The bobcat could see nothing he recognized. Twice he had walked a big circle, and twice he had come back to the hemlock tree. He lay down in the blowing snow with a long sigh.
For a long time, there was only the tree and the snow and the cat. Then, some way off, a mound of white snow seemed to leap up in a puff of powder. Again the snow exploded, closer.
The bobcat stood up to see better. The hopping snow got closer still. It had black eyes.
The bobcat licked his lips. “Aha,” he said. “A winter rabbit!”
The little mound of snow stopped. Two large ears raised up, and a nose.
“Hello, rabbit,” said the bobcat.
The rabbit said nothing. When he sat perfectly still in the snow, he became just a triangle of three black dots on the endless white.
The bobcat, his stomach growling, crouched to spring.
“One minute,” said the rabbit.
“I should like to make a suggestion.”
The bobcat hesitated. “What?”
“If you don’t eat me, I can lead you safely out of here.”
The bobcat laughed. “I can eat you and then follow your tracks out .”
Said the rabbit, “Ah, but the wind is even now filling in my tracks with snow.”
The bobcat looked past the rabbit, and sure enough, the little holes the rabbit had just made were getting shallow.
“No one comes this way much,” said the rabbit. “You may have noticed. Would you trade your chance of escape for one meal?”
“All right,” the cat said at last. “Lead the way.” But he was thinking that he could eat the rabbit after they got to the clearing.
“A wise choice,” said the rabbit. “Now I must have your word that you will not eat me when I have done you this service. It will be our gentlemen’s agreement.”
The bobcat smiled. “Agreed,” he said.
The rabbit looked at the cat long and hard.
The bobcat dropped his head a little. He did not like to be sized up by what he would usually eat up.
“Very well,” said the rabbit. “I choose to believe you.”
And off he bounded in the direction that he had come. The bobcat followed. As he plodded after the puffs of snow, he began to think that perhaps he would keep his promise, but he could not tell why.
At a broad, level place without trees or brush, the rabbit paused. “I think you should walk around this,” he said over his shoulder. “It may not hold your weight.”
“What’s this, Rabbit? A trick?”
“Not in the least. Merely a caution, as I promised to show you safely out.” The rabbit went lightly over the level place. After some moments, the cat went around. At the far edge, a branch loaded with ice and snow suddenly gave way and fell onto the smoothness beneath. With a ripping crack, the level place split open and the water surged out. The bobcat watched only a second, for the rabbit was not waiting.
It was getting dark as they reached the edge of the woods. When the bobcat saw the familiar place, he stopped.
The rabbit turned around and faced the bobcat. “Here you are.” He said. “I think you can go on alone from here.”
The bobcat studied the rabbit, and his stomach growled again. He looked out at the field and then back to the rabbit. “Thank you,” he said. Then, still watching the rabbit, he went around the rabbit to ward the open field. Once in the field, he stopped.
“What made you trust me, Rabbit? What made you think I would go against my nature and not eat you, now we’re here?”
The rabbit took one hop over to the entrance of his burrow under the leafless blackberry bush.
“I have found,” said he, “that sometimes if you expect enough of someone, you get it.”
And he disappeared into the hole.