it, the Jefferson County Rabbit Association’s show in Madras. Lisa, Eric had their prize rabbits in top form ready to take on all comers. Larry was stoic about his entry. Both Darrell and Else used every excuse they could think of to prepare their young son for the ridicule that was likely to come and for likely disappointment. From time to time Geepa whispered an encouraging word into his grandson’s anxious ear.
Darrell rigged up an air mattress in the rear of the van to keep the rabbits from being jostled into sickness on the two-hour trip. Darrell drove. Else rode shotgun. Eric and Lisa occupied the back seat with Geepa while Larry sat in back with the rabbits. His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire and Her Grace Eleanor Elizabeth Margaret Diana Rabbit, rode in smug silence while Ringo sat on his haunches looking at the countryside passing by on either side of the Prince family carriage.
The Prince family vehicle containing the pedigreed, purebred contest entries and wild card, pulled into the sizable parking lot adjacent to a large building on the county fair ground.s in Madras.
Darrell carried His Excellency’s cage, Else and Lisa carried Her Grace and Larry carried Ringo. Geepa carried two large toolboxes containing the paraphernalia needed to keep the rabbits fed, cool and groomed. They entered the large exhibition hall amid throngs of other contestants.
Eric and Lisa were accustomed to showing their rabbits at the Saturday outings in Antelope, but only once before had competed at one of the Rabbit Association’s state shows. Being at this larger event hit them with a burst of excitement, but Larry didn’t seem to notice.
Darrell found a spot against the center of the back wall and sat His Excellency’s cage down. The others set up next to him.
“Hey, that’s Monica Alpert…” Lisa said poking Eric in the side and pointing to a pretty blond girl not far away.
Eric’s head turned to look. “Yeah,” he said hopping she noticed him as well. She did… She raised her right hand and waved with four fingers and a gentle smile emerged. Eric’s heart skipped a beat. He wanted to go to her and… He didn’t know what he would say. “Eric,” he heard his dad say.
“Come with me… we’ll get the chairs.”
“Okay,” Eric said stealing another glance at Monica and joining his father. Monica had moved on. The judging would begin in minutes.
Else helped Lisa and Geepa prepare the cages for the moment the judging would begin. Darrell and Eric returned with four folding chairs and couple of bags.
A voice over the loud speaker called out, “Lionhead to table number 1 please, Britannia Petite to table 2, English Angora table 3, Havana table 4, Silver Fox table 5, Rhinelander Table 6. Have your rabbits ready to show.
Excitement surged through the young ones who had rabbits in these categories. Lisa carefully lifted Her Grace from her cage, made her way through the crowd to the judge’s table and waited for the person leading the show to indicate the slot for her rabbit. She carefully sat Her Grace in place and stepped back to wait. Else wedged her way through to the crowd to be near her daughter.
It wasn’t long before Lisa realized that her Lionhead, Her Grace, was chosen as best of Best of Variety. She jumped up and down with joy. Eric gave his sister a high five. Darrell and Geepa hugged her.
Now, Her Grace would compete for Best of Breed and maybe Best of Show, if she kept winning.
Two more rounds of judging other purebred took place in the judging area. Eric grew increasingly nervous. The time for His Excellency to compete was approaching.
Suddenly, the announcer’s voice came over the PA system. He was laughing. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a short break from formal competition… And during this break we’re going to do something quite different. This year The Rabbit Breeders Association added a new category of competition. Now, some of you are going to laugh… but it’s no laughing matter to the youngsters who have brought rabbits for this competition. It’s calls the ‘Harebrained Idea’ competition.”
Laughter swelled throughout the crowd. Larry didn’t laugh. Instead, he squatted down and opened Ringo’s cage. He carefully lifted Ringo from his cage and carried him toward the judging area.
“All you folks out there, who have brought crossbreed rabbits wild or otherwise to compete, bring your rabbits to tables one, two, three or to table four, if necessary.”
