Watership Down, p.1Part #1 of Watership Down series by Richard Adams
'A literary work of uncommon merit' - The New York Times
'From blood and the thump of fear to the pleasure of good feeding, the discovery of new surroundings or the texture of the day, we are immersed in the rabbits' world ... one might, at the same time, be reading some gripping escape story, the rabbit characters are so totally credible' - The Times Literary Supplement
An impressive, immensely readable story, held together over pages by a powerful imagination that soon forbids disbelief - New Statesman
'This beautifully written and intensely moving story is the work of an extraordinary imagination ... a classic of animal literature' - Sunday Telegraph
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Adams was born in Berkshire in 1920 and studied history at Bradfield and Worcester College, Oxford. He served in the Second World War and in 1948 joined the Civil Service. In the mix-sixties he completed his first novel, Watership Down, the story of which he originally told to his children to while away a long car journey. Watership Down was awarded both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian award for children's fiction for 1972.
In 1974 he retired from the Civil Service to devote himself to writing, and in that year he published Shardik, his second novel. His subsequent novels are The Plague Dogs (1977), The Girl in a Swing (1980), Maia (1984) and Traveller (1988), and his other books include The Iron Wolf and Other Stories, The Bureaucats, A Nature Diary, Voyage through the Antarctic (in collaboration with Ronald Lockley) and Tales from Watership Down, a companion volume that is also published by Penguin. He collaborated on Nature through the Seasons and Nature Day and Night (with Max Hooper and David A. Goddard). He wrote the poetry for The Tyger Voyage, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, and The Ship's Cat, illustrated by Alan Aldridge, and edited an anthology of modern poetry entitled Occasional Poets. He has also written a volume of autobiography, The Day Gone By.
Richard Adams lives in the south of England with his wife Elizabeth, who is an expert on English ceramic history, and has two grown-up daughters, Juliet and Rosamond. His enthusiasms are English literature, music, chess, beer and shove-ha'penny, bird-song, folk-song and country walking.
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Rex Collings 1972
Published in Puffin Books 1973
Penguin edition published 1974
Copyright (c) Richard Adams, 1972
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Master Rabbit I saw
WALTER DE LA MARE
To Juliet and Rosamond, remembering the road to Stratford-on-Avon
I acknowledge with gratitude the help I have received not only from my family but also from my friends Reg Sones and Hal Summers, who read the book before publication and made valuable suggestions.
I also wish to thank warmly Mrs Margaret Apps and Miss Miriam Hobbs, who took pains with the typing and helped me very much.
I am indebted, for a knowledge of rabbits and their ways, to Mr R. M. Lockley's remarkable book, The Private Life of the Rabbit. Anyone who wishes to know more about the migrations of yearlings, about pressing chin glands, chewing pellets, the effects of over-crowding in warrens, the phenomenon of re-absorption of fertilized embryos, the capacity of buck rabbits to fight stoats, or any other features of Lapine life, should refer to that definitive work.
Nuthanger Farm is a real place, like all the other places in the book. But Mr and Mrs Cane, their little girl Lucy and their farmhands are fictitious and bear no intentional resemblance to any persons known to me, living or dead.
PART I THE JOURNEY
1. The Notice Board
2. The Chief Rabbit
3. Hazel's Decision
4. The Departure
5. In the Woods
6. The Story of the Blessing of El-ahrairah
7. The Lendri and the River
8. The Crossing
9. The Crow and the Beanfield
10. The Road and the Common
11. Hard Going
12. The Stranger in the Field
14. 'Like Trees in November'
15. The Story of the King's Lettuce
17. The Shining Wire
PART II ON WATERSHIP DOWN
18. Watership Down
19. Fear in the Dark
20. A Honeycomb and a Mouse
21. 'For El-ahrairah to Cry'
22. The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah
24. Nuthanger Farm
25. The Raid
26. Fiver Beyond
27. 'You Can't Imagine it Unless You've been There'
28. At the Foot of the Hill
29. Return and Departure
PART III EFRAFA
30. A New Journey
31. The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle
32. Across the Iron Road
33. The Great River
34. General Woundwort
36. Approaching Thunder
37. The Thunder Builds Up
38. The Thunder Breaks
PART IV HAZEL-RAH
39. The Bridges
40. The Way Back
41. The Story of Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog
42. News at Sunset
43. The Great Patrol
44. A Message from El-ahrairah
45. Nuthanger Farm Again
46. Bigwig Stands his Ground
47. The Sky Suspended
48. Dea ex Machina
49. Hazel Comes Home
50. And Last
1. The story opens
2. The Enborne crossing
3. The Heather
4. Cowslip's Warren
5. The N.E. corner of the Beech Hanger on Watership Down 6. Nuthanger Farm
7. The combe where Bigwig met the fox
8. Where they crossed the railway line
9. The upper bridge on the Test
10. Where the punt was lying
11. Efrafa. The Crixa
12. The roadless railway arch
13. The lower bridge and the weed pool
14. The copse where the fox struck
PART I THE JOURNEY
CHORUS: Why do you cry out thus, unless at some vision of horror?
CASSANDRA: The house reeks of death and dripping blood.
CHORUS: How so? 'Tis but the odour of the altar sacrifice.
CASSANDRA: The stench is like a breath from the tomb.
