Chapter 2 - Tucker’s Challenge
Tucker Rabbit was the tallest rabbit of all living in the Arbor. And the largest, with big rabbit muscles in his legs and arms. And some would say with tremendous muscles in his head. Tucker heard what was said about him, but he didn’t care. He knew they were all simply jealous of him, and their words were as tiny and silly as those who said them.
On the morning of the great water experiment, Tucker came out of his burrow yawning and stretching his arms and legs to their fullest. He just loved to make all the other rabbits feel small and insignificant compared to him and his majestic height. He looked around to see if any of the young female rabbits were watching. He was disappointed to find that no one was looking his way, no young females, no old females, no one.
It was then that he noticed the rabbits all gathering near the small bounty tree, all gathered in a circle, all watching something he couldn’t see from his vantage point. And it wasn’t just the rabbit populace, but a flurry of doves in the branches above, and quail bouncing and fluttering up and down to see what was going on, even Quentin Quail, the tiny son of Quincy and Coral Quail. He looked just like a furry acorn as he fluttered up and landed on top of his father’s head.
What’s goin’ on here? Tucker wondered. He ambled out of the Arbor and approached the circle of Arborites, craning his head to see over the top of the congregation.
And there in the midst of all the activity was Rollie Rabbit, his archenemy. Rollie was raising his arm and then lowering it as he counted down from ten. “. . . three, two, one!” he counted, and just like magic, on the count of one, water flowed from the black tube coming out of the ground beneath the bounty tree. Everyone around the tree let out a cheer, “Yaaay! Way to go, Rollie! Just like a magic trick! Here she comes!” and other shouts of encouragement. The water flowed into the circle of bricks around the base of the tree and then made its way into Rollie’s ditch, flowing slowly toward the Arbor. Rollie danced along beside the water, hopping back and forth over the ditch as the water made its way to the deep dish he’d dug the night before. And then it was there and flowing slowly into the hole. The dish filled to the brim and then overflowed the edges. The whole thing took about ten minutes and then the magical fountain stopped flowing, just as it always did, just as Rollie knew it would.
Folks all took turns congratulating Rollie, the rabbits patting him on the shoulder, on the back, some of the young female rabbits even brazen enough to give him discrete pecks on the cheek, the doves fluttering over his head, the quail hopping up and down in front of him. Even Fred, who had come for the event, did a fifteen-pushup salute to honor his friend. Tucker wasn’t pleased. Tucker scowled. Tucker didn’t at all like this adoration of his archenemy. Tucker gave a snort of derision and shouted, “Rollie Rabbit! You think you’re so hot, but you’re not! You’re just a tiny little smart aleck of a rabbit and don’t deserve all this praise. Why, you can’t even reach the branches of the bounty trees to get leaves to eat. I can reach all the leaves I want!” And with that he stretched his long Tucker body up beneath the branches of the bounty tree and plucked a branch with eight or nine leaves attached. Then he tore the leaves off one by one and ate them in front of the entire company of animals.
“Mmm, mmm, good. Don’t you wish you had some of these?” he mocked, extending the last leaf toward Rollie and the other rabbits. Then he popped that last leaf into his mouth and chewed contentedly.
The truth was that because Tucker was so much taller than any of the other rabbits, none of them had been able to reach any of the leaves for some time. Tucker had seen to that. The rabbits now had to wait for a wind to blow to bring leaves down for them to eat, and even those were usually the partly dried out leaves that were just waiting to fall off the tree. Of all the foods available to the rabbits of the Arbor, the leaves from the bounty trees were their favorite.
“Let’s see you try to jump high enough to pluck some leaves, Rollie. Let’s just see you try it. I’m sure all your fans here would love to see you do that. You may be smart and clever with all your silly projects, but you’re still a tiny rabbit who can’t provide for yourself or your family.”
“Boo, Tucker Rabbit! Boo boo boo to you! Oh, you just watch your tongue! You don’t deserve to have all the leaves from the bounty trees!” shouted the crowd, with Fred leading the various cries.
