Rupert and the Thimble Warriors: A Tale of the Famous Rabbit of Uncommonly Good Sense

By Matthew Wallace

ory and Dory tiptoed down the hall, sneaking past the pantry on their way to the rectory library. Ms. Finkelbaum, the girls’ matron and the reason for their visit, was in town shopping, but the twins were always cautious.

“Look at the pictures.” Dory pointed up at the series of pedestrian landscapes that lined the hallway walls.

“You always point those out,” Mory said. “Always.”

“Well, they’re pretty. And when are we ever going to get to see places like that?”

Mory wasn’t sure they were seeing them now. All the landscapes looked alike to her, and she wasn’t sure any of them looked like actual places in the world. Besides, she had to keep her button eyes open, not only for Ms. Finkelbaum but also Jasmine the cat. “Any sign of the demon seed?”

“Nope,” Dory said. “Unless you think those pawprints over there are fresh.”

Mory dashed over toward where Dory was pointing. But before she quite got there, Dory started laughing.

“Quit it, Dory,” Mory said. “We have things we need to do.”

Dory smiled, shaking her head. “How on earth do people confuse us? You’re always so serious.”

“About being eaten by a cat? Yes, I don’t really like to joke about that.”

Dory walked over, smiling a shy smile. “Sorry, Mory, I will try and be more serious.” Mory smiled, shrugging. She never could stay mad at her sister for very long.

“Let’s go,” Dory said. “The rectory library is right around the corner.”

* * *

Mory and Dory slipped through the barely cracked door into the light. The room was lit here and there by small lamps with green glass shades, each one illuminating a long row of high shelves. In the center of the room was a massive desk covered in papers and books. A larger, green-shaded light created a yellow circle in the center of the desk. Mory and Dory looked up and could see an open copy of a book and, just peeking over the top, a quill pen dancing back and forth. They could hear the scratching of quill pen to paper.

“Is that he?” Mory whispered. The pen stopped. A pure-white head peeked over the book, looking down. His eyes were sharp black lines that missed nothing.

“Ladies, how may I assist you?”

* * *

Rupert put the quill down and slid his notepaper aside. The Parson never missed the paper that Rupert used, and Rupert always refilled the inkwells. Rupert had moved into the rectory library several years ago, mostly because he found the quiet and calm to be much to his liking, and only discovered later that it was a convenient place from which to help people.

He looked down at the rag dolls and smiled. The parsonage library was a long way from the orphanage—nearly two blocks—and they would only come if it was a problem of great import.

“Well…we have a problem,” Mory said. Rupert recalled that she was the one with the red button eyes. The serious one.

Rupert held up one paw. “Just a second, please.” He placed his quill pen in its holder, marked his place in Newton’s Principia, and, with a single bound, leapt off the desk and landed, composed, next to Mory and Dory. “Would you join me for a cup of tea, and we can discuss your problems?”

* * *

Mory and Dory followed Rupert to a small corner of the massive fireplace. In no time at all, he had pulled out a small table and laid out a nice spread of cheeses and biscuits. He pushed a small kettle on a swinging rod just over the edge in the fire. They chatted and ate. Dory laughed as Rupert kept raising one of his long ears to hear if the water was boiling.

Mory elbowed her. “Be nice.”

“Nice? I think he’s delightful.”

Rupert adjusted his place settings and turned, smiling. “Thank you, ladies. The tea is almost ready, I believe.”

Mory stood. “Mr. Rupert, sir. All of us girls drew straws, and well, frankly, we lost and had to risk Jasmine to come visit you to ask for your help.”

“My door is always open to the Thimble Warriors. What troubles you so?”

Rupert cocked his ear as the water came to a boil. He held up one paw and went to remove the kettle and fill the pot.

Mory looked over and saw that Dory had already consumed a whole collection of biscuits, her cloth face plastered with crumbs and bits of raspberry jam. Before she could say anything, Rupert had produced a napkin and was wiping her messy face. He was at ease with the world around him and that helped Mory relax.

“Now, what is so important to be worth the risk of coming here?” he said.

“We are all made by the children of the ward,” Mory said.

“And that’s great, we love our girls,” Dory said.

Rupert nodded, pouring them all a cup of tea, and sat back to listen.

* * *

The story the twins told was grim. The Thimble Warriors were a large group of dolls sewn from cloth scraps and leftover buttons by the girls of the school. Each of the Thimble Warriors was a unique creation of love made by hand—Mory and Dory were the only twins. Many of the Thimble Warriors were sold at craft fairs and became toys for children all over the region. The rest attached themselves to children at the orphanage. The ones who were sold weren’t saddened to leave since they got to spread happiness far and wide.

