idol season ten | week eight | 1300 words
It was difficult to deny his involvement when the farmer's rake scratches still adorned his posterior, but Peter Rabbit refused to admit to anything. McGregor's vegetable patch was unnaturally alluring, and Peter was an ordinary rabbit. He just didn't have the willpower to ignore it.
The word around the fields and garden was, "Resist!" No matter how juicy and tempting the vegetables, all of the birds and animals knew they were meant to pretend indifference and just keep moving. Woe to those who did not.
While Peter's mother and sisters had no difficulty holding themselves in check, Peter was less fortunate. He was his father's son, through and through—his dead father, to be precise. Father Rabbit had met his end several years prior, at the hands of the same farmer who had so recently chased Peter round the garden.
There were stories far and wide of other animals who were not always on their best behaviour. A certain reckless toad had acquired quite a reputation, as had a group of mice who commandeered a pumpkin and went joyriding. A few townships over, there was even talk of a mole who had taken a human bride!
What were a few missing beans and radishes compared to that? Why, Peter wondered, was everyone making such a fuss?
Mother Rabbit's friend, Jemima Puddle Duck, thought the problem was that Peter's naughtiness embarrassed the other animals, while Peter thought the problem was that Mrs. Puddle Duck was a complete ninny. He didn't put much stock in her opinion.
"So, that business with the garden," Peter's cousin Benjamin began.
Peter bristled. "Who's asking?" he said.
"Me," Benjamin said. "Who do you think? So, what was it like, anyway?"
Peter squinted at him, one ear going lopsided with the effort to look as confused as possible so as to perpetuate his denial of the entire affair. "What was what like?" Peter asked. "And anyway, how should I know?"
Some of the other animals, mainly the more edible creatures such as birds and Peter's cowardly relatives, said there ought to be a trial.
"For what, precisely?" Peter said. "Are we to put kittens on trial for playing with string?"
"Say nothing," Mother Rabbit admonished, and she hired a solicitor for him, Mr. Bunwell Twitchit.
Mr. Twitchit invited Peter into the business room of his warren, where they sat down at opposite sides of the desk lump formed by the root of a hawthorn bush. "Tell me your side of the story," Mr. Twitchit said.
"Er…" Peter stalled.
Mother Rabbit swatted Peter with her handbag. "He's your solicitor," she said, "you can tell him everything."
Peter proceeded to lay out the story, which Mr. Twitchit pronounced ridiculous. "You'll have to do better than that."
The trial began in a small grove of trees at the far corner of McGregor's main field, where fallen logs provided seats for the many spectators. The farm's large Cotswold ram presided from behind a large tree stump. "O-o-orderrr," he bleated.
Peter hid his laughter behind a paw, pretending to spruce up his appearance by cleaning his ears.
His barrister, a pheasant with a propensity for squawking, smoothed his top crest and leaned toward his client. "I presume you brought the payment," he murmured out of the side of his beak.
"For—" The barrister let out a distressed screech, and then calmed himself. "For the bribe," he rasped.
"What?" Peter said.
"Oh dear, oh dear." The pheasant hopped on one foot, then picked at a stray feather along the edge of his wing. "Oh, this will never do."
The ram called for the spectators to take their seats, and addressed Peter's council. "Mr. Squabblerot, you may begin," he said.
"Thank you, your Honour," the pheasant said. "My client would like to plead guilty."
"I would not!" Peter said.
"Extremely guilty," the pheasant added.
The judge nodded sagely. "Quite." He leaned down behind the officiating stump to nibble some fresh grass. "Do continue," he said.
Charges were presented, and the trial progressed. Things quickly became ugly.
"The defendant is reported as having a predilection for wearing… clothing," said Bartholomew Badger, the claimants' barrister.
"Your Honour, I must point out that my client is not wearing any clothes now," Mr. Squabblerot said.
"Because he lost them," the badger said. "He is quite obviously careless, in addition to being a hardened criminal."
"My learn-ed friend exaggerates," the pheasant said. "The defendant is simply a rabbit."
"He is a deranged danger-bunny who will get us all killed," the badger pronounced.
"Stuff and nonsense!" Peter shouted.
"Silence!" the judge and jury said.
The pheasant squawked in surprise, then shook himself and coughed. "My client is most apologetic,"
"I am not!" Peter said. "Your Honour, Mr. Squabblerot is not listening to me in the slightest."
The judge chewed a patch of clover, looking thoughtful. "That is hardly an issue for this court."
"May I terminate his employment, then?"
The judge tore into a mouthful of grass. "No."
Peter fidgeted. "May I leave?"
"Certainly not!" The judge glared at Peter until he sat back down.
Bartholomew Badger straightened up to his fullest height. "Your Honour, at this time I would request a verdict."
Peter Rabbit decided he had had quite enough. "Your Honour, I remained silent on the advice of council, but now I wish to speak in my own defence."
The pheasant squawked at such an insult, and was summarily ejected from court. "Proceed," the judge intoned.
Peter related his story, beginning with the new clothes and his high-minded intentions of good behaviour (which might have been slightly exaggerated). He described the enticing aroma of the lettuce and French beans, the rapture of the exquisite first nibbles, and he maintained that he had never intended to let things get so far out of hand. The farmer, he said, was simply in a bad temper that day, and Peter had grown flustered and become stuck on some netting before escaping. "It could have happened to anyone, really," he finished.
The judge considered the jury. "Quite guilty, I should think."
"Oh, yes!" the hens clucked, whilst the bullfrogs bellowed in agreement and the squirrels chattered amongst themselves.
Peter looked about in alarm. It was his direst moment, yet few others seemed as concerned as he. His cousins were off playing bandy-wicket in the meadow whilst his uncle Barley drank all the ale in the family's newly-packed picnic hamper. Peter's former barrister stood at the periphery of the grove, checking his pocket-watch and sighing. Only Peter's mother, who kept dabbing her tears with a handkerchief, seemed to have any notion of the gravity of the situation.
"You shall go to prison for a term of not less than two years," the judge announced, pressing a nasty-looking stoat into service as police escort.
"Shan't," Peter said, hopping up out of his seat and over the makeshift courtroom gallery. He bolted through the field of Mr. McGregor's far less tidy neighbour, and kept going for the next several hours. He didn't stop until he reached the outskirts of a nearby city.
Mr. Squabblerot packed up his things and went back to nesting and intermittently vocalising in the brush. The ram who had served as trial judge eventually became dinner, as did several members of the jury.
Peter missed his family terribly, but he soon fell in with a bad lot, who provided sufficient distraction. Before long, Peter was destroying flowerbeds and gambling at cards, and altogether having the sort of high time that better suited the punishment he'd been given.
As for the farmer, he continued planting tasty vegetables, but never again did they bring him a prize so great as the little blue jacket and tiny brown slippers that had once belonged to certain naughty little rabbit.
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