by margery williams
there once upon a time there was a corduroy rabbit, and at first it was really splendid. he was fat and corpulent, as a rabbit should be; his fur was spotted brown and white, he had whiskers made of real yarn, and his ears were lined with pink satin. On Christmas morning, when he sat on top of the boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was lovely.
there were other things in the sock, nuts and oranges and a toy motor, and chocolate almonds and a mechanical mouse, but the rabbit was the best of all. for at least two hours the boy loved him, and then the aunts and uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and open packages, and in the excitement of looking at all the new gifts, the velvet rabbit forgot .
You are reading: The velveteen rabbit books
for a long time he lived in the toy closet or on the nursery floor, and no one thought much of him. he was shy by nature and as he was only made of velvet he was quite snubbed by some of the more expensive toys. mechanical toys were far superior and looked down on all others; they were full of modern ideas and pretended they were real. the model ship, which had survived two seasons and had lost most of its paint, caught their tune and never missed an opportunity to refer to his rigging in technical terms. the rabbit could not pretend to be a model of anything, because he did not know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like him, and understood that sawdust was pretty out of date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. even timothy the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with the government. among all of them, the poor bunny made himself feel very insignificant and vulgar, and the only person who was kind to him was the fur horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“what is real?” the rabbit asked one day, when they were lying next to each other near the fender of the nursery, before nana came to tidy up the room. “does it mean to have things that buzz inside you and a handle that sticks out?”
“real is not how you are made”, said the skin horse. “It’s something that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play but really loves you, then you become real.”
“Does it hurt?” the rabbit asked.
“sometimes”, said the skin horse, because he always told the truth. “When you’re real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it all happen at once, like you’re being wound up,” he asked, “or little by little?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the fur horse. “you become. it takes a long time. that’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or need to be taken care of with care. in general, when you’re real, most of your hair has been loved and your eyes are drooping and loose at the joints and very tattered, but these things don’t matter at all, because once you’re real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I take it you are real?” said the rabbit. and then he wished he hadn’t said it, because he thought the fur horse might be sensitive. but the fur horse just smiled.
“The boy’s uncle made me real,” he said. “That was many years ago, but once you’re real, you can’t be unreal again. It lasts forever.”
the rabbit sighed. she thought it would be a long time before this so-called royal magic happened to her. she longed to become real, to know how she felt; and yet the idea of getting ragged and losing his eyes and whiskers was sad enough. she wished she could become him without these awkward things happening to her.
there was a person named nana who ran the nursery. she sometimes didn’t notice the toys lying around, and sometimes, for no reason, she would rush like a great wind and put them in the cupboards. she called it “tidying up,” and all the toys hated it, especially the tin ones. the rabbit didn’t mind so much, because wherever they threw it, it fell soft.
One night when the boy was going to bed, he couldn’t find the porcelain dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry and it was too much trouble to look for porcelain dogs at bedtime, so she just looked around and, seeing that the door to the toy cabinet was open, she pounced.
“here”, he said, “take your old bunny! it will be enough to sleep with you!” and she dragged the rabbit by one ear and put it in the boy’s arms.
That night, and for many nights after, the velvet rabbit slept in the boy’s bed. at first it was quite uncomfortable, because the boy hugged him very tightly, and sometimes rolled on him, and sometimes pushed him under the pillow so much that the rabbit could hardly breathe. and he too missed those long moonlit hours in the nursery, when the whole house was silent, and his talks with the fur horse. but very soon he began to like it, because the boy used to talk to him and make nice tunnels for him under the sheets, which, according to him, were like the burrows in which real rabbits lived. and they had splendid games together, in whispers, when she had gone to supper and had left the candle burning on the mantelpiece. and when the child fell asleep, the rabbit would snuggle under his warm chin and dream, with the child’s hands around him all night long.
and so time went by, and the bunny was very happy, so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velvet fur was getting more and more frayed, and his tail was coming undone, and all the pink was fading away. He had erased from his nose where the boy had kissed him.
Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever the Boy went the Rabbit went too. He had rides in the wheelbarrow, and picnics on the grass, and lovely fairy huts built for him under the raspberry canes behind the flower border. And once, when the Boy was called away suddenly to go out to tea, the Rabbit was left out on the lawn until long after dusk, and Nana had to come and look for him with the candle because the Boy couldn’t go to sleep unless he was there. He was wet through with the dew and quite earthy from diving into the burrows the Boy had made for him in the flower bed, and Nana grumbled as she rubbed him off with a corner of her apron.
“you must have your old bunny!” she said. “You fancy all that fuss over a toy!”
The boy sat up in bed and stretched out his hands.
“give me my bunny!” he said. “You shouldn’t say that. It’s not a toy. It’s real!”
When the bunny heard that he was happy, he knew that what the fur horse had said was finally true. the magic of the nursery had happened to him and he was no longer a toy. he was real the boy himself had said so.
