The Clever Trick
By Dave Gregson
Mr Squirrel and Mr Rabbit were good friends ever since Mr Rabbit saved one of the young Squirrels from a cat by taking him down his hole. Mr Squirrel and his family lived high up in the tall Oak Tree near the top of the hillside. Mr Rabbit used to look up at the tree sometimes and shade his eyes against the sun.
“You almost live in the sky,” he would say to Mr Squirrel. “I would be afraid of falling.”
“Oh, it’s not too bad, you know,” Mr Squirrel would say trying not to look pleased, for he was very proud of his home and from his front door he could see all the Hollow.
Mr Squirrel didn’t like Mr Rabbit’s dark home in the earth. But, of course, he never said so because he didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings. Now and again he went into Mr Rabbit’s warren for tea or a game of cards but not very often.
They spent much more time sitting in the grass on the hilltop, talking and relaxing.
“Almost blackberry time again,” said Mr Squirrel to his friend one day as they lazed about in the sunshine.
“My goodness, so it is,” said Mr Rabbit. “How time does fly, it seems like only yesterday that we were gathering them last.”
Mr Squirrel and his family ate a lot of nuts, Mr Rabbit and his family ate a great deal of lettuce and other green stuff. But both families were especially fond of blackberries. They were a great treat to look forward to.
“I can taste them now,” said Mr Squirrel rubbing his tummy and bright eyes twinkling.
“What about Dog?” asked Mr Rabbit, looking at his friend. “Don’t forget what happened last year.”
The two animals looked at each other sadly and were quiet.
They were thinking of Old Rat who had gone picking blackberries the year before. Old Rat was quite deaf and had not heard Dog creeping closer until it was almost too late. There was a great chase up the hillside, and Old Rat had just managed to get to his hole. But not before Dog’s sharp claws had given him a nasty scratch along his back. Old Rat had been in bed for weeks after that and had said to all of his family, “Now I don’t want any of you to go near the Blackberry patch again, never again!”
“Poor Old Rat,” said Mr Squirrel. Then he stood up and stamped his feet on the ground.
“It’s not fair,” he said loudly with a very fierce look on his little face. “Why should we be scared away from the Blackberry Patch all because of Dog. He doesn’t even eat blackberries.”
Mr Rabbit looked at his friend with a sad smile. “It’s just the way things are,” he said, shaking his head, “As long as I can remember, the Blackberry Patch has always been a very dangerous place to go to.”
“Well it’s about time we put a stop to all that,” said Mr Squirrel and he looked so angry that it seemed as if he was going to put a stop to it there and then.
From where they were sitting near the top of the hillside, the two animals could see the Blackberry Patch at the bottom of the Hollow. It was not far from the Farmhouse and Dog. It looked very peaceful, and it was almost possible to imagine the fine large blackberries becoming riper and riper.
Suddenly Mr Squirrel began dancing around looking very excited and very pleased with himself.
“I’ve got an idea. I’ve got an idea,” he said again and again.
After that day, the two animals didn’t meet together or sit on the hillside and talk for many days.
Each morning Mr Squirrel came out of his front door and settled down on the large branch looking at the Hollow. He would sometimes come in very quickly, take a nut and go out again on to the branch and eat it. Mrs Squirrel was quite worried.
“Have you had an argument with Mr Rabbit?” she asked several times each day.
But she got no reply but only a crafty smile and very bright look from her husband.
Mrs Rabbit was also worried. Each morning Mr Rabbit went out and came back at lunchtime tired and covered in earth.
“Whatever are you doing and where have you been?” said Mrs Rabbit.
“Oh! I’ve just been out,” said Mr Rabbit looking quite determined not to say anymore.
Then each afternoon, Mr Rabbit would go out again and come back at tea time in just the same state.
One day after a week, when all the Hollow was beginning to talk about the argument that Mr Squirrel and Mr Rabbit had had, Mr Rabbit got up very late.