“You know how much we want to go abroad in the world,” Dory said, “but there is something wrong now, Mr. Rupert.”

“It’s Finkelbaum,” Mory said. “She knows how hard the children work, and knows how much love goes out to make us, but she doesn’t care. She’s not doing her part.”

Finkelbaum had always struck Rupert as a source of trouble, so he wasn’t surprised to hear that the trouble was now arising. “How is she not doing her part?”

“Before, when we were sold,” Mory said, “she would collect the money and use it to buy more thread, more stuffing, button eyes and stuff. But now it’s all different. We have a number of our Thimble Warrior sisters that we can’t finish because they’re missing parts. They stumble around blind or without mouths—it’s painful to watch.”

Rupert scratched down notes and stared at them. He had a feeling he knew what was going on. The question was what to do about it, and how? He scribbled a few more notes.

The two warriors stayed quiet, munching biscuits.

“I think I have an idea,” Rupert said. “Maybe we can find a way to deal with Ms. Finkelbaum.” Dory snickered.

* * *

The fire had burned down to embers when Rupert finished laying out his plans to help the Thimble Warriors. Mory and Dory had long ago headed back to their dorm, and Rupert sat alone in quiet contemplation, sipping a renewed cup of tea. He had warned them again about Jasmine the wild cat—his old nemesis—but he felt confident that the ladies would make it back to the orphanage.

The fire had burned down to red embers by the time Rupert had finished writing out the last note. He wrote in a beautifully long hand, his letters formed with precision. He had scribed many such notes for the Parson, often reminding him of things he had forgotten to do. Over time his handwriting and the Parson’s Old English script had become indistinguishable. Rupert had recopied many of the Parson’s notes, with minor emendations, to help keep the parsonage and orphanage running at top efficiency. No humans noticed and simply ascribed the elegant script to the Parson’s gentle hand.

Rupert rubbed his eyes and read over his last letter, to the Parsonage Secretary. “Mrs. Merryweather: Please collect Rupert the stuffed rabbit from Ms. Finkelbaum’s office. I had it repaired and it needs to be returned to the library with all haste. With God’s blessings.”

Folding the note over, creasing the paper with care, sliding it into the envelope, Rupert tucked the letter under his arm. He pulled the chain to cut off the desk light and hopped down. He had to head to the boys’ sleeping quarters before dawn to find a particularly troublesome specimen.

Rupert slipped the note under Mrs. Merryweather’s door, taking care to push it all the way under. He kept his ears and nose open. Jasmine always seemed to be about this time of night, and he had no interest in tangling with that old canny feline. As he moved on down the hall, his ears caught the faint snore of the Parson and the louder, harsher grind of Mrs. Merryweather, the housekeeper.

Down two flights of stairs, across a drafty breezeway, and Rupert came to the boys’ dormitory. Of course he smelled the mixture of dirt, sweat, and bean-saturated farts long before he arrived—the curse of a sensitive nose. The room was dimly lit, and all of the boys were fast asleep. Rupert moved from cot to cot, looking for the just-perfect boy.

He found him in the sleeping Stevie McDougal. A crayon was still clutched in his dirty hand, the half-drawn picture of a large and rather engaging dragon having dropped to the ground next to the cot. With a quick glance Rupert saw that the boy had talent. His color formations were quite delicate, particularly around the belly scales. Not at all what one would expect from the orphanage’s most dedicated hellion.

Rupert hopped up on the cot, looking the young boy in the face. A tight mop of shaggy red hair, freckles, and a missing front tooth created a deceptively cute face. Rupert touched the boy lightly on the cheek, too lightly to be felt but enough to apologize for tomorrow’s lunchtime escapade.

Hopping down, Rupert found the boy’s backpack. He slipped in, burrowed down to near the bottom, curled himself into a tight ball, and went to sleep.

* * *

Rupert stirred when Stevie picked up his backpack. He had to wait for dinner to enact his plan, so he busied himself all morning dodging the debris of an active child. There had been a large, unremarkable clod of earth, the head of a plastic soldier, and even a smelly and quite confused toad (fortunately removed promptly by an instructor). But most of the day was spent in a quiet state as he kept trying to solve, on his own, a question posed by Newton in his book.

Rupert knew the instant he entered the dining hall. Even muffled by the backpack, the place was a riot of sound. He could make out near a dozen separate conversations, not counting the cacophony of screaming kids and disappointed infants that formed a background soundscape. Young Stevie was involved in a high-pitched argument about whether or not the invisible man in H.G. Wells’s novel could see.