Lisa followed her younger brother toward table number two and stood behind him. Eric smiled at Geepa. Else took Darrell’s arm. The four nudged their way through the crowd to be as near Larry and Ringo as possible.
Larry carefully placed Ringo on in an empty slot on table number two and waited for the judge to examine the six or so rabbits in line before him. On Ringo’s right sat a motley looking, midget cottontail looking more like a mole than a rabbit and on his left was a cross between a Harlequin and a Palomino. The comical rabbit’s color was predominantly gray yellow… characteristic of the Harlequin, but had large black blotches on its back, sides and belly. And it had a white streak starting between its ears and ran down to the tip of its nose.
Larry gave Lisa a look. He didn’t laugh or say anything but they both understood why everyone else was laughing. Down the way was a Fuzzy Lop that looked like a mothball with a bulldog face… more laughter.
Then there was Ringo. He’d learned to look uppity from the best. He mimicked His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire’s aloof nose-in-the-air stance and Her Grace Eleanor Elizabeth Marguerite Diana Rabbit’s delicate vulnerability. Ringo was sure to impress the lady judge coming toward his table.
Just as the portly lady arrived at Ringo’s spot, the Harlequin/Palomino bolted from his handler’s grasp, jumped off the table and dashed like a ricocheting bullet through the crowd, out the open door, across the parking lot and into a stand of trees. Larry’s hand went to Ringo’s back steadying his prize. Pandemonium broke loose among the maverick no-brand rabbits. Their masters tried their best to prevent a runaway stampede from occurring, but rabbits are quick. Within a minute the other ten crossbreed rabbits were through the crowd, out the door and gone.
Only Ringo was left squatting dutifully waiting to be judged.
Parents of the children, whose rabbits had fled, rushed to comfort their offspring. The crowd couldn’t help it… It began as a titter at first… then chuckles followed by bellowing laughter.
“Well, I guess that settles it…” the emcee called over the speaker system when the wave had somewhat subsided. “Looks like Larry Prince’s rabbit, Ringo is Best of Variety, Best of Breedless and Best of Show… which, I believe, makes him Grand Champion.”
There was more laughter. Larry scooped up Ringo cuddling him in his arms and took him back to his cage.
Participants felt badly for the children who were saddened and embarrassed by loosing their rabbits. Adults stepped forward to give encouragement and comfort to them.
A while later it was Eric’s turn to present His Excellency Throckmorton Herbert Winston Roosevelt Rabbit III, Esquire to the judging table. Of course, Eric was disappointed when His Excellency was beat out by Monica Alpert’s American Chinchilla. Eric took comfort in the fact that Monica’s rabbit went on to win Best of Show and more importantly, she went out of her way to seek him out and say that she thought His Excellency was a better show than hers and to invite him to sit with her a lunch at school on Monday.
On the trip back to Big Muddy Ranch, the family talked about the day’s events. Else and Darrell gushed over Lisa’s blue ribbon for winning Best of Variety and they comforted Eric… reminding him that there can be only one winner… that the Best might well have gone to His Excellency.
“Monica is a nice girl,” Else said patting Eric’s arm.
“Yeah,” Eric said unable to hide his disappointment.
“You’ll get ’em next year, old Buddy,” Darrell encouraged catching a glimpse of Eric’s glum face in the rear view mirror.
“How about Ringo?” Geepa gushed, “Wasn’t he a winner?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t believe it… he was perfect,” Larry said petting Ringo through the open cage door.
Else opened the cooler and distributed sandwiches and drinks to everyone. They rode in silence each entertaining their own thoughts.
Darrell drove into the sweet light of the lazy afternoon and enjoyed the feeling of pride he took in his family.
Else rehashed the moment Lisa learned she’d won Best Variety.
Lisa admired the ribbon she held in her lap. Her Grace would get extra goodies when she got home.
Geepa chuckled to himself revisiting the sight of a half dozen rabbits escaping the carefully orchestrated ritual of the association’s big event.
