The Wind in the Willows


THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS







By Kenneth Grahame







Author Of “The Golden Age,” “Dream Days,” Etc.















Contents








I. THE RIVER BANK



II. THE OPEN ROAD



III. THE WILD WOOD



IV. MR. BADGER



V. DULCE DOMUM



VI. MR. TOAD



VII. THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN



VIII. TOAD’S ADVENTURES



IX. WAYFARERS ALL



X. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD



XI. ‘LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS’



XII. THE RETURN OF ULYSSES

















I. THE RIVER BANK



The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his
little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and
steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust
in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur,
and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and
in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly
little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was
small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor,
said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted
out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up
above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel
which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals
whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and
scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and
scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws
and muttering to himself, ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! his
snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm
grass of a great meadow.



‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. ‘This is better than whitewashing!’
The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow,
and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol
of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off
all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring
without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached
the hedge on the further side.



‘Hold up!’ said an elderly rabbit at the gap. ‘Sixpence for the privilege
of passing by the private road!’ He was bowled over in an instant by the
impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge
chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to
see what the row was about. ‘Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!’ he remarked
jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly
satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. ‘How
STUPID you are! Why didn’t you tell him——’ ‘Well, why didn’t
YOU say——’ ‘You might have reminded him——’ and so
on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is
always the case.



It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows
he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding
everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything
happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy
conscience pricking him and whispering ‘whitewash!’ he somehow could only
feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy
citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to
be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.



He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly
along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his
life had he seen a river before—this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied
animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving
them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook
themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and
a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter
and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of
the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man
who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he
sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling
procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the
earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.



As he sat on the grass and looked across the river, a dark hole in the
bank opposite, just above the water’s edge, caught his eye, and dreamily
he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make for
an animal with few wants and fond of a bijou riverside residence, above
flood level and remote from noise and dust. As he gazed, something bright
and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it, vanished, then
twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it could hardly be a star in such
an unlikely situation; and it was too glittering and small for a
glow-worm. Then, as he looked, it winked at him, and so declared itself to
be an eye; and a small face began gradually to grow up round it, like a
frame round a picture.



A brown little face, with whiskers.



A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had first
attracted his notice.



Small neat ears and thick silky hair.



It was the Water Rat!



Then the two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.



‘Hullo, Mole!’ said the Water Rat.



‘Hullo, Rat!’ said the Mole.



‘Would you like to come over?’ enquired the Rat presently.



‘Oh, its all very well to TALK,’ said the Mole, rather pettishly, he being
new to a river and riverside life and its ways.



The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened a rope and hauled on it;
then lightly stepped into a little boat which the Mole had not observed.
It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for
two animals; and the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even
though he did not yet fully understand its uses.



The Rat sculled smartly across and made fast. Then he held up his forepaw
as the Mole stepped gingerly down. ‘Lean on that!’ he said. ‘Now then,
step lively!’ and the Mole to his surprise and rapture found himself
actually seated in the stern of a real boat.



‘This has been a wonderful day!’ said he, as the Rat shoved off and took
to the sculls again. ‘Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in all
my life.’



‘What?’ cried the Rat, open-mouthed: ‘Never been in a—you never—well
I—what have you been doing, then?’



‘Is it so nice as all that?’ asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite
prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the
cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and
felt the boat sway lightly under him.



‘Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant
forward for his stroke. ‘Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolute
nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing—about—in—boats;
messing——’



‘Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly.



It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the
joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in
the air.



‘—about in boats—or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly,
picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. ‘In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t
matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether
you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination
or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at
all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when
you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if
you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing
else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and
have a long day of it?’



The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a
sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft
cushions. ‘WHAT a day I’m having!’ he said. ‘Let us start at once!’



‘Hold hard a minute, then!’ said the Rat. He looped the painter through a
ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and after a
short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.



‘Shove that under your feet,’ he observed to the Mole, as he passed it
down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.



‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.



‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly;
‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater——’



‘O stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstacies: ‘This is too much!’



‘Do you really think so?’ enquired the Rat seriously. ‘It’s only what I
always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always
telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!’



The Mole never heard a word he was saying. Absorbed in the new life he was
entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and
the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed
long waking dreams. The Water Rat, like the good little fellow he was,
sculled steadily on and forebore to disturb him.



‘I like your clothes awfully, old chap,’ he remarked after some half an
hour or so had passed. ‘I’m going to get a black velvet smoking-suit
myself some day, as soon as I can afford it.’



‘I beg your pardon,’ said the Mole, pulling himself together with an
effort. ‘You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So—this—is—a—River!’



‘THE River,’ corrected the Rat.



‘And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!’



‘By it and with it and on it and in it,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s brother and
sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally)
washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is
not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the
times we’ve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn,
it’s always got its fun and its excitements. When the floods are on in
February, and my cellars and basement are brimming with drink that’s no
good to me, and the brown water runs by my best bedroom window; or again
when it all drops away and, shows patches of mud that smells like
plum-cake, and the rushes and weed clog the channels, and I can potter
about dry shod over most of the bed of it and find fresh food to eat, and
things careless people have dropped out of boats!’



‘But isn’t it a bit dull at times?’ the Mole ventured to ask. ‘Just you
and the river, and no one else to pass a word with?’



‘No one else to—well, I mustn’t be hard on you,’ said the Rat with
forbearance. ‘You’re new to it, and of course you don’t know. The bank is
so crowded nowadays that many people are moving away altogether: O no, it
isn’t what it used to be, at all. Otters, kingfishers, dabchicks,
moorhens, all of them about all day long and always wanting you to DO
something—as if a fellow had no business of his own to attend to!’



‘What lies over THERE’ asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a background
of woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one side of the river.



‘That? O, that’s just the Wild Wood,’ said the Rat shortly. ‘We don’t go
there very much, we river-bankers.’



‘Aren’t they—aren’t they very NICE people in there?’ said the Mole,
a trifle nervously.



‘W-e-ll,’ replied the Rat, ‘let me see. The squirrels are all right. AND
the rabbits—some of ‘em, but rabbits are a mixed lot. And then
there’s Badger, of course. He lives right in the heart of it; wouldn’t
live anywhere else, either, if you paid him to do it. Dear old Badger!
Nobody interferes with HIM. They’d better not,’ he added significantly.



‘Why, who SHOULD interfere with him?’ asked the Mole.



‘Well, of course—there—are others,’ explained the Rat in a
hesitating sort of way.



‘Weasels—and stoats—and foxes—and so on. They’re all
right in a way—I’m very good friends with them—pass the time
of day when we meet, and all that—but they break out sometimes,
there’s no denying it, and then—well, you can’t really trust them,
and that’s the fact.’



The Mole knew well that it is quite against animal-etiquette to dwell on
possible trouble ahead, or even to allude to it; so he dropped the
subject.



‘And beyond the Wild Wood again?’ he asked: ‘Where it’s all blue and dim,
and one sees what may be hills or perhaps they mayn’t, and something like
the smoke of towns, or is it only cloud-drift?’



‘Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,’ said the Rat. ‘And that’s
something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there,
and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all. Don’t
ever refer to it again, please. Now then! Here’s our backwater at last,
where we’re going to lunch.’



Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight
like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge,
brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while
ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm
with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a
grey-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a soothing murmur of sound,
dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out
of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold
up both forepaws and gasp, ‘O my! O my! O my!’



The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, made her fast, helped the
still awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the luncheon-basket. The
Mole begged as a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself; and the
Rat was very pleased to indulge him, and to sprawl at full length on the
grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the table-cloth and
spread it, took out all the mysterious packets one by one and arranged
their contents in due order, still gasping, ‘O my! O my!’ at each fresh
revelation. When all was ready, the Rat said, ‘Now, pitch in, old fellow!’
and the Mole was indeed very glad to obey, for he had started his
spring-cleaning at a very early hour that morning, as people WILL do, and
had not paused for bite or sup; and he had been through a very great deal
since that distant time which now seemed so many days ago.



‘What are you looking at?’ said the Rat presently, when the edge of their
hunger was somewhat dulled, and the Mole’s eyes were able to wander off
the table-cloth a little.



‘I am looking,’ said the Mole, ‘at a streak of bubbles that I see
travelling along the surface of the water. That is a thing that strikes me
as funny.’



‘Bubbles? Oho!’ said the Rat, and chirruped cheerily in an inviting sort
of way.



A broad glistening muzzle showed itself above the edge of the bank, and
the Otter hauled himself out and shook the water from his coat.



‘Greedy beggars!’ he observed, making for the provender. ‘Why didn’t you
invite me, Ratty?’



‘This was an impromptu affair,’ explained the Rat. ‘By the way—my
friend Mr. Mole.’



‘Proud, I’m sure,’ said the Otter, and the two animals were friends
forthwith.



‘Such a rumpus everywhere!’ continued the Otter. ‘All the world seems out
on the river to-day. I came up this backwater to try and get a moment’s
peace, and then stumble upon you fellows!—At least—I beg
pardon—I don’t exactly mean that, you know.’



There was a rustle behind them, proceeding from a hedge wherein last
year’s leaves still clung thick, and a stripy head, with high shoulders
behind it, peered forth on them.



‘Come on, old Badger!’ shouted the Rat.



The Badger trotted forward a pace or two; then grunted, ‘H’m! Company,’
and turned his back and disappeared from view.



‘That’s JUST the sort of fellow he is!’ observed the disappointed Rat.
‘Simply hates Society! Now we shan’t see any more of him to-day. Well,
tell us, WHO’S out on the river?’



‘Toad’s out, for one,’ replied the Otter. ‘In his brand-new wager-boat;
new togs, new everything!’



The two animals looked at each other and laughed.



‘Once, it was nothing but sailing,’ said the Rat, ‘Then he tired of that
and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all day and
every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it was house-boating,
and we all had to go and stay with him in his house-boat, and pretend we
liked it. He was going to spend the rest of his life in a house-boat. It’s
all the same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired of it, and starts on
something fresh.’



‘Such a good fellow, too,’ remarked the Otter reflectively: ‘But no
stability—especially in a boat!’



From where they sat they could get a glimpse of the main stream across the
island that separated them; and just then a wager-boat flashed into view,
the rower—a short, stout figure—splashing badly and rolling a
good deal, but working his hardest. The Rat stood up and hailed him, but
Toad—for it was he—shook his head and settled sternly to his
work.



‘He’ll be out of the boat in a minute if he rolls like that,’ said the
Rat, sitting down again.



‘Of course he will,’ chuckled the Otter. ‘Did I ever tell you that good
story about Toad and the lock-keeper? It happened this way. Toad....’



An errant May-fly swerved unsteadily athwart the current in the
intoxicated fashion affected by young bloods of May-flies seeing life. A
swirl of water and a ‘cloop!’ and the May-fly was visible no more.



Neither was the Otter.



The Mole looked down. The voice was still in his ears, but the turf
whereon he had sprawled was clearly vacant. Not an Otter to be seen, as
far as the distant horizon.



But again there was a streak of bubbles on the surface of the river.



The Rat hummed a tune, and the Mole recollected that animal-etiquette
forbade any sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one’s friends
at any moment, for any reason or no reason whatever.



‘Well, well,’ said the Rat, ‘I suppose we ought to be moving. I wonder
which of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?’ He did not speak as if
he was frightfully eager for the treat.



‘O, please let me,’ said the Mole. So, of course, the Rat let him.



Packing the basket was not quite such pleasant work as unpacking’ the
basket. It never is. But the Mole was bent on enjoying everything, and
although just when he had got the basket packed and strapped up tightly he
saw a plate staring up at him from the grass, and when the job had been
done again the Rat pointed out a fork which anybody ought to have seen,
and last of all, behold! the mustard pot, which he had been sitting on
without knowing it—still, somehow, the thing got finished at last,
without much loss of temper.



The afternoon sun was getting low as the Rat sculled gently homewards in a
dreamy mood, murmuring poetry-things over to himself, and not paying much
attention to Mole. But the Mole was very full of lunch, and
self-satisfaction, and pride, and already quite at home in a boat (so he
thought) and was getting a bit restless besides: and presently he said,
‘Ratty! Please, I want to row, now!’



The Rat shook his head with a smile. ‘Not yet, my young friend,’ he said—‘wait
till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not so easy as it looks.’



The Mole was quiet for a minute or two. But he began to feel more and more
jealous of Rat, sculling so strongly and so easily along, and his pride
began to whisper that he could do it every bit as well. He jumped up and
seized the sculls, so suddenly, that the Rat, who was gazing out over the
water and saying more poetry-things to himself, was taken by surprise and
fell backwards off his seat with his legs in the air for the second time,
while the triumphant Mole took his place and grabbed the sculls with
entire confidence.



‘Stop it, you SILLY ass!’ cried the Rat, from the bottom of the boat. ‘You
can’t do it! You’ll have us over!’



The Mole flung his sculls back with a flourish, and made a great dig at
the water. He missed the surface altogether, his legs flew up above his
head, and he found himself lying on the top of the prostrate Rat. Greatly
alarmed, he made a grab at the side of the boat, and the next moment—Sploosh!



Over went the boat, and he found himself struggling in the river.



O my, how cold the water was, and O, how VERY wet it felt. How it sang in
his ears as he went down, down, down! How bright and welcome the sun
looked as he rose to the surface coughing and spluttering! How black was
his despair when he felt himself sinking again! Then a firm paw gripped
him by the back of his neck. It was the Rat, and he was evidently laughing—the
Mole could FEEL him laughing, right down his arm and through his paw, and
so into his—the Mole’s—neck.



The Rat got hold of a scull and shoved it under the Mole’s arm; then he
did the same by the other side of him and, swimming behind, propelled the
helpless animal to shore, hauled him out, and set him down on the bank, a
squashy, pulpy lump of misery.



When the Rat had rubbed him down a bit, and wrung some of the wet out of
him, he said, ‘Now, then, old fellow! Trot up and down the towing-path as
hard as you can, till you’re warm and dry again, while I dive for the
luncheon-basket.’



So the dismal Mole, wet without and ashamed within, trotted about till he
was fairly dry, while the Rat plunged into the water again, recovered the
boat, righted her and made her fast, fetched his floating property to
shore by degrees, and finally dived successfully for the luncheon-basket
and struggled to land with it.



When all was ready for a start once more, the Mole, limp and dejected,
took his seat in the stern of the boat; and as they set off, he said in a
low voice, broken with emotion, ‘Ratty, my generous friend! I am very
sorry indeed for my foolish and ungrateful conduct. My heart quite fails
me when I think how I might have lost that beautiful luncheon-basket.
Indeed, I have been a complete ass, and I know it. Will you overlook it
this once and forgive me, and let things go on as before?’



‘That’s all right, bless you!’ responded the Rat cheerily. ‘What’s a
little wet to a Water Rat? I’m more in the water than out of it most days.
Don’t you think any more about it; and, look here! I really think you had
better come and stop with me for a little time. It’s very plain and rough,
you know—not like Toad’s house at all—but you haven’t seen
that yet; still, I can make you comfortable. And I’ll teach you to row,
and to swim, and you’ll soon be as handy on the water as any of us.’



The Mole was so touched by his kind manner of speaking that he could find
no voice to answer him; and he had to brush away a tear or two with the
back of his paw. But the Rat kindly looked in another direction, and
presently the Mole’s spirits revived again, and he was even able to give
some straight back-talk to a couple of moorhens who were sniggering to
each other about his bedraggled appearance.



When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, and planted
the Mole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched down a
dressing-gown and slippers for him, and told him river stories till
supper-time. Very thrilling stories they were, too, to an earth-dwelling
animal like Mole. Stories about weirs, and sudden floods, and leaping
pike, and steamers that flung hard bottles—at least bottles were
certainly flung, and FROM steamers, so presumably BY them; and about
herons, and how particular they were whom they spoke to; and about
adventures down drains, and night-fishings with Otter, or excursions far
a-field with Badger. Supper was a most cheerful meal; but very shortly
afterwards a terribly sleepy Mole had to be escorted upstairs by his
considerate host, to the best bedroom, where he soon laid his head on his
pillow in great peace and contentment, knowing that his new-found friend
the River was lapping the sill of his window.



This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole,
each of them longer and full of interest as the ripening summer moved
onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running
water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals,
something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.














II. THE OPEN ROAD



‘Ratty,’ said the Mole suddenly, one bright summer morning, ‘if you
please, I want to ask you a favour.’



The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just
composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay
proper attention to Mole or anything else. Since early morning he had been
swimming in the river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the
ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and
tickle their necks, just under where their chins would be if ducks had
chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry,
spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it is
impossible to say quite ALL you feel when your head is under water. At
last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave
them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in
the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called


            ‘DUCKS’ DITTY.’

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim—
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call—
We are down a-dabbling
Uptails all!



‘I don’t know that I think so VERY much of that little song, Rat,’
observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn’t care who
knew it; and he had a candid nature.



‘Nor don’t the ducks neither,’ replied the Rat cheerfully. ‘They say, “WHY
can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like WHEN they like and AS they
like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the
time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What NONSENSE it
all is!” That’s what the ducks say.’



‘So it is, so it is,’ said the Mole, with great heartiness.



‘No, it isn’t!’ cried the Rat indignantly.



‘Well then, it isn’t, it isn’t,’ replied the Mole soothingly. ‘But what I
wanted to ask you was, won’t you take me to call on Mr. Toad? I’ve heard
so much about him, and I do so want to make his acquaintance.’



‘Why, certainly,’ said the good-natured Rat, jumping to his feet and
dismissing poetry from his mind for the day. ‘Get the boat out, and we’ll
paddle up there at once. It’s never the wrong time to call on Toad. Early
or late he’s always the same fellow. Always good-tempered, always glad to
see you, always sorry when you go!’



‘He must be a very nice animal,’ observed the Mole, as he got into the
boat and took the sculls, while the Rat settled himself comfortably in the
stern.



‘He is indeed the best of animals,’ replied Rat. ‘So simple, so
good-natured, and so affectionate. Perhaps he’s not very clever—we
can’t all be geniuses; and it may be that he is both boastful and
conceited. But he has got some great qualities, has Toady.’



Rounding a bend in the river, they came in sight of a handsome, dignified
old house of mellowed red brick, with well-kept lawns reaching down to the
water’s edge.



‘There’s Toad Hall,’ said the Rat; ‘and that creek on the left, where the
notice-board says, “Private. No landing allowed,” leads to his boat-house,
where we’ll leave the boat. The stables are over there to the right.
That’s the banqueting-hall you’re looking at now—very old, that is.
Toad is rather rich, you know, and this is really one of the nicest houses
in these parts, though we never admit as much to Toad.’



They glided up the creek, and the Mole shipped his sculls as they passed
into the shadow of a large boat-house. Here they saw many handsome boats,
slung from the cross beams or hauled up on a slip, but none in the water;
and the place had an unused and a deserted air.



The Rat looked around him. ‘I understand,’ said he. ‘Boating is played
out. He’s tired of it, and done with it. I wonder what new fad he has
taken up now? Come along and let’s look him up. We shall hear all about it
quite soon enough.’



They disembarked, and strolled across the gay flower-decked lawns in
search of Toad, whom they presently happened upon resting in a wicker
garden-chair, with a pre-occupied expression of face, and a large map
spread out on his knees.



‘Hooray!’ he cried, jumping up on seeing them, ‘this is splendid!’ He
shook the paws of both of them warmly, never waiting for an introduction
to the Mole. ‘How KIND of you!’ he went on, dancing round them. ‘I was
just going to send a boat down the river for you, Ratty, with strict
orders that you were to be fetched up here at once, whatever you were
doing. I want you badly—both of you. Now what will you take? Come
inside and have something! You don’t know how lucky it is, your turning up
just now!’



‘Let’s sit quiet a bit, Toady!’ said the Rat, throwing himself into an
easy chair, while the Mole took another by the side of him and made some
civil remark about Toad’s ‘delightful residence.’



‘Finest house on the whole river,’ cried Toad boisterously. ‘Or anywhere
else, for that matter,’ he could not help adding.



Here the Rat nudged the Mole. Unfortunately the Toad saw him do it, and
turned very red. There was a moment’s painful silence. Then Toad burst out
laughing. ‘All right, Ratty,’ he said. ‘It’s only my way, you know. And
it’s not such a very bad house, is it? You know you rather like it
yourself. Now, look here. Let’s be sensible. You are the very animals I
wanted. You’ve got to help me. It’s most important!’



‘It’s about your rowing, I suppose,’ said the Rat, with an innocent air.
‘You’re getting on fairly well, though you splash a good bit still. With a
great deal of patience, and any quantity of coaching, you may——’



‘O, pooh! boating!’ interrupted the Toad, in great disgust. Silly boyish
amusement. I’ve given that up LONG ago. Sheer waste of time, that’s what
it is. It makes me downright sorry to see you fellows, who ought to know
better, spending all your energies in that aimless manner. No, I’ve
discovered the real thing, the only genuine occupation for a life time. I
propose to devote the remainder of mine to it, and can only regret the
wasted years that lie behind me, squandered in trivialities. Come with me,
dear Ratty, and your amiable friend also, if he will be so very good, just
as far as the stable-yard, and you shall see what you shall see!’



