Chapter 16 – Tucker’s Challenge 2
“Life in the Arbor is best, is best, / And now I’m no longer sad. / Life in the Arbor with all my friends /Is just fine for this rabbity lad.”
Sometime after midnight, Rollie and Kitty had stolen out of the burrow and were now sitting in the gravel yard, looking deeply into each other’s eyes. A full moon was overhead, making the night seem like day, a silvery day, and their eyes were silver coins. In his tremulous tenor, Rollie was singing softly, for only Kitty to hear:
“I felt a desire / To go farther and higher, / But all I found out there / Was a dry streambed / That eventually led / To a land both cruel and bare.
Then I came home to find / That I’d always been blind / To the treasures that were so near. / I went out on a quest / When it would have been best / If my quest had kept me right here.”
Kitty was entranced with Rollie’s voice, and she felt she wanted to hear him sing to her forever. But she didn’t say that. Instead she said, “Rollie, would you care to dance?”
They began dancing the traditional rabbit love dance, facing one another, bodies hugging the ground, then the male leaping up like a Jack-in-the-box, the female dashing beneath to the other side, then whirling to face one another again, then the female up and the male under. It wasn’t a complicated dance with intricate variations, just the traditional moonlit dance of two rabbits in love.
They continued for six or seven leaps and dashes, and then simply sat and looked into each other’s eyes. Rollie sang again:
“Life in the Arbor / Is grand, so grand, / And now fair Kitty is home. / My life in the Arbor / Would be so sweet, / With a wife in the Arbor / I’d be complete, / And I’d never be tempted to roam.”
Kitty sighed, Rollie sighed. They touched noses and sighed together. Then Rollie sang:
“Oh, Kitty, sweet Kitty, / Will you ever be mine? / So pretty, sweet Kitty, / Please give me a sign / To say that you’ll always be mine.
Oh, Kitty, sweet Kitty, /If you say you’ll be mine, / Like vines in the Arbor / Our lives intertwine. / I found you, you found me / As if it was fate. / If you say you’ll have me / We’ll then set a date.”
Kitty looked at him, Rollie looked at her. She couldn’t believe her high rabbit ears. He’d just asked for her hand, her paw. And she was more than ready with an answer.
“Yes, Rollie, yes. I’ll be yours forever. And I think the date should be tomorrow.”
* * *
The sun rose gloriously golden in the east, ribbons of gold and scarlet and pink.
Rollie and Kitty spoke to Rollie’s parents, who gave their blessings on the union. And word was sent out to all the Arborites, who then sent out word to relatives in near and far yards about the wedding to take place. Rollie’s sister Polly would serve as Kitty’s maid-of-honor, and Fred would serve as Rollie’s best lizard. Rollie and Kitty would be wed at high noon, and Rollie’s father would perform the ceremony. High noon.
By 11:30 the yard began to fill with all kinds of creatures: rabbits and lizards and quail, sparrows and pigeons and doves, Buzz and Millie and all of Buzz’s hummingbird relatives, javalinas, grackles, several woodpeckers and one cardinal couple who happened to be passing through. But no hawks or owls or coyotes, though, for they would rather have the bride and groom for dessert than even a piece of wedding cake. The sounds of the accumulated voices grew louder and louder: whistles and coo-cooos, grunts and squeals, chirps and squawks, and even some meows from Dusty and Squeakie and Fara, who were sitting at attention on the cat perches on the patio.
High noon. The ceremony began.
“We are here today,” Ben Rabbit began in a loud voice, “to witness the joining of these two rabbits, to join them in holy matrimony.” He paused and looked around and around. “If there is anyone here who objects to this union, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” Another pause and a long look around.
Suddenly, from deep in the shadows of the Arbor, a loud voice was heard. “I object! I, Tucker Rabbit, object!” Tucker strode from the shadows out in the sunlight and all in attendance were impressed with his size and apparent strength.
“I also would like Kitty Rabbit to be mine!” he shouted. “And I demand the right to fight for her hand. The winner shall have her. It is only correct and fair, and it is in the ancient Rabbit Book of Laws: ‘Any two who vie for the same mate shall fight for that mate. To the victor belongs the maiden.’ I intend to invoke that law.”
