Hazel notices that dawn is near and suggests they all feed before attempting to cross the river. While they’re eating, Hazel approaches Fiver and asks if he’s absolutely certain they need to make the crossing—Fiver says they must, in order to reach the kind of place they want to make their new home—a “high, lonely place with dry soil, where rabbits can see and hear all round and men hardly ever come.”
Though physically among the weakest of the group, it is perhaps Fiver who has the strongest resolve and intuition. He is determined to get the group to safety just as intensely as Hazel is, and dreams of the perfect home for them all.
Hazel and Fiver rejoin the others, and Bigwig suggests they begin the crossing. Blackberry speaks up, urging Bigwig to swim across first and check out the other side. Bigwig reluctantly agrees and makes his way across. He pulls himself up onto the opposite bank and takes off onto the gently sloping hill on the other side. When he comes back down, he states that everyone needs to cross immediately—from higher up, he has seen a dog loose in the woods behind them.
As the largest and strongest, Bigwig is here volunteered for a difficult and dangerous task. This dynamic will repeat later on in the novel, as Bigwig—reluctant to place himself in harm’s way but perhaps secretly proud that the others see him as the bravest and most capable—shoulders larger and more dangerous burdens on behalf of the group.
Hazel knows that Fiver and Pipkin are still feeling weak and says he’ll stay behind with them while the others cross. Bigwig tells Hazel that his idea is stupid. Feeling overwhelmed by indecision and the desire to meet everyone’s needs at once, Hazel begins looking around wildly. He notices that Blackberry is nosing at something large and flat on the waterline—a piece of wood. Blackberry suggests that Fiver and Pipkin ride across on the board while the others swim. Fiver is excited by the idea, and he and Blackberry help and exhausted Pipkin.
This passage shows how the rabbits—thrust out of their comfort zone and into a harsh world—must use their wits, just as El-ahrairah and his brood were forced to do. The rabbits may may be vulnerable, but their smarts pull them through—and when they work together, they can bring almost any scheme to fruition.
Blackberry pushes the board into the stream, and Pipkin and Fiver begin drifting across. Hazel’s head clears, and he urges the others to begin swimming. Dandelion, Silver, Blackberry, and all the others drop into the river and make their way across. Once they reach the other side, they realize that Bigwig has gotten back into the water to help push the board carrying Pipkin and Fiver across. Once safely on the opposite bank, Fiver thanks Blackberry for saving him and Pipkin with his ingenious idea about the board. Blackberry suggests they all remember how well the plan went off, as “it might come in handy again sometime.”
This passage focuses on the creation—and then the release—of a significant moment of tension. The novel will proceed much in this way, as the rabbits face off against challenges small and large, physical and intellectual, and struggle to come out the other side in once piece. This passage also foreshadows that the rabbits are going to find themselves in a high-pressure situation like this again, in which they must use their collective smarts to save one another.