Carl Sandburg

The Dollar Watch and the Five Jack Rabbits

    Long ago, long before the waylacks lost the wonderful stripes of oat 
straw gold and the spots of timothy hay green in their marvelous curving 
tail feathers, long before the doo-doo-jangers whistled among the 
honeysuckle blossoms and the bitter-basters cried their last and dying 
wrangling cries, long before the sad happenings that came later, it was 
then, some years earlier than the year Fifty Fifty, that Young Leather and 
Red Slippers crossed the Rootabaga Country.
    To begin with, they were walking across the Rootabaga Country. And 
they were walking because it made their feet glad to feel the dirt of the 
earth under their shoes and they were close to the smells of the earth. 
They learned the ways of birds and bugs, why birds have wings, why bugs 
have legs, why the gladdywhingers have spotted eggs in a basket nest 
in a booblow tree, and why the chizzywhizzies scrape off little fiddle songs 
all summer long while the summer nights last.
    Early one morning they were walking across the corn belt of the Rootabaga 
Country singing, “Deep Down Among the Dagger Dancers.” They had just 
had a breakfast of coffee and hot hankypank cakes covered with cow’s 
butter. Young Leather said to Red Slippers, “What is the best secret we 
have come across this summer?”
    “That is easy to answer,” Red Slippers said with a long flish of her long 
black eyelashes. “The best secret we have come across is a rope of gold 
hanging from every star in the sky and when we want to go up we go up.”
    Walking on they came to a town where they met a man with a sorry face.  
    “Why?” they asked him. And he answered, “My brother is in jail.”
    “What for?” they asked him again. And he answered again, “My brother put 
on a straw hat in the middle of the winter and went out on the streets laughing; 
my brother had his hair cut pompompadour and went out on the streets 
bareheaded in the summertime laughing; and these things were against the 
law. Worst of all he sneezed at the wrong time and he sneezed before the wrong 
persons; he sneezed when it was not wise to sneeze. So he will be hanged 
to-morrow morning. The gallows made of lumber and the rope made of hemp—
they are waiting for him to-morrow morning. They will tie around his neck the 
hangman’s necktie and hoist him high.”
    The man with a sorry face looked more sorry than ever. It made Young Leather 
feel reckless and it made Red Slippers feel reckless. They whispered to each 
other. Then Young Leather said, “Take this dollar watch. Give it to your brother. 
Tell him when they are leading him to the gallows he must take this dollar watch 
in his hand, wind it up and push on the stem winder. The rest will be easy.”
    So the next morning when they were leading the man to be hanged to the 
gallows made of lumber and the rope made of hemp, where they were going to 
hoist him high because he sneezed in the wrong place before the wrong people, 
he used his fingers winding up the watch and pushing on the stem winder. There 
was a snapping and a slatching like a gas engine slipping into a big pair of dragon 
fly wings. The dollar watch changed into a dragon fly ship. The man who was 
going to be hanged jumped into the dragon fly ship and flew whonging away 
before anybody could stop him.
    Young Leather and Red Slippers were walking out of the town laughing and singing 
again, “Deep Down Among the Dagger Dancers.” The man with a sorry face, not 
so sorry now any more, came running after them. Behind the man and running 
after him were five long-legged spider jack-rabbits.
    “These are for you,” was his exclamation. And they all sat down on the stump of 
a booblow tree. He opened his sorry face and told the secrets of the five long-legged 
spider jack-rabbits to Young Leather and Red Slippers. They waved good-by and 
went on up the road leading the five new jack-rabbits.
    In the next town they came to was a skyscraper higher than all the other skyscrapers. 
A rich man dying wanted to be remembered and left in his last will and testament 
a command they should build a building so high it would scrape the thunder clouds 
and stand higher than all other skyscrapers with his name carved in stone letters on 
the top of it, and an electric sign at night with his name on it, and a clock on the tower 
with his name on it.
    “I am hungry to be remembered and have my name spoken by many people after 
I am dead,” the rich man told his friends. “I command you, therefore, to throw the 
building high in the air because the higher it goes the longer I will be remembered 
and the longer the years men will mention my name after I am dead.”
    So there it was. Young Leather and Red Slippers laughed when they first saw the 
skyscraper, when they were far off along a country road singing their old song, 
“Deep Down Among the Dagger Dancers.”
    “We got a show and we give a performance and we want the whole town to see it,” 
was what Young Leather and Red Slippers said to the mayor of the town when they 
called on him at the city hall. “We want a license and a permit to give this free show
 in the public square.”
    “What do you do?” asked the mayor.
    “We jump five jack-rabbits, five long-legged spider jack-rabbits over the highest 
skyscraper you got in your city,” they answered him.
    “If it’s free and you don’t sell anything nor take any money away from us while it 
is daylight and you are giving your performance, then here is your license permit,” 
said the mayor speaking in the manner of a politician who has studied politics.
    Thousands of people came to see the show on the public square. They wished to 
know how it would look to see five long-legged, spider jack-rabbits jump over the 
highest skyscraper in the city.
    Four of the jack-rabbits had stripes. The fifth had stripes—and spots. Before they 
started the show Young Leather and Red Slippers held the jack-rabbits one by one 
in their arms and petted them, rubbed the feet and rubbed the long ears and ran 
their fingers along the long legs of the jumpers.
    “Zingo,” they yelled to the first jack-rabbit. He got all ready. “And now zingo!” they 
yelled again. And the jack-rabbit took a run, lifted off his feet and went on and on 
and up and up till he went over the roof of the skyscraper and then went down and 
down till he lit on his feet and came running on his long legs back to the public square 
where he started from, back where Young Leather and Red Slippers petted him and 
rubbed his long ears and said, “That’s the boy.”
    Then three jack-rabbits made the jump over the skyscraper. “Zingo,” they heard 
and got ready. “And now zingo,” they heard and all three together in a row, their 
long ears touching each other, they lifted off their feet and went on and on and up 
and up till they cleared the roof of the skyscraper. Then they came down and down 
till they lit on their feet and came running to the hands of Young Leather and Red
Slippers to have their long legs and their long ears rubbed and petted.
    Then came the turn of the fifth jack-rabbit, the beautiful one with stripes and spots. 
“Ah, we’re sorry to see you go, Ah-h, we’re sorry,” they said, rubbing his long ears and 
feeling of his long legs.
    Then Young Leather and Red Slippers kissed him on the nose, kissed the last and
fifth of the five long-legged spider jack-rabbits.
    “Good-by, old bunny, good-by, you’re the dandiest bunny there ever was,” they 
whispered in his long ears. And he, because he knew what they were saying and why 
they were saying it, he wiggled his long ears and looked long and steady at them from 
his deep eyes.
    “Zango,” they yelled. He got ready. “And now zango!” they yelled again. And the fifth 
jack-rabbit with his stripes and spots lifted off his feet and went on and on and on and 
up and up and when he came to the roof of the skyscraper he kept on going on and 
on and up and up till after a while he was gone all the way out of sight.
    They waited and watched, they watched and waited. He never came back. He never 
was heard of again. He was gone. With the stripes on his back and the spots on his 
hair, he was gone. And Young Leather and Red Slippers said they were glad they had 
kissed him on the nose before he went away on a long trip far off, so far off he never 
came back.