“There is no way,” Stevie said. “If he’s invisible, his retinas would be invisible too, and how could an image project onto an invisible surface?”

“Maybe he could see himself?” someone said.

“Nope. If so he would have seen his hand when he held it up in front of his face,” Stevie said. “We are just the sum of our prejudices, like Doctor Butler said. He said the world around us is magical, and we just fail to notice it.”

The argument, with Rupert following it carefully, continued on for some time, long after Rupert felt the backpack drop to the ground beside the lunch table. Once the pack settled, Rupert started to work his way out, trying to avoid the wet spot where the toad had made his mark. He peeked out of the edge of the pack, looking for Ms. Finkelbaum. He spotted her tan hose moving between the rows of community tables.

He slipped out of the pack and took his place on the bench between Stevie and a mysterious pile of goo that may once have been salad. He would have to leave a note, in the Parson’s name, to review the food being served in the dining hall. Rupert was certain that he could find a bit of money in the budget to improve these children’s cuisine.

* * *

The tap of Finkelbaum’s too-practical heels was distinctive. Rupert had no problem following her progress around the hall without looking. Her sharp voice offered rebuke to first one child and then another. Rupert appreciated proper manners as much as the next rabbit, but Finkelbaum used manners as a way to punish. Besides being unfair, it gave manners a bad name.

Rupert sat leaning up against Stevie and waited. Once Finkelbaum saw Rupert in Stevie’s possession, his plan would come together.

But even the most practical rabbit’s best plans can go astray. Finkelbaum walked past Stevie just as she spotted Suzie Murphy chewing with her mouth open. She was so intent on her rebuke that she did not notice Rupert at all.

Rupert glanced around. No one was looking. He squatted on his haunches and launched himself as powerfully as he could at the back of Ms. Finkelbaum’s head. As he flew up toward her, he could see the mismatched collection of pins and clips holding her hair in place. He whipped his arm around, smashing her in the back of the head, crashing into her neck.

He let his body go limp and tumbled all the way to the floor, looking to anyone like a thrown stuffed toy. The hardest part for Rupert was to not wrinkle his nose. Finkelbaum smelled like a rasher of cooked bacon and mothballs.

“Who threw that?” Rupert looked up from the floor as she scowled back and forth, looking around the cafeteria like a searchlight in a prison camp. “Who threw that?”

She bent down and picked Rupert up, her hands tough and iron hard. Holding him up, she repeated the question, her voice getting higher and shriller. Rupert kept his body limp. “This is the Parson’s—not yours. Which of you stole this?” She shook Rupert again, making his eyes rattle in his head. “Which of you?”

Finkelbaum stalked over to Mr. Taylor, the elocution teacher and other lunch monitor. She held up Rupert like evidence in a murder trial. “Mr. Taylor, did you see who?”

Mr. Taylor shook his head and reached out to stroke Rupert but missed when Finkelbaum held him aloft. He smelled of chalk dust and lemons. “Which of you?”

Taylor let her go on for some time and then quietly spoke to her. “Ms. Finkelbaum, most of these children grew up in an orphanage. They know not to speak up. You will never get a confession, I’m afraid.”

With a harsh snort she stepped up on the seat to one of the benches, displacing two orphans. “You people must appreciate other people’s property. Since you don’t, every one of you will write a two-hundred-word essay about how you should not touch other people’s things.” She shook Rupert at them as if he were a whip. “I want them on my desk in the morning.”

The whole room began a resigned muttering. Rupert could hear words like “tyrant” and “queen” and once a faint, whispered “bitch,” but they were rendered too low for Finkelbaum’s all-too-human ears.

“Tomorrow!” With that final shot she stepped down from the bench and charged out of the room with mincing steps, brushing past the elocution teacher. Her iron grip around Rupert tightened as she stormed down the hall toward her office.

* * *

As soon as Finkelbaum turned the key in the door behind her, Rupert sprang to action. He fluffed his fur where the old crone’s iron-hard grip had crushed his plush. The room was small and crowded with a busy life of a spinster house matron. He took a second to look the room over so he could put everything just as it was when he left. It would not do to have his actions discovered before they could take effect.

He tried the old woman’s armchair and then her sewing basket without success. At last, behind a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress on the shelf, he found a stocking that had been repaired so many times that it looked like a collection of mismatched threads. But the sock was stuffed full of small-denomination bank notes and one-pound coins. It added up to a lot of money. It took Rupert four trips to get all of the money onto her desk. He tossed the sock onto the sewing basket.