She was almost too happy to sleep that night, and so much love stirred in her little sawdust heart that it almost burst. and in his boot-button eyes, which had long since lost their shine, there appeared a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even Nana noticed it the next morning when she picked it up and said, “I declare that if that old man Bunny hasn’t, I don’t have a knowing expression!”
It was a wonderful summer!
There was a forest near the house where they lived, and on long June afternoons the boy liked to go there after tea to play. he took the corduroy rabbit with him, and before he went out to pick flowers or play bandit among the trees, he always made the rabbit a little nest somewhere in the ferns, where he would be very comfortable, because he was a kind fellow . -boy at heart and he liked the bunny to feel comfortable. One night, as the rabbit lay there alone, watching the ants darting back and forth between his velvety paws in the grass, he saw two strange beings emerging from the tall ferns near him.
They were rabbits like himself, but quite furry and brand-new. They must have been very well made, for their seams didn’t show at all, and they changed shape in a queer way when they moved; one minute they were long and thin and the next minute fat and bunchy, instead of always staying the same like he did. Their feet padded softly on the ground, and they crept quite close to him, twitching their noses, while the Rabbit stared hard to see which side the clockwork stuck out, for he knew that people who jump generally have something to wind them up. But he couldn’t see it. They were evidently a new kind of rabbit altogether.
They looked at him and the bunny looked back at them. and all the while their noses were twitching.
“why don’t you get up and play with us?” one of them asked.
“I don’t feel like it”, said the rabbit, because he didn’t want to explain that he didn’t have a clockwork.
“ho!” said the furry rabbit. “It’s as easy as anything.” and took a great leap to the side and stood on its hind legs.
“I don’t think you can!” she said.
“I can!” said the bunny. “I can jump higher than anything!” he was referring to when the boy threw it, but of course he didn’t want to say it.
“can you jump on your hind legs?” asked the furry rabbit.
That was a terrible question, because the velvet rabbit didn’t have back legs! his back was made in one piece, like a pincushion. he stood still in the ferns and hoped the other rabbits wouldn’t notice.
“I don’t want to!” he said again.
but wild rabbits have very sharp eyes. and he stretched out his neck and looked.
“it has no hind legs!” she called her. “Imagine a rabbit with no back legs!” and laughed.
“I have!” yelled the bunny. “I have hind legs! I’m sitting on them!”
“then stretch them out and show me, like this!” said the wild rabbit. and began to spin and dance, until the bunny got quite dizzy.
“I don’t like to dance,” he said. “I’d rather stay put!”
but all the time he longed to dance, because a funny new tingling sensation ran through him, and he felt he would give anything in the world to be able to jump like these rabbits did.
The strange rabbit stopped dancing and came quite close. he got so close this time that his long whiskers brushed the velvet bunny’s ear, and then he wrinkled his nose suddenly, flattened his ears, and jumped back.
“doesn’t smell good!” he exclaimed. “He’s not a rabbit at all! He’s not real!”
“I am real!” said the bunny, “I’m real! the boy said so!” and he almost burst into tears.
At that moment there was the sound of footsteps, and the boy ran past them, and with a kick and a flash of white tails, the two strange rabbits disappeared.
“come back and play with me!” the bunny called. “oh I’m back! I know I’m real!”
but there was no answer, only the little ants ran from one side to the other, and the ferns swayed gently where the two strangers had passed. the velvet rabbit was alone.
“oh dear!” he thought. “Why did you run away like that? Why couldn’t you stop and talk to me?” he for a long time he stayed very still, watching the ferns and waiting for them to come back. but they never came back, and soon after the sun went lower and the little white moths fluttered about, and the boy came and took him home.
Weeks passed and the bunny got very old and ragged, but the boy loved him just the same. he loved him so much that he loved all his whiskers, and the pink lining of his ears turned gray, and the brown spots on him faded. it even started to lose its shape, and hardly looked like a rabbit anymore, except to the boy. it was always beautiful to him, and that was all that mattered to the bunny. he didn’t care what he looked like to other people, because the magic of the nursery had made him real, and when you’re real it doesn’t matter how ragged.
And then one day, the boy got sick.
His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close. Strange people came and went in the nursery, and a light burned all night, and through it all the little Velveteen Rabbit lay there, hidden from sight under the bedclothes, and he never stirred, for he was afraid that if they found him some one might take him away, and he knew that the Boy needed him.
It was a long and exhausting time, because the boy was too sick to play, and the bunny found him quite boring with nothing to do all day. but he patiently curled up and waited for the time when the boy was well again, and they would go out into the garden among the flowers and butterflies and play splendid games in the raspberry bush as they used to. he planned all sorts of delightful things, and as the boy lay half asleep, he crept up on the pillow and whispered them into his ear. and then the fever broke, and the boy got better. he was able to sit up in bed and look at picture books, while the bunny snuggled up next to him. and one day, they let him get up and get dressed.