Eric comforted himself with words Monica said to him. He mulled the idea that entering His Excellency into the Madras show is what made Monica pay attention to him. There was something in that that was better than ribbons. He’d see her on Monday… for sure.
Larry looked admiringly at Ringo and thought, “Ringo, you’re Grand Champion.”
Ringo didn’t understand what had happened at the big event. At least, nothing painful had happened to him. He admired the great escape he’d seen the other rabbits make and wondered why he’d not made the effort to join them. Surely, a hypnotic imitation of His Excellency and Her Grace had something to do with his docile behavior. Now, it appeared that he was destined to return to Hutch Manor and to the life of a city squire. He’d been captive for several moons now. His memory of his beloved countryside was growing more and more remote. A tinge of uneasiness gripped him at the thought.
His Excellency sensed that his master was sad for some reason. It surely couldn’t have been his fault. He’d posed exactly as his master had coached him and puffed with the air of an aristocrat… rolling his gestures, just so. Nevertheless, he knew that cuisine fit for kings would likely keep coming.
Her Grace basked in the unusual admiring attention she was receiving from the bigs. She tried to think what it was that she had done to bring it about. Yes, she had held her ears just right… she was sure that must be part of it. “Life is good,” she thought as she settled in for a light snooze for the rest of the trip home.
The days that followed returned to routine for the Prince family. There was a curiosity about the smug look on Eric’s face when he returned from school each day. Everyone knew that it was Monica, but no one asked.
Larry wondered why Ringo never seemed to take on the apparent appreciation His Excellency and Her Grace showed Eric and Lisa.
One day Geepa said, “You know, Bud, I think Ringo is a country rabbit… He’ll never be a town rabbit. What do you think about letting him return to the prairie? He’d be happier there don’t you think?”
A tear budded in Larry’s left eye. “Yeah,” he said wiping the tear with his sleeve. “I know it… I have to let him go… but it’s hard.”
“I know it… but it’s the right thing to do,” Geepa said putting his arm around his grandson.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Larry said as if keeping it to himself would make it easier.
“It’s our secret until they miss him,” Geepa said knowing that Larry needed to do the painful thing alone. “I’ll be in the house.” He hugged Larry and left him.
http://aboutLarry took Ringo in his arms and walked toward Big Muddy. He walked for along time with tears streaming down his face. Finally, he reached his favorite boulder above the Big Muddy. He hugged Ringo one last time then opened his arms.
For several minutes the big rabbit sat motionless on Larry’s lap. Larry didn’t know whether the big jackrabbit didn’t want to leave or was just confused.
Finally, Ringo sniffed the air, slid off Larry’s lap, hopped a few hops and stopped, squatting close to a bunch of Cheat Grass. The big rabbit took a last look at Larry and then, scampered away and into a thicket of sagebrush.
Ringo was gone.
Almost immediately, Ringo received a visit form Rusty Eagle who had heard that he had entered the uppity rabbit contest and was curious to see what Ringo had to say about it.
The two friends laughed over Ringo’s time as a Hutch Rabbit.
“I won’t wonder any more what it’s like. Now, I know. There was some good and some bad,” Ringo said philosophically… The big, who took care of me, was good to me…. But even so I like it here better… free… That’s for me.
Rusy laughed. “I’ll take your word for it… I guess I don’t want to find out what captivity is like. See you next time.” With that the big bird was in the air and away.
When Ringo returned to his burrow he found that Sally Rabbit had moved in. It wasn’t long before Ringo and Sally had a family.
Ringo loved telling his litter of bunnies about his time at Hutch Manor and the Madras stampede. He told them about the little big who took care of him. From time to time Ringo and his family caught glimpses of a gangly big hiking the trails along the Big Muddy.
“He looks like the big who took care of me,” Ringo said to Sally and the little ones. But, he couldn’t be sure.
Ringo wished he could talk with the big to find out… but of course he couldn’t. THE END.
Morris Pike ©2012