Rupert busied himself doing a complete count of the money, calculating how to divide the coins and bills. He almost missed the shadow growing larger. At the last moment Rupert sprang away as a massive cat plunged down onto the pile of money, spraying coins and bills all over the floor.

Jasmine.

“Now I have you,” she said. “A little rabbit goulash for supper.”

Rupert slipped under the desk, looking for a way out, his heart thundering in his chest. How could he have been so careless? He knew the transom window was open. He just didn’t think about it.

“Where are you, little rabbit?” Jasmine said. “You can’t hide forever, you know. There is no easy way out of this room except in my stomach. Why don’t we make it easy on you? I will end you quick.”

Rupert saw Jasmine drop off the desk on soundless feet. She was looking around, searching for where Rupert was hiding. He might have explained to her that he was plush, not real, and wouldn’t make a very good meal. But he knew she wouldn’t trust him without trying him herself. And by then it would be too late.

More important, what Jasmine said was true. There was no way out of the room. Rupert could never jump high enough to get out by the transom window, and he was far too well stuffed to slip under the door. He was trapped.

Unless…

He picked up a pound coin that had fallen close by and rolled it across the ground, out away from Jasmine. The instant she sprang for it, Rupert leapt, hopping across the room and into the sewing basket.

Just as he slid into the basket, Jasmine slammed onto the wooden lid, laughing. “You are mine now.”

Rupert grabbed some heavy button thread and quickly tied both ends closed, wrapping the thread around the backside of the handle. He hoped this would give him enough time to complete his escape plan. He began sorting through the scraps of cloth.

Jasmine tried to slip her claws into the lid to hook it open. “Come out, come out, little rabbit.” She pawed at both lids a few more times and then became quiet.

That couldn’t be good.

Rupert found all of the materials he needed and began weaving a cable from the strongest of the thread. Without warning, Jasmine jammed a sharp claw between the woven thatch walls of the basket and deep into Rupert’s leg. Then it was gone again.

Rupert looked at the stuffing leaking from the wound on his leg. Though painful, it would not slow him down. He had to focus and went back to winding the thread into a cable.

“Oh, little one, that is just a taste of what’s to come.”

Rupert could hear her licking the claw, enjoying the taste. He wound the cord tight, knowing his life depended on it.

* * *

Jasmine had fallen off into a light doze, her senses poised for the slightest sound from the sewing basket. She dreamed of rabbit stew, rabbit sandwiches, and rabbit shish-kabobs.

When she heard the faint click of the sewing box lid, Jasmine was instantly awake. She saw the back legs of the rabbit as he squirmed his way out of the sewing box. She did not hesitate but sprang to action, plunging onto the rabbit’s back legs.

There was a moment of confusion as her claws sunk deep, too deep, into the hindquarters and then a shock of confusion as she was pulled into the basket, her claws entangled in something. Glancing up just before she was pulled all the way into the sewing basket, she saw the rabbit pulling with all his strength, his powerful back legs braced against the other end. And she realized what she was tied up in was just bits of plush stuffed with fluff and tied to a cord.

A cord that led up to the rabbit.

And then she was inside. With a heavy thud the lid closed behind her.

* * *

Rupert wound the last of the cable around the knob of the sewing basket, leaning into it, making sure the knot would hold. The basket rocked as Jasmine expressed her fury. When this did not work, Rupert saw her claws flashing out through the weave of the basket.

He hopped off, taking a moment to check the lashings on both ends of the sewing basket.

Jasmine hissed in fury, the basket rocking back and forth and finally tipping onto its side. “Let me out!”

“I’m sure someone will let you out soon enough.” Rupert looked out the window. From the height of the moon, he still had a couple of hours. “But for now, my friend, I have much work to do, and I am quite happy knowing you can sleep the night away in there.”

With a single big bound, Rupert leapt onto the desk and began restacking the pound coins.

* * *

The sun was just starting to rise when Rupert finished addressing the final package in his long, fine hand. Jasmine had long since fallen into a grudging sleep inside her trap. Although he was still trapped in Finkelbaum’s office, he had managed to slide a message to Mory and Dory under the door and made sure they understood their task.

He lay down for a much-needed nap.

Mrs. Merryweather’s key hit the lock of Finkelbaum’s office to pick up the packages. According to the note she got, she had to get them all delivered before breakfast. She clucked her tongue when she saw how many there were, clucking again when she picked up the package addressed to Mr. Taylor and felt how heavy it was. But that was Finkelbaum all over—dumping her work on Mrs. Merryweather’s aging hands and back.