He led the way to the stable-yard accordingly, the Rat following with a
most mistrustful expression; and there, drawn out of the coach house into
the open, they saw a gipsy caravan, shining with newness, painted a
canary-yellow picked out with green, and red wheels.



‘There you are!’ cried the Toad, straddling and expanding himself.
‘There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road,
the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling
downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to
somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole
world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing! And mind! this is
the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built, without any
exception. Come inside and look at the arrangements. Planned ‘em all
myself, I did!’



The Mole was tremendously interested and excited, and followed him eagerly
up the steps and into the interior of the caravan. The Rat only snorted
and thrust his hands deep into his pockets, remaining where he was.



It was indeed very compact and comfortable. Little sleeping bunks—a
little table that folded up against the wall—a cooking-stove,
lockers, bookshelves, a bird-cage with a bird in it; and pots, pans, jugs
and kettles of every size and variety.



‘All complete!’ said the Toad triumphantly, pulling open a locker. ‘You
see—biscuits, potted lobster, sardines—everything you can
possibly want. Soda-water here—baccy there—letter-paper,
bacon, jam, cards and dominoes—you’ll find,’ he continued, as they
descended the steps again, ‘you’ll find that nothing what ever has been
forgotten, when we make our start this afternoon.’



‘I beg your pardon,’ said the Rat slowly, as he chewed a straw, ‘but did I
overhear you say something about “WE,” and “START,” and “THIS AFTERNOON?”’



‘Now, you dear good old Ratty,’ said Toad, imploringly, ‘don’t begin
talking in that stiff and sniffy sort of way, because you know you’ve GOT
to come. I can’t possibly manage without you, so please consider it
settled, and don’t argue—it’s the one thing I can’t stand. You
surely don’t mean to stick to your dull fusty old river all your life, and
just live in a hole in a bank, and BOAT? I want to show you the world! I’m
going to make an ANIMAL of you, my boy!’



‘I don’t care,’ said the Rat, doggedly. ‘I’m not coming, and that’s flat.
And I AM going to stick to my old river, AND live in a hole, AND boat, as
I’ve always done. And what’s more, Mole’s going to stick to me and do as I
do, aren’t you, Mole?’



‘Of course I am,’ said the Mole, loyally. ‘I’ll always stick to you, Rat,
and what you say is to be—has got to be. All the same, it sounds as
if it might have been—well, rather fun, you know!’ he added,
wistfully. Poor Mole! The Life Adventurous was so new a thing to him, and
so thrilling; and this fresh aspect of it was so tempting; and he had
fallen in love at first sight with the canary-coloured cart and all its
little fitments.



The Rat saw what was passing in his mind, and wavered. He hated
disappointing people, and he was fond of the Mole, and would do almost
anything to oblige him. Toad was watching both of them closely.



‘Come along in, and have some lunch,’ he said, diplomatically, ‘and we’ll
talk it over. We needn’t decide anything in a hurry. Of course, I
don’t really care. I only want to give pleasure to you fellows. “Live for
others!” That’s my motto in life.’



During luncheon—which was excellent, of course, as everything at
Toad Hall always was—the Toad simply let himself go. Disregarding
the Rat, he proceeded to play upon the inexperienced Mole as on a harp.
Naturally a voluble animal, and always mastered by his imagination, he
painted the prospects of the trip and the joys of the open life and the
roadside in such glowing colours that the Mole could hardly sit in his
chair for excitement. Somehow, it soon seemed taken for granted by all
three of them that the trip was a settled thing; and the Rat, though still
unconvinced in his mind, allowed his good-nature to over-ride his personal
objections. He could not bear to disappoint his two friends, who were
already deep in schemes and anticipations, planning out each day’s
separate occupation for several weeks ahead.



When they were quite ready, the now triumphant Toad led his companions to
the paddock and set them to capture the old grey horse, who, without
having been consulted, and to his own extreme annoyance, had been told off
by Toad for the dustiest job in this dusty expedition. He frankly
preferred the paddock, and took a deal of catching. Meantime Toad packed
the lockers still tighter with necessaries, and hung nosebags, nets of
onions, bundles of hay, and baskets from the bottom of the cart. At last
the horse was caught and harnessed, and they set off, all talking at once,
each animal either trudging by the side of the cart or sitting on the
shaft, as the humour took him. It was a golden afternoon. The smell of the
dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying; out of thick orchards on
either side the road, birds called and whistled to them cheerily;
good-natured wayfarers, passing them, gave them ‘Good-day,’ or stopped to
say nice things about their beautiful cart; and rabbits, sitting at their
front doors in the hedgerows, held up their fore-paws, and said, ‘O my! O
my! O my!’



Late in the evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up on
a remote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to graze, and
ate their simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of the cart. Toad
talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars
grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing
suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them
company and listen to their talk. At last they turned in to their little
bunks in the cart; and Toad, kicking out his legs, sleepily said, ‘Well,
good night, you fellows! This is the real life for a gentleman! Talk about
your old river!’



‘I DON’T talk about my river,’ replied the patient Rat. ‘You KNOW I don’t,
Toad. But I THINK about it,’ he added pathetically, in a lower tone: ‘I
think about it—all the time!’



The Mole reached out from under his blanket, felt for the Rat’s paw in the
darkness, and gave it a squeeze. ‘I’ll do whatever you like, Ratty,’ he
whispered. ‘Shall we run away to-morrow morning, quite early—VERY
early—and go back to our dear old hole on the river?’



‘No, no, we’ll see it out,’ whispered back the Rat. ‘Thanks awfully, but I
ought to stick by Toad till this trip is ended. It wouldn’t be safe for
him to be left to himself. It won’t take very long. His fads never do.
Good night!’



The end was indeed nearer than even the Rat suspected.



After so much open air and excitement the Toad slept very soundly, and no
amount of shaking could rouse him out of bed next morning. So the Mole and
Rat turned to, quietly and manfully, and while the Rat saw to the horse,
and lit a fire, and cleaned last night’s cups and platters, and got things
ready for breakfast, the Mole trudged off to the nearest village, a long
way off, for milk and eggs and various necessaries the Toad had, of
course, forgotten to provide. The hard work had all been done, and the two
animals were resting, thoroughly exhausted, by the time Toad appeared on
the scene, fresh and gay, remarking what a pleasant easy life it was they
were all leading now, after the cares and worries and fatigues of
housekeeping at home.



They had a pleasant ramble that day over grassy downs and along narrow
by-lanes, and camped as before, on a common, only this time the two guests
took care that Toad should do his fair share of work. In consequence, when
the time came for starting next morning, Toad was by no means so rapturous
about the simplicity of the primitive life, and indeed attempted to resume
his place in his bunk, whence he was hauled by force. Their way lay, as
before, across country by narrow lanes, and it was not till the afternoon
that they came out on the high-road, their first high-road; and there
disaster, fleet and unforeseen, sprang out on them—disaster
momentous indeed to their expedition, but simply overwhelming in its
effect on the after-career of Toad.



They were strolling along the high-road easily, the Mole by the horse’s
head, talking to him, since the horse had complained that he was being
frightfully left out of it, and nobody considered him in the least; the
Toad and the Water Rat walking behind the cart talking together—at
least Toad was talking, and Rat was saying at intervals, ‘Yes, precisely;
and what did YOU say to HIM?’—and thinking all the time of something
very different, when far behind them they heard a faint warning hum; like
the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust,
with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while
from out the dust a faint ‘Poop-poop!’ wailed like an uneasy animal in
pain. Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when
in an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a
blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest
ditch, It was on them! The ‘Poop-poop’ rang with a brazen shout in their
ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass
and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense,
breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel,
possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an
enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then
dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee
once more.



The old grey horse, dreaming, as he plodded along, of his quiet paddock,
in a new raw situation such as this simply abandoned himself to his
natural emotions. Rearing, plunging, backing steadily, in spite of all the
Mole’s efforts at his head, and all the Mole’s lively language directed at
his better feelings, he drove the cart backwards towards the deep ditch at
the side of the road. It wavered an instant—then there was a
heartrending crash—and the canary-coloured cart, their pride and
their joy, lay on its side in the ditch, an irredeemable wreck.



The Rat danced up and down in the road, simply transported with passion.
‘You villains!’ he shouted, shaking both fists, ‘You scoundrels, you
highwaymen, you—you—roadhogs!—I’ll have the law of you!
I’ll report you! I’ll take you through all the Courts!’ His home-sickness
had quite slipped away from him, and for the moment he was the skipper of
the canary-coloured vessel driven on a shoal by the reckless jockeying of
rival mariners, and he was trying to recollect all the fine and biting
things he used to say to masters of steam-launches when their wash, as
they drove too near the bank, used to flood his parlour-carpet at home.



Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched
out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing
motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression,
and at intervals he faintly murmured ‘Poop-poop!’



The Mole was busy trying to quiet the horse, which he succeeded in doing
after a time. Then he went to look at the cart, on its side in the ditch.
It was indeed a sorry sight. Panels and windows smashed, axles hopelessly
bent, one wheel off, sardine-tins scattered over the wide world, and the
bird in the bird-cage sobbing pitifully and calling to be let out.



The Rat came to help him, but their united efforts were not sufficient to
right the cart. ‘Hi! Toad!’ they cried. ‘Come and bear a hand, can’t you!’



The Toad never answered a word, or budged from his seat in the road; so
they went to see what was the matter with him. They found him in a sort of
a trance, a happy smile on his face, his eyes still fixed on the dusty
wake of their destroyer. At intervals he was still heard to murmur
‘Poop-poop!’



The Rat shook him by the shoulder. ‘Are you coming to help us, Toad?’ he
demanded sternly.



‘Glorious, stirring sight!’ murmured Toad, never offering to move. ‘The
poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! Here
to-day—in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities
jumped—always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O
my!’



‘O STOP being an ass, Toad!’ cried the Mole despairingly.



‘And to think I never KNEW!’ went on the Toad in a dreamy monotone. ‘All
those wasted years that lie behind me, I never knew, never even DREAMT!
But NOW—but now that I know, now that I fully realise! O what a
flowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What dust-clouds shall
spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way! What carts I shall
fling carelessly into the ditch in the wake of my magnificent onset!
Horrid little carts—common carts—canary-coloured carts!’



‘What are we to do with him?’ asked the Mole of the Water Rat.



‘Nothing at all,’ replied the Rat firmly. ‘Because there is really nothing
to be done. You see, I know him from of old. He is now possessed. He has
got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage.
He’ll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy
dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him. Let’s go
and see what there is to be done about the cart.’



A careful inspection showed them that, even if they succeeded in righting
it by themselves, the cart would travel no longer. The axles were in a
hopeless state, and the missing wheel was shattered into pieces.



The Rat knotted the horse’s reins over his back and took him by the head,
carrying the bird cage and its hysterical occupant in the other hand.
‘Come on!’ he said grimly to the Mole. ‘It’s five or six miles to the
nearest town, and we shall just have to walk it. The sooner we make a
start the better.’



‘But what about Toad?’ asked the Mole anxiously, as they set off together.
‘We can’t leave him here, sitting in the middle of the road by himself, in
the distracted state he’s in! It’s not safe. Supposing another Thing were
to come along?’



‘O, BOTHER Toad,’ said the Rat savagely; ‘I’ve done with him!’



They had not proceeded very far on their way, however, when there was a
pattering of feet behind them, and Toad caught them up and thrust a paw
inside the elbow of each of them; still breathing short and staring into
vacancy.



‘Now, look here, Toad!’ said the Rat sharply: ‘as soon as we get to the
town, you’ll have to go straight to the police-station, and see if they
know anything about that motor-car and who it belongs to, and lodge a
complaint against it. And then you’ll have to go to a blacksmith’s or a
wheelwright’s and arrange for the cart to be fetched and mended and put to
rights. It’ll take time, but it’s not quite a hopeless smash. Meanwhile,
the Mole and I will go to an inn and find comfortable rooms where we can
stay till the cart’s ready, and till your nerves have recovered their
shock.’



‘Police-station! Complaint!’ murmured Toad dreamily. ‘Me COMPLAIN of that
beautiful, that heavenly vision that has been vouchsafed me! MEND THE
CART! I’ve done with carts for ever. I never want to see the cart, or to
hear of it, again. O, Ratty! You can’t think how obliged I am to you for
consenting to come on this trip! I wouldn’t have gone without you, and
then I might never have seen that—that swan, that sunbeam, that
thunderbolt! I might never have heard that entrancing sound, or smelt that
bewitching smell! I owe it all to you, my best of friends!’



The Rat turned from him in despair. ‘You see what it is?’ he said to the
Mole, addressing him across Toad’s head: ‘He’s quite hopeless. I give it
up—when we get to the town we’ll go to the railway station, and with
luck we may pick up a train there that’ll get us back to riverbank
to-night. And if ever you catch me going a-pleasuring with this provoking
animal again!’—He snorted, and during the rest of that weary trudge
addressed his remarks exclusively to Mole.



On reaching the town they went straight to the station and deposited Toad
in the second-class waiting-room, giving a porter twopence to keep a
strict eye on him. They then left the horse at an inn stable, and gave
what directions they could about the cart and its contents. Eventually, a
slow train having landed them at a station not very far from Toad Hall,
they escorted the spell-bound, sleep-walking Toad to his door, put him
inside it, and instructed his housekeeper to feed him, undress him, and
put him to bed. Then they got out their boat from the boat-house, sculled
down the river home, and at a very late hour sat down to supper in their
own cosy riverside parlour, to the Rat’s great joy and contentment.



The following evening the Mole, who had risen late and taken things very
easy all day, was sitting on the bank fishing, when the Rat, who had been
looking up his friends and gossiping, came strolling along to find him.
‘Heard the news?’ he said. ‘There’s nothing else being talked about, all
along the river bank. Toad went up to Town by an early train this morning.
And he has ordered a large and very expensive motor-car.’














III. THE WILD WOOD



The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He
seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though
rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the
place. But whenever the Mole mentioned his wish to the Water Rat he always
found himself put off. ‘It’s all right,’ the Rat would say. ‘Badger’ll
turn up some day or other—he’s always turning up—and then I’ll
introduce you. The best of fellows! But you must not only take him AS you
find him, but WHEN you find him.’



‘Couldn’t you ask him here dinner or something?’ said the Mole.



‘He wouldn’t come,’ replied the Rat simply. ‘Badger hates Society, and
invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.’



‘Well, then, supposing we go and call on HIM?’ suggested the Mole.



‘O, I’m sure he wouldn’t like that at ALL,’ said the Rat, quite alarmed.
‘He’s so very shy, he’d be sure to be offended. I’ve never even ventured
to call on him at his own home myself, though I know him so well. Besides,
we can’t. It’s quite out of the question, because he lives in the very
middle of the Wild Wood.’



‘Well, supposing he does,’ said the Mole. ‘You told me the Wild Wood was
all right, you know.’



‘O, I know, I know, so it is,’ replied the Rat evasively. ‘But I think we
won’t go there just now. Not JUST yet. It’s a long way, and he wouldn’t be
at home at this time of year anyhow, and he’ll be coming along some day,
if you’ll wait quietly.’



The Mole had to be content with this. But the Badger never came along, and
every day brought its amusements, and it was not till summer was long
over, and cold and frost and miry ways kept them much indoors, and the
swollen river raced past outside their windows with a speed that mocked at
boating of any sort or kind, that he found his thoughts dwelling again
with much persistence on the solitary grey Badger, who lived his own life
by himself, in his hole in the middle of the Wild Wood.



In the winter time the Rat slept a great deal, retiring early and rising
late. During his short day he sometimes scribbled poetry or did other
small domestic jobs about the house; and, of course, there were always
animals dropping in for a chat, and consequently there was a good deal of
story-telling and comparing notes on the past summer and all its doings.



Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all!
With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of
the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in
scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple
loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge
of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender
and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey,
the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in
the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose
stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had
announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at
last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the
shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited
at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to
life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber
jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was
ready to begin.



And what a play it had been! Drowsy animals, snug in their holes while
wind and rain were battering at their doors, recalled still keen mornings,
an hour before sunrise, when the white mist, as yet undispersed, clung
closely along the surface of the water; then the shock of the early
plunge, the scamper along the bank, and the radiant transformation of
earth, air, and water, when suddenly the sun was with them again, and grey
was gold and colour was born and sprang out of the earth once more. They
recalled the languorous siesta of hot mid-day, deep in green undergrowth,
the sun striking through in tiny golden shafts and spots; the boating and
bathing of the afternoon, the rambles along dusty lanes and through yellow
cornfields; and the long, cool evening at last, when so many threads were
gathered up, so many friendships rounded, and so many adventures planned
for the morrow. There was plenty to talk about on those short winter days
when the animals found themselves round the fire; still, the Mole had a
good deal of spare time on his hands, and so one afternoon, when the Rat
in his arm-chair before the blaze was alternately dozing and trying over
rhymes that wouldn’t fit, he formed the resolution to go out by himself
and explore the Wild Wood, and perhaps strike up an acquaintance with Mr.
Badger.



It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead, when he
slipped out of the warm parlour into the open air. The country lay bare
and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so
far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day
when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the
clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been
mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves
and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their
shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as
before, and trick and entice him with the old deceptions. It was pitiful
in a way, and yet cheering—even exhilarating. He was glad that he
liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had
got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and
simple. He did not want the warm clover and the play of seeding grasses;
the screens of quickset, the billowy drapery of beech and elm seemed best
away; and with great cheerfulness of spirit he pushed on towards the Wild
Wood, which lay before him low and threatening, like a black reef in some
still southern sea.



There was nothing to alarm him at first entry. Twigs crackled under his
feet, logs tripped him, funguses on stumps resembled caricatures, and
startled him for the moment by their likeness to something familiar and
far away; but that was all fun, and exciting. It led him on, and he
penetrated to where the light was less, and trees crouched nearer and
nearer, and holes made ugly mouths at him on either side.



Everything was very still now. The dusk advanced on him steadily, rapidly,
gathering in behind and before; and the light seemed to be draining away
like flood-water.



Then the faces began.



It was over his shoulder, and indistinctly, that he first thought he saw a
face; a little evil wedge-shaped face, looking out at him from a hole.
When he turned and confronted it, the thing had vanished.



He quickened his pace, telling himself cheerfully not to begin imagining
things, or there would be simply no end to it. He passed another hole, and
another, and another; and then—yes!—no!—yes! certainly a
little narrow face, with hard eyes, had flashed up for an instant from a
hole, and was gone. He hesitated—braced himself up for an effort and
strode on. Then suddenly, and as if it had been so all the time, every
hole, far and near, and there were hundreds of them, seemed to possess its
face, coming and going rapidly, all fixing on him glances of malice and
hatred: all hard-eyed and evil and sharp.



If he could only get away from the holes in the banks, he thought, there
would be no more faces. He swung off the path and plunged into the
untrodden places of the wood.



Then the whistling began.



Very faint and shrill it was, and far behind him, when first he heard it;
but somehow it made him hurry forward. Then, still very faint and shrill,
it sounded far ahead of him, and made him hesitate and want to go back. As
he halted in indecision it broke out on either side, and seemed to be
caught up and passed on throughout the whole length of the wood to its
farthest limit. They were up and alert and ready, evidently, whoever they
were! And he—he was alone, and unarmed, and far from any help; and
the night was closing in.



Then the pattering began.



He thought it was only falling leaves at first, so slight and delicate was
the sound of it. Then as it grew it took a regular rhythm, and he knew it
for nothing else but the pat-pat-pat of little feet still a very long way
off. Was it in front or behind? It seemed to be first one, and then the
other, then both. It grew and it multiplied, till from every quarter as he
listened anxiously, leaning this way and that, it seemed to be closing in
on him. As he stood still to hearken, a rabbit came running hard towards
him through the trees. He waited, expecting it to slacken pace, or to
swerve from him into a different course. Instead, the animal almost
brushed him as it dashed past, his face set and hard, his eyes staring.
‘Get out of this, you fool, get out!’ the Mole heard him mutter as he
swung round a stump and disappeared down a friendly burrow.



The pattering increased till it sounded like sudden hail on the dry
leaf-carpet spread around him. The whole wood seemed running now, running
hard, hunting, chasing, closing in round something or—somebody? In
panic, he began to run too, aimlessly, he knew not whither. He ran up
against things, he fell over things and into things, he darted under
things and dodged round things. At last he took refuge in the deep dark
hollow of an old beech tree, which offered shelter, concealment—perhaps
even safety, but who could tell? Anyhow, he was too tired to run any
further, and could only snuggle down into the dry leaves which had drifted
into the hollow and hope he was safe for a time. And as he lay there
panting and trembling, and listened to the whistlings and the patterings
outside, he knew it at last, in all its fullness, that dread thing which
other little dwellers in field and hedgerow had encountered here, and
known as their darkest moment—that thing which the Rat had vainly
tried to shield him from—the Terror of the Wild Wood!



Meantime the Rat, warm and comfortable, dozed by his fireside. His paper
of half-finished verses slipped from his knee, his head fell back, his
mouth opened, and he wandered by the verdant banks of dream-rivers. Then a
coal slipped, the fire crackled and sent up a spurt of flame, and he woke
with a start. Remembering what he had been engaged upon, he reached down
to the floor for his verses, pored over them for a minute, and then looked
round for the Mole to ask him if he knew a good rhyme for something or
other.



But the Mole was not there.



He listened for a time. The house seemed very quiet.



Then he called ‘Moly!’ several times, and, receiving no answer, got up and
went out into the hall.



The Mole’s cap was missing from its accustomed peg. His goloshes, which
always lay by the umbrella-stand, were also gone.



The Rat left the house, and carefully examined the muddy surface of the
ground outside, hoping to find the Mole’s tracks. There they were, sure
enough. The goloshes were new, just bought for the winter, and the pimples
on their soles were fresh and sharp. He could see the imprints of them in
the mud, running along straight and purposeful, leading direct to the Wild
Wood.



The Rat looked very grave, and stood in deep thought for a minute or two.
Then he re-entered the house, strapped a belt round his waist, shoved a
brace of pistols into it, took up a stout cudgel that stood in a corner of
the hall, and set off for the Wild Wood at a smart pace.



It was already getting towards dusk when he reached the first fringe of
trees and plunged without hesitation into the wood, looking anxiously on
either side for any sign of his friend. Here and there wicked little faces
popped out of holes, but vanished immediately at sight of the valorous
animal, his pistols, and the great ugly cudgel in his grasp; and the
whistling and pattering, which he had heard quite plainly on his first
entry, died away and ceased, and all was very still. He made his way
manfully through the length of the wood, to its furthest edge; then,
forsaking all paths, he set himself to traverse it, laboriously working
over the whole ground, and all the time calling out cheerfully, ‘Moly,
Moly, Moly! Where are you? It’s me—it’s old Rat!’



He had patiently hunted through the wood for an hour or more, when at last
to his joy he heard a little answering cry. Guiding himself by the sound,
he made his way through the gathering darkness to the foot of an old beech
tree, with a hole in it, and from out of the hole came a feeble voice,
saying ‘Ratty! Is that really you?’



The Rat crept into the hollow, and there he found the Mole, exhausted and
still trembling. ‘O Rat!’ he cried, ‘I’ve been so frightened, you can’t
think!’



‘O, I quite understand,’ said the Rat soothingly. ‘You shouldn’t really
have gone and done it, Mole. I did my best to keep you from it. We
river-bankers, we hardly ever come here by ourselves. If we have to come,
we come in couples, at least; then we’re generally all right. Besides,
there are a hundred things one has to know, which we understand all about
and you don’t, as yet. I mean passwords, and signs, and sayings which have
power and effect, and plants you carry in your pocket, and verses you
repeat, and dodges and tricks you practise; all simple enough when you
know them, but they’ve got to be known if you’re small, or you’ll find
yourself in trouble. Of course if you were Badger or Otter, it would be
quite another matter.’



‘Surely the brave Mr. Toad wouldn’t mind coming here by himself, would
he?’ inquired the Mole.



‘Old Toad?’ said the Rat, laughing heartily. ‘He wouldn’t show his face
here alone, not for a whole hatful of golden guineas, Toad wouldn’t.’



The Mole was greatly cheered by the sound of the Rat’s careless laughter,
as well as by the sight of his stick and his gleaming pistols, and he
stopped shivering and began to feel bolder and more himself again.



‘Now then,’ said the Rat presently, ‘we really must pull ourselves
together and make a start for home while there’s still a little light
left. It will never do to spend the night here, you understand. Too cold,
for one thing.’



‘Dear Ratty,’ said the poor Mole, ‘I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’m simply
dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You MUST let me rest here a while
longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to get home at all.’



‘O, all right,’ said the good-natured Rat, ‘rest away. It’s pretty nearly
pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon later.’



So the Mole got well into the dry leaves and stretched himself out, and
presently dropped off into sleep, though of a broken and troubled sort;
while the Rat covered himself up, too, as best he might, for warmth, and
lay patiently waiting, with a pistol in his paw.



When at last the Mole woke up, much refreshed and in his usual spirits,
the Rat said, ‘Now then! I’ll just take a look outside and see if
everything’s quiet, and then we really must be off.’



He went to the entrance of their retreat and put his head out. Then the
Mole heard him saying quietly to himself, ‘Hullo! hullo! here—is—a—go!’



‘What’s up, Ratty?’ asked the Mole.



‘SNOW is up,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘or rather, DOWN. It’s snowing
hard.’



The Mole came and crouched beside him, and, looking out, saw the wood that
had been so dreadful to him in quite a changed aspect. Holes, hollows,
pools, pitfalls, and other black menaces to the wayfarer were vanishing
fast, and a gleaming carpet of faery was springing up everywhere, that
looked too delicate to be trodden upon by rough feet. A fine powder filled
the air and caressed the cheek with a tingle in its touch, and the black
boles of the trees showed up in a light that seemed to come from below.



‘Well, well, it can’t be helped,’ said the Rat, after pondering. ‘We must
make a start, and take our chance, I suppose. The worst of it is, I don’t
exactly know where we are. And now this snow makes everything look so very
different.’



It did indeed. The Mole would not have known that it was the same wood.
However, they set out bravely, and took the line that seemed most
promising, holding on to each other and pretending with invincible
cheerfulness that they recognized an old friend in every fresh tree that
grimly and silently greeted them, or saw openings, gaps, or paths with a
familiar turn in them, in the monotony of white space and black
tree-trunks that refused to vary.



An hour or two later—they had lost all count of time—they
pulled up, dispirited, weary, and hopelessly at sea, and sat down on a
fallen tree-trunk to recover their breath and consider what was to be
done. They were aching with fatigue and bruised with tumbles; they had
fallen into several holes and got wet through; the snow was getting so
deep that they could hardly drag their little legs through it, and the
trees were thicker and more like each other than ever. There seemed to be
no end to this wood, and no beginning, and no difference in it, and, worst
of all, no way out.



‘We can’t sit here very long,’ said the Rat. ‘We shall have to make
another push for it, and do something or other. The cold is too awful for
anything, and the snow will soon be too deep for us to wade through.’ He
peered about him and considered. ‘Look here,’ he went on, ‘this is what
occurs to me. There’s a sort of dell down here in front of us, where the
ground seems all hilly and humpy and hummocky. We’ll make our way down
into that, and try and find some sort of shelter, a cave or hole with a
dry floor to it, out of the snow and the wind, and there we’ll have a good
rest before we try again, for we’re both of us pretty dead beat. Besides,
the snow may leave off, or something may turn up.’



So once more they got on their feet, and struggled down into the dell,
where they hunted about for a cave or some corner that was dry and a
protection from the keen wind and the whirling snow. They were
investigating one of the hummocky bits the Rat had spoken of, when
suddenly the Mole tripped up and fell forward on his face with a squeal.



‘O my leg!’ he cried. ‘O my poor shin!’ and he sat up on the snow and
nursed his leg in both his front paws.



‘Poor old Mole!’ said the Rat kindly.



‘You don’t seem to be having much luck to-day, do you? Let’s have a look
at the leg. Yes,’ he went on, going down on his knees to look, ‘you’ve cut
your shin, sure enough. Wait till I get at my handkerchief, and I’ll tie
it up for you.’



‘I must have tripped over a hidden branch or a stump,’ said the Mole
miserably. ‘O, my! O, my!’



‘It’s a very clean cut,’ said the Rat, examining it again attentively.
‘That was never done by a branch or a stump. Looks as if it was made by a
sharp edge of something in metal. Funny!’ He pondered awhile, and examined
the humps and slopes that surrounded them.



‘Well, never mind what done it,’ said the Mole, forgetting his grammar in
his pain. ‘It hurts just the same, whatever done it.’



But the Rat, after carefully tying up the leg with his handkerchief, had
left him and was busy scraping in the snow. He scratched and shovelled and
explored, all four legs working busily, while the Mole waited impatiently,
remarking at intervals, ‘O, COME on, Rat!’



Suddenly the Rat cried ‘Hooray!’ and then ‘Hooray-oo-ray-oo-ray-oo-ray!’
and fell to executing a feeble jig in the snow.



‘What HAVE you found, Ratty?’ asked the Mole, still nursing his leg.



‘Come and see!’ said the delighted Rat, as he jigged on.



The Mole hobbled up to the spot and had a good look.



‘Well,’ he said at last, slowly, ‘I SEE it right enough. Seen the same
sort of thing before, lots of times. Familiar object, I call it. A
door-scraper! Well, what of it? Why dance jigs around a door-scraper?’



‘But don’t you see what it MEANS, you—you dull-witted animal?’ cried
the Rat impatiently.



‘Of course I see what it means,’ replied the Mole. ‘It simply means that
some VERY careless and forgetful person has left his door-scraper lying
about in the middle of the Wild Wood, JUST where it’s SURE to trip
EVERYBODY up. Very thoughtless of him, I call it. When I get home I shall
go and complain about it to—to somebody or other, see if I don’t!’



‘O, dear! O, dear!’ cried the Rat, in despair at his obtuseness. ‘Here,
stop arguing and come and scrape!’ And he set to work again and made the
snow fly in all directions around him.



After some further toil his efforts were rewarded, and a very shabby
door-mat lay exposed to view.



‘There, what did I tell you?’ exclaimed the Rat in great triumph.



‘Absolutely nothing whatever,’ replied the Mole, with perfect
truthfulness. ‘Well now,’ he went on, ‘you seem to have found another
piece of domestic litter, done for and thrown away, and I suppose you’re
perfectly happy. Better go ahead and dance your jig round that if you’ve
got to, and get it over, and then perhaps we can go on and not waste any
more time over rubbish-heaps. Can we EAT a doormat? or sleep under a
door-mat? Or sit on a door-mat and sledge home over the snow on it, you
exasperating rodent?’



‘Do—you—mean—to—say,’ cried the excited Rat, ‘that
this door-mat doesn’t TELL you anything?’



‘Really, Rat,’ said the Mole, quite pettishly, ‘I think we’d had enough of
this folly. Who ever heard of a door-mat TELLING anyone anything? They
simply don’t do it. They are not that sort at all. Door-mats know their
place.’



‘Now look here, you—you thick-headed beast,’ replied the Rat, really
angry, ‘this must stop. Not another word, but scrape—scrape and
scratch and dig and hunt round, especially on the sides of the hummocks,
if you want to sleep dry and warm to-night, for it’s our last chance!’



The Rat attacked a snow-bank beside them with ardour, probing with his
cudgel everywhere and then digging with fury; and the Mole scraped busily
too, more to oblige the Rat than for any other reason, for his opinion was
that his friend was getting light-headed.



Some ten minutes’ hard work, and the point of the Rat’s cudgel struck
something that sounded hollow. He worked till he could get a paw through
and feel; then called the Mole to come and help him. Hard at it went the
two animals, till at last the result of their labours stood full in view
of the astonished and hitherto incredulous Mole.



In the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank stood a solid-looking
little door, painted a dark green. An iron bell-pull hung by the side, and
below it, on a small brass plate, neatly engraved in square capital
letters, they could read by the aid of moonlight MR. BADGER.



The Mole fell backwards on the snow from sheer surprise and delight.
‘Rat!’ he cried in penitence, ‘you’re a wonder! A real wonder, that’s what
you are. I see it all now! You argued it out, step by step, in that wise
head of yours, from the very moment that I fell and cut my shin, and you
looked at the cut, and at once your majestic mind said to itself,
“Door-scraper!” And then you turned to and found the very door-scraper
that done it! Did you stop there? No. Some people would have been quite
satisfied; but not you. Your intellect went on working. “Let me only just
find a door-mat,” says you to yourself, “and my theory is proved!” And of
course you found your door-mat. You’re so clever, I believe you could find
anything you liked. “Now,” says you, “that door exists, as plain as if I
saw it. There’s nothing else remains to be done but to find it!” Well,
I’ve read about that sort of thing in books, but I’ve never come across it
before in real life. You ought to go where you’ll be properly appreciated.
You’re simply wasted here, among us fellows. If I only had your head,
Ratty——’



‘But as you haven’t,’ interrupted the Rat, rather unkindly, ‘I suppose
you’re going to sit on the snow all night and TALK? Get up at once and
hang on to that bell-pull you see there, and ring hard, as hard as you
can, while I hammer!’



While the Rat attacked the door with his stick, the Mole sprang up at the
bell-pull, clutched it and swung there, both feet well off the ground, and
from quite a long way off they could faintly hear a deep-toned bell
respond.














IV. MR. BADGER



THEY waited patiently for what seemed a very long time, stamping in the
snow to keep their feet warm. At last they heard the sound of slow
shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the inside. It seemed, as
the Mole remarked to the Rat, like some one walking in carpet slippers
that were too large for him and down at heel; which was intelligent of
Mole, because that was exactly what it was.



There was the noise of a bolt shot back, and the door opened a few inches,
enough to show a long snout and a pair of sleepy blinking eyes.



‘Now, the VERY next time this happens,’ said a gruff and suspicious voice,
‘I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it THIS time, disturbing people on
such a night? Speak up!’



‘Oh, Badger,’ cried the Rat, ‘let us in, please. It’s me, Rat, and my
friend Mole, and we’ve lost our way in the snow.’



‘What, Ratty, my dear little man!’ exclaimed the Badger, in quite a
different voice. ‘Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must be
perished. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood, too, and
at this time of night! But come in with you.’



The two animals tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get inside,
and heard the door shut behind them with great joy and relief.



The Badger, who wore a long dressing-gown, and whose slippers were indeed
very down at heel, carried a flat candlestick in his paw and had probably
been on his way to bed when their summons sounded. He looked kindly down
on them and patted both their heads. ‘This is not the sort of night for
small animals to be out,’ he said paternally. ‘I’m afraid you’ve been up
to some of your pranks again, Ratty. But come along; come into the
kitchen. There’s a first-rate fire there, and supper and everything.’



He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed
him, nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long,
gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a
central hall; out of which they could dimly see other long tunnel-like
passages branching, passages mysterious and without apparent end. But
there were doors in the hall as well—stout oaken comfortable-looking
doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at once they found
themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire-lit kitchen.



The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of
logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the wall, well
out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed settles, facing
each other on either side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodations
for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of
plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end
of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of
the Badger’s plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from
the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the
rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and
baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after
victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table
and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three
friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke
and talk in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at
the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged
cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on
the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything
without distinction.



The kindly Badger thrust them down on a settle to toast themselves at the
fire, and bade them remove their wet coats and boots. Then he fetched them
dressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the Mole’s shin with warm
water and mended the cut with sticking-plaster till the whole thing was
just as good as new, if not better. In the embracing light and warmth,
warm and dry at last, with weary legs propped up in front of them, and a
suggestive clink of plates being arranged on the table behind, it seemed
to the storm-driven animals, now in safe anchorage, that the cold and
trackless Wild Wood just left outside was miles and miles away, and all
that they had suffered in it a half-forgotten dream.



When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to the
table, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt pretty hungry
before, but when they actually saw at last the supper that was spread for
them, really it seemed only a question of what they should attack first
where all was so attractive, and whether the other things would obligingly
wait for them till they had time to give them attention. Conversation was
impossible for a long time; and when it was slowly resumed, it was that
regrettable sort of conversation that results from talking with your mouth
full. The Badger did not mind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take
any notice of elbows on the table, or everybody speaking at once. As he
did not go into Society himself, he had got an idea that these things
belonged to the things that didn’t really matter. (We know of course that
he was wrong, and took too narrow a view; because they do matter very
much, though it would take too long to explain why.) He sat in his
arm-chair at the head of the table, and nodded gravely at intervals as the
animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked at
anything, and he never said, ‘I told you so,’ or, ‘Just what I always
said,’ or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to
have done something else. The Mole began to feel very friendly towards
him.



When supper was really finished at last, and each animal felt that his
skin was now as tight as was decently safe, and that by this time he
didn’t care a hang for anybody or anything, they gathered round the
glowing embers of the great wood fire, and thought how jolly it was to be
sitting up SO late, and SO independent, and SO full; and after they had
chatted for a time about things in general, the Badger said heartily, ‘Now
then! tell us the news from your part of the world. How’s old Toad going
on?’



‘Oh, from bad to worse,’ said the Rat gravely, while the Mole, cocked up
on a settle and basking in the firelight, his heels higher than his head,
tried to look properly mournful. ‘Another smash-up only last week, and a
bad one. You see, he will insist on driving himself, and he’s hopelessly
incapable. If he’d only employ a decent, steady, well-trained animal, pay
him good wages, and leave everything to him, he’d get on all right. But
no; he’s convinced he’s a heaven-born driver, and nobody can teach him
anything; and all the rest follows.’



‘How many has he had?’ inquired the Badger gloomily.



‘Smashes, or machines?’ asked the Rat. ‘Oh, well, after all, it’s the same
thing—with Toad. This is the seventh. As for the others—you
know that coach-house of his? Well, it’s piled up—literally piled up
to the roof—with fragments of motor-cars, none of them bigger than
your hat! That accounts for the other six—so far as they can be
accounted for.’



‘He’s been in hospital three times,’ put in the Mole; ‘and as for the
fines he’s had to pay, it’s simply awful to think of.’



‘Yes, and that’s part of the trouble,’ continued the Rat. ‘Toad’s rich, we
all know; but he’s not a millionaire. And he’s a hopelessly bad driver,
and quite regardless of law and order. Killed or ruined—it’s got to
be one of the two things, sooner or later. Badger! we’re his friends—oughtn’t
we to do something?’



The Badger went through a bit of hard thinking. ‘Now look here!’ he said
at last, rather severely; ‘of course you know I can’t do anything NOW?’



His two friends assented, quite understanding his point. No animal,
according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do
anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the
off-season of winter. All are sleepy—some actually asleep. All are
weather-bound, more or less; and all are resting from arduous days and
nights, during which every muscle in them has been severely tested, and
every energy kept at full stretch.



‘Very well then!’ continued the Badger. ‘BUT, when once the year has
really turned, and the nights are shorter, and halfway through them one
rouses and feels fidgety and wanting to be up and doing by sunrise, if not
before—YOU know!——’



Both animals nodded gravely. THEY knew!



‘Well, THEN,’ went on the Badger, ‘we—that is, you and me and our
friend the Mole here—we’ll take Toad seriously in hand. We’ll stand
no nonsense whatever. We’ll bring him back to reason, by force if need be.
We’ll MAKE him be a sensible Toad. We’ll—you’re asleep, Rat!’



‘Not me!’ said the Rat, waking up with a jerk.



‘He’s been asleep two or three times since supper,’ said the Mole,
laughing. He himself was feeling quite wakeful and even lively, though he
didn’t know why. The reason was, of course, that he being naturally an
underground animal by birth and breeding, the situation of Badger’s house
exactly suited him and made him feel at home; while the Rat, who slept
every night in a bedroom the windows of which opened on a breezy river,
naturally felt the atmosphere still and oppressive.



‘Well, it’s time we were all in bed,’ said the Badger, getting up and
fetching flat candlesticks. ‘Come along, you two, and I’ll show you your
quarters. And take your time tomorrow morning—breakfast at any hour
you please!’



He conducted the two animals to a long room that seemed half bedchamber
and half loft. The Badger’s winter stores, which indeed were visible
everywhere, took up half the room—piles of apples, turnips, and
potatoes, baskets full of nuts, and jars of honey; but the two little
white beds on the remainder of the floor looked soft and inviting, and the
linen on them, though coarse, was clean and smelt beautifully of lavender;
and the Mole and the Water Rat, shaking off their garments in some thirty
seconds, tumbled in between the sheets in great joy and contentment.



In accordance with the kindly Badger’s injunctions, the two tired animals
came down to breakfast very late next morning, and found a bright fire
burning in the kitchen, and two young hedgehogs sitting on a bench at the
table, eating oatmeal porridge out of wooden bowls. The hedgehogs dropped
their spoons, rose to their feet, and ducked their heads respectfully as
the two entered.



‘There, sit down, sit down,’ said the Rat pleasantly, ‘and go on with your
porridge. Where have you youngsters come from? Lost your way in the snow,
I suppose?’



‘Yes, please, sir,’ said the elder of the two hedgehogs respectfully. ‘Me
and little Billy here, we was trying to find our way to school—mother
WOULD have us go, was the weather ever so—and of course we lost
ourselves, sir, and Billy he got frightened and took and cried, being
young and faint-hearted. And at last we happened up against Mr. Badger’s
back door, and made so bold as to knock, sir, for Mr. Badger he’s a
kind-hearted gentleman, as everyone knows——’



‘I understand,’ said the Rat, cutting himself some rashers from a side of
bacon, while the Mole dropped some eggs into a saucepan. ‘And what’s the
weather like outside? You needn’t “sir” me quite so much?’ he added.



‘O, terrible bad, sir, terrible deep the snow is,’ said the hedgehog. ‘No
getting out for the likes of you gentlemen to-day.’



