The rabbits feel the one kind of joy known to every living creature: that of having “come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear.” After regaining their strength, they decide to dig scrapes—short, shallow burrows meant to “give [them] shelter in a pinch.” Hazel suggests they canvas the area before digging and make sure they set up their scrapes in the best possible location. Bigwig volunteers to take Silver and Buckthorn to run around the surrounding fields to get a better lay of the land and check for elil.
Even in a moment of relief and tranquility, Hazel and Bigwig—as co-leaders, more or less, of this expedition—know that there’s never any time to waste, and that danger might lurk around every corner. They tirelessly work to protect their group.
Hazel, Blackberry, and Dandelion find a good spot to dig. Soon Bigwig returns and reports that though there are signs of men traversing the area, there are no other elil—and, he reasons, the humans’ presence will keep predators at bay. The rabbits agree they’d rather dodge a man than a weasel or fox.
The rabbits’ encounters with the dangers of the animal world have made the dangers of the human world seem tame in comparison.
Though buck rabbits rarely do any serious digging—the job of a doe—they now set to digging out their scrapes. Hazel supervises the “construction,” After a while he hears Fiver stamp out a warning—he follows Fiver’s gaze and sees a strange rabbit sitting a ways away, staring at them all. Hazel and Blackberry decide to talk to the rabbit, feeling cautious but eager not to frighten the stranger. As they approach the rabbit, they sense a “curious, rather unnatural gentleness” about him, and once they get close, detect a scent of health, denoting good eating and prosperity.
As the rabbits begin to get frustrated with having to undertake an unprecedented amount of work, the arrival of a hale and hearty-seeming stranger piques their interest. The rabbits’ dissatisfaction with the work they have to do in the absence of does primes them to take the stranger up on what he is about to offer them.
As the rabbits begin conversing, Hazel learns that the other rabbit and his warren saw Hazel and his group approaching over the heather. The other rabbit tells Hazel that he and his friends are welcome at their large, already-established warren, but that there’s no pressure to come. He asks if he can go with Hazel and Blackberry to meet the rest of their group, and Hazel and Blackberry agree. Hazel can’t stop thinking about this strange new rabbit’s “great, firm body and shining pelt.”
Though the presence of the stranger is intimidating, he seems well-meaning, and isn’t attempting to control or threaten Hazel and his friends. He looks to be in such good shape that they feel his warren must be thriving and successful, and so assume he can’t have any reason to want to harm their little band of Sandleford escapees.
Back at the scrapes, the strange rabbit introduces himself as Cowslip. He tells the others that rain is on the way and that their scrapes may not provide them good enough shelter. Fiver asks Cowslip outright if they can trust him. Cowslip replies that his invitation is made in good faith, but he admits that he would like it if his own group were larger in numbers. Hazel apologizes on Fiver’s behalf, explaining that their group has been through a lot and that “everything new seems like danger” now. Cowslip blithely states that if the others would like to join him, his warren is just inside a wood nearby, and then takes his leave.
Cowslip is transparent enough, revealing that he does want to increase the size of his own warren. It is this “transparency” which makes him seem trustworthy to Hazel and some of the other rabbits—even if Fiver senses something the others don’t.
Later on, when the rain arrives and the air fills with a chill, Hazel realizes that Cowslip was right: their scrapes are rough and do not have any of the feel of a proper warren. Hazel proposes going to Cowslip’s warren to seek shelter there and maybe even meet some does. Blackberry is nervous and unsure of what Cowslip and his group “stand to get” from having newcomers join their warren, while Bigwig suggests that Cowslip wants to teach Hazel’s group the lay of the land so that they don’t act foolishly and attract elil. Fiver suggests they have nothing at all to do with Cowslip and instead leave this place at once.
Even as the rabbits consider taking Cowslip up on his offer, they admit that there is something strange about him and his invitation. Fiver, as always, senses doom and misery—but considering how hard Fiver’s visions have made things for everyone else, the rabbits are less and less likely to take him at his word.
Hazel worries that Fiver is letting their group down. He feels that Blackberry and Bigwig’s arguments were well thought out and rational, but that Fiver, as usual, is falling prey to fear. Silver and Dandelion, back from digging another scrape next door, suggest visiting Cowslip in order to make a show of friendship—they worry that rejecting Cowslip’s invitation could make him suspicious or angry. Silver suggests they all go together, and Hazel agrees; they set out once again. As they make their way across the field, Hazel silently begs the spirit of El-ahrairah to protect them on this new adventure.
Hazel has always trusted his brother and has, often, been Fiver’s only supporter. Now, though, in the face of once again choosing the more difficult option as a result of Fiver’s intuition, Hazel breaks from tradition and ignores Fiver’s warning, making a choice that will impact their group in unforeseen ways.