Hours later her tongue clucked a third time when she had to reach into her own pocket to pay for postage to not one but two places. She held her tongue when she saw that one was addressed to the local constabulary. She did not consider why a letter from the Parson would be left in the care of Finkelbaum.

* * *

Mrs. Merryweather dropped Rupert off on the Parson’s desk next to a pile of packages and took time to light a fire for the Parson. She placed Rupert in the armchair, taking care to sit him properly. Without a complaint she moved on to her next task.

Rupert hopped down and stretched his paws toward the fire, enjoying the touch of warmth. So far things seemed to be going well. He let himself doze, waiting for the Thimble Warriors to arrive.

He startled awake when Mory clambered up onto the chair, giggling. Rupert rubbed his eyes and stretched. It seemed it was already evening.

“Mr. Rupert, we found your note. How may we be of service?”

Looking at Mory and Dory and the heavy burden they had to carry, he realized they were not strong enough. “First, I need more than you two. It’s a hard task and requires lots of muscle.”

Dory poked Mory, laughing. Dory attempted a curtsy and managed only to tumble onto her head. She stood back up. “Then it’s a good thing we brought our friends.”

Rupert moved to the edge of the chair and saw a host of Thimble Warriors. He stopped counting at twenty-four.

Mory tapped him on the shoulder. “We are at your service, Rupert.”

Rupert brushed his hair and, taking a post on the edge of the chair, told the Thimble Warriors about their commando mission.

All through the night the Thimble Warriors worked in teams, emptying Rupert’s last heavy package. Just after 3 a.m. on Monday morning, the Warriors reported to Rupert and went off to happy slumber.

* * *

The events of the next week went down in the long history of the orphanage as the most stupendously extraordinary of all.

It started when the orphans, both boys and girls, each discovered a nice, shiny pound coin under his or her pillow, except for little Stevie McDougal. He had two pound coins, a fact that he shared loudly and proudly in between arguments about H.G. Wells and the War of the Worlds.

Then, at lunch, all talk of the sudden wealth ended when the local constable and solicitor general walked into the lunchroom and, without pause, arrested Ms. Finkelbaum.

“By order of Her Majesty’s Solicitor General in London,” the constable let his voice dwell on “London” as if it would convey greater authority, “I am remanding you into custody until suitable bail can be arranged.”

Finkelbaum stammered, her hand grasping the broach on her too-prim housedress as if it blocked the words in her throat. But she found her voice when she saw the manacles in the constable’s hand. “Why? Why? I never…” She pulled back from the constable.

The solicitor grabbed her by the elbow.

“Unhand me, you—you ruffian,” she said.

“Ruffian? It’s not me that got caught with a hand in the till.”

“What?” Finkelbaum’s voice was a high screech, like a fork on a steel plate.

“Don’t you try and deny it. We have all of the records in your own handwriting.”

The constable clapped the woman’s hands in irons. “Well, well,” he said, “it seems you have been a bad girl.”

Until that moment the entire lunchroom had been perfectly silent. No one dared breathe.

It was the long-suffering Mr. Taylor who started. His carefully cultured English reserve collapsed and he started laughing. He laughed so hard that he had to hold onto the table.

The room exploded into laughter and some scattered applause. As Ms. Finkelbaum was led away struggling, the laughter grew to a delighted cacophony.

Only Mr. Taylor had recovered enough to speak. He waved to Finkelbaum. “Good‑bye, Ms. Finkelbaum. Pleasant journey.”

The last surprise took place two days later, when the town’s largest hobby shop delivered parcel after parcel of art supplies, cricket bats, buttons, and thread. There were enough supplies to make many, many dolls, and toy trains, and hundreds of other things that the orphans needed. At first Mrs. Merryweather hesitated, worrying about the cost, but she was delighted to know they had been provided by an anonymous benefactor.

All of these good events led to a turnaround in the morale of the orphanage for both employees and orphans alike. Things got even better when the young Ms. Rachel Summers came to teach the children, but that is a tale for another time.

* * *

Far away in the rectory library, a rabbit of uncommonly good sense worked away on his translated version of Principia. He was lost in the intriguing mysteries of gravity.

But his soul felt lighter than air.

 

——————–

A lover of fantastic words and worlds, Matthew Wallace is the President and CEO of VRSim, Inc. (a virtual reality company). His work has appear in the Menda City Review. He is currently recording the next adventure of the kind rabbit with uncommonly good sense. Matthew can be reached at matthew.wallace@vrsim.net.


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