Fred waddled up to Tucker and tipped his head way back, looking up at the mountain of rabbit in front of him. “Why, Rollie is so smart, I’ll bet you anything you’re willing to wager that he can get leaves from the bounty trees whenever he wants to. So, what do you say to that, you big dumb bully bunny?”
Tucker was just about to place one large rabbit foot on Fred and squish him into the ground when he, with right leg lifted, changed his mind. Fred had seen the foot about to descend on him and he heaved a sigh of relief when it didn’t.
Tucker stood with his arms folded and looked down on the lizard, smiling in a way that made Fred uneasy. “All right, Fred the Croaker. I’ll just take you up on that. You had to open your little leather mouth and say you wanted a bet. And you said you were willing to bet anything. So I get to decide what we’ll wager. Let’s see now,” said Tucker as he placed one hand on his chin and scowled a bit, looking up to the sky for inspiration.
“Ahh, I have it. The bet will be that if Rollie is unable to reach the leaves by this time tomorrow, you, Fred the Croaker, will give Tucker the Magnificent his reflecting glass, the one given to him by Packy Rat. And if Rollie the Titmouse manages somehow to get to the leaves, Tucker the Magnificent will give to Fred the Ugly One and Rollie the Tiny One Tucker’s profound apologies for all the things he’s said about Croaker Fred and Mini-Rollie. And he will do it from a prostrate position, lying on the ground before Fred, the Ugly One, and Rollie, the Tiny One. Even from there I’d still be taller than you, little ugly lizard face. There, is it a bet? Too late to back out now, Fred. Is it a bet?”
Fred knew he’d opened his mouth once too often. The reflecting glass was his most prized possession. He loved that glass. Packy Rat, his friend who lived in a hole near the wall at the end of the Arbor, had found this treasure in a neighboring yard and had graciously offered it to Fred as a symbol of their friendship. It was circular and just large enough for Fred to use for the floor of his home. He was able to see himself any time he was home, admiring the handsome creature he saw in the glass. Oh my, what had he done?
He realized this was a corner with no way out. He was painted nicely in that corner with his unfortunate words. He twisted his mouth to the left, he twisted it to the right. His eyes rolled up and around and around until they looked to the others like two tops spinning on his lizard cheeks. He sighed deeply, then sighed again. “Uh, umm, all right, Tucker. I accept the bet.” Oh, how he hated saying it. “By this same time tomorrow, my friend Rollie will make you grovel and eat your words. And how delightful that will be for both of us. Tomorrow, then.”
Tucker turned away from them, gloating over the deal he had made. He had always admired and coveted the glass Fred had. He could already imagine it leaning against his burrow wall, a glass reflecting his tall physique, a glass in which he could admire his rabbity handsomeness all day long. He left the crowd to return to his burrow, lost in his thoughts of the glass he would acquire the following morning.
Rollie, who had witnessed this exchange, now stared at Fred as the lizard made his slow approach. Fred kept looking down as he walked, a slow waddle unaccompanied by any pushups, not wanting to see the look on his friend’s face.
“What have you done, Fred? What have you done? You made a bet about my doing something I don’t think I can do. I may be smart, but I’m also very short. Did you think I might grow another foot by morning? Or my arms would extend like telescopes? This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into. But what’s done is done. We have the rest of this day to figure out a way for you to win that silly bet with Tucker. For me to somehow reach the leaves on the bounty tree.”
The two of them went into the cooling shade of the Arbor to do their thinking. The Arbor, as was said earlier, consisted of eight arborvitae trees, now so tall they seemed to Rollie to reach to the sky. And so heavy and close together they blended into one green wall of arborvitae branches, all the branches drooping nearly to the ground like a protective skirt. The only thing that distinguished one from the other was the tip of each tree as it pointed a green arrow at the sky. When the wind blew, as it often did, the trees would shift and dance and wobble back and forth like dancers as the branches moved like sea waves.
It was the proper place for deep thought.