‘Where’s Mr. Badger?’ inquired the Mole, as he warmed the coffee-pot
before the fire.



‘The master’s gone into his study, sir,’ replied the hedgehog, ‘and he
said as how he was going to be particular busy this morning, and on no
account was he to be disturbed.’



This explanation, of course, was thoroughly understood by every one
present. The fact is, as already set forth, when you live a life of
intense activity for six months in the year, and of comparative or actual
somnolence for the other six, during the latter period you cannot be
continually pleading sleepiness when there are people about or things to
be done. The excuse gets monotonous. The animals well knew that Badger,
having eaten a hearty breakfast, had retired to his study and settled
himself in an arm-chair with his legs up on another and a red cotton
handkerchief over his face, and was being ‘busy’ in the usual way at this
time of the year.



The front-door bell clanged loudly, and the Rat, who was very greasy with
buttered toast, sent Billy, the smaller hedgehog, to see who it might be.
There was a sound of much stamping in the hall, and presently Billy
returned in front of the Otter, who threw himself on the Rat with an
embrace and a shout of affectionate greeting.



‘Get off!’ spluttered the Rat, with his mouth full.



‘Thought I should find you here all right,’ said the Otter cheerfully.
‘They were all in a great state of alarm along River Bank when I arrived
this morning. Rat never been home all night—nor Mole either—something
dreadful must have happened, they said; and the snow had covered up all
your tracks, of course. But I knew that when people were in any fix they
mostly went to Badger, or else Badger got to know of it somehow, so I came
straight off here, through the Wild Wood and the snow! My! it was fine,
coming through the snow as the red sun was rising and showing against the
black tree-trunks! As you went along in the stillness, every now and then
masses of snow slid off the branches suddenly with a flop! making you jump
and run for cover. Snow-castles and snow-caverns had sprung up out of
nowhere in the night—and snow bridges, terraces, ramparts—I
could have stayed and played with them for hours. Here and there great
branches had been torn away by the sheer weight of the snow, and robins
perched and hopped on them in their perky conceited way, just as if they
had done it themselves. A ragged string of wild geese passed overhead,
high on the grey sky, and a few rooks whirled over the trees, inspected,
and flapped off homewards with a disgusted expression; but I met no
sensible being to ask the news of. About halfway across I came on a rabbit
sitting on a stump, cleaning his silly face with his paws. He was a pretty
scared animal when I crept up behind him and placed a heavy forepaw on his
shoulder. I had to cuff his head once or twice to get any sense out of it
at all. At last I managed to extract from him that Mole had been seen in
the Wild Wood last night by one of them. It was the talk of the burrows,
he said, how Mole, Mr. Rat’s particular friend, was in a bad fix; how he
had lost his way, and “They” were up and out hunting, and were chivvying
him round and round. “Then why didn’t any of you DO something?” I asked.
“You mayn’t be blest with brains, but there are hundreds and hundreds of
you, big, stout fellows, as fat as butter, and your burrows running in all
directions, and you could have taken him in and made him safe and
comfortable, or tried to, at all events.” “What, US?” he merely said: “DO
something? us rabbits?” So I cuffed him again and left him. There was
nothing else to be done. At any rate, I had learnt something; and if I had
had the luck to meet any of “Them” I’d have learnt something more—or
THEY would.’



‘Weren’t you at all—er—nervous?’ asked the Mole, some of
yesterday’s terror coming back to him at the mention of the Wild Wood.



‘Nervous?’ The Otter showed a gleaming set of strong white teeth as he
laughed. ‘I’d give ‘em nerves if any of them tried anything on with me.
Here, Mole, fry me some slices of ham, like the good little chap you are.
I’m frightfully hungry, and I’ve got any amount to say to Ratty here.
Haven’t seen him for an age.’



So the good-natured Mole, having cut some slices of ham, set the hedgehogs
to fry it, and returned to his own breakfast, while the Otter and the Rat,
their heads together, eagerly talked river-shop, which is long shop and
talk that is endless, running on like the babbling river itself.



A plate of fried ham had just been cleared and sent back for more, when
the Badger entered, yawning and rubbing his eyes, and greeted them all in
his quiet, simple way, with kind enquiries for every one. ‘It must be
getting on for luncheon time,’ he remarked to the Otter. ‘Better stop and
have it with us. You must be hungry, this cold morning.’



‘Rather!’ replied the Otter, winking at the Mole. ‘The sight of these
greedy young hedgehogs stuffing themselves with fried ham makes me feel
positively famished.’



The hedgehogs, who were just beginning to feel hungry again after their
porridge, and after working so hard at their frying, looked timidly up at
Mr. Badger, but were too shy to say anything.



‘Here, you two youngsters be off home to your mother,’ said the Badger
kindly. ‘I’ll send some one with you to show you the way. You won’t want
any dinner to-day, I’ll be bound.’



He gave them sixpence apiece and a pat on the head, and they went off with
much respectful swinging of caps and touching of forelocks.



Presently they all sat down to luncheon together. The Mole found himself
placed next to Mr. Badger, and, as the other two were still deep in
river-gossip from which nothing could divert them, he took the opportunity
to tell Badger how comfortable and home-like it all felt to him. ‘Once
well underground,’ he said, ‘you know exactly where you are. Nothing can
happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own
master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say.
Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ‘em, and don’t bother
about ‘em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting
for you.’



The Badger simply beamed on him. ‘That’s exactly what I say,’ he replied.
‘There’s no security, or peace and tranquillity, except underground. And
then, if your ideas get larger and you want to expand—why, a dig and
a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your house is a bit too big, you
stop up a hole or two, and there you are again! No builders, no tradesmen,
no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall, and, above
all, no WEATHER. Look at Rat, now. A couple of feet of flood water, and
he’s got to move into hired lodgings; uncomfortable, inconveniently
situated, and horribly expensive. Take Toad. I say nothing against Toad
Hall; quite the best house in these parts, AS a house. But supposing a
fire breaks out—where’s Toad? Supposing tiles are blown off, or
walls sink or crack, or windows get broken—where’s Toad? Supposing
the rooms are draughty—I HATE a draught myself—where’s Toad?
No, up and out of doors is good enough to roam about and get one’s living
in; but underground to come back to at last—that’s my idea of HOME.’



The Mole assented heartily; and the Badger in consequence got very
friendly with him. ‘When lunch is over,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you all round
this little place of mine. I can see you’ll appreciate it. You understand
what domestic architecture ought to be, you do.’



After luncheon, accordingly, when the other two had settled themselves
into the chimney-corner and had started a heated argument on the subject
of EELS, the Badger lighted a lantern and bade the Mole follow him.
Crossing the hall, they passed down one of the principal tunnels, and the
wavering light of the lantern gave glimpses on either side of rooms both
large and small, some mere cupboards, others nearly as broad and imposing
as Toad’s dining-hall. A narrow passage at right angles led them into
another corridor, and here the same thing was repeated. The Mole was
staggered at the size, the extent, the ramifications of it all; at the
length of the dim passages, the solid vaultings of the crammed
store-chambers, the masonry everywhere, the pillars, the arches, the
pavements. ‘How on earth, Badger,’ he said at last, ‘did you ever find
time and strength to do all this? It’s astonishing!’



‘It WOULD be astonishing indeed,’ said the Badger simply, ‘if I HAD done
it. But as a matter of fact I did none of it—only cleaned out the
passages and chambers, as far as I had need of them. There’s lots more of
it, all round about. I see you don’t understand, and I must explain it to
you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now,
before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there
was a city—a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing,
they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their
business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode
out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich,
and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would
last for ever.’



‘But what has become of them all?’ asked the Mole.



‘Who can tell?’ said the Badger. ‘People come—they stay for a while,
they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we
remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same
city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an
enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are
patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.’



‘Well, and when they went at last, those people?’ said the Mole.



‘When they went,’ continued the Badger, ‘the strong winds and persistent
rains took the matter in hand, patiently, ceaselessly, year after year.
Perhaps we badgers too, in our small way, helped a little—who knows?
It was all down, down, down, gradually—ruin and levelling and
disappearance. Then it was all up, up, up, gradually, as seeds grew to
saplings, and saplings to forest trees, and bramble and fern came creeping
in to help. Leaf-mould rose and obliterated, streams in their winter
freshets brought sand and soil to clog and to cover, and in course of time
our home was ready for us again, and we moved in. Up above us, on the
surface, the same thing happened. Animals arrived, liked the look of the
place, took up their quarters, settled down, spread, and flourished. They
didn’t bother themselves about the past—they never do; they’re too
busy. The place was a bit humpy and hillocky, naturally, and full of
holes; but that was rather an advantage. And they don’t bother about the
future, either—the future when perhaps the people will move in again—for
a time—as may very well be. The Wild Wood is pretty well populated
by now; with all the usual lot, good, bad, and indifferent—I name no
names. It takes all sorts to make a world. But I fancy you know something
about them yourself by this time.’



‘I do indeed,’ said the Mole, with a slight shiver.



‘Well, well,’ said the Badger, patting him on the shoulder, ‘it was your
first experience of them, you see. They’re not so bad really; and we must
all live and let live. But I’ll pass the word around to-morrow, and I
think you’ll have no further trouble. Any friend of MINE walks where he
likes in this country, or I’ll know the reason why!’



When they got back to the kitchen again, they found the Rat walking up and
down, very restless. The underground atmosphere was oppressing him and
getting on his nerves, and he seemed really to be afraid that the river
would run away if he wasn’t there to look after it. So he had his overcoat
on, and his pistols thrust into his belt again. ‘Come along, Mole,’ he
said anxiously, as soon as he caught sight of them. ‘We must get off while
it’s daylight. Don’t want to spend another night in the Wild Wood again.’



‘It’ll be all right, my fine fellow,’ said the Otter. ‘I’m coming along
with you, and I know every path blindfold; and if there’s a head that
needs to be punched, you can confidently rely upon me to punch it.’



‘You really needn’t fret, Ratty,’ added the Badger placidly. ‘My passages
run further than you think, and I’ve bolt-holes to the edge of the wood in
several directions, though I don’t care for everybody to know about them.
When you really have to go, you shall leave by one of my short cuts.
Meantime, make yourself easy, and sit down again.’



The Rat was nevertheless still anxious to be off and attend to his river,
so the Badger, taking up his lantern again, led the way along a damp and
airless tunnel that wound and dipped, part vaulted, part hewn through
solid rock, for a weary distance that seemed to be miles. At last daylight
began to show itself confusedly through tangled growth overhanging the
mouth of the passage; and the Badger, bidding them a hasty good-bye,
pushed them hurriedly through the opening, made everything look as natural
as possible again, with creepers, brushwood, and dead leaves, and
retreated.



They found themselves standing on the very edge of the Wild Wood. Rocks
and brambles and tree-roots behind them, confusedly heaped and tangled; in
front, a great space of quiet fields, hemmed by lines of hedges black on
the snow, and, far ahead, a glint of the familiar old river, while the
wintry sun hung red and low on the horizon. The Otter, as knowing all the
paths, took charge of the party, and they trailed out on a bee-line for a
distant stile. Pausing there a moment and looking back, they saw the whole
mass of the Wild Wood, dense, menacing, compact, grimly set in vast white
surroundings; simultaneously they turned and made swiftly for home, for
firelight and the familiar things it played on, for the voice, sounding
cheerily outside their window, of the river that they knew and trusted in
all its moods, that never made them afraid with any amazement.



As he hurried along, eagerly anticipating the moment when he would be at
home again among the things he knew and liked, the Mole saw clearly that
he was an animal of tilled field and hedge-row, linked to the ploughed
furrow, the frequented pasture, the lane of evening lingerings, the
cultivated garden-plot. For others the asperities, the stubborn endurance,
or the clash of actual conflict, that went with Nature in the rough; he
must be wise, must keep to the pleasant places in which his lines were
laid and which held adventure enough, in their way, to last for a
lifetime.














V. DULCE DOMUM



The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thin
nostrils and stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown back and
a light steam rising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty air, as
the two animals hastened by in high spirits, with much chatter and
laughter. They were returning across country after a long day’s outing
with Otter, hunting and exploring on the wide uplands where certain
streams tributary to their own River had their first small beginnings; and
the shades of the short winter day were closing in on them, and they had
still some distance to go. Plodding at random across the plough, they had
heard the sheep and had made for them; and now, leading from the
sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made walking a lighter business,
and responded, moreover, to that small inquiring something which all
animals carry inside them, saying unmistakably, ‘Yes, quite right; THIS
leads home!’



‘It looks as if we were coming to a village,’ said the Mole somewhat
dubiously, slackening his pace, as the track, that had in time become a
path and then had developed into a lane, now handed them over to the
charge of a well-metalled road. The animals did not hold with villages,
and their own highways, thickly frequented as they were, took an
independent course, regardless of church, post office, or public-house.



‘Oh, never mind!’ said the Rat. ‘At this season of the year they’re all
safe indoors by this time, sitting round the fire; men, women, and
children, dogs and cats and all. We shall slip through all right, without
any bother or unpleasantness, and we can have a look at them through their
windows if you like, and see what they’re doing.’



The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as
they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow.
Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the
street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed
through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low
latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from
outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork,
or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is
the last thing the skilled actor shall capture—the natural grace
which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Moving at will
from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home
themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a
cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a
tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.



But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank
transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained
world within walls—the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut
out and forgotten—most pulsated. Close against the white blind hung
a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and appurtenance
distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday’s dull-edged lump of sugar.
On the middle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked well into feathers,
seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked, had they tried; even the
delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage pencilled plainly on the
illuminated screen. As they looked, the sleepy little fellow stirred
uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised his head. They could see the
gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way, looked round,
and then settled his head into his back again, while the ruffled feathers
gradually subsided into perfect stillness. Then a gust of bitter wind took
them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin
woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their
legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.



Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either
side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields
again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home
stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the
rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar
things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far over-sea. They
plodded along steadily and silently, each of them thinking his own
thoughts. The Mole’s ran a good deal on supper, as it was pitch-dark, and
it was all a strange country for him as far as he knew, and he was
following obediently in the wake of the Rat, leaving the guidance entirely
to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as his habit
was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road in
front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons
reached him, and took him like an electric shock.



We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have
not even proper terms to express an animal’s inter-communications with his
surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word ‘smell,’ for
instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in
the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting,
repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void
that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and
through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly
remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching
hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the
telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had
caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.



Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft
touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and
tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment,
his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that
day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts
and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on
that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he
been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and
captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it
stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly
furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had
been so happy to get back to after his day’s work. And the home had been
happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back,
and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but
with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was
there, and wanted him.



The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and
go. ‘Ratty!’ he called, full of joyful excitement, ‘hold on! Come back! I
want you, quick!’



‘Oh, COME along, Mole, do!’ replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding
along.



‘PLEASE stop, Ratty!’ pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. ‘You
don’t understand! It’s my home, my old home! I’ve just come across the
smell of it, and it’s close by here, really quite close. And I MUST go to
it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!’



The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the
Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his
voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he too could smell
something—something suspiciously like approaching snow.



‘Mole, we mustn’t stop now, really!’ he called back. ‘We’ll come for it
to-morrow, whatever it is you’ve found. But I daren’t stop now—it’s
late, and the snow’s coming on again, and I’m not sure of the way! And I
want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there’s a good fellow!’ And the
Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.



Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob
gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the
surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a
test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did
he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home
pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He
dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore
his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed
submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells,
still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship
and his callous forgetfulness.



With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began chattering
cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and how jolly a
fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he meant to eat;
never noticing his companion’s silence and distressful state of mind. At
last, however, when they had gone some considerable way further, and were
passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse that bordered the road, he
stopped and said kindly, ‘Look here, Mole old chap, you seem dead tired.
No talk left in you, and your feet dragging like lead. We’ll sit down here
for a minute and rest. The snow has held off so far, and the best part of
our journey is over.’



The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself,
for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused
to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another,
and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the
struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it
was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found.



The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole’s paroxysm of
grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly
and sympathetically, ‘What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter?
Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.’



Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of
his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech
and choked it as it came. ‘I know it’s a—shabby, dingy little
place,’ he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: ‘not like—your cosy
quarters—or Toad’s beautiful hall—or Badger’s great house—but
it was my own little home—and I was fond of it—and I went away
and forgot all about it—and then I smelt it suddenly—on the
road, when I called and you wouldn’t listen, Rat—and everything came
back to me with a rush—and I WANTED it!—O dear, O dear!—and
when you WOULDN’T turn back, Ratty—and I had to leave it, though I
was smelling it all the time—I thought my heart would break.—We
might have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty—only one look—it
was close by—but you wouldn’t turn back, Ratty, you wouldn’t turn
back! O dear, O dear!’



Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full
charge of him, preventing further speech.



The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Mole
gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, ‘I see it all
now! What a PIG I have been! A pig—that’s me! Just a pig—a
plain pig!’



He waited till Mole’s sobs became gradually less stormy and more
rhythmical; he waited till at last sniffs were frequent and sobs only
intermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and, remarking carelessly,
‘Well, now we’d really better be getting on, old chap!’ set off up the
road again, over the toilsome way they had come.



‘Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?’ cried the tearful Mole,
looking up in alarm.



‘We’re going to find that home of yours, old fellow,’ replied the Rat
pleasantly; ‘so you had better come along, for it will take some finding,
and we shall want your nose.’



‘Oh, come back, Ratty, do!’ cried the Mole, getting up and hurrying after
him. ‘It’s no good, I tell you! It’s too late, and too dark, and the place
is too far off, and the snow’s coming! And—and I never meant to let
you know I was feeling that way about it—it was all an accident and
a mistake! And think of River Bank, and your supper!’



‘Hang River Bank, and supper too!’ said the Rat heartily. ‘I tell you, I’m
going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. So cheer up, old
chap, and take my arm, and we’ll very soon be back there again.’



Still snuffling, pleading, and reluctant, Mole suffered himself to be
dragged back along the road by his imperious companion, who by a flow of
cheerful talk and anecdote endeavoured to beguile his spirits back and
make the weary way seem shorter. When at last it seemed to the Rat that
they must be nearing that part of the road where the Mole had been ‘held
up,’ he said, ‘Now, no more talking. Business! Use your nose, and give
your mind to it.’



They moved on in silence for some little way, when suddenly the Rat was
conscious, through his arm that was linked in Mole’s, of a faint sort of
electric thrill that was passing down that animal’s body. Instantly he
disengaged himself, fell back a pace, and waited, all attention.



The signals were coming through!



Mole stood a moment rigid, while his uplifted nose, quivering slightly,
felt the air.



Then a short, quick run forward—a fault—a check—a try
back; and then a slow, steady, confident advance.



The Rat, much excited, kept close to his heels as the Mole, with something
of the air of a sleep-walker, crossed a dry ditch, scrambled through a
hedge, and nosed his way over a field open and trackless and bare in the
faint starlight.



Suddenly, without giving warning, he dived; but the Rat was on the alert,
and promptly followed him down the tunnel to which his unerring nose had
faithfully led him.



It was close and airless, and the earthy smell was strong, and it seemed a
long time to Rat ere the passage ended and he could stand erect and
stretch and shake himself. The Mole struck a match, and by its light the
Rat saw that they were standing in an open space, neatly swept and sanded
underfoot, and directly facing them was Mole’s little front door, with
‘Mole End’ painted, in Gothic lettering, over the bell-pull at the side.



Mole reached down a lantern from a nail on the wall and lit it... and the
Rat, looking round him, saw that they were in a sort of fore-court. A
garden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the other a roller; for
the Mole, who was a tidy animal when at home, could not stand having his
ground kicked up by other animals into little runs that ended in
earth-heaps. On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them,
alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary—Garibaldi, and
the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy.
Down on one side of the forecourt ran a skittle-alley, with benches along
it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted at beer-mugs. In
the middle was a small round pond containing gold-fish and surrounded by a
cockle-shell border. Out of the centre of the pond rose a fanciful
erection clothed in more cockle-shells and topped by a large silvered
glass ball that reflected everything all wrong and had a very pleasing
effect.



Mole’s face-beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him, and
he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took one
glance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on everything, saw
the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and its narrow,
meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby contents—and collapsed again
on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws. ‘O Ratty!’ he cried dismally, ‘why
ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, cold little place, on
a night like this, when you might have been at River Bank by this time,
toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with all your own nice things
about you!’



The Rat paid no heed to his doleful self-reproaches. He was running here
and there, opening doors, inspecting rooms and cupboards, and lighting
lamps and candles and sticking them, up everywhere. ‘What a capital little
house this is!’ he called out cheerily. ‘So compact! So well planned!
Everything here and everything in its place! We’ll make a jolly night of
it. The first thing we want is a good fire; I’ll see to that—I
always know where to find things. So this is the parlour? Splendid! Your
own idea, those little sleeping-bunks in the wall? Capital! Now, I’ll
fetch the wood and the coals, and you get a duster, Mole—you’ll find
one in the drawer of the kitchen table—and try and smarten things up
a bit. Bustle about, old chap!’



Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself and
dusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, running to
and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaring up the
chimney. He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Mole promptly
had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in dark despair and
burying his face in his duster. ‘Rat,’ he moaned, ‘how about your supper,
you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I’ve nothing to give you—nothing—not
a crumb!’



‘What a fellow you are for giving in!’ said the Rat reproachfully. ‘Why,
only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quite
distinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines about
somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! pull yourself together,
and come with me and forage.’



They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard and
turning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing after all,
though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines—a box
of captain’s biscuits, nearly full—and a German sausage encased in
silver paper.



‘There’s a banquet for you!’ observed the Rat, as he arranged the table.
‘I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting down to
supper with us to-night!’



‘No bread!’ groaned the Mole dolorously; ‘no butter, no——’



‘No pate de foie gras, no champagne!’ continued the Rat, grinning. ‘And
that reminds me—what’s that little door at the end of the passage?
Your cellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just you wait a
minute.’



He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared, somewhat dusty,
with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm,
‘Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole,’ he observed. ‘Deny yourself
nothing. This is really the jolliest little place I ever was in. Now,
wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look so home-like,
they do. No wonder you’re so fond of it, Mole. Tell us all about it, and
how you came to make it what it is.’



Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and forks,
and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom still
heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related—somewhat
shyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject—how
this was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was got
through a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and a
bargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and a
certain amount of ‘going without.’ His spirits finally quite restored, he
must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and show off
their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetful of the
supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was desperately hungry but
strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckered brow,
and saying, ‘wonderful,’ and ‘most remarkable,’ at intervals, when the
chance for an observation was given him.



At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just got
seriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard from the
fore-court without—sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the
gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences
reached them—‘Now, all in a line—hold the lantern up a bit,
Tommy—clear your throats first—no coughing after I say one,
two, three.—Where’s young Bill?—Here, come on, do, we’re all
a-waiting——’



‘What’s up?’ inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.



‘I think it must be the field-mice,’ replied the Mole, with a touch of
pride in his manner. ‘They go round carol-singing regularly at this time
of the year. They’re quite an institution in these parts. And they never
pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give
them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will
be like old times to hear them again.’



‘Let’s have a look at them!’ cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the
door.



It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they
flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn
lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red
worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into
their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they
glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying
coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that
carried the lantern was just saying, ‘Now then, one, two, three!’ and
forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the
old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow
and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down
to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.


                      CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o’er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go—
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
‘Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!’



The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong
glances, and silence succeeded—but for a moment only. Then, from up
above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne
to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a
joyful and clangorous peal.



‘Very well sung, boys!’ cried the Rat heartily. ‘And now come along in,
all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!’



‘Yes, come along, field-mice,’ cried the Mole eagerly. ‘This is quite like
old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle to the fire. Now,
you just wait a minute, while we—O, Ratty!’ he cried in despair,
plumping down on a seat, with tears impending. ‘Whatever are we doing?
We’ve nothing to give them!’



‘You leave all that to me,’ said the masterful Rat. ‘Here, you with the
lantern! Come over this way. I want to talk to you. Now, tell me, are
there any shops open at this hour of the night?’



‘Why, certainly, sir,’ replied the field-mouse respectfully. ‘At this time
of the year our shops keep open to all sorts of hours.’



‘Then look here!’ said the Rat. ‘You go off at once, you and your lantern,
and you get me——’



Here much muttered conversation ensued, and the Mole only heard bits of
it, such as—‘Fresh, mind!—no, a pound of that will do—see
you get Buggins’s, for I won’t have any other—no, only the best—if
you can’t get it there, try somewhere else—yes, of course,
home-made, no tinned stuff—well then, do the best you can!’ Finally,
there was a chink of coin passing from paw to paw, the field-mouse was
provided with an ample basket for his purchases, and off he hurried, he
and his lantern.



The rest of the field-mice, perched in a row on the settle, their small
legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toasted
their chilblains till they tingled; while the Mole, failing to draw them
into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each of them
recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too young, it
appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but looked
forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.



The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the
beer-bottles. ‘I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly.
‘SENSIBLE Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get
the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.’



It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater well
into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was sipping and
coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long way) and wiping
his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in all his
life.



‘They act plays too, these fellows,’ the Mole explained to the Rat. ‘Make
them up all by themselves, and act them afterwards. And very well they do
it, too! They gave us a capital one last year, about a field-mouse who was
captured at sea by a Barbary corsair, and made to row in a galley; and
when he escaped and got home again, his lady-love had gone into a convent.
Here, YOU! You were in it, I remember. Get up and recite a bit.’



The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, looked round
the room, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comrades cheered him
on, Mole coaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went so far as to take him
by the shoulders and shake him; but nothing could overcome his
stage-fright. They were all busily engaged on him like watermen applying
the Royal Humane Society’s regulations to a case of long submersion, when
the latch clicked, the door opened, and the field-mouse with the lantern
reappeared, staggering under the weight of his basket.



There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solid
contents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table. Under the
generalship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetch
something. In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he took
the head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren board set
thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends’ faces brighten and
beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself loose—for
he was famished indeed—on the provender so magically provided,
thinking what a happy home-coming this had turned out, after all. As they
ate, they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave him the local
gossip up to date, and answered as well as they could the hundred
questions he had to ask them. The Rat said little or nothing, only taking
care that each guest had what he wanted, and plenty of it, and that Mole
had no trouble or anxiety about anything.



They clattered off at last, very grateful and showering wishes of the
season, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for the small
brothers and sisters at home. When the door had closed on the last of them
and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kicked the fire
up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last nightcap of mulled ale,
and discussed the events of the long day. At last the Rat, with a
tremendous yawn, said, ‘Mole, old chap, I’m ready to drop. Sleepy is
simply not the word. That your own bunk over on that side? Very well,
then, I’ll take this. What a ripping little house this is! Everything so
handy!’



He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets, and
slumber gathered him forthwith, as a swathe of barley is folded into the
arms of the reaping machine.



The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his
head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his
eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the
firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had
long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him
back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the
tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how
plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly,
too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such
anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new
life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they
offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too
strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must
return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come
back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad
to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple
welcome.














VI. MR. TOAD



It was a bright morning in the early part of summer; the river had resumed
its wonted banks and its accustomed pace, and a hot sun seemed to be
pulling everything green and bushy and spiky up out of the earth towards
him, as if by strings. The Mole and the Water Rat had been up since dawn,
very busy on matters connected with boats and the opening of the boating
season; painting and varnishing, mending paddles, repairing cushions,
hunting for missing boat-hooks, and so on; and were finishing breakfast in
their little parlour and eagerly discussing their plans for the day, when
a heavy knock sounded at the door.



‘Bother!’ said the Rat, all over egg. ‘See who it is, Mole, like a good
chap, since you’ve finished.’



The Mole went to attend the summons, and the Rat heard him utter a cry of
surprise. Then he flung the parlour door open, and announced with much
importance, ‘Mr. Badger!’



This was a wonderful thing, indeed, that the Badger should pay a formal
call on them, or indeed on anybody. He generally had to be caught, if you
wanted him badly, as he slipped quietly along a hedgerow of an early
morning or a late evening, or else hunted up in his own house in the
middle of the Wood, which was a serious undertaking.



The Badger strode heavily into the room, and stood looking at the two
animals with an expression full of seriousness. The Rat let his egg-spoon
fall on the table-cloth, and sat open-mouthed.



‘The hour has come!’ said the Badger at last with great solemnity.



‘What hour?’ asked the Rat uneasily, glancing at the clock on the
mantelpiece.



‘WHOSE hour, you should rather say,’ replied the Badger. ‘Why, Toad’s
hour! The hour of Toad! I said I would take him in hand as soon as the
winter was well over, and I’m going to take him in hand to-day!’



‘Toad’s hour, of course!’ cried the Mole delightedly. ‘Hooray! I remember
now! WE’LL teach him to be a sensible Toad!’



‘This very morning,’ continued the Badger, taking an arm-chair, ‘as I
learnt last night from a trustworthy source, another new and exceptionally
powerful motor-car will arrive at Toad Hall on approval or return. At this
very moment, perhaps, Toad is busy arraying himself in those singularly
hideous habiliments so dear to him, which transform him from a
(comparatively) good-looking Toad into an Object which throws any
decent-minded animal that comes across it into a violent fit. We must be
up and doing, ere it is too late. You two animals will accompany me
instantly to Toad Hall, and the work of rescue shall be accomplished.’



‘Right you are!’ cried the Rat, starting up. ‘We’ll rescue the poor
unhappy animal! We’ll convert him! He’ll be the most converted Toad that
ever was before we’ve done with him!’



They set off up the road on their mission of mercy, Badger leading the
way. Animals when in company walk in a proper and sensible manner, in
single file, instead of sprawling all across the road and being of no use
or support to each other in case of sudden trouble or danger.



They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find, as the Badger had
anticipated, a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a bright red
(Toad’s favourite colour), standing in front of the house. As they neared
the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap,
gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the steps, drawing on
his gauntleted gloves.



‘Hullo! come on, you fellows!’ he cried cheerfully on catching sight of
them. ‘You’re just in time to come with me for a jolly—to come for a
jolly—for a—er—jolly——’



His hearty accents faltered and fell away as he noticed the stern
unbending look on the countenances of his silent friends, and his
invitation remained unfinished.



The Badger strode up the steps. ‘Take him inside,’ he said sternly to his
companions. Then, as Toad was hustled through the door, struggling and
protesting, he turned to the chauffeur in charge of the new motor-car.



‘I’m afraid you won’t be wanted to-day,’ he said. ‘Mr. Toad has changed
his mind. He will not require the car. Please understand that this is
final. You needn’t wait.’ Then he followed the others inside and shut the
door.



‘Now then!’ he said to the Toad, when the four of them stood together in
the Hall, ‘first of all, take those ridiculous things off!’



‘Shan’t!’ replied Toad, with great spirit. ‘What is the meaning of this
gross outrage? I demand an instant explanation.’



‘Take them off him, then, you two,’ ordered the Badger briefly.



They had to lay Toad out on the floor, kicking and calling all sorts of
names, before they could get to work properly. Then the Rat sat on him,
and the Mole got his motor-clothes off him bit by bit, and they stood him
up on his legs again. A good deal of his blustering spirit seemed to have
evaporated with the removal of his fine panoply. Now that he was merely
Toad, and no longer the Terror of the Highway, he giggled feebly and
looked from one to the other appealingly, seeming quite to understand the
situation.



‘You knew it must come to this, sooner or later, Toad,’ the Badger
explained severely.



You’ve disregarded all the warnings we’ve given you, you’ve gone on
squandering the money your father left you, and you’re getting us animals
a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your smashes and
your rows with the police. Independence is all very well, but we animals
never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain
limit; and that limit you’ve reached. Now, you’re a good fellow in many
respects, and I don’t want to be too hard on you. I’ll make one more
effort to bring you to reason. You will come with me into the
smoking-room, and there you will hear some facts about yourself; and we’ll
see whether you come out of that room the same Toad that you went in.’



He took Toad firmly by the arm, led him into the smoking-room, and closed
the door behind them.



‘THAT’S no good!’ said the Rat contemptuously. ‘TALKING to Toad’ll never
cure him. He’ll SAY anything.’



They made themselves comfortable in armchairs and waited patiently.
Through the closed door they could just hear the long continuous drone of
the Badger’s voice, rising and falling in waves of oratory; and presently
they noticed that the sermon began to be punctuated at intervals by
long-drawn sobs, evidently proceeding from the bosom of Toad, who was a
soft-hearted and affectionate fellow, very easily converted—for the
time being—to any point of view.



After some three-quarters of an hour the door opened, and the Badger
reappeared, solemnly leading by the paw a very limp and dejected Toad. His
skin hung baggily about him, his legs wobbled, and his cheeks were
furrowed by the tears so plentifully called forth by the Badger’s moving
discourse.



‘Sit down there, Toad,’ said the Badger kindly, pointing to a chair. ‘My
friends,’ he went on, ‘I am pleased to inform you that Toad has at last
seen the error of his ways. He is truly sorry for his misguided conduct in
the past, and he has undertaken to give up motor-cars entirely and for
ever. I have his solemn promise to that effect.’



‘That is very good news,’ said the Mole gravely.



‘Very good news indeed,’ observed the Rat dubiously, ‘if only—IF
only——’



He was looking very hard at Toad as he said this, and could not help
thinking he perceived something vaguely resembling a twinkle in that
animal’s still sorrowful eye.



‘There’s only one thing more to be done,’ continued the gratified Badger.
‘Toad, I want you solemnly to repeat, before your friends here, what you
fully admitted to me in the smoking-room just now. First, you are sorry
for what you’ve done, and you see the folly of it all?’



There was a long, long pause. Toad looked desperately this way and that,
while the other animals waited in grave silence. At last he spoke.



‘No!’ he said, a little sullenly, but stoutly; ‘I’m NOT sorry. And it
wasn’t folly at all! It was simply glorious!’



‘What?’ cried the Badger, greatly scandalised. ‘You backsliding animal,
didn’t you tell me just now, in there——’



‘Oh, yes, yes, in THERE,’ said Toad impatiently. ‘I’d have said anything
in THERE. You’re so eloquent, dear Badger, and so moving, and so
convincing, and put all your points so frightfully well—you can do
what you like with me in THERE, and you know it. But I’ve been searching
my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that I’m not a bit
sorry or repentant really, so it’s no earthly good saying I am; now, is
it?’



‘Then you don’t promise,’ said the Badger, ‘never to touch a motor-car
again?’



‘Certainly not!’ replied Toad emphatically. ‘On the contrary, I faithfully
promise that the very first motor-car I see, poop-poop! off I go in it!’



‘Told you so, didn’t I?’ observed the Rat to the Mole.



‘Very well, then,’ said the Badger firmly, rising to his feet. ‘Since you
won’t yield to persuasion, we’ll try what force can do. I feared it would
come to this all along. You’ve often asked us three to come and stay with
you, Toad, in this handsome house of yours; well, now we’re going to. When
we’ve converted you to a proper point of view we may quit, but not before.
Take him upstairs, you two, and lock him up in his bedroom, while we
arrange matters between ourselves.’



‘It’s for your own good, Toady, you know,’ said the Rat kindly, as Toad,
kicking and struggling, was hauled up the stairs by his two faithful
friends. ‘Think what fun we shall all have together, just as we used to,
when you’ve quite got over this—this painful attack of yours!’



‘We’ll take great care of everything for you till you’re well, Toad,’ said
the Mole; ‘and we’ll see your money isn’t wasted, as it has been.’



‘No more of those regrettable incidents with the police, Toad,’ said the
Rat, as they thrust him into his bedroom.



‘And no more weeks in hospital, being ordered about by female nurses,
Toad,’ added the Mole, turning the key on him.



They descended the stair, Toad shouting abuse at them through the keyhole;
and the three friends then met in conference on the situation.



‘It’s going to be a tedious business,’ said the Badger, sighing. ‘I’ve
never seen Toad so determined. However, we will see it out. He must never
be left an instant unguarded. We shall have to take it in turns to be with
him, till the poison has worked itself out of his system.’



They arranged watches accordingly. Each animal took it in turns to sleep
in Toad’s room at night, and they divided the day up between them. At
first Toad was undoubtedly very trying to his careful guardians. When his
violent paroxysms possessed him he would arrange bedroom chairs in rude
resemblance of a motor-car and would crouch on the foremost of them, bent
forward and staring fixedly ahead, making uncouth and ghastly noises, till
the climax was reached, when, turning a complete somersault, he would lie
prostrate amidst the ruins of the chairs, apparently completely satisfied
for the moment. As time passed, however, these painful seizures grew
gradually less frequent, and his friends strove to divert his mind into
fresh channels. But his interest in other matters did not seem to revive,
and he grew apparently languid and depressed.



One fine morning the Rat, whose turn it was to go on duty, went upstairs
to relieve Badger, whom he found fidgeting to be off and stretch his legs
in a long ramble round his wood and down his earths and burrows. ‘Toad’s
still in bed,’ he told the Rat, outside the door. ‘Can’t get much out of
him, except, “O leave him alone, he wants nothing, perhaps he’ll be better
presently, it may pass off in time, don’t be unduly anxious,” and so on.
Now, you look out, Rat! When Toad’s quiet and submissive and playing at
being the hero of a Sunday-school prize, then he’s at his artfullest.
There’s sure to be something up. I know him. Well, now, I must be off.’



‘How are you to-day, old chap?’ inquired the Rat cheerfully, as he
approached Toad’s bedside.



He had to wait some minutes for an answer. At last a feeble voice replied,
‘Thank you so much, dear Ratty! So good of you to inquire! But first tell
me how you are yourself, and the excellent Mole?’



‘O, WE’RE all right,’ replied the Rat. ‘Mole,’ he added incautiously, ‘is
going out for a run round with Badger. They’ll be out till luncheon time,
so you and I will spend a pleasant morning together, and I’ll do my best
to amuse you. Now jump up, there’s a good fellow, and don’t lie moping
there on a fine morning like this!’



‘Dear, kind Rat,’ murmured Toad, ‘how little you realise my condition, and
how very far I am from “jumping up” now—if ever! But do not trouble
about me. I hate being a burden to my friends, and I do not expect to be
one much longer. Indeed, I almost hope not.’



‘Well, I hope not, too,’ said the Rat heartily. ‘You’ve been a fine bother
to us all this time, and I’m glad to hear it’s going to stop. And in
weather like this, and the boating season just beginning! It’s too bad of
you, Toad! It isn’t the trouble we mind, but you’re making us miss such an
awful lot.’



‘I’m afraid it IS the trouble you mind, though,’ replied the Toad
languidly. ‘I can quite understand it. It’s natural enough. You’re tired
of bothering about me. I mustn’t ask you to do anything further. I’m a
nuisance, I know.’



‘You are, indeed,’ said the Rat. ‘But I tell you, I’d take any trouble on
earth for you, if only you’d be a sensible animal.’



‘If I thought that, Ratty,’ murmured Toad, more feebly than ever, ‘then I
would beg you—for the last time, probably—to step round to the
village as quickly as possible—even now it may be too late—and
fetch the doctor. But don’t you bother. It’s only a trouble, and perhaps
we may as well let things take their course.’



‘Why, what do you want a doctor for?’ inquired the Rat, coming closer and
examining him. He certainly lay very still and flat, and his voice was
weaker and his manner much changed.



‘Surely you have noticed of late——’ murmured Toad. ‘But, no—why
should you? Noticing things is only a trouble. To-morrow, indeed, you may
be saying to yourself, “O, if only I had noticed sooner! If only I had
done something!” But no; it’s a trouble. Never mind—forget that I
asked.’



‘Look here, old man,’ said the Rat, beginning to get rather alarmed, ‘of
course I’ll fetch a doctor to you, if you really think you want him. But
you can hardly be bad enough for that yet. Let’s talk about something
else.’



‘I fear, dear friend,’ said Toad, with a sad smile, ‘that “talk” can do
little in a case like this—or doctors either, for that matter;
still, one must grasp at the slightest straw. And, by the way—while
you are about it—I HATE to give you additional trouble, but I happen
to remember that you will pass the door—would you mind at the same
time asking the lawyer to step up? It would be a convenience to me, and
there are moments—perhaps I should say there is A moment—when
one must face disagreeable tasks, at whatever cost to exhausted nature!’



‘A lawyer! O, he must be really bad!’ the affrighted Rat said to himself,
as he hurried from the room, not forgetting, however, to lock the door
carefully behind him.



Outside, he stopped to consider. The other two were far away, and he had
no one to consult.



‘It’s best to be on the safe side,’ he said, on reflection. ‘I’ve known
Toad fancy himself frightfully bad before, without the slightest reason;
but I’ve never heard him ask for a lawyer! If there’s nothing really the
matter, the doctor will tell him he’s an old ass, and cheer him up; and
that will be something gained. I’d better humour him and go; it won’t take
very long.’ So he ran off to the village on his errand of mercy.



The Toad, who had hopped lightly out of bed as soon as he heard the key
turned in the lock, watched him eagerly from the window till he
disappeared down the carriage-drive. Then, laughing heartily, he dressed
as quickly as possible in the smartest suit he could lay hands on at the
moment, filled his pockets with cash which he took from a small drawer in
the dressing-table, and next, knotting the sheets from his bed together
and tying one end of the improvised rope round the central mullion of the
handsome Tudor window which formed such a feature of his bedroom, he
scrambled out, slid lightly to the ground, and, taking the opposite
direction to the Rat, marched off lightheartedly, whistling a merry tune.



It was a gloomy luncheon for Rat when the Badger and the Mole at length
returned, and he had to face them at table with his pitiful and
unconvincing story. The Badger’s caustic, not to say brutal, remarks may
be imagined, and therefore passed over; but it was painful to the Rat that
even the Mole, though he took his friend’s side as far as possible, could
not help saying, ‘You’ve been a bit of a duffer this time, Ratty! Toad,
too, of all animals!’



‘He did it awfully well,’ said the crestfallen Rat.