It was a bright, sunny morning, and the windows were wide open. the boy had been carried out onto the balcony, wrapped in a shawl, and the bunny lay tangled up in the sheets, thinking.
The boy was going to the beach tomorrow. everything was arranged, and now he only had to carry out the doctor’s orders. they talked about everything, while the bunny lay under the covers, with only his head sticking out, and listened. the room had to be disinfected and all the books and toys that the child had played with in bed had to be burned.
“hooray!” the bunny thought. We’ll go to the beach tomorrow! because the boy had often talked about the beach, and he really wanted to see the big waves coming in, the tiny crabs, and the sand castles.
At that moment Nana saw it.
“what about your old bunny?” she asked.
“that?” said the doctor. “wow, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! burn it off. what? nonsense! get him a new one. he shouldn’t have that anymore!”
and so they put the bunny in a sack with the old picture books and a bunch of rubbish, and carried it to the end of the garden behind the chicken coop. that was a good place to make a fire, only the gardener was too busy at the moment to attend to it. he had to dig the potatoes and pick the peas, but the next morning he promised to come very early and burn everything.
That night the boy slept in a different room and had a new bunny to sleep with. it was a splendid bunny, all white cuddly with real glass eyes, but the boy was too excited to care much about it. because tomorrow he was going to the beach, and that in itself was something so wonderful that he couldn’t think of anything else.
and while the boy slept, dreaming of the beach, the bunny lay among the old picture books in the corner behind the chicken coop, feeling very lonely. the sack had been left untied, so that by squirming a little he was able to stick his head through the opening and look out. he was shivering a little, because he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by now his coat had become so worn and frayed from hugs that it was no longer any protection for him. Nearby he could see the thicket of raspberry canes, tall and dense as a tropical jungle, in whose shade he had played with the boy in the mornings past. he thought of those long sunny hours in the garden, how happy they were, and a great sadness came over him. it seemed to him that he saw them all pass before him, each one more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flowerbed, the quiet evenings in the woods when he lay among the ferns and the little ants ran along his feet; the wonderful day he first knew it was real. he thought of the fur horse, so wise and meek, and all that he had told him. what was the use of being loved and losing beauty and becoming real if everything ended like this? and a tear, a real tear, slipped down her worn velvet little nose and fell to the ground.
and then something strange happened. because where the tear had fallen, a flower sprouted from the earth, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden. it had thin emerald green leaves, and in the center of the leaves a flower like a golden cup. it was so beautiful that the bunny forgot to cry and just stood there looking at it. and then the flower opened, and a fairy came out of it.
She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dewdrops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.
“little rabbit”, he said, “don’t you know who I am?”
The rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to her that she had seen his face before, but she couldn’t think where.
“I’m the magical fairy from the nursery,” she said. “I take care of all the toys that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children no longer need them, then I come and take them and make them real.”
“wasn’t it real before?” the bunny asked.
“You were real to the boy,” said the fairy, “because he loved you. Now you will be real to everyone.”
and he held the bunny in his arms and flew with him into the forest.
It was already morning, because the moon had risen. the whole forest was beautiful, and the fronds of the ferns shone like icy silver. In the clearing between the tree trunks, the wild rabbits danced with their shadows on the velvety grass, but when they saw the fairy, they all stopped dancing and formed a circle to look at her.
“I brought you a new playmate,” said the fairy. “You must be very kind to him and teach him everything he needs to know in the land of rabbits, because he will live with you forever and ever!”
and kissed the bunny again and left him on the grass.
“run and play, bunny!” she said.
but the bunny stood still for a moment and never moved. because when he saw all the wild rabbits dancing around him, he suddenly remembered his hind legs, and he didn’t want them to see that he was made of one piece. he didn’t know that when the fairy kissed him for the last time he had completely changed him. and he might have sat there a long time, too shy to move, if at that moment something hadn’t tickled his nose, and before he thought what he was doing, he lifted his hind toe to scratch it.
and found out he actually had hind legs! instead of dirty corduroy, he had soft, shiny brown fur, ears that wiggled on their own, and whiskers so long they brushed the grass. he jumped up and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he jumped across the grass on them, jumping sideways and spinning like the others, and got so excited that when he finally stopped to look the fairy was gone. /p>
I was finally a real rabbit, at home with the other rabbits.
Autumn and winter passed, and in the spring, when the days turned warm and sunny, the boy went out to play in the woods behind the house. and while he was playing, two rabbits came out of the bracken and watched him. one of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as if he had been seen a long time ago, and the spots were still showing. and there was something familiar about his soft little nose and round black eyes, so that the boy thought to himself:
“wow, he looks like my old bunny that got lost when I got scarlet fever!”
but he never knew he really was his own little bunny, he looked back at the boy who had first helped him to be real.