The text you’re going to read comes from a famous novel by an English writer Richard Adams, a remarkable tale ofexile and survival, of heroism and friendship. The main characters of the story are rabbits, but this fact doesn’t make the book less true-to-life as the rabbits have very human features and very real problems to solve. Richard Adams' novel was first published in 1972 and soon became a bestseller. It is one of the books that make you laugh out loud and cry and think. To make the book more convincing the authorsupplies it with maps,foot-notes and a glossary of "rabbits’ language”.
The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes. A hundred yards away, at the bottom of the slope, ran the brook, no more than three feet wide.
The May sunset was red in clouds, and there was still half an hour to twilight. The dry slope was dotted with rabbits — some nibbling at the thin grass near their holes, others looking for dandelions or perhaps a cowslip that the rest had missed.
At the top of the bank, close to the wild cherry where the blackbird sang, two rabbits were sitting side by side. Soon, the larger of the two came out of the bushes and ran up into the field. A few moments later the other followed.
The first rabbit stopped in a sunny patch and scratched his ear with rapid movements of his hind leg. Although he was a yearling and still below full weight, he had not the scared look of younger rabbits. He looked as though he knew how to take care of himself. There was a shrewd, buoyant air about him as he sat up, looked around and rubbed both front paws over his nose. As soon as he was satisfied that all was well, he laid back his ears and set to work on the grass.
His companion seemed less at ease. He was small, with wide, staring eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested a kind of nervous tension. His nose moved continually, and when a bumblebee flew humming to a thistle-bloom behind him, he jumped and spun round with a start.
The small rabbit came closer to his companion.
“Let’s go a bit further, Hazel,” he said. “You know, there’s something queer about the warren this evening, although I can’t tell exactly what it is. Shall we go down to the brook?”
“All right, Fiver1,” answered Hazel, “and you can find me a cowslip. If you can’t find one, no one can.”
He led the way down the slope, his shadow stretching behind him on the grass. They reached the brook and began nibbling and searching.
It was not long before Fiver found what they were looking for. Cowslips are a delicacy among rabbits, and as a rule there are very few left by late May in the neighbourhood of even a small warren. They were just starting on it when two larger rabbits came running across from the other side of the nearby cattle wade.
“Cowslip?” said one. “All right — just leave it to us. Come on, hurry up,” he added, as Fiver hesitated. “You heard me, didn’t you?”
“Fiver found it, Toadflax,” said Hazel.
“And we’ll eat it,” replied Toadflax. “Cowslips are for older rabbits - don’t you know that? If you don’t, we can easily teach you.”
Fiver had already turned away. Hazel caught him up by the culvert.
1 The rabbit was called “Fiver” because he was the last and the smallest rabbit in the litter. As rabbits can count up to four, any number above four means “a lot”. So “Fiver” means “one of a lot”.
I'm sick and tired of it,” he said. “It’s the same all the time. I’ll tell you, ifI live another year, I’ll treat younger rabbits with a bit of decency.”
“Well, you can at least expect to grow older,” answered Fiver.
“You don’t suppose I’ll leave you to look after yourself, do you?” said Hazel. “But to tell you the truth, I sometimes feel like clearing out of this warren altogether. Still, let’s forget it now and try to enjoy the evening. I tell you what — shall we go across the brook? There’ll be fewer rabbits and we can have a bit of peace. Unless you feel it isn’t safe?” he added.
“No, it’s safe enough,” Fiver answered. “If I start feeling there’s anything dangerous I’ll tell you. But it’s not exactly danger that I seem to feel about the place. It’s — oh, I don’t know — something oppressive, like thunder: I can’t tell what; but it worries me. All the same, PU come across with you.”
They ran over the culvert. The grass was wet and thick near the stream and they made their way up the opposite slope, looking for drier ground. Suddenly Hazel stopped, staring.
“Fiver, what’s that? Look!”
A little way in front of them, the ground had been freshly disturbed. Two piles of earth lay on the grass. Heavy posts, reeking of creosote1 and paint, towered up as high as the holly trees in the hedge, and the board they carried threw a long shadow across the top of the field. Near one of the posts, a hammer and a few nails had been left behind.
The two rabbits went up to the board at a hopping run and crouched in a patch of nettles, wrinkling their noses at the smell of a dead cigarette end somewhere in the grass. Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down.
“Oh, Hazel! This is where it comes from! I know now — something very bad! Some terrible thing — coming closer and closer. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered with blood!”
“Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of the sunset. Fiver, come on, don’t talk like this, you’re frightening me!”
Fiver sat trembling and crying among the nettles as Hazel tried to reassure him and to find out what it could be that had suddenly driven him beside himself. If he was terrified, why did he not run for safety, as any sensible rabbit would? But Fiver could not explain and only grew more and more distressed. At Iast Hazel got him back home and had almost to push him down the hole.
The sun set behind the opposite slope. The wind turned colder, with a scatter of rain, and in less than an hour it was dark. All colour had faded from the sky: and although the big board creaked slightly in the night wind, there was no passerby to read the sharp, hard letters that cut straight as black knives across its white surface. They said:
"This ideally situated estate, comprising six acres of excellent building land, is to be developed with high class modern residences by Sutch and Martin, limited, ofNewbury, Berks".
(After Watership Down ” by Richard Adams
1. In what season is the story laid? At what time? What details does the author use to describe the scene of action?
2. In what way are the two rabbit friends different? What problem did they have because they were only one year old?
3. What do you think Fiver meant when he said that something worried him? What could it be?
4. What did Hazel notice near the fence? What kind of threat for the rabbits’ future could this new object mean?
5. Would you like to read the novel “Watership Down”? Why? Why not?