‘He did YOU awfully well!’ rejoined the Badger hotly. ‘However, talking
won’t mend matters. He’s got clear away for the time, that’s certain; and
the worst of it is, he’ll be so conceited with what he’ll think is his
cleverness that he may commit any folly. One comfort is, we’re free now,
and needn’t waste any more of our precious time doing sentry-go. But we’d
better continue to sleep at Toad Hall for a while longer. Toad may be
brought back at any moment—on a stretcher, or between two
policemen.’



So spoke the Badger, not knowing what the future held in store, or how
much water, and of how turbid a character, was to run under bridges before
Toad should sit at ease again in his ancestral Hall.



Meanwhile, Toad, gay and irresponsible, was walking briskly along the high
road, some miles from home. At first he had taken by-paths, and crossed
many fields, and changed his course several times, in case of pursuit; but
now, feeling by this time safe from recapture, and the sun smiling
brightly on him, and all Nature joining in a chorus of approval to the
song of self-praise that his own heart was singing to him, he almost
danced along the road in his satisfaction and conceit.



‘Smart piece of work that!’ he remarked to himself chuckling. ‘Brain
against brute force—and brain came out on the top—as it’s
bound to do. Poor old Ratty! My! won’t he catch it when the Badger gets
back! A worthy fellow, Ratty, with many good qualities, but very little
intelligence and absolutely no education. I must take him in hand some
day, and see if I can make something of him.’



Filled full of conceited thoughts such as these he strode along, his head
in the air, till he reached a little town, where the sign of ‘The Red
Lion,’ swinging across the road halfway down the main street, reminded him
that he had not breakfasted that day, and that he was exceedingly hungry
after his long walk. He marched into the Inn, ordered the best luncheon
that could be provided at so short a notice, and sat down to eat it in the
coffee-room.



He was about half-way through his meal when an only too familiar sound,
approaching down the street, made him start and fall a-trembling all over.
The poop-poop! drew nearer and nearer, the car could be heard to turn into
the inn-yard and come to a stop, and Toad had to hold on to the leg of the
table to conceal his over-mastering emotion. Presently the party entered
the coffee-room, hungry, talkative, and gay, voluble on their experiences
of the morning and the merits of the chariot that had brought them along
so well. Toad listened eagerly, all ears, for a time; at last he could
stand it no longer. He slipped out of the room quietly, paid his bill at
the bar, and as soon as he got outside sauntered round quietly to the
inn-yard. ‘There cannot be any harm,’ he said to himself, ‘in my only just
LOOKING at it!’



The car stood in the middle of the yard, quite unattended, the
stable-helps and other hangers-on being all at their dinner. Toad walked
slowly round it, inspecting, criticising, musing deeply.



‘I wonder,’ he said to himself presently, ‘I wonder if this sort of car
STARTS easily?’



Next moment, hardly knowing how it came about, he found he had hold of the
handle and was turning it. As the familiar sound broke forth, the old
passion seized on Toad and completely mastered him, body and soul. As if
in a dream he found himself, somehow, seated in the driver’s seat; as if
in a dream, he pulled the lever and swung the car round the yard and out
through the archway; and, as if in a dream, all sense of right and wrong,
all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended. He
increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on
the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was
Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the
traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way
or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night. He chanted as he
flew, and the car responded with sonorous drone; the miles were eaten up
under him as he sped he knew not whither, fulfilling his instincts, living
his hour, reckless of what might come to him.



* * * * * *



‘To my mind,’ observed the Chairman of the Bench of Magistrates
cheerfully, ‘the ONLY difficulty that presents itself in this otherwise
very clear case is, how we can possibly make it sufficiently hot for the
incorrigible rogue and hardened ruffian whom we see cowering in the dock
before us. Let me see: he has been found guilty, on the clearest evidence,
first, of stealing a valuable motor-car; secondly, of driving to the
public danger; and, thirdly, of gross impertinence to the rural police.
Mr. Clerk, will you tell us, please, what is the very stiffest penalty we
can impose for each of these offences? Without, of course, giving the
prisoner the benefit of any doubt, because there isn’t any.’



The Clerk scratched his nose with his pen. ‘Some people would consider,’
he observed, ‘that stealing the motor-car was the worst offence; and so it
is. But cheeking the police undoubtedly carries the severest penalty; and
so it ought. Supposing you were to say twelve months for the theft, which
is mild; and three years for the furious driving, which is lenient; and
fifteen years for the cheek, which was pretty bad sort of cheek, judging
by what we’ve heard from the witness-box, even if you only believe
one-tenth part of what you heard, and I never believe more myself—those
figures, if added together correctly, tot up to nineteen years——’



‘First-rate!’ said the Chairman.



‘—So you had better make it a round twenty years and be on the safe
side,’ concluded the Clerk.



‘An excellent suggestion!’ said the Chairman approvingly. ‘Prisoner! Pull
yourself together and try and stand up straight. It’s going to be twenty
years for you this time. And mind, if you appear before us again, upon any
charge whatever, we shall have to deal with you very seriously!’



Then the brutal minions of the law fell upon the hapless Toad; loaded him
with chains, and dragged him from the Court House, shrieking, praying,
protesting; across the marketplace, where the playful populace, always as
severe upon detected crime as they are sympathetic and helpful when one is
merely ‘wanted,’ assailed him with jeers, carrots, and popular
catch-words; past hooting school children, their innocent faces lit up
with the pleasure they ever derive from the sight of a gentleman in
difficulties; across the hollow-sounding drawbridge, below the spiky
portcullis, under the frowning archway of the grim old castle, whose
ancient towers soared high overhead; past guardrooms full of grinning
soldiery off duty, past sentries who coughed in a horrid, sarcastic way,
because that is as much as a sentry on his post dare do to show his
contempt and abhorrence of crime; up time-worn winding stairs, past
men-at-arms in casquet and corselet of steel, darting threatening looks
through their vizards; across courtyards, where mastiffs strained at their
leash and pawed the air to get at him; past ancient warders, their
halberds leant against the wall, dozing over a pasty and a flagon of brown
ale; on and on, past the rack-chamber and the thumbscrew-room, past the
turning that led to the private scaffold, till they reached the door of
the grimmest dungeon that lay in the heart of the innermost keep. There at
last they paused, where an ancient gaoler sat fingering a bunch of mighty
keys.



‘Oddsbodikins!’ said the sergeant of police, taking off his helmet and
wiping his forehead. ‘Rouse thee, old loon, and take over from us this
vile Toad, a criminal of deepest guilt and matchless artfulness and
resource. Watch and ward him with all thy skill; and mark thee well,
greybeard, should aught untoward befall, thy old head shall answer for his—and
a murrain on both of them!’



The gaoler nodded grimly, laying his withered hand on the shoulder of the
miserable Toad. The rusty key creaked in the lock, the great door clanged
behind them; and Toad was a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon of
the best-guarded keep of the stoutest castle in all the length and breadth
of Merry England.














VII. THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN



The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the
dark selvedge of the river bank. Though it was past ten o’clock at night,
the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from
the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up
and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short
midsummer night. Mole lay stretched on the bank, still panting from the
stress of the fierce day that had been cloudless from dawn to late sunset,
and waited for his friend to return. He had been on the river with some
companions, leaving the Water Rat free to keep a engagement of long
standing with Otter; and he had come back to find the house dark and
deserted, and no sign of Rat, who was doubtless keeping it up late with
his old comrade. It was still too hot to think of staying indoors, so he
lay on some cool dock-leaves, and thought over the past day and its
doings, and how very good they all had been.



The Rat’s light footfall was presently heard approaching over the parched
grass. ‘O, the blessed coolness!’ he said, and sat down, gazing
thoughtfully into the river, silent and pre-occupied.



‘You stayed to supper, of course?’ said the Mole presently.



‘Simply had to,’ said the Rat. ‘They wouldn’t hear of my going before. You
know how kind they always are. And they made things as jolly for me as
ever they could, right up to the moment I left. But I felt a brute all the
time, as it was clear to me they were very unhappy, though they tried to
hide it. Mole, I’m afraid they’re in trouble. Little Portly is missing
again; and you know what a lot his father thinks of him, though he never
says much about it.’



‘What, that child?’ said the Mole lightly. ‘Well, suppose he is; why worry
about it? He’s always straying off and getting lost, and turning up again;
he’s so adventurous. But no harm ever happens to him. Everybody hereabouts
knows him and likes him, just as they do old Otter, and you may be sure
some animal or other will come across him and bring him back again all
right. Why, we’ve found him ourselves, miles from home, and quite
self-possessed and cheerful!’



‘Yes; but this time it’s more serious,’ said the Rat gravely. ‘He’s been
missing for some days now, and the Otters have hunted everywhere, high and
low, without finding the slightest trace. And they’ve asked every animal,
too, for miles around, and no one knows anything about him. Otter’s
evidently more anxious than he’ll admit. I got out of him that young
Portly hasn’t learnt to swim very well yet, and I can see he’s thinking of
the weir. There’s a lot of water coming down still, considering the time
of the year, and the place always had a fascination for the child. And
then there are—well, traps and things—YOU know. Otter’s not
the fellow to be nervous about any son of his before it’s time. And now he
IS nervous. When I left, he came out with me—said he wanted some
air, and talked about stretching his legs. But I could see it wasn’t that,
so I drew him out and pumped him, and got it all from him at last. He was
going to spend the night watching by the ford. You know the place where
the old ford used to be, in by-gone days before they built the bridge?’



‘I know it well,’ said the Mole. ‘But why should Otter choose to watch
there?’



‘Well, it seems that it was there he gave Portly his first
swimming-lesson,’ continued the Rat. ‘From that shallow, gravelly spit
near the bank. And it was there he used to teach him fishing, and there
young Portly caught his first fish, of which he was so very proud. The
child loved the spot, and Otter thinks that if he came wandering back from
wherever he is—if he IS anywhere by this time, poor little chap—he
might make for the ford he was so fond of; or if he came across it he’d
remember it well, and stop there and play, perhaps. So Otter goes there
every night and watches—on the chance, you know, just on the
chance!’



They were silent for a time, both thinking of the same thing—the
lonely, heart-sore animal, crouched by the ford, watching and waiting, the
long night through—on the chance.



‘Well, well,’ said the Rat presently, ‘I suppose we ought to be thinking
about turning in.’ But he never offered to move.



‘Rat,’ said the Mole, ‘I simply can’t go and turn in, and go to sleep, and
DO nothing, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything to be done.
We’ll get the boat out, and paddle up stream. The moon will be up in an
hour or so, and then we will search as well as we can—anyhow, it
will be better than going to bed and doing NOTHING.’



‘Just what I was thinking myself,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s not the sort of
night for bed anyhow; and daybreak is not so very far off, and then we may
pick up some news of him from early risers as we go along.’



They got the boat out, and the Rat took the sculls, paddling with caution.
Out in midstream, there was a clear, narrow track that faintly reflected
the sky; but wherever shadows fell on the water from bank, bush, or tree,
they were as solid to all appearance as the banks themselves, and the Mole
had to steer with judgment accordingly. Dark and deserted as it was, the
night was full of small noises, song and chatter and rustling, telling of
the busy little population who were up and about, plying their trades and
vocations through the night till sunshine should fall on them at last and
send them off to their well-earned repose. The water’s own noises, too,
were more apparent than by day, its gurglings and ‘cloops’ more unexpected
and near at hand; and constantly they started at what seemed a sudden
clear call from an actual articulate voice.



The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky, and in one
particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing
phosphorescence that grew and grew. At last, over the rim of the waiting
earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of the horizon
and rode off, free of moorings; and once more they began to see surfaces—meadows
wide-spread, and quiet gardens, and the river itself from bank to bank,
all softly disclosed, all washed clean of mystery and terror, all radiant
again as by day, but with a difference that was tremendous. Their old
haunts greeted them again in other raiment, as if they had slipped away
and put on this pure new apparel and come quietly back, smiling as they
shyly waited to see if they would be recognised again under it.



Fastening their boat to a willow, the friends landed in this silent,
silver kingdom, and patiently explored the hedges, the hollow trees, the
runnels and their little culverts, the ditches and dry water-ways.
Embarking again and crossing over, they worked their way up the stream in
this manner, while the moon, serene and detached in a cloudless sky, did
what she could, though so far off, to help them in their quest; till her
hour came and she sank earthwards reluctantly, and left them, and mystery
once more held field and river.



Then a change began slowly to declare itself. The horizon became clearer,
field and tree came more into sight, and somehow with a different look;
the mystery began to drop away from them. A bird piped suddenly, and was
still; and a light breeze sprang up and set the reeds and bulrushes
rustling. Rat, who was in the stern of the boat, while Mole sculled, sat
up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with
gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks
with care, looked at him with curiosity.



‘It’s gone!’ sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. ‘So beautiful
and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had
never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and
nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on
listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!’ he cried, alert once
more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.



‘Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,’ he said presently. ‘O Mole! the
beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the
distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is
stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music
and the call must be for us.’



The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. ‘I hear nothing myself,’ he said,
‘but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.’



The Rat never answered, if indeed he heard. Rapt, transported, trembling,
he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing that caught up
his helpless soul and swung and dandled it, a powerless but happy infant
in a strong sustaining grasp.



In silence Mole rowed steadily, and soon they came to a point where the
river divided, a long backwater branching off to one side. With a slight
movement of his head Rat, who had long dropped the rudder-lines, directed
the rower to take the backwater. The creeping tide of light gained and
gained, and now they could see the colour of the flowers that gemmed the
water’s edge.



‘Clearer and nearer still,’ cried the Rat joyously. ‘Now you must surely
hear it! Ah—at last—I see you do!’



Breathless and transfixed the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of
that glad piping broke on him like a wave, caught him up, and possessed
him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade’s cheeks, and bowed his head
and understood. For a space they hung there, brushed by the purple
loose-strife that fringed the bank; then the clear imperious summons that
marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody imposed its will on
Mole, and mechanically he bent to his oars again. And the light grew
steadily stronger, but no birds sang as they were wont to do at the
approach of dawn; and but for the heavenly music all was marvellously
still.



On either side of them, as they glided onwards, the rich meadow-grass
seemed that morning of a freshness and a greenness unsurpassable. Never
had they noticed the roses so vivid, the willow-herb so riotous, the
meadow-sweet so odorous and pervading. Then the murmur of the approaching
weir began to hold the air, and they felt a consciousness that they were
nearing the end, whatever it might be, that surely awaited their
expedition.



A wide half-circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders of
green water, the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank,
troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating
foam-streaks, and deadened all other sounds with its solemn and soothing
rumble. In midmost of the stream, embraced in the weir’s shimmering
arm-spread, a small island lay anchored, fringed close with willow and
silver birch and alder. Reserved, shy, but full of significance, it hid
whatever it might hold behind a veil, keeping it till the hour should
come, and, with the hour, those who were called and chosen.



Slowly, but with no doubt or hesitation whatever, and in something of a
solemn expectancy, the two animals passed through the broken tumultuous
water and moored their boat at the flowery margin of the island. In
silence they landed, and pushed through the blossom and scented herbage
and undergrowth that led up to the level ground, till they stood on a
little lawn of a marvellous green, set round with Nature’s own
orchard-trees—crab-apple, wild cherry, and sloe.



‘This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,’
whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. ‘Here, in this holy place, here if
anywhere, surely we shall find Him!’



Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned
his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground.
It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but
it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it
could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With
difficulty he turned to look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed,
stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in
the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew
and grew.



Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the
piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and
imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him
instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept
hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that
utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness
of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked
in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the
curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose
between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while
the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling
muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand
still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips;
saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on
the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping
soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy,
childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment
breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked,
he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.



‘Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?’



‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
‘Afraid! Of HIM? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I
am afraid!’



Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did
worship.



Sudden and magnificent, the sun’s broad golden disc showed itself over the
horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level
water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When
they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was
full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.



As they stared blankly in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised
all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze,
dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the
dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces; and with its
soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the
kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed
himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful
remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and
the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little
animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and
lighthearted as before.



Mole rubbed his eyes and stared at Rat, who was looking about him in a
puzzled sort of way. ‘I beg your pardon; what did you say, Rat?’ he asked.



‘I think I was only remarking,’ said Rat slowly, ‘that this was the right
sort of place, and that here, if anywhere, we should find him. And look!
Why, there he is, the little fellow!’ And with a cry of delight he ran
towards the slumbering Portly.



But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly
from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can re-capture
nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty! Till that, too,
fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold
waking and all its penalties; so Mole, after struggling with his memory
for a brief space, shook his head sadly and followed the Rat.



Portly woke up with a joyous squeak, and wriggled with pleasure at the
sight of his father’s friends, who had played with him so often in past
days. In a moment, however, his face grew blank, and he fell to hunting
round in a circle with pleading whine. As a child that has fallen happily
asleep in its nurse’s arms, and wakes to find itself alone and laid in a
strange place, and searches corners and cupboards, and runs from room to
room, despair growing silently in its heart, even so Portly searched the
island and searched, dogged and unwearying, till at last the black moment
came for giving it up, and sitting down and crying bitterly.



The Mole ran quickly to comfort the little animal; but Rat, lingering,
looked long and doubtfully at certain hoof-marks deep in the sward.



‘Some—great—animal—has been here,’ he murmured slowly
and thoughtfully; and stood musing, musing; his mind strangely stirred.



‘Come along, Rat!’ called the Mole. ‘Think of poor Otter, waiting up there
by the ford!’



Portly had soon been comforted by the promise of a treat—a jaunt on
the river in Mr. Rat’s real boat; and the two animals conducted him to the
water’s side, placed him securely between them in the bottom of the boat,
and paddled off down the backwater. The sun was fully up by now, and hot
on them, birds sang lustily and without restraint, and flowers smiled and
nodded from either bank, but somehow—so thought the animals—with
less of richness and blaze of colour than they seemed to remember seeing
quite recently somewhere—they wondered where.



The main river reached again, they turned the boat’s head upstream,
towards the point where they knew their friend was keeping his lonely
vigil. As they drew near the familiar ford, the Mole took the boat in to
the bank, and they lifted Portly out and set him on his legs on the
tow-path, gave him his marching orders and a friendly farewell pat on the
back, and shoved out into mid-stream. They watched the little animal as he
waddled along the path contentedly and with importance; watched him till
they saw his muzzle suddenly lift and his waddle break into a clumsy amble
as he quickened his pace with shrill whines and wriggles of recognition.
Looking up the river, they could see Otter start up, tense and rigid, from
out of the shallows where he crouched in dumb patience, and could hear his
amazed and joyous bark as he bounded up through the osiers on to the path.
Then the Mole, with a strong pull on one oar, swung the boat round and let
the full stream bear them down again whither it would, their quest now
happily ended.



‘I feel strangely tired, Rat,’ said the Mole, leaning wearily over his
oars as the boat drifted. ‘It’s being up all night, you’ll say, perhaps;
but that’s nothing. We do as much half the nights of the week, at this
time of the year. No; I feel as if I had been through something very
exciting and rather terrible, and it was just over; and yet nothing
particular has happened.’



‘Or something very surprising and splendid and beautiful,’ murmured the
Rat, leaning back and closing his eyes. ‘I feel just as you do, Mole;
simply dead tired, though not body tired. It’s lucky we’ve got the stream
with us, to take us home. Isn’t it jolly to feel the sun again, soaking
into one’s bones! And hark to the wind playing in the reeds!’



‘It’s like music—far away music,’ said the Mole nodding drowsily.



‘So I was thinking,’ murmured the Rat, dreamful and languid. ‘Dance-music—the
lilting sort that runs on without a stop—but with words in it, too—it
passes into words and out of them again—I catch them at intervals—then
it is dance-music once more, and then nothing but the reeds’ soft thin
whispering.’



‘You hear better than I,’ said the Mole sadly. ‘I cannot catch the words.’



‘Let me try and give you them,’ said the Rat softly, his eyes still
closed. ‘Now it is turning into words again—faint but clear—Lest
the awe should dwell—And turn your frolic to fret—You shall
look on my power at the helping hour—But then you shall forget! Now
the reeds take it up—forget, forget, they sigh, and it dies away in
a rustle and a whisper. Then the voice returns—



‘Lest limbs be reddened and rent—I spring the trap that is set—As
I loose the snare you may glimpse me there—For surely you shall
forget! Row nearer, Mole, nearer to the reeds! It is hard to catch, and
grows each minute fainter.



‘Helper and healer, I cheer—Small waifs in the woodland wet—Strays
I find in it, wounds I bind in it—Bidding them all forget! Nearer,
Mole, nearer! No, it is no good; the song has died away into reed-talk.’



‘But what do the words mean?’ asked the wondering Mole.



‘That I do not know,’ said the Rat simply. ‘I passed them on to you as
they reached me. Ah! now they return again, and this time full and clear!
This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple—passionate—perfect——’



‘Well, let’s have it, then,’ said the Mole, after he had waited patiently
for a few minutes, half-dozing in the hot sun.



But no answer came. He looked, and understood the silence. With a smile of
much happiness on his face, and something of a listening look still
lingering there, the weary Rat was fast asleep.