“Oh, boo! Boo!” the crowd screamed. “Boo! Sssssss! What a bad rabbit you are, Tucker Rabbit! You should be ashamed of yourself!” But Tucker merely scowled around at the assembled folk until the booing and hissing stopped.
Rollie and Kitty looked at each other. Then Kitty said, “No, oh, no. I don’t want that. I want you, Rollie, not this big ape of a rabbit. What can you do to prevent it?”
Rollie just looked at her and shook his head sadly. “I can’t do anything about it, about the challenge, that is. What I can do, and must do, is fight him for your paw. You do understand I have to obey the Rabbit Book of Laws, don’t you? I have no choice.” He took her paw in his and looked into her eyes and said, “But I will fight him, and I will win. Have no doubt about that, no doubt about me. You are my treasure and I won’t lose you to that ‘big ape of a rabbit,’ as you so correctly described him.”
Rollie turned away from her and looked at Tucker. He narrowed his eyes and said, “All right, then, fight it is!”
The crowd formed a circle in the middle of the yard, with Tucker on one side and Rollie on the other, and the noise from the crowd was like waves on the ocean, rising and receding.
Tucker crouched and advanced on Rollie. Rollie just stood there and waited for him. Then Tucker charged. At the last possible moment before they crashed together, Rollie leaped in the air, spun around, and yelled, “Aheeee Yah!” The “Yah” coincided with the striking of Rollie’s foot right in the middle of Tucker’s chest and Tucker went PHLUMP! on his Tucker behind in the gravel of the yard.
“Hoorayyy!” shouted the crowd around them, and the noise grew even louder.
Tucker simply sat there for a moment, his eyes glazed and his breathing labored. Then he slowly got to his feet.
“What sort of unfair trick was that, Rollie Rabbit!” he shouted as best a shout as he could muster, for he still hadn’t found all the air in his lungs. “I will get you for that, and here I come!”
He rushed at Rollie as fast as he could muster, for he still hadn’t recovered all the speed in his legs.
At the last possible moment before they crashed together, Rollie leaped in the air, twisted up and around and yelled, “Aheeee Yah!” This “Yah” coincided with the striking of Rollie’s foot right on the end of Tucker’s very large nose and Tucker flew onto his back in the gravel yard.
“HOOOORAAAYY!” the crowd screamed.
This time Tucker was not so eager to get up, and he lay there for what seemed like a silent hour but was really only a few moments. He touched one paw to his chest and winced at the pain. He touched the other paw to his nose and winced at the pain. His eyes flooded with tears of pain and humiliation. He tried to get up but could only roll over on his stomach. From there, he pushed himself slowly upright, dusted himself off, looked at Rollie, looked at Kitty, looked all around at the crowd.
“All right, all right. I give up. The Law says I must give up any claim to this lady rabbit. And I do. The Law says I must agree never to challenge my opponent ever again. And I do.”
He turned to go but Rollie stopped him by saying, “You are a good rabbit, Tucker. You should let the goodness come out and not just that false front you wear. You’ve always thought you were too good, maybe. But I concede to you your size and your strength. Now you should put them to better use than you have so far. And to prove yourself, you should go to your burrow and bring back Fred’s reflecting glass. You have no right to it. You never had a right to it. Show us where your heart now is and return it.”
Tucker sighed and slowly nodded his head. He trudged off to his burrow to get Fred’s reflecting glass.
He returned in a few minutes, dragging the round mirror behind him. Never once looking in the glass for fear of seeing himself humiliated and beaten, he placed it at Fred’s feet. “Here, lizard-face, here is your reflecting glass. I never liked it anyway, too many lizardy images in it.” Fred hopped up onto the mirror and spun around, then did not just a few but at least thirty pushups in his joy at his treasure’s return.
He looked at Tucker and made a face. “You just can’t stop insulting me, can you, Tucker. If you’re going to turn over a new leaf, maybe you should start by apologizing to me for all the many insults you’ve heaped upon me. Prove to us you’re a bigger and a better rabbit for what happened today.”
Fred stared at Tucker, his little lizard arms folded across his little lizard chest. Finally, Tucker sighed a really deep sigh and said, “You’re right, Fred. I must begin with a new attitude. See, I called you Fred and not lizard-face. That’s a start, isn’t it? And I apologize to you for all my insults. See how easily that came out? I apologize, and I don’t even have to grit my teeth when I say it.”