“I’m going to pick some blackberries this afternoon,” he said to Mrs Rabbit, “I shall want your big basket.”
“Oh! Do be careful, dear” said Mrs Rabbit very anxiously. Mr Rabbit grinned a very broad grin.
After lunch, he set off towards the Blackberry Patch whistling cheerfully. He passed by Old Rat’s house on the way called out through the hole.
“How are you today, Mr Rat?” Old Rat appeared at the hole.
“Oh! I’m quite well, thank you, Mr Rabbit,” said Old Rat. And with his shopping basket swinging over his arm, Mr Rabbit set off again whistling loudly.
“You seem very happy, Mr Rabbit,” called out Old Rat.
“Oh! I am,” replied Mr Rabbit. “I’m going to pick some blackberries.”
“My goodness,” said Old Rat hopping about in his doorway. “Do be quiet then. Do you remember Dog and what happened to me?”
“Good day Mr Rat,” shouted Mr Rabbit, who was already well on his way and whistling even more loudly.
High upon his branch, Mr Squirrel could see everything in the Hollow.
He saw Mr Rabbit leave the warren with his basket and walk gaily down the Rabbit Run whistling. He saw him pause at Old Rat’s house and say something then carry on.
“Looks like Mr Rabbit’s going to pick some blackberries,” Mr Squirrel called out to his wife. Mrs Squirrel came out onto the branch and looked down the hillside.
“Good heavens,” she called out in a frightened voice. “What a noise he is making.” Mr Rabbit was skipping down the Run and had almost arrived at the Blackberry Patch. Soon he was singing merrily and placing large juicy blackberries in his basket and eating one or two himself.
“Help!” screamed Mrs Squirrel, almost falling off the branch in alarm, “Look, there’s a Dog.”
And so it was. They could see Dog in the Farm Yard had pricked up his ears and was listening very carefully. He was looking straight at the Blackberry Patch.
“Oh-ooh!” cried Mrs Squirrel in great fear. “What can we do?”
“Do calm down,” said Mr Squirrel, who was still sitting comfortably on the branch. Mrs Squirrel saw that there was the same old crafty smile on his face which she had seen the other day.
Dog was crouched low to the ground and moving very silently towards the Blackberry Path. Mr Rabbit had his back turned and was still whistling cheerfully. Dog’s great red mouth was open, and his huge teeth could be seen. Nearer he came. Then he stopped and seemed to be getting himself ready for a mighty spring.
Mr Squirrel stood up on the brand and waved a large white handkerchief. As though he had bounced off a spring, Mr Rabbit dropped the basket and shot into the Blackberry Patch. Dog made a tremendous leap and disappeared into the Patch.
Mrs Squirrel was crying. “Oh! Poor Mr Rabbit, poor Mr Rabbit.”
Suddenly out of the Blackberry Patch yelping and crying rushed Dog.
He rushed back to the Farm, making howling noises as he went.
Also out of the Patch stepped Mr Rabbit still whistling cheerfully.
He took up his basket and went on picking the ripest blackberries as though nothing had happened.
Mr Squirrel went down to the ground so that he could laugh and laugh without falling off the branch.
A little while later Mr Rabbit dropped by with a basket full to the brim with the largest blackberries Mrs Rabbit had ever seen.
“You will bring the family to tea, won’t you, Mr Squirrel?” said Mr Rabbit with a broad grin on his face. “We’re having blackberries and cowslip cream.”
All the Hollow was alive with talk of what Mr Rabbit had done. Dog didn’t seem to go near the Blackberry Patch again, and several times Old Rat shook Mr Rabbit by his paw with tears in his eyes.
When they were alone on the hillside at their favourite spot Mr Squirrel and Mr Rabbit would laugh again and again. They were thinking of the large burrow which Mr Rabbit had dug in the middle of the Blackberry Path, and the large bed of very sharp thistles that Dog had landed in when he jumped.
“That was a good idea of yours,” Mr Rabbit said to Mr Squirrel.