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Mr. Tortoise and Mr. Hare

You’ve probably all heard the story of Mr. Tortoise and Mr. Hare, but did you ever hear about their rematch? Sure! It makes sense, doesn’t it? Have you met a member of the Hare family who wasn’t a sore loser?

As soon as that first race was over, Mr. Hare began to complain to anyone who would listen-or not. Oh, he had his excuses, and the more he repeated them, the more plausible they seemed. Finally kind old Mrs. Shrew, who was too polite to disagree, slyly challenged him, “Well, darling, if that’s the case, why don’t you just demand a rematch?”

And that ate Mr. Hare up inside: he hadn’t thought of it himself, how was he to approach Mr. Tortoise, and what if he was to lose again? It gnawed and gnawed at him the way he liked to chew on carrots until Mrs. Hare took matters into her own paws at a tea party with Mrs. Tortoise and casually introduced the idea. “Well, it’s settled then,” announced Mrs. Hare before Mrs. Tortoise could respond-you didn’t expect her to have any more patience than her husband, did you?

So the date of the rematch was set, and Mr. Hare went over to see his friend Mr. Fox. Wait, Mr. Fox, you ask? Indeed, the intrepid Mr. Fox was a friend of anyone in the woods who had a problem and some money. He made sure that both disappeared in short order.

“Mr. Fox, I need you to write me the rules of a race I can’t possibly lose.” Always quick on his claws, Mr. Fox quipped, “You mean one in which you don’t fall asleep in the middle?” Smiling to himself at Mr. Hare’s embarrassment, Mr. Fox held out his foot to collect the usual consultation fee and assured Mr. Hare that his victory would be guaranteed.

Unlike before, Mr. Hare trained for this race. He went running every day, ate all the vegetables off his plate, and even asked Mrs. Hare to spy on Mr. Tortoise by dropping in on Mrs. Tortoise every once in a while. “He’s not doing anything,” Mrs. Hare reported for what she considered the umpteenth time. She met every protestation from Mr. Hare of “But what do you mean, anything?” with “I mean, he’s not doing anything!”

A few days before the race, Mr. Fox stopped by to deliver the rules. He was beside himself with his own cleverness, “I figured out why you lost the last race: it was too long, too flat, and too straight. Look at this map. I’ve drawn a course that winds up and down a hill, curves around a field, and loops back to the finish line. Best of all, it should take you only about an hour. Here, take this watch that will buzz you every five minutes to make sure you don’t fall asleep anyway. Oh, and did I mention that the winner has to jump through a hoop at the finish line? It’s brilliant!” Detecting no response from Mr. Hare, he explained, “Get it? Tortoises can’t jump! You can’t possibly lose!”

Overjoyed, Mr. Hare tipped Mr. Fox generously and sent him on his way. Although he thought that surely he could now rest easy, his anxiety and edginess slowly crept back.

At long last, the big day arrived. Word of the race had traveled quite far, and there were even more spectators for this second match than the first. Mr. Hare hopped from foot to foot, having obviously suffered a sleepless night. It seemed that Mr. Tortoise might not show, but sure enough he appeared just in time, plodding along to join Mr. Hare at the starting line.

The referee, Mr. Fox (who else did you expect?), reminded the contestants of the rules and wished them luck. Then, before he knew it, the race had started and Mr. Hare’s legs were carrying him forward. Tired and haggard, at several points almost collapsing from fatigue, he relied on the watch to keep him going. He even risked getting lost a few times-his vision was so blurry (despite all those vegetables he ate)-but the last several days of training paid off and he ran the track from memory. Sprinting toward the finish line, looking back over his shoulder to make sure Mr. Tortoise wasn’t gaining on him, he dove through the hoop and landed on the other side, out of breath but on his feet, exhausted but victorious.

But wait. “No, no, this can’t be happening!” he cried. There was Mr. Tortoise at the finish line. Mr. Hare had looked behind him and Mr. Tortoise wasn’t there, which meant only one thing-Mr. Tortoise had beaten him again. Downcast and defeated, he asked Mr. Tortoise, “How did you do it? How did you beat me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ve won!” scoffed Mr. Fox, “He never moved an inch. I promised you’d win and you did.” But Mr. Hare could see the truth with his own eyes, and he no longer trusted the cunning Mr. Fox. He knew he had been beaten, not once, but now twice. Never one to be humble, Mr. Hare declared Mr. Tortoise the fastest resident of the woods. To this day, ask anyone who lives there, and they will tell you the exact same thing.

February 20, 2007
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