Chapter 18: Watership Down
By the evening of the next day, the rabbits have traveled over three miles. They trust each other more after their experience in the last warren, and Fiver's intuitions are no longer questioned. They rest in a barn where they are attacked by rats, but Silver and Buckthorn fight them off under Bigwig's guidance. Finally the rabbits come to the foot of the downs, and Fiver wants them to climb up to the top. Hazel, Dandelion, and Hawkbit go ahead and scope out the territory. Hazel and Dandelion find that the top of the downs is perfect for them, and Hawkbit finds some rabbit holes on the way up that will be great places for them to sleep that night.
Chapter 19: Fear in the Dark
The rabbits sleep well that night. The next day, Blackberry suggests to Hazel that they build a warren for themselves. Although this is normally a task for does, not bucks, they decide that it is a good idea anyway and begin working. Later, Hazel, Bigwig, Dandelion, and Speedwell go down the hill to find some good grass. Soon they hear a terrible sound, one that they cannot place. They hide together, but then the voice begins to speak words, and it calls Bigwig. Shocked, Hazel goes to see what it could be. With Dandelion behind him, he finds a rabbit in terrible shape, on the verge of collapse—it is Captain Holly of the Owsla, from their home warren.
Chapter 20: A Honeycomb and a Mouse
Hazel realizes that they are in danger, as the injured Holly smells of blood and will attract predators. Soon, another rabbit appears—Holly's friend Bluebell. Hazel manages to get Holly and Bluebell up to the top of the down without any trouble, although it takes a while and he is very worried. Pipkin and Dandelion take the two injured rabbits into one of the holes and tell the others to leave them be to rest as much as they need.
The next day, Hazel takes the others back to continue digging the new warren, which he wants to have a great burrow like the one in Strawberry's old warren. Soon, Strawberry takes control of the building process, using his knowledge from the other warren to help build the great burrow, which they call the Honeycomb. Hazel saves a mouse from a falcon by telling it (in the simple woodland language) to come down into one of their holes.
Captain Holly has recovered enough to tell them his story—one that he warns will drive fear into all of their hearts—but before he does so, the mouse speaks to Hazel. The mouse promises to help Hazel sometime in return for saving his life earlier.
Although Fiver has classified the rabbits at the warren of the snares as "unnatural," this does not mean that all rabbits must always live the same way. Indeed, Hazel and his group have survived because they have done things differently: they have adapted to their environment and the situation in ways that have allowed them to move on. There is a difference between living unnaturally and making changes. Blackberry's idea that they should build a warren of their own is a smart, unorthodox suggestion. The holes that Hawkbit finds are good enough places to sleep, but have long since been abandoned and are not meant for a large group of rabbits. However, they can make their new warren whatever they want it to be, and Hazel's idea to build a huge burrow shows that they are taking the best of what they see from other places and putting it to use.
Holly's arrival lets the other rabbits know that something terrible has happened to their old warren. For the Captain of the Owsla to be so badly injured and to have traveled so far from the warren suggests some sort of awful event. We see that Fiver was right all along—they did need to leave their home. Although the other rabbits no longer need any further reason to trust Fiver, Holly and Bluebell bring up the point that leaving their home warren saved their lives, but brought no guarantee that things would be easy. They have been beset with dangers since they left. Blackberry's suggestion that they build their own warren gives them a chance to make the downs a true home. The rabbits have wandered for a long time, but know they have found a good living environment. When they finish constructing the Honeycomb and the rest of the new warren they will have a permanent residence.
Hazel does a very strange thing when he rescued the mouse, and it shocks the other rabbits. Although he acted on a sudden whim, his action further demonstrates that this group of rabbits is acting differently. Throughout their trip, and at all the other warrens they have visited, they have viewed other creatures as either enemies or nonentities. Now, however, Hazel has befriended a mouse by saving its life, and the mouse has promised to do him a favor in return sometime. The possibility of cooperation with other animals does not appear to have much precedence in rabbit history—with the possible exception of the stories of El-ahrairah—but it seems like a good idea. Hazel continues to prove himself a capable leader who thinks about things from a new angle. Although Hazel is not as insightful as Blackberry, he is better able to think about the whole group and what they need to do than is any of the other rabbits. If the mouse can help them sometime in the future, his act will not have been in vain. Either way, it costs him nothing to help the mouse, so it that regard is a wise decision.
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