The primroses were over. Towards the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit-holes. In places the grass was gone altogether and everywhere there were clusters of dry droppings, through which nothing but the ragwort would grow. A hundred yards away, at the bottom of the slope, ran the brook, no more than three feet wide, half-choked with king-cups, water-cress and blue brook-lime. The cart-track crossed by a brick culvert and climbed the opposite slope to a five-barred gate in the thorn hedge. The gate led into the lane.
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 pushing farther down to look for dandelions or perhaps a cowslip that the rest had missed. Here and there one sat upright on an ant-heap and looked about, with ears erect and nose in the wind. But a blackbird, singing undisturbed on the outskirts of the wood, showed that there was nothing alarming there and in the other direction, along the brook, all was plain to be seen, empty and quiet. The warren was at peace.
At the top of the bank, close to the wild cherry where the blackbird sang, was a little group of holes almost hidden by brambles. In the green half-light, at the mouth of one of these holes, two rabbits were sitting together side by side. At length, the larger of the two came out, slipped along the bank under cover of the brambles and so down into the ditch and 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 harassed look of most 'outskirters' - that is, the rank-and-file of ordinary rabbits in their first year who, lacking either aristocratic parentage or unusual size and strength, get sat on by their elders and live as best they can - often in the open - on the edge of their warren. 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 round 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 not so much caution as a kind of ceaseless, nervous tension. His nose moved continually and when a bumble-bee flew humming to a thistle bloom behind him, he jumped and spun round with a start that sent two nearby rabbits scurrying for holes before the nearest, a buck with black-tipped ears, recognized him and returned to feeding.
'Oh, it's only Fiver,' said the black-tipped rabbit, 'jumping at blue-bottles again. Come on, Buckthorn, what were you telling me?'
'Fiver?' said the other rabbit. 'Why's he called that?'
'Five in the litter, you know: he was the last - and the smallest. You'd wonder nothing had got him by now. I always say a man couldn't see him and a fox wouldn't want him. Still, I admit he seems to be able to keep out of harm's way.'*
The small rabbit came closer to his companion, lolloping on long hind legs.
'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,' 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 close beside the wheel-ruts of the track.
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. This one had not bloomed and its flat spread of leaves was almost hidden under the long grass. They were just starting on it when two larger rabbits came running across from the other side of the near-by 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 Owsla* - 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.
'I'm sick and tired of it,' he said. 'It's the same all the time. "These are my claws, so this is my cowslip." "These are my teeth, so this is my burrow." I'll tell you, if ever I get into the Owsla, I'll treat outskirters with a bit of decency.'
'Well, you can at least expect to be in the Owsla one day,' answered Fiver. 'You've got some weight coming and that's more than I shall ever have.'
'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.
The way in which he asked suggested that he did in fact think that Fiver was likely to know better than himself, and it was clear from Fiver's reply that this was accepted between them.
'No, it's safe enough,' he 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, I'll 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. Part of the slope was in shadow, for the sun was sinking ahead of them, and Hazel, who wanted a warm, sunny spot, went on until they were quite near the lane. As they approached the gate he 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 creosote 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 on the far side, 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.'
He began to whimper with fear.
'What sort of thing - what do you mean? I thought you said there was no danger?'
'I don't know what it is,' answered Fiver wretchedly. 'There isn't any danger here, at this moment. But it's coming - it's coming. 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 last Hazel said,
'Fiver, you can't sit crying here. Anyway, it's getting dark. We'd better go back to the burrow.'
'Back to the burrow?' whimpered Fiver. 'It'll come there - don't think it won't! I tell y
'Now stop it,' said Hazel firmly. 'Just let me look after you for a bit. Whatever the trouble is, it's time we got back.'
He ran down the field and over the brook to the cattle-wade. Here there was a delay, for Fiver - surrounded on all sides by the quiet summer evening - became helpless and almost paralysed with fear. When at last Hazel had got him back to the ditch, he refused at first to go underground and Hazel 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 by the gate creaked slightly in the night wind (as though to insist that it had not disappeared in the darkness, but was still firmly where it had been put), there was no passer-by 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, OF NEWBURY BERKS.
2. The Chief Rabbit
The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, moved there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go.
Henry Vaughan The World
In the darkness and warmth of the burrow Hazel suddenly woke, struggling and kicking with his back legs. Something was attacking him. There was no smell of ferret or weasel. No instinct told him to run. His head cleared and he realized that he was alone except for Fiver. It was Fiver who was clambering over him, clawing and grabbing like a rabbit trying to climb a wire fence in a panic.
'Fiver! Fiver, wake up, you silly fellow! It's Hazel. You'll hurt me in a moment. Wake up!'
He held him down. Fiver struggled and woke.
'Oh, Hazel! I was dreaming. It was dreadful. You were there. We were sitting on water, going down a great, deep stream, and then I realized we were on a board - like that board in the field - all white and covered with black lines. There were other rabbits there - bucks and does. But when I looked down, I saw the board was all made of bones and wire; and I screamed and you said, "Swim - everybody swim"; and then I was looking for you everywhere and trying to drag you out of a hole in the bank. I found you, but you said, "The Chief Rabbit must go alone," and you floated away down a dark tunnel of water.'
Watership Down by Richard Adams / History & Fiction / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes