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The Hare
by [?]

I have just read a story that has moved me strangely, with a helpless bewilderment and a sad anger of mind. When the doors of a factory, in the heart of a northern town, were opened one morning, a workman, going to move a barrel that stood in a corner, saw something crouching behind it that he believed to be a dog or cat. He pushed it with his foot, and a large hare sprang out. I suppose that the poor creature had been probably startled by some dog the evening before, in a field close to the town, had fled in the twilight along the streets, frightened and bewildered, and had slipped into the first place of refuge it had found; had perhaps explored its prison in vain, when the doors were shut, with many dreary perambulations, and had then sunk into an uneasy sleep, with frequent timid awakenings, in the terrifying unfamiliar place.

The man who had disturbed it shouted aloud to the other workmen who were entering; the doors were shut, and the hare was chased by an eager and excited throng from corner to corner; it fled behind some planks; the planks were taken up; it made, in its agony of fear, a great leap over the men who were bending down to catch it; it rushed into a corner behind some tanks, from which it was dislodged with a stick. For half an hour the chase continued, until at last it was headed into a work-room, where it relinquished hope; it crouched panting, with its long ears laid back, its pretty brown eyes wide open, as though wondering desperately what it had done to deserve such usage; until it was despatched with a shower of blows, and the limp, bleeding body handed over to its original discoverer.

Not a soul there had a single thought of pity for the creature; they went back to work pleased, excited, amused. It was a good story to tell for a week, and the man who had struck the last blows became a little hero for his deftness. The old savage instinct for prey had swept fiercely up from the bottom of these rough hearts–hearts capable, too, of tenderness and grief, of compassion for suffering, gentle with women and children. It seems to be impossible to blame them, and such blame would have been looked upon as silly and misplaced sentiment. Probably not even an offer of money, far in excess of the market value of the dead body, if the hare could be caught unharmed, would have prevailed at the moment over the instinct for blood.

There are many hares in the world, no doubt, and nous sommes tous condamnes. But that the power which could call into being so harmless, pretty, and delicately organised a creature does not care or is unable to protect it better, is a strange mystery. It cannot be supposed that the hare’s innocent life deserved such chastisement; and it is difficult to believe that suffering, helplessly endured at one point of the creation, can be remedial at another. Yet one cannot bear to think that the extremity of terror and pain, thus borne by a sensitive creature, either comes of neglect, or of cruel purpose, or is merely wasted. And yet the chase and the slaughter of the unhappy thing cannot be anything but debasing to those who took part in it. And at the same time, to be angry and sorry over so wretched an episode seems like trying to be wiser than the mind that made us. What single gleam of brightness is it possible to extract from the pitiful little story? Only this: that there must lie some tender secret, not only behind what seems a deed of unnecessary cruelty, but in the implanting in us of the instinct to grieve with a miserable indignation over a thing we cannot cure, and even in the withholding from us any hope that might hint at the solution of the mystery.

But the thought of the seemly fur stained and bedabbled, the bright hazel eyes troubled with the fear of death, the silky ears, in which rang the horrid din of pursuit, rises before me as I write, and casts me back into the sad mood, that makes one feel that the closer that one gazes into the sorrowful texture of the world, the more glad we may well be to depart.