Tucker turned to Rollie and Kitty. “I also apologize to you, Rollie, and to you, Kitty. I assumed that Rollie was still the thinking rabbit’s rabbit and not the fighter he’s become. And I assumed that you, Kitty, would be overjoyed to be mine. But you weren’t and I now know how wrong I was.”
Tucker then turned to the crowd around him. “And all of you Arborites and those visiting, I apologize for my rudeness. I won’t bother you anymore. I’m leaving the Arbor to start a new life somewhere else. I don’t think I could live here anymore, not after what you’ve seen today. So, goodbye . . . forever.” And with that, he turned and walked away, his head down, his ears drooping, his nose red and swollen, across the next yard and the next and the next, until he disappeared into the distance.
Ben Rabbit called everyone back to the ceremony at hand, the marriage of Rollie and Kitty. He began again, “Now, is there anyone who thinks this union shouldn’t take place? Speak now, quickly, or be quiet forever.” Short pause and he rushed into the rest of it. “All right, do you, Rollie Rabbit, take Kitty Rabbit to be your mate for life?”
“I do, I do!” said Rollie.
“And do you, Kitty Rabbit, take Rollie Rabbit to be your mate for life?”
“I do, I do!” said Kitty.
“Good! I now pronounce you two to be mated for life. You may now touch noses.”
Rollie and Kitty, with eyes shyly downcast, touched, rubbed, noses, and then both broke into smiles that could light a starless night. The crowd cheered with all those assorted sounds that only a crowd in the Arbor could make. Fred, pulling his reflecting glass behind him, gave his congratulations to his Arbor friend and his quest friend and then hurried off to replace his glass on the floor of his house. Dusty, Squeakie, and Fara from the patio meowed their congratulations to their rabbit friends. And Buzz and Millie hovered and fluttered down to kiss the two newlyweds on the foreheads and tell them how happy they were for them. And all the Arborites and the visitors began slowly to make their way out of the yard and back to the business of life.
Life in the Arbor settled back in its normal flow. Ben and Sara and Polly went back to the burrow, Dusty and Squeakie and Fara went back into the house with their pets, Gabby and Greta Grackle returned to the golf course to see what they could steal, and Dan and Dora Dove continued their lovey dovey bill-and-cooing. Buzz whistled off to find an open sugarwater feeder. Fred was already home admiring himself in his reflecting glass, thinking about his dinner of fire ants and arborvitae blossoms.
Millie fluttered down to perch on a low branch near Rollie and Kitty. She called them to her. “I hope you two have a happy life together. I enjoyed our trip to the Great Out There, Rollie, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But something is calling me home. I just have to return to the place where I was born. I’ve already told Fred and Buzz and now I’m telling you. This is goodbye. I may never see you again, but I’ll always remember you.” She flew down to sit on Rollie nose. Then she touched her nose to his, then to Kitty where she did the same.
“Goodbye, my friends, goodbye. Think of me when you next see a gathering of monarchs in your tree. I won’t be among them but my spirit will be.” Then she flew off to the north, fluttering and flapping up and up, finally disappearing into the distance.
Rollie and Kitty watched her until she was gone, waving and waving until there was no longer anyone to wave to. Then they were left alone to consider their new lives together. It was still early afternoon, but nothing said they couldn’t dance in the middle of the day.
Rollie bowed to Kitty, Kitty curtseyed to Rollie. And they danced. They crouched and gazed at each other, then Rollie leaped in the air and Kitty dashed beneath him. Then she turned and they faced one another again. Then Kitty leaped and Rollie dashed beneath her. One round of dance was enough. They rubbed noses and then Rollie sang to his new bride:
“Life in the Arbor / Is good, so grand, / And now I understand why. / / My Kitty is with me, / I have all that I need. / I feel I’m in heaven on high.”
Rollie thought he could hear a chorus of voices supporting him, a chorus of voices from the Arbor, singing along with him. But it may have been only his imagination, for he was a most imaginative rabbit. He and his imaginary chorus concluded:
“There is no safer harbor / Than life in the Arbor / For Kitty, my Kitty and me!”