Once upon a time there was an old farmer named Zechariah Flint. He grew all kinds of things, but his specialty was cabbages. He won prizes at all the fairs for his beautiful cabbages, and they were his pride and joy.
Well, one year, just a few days before he was due to harvest the cabbages to take to the fair, Old Zechariah notices that something’s been eating them. Obviously he was pretty darn upset about that, so he set out some traps in the hope of catching whatever it was. But no matter how many snares he set, more and more of the cabbages were getting eaten.
With only three days left before the fair, he was getting furious. At this rate, his next door neighbor, Joe Sloman might beat him out for the blue ribbon, and he just couldn’t stand Joe Sloman! So that night he got out his gun and sat up by the garden to see if he could catch the thief.
Right about the first crack of dawn, a big fat rabbit comes hopping along right into his garden and goes straight for the cabbages. Zechariah smiled triumphantly, raised his gun, and said “Say your prayers, varmint!”
The rabbit saw him, and realizing it couldn’t get away it sat back on its haunches and put its paws in the air in surrender.
“Spare me, sir!” cried the rabbit. “What have I done that you want to go and murder me?”
“’T’ain’t murder,” said Zechariah. “You’re a thief! You’re the one that’s been eatin’ my cabbages.”
“Oh, are these your cabbages?” asked the rabbit. “I’m sorry, I had no idea! I thought they were abandoned, see, and free to all hungry creatures. I apologize sincerely for my mistake.”
“You ‘spect me to believe that?” sneered Zechariah, aiming down the gun.
“Perhaps I could offer you something in payment for the cabbages?” said the rabbit. “I can, you know, if you will but spare my life.”
Now, Zechariah didn’t really think the rabbit had anything to offer, but he was curious and lowered his gun a little.
“That so?” he said. “Now, what can you offer?”
“I know that you men love gold, yes?” said the rabbit.
“Aye, that we do,” said Zechariah
“Well, as you know, we rabbits live in holes in the ground. My own burrow is some ways away, beyond that field. I happened to be digging a nice new den not two days back when I hit into a big wooden chest. I peeked inside, and what do I find but piles and piles of shiny gold coins! I think someone must have buried it there long ago and forgotten all about it. If you won’t shoot me, I’ll tell you exactly where to find it.”
Now the old farmer was interested. He had a decent living, but not so decent that he’d care to pass up a whole chest of gold if it were really there for the taking. He lowered his gun even further.
“You telling the truth, varmint?” he said.
“As I live and breathe,” said the rabbit. “And as I hope to go on doing so.”
Zechariah thought a moment, then said, “All right, varmint. If you tell me where this here treasure is, and swear to me that you’ll never touch my cabbages again, then I’ll let you go.”
“Oh, thank you good sir, thank you!” said the rabbit. “I will tell you what to do. On the other side of yonder hill is a field. In the field there is a chestnut tree. If you dig about the roots on the west side of that tree, you will find that treasure. Though I warn you, it is down fairly deep.”
“All right,” said the farmer. “But remember, treasure or no treasure, I’ll shoot you down if I catch you prowling around here again!”
“After today, I swear to you sir that you will never see me again!” said the rabbit.
So Zechariah saw the thief off of his land, then went and fetched his spade and set off to follow the rabbit’s direction. He climbed the hill, found the meadow, and saw the chestnut tree, just as the rabbit had said. Now very excited, he set to work digging about the west side of the tree. It was hard work, since the tree had large and extensive roots. More than once his old heart gave a leap as he thought he’d found it at last, only to discover that it was only yet another tree root that had to be cleared.
He dug all morning and on into afternoon, fearful to leave the spot now that he’d begun. Joe Sloman might happen by, see what was up, and get the gold before him after he’d gone and done all that work.
But finally, as the sun was going down and he’d dug a hole near ten feet deep and almost as wide and fair uprooted the whole tree, the old farmer had to face the fact that he’d been tricked. There was nothing here but tree roots and the remnant of an abandoned rabbit burrow.
Fuming and swearing to get even with the rabbit, he limped back over the hill to his farm. Only then, as he came in sight of his garden, he realized that the rabbit had at least been telling the truth about one thing: after today, neither he nor any other rabbits would be coming by.
For, while Zechariah had been off digging all day, the rabbit had gone and fetched all his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins down to the fourth degree – rabbits have large families, as you know – and they’d descended on old Zechariah’s garden and carried off not only every head of his prized cabbage, but every single vegetable he possessed, down to the last string bean.
So, just as the old liar had promised, Zechariah never saw him again. And obviously he wasn’t able to bring any of his prized cabbages to the fair that year. But what rankled him most of all was the fact that Joe Sloman took home a blue ribbon with a freshly-caught brace of the fattest rabbits anyone had ever seen.