Animals are quite the characters in this short story for kids, by classic author Joel Harris.
There is no doubt the children were very much surprised to see Mr. Rabbit. They were astonished to find that he was so large and solemn-looking. When the negroes on the plantation told them about Mr. Rabbit—or Brother Rabbit, as he was sometimes called—they had imagined that he was no larger than the rabbits they saw in the sedge-field or in the barley-patch, but this Mr. Rabbit was larger than a dozen of them put together.
In one way or another Sweetest Susan and Buster John and Drusilla showed their amazement very plainly—especially Drusilla, who took no pains to conceal hers. Every time Mr. Rabbit moved she would nudge Sweetest Susan or Buster John and exclaim: “Look at dat!” or, “We better be gwine!” or, “Spozen Brer Fox er Brer Wolf come up an’ dey er dat big!”
Mrs. Meadows noticed this; indeed, she could not help noticing it. And so she said:—
“I reckon maybe you expected to find Mr. Rabbit no bigger than the rest of his family that live in your country.”
Before the children could make any answer, Mr. Rabbit began to chuckle, and he chuckled so heartily that Sweetest Susan was afraid he would choke.
“I don’t wonder you laugh,” said Mrs. Meadows, elevating her voice a little, as if Mr. Rabbit were a little deaf.
“It may not be polite to laugh in company,” replied Mr. Rabbit, “but I am obliged to do it.” His voice was wheezy, and he nodded his head vigorously. “Yes, I am obliged to do it. Why, I could put one of those poor creatures in my coat-pocket. They are not Rabbits. They are Runts. Yes, Runts. That’s what they are. And to think, too, that their great-grandparents might have come here when I did. But, no! They wouldn’t hear to it. No new country for them, they said. And so they stayed where they were, and the breed has dwindled down to—to nothing. I’ll be bound they have forgotten how to talk.” He turned to the children with a look of inquiry.
“Why, of course, rabbits can’t talk,” said Buster John.
Mr. Rabbit shook his head sadly and put his hand to his eyes. “Well, well, well!” he exclaimed after a while. “Can’t talk! But I might have known it. The family’s gone to seed. I’m glad I’m not there to see it all. A neighbor here and there does no harm, but when people began to crowd in I concluded to move, and I’m glad I did. I’m old and getting feeble, but, thank gracious, I’m not a Runt.”
“I don’t see but you’re as nimble as ever you were,” remarked Mrs. Meadows soothingly.
“I know—I know!” Mr. Rabbit insisted; “I may be as nimble, but I’m not as keen for a frolic as I used to be. The chimney-corner suits me better than a barbecue.” Mr. Rabbit closed his big eyes and sighed. “Well, well—everybody to his time, everybody to his taste!”
Mrs. Meadows nodded her head approvingly. “Yes; between first one thing and then another, there’s lots of time and a heap of tastes.”
“They tell me,” remarked Mr. Rabbit suddenly, “that things have got to that pass in the country we came from that even Mr. Billy-Goat, who used to eat meat, has dwindled away in mind and body till he hangs around the stable doors and eats straw for a living. That’s what Mr. Thimblefinger says, and he ought to know. I suppose Billy is still bob-tailed? I remember the very day he had his tail broken off.”
“Tell us about it,” remarked Buster John.