VIII. TOAD’S ADVENTURES



When Toad found himself immured in a dank and noisome dungeon, and knew
that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him and the
outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high roads where he had lately
been so happy, disporting himself as if he had bought up every road in
England, he flung himself at full length on the floor, and shed bitter
tears, and abandoned himself to dark despair. ‘This is the end of
everything’ (he said), ‘at least it is the end of the career of Toad,
which is the same thing; the popular and handsome Toad, the rich and
hospitable Toad, the Toad so free and careless and debonair! How can I
hope to be ever set at large again’ (he said), ‘who have been imprisoned
so justly for stealing so handsome a motor-car in such an audacious
manner, and for such lurid and imaginative cheek, bestowed upon such a
number of fat, red-faced policemen!’ (Here his sobs choked him.) ‘Stupid
animal that I was’ (he said), ‘now I must languish in this dungeon, till
people who were proud to say they knew me, have forgotten the very name of
Toad! O wise old Badger!’ (he said), ‘O clever, intelligent Rat and
sensible Mole! What sound judgments, what a knowledge of men and matters
you possess! O unhappy and forsaken Toad!’ With lamentations such as these
he passed his days and nights for several weeks, refusing his meals or
intermediate light refreshments, though the grim and ancient gaoler,
knowing that Toad’s pockets were well lined, frequently pointed out that
many comforts, and indeed luxuries, could by arrangement be sent in—at
a price—from outside.



Now the gaoler had a daughter, a pleasant wench and good-hearted, who
assisted her father in the lighter duties of his post. She was
particularly fond of animals, and, besides her canary, whose cage hung on
a nail in the massive wall of the keep by day, to the great annoyance of
prisoners who relished an after-dinner nap, and was shrouded in an
antimacassar on the parlour table at night, she kept several piebald mice
and a restless revolving squirrel. This kind-hearted girl, pitying the
misery of Toad, said to her father one day, ‘Father! I can’t bear to see
that poor beast so unhappy, and getting so thin! You let me have the
managing of him. You know how fond of animals I am. I’ll make him eat from
my hand, and sit up, and do all sorts of things.’



Her father replied that she could do what she liked with him. He was tired
of Toad, and his sulks and his airs and his meanness. So that day she went
on her errand of mercy, and knocked at the door of Toad’s cell.



‘Now, cheer up, Toad,’ she said, coaxingly, on entering, ‘and sit up and
dry your eyes and be a sensible animal. And do try and eat a bit of
dinner. See, I’ve brought you some of mine, hot from the oven!’



It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the
narrow cell. The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as
he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the idea for a
moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he
had imagined. But still he wailed, and kicked with his legs, and refused
to be comforted. So the wise girl retired for the time, but, of course, a
good deal of the smell of hot cabbage remained behind, as it will do, and
Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to
think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry, and poetry, and deeds still
to be done; of broad meadows, and cattle browsing in them, raked by sun
and wind; of kitchen-gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm
snap-dragon beset by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down
on the table at Toad Hall, and the scrape of chair-legs on the floor as
every one pulled himself close up to his work. The air of the narrow cell
took a rosy tinge; he began to think of his friends, and how they would
surely be able to do something; of lawyers, and how they would have
enjoyed his case, and what an ass he had been not to get in a few; and
lastly, he thought of his own great cleverness and resource, and all that
he was capable of if he only gave his great mind to it; and the cure was
almost complete.



When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup
of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot
buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter
running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the
honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and
with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright
frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s
ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the
purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries. Toad sat up
on end once more, dried his eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast,
and soon began talking freely about himself, and the house he lived in,
and his doings there, and how important he was, and what a lot his friends
thought of him.



The gaoler’s daughter saw that the topic was doing him as much good as the
tea, as indeed it was, and encouraged him to go on.



‘Tell me about Toad Hall,’ said she. ‘It sounds beautiful.’



‘Toad Hall,’ said the Toad proudly, ‘is an eligible self-contained
gentleman’s residence very unique; dating in part from the fourteenth
century, but replete with every modern convenience. Up-to-date sanitation.
Five minutes from church, post-office, and golf-links, Suitable for——’



‘Bless the animal,’ said the girl, laughing, ‘I don’t want to TAKE it.
Tell me something REAL about it. But first wait till I fetch you some more
tea and toast.’



She tripped away, and presently returned with a fresh trayful; and Toad,
pitching into the toast with avidity, his spirits quite restored to their
usual level, told her about the boathouse, and the fish-pond, and the old
walled kitchen-garden; and about the pig-styes, and the stables, and the
pigeon-house, and the hen-house; and about the dairy, and the wash-house,
and the china-cupboards, and the linen-presses (she liked that bit
especially); and about the banqueting-hall, and the fun they had there
when the other animals were gathered round the table and Toad was at his
best, singing songs, telling stories, carrying on generally. Then she
wanted to know about his animal-friends, and was very interested in all he
had to tell her about them and how they lived, and what they did to pass
their time. Of course, she did not say she was fond of animals as PETS,
because she had the sense to see that Toad would be extremely offended.
When she said good night, having filled his water-jug and shaken up his
straw for him, Toad was very much the same sanguine, self-satisfied animal
that he had been of old. He sang a little song or two, of the sort he used
to sing at his dinner-parties, curled himself up in the straw, and had an
excellent night’s rest and the pleasantest of dreams.



They had many interesting talks together, after that, as the dreary days
went on; and the gaoler’s daughter grew very sorry for Toad, and thought
it a great shame that a poor little animal should be locked up in prison
for what seemed to her a very trivial offence. Toad, of course, in his
vanity, thought that her interest in him proceeded from a growing
tenderness; and he could not help half-regretting that the social gulf
between them was so very wide, for she was a comely lass, and evidently
admired him very much.



One morning the girl was very thoughtful, and answered at random, and did
not seem to Toad to be paying proper attention to his witty sayings and
sparkling comments.



‘Toad,’ she said presently, ‘just listen, please. I have an aunt who is a
washerwoman.’



‘There, there,’ said Toad, graciously and affably, ‘never mind; think no
more about it. I have several aunts who OUGHT to be washerwomen.’



‘Do be quiet a minute, Toad,’ said the girl. ‘You talk too much, that’s
your chief fault, and I’m trying to think, and you hurt my head. As I
said, I have an aunt who is a washerwoman; she does the washing for all
the prisoners in this castle—we try to keep any paying business of
that sort in the family, you understand. She takes out the washing on
Monday morning, and brings it in on Friday evening. This is a Thursday.
Now, this is what occurs to me: you’re very rich—at least you’re
always telling me so—and she’s very poor. A few pounds wouldn’t make
any difference to you, and it would mean a lot to her. Now, I think if she
were properly approached—squared, I believe is the word you animals
use—you could come to some arrangement by which she would let you
have her dress and bonnet and so on, and you could escape from the castle
as the official washerwoman. You’re very alike in many respects—particularly
about the figure.’



‘We’re NOT,’ said the Toad in a huff. ‘I have a very elegant figure—for
what I am.’



‘So has my aunt,’ replied the girl, ‘for what SHE is. But have it your own
way. You horrid, proud, ungrateful animal, when I’m sorry for you, and
trying to help you!’



‘Yes, yes, that’s all right; thank you very much indeed,’ said the Toad
hurriedly. ‘But look here! you wouldn’t surely have Mr. Toad of Toad Hall,
going about the country disguised as a washerwoman!’



‘Then you can stop here as a Toad,’ replied the girl with much spirit. ‘I
suppose you want to go off in a coach-and-four!’



Honest Toad was always ready to admit himself in the wrong. ‘You are a
good, kind, clever girl,’ he said, ‘and I am indeed a proud and a stupid
toad. Introduce me to your worthy aunt, if you will be so kind, and I have
no doubt that the excellent lady and I will be able to arrange terms
satisfactory to both parties.’



Next evening the girl ushered her aunt into Toad’s cell, bearing his
week’s washing pinned up in a towel. The old lady had been prepared
beforehand for the interview, and the sight of certain gold sovereigns
that Toad had thoughtfully placed on the table in full view practically
completed the matter and left little further to discuss. In return for his
cash, Toad received a cotton print gown, an apron, a shawl, and a rusty
black bonnet; the only stipulation the old lady made being that she should
be gagged and bound and dumped down in a corner. By this not very
convincing artifice, she explained, aided by picturesque fiction which she
could supply herself, she hoped to retain her situation, in spite of the
suspicious appearance of things.



Toad was delighted with the suggestion. It would enable him to leave the
prison in some style, and with his reputation for being a desperate and
dangerous fellow untarnished; and he readily helped the gaoler’s daughter
to make her aunt appear as much as possible the victim of circumstances
over which she had no control.



‘Now it’s your turn, Toad,’ said the girl. ‘Take off that coat and
waistcoat of yours; you’re fat enough as it is.’



Shaking with laughter, she proceeded to ‘hook-and-eye’ him into the cotton
print gown, arranged the shawl with a professional fold, and tied the
strings of the rusty bonnet under his chin.



‘You’re the very image of her,’ she giggled, ‘only I’m sure you never
looked half so respectable in all your life before. Now, good-bye, Toad,
and good luck. Go straight down the way you came up; and if any one says
anything to you, as they probably will, being but men, you can chaff back
a bit, of course, but remember you’re a widow woman, quite alone in the
world, with a character to lose.’



With a quaking heart, but as firm a footstep as he could command, Toad set
forth cautiously on what seemed to be a most hare-brained and hazardous
undertaking; but he was soon agreeably surprised to find how easy
everything was made for him, and a little humbled at the thought that both
his popularity, and the sex that seemed to inspire it, were really
another’s. The washerwoman’s squat figure in its familiar cotton print
seemed a passport for every barred door and grim gateway; even when he
hesitated, uncertain as to the right turning to take, he found himself
helped out of his difficulty by the warder at the next gate, anxious to be
off to his tea, summoning him to come along sharp and not keep him waiting
there all night. The chaff and the humourous sallies to which he was
subjected, and to which, of course, he had to provide prompt and effective
reply, formed, indeed, his chief danger; for Toad was an animal with a
strong sense of his own dignity, and the chaff was mostly (he thought)
poor and clumsy, and the humour of the sallies entirely lacking. However,
he kept his temper, though with great difficulty, suited his retorts to
his company and his supposed character, and did his best not to overstep
the limits of good taste.



It seemed hours before he crossed the last courtyard, rejected the
pressing invitations from the last guardroom, and dodged the outspread
arms of the last warder, pleading with simulated passion for just one
farewell embrace. But at last he heard the wicket-gate in the great outer
door click behind him, felt the fresh air of the outer world upon his
anxious brow, and knew that he was free!



Dizzy with the easy success of his daring exploit, he walked quickly
towards the lights of the town, not knowing in the least what he should do
next, only quite certain of one thing, that he must remove himself as
quickly as possible from the neighbourhood where the lady he was forced to
represent was so well-known and so popular a character.



As he walked along, considering, his attention was caught by some red and
green lights a little way off, to one side of the town, and the sound of
the puffing and snorting of engines and the banging of shunted trucks fell
on his ear. ‘Aha!’ he thought, ‘this is a piece of luck! A railway station
is the thing I want most in the whole world at this moment; and what’s
more, I needn’t go through the town to get it, and shan’t have to support
this humiliating character by repartees which, though thoroughly
effective, do not assist one’s sense of self-respect.’



He made his way to the station accordingly, consulted a time-table, and
found that a train, bound more or less in the direction of his home, was
due to start in half-an-hour. ‘More luck!’ said Toad, his spirits rising
rapidly, and went off to the booking-office to buy his ticket.



He gave the name of the station that he knew to be nearest to the village
of which Toad Hall was the principal feature, and mechanically put his
fingers, in search of the necessary money, where his waistcoat pocket
should have been. But here the cotton gown, which had nobly stood by him
so far, and which he had basely forgotten, intervened, and frustrated his
efforts. In a sort of nightmare he struggled with the strange uncanny
thing that seemed to hold his hands, turn all muscular strivings to water,
and laugh at him all the time; while other travellers, forming up in a
line behind, waited with impatience, making suggestions of more or less
value and comments of more or less stringency and point. At last—somehow—he
never rightly understood how—he burst the barriers, attained the
goal, arrived at where all waistcoat pockets are eternally situated, and
found—not only no money, but no pocket to hold it, and no waistcoat
to hold the pocket!



To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat
behind him in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys, watch,
matches, pencil-case—all that makes life worth living, all that
distinguishes the many-pocketed animal, the lord of creation, from the
inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or trip about
permissively, unequipped for the real contest.



In his misery he made one desperate effort to carry the thing off, and,
with a return to his fine old manner—a blend of the Squire and the
College Don—he said, ‘Look here! I find I’ve left my purse behind.
Just give me that ticket, will you, and I’ll send the money on to-morrow?
I’m well-known in these parts.’



The clerk stared at him and the rusty black bonnet a moment, and then
laughed. ‘I should think you were pretty well known in these parts,’ he
said, ‘if you’ve tried this game on often. Here, stand away from the
window, please, madam; you’re obstructing the other passengers!’



An old gentleman who had been prodding him in the back for some moments
here thrust him away, and, what was worse, addressed him as his good
woman, which angered Toad more than anything that had occurred that
evening.



Baffled and full of despair, he wandered blindly down the platform where
the train was standing, and tears trickled down each side of his nose. It
was hard, he thought, to be within sight of safety and almost of home, and
to be baulked by the want of a few wretched shillings and by the
pettifogging mistrustfulness of paid officials. Very soon his escape would
be discovered, the hunt would be up, he would be caught, reviled, loaded
with chains, dragged back again to prison and bread-and-water and straw;
his guards and penalties would be doubled; and O, what sarcastic remarks
the girl would make! What was to be done? He was not swift of foot; his
figure was unfortunately recognisable. Could he not squeeze under the seat
of a carriage? He had seen this method adopted by schoolboys, when the
journey-money provided by thoughtful parents had been diverted to other
and better ends. As he pondered, he found himself opposite the engine,
which was being oiled, wiped, and generally caressed by its affectionate
driver, a burly man with an oil-can in one hand and a lump of cotton-waste
in the other.



‘Hullo, mother!’ said the engine-driver, ‘what’s the trouble? You don’t
look particularly cheerful.’



‘O, sir!’ said Toad, crying afresh, ‘I am a poor unhappy washerwoman, and
I’ve lost all my money, and can’t pay for a ticket, and I must get home
to-night somehow, and whatever I am to do I don’t know. O dear, O dear!’



‘That’s a bad business, indeed,’ said the engine-driver reflectively.
‘Lost your money—and can’t get home—and got some kids, too,
waiting for you, I dare say?’



‘Any amount of ‘em,’ sobbed Toad. ‘And they’ll be hungry—and playing
with matches—and upsetting lamps, the little innocents!—and
quarrelling, and going on generally. O dear, O dear!’



‘Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ said the good engine-driver. ‘You’re a
washerwoman to your trade, says you. Very well, that’s that. And I’m an
engine-driver, as you well may see, and there’s no denying it’s terribly
dirty work. Uses up a power of shirts, it does, till my missus is fair
tired of washing of ‘em. If you’ll wash a few shirts for me when you get
home, and send ‘em along, I’ll give you a ride on my engine. It’s against
the Company’s regulations, but we’re not so very particular in these
out-of-the-way parts.’



The Toad’s misery turned into rapture as he eagerly scrambled up into the
cab of the engine. Of course, he had never washed a shirt in his life, and
couldn’t if he tried and, anyhow, he wasn’t going to begin; but he
thought: ‘When I get safely home to Toad Hall, and have money again, and
pockets to put it in, I will send the engine-driver enough to pay for
quite a quantity of washing, and that will be the same thing, or better.’



The guard waved his welcome flag, the engine-driver whistled in cheerful
response, and the train moved out of the station. As the speed increased,
and the Toad could see on either side of him real fields, and trees, and
hedges, and cows, and horses, all flying past him, and as he thought how
every minute was bringing him nearer to Toad Hall, and sympathetic
friends, and money to chink in his pocket, and a soft bed to sleep in, and
good things to eat, and praise and admiration at the recital of his
adventures and his surpassing cleverness, he began to skip up and down and
shout and sing snatches of song, to the great astonishment of the
engine-driver, who had come across washerwomen before, at long intervals,
but never one at all like this.



They had covered many and many a mile, and Toad was already considering
what he would have for supper as soon as he got home, when he noticed that
the engine-driver, with a puzzled expression on his face, was leaning over
the side of the engine and listening hard. Then he saw him climb on to the
coals and gaze out over the top of the train; then he returned and said to
Toad: ‘It’s very strange; we’re the last train running in this direction
to-night, yet I could be sworn that I heard another following us!’



Toad ceased his frivolous antics at once. He became grave and depressed,
and a dull pain in the lower part of his spine, communicating itself to
his legs, made him want to sit down and try desperately not to think of
all the possibilities.



By this time the moon was shining brightly, and the engine-driver,
steadying himself on the coal, could command a view of the line behind
them for a long distance.



Presently he called out, ‘I can see it clearly now! It is an engine, on
our rails, coming along at a great pace! It looks as if we were being
pursued!’



The miserable Toad, crouching in the coal-dust, tried hard to think of
something to do, with dismal want of success.



‘They are gaining on us fast!’ cried the engine-driver. And the engine is
crowded with the queerest lot of people! Men like ancient warders, waving
halberds; policemen in their helmets, waving truncheons; and shabbily
dressed men in pot-hats, obvious and unmistakable plain-clothes detectives
even at this distance, waving revolvers and walking-sticks; all waving,
and all shouting the same thing—“Stop, stop, stop!”’



Then Toad fell on his knees among the coals and, raising his clasped paws
in supplication, cried, ‘Save me, only save me, dear kind Mr.
Engine-driver, and I will confess everything! I am not the simple
washerwoman I seem to be! I have no children waiting for me, innocent or
otherwise! I am a toad—the well-known and popular Mr. Toad, a landed
proprietor; I have just escaped, by my great daring and cleverness, from a
loathsome dungeon into which my enemies had flung me; and if those fellows
on that engine recapture me, it will be chains and bread-and-water and
straw and misery once more for poor, unhappy, innocent Toad!’



The engine-driver looked down upon him very sternly, and said, ‘Now tell
the truth; what were you put in prison for?’



‘It was nothing very much,’ said poor Toad, colouring deeply. ‘I only
borrowed a motorcar while the owners were at lunch; they had no need of it
at the time. I didn’t mean to steal it, really; but people—especially
magistrates—take such harsh views of thoughtless and high-spirited
actions.’



The engine-driver looked very grave and said, ‘I fear that you have been
indeed a wicked toad, and by rights I ought to give you up to offended
justice. But you are evidently in sore trouble and distress, so I will not
desert you. I don’t hold with motor-cars, for one thing; and I don’t hold
with being ordered about by policemen when I’m on my own engine, for
another. And the sight of an animal in tears always makes me feel queer
and softhearted. So cheer up, Toad! I’ll do my best, and we may beat them
yet!’



They piled on more coals, shovelling furiously; the furnace roared, the
sparks flew, the engine leapt and swung but still their pursuers slowly
gained. The engine-driver, with a sigh, wiped his brow with a handful of
cotton-waste, and said, ‘I’m afraid it’s no good, Toad. You see, they are
running light, and they have the better engine. There’s just one thing
left for us to do, and it’s your only chance, so attend very carefully to
what I tell you. A short way ahead of us is a long tunnel, and on the
other side of that the line passes through a thick wood. Now, I will put
on all the speed I can while we are running through the tunnel, but the
other fellows will slow down a bit, naturally, for fear of an accident.
When we are through, I will shut off steam and put on brakes as hard as I
can, and the moment it’s safe to do so you must jump and hide in the wood,
before they get through the tunnel and see you. Then I will go full speed
ahead again, and they can chase me if they like, for as long as they like,
and as far as they like. Now mind and be ready to jump when I tell you!’



They piled on more coals, and the train shot into the tunnel, and the
engine rushed and roared and rattled, till at last they shot out at the
other end into fresh air and the peaceful moonlight, and saw the wood
lying dark and helpful upon either side of the line. The driver shut off
steam and put on brakes, the Toad got down on the step, and as the train
slowed down to almost a walking pace he heard the driver call out, ‘Now,
jump!’



Toad jumped, rolled down a short embankment, picked himself up unhurt,
scrambled into the wood and hid.



Peeping out, he saw his train get up speed again and disappear at a great
pace. Then out of the tunnel burst the pursuing engine, roaring and
whistling, her motley crew waving their various weapons and shouting,
‘Stop! stop! stop!’ When they were past, the Toad had a hearty laugh—for
the first time since he was thrown into prison.



But he soon stopped laughing when he came to consider that it was now very
late and dark and cold, and he was in an unknown wood, with no money and
no chance of supper, and still far from friends and home; and the dead
silence of everything, after the roar and rattle of the train, was
something of a shock. He dared not leave the shelter of the trees, so he
struck into the wood, with the idea of leaving the railway as far as
possible behind him.



