Now in those days Ableegumooch the Rabbit was a very different animal than he is today. His body was large and round, his legs were straight and even, and he had a long bushy tail. He could run and walk like other animals, not with a hop-hop-hop as he does today.
One day in springtime, when the woods were carpeted with star flowers and lilies-of-the-valley, and the ferns were waist-high, Ableegumooch lay resting beside a fallen log. Hearing a rustle on the path, he peered around his log to see who was coming. It was Uskool the Fisher, a large animal of the weasel tribe, and he was weeping.
"What is the matter with him," wondered the rabbit, who was inquisitive as well as soft-hearted. He popped his head up over the log and Uskool nearly jumped out of his fur with surprise. "It's only me--Ableegumooch," said the rabbit. "Do you mind telling me why you are crying?"
"Oh, greetings, Ableegumooch," sighed Uskool, when he had recovered from his fright. "I'm going to my wedding."
"And that makes you cry?" asked the astonished rabbit.
"Of course not," said Uskool. "I've lost my way, that's the trouble."
"Well, just take your time," said the rabbit sensibly, "and you'll soon find it again."
"But I have no time to spare," groaned the fisher. "My future father-in-law has sworn that if I do not arrive for the wedding by sunset today, he will marry his daughter to Kakakooch the Crow. And, look, already the sun is low in the sky!"
"In that case," said Ableegumooch, "I'd better show you the way. Where are you going?"
"To a village called Wilnech," said Uskool eagerly, "near the bend in the river!"
"I know it well," said the rabbit. "Just follow me."
"Thanks, Ableegumooch," cried the happy fisher. "Now I shall be sure to arrive in time." So off they went on their journey. Uskool, who was not very quick on the ground, being more accustomed to travel in the trees, moved slowly.
"You go ahead," he told the impatient rabbit, "and I'll follow as fast as I can."
So Ableegumooch ran ahead, and sometimes all Uskool could see of him was his long bushy tail whisking through the trees. So it was that Uskool, looking far ahead and not watching where he stepped, fell suddenly headfirst into a deep pit.
His cries soon brought Ableegumooch running back, and seeing the fisher's trouble, he cried out cheerfully, "Never mind. I'll get you out."
He let his long tail hang down inside the pit.
"Catch hold, and hang on tight, while I pull."
Uskool held on to the rabbit's tail, and Ableegumooch strained mightily to haul him up. Alas, the weight of the fisher was too great. With a loud snap, the rabbit's tail broke off short, within an inch of the root, and there was poor Ableegumooch with hardly any tail at all!
Now you would think that this might have discouraged the rabbit from helping Uskool, but not so. When Ableegumooch made up his mind to do something for somebody, he did it. Holding on to a stout tree with his front paws, he lowered his hinder part into the pit.
"Take hold of my legs," he cried, "and hang on tight. I'll soon pull you out."
Ableegumooch pulled and he pulled until his waist was drawn out thin, and he could feel his hind legs stretching and stretching-- and soon he feared he might lose them too. But at last, just as he thought he must give up, the fisher's head rose above the edge of the pit and he scrambled to safety.
"Well!" said the rabbit as he sat down to catch his breath. "My waist isn't so round as it was, and my hind legs seem a good bit longer than they were. I believe it will make walking rather difficult."
And sure enough, it did. When the rabbit tried to walk, he tumbled head over heels. Finally, to get along at all, he had to hop.
"Oh, well," said the rabbit, "hopping is better than nothing," and after a little practice, he found he could hop quite fast. And so they hurried on through the forest.
At last, just before the sun touched the rim of the trees, they arrived at the bride's village. All the fishers were gathered, waiting, and they smiled and cheered at sight of Uskool and his guide--all but Kakakooch the Crow, who was far from glad to see them! In fact, as soon as he saw Uskool take the bride's hand, he flew out of the village in a temper, and never came back again. But nobody cared about him.
Ableegumooch was the most welcome guest at the wedding when Uskool told the other fishers what he had done. All was feasting and merriment, and the rabbit danced with the bride so hard she fell into a bramble bush and tore her gown. She was in a dreadful state when she found she was not fit to be seen in company, and ran to hide behind a tree. The rabbit was terribly sorry and wanted to help her, so he hopped away to get a caribou skin he had seen drying in the sun, and made a new dress out of it for the bride. "You must have a fine girdle to go with it," said he, and he cut a thin strip off the end of the skin. Then he put one end of the strip in his mouth and held the other end with his front paws, twisting the strip into a fancy cord. He twisted and twisted, and he twisted it so hard the cord snapped out of his teeth and split his upper lip right up to his nose! And now you see why it is that rabbits are hare lipped!
"Never mind," said Ableegumooch, when the bride wept at his mishap, "it can't be helped," and he gave her the cord just as it was, to tie around her waist.
"Wait right here," said the bride, and she ran off. In a moment she was back, carrying a lovely white fur coat.
"This is for you," she said shyly. "It is the color of the snow, so if you wear it in winter, your enemies will not be able to see you."
Ableegumooch was delighted with his present and promised not to put it on till the snow came, as his brown coat would hide him better in summer. The wedding was over now, and he said good-bye to Uskool and the bride, and started for home.
Now it happened that before he had gone far, he came to a small pool in the woods, so smooth it was like a mirror. Looking into it, the rabbit saw himself for the first time since his accidents, and was aghast. Was this he--this creature with the split lip, the hind legs stretched out of shape, and a tail like a blob of down?
"Oh dear, oh dear," sobbed Ableegumooch, "how can I face my friends looking like this?" Then, in his misery, he remembered Glooscap, his Master. "O Master! See what has happened to your poor guide. I'm not fit to be seen any more, except to laugh at. Please put me back to my former shape."
High up on Blomidon, Glooscap heard the rabbit and came striding down from his lodge to see what was wrong. When he saw poor Ableegumooch, all out of shape, he had all he could do to keep from laughing, though of course he kept a sober face so as not to hurt the rabbit's feelings.
"Come now," he said, "things may not be as bad as you think. You know how fond you are of clover, Ableegumooch?"
The rabbit nodded piteously.
"And you know how hard it is to find. Well, with that long cleft in your lip, you will be able to smell clover even when it is miles away!"
"That's good," said the rabbit, cheering up a little, "but it's very uncomfortable having to hop everywhere I go."
"Perhaps, for a time," said Glooscap, "but have you noticed how much faster you hop than you used to run?"
The rabbit did a little hop, and a jump or two, just to see.
"Why I believe you're right!" he cried, but then his face fell again. "But my tail, Master! I mind that most of all. I was so proud of it."
"It was certainly a handsome tail," admitted the Great Chief, "but recall how it used to catch in thorns and brambles."
"That's true!" cried the rabbit, excitedly, "and it was very awkward when Wokwes the Fox was chasing me! Now I can slip through the narrowest places with no trouble at all!" And he laughed with delight. "Why--with my new legs, my cleft lip, and without my long tiresome tail, I'm a better rabbit than I was before!"
"So you are!" said Glooscap, and at last he was able to laugh. When Glooscap laughs heartily, the land shakes and the trees bend over, so the rabbit had to hold on tightly to a tree to keep from being knocked over. "So you are indeed!" laughed Glooscap.
And that is why the rabbit and the rabbit's children, and his children's children have had, ever since that day, a little white scut of a tail, a cleft lip, and long hind legs on which they can hop all day and never tire. And since then, too, in winter, rabbits wear white coats.
And thus, kespeadooksit--the story ends.
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