The warren is thriving with new tunnels and litters of rabbits on the way. Hazel is a bit concerned about how some of the rabbits will handle the coming winter, but as the soil is soft, he figures they should be able to dig below the frost. The idea of winter reminds Dandelion of the story of Rowsby Woof.
El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle were hungry and cold, and the best food for any kind of distance was in the farmerís vegetable garden. However, the farmer had put wire all around the garden and, in addition to keeping a gun handy, also had a vicious dog that was put out to guard the garden each night. The dog eats a lot of raw meat which makes it easy to smell him coming, and barks loudly whenever another animal enters the garden-which makes it relatively easy to get away. One day they see the farmer picking all his cabbages and putting them inside his house to protect them from frost. El-ahrairah determines to find a way to thwart the dog and get at those cabbages.
The following afternoon, the man drives by in a "hrududu" (any motorized vehicle), and as it passes, a bag which contains rotten meat falls out. El-ahrairah drags the meat into a ditch and buries it. The next day they find a piece of "black wheel covering," apparently some lost tire tread. They chew off a piece of it, and El-ahrairah chews on the piece until he manages to shape it roughly like a dogís nose. El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle carry the rubber back to the garden, pushing it into every disgusting smelly substance they can find on the way. They get the meat and drag it along a row in the vegetable garden, finally dropping it at the bottom of the garden.
Then they make their way to a flower garden which is separated from the vegetable garden by a high, close boarded fence.
Pushing the rubber nose through the fence where the dog can smell it, El-ahrairah calls to the Rowsby Woof and tells him that he is the messenger of the great dog spirit Queen Dripslobber who has chosen to honor him because of his fame as a great ratter. First, however, Rowsby Woof must pass a test of his belief. He is to go to the far end of the garden where he is to find and eat a rope of meat. El-ahrairah, the messenger, will guard the house until Rowsby returns. Rabscuttle expects that they will go in the house and raid the cabbages while Rowsby is gone, but that is not the plan. Instead they will go and "report to the queen" and she herself will come and honor Rowsby on the following night.
The next night, El-ahrairah uses the same ruse to get the dogís attention, then tells him that the Queen will be meeting him at a crossroads in the village and that he is to go there and wait for her. As soon as the dog is gone, the two rabbits enter the farmhouse kitchen through a cloth plugged hole in the kitchen wall. They stuff themselves with cabbage and other vegetables.
Meanwhile the dog sits and waits at the cross roads until his master-rather than the queen- appears. The rabbits are too busy eating and do not hear the farmer and dog coming until the door latch rattles and the man enters. Upon feeling a draft, the man plugs the hole very tightly with a bag, making it impossible for the rabbits to escape. Thinking quickly, Elahrairah hides behind some boxes and speaks to the dog who is lying on the hearth. He explains that the reason the Queen never showed up was because a rat spirit had sent his goblins through the clouds, disseminating a terrible disease. The disease will not harm the dog, but it will kill his master unless Rowsby acts quickly to break the spell. Rowsby must bark loudly and run around the house four times, and the spell will be broken.
The dog barks, bringing the farmer out of bed. When the farmer opens the door
to see what the dog could be barking about, Rowsby dashes out and runs
around the house. The man follows him, leaving the door open and El-ahrairah
and Rabscuttle escape into the garden and field beyond.
One of El-ahrairahís special talents seems to be in knowing what to tell and
what to keep to himself. He has no desire to actually harm the victims
of his pranks, nor does he have any problem with allowing the dog to spend
the rest of his life under the delusion that he has carried out a noble
deed in saving the life of his master from the rat goblins. In allowing
his enemies to feel noble and accomplished, he actually appears more dignified
himself and the enemy seems even sillier.
Hazel and Bigwig happen to meet the little mouse Hazel had protected from
the Hawk several weeks earlier. The mouse talks about another group of
rabbits speaking as if he thinks they are friends of Hazelís. Hazel sends
Holly and Blackavar to investigate, and they discover that the combe is
full of rabbits from Efrafa including General Woundwort himself. Under
Blackberryís direction, the rabbits begin plugging their holes from the
inside, leaving just one tunnel open. Meanwhile, Hazel decides to try
to talk to Woundwort, find out what he is up to and see if any sort of
agreement can be reached.
The story does a little backtracking to show how Woundwort was able to find
the Honeycomb rabbits. He had no way of knowing where they were going
once the boat floated down the river. However, his patrols did know where
they had run into the fox. Woundwort place a continuous patrol at the
location and had them relieved every two days. At first everyone believed
that Woundwort was merely in the grip of an obsession, but then Campion
spotted and confronted them. Once he knew where they were, Woundwort took
his time in getting there, then made his preparations from a combe in
a neighboring down. He was counting on having the element of surprise,
but that was spoiled when Campion brought the news that he had come face
to face with Blackavar and Holly. Woundwort is about to send Thistle and
Campion to find out what the Honeycomb band is doing, whether they are
running or merely digging in. Just then Hazel comes over the field with
his idea for compromise. He urges Woundwort to consider working together,
to send rabbits from his overcrowded warren to meet with rabbits from
the Honeycomb and thus start a new warren between them. For a split second
Woundwort sees the wisdom of Hazelís idea, but his tyrannical temperament
gets the better of him. He tells Hazel to go back to the Honeycomb and
prepare to return all of the does he took or be killed.
Tyrant though he is, Woundwort is no fool, nor is he completely without honor. He could have easily killed the lame Hazel and Campion offered to do just that, but Woundwort insists on letting him return to the Honeycomb with the "terms." He does underestimate Hazelís warren though, for he thinks the bucks will be so frightened that they will probably let the does go to save their own lives. He also overestimates his own abilities to drive his Owsla into danger, considerable though his control may be.
Cite this page:
Ruff, Karen SC. "TheBestNotes on Watership Down".
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