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In a cozy hole in a big old garden behind a big old house lived the most excited young rabbit in the world. His name was Smudge, and he was not born in the big old garden, which is why he was so excited to live there now.
Smudge was born several doors up the street, where the lawn was specially treated to be sure nothing grew but grass. There was little to eat there, and Smudge and all his brothers and sisters were sent away as soon as they could hop, to find places for themselves in the wide world.
The world seemed very wide indeed to young Smudge. He couldn’t keep up with his faster, older brothers, and his sisters had both scampered under a bush, never to be seen again. Smudge was lonely. He moved slowly along, stopping to pick hungrily at a dandelion growing through the sidewalk. Then he crossed an alleyway, scuttled through a hedge, and stopped short in amazement.
He had scuttled into the big old garden behind the big old house. From all of the grass paths, and each of the lawns, came the sweet scent of clover mixed with a bouquet of grasses.
Smudge plumped himself down, feeling dizzy with delight. His nose wiggled madly, and his whiskers trembled. But it was growing dusk, and soon his nose led him, nibbling, from one delicious patch of lawn to the next, until he suddenly realized that he was sitting by a large doe rabbit, who was watching him. And then he looked around and found there were four other rabbits, all around the lawn, munching the clover and looking curiously in his direction while trying to seem as if they weren’t.
He waited for the doe to thump her foot and scold him, but she didn’t. Instead, with both her ears turned politely toward him, she asked gently, “Are you enjoying the clover?”
“Um, oh! Oh, yes, m’am,” he said.
“Good,” she said kindly. “There’s plenty for everyone, so help yourself.”
Then she went back to eating, and so he did too, careful not to turn his back on her, which would have been rude.
As he began to feel quite full (it was a wonderful feeling!) Smudge noticed the others were gathering in a flower bed.
“Come have some dessert!” The kind doe called. “These are lilies,” she told him. “The finest plants in the whole garden! But please take only one leaf. As I said, these are dessert!”
Smudge carefully nibbled just the tip from a lily leaf, and his little bunny mouth thought he had gone to to rabbit heaven. Oh, the sweet, tangy flavor! The perfect, juicy crunch! He munched right through that leaf, and looked longingly at another. But all the other rabbits were murmuring goodnight and hopping off through the darkening garden, so he did too, until he found a sheltered place between a rose bramble and an old stone wall, and went to sleep.
Late that night, Smudge woke, and the world was lit with moonlight. He wasn’t truly hungry, but the taste of that lily leaf called to his memory until he couldn’t stand it. Slowly at first, but then faster and faster, he snuck his way back through the garden to the lily bed.
He munched through a second lily leaf. It was delicious, but Smudge couldn’t enjoy it properly, for fearing the other rabbits were going to appear and scold him. So he decided to eat another. That one was a little better, so he decided to eat a third.
Marvelously, the lily leaves tasted scrumptious but seemed to take up no space in his tummy. Smudge munched faster and faster until, when he at last began to feel full, he looked and saw that he had eaten four lily plants entirely to the ground!
Smudge knew now that the others would see what he had done, and he became afraid. What would they say?
He had to hide it!
Smudge dug in the garden, piling dirt over the lily stumps as if to say, “See? There never was anything here!”
He dug, and he dug, and he dug, until he dug so much that – crunch! – another lily fell over on top of him!
With a horrified squeak, Smudge scrambled back to his place by the wall. In the morning, he wasn’t hungry, so he spent breakfast-time digging a hole under the rosebush. He slept in his new hole during the afternoon siesta, and felt much better afterward.
By evening, Smudge was getting hungry again, and had almost convinced himself that the other rabbits wouldn’t notice the missing lilies. The garden was big, and he had only eaten four, and knocked one over.
When he reached the lawn, the others were just as polite as before, and Smudge became sure he had worried for nothing. They took a terribly long time getting to dessert, however, so he boldly made his way over to the lilies and took a bite from a big juicy leaf.
It was so very good, sweet and tangy, and with a little spicy flavor he hadn’t noticed before. He took two more enormous bites, quicker than you can wiggle your nose. Then, all at once, his mouth was HOT! Oh, how it burned! A spicy pepper taste blazed from his mouth down to his belly, and back out to the tips of his ears. It was so hot and peppery that he couldn’t even think! He only stuck his pink tongue out, as far as it would go, and bounced in circles around the lawn, hoping the breeze would cool it off.
“Here,” the doe rabbit spoke close beside him, and surprised him so much that he forgot to bounce. She dropped a strange plant by his feet.
“The top of a celery plant, from the vegetable patch.” Her voice was quiet, but she sounded amused. “It will help cool you down.”
Smudge gobbled the celery top, and began to feel better almost at once.
“Thank you,” he said.
The older rabbit wiggled her nose slowly, looking very serious. “That was pepper dust,” she said. “The people put it on the lilies if we eat too many. Now none of us can eat them until rain washes them off. And the people will be watching, so we’ll have to eat even less.”
Smudge hung his head, ashamed, and his ears drooped down his back. “I – I’m sorry I didn’t listen. Do you want me to go away?” He asked sadly.
“Go away? No, no. You’ve just learned an important lesson, and that makes you a better neighbor already.” The kind doe’s eyes twinkled.
“Besides, the vegetable patch is just getting going,” she told him. “We’ll eat dessert there for a while!”