After so many weeks within walls, he found the wood strange and unfriendly
and inclined, he thought, to make fun of him. Night-jars, sounding their
mechanical rattle, made him think that the wood was full of searching
warders, closing in on him. An owl, swooping noiselessly towards him,
brushed his shoulder with its wing, making him jump with the horrid
certainty that it was a hand; then flitted off, moth-like, laughing its
low ho! ho! ho; which Toad thought in very poor taste. Once he met a fox,
who stopped, looked him up and down in a sarcastic sort of way, and said,
‘Hullo, washerwoman! Half a pair of socks and a pillow-case short this
week! Mind it doesn’t occur again!’ and swaggered off, sniggering. Toad
looked about for a stone to throw at him, but could not succeed in finding
one, which vexed him more than anything. At last, cold, hungry, and tired
out, he sought the shelter of a hollow tree, where with branches and dead
leaves he made himself as comfortable a bed as he could, and slept soundly
till the morning.














IX. WAYFARERS ALL



The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all
appearance the summer’s pomp was still at fullest height, and although in
the tilled acres green had given way to gold, though rowans were
reddening, and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny
fierceness, yet light and warmth and colour were still present in
undiminished measure, clean of any chilly premonitions of the passing
year. But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a
casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers; the robin was
beginning to assert himself once more; and there was a feeling in the air
of change and departure. The cuckoo, of course, had long been silent; but
many another feathered friend, for months a part of the familiar landscape
and its small society, was missing too and it seemed that the ranks
thinned steadily day by day. Rat, ever observant of all winged movement,
saw that it was taking daily a southing tendency; and even as he lay in
bed at night he thought he could make out, passing in the darkness
overhead, the beat and quiver of impatient pinions, obedient to the
peremptory call.



Nature’s Grand Hotel has its Season, like the others. As the guests one by
one pack, pay, and depart, and the seats at the table-d’hote shrink
pitifully at each succeeding meal; as suites of rooms are closed, carpets
taken up, and waiters sent away; those boarders who are staying on, en
pension, until the next year’s full re-opening, cannot help being somewhat
affected by all these flittings and farewells, this eager discussion of
plans, routes, and fresh quarters, this daily shrinkage in the stream of
comradeship. One gets unsettled, depressed, and inclined to be querulous.
Why this craving for change? Why not stay on quietly here, like us, and be
jolly? You don’t know this hotel out of the season, and what fun we have
among ourselves, we fellows who remain and see the whole interesting year
out. All very true, no doubt the others always reply; we quite envy you—and
some other year perhaps—but just now we have engagements—and
there’s the bus at the door—our time is up! So they depart, with a
smile and a nod, and we miss them, and feel resentful. The Rat was a
self-sufficing sort of animal, rooted to the land, and, whoever went, he
stayed; still, he could not help noticing what was in the air, and feeling
some of its influence in his bones.



It was difficult to settle down to anything seriously, with all this
flitting going on. Leaving the water-side, where rushes stood thick and
tall in a stream that was becoming sluggish and low, he wandered
country-wards, crossed a field or two of pasturage already looking dusty
and parched, and thrust into the great sea of wheat, yellow, wavy, and
murmurous, full of quiet motion and small whisperings. Here he often loved
to wander, through the forest of stiff strong stalks that carried their
own golden sky away over his head—a sky that was always dancing,
shimmering, softly talking; or swaying strongly to the passing wind and
recovering itself with a toss and a merry laugh. Here, too, he had many
small friends, a society complete in itself, leading full and busy lives,
but always with a spare moment to gossip, and exchange news with a
visitor. Today, however, though they were civil enough, the field-mice and
harvest-mice seemed preoccupied. Many were digging and tunnelling busily;
others, gathered together in small groups, examined plans and drawings of
small flats, stated to be desirable and compact, and situated conveniently
near the Stores. Some were hauling out dusty trunks and dress-baskets,
others were already elbow-deep packing their belongings; while everywhere
piles and bundles of wheat, oats, barley, beech-mast and nuts, lay about
ready for transport.



‘Here’s old Ratty!’ they cried as soon as they saw him. ‘Come and bear a
hand, Rat, and don’t stand about idle!’



‘What sort of games are you up to?’ said the Water Rat severely. ‘You know
it isn’t time to be thinking of winter quarters yet, by a long way!’



‘O yes, we know that,’ explained a field-mouse rather shamefacedly; ‘but
it’s always as well to be in good time, isn’t it? We really MUST get all
the furniture and baggage and stores moved out of this before those horrid
machines begin clicking round the fields; and then, you know, the best
flats get picked up so quickly nowadays, and if you’re late you have to
put up with ANYTHING; and they want such a lot of doing up, too, before
they’re fit to move into. Of course, we’re early, we know that; but we’re
only just making a start.’



‘O, bother STARTS,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s a splendid day. Come for a row, or
a stroll along the hedges, or a picnic in the woods, or something.’



‘Well, I THINK not TO-DAY, thank you,’ replied the field-mouse hurriedly.
‘Perhaps some OTHER day—when we’ve more TIME——’



The Rat, with a snort of contempt, swung round to go, tripped over a
hat-box, and fell, with undignified remarks.



‘If people would be more careful,’ said a field-mouse rather stiffly, ‘and
look where they’re going, people wouldn’t hurt themselves—and forget
themselves. Mind that hold-all, Rat! You’d better sit down somewhere. In
an hour or two we may be more free to attend to you.’



‘You won’t be “free” as you call it much this side of Christmas, I can see
that,’ retorted the Rat grumpily, as he picked his way out of the field.



He returned somewhat despondently to his river again—his faithful,
steady-going old river, which never packed up, flitted, or went into
winter quarters.



In the osiers which fringed the bank he spied a swallow sitting. Presently
it was joined by another, and then by a third; and the birds, fidgeting
restlessly on their bough, talked together earnestly and low.



‘What, ALREADY,’ said the Rat, strolling up to them. ‘What’s the hurry? I
call it simply ridiculous.’



‘O, we’re not off yet, if that’s what you mean,’ replied the first
swallow. ‘We’re only making plans and arranging things. Talking it over,
you know—what route we’re taking this year, and where we’ll stop,
and so on. That’s half the fun!’



‘Fun?’ said the Rat; ‘now that’s just what I don’t understand. If you’ve
GOT to leave this pleasant place, and your friends who will miss you, and
your snug homes that you’ve just settled into, why, when the hour strikes
I’ve no doubt you’ll go bravely, and face all the trouble and discomfort
and change and newness, and make believe that you’re not very unhappy. But
to want to talk about it, or even think about it, till you really need——’



‘No, you don’t understand, naturally,’ said the second swallow. ‘First, we
feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come the
recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter through our
dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day.
We hunger to inquire of each other, to compare notes and assure ourselves
that it was all really true, as one by one the scents and sounds and names
of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us.’



‘Couldn’t you stop on for just this year?’ suggested the Water Rat,
wistfully. ‘We’ll all do our best to make you feel at home. You’ve no idea
what good times we have here, while you are far away.’



‘I tried “stopping on” one year,’ said the third swallow. ‘I had grown so
fond of the place that when the time came I hung back and let the others
go on without me. For a few weeks it was all well enough, but afterwards,
O the weary length of the nights! The shivering, sunless days! The air so
clammy and chill, and not an insect in an acre of it! No, it was no good;
my courage broke down, and one cold, stormy night I took wing, flying well
inland on account of the strong easterly gales. It was snowing hard as I
beat through the passes of the great mountains, and I had a stiff fight to
win through; but never shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun
again on my back as I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid
below me, and the taste of my first fat insect! The past was like a bad
dream; the future was all happy holiday as I moved southwards week by
week, easily, lazily, lingering as long as I dared, but always heeding the
call! No, I had had my warning; never again did I think of disobedience.’



‘Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!’ twittered the other two
dreamily. ‘Its songs its hues, its radiant air! O, do you remember——’
and, forgetting the Rat, they slid into passionate reminiscence, while he
listened fascinated, and his heart burned within him. In himself, too, he
knew that it was vibrating at last, that chord hitherto dormant and
unsuspected. The mere chatter of these southern-bound birds, their pale
and second-hand reports, had yet power to awaken this wild new sensation
and thrill him through and through with it; what would one moment of the
real thing work in him—one passionate touch of the real southern
sun, one waft of the authentic odor? With closed eyes he dared to dream a
moment in full abandonment, and when he looked again the river seemed
steely and chill, the green fields grey and lightless. Then his loyal
heart seemed to cry out on his weaker self for its treachery.



‘Why do you ever come back, then, at all?’ he demanded of the swallows
jealously. ‘What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little
country?’



‘And do you think,’ said the first swallow, ‘that the other call is not
for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wet
orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of haymaking,
and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect
Eaves?’



‘Do you suppose,’ asked the second one, that you are the only living thing
that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo’s note again?’



‘In due time,’ said the third, ‘we shall be home-sick once more for quiet
water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. But to-day all
that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our blood dances to
other music.’



They fell a-twittering among themselves once more, and this time their
intoxicating babble was of violet seas, tawny sands, and lizard-haunted
walls.



Restlessly the Rat wandered off once more, climbed the slope that rose
gently from the north bank of the river, and lay looking out towards the
great ring of Downs that barred his vision further southwards—his
simple horizon hitherto, his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind which
lay nothing he had cared to see or to know. To-day, to him gazing South
with a new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long
low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; to-day, the unseen was
everything, the unknown the only real fact of life. On this side of the
hills was now the real blank, on the other lay the crowded and coloured
panorama that his inner eye was seeing so clearly. What seas lay beyond,
green, leaping, and crested! What sun-bathed coasts, along which the white
villas glittered against the olive woods! What quiet harbours, thronged
with gallant shipping bound for purple islands of wine and spice, islands
set low in languorous waters!



He rose and descended river-wards once more; then changed his mind and
sought the side of the dusty lane. There, lying half-buried in the thick,
cool under-hedge tangle that bordered it, he could muse on the metalled
road and all the wondrous world that it led to; on all the wayfarers, too,
that might have trodden it, and the fortunes and adventures they had gone
to seek or found unseeking—out there, beyond—beyond!



Footsteps fell on his ear, and the figure of one that walked somewhat
wearily came into view; and he saw that it was a Rat, and a very dusty
one. The wayfarer, as he reached him, saluted with a gesture of courtesy
that had something foreign about it—hesitated a moment—then
with a pleasant smile turned from the track and sat down by his side in
the cool herbage. He seemed tired, and the Rat let him rest unquestioned,
understanding something of what was in his thoughts; knowing, too, the
value all animals attach at times to mere silent companionship, when the
weary muscles slacken and the mind marks time.



The wayfarer was lean and keen-featured, and somewhat bowed at the
shoulders; his paws were thin and long, his eyes much wrinkled at the
corners, and he wore small gold ear rings in his neatly-set well-shaped
ears. His knitted jersey was of a faded blue, his breeches, patched and
stained, were based on a blue foundation, and his small belongings that he
carried were tied up in a blue cotton handkerchief.



When he had rested awhile the stranger sighed, snuffed the air, and looked
about him.



‘That was clover, that warm whiff on the breeze,’ he remarked; ‘and those
are cows we hear cropping the grass behind us and blowing softly between
mouthfuls. There is a sound of distant reapers, and yonder rises a blue
line of cottage smoke against the woodland. The river runs somewhere close
by, for I hear the call of a moorhen, and I see by your build that you’re
a freshwater mariner. Everything seems asleep, and yet going on all the
time. It is a goodly life that you lead, friend; no doubt the best in the
world, if only you are strong enough to lead it!’



‘Yes, it’s THE life, the only life, to live,’ responded the Water Rat
dreamily, and without his usual whole-hearted conviction.



‘I did not say exactly that,’ replied the stranger cautiously; ‘but no
doubt it’s the best. I’ve tried it, and I know. And because I’ve just
tried it—six months of it—and know it’s the best, here am I,
footsore and hungry, tramping away from it, tramping southward, following
the old call, back to the old life, THE life which is mine and which will
not let me go.’



‘Is this, then, yet another of them?’ mused the Rat. ‘And where have you
just come from?’ he asked. He hardly dared to ask where he was bound for;
he seemed to know the answer only too well.



‘Nice little farm,’ replied the wayfarer, briefly. ‘Upalong in that
direction’—he nodded northwards. ‘Never mind about it. I had
everything I could want—everything I had any right to expect of
life, and more; and here I am! Glad to be here all the same, though, glad
to be here! So many miles further on the road, so many hours nearer to my
heart’s desire!’



His shining eyes held fast to the horizon, and he seemed to be listening
for some sound that was wanting from that inland acreage, vocal as it was
with the cheerful music of pasturage and farmyard.



‘You are not one of US,’ said the Water Rat, ‘nor yet a farmer; nor even,
I should judge, of this country.’



‘Right,’ replied the stranger. ‘I’m a seafaring rat, I am, and the port I
originally hail from is Constantinople, though I’m a sort of a foreigner
there too, in a manner of speaking. You will have heard of Constantinople,
friend? A fair city, and an ancient and glorious one. And you may have
heard, too, of Sigurd, King of Norway, and how he sailed thither with
sixty ships, and how he and his men rode up through streets all canopied
in their honour with purple and gold; and how the Emperor and Empress came
down and banqueted with him on board his ship. When Sigurd returned home,
many of his Northmen remained behind and entered the Emperor’s body-guard,
and my ancestor, a Norwegian born, stayed behind too, with the ships that
Sigurd gave the Emperor. Seafarers we have ever been, and no wonder; as
for me, the city of my birth is no more my home than any pleasant port
between there and the London River. I know them all, and they know me. Set
me down on any of their quays or foreshores, and I am home again.’



‘I suppose you go great voyages,’ said the Water Rat with growing
interest. ‘Months and months out of sight of land, and provisions running
short, and allowanced as to water, and your mind communing with the mighty
ocean, and all that sort of thing?’



‘By no means,’ said the Sea Rat frankly. ‘Such a life as you describe
would not suit me at all. I’m in the coasting trade, and rarely out of
sight of land. It’s the jolly times on shore that appeal to me, as much as
any seafaring. O, those southern seaports! The smell of them, the
riding-lights at night, the glamour!’



‘Well, perhaps you have chosen the better way,’ said the Water Rat, but
rather doubtfully. ‘Tell me something of your coasting, then, if you have
a mind to, and what sort of harvest an animal of spirit might hope to
bring home from it to warm his latter days with gallant memories by the
fireside; for my life, I confess to you, feels to me to-day somewhat
narrow and circumscribed.’



‘My last voyage,’ began the Sea Rat, ‘that landed me eventually in this
country, bound with high hopes for my inland farm, will serve as a good
example of any of them, and, indeed, as an epitome of my highly-coloured
life. Family troubles, as usual, began it. The domestic storm-cone was
hoisted, and I shipped myself on board a small trading vessel bound from
Constantinople, by classic seas whose every wave throbs with a deathless
memory, to the Grecian Islands and the Levant. Those were golden days and
balmy nights! In and out of harbour all the time—old friends
everywhere—sleeping in some cool temple or ruined cistern during the
heat of the day—feasting and song after sundown, under great stars
set in a velvet sky! Thence we turned and coasted up the Adriatic, its
shores swimming in an atmosphere of amber, rose, and aquamarine; we lay in
wide land-locked harbours, we roamed through ancient and noble cities,
until at last one morning, as the sun rose royally behind us, we rode into
Venice down a path of gold. O, Venice is a fine city, wherein a rat can
wander at his ease and take his pleasure! Or, when weary of wandering, can
sit at the edge of the Grand Canal at night, feasting with his friends,
when the air is full of music and the sky full of stars, and the lights
flash and shimmer on the polished steel prows of the swaying gondolas,
packed so that you could walk across the canal on them from side to side!
And then the food—do you like shellfish? Well, well, we won’t linger
over that now.’



He was silent for a time; and the Water Rat, silent too and enthralled,
floated on dream-canals and heard a phantom song pealing high between
vaporous grey wave-lapped walls.



‘Southwards we sailed again at last,’ continued the Sea Rat, ‘coasting
down the Italian shore, till finally we made Palermo, and there I quitted
for a long, happy spell on shore. I never stick too long to one ship; one
gets narrow-minded and prejudiced. Besides, Sicily is one of my happy
hunting-grounds. I know everybody there, and their ways just suit me. I
spent many jolly weeks in the island, staying with friends up country.
When I grew restless again I took advantage of a ship that was trading to
Sardinia and Corsica; and very glad I was to feel the fresh breeze and the
sea-spray in my face once more.’



‘But isn’t it very hot and stuffy, down in the—hold, I think you
call it?’ asked the Water Rat.



The seafarer looked at him with the suspicion of a wink. ‘I’m an old
hand,’ he remarked with much simplicity. ‘The captain’s cabin’s good
enough for me.’



‘It’s a hard life, by all accounts,’ murmured the Rat, sunk in deep
thought.



‘For the crew it is,’ replied the seafarer gravely, again with the ghost
of a wink.



‘From Corsica,’ he went on, ‘I made use of a ship that was taking wine to
the mainland. We made Alassio in the evening, lay to, hauled up our
wine-casks, and hove them overboard, tied one to the other by a long line.
Then the crew took to the boats and rowed shorewards, singing as they
went, and drawing after them the long bobbing procession of casks, like a
mile of porpoises. On the sands they had horses waiting, which dragged the
casks up the steep street of the little town with a fine rush and clatter
and scramble. When the last cask was in, we went and refreshed and rested,
and sat late into the night, drinking with our friends, and next morning I
took to the great olive-woods for a spell and a rest. For now I had done
with islands for the time, and ports and shipping were plentiful; so I led
a lazy life among the peasants, lying and watching them work, or stretched
high on the hillside with the blue Mediterranean far below me. And so at
length, by easy stages, and partly on foot, partly by sea, to Marseilles,
and the meeting of old shipmates, and the visiting of great ocean-bound
vessels, and feasting once more. Talk of shell-fish! Why, sometimes I
dream of the shell-fish of Marseilles, and wake up crying!’



‘That reminds me,’ said the polite Water Rat; ‘you happened to mention
that you were hungry, and I ought to have spoken earlier. Of course, you
will stop and take your midday meal with me? My hole is close by; it is
some time past noon, and you are very welcome to whatever there is.’



‘Now I call that kind and brotherly of you,’ said the Sea Rat. ‘I was
indeed hungry when I sat down, and ever since I inadvertently happened to
mention shell-fish, my pangs have been extreme. But couldn’t you fetch it
along out here? I am none too fond of going under hatches, unless I’m
obliged to; and then, while we eat, I could tell you more concerning my
voyages and the pleasant life I lead—at least, it is very pleasant
to me, and by your attention I judge it commends itself to you; whereas if
we go indoors it is a hundred to one that I shall presently fall asleep.’



‘That is indeed an excellent suggestion,’ said the Water Rat, and hurried
off home. There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal,
in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences, he took care
to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic
sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked
straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far
Southern slopes. Thus laden, he returned with all speed, and blushed for
pleasure at the old seaman’s commendations of his taste and judgment, as
together they unpacked the basket and laid out the contents on the grass
by the roadside.



The Sea Rat, as soon as his hunger was somewhat assuaged, continued the
history of his latest voyage, conducting his simple hearer from port to
port of Spain, landing him at Lisbon, Oporto, and Bordeaux, introducing
him to the pleasant harbours of Cornwall and Devon, and so up the Channel
to that final quayside, where, landing after winds long contrary,
storm-driven and weather-beaten, he had caught the first magical hints and
heraldings of another Spring, and, fired by these, had sped on a long
tramp inland, hungry for the experiment of life on some quiet farmstead,
very far from the weary beating of any sea.



Spell-bound and quivering with excitement, the Water Rat followed the
Adventurer league by league, over stormy bays, through crowded roadsteads,
across harbour bars on a racing tide, up winding rivers that hid their
busy little towns round a sudden turn; and left him with a regretful sigh
planted at his dull inland farm, about which he desired to hear nothing.



By this time their meal was over, and the Seafarer, refreshed and
strengthened, his voice more vibrant, his eye lit with a brightness that
seemed caught from some far-away sea-beacon, filled his glass with the red
and glowing vintage of the South, and, leaning towards the Water Rat,
compelled his gaze and held him, body and soul, while he talked. Those
eyes were of the changing foam-streaked grey-green of leaping Northern
seas; in the glass shone a hot ruby that seemed the very heart of the
South, beating for him who had courage to respond to its pulsation. The
twin lights, the shifting grey and the steadfast red, mastered the Water
Rat and held him bound, fascinated, powerless. The quiet world outside
their rays receded far away and ceased to be. And the talk, the wonderful
talk flowed on—or was it speech entirely, or did it pass at times
into song—chanty of the sailors weighing the dripping anchor,
sonorous hum of the shrouds in a tearing North-Easter, ballad of the
fisherman hauling his nets at sundown against an apricot sky, chords of
guitar and mandoline from gondola or caique? Did it change into the cry of
the wind, plaintive at first, angrily shrill as it freshened, rising to a
tearing whistle, sinking to a musical trickle of air from the leech of the
bellying sail? All these sounds the spell-bound listener seemed to hear,
and with them the hungry complaint of the gulls and the sea-mews, the soft
thunder of the breaking wave, the cry of the protesting shingle. Back into
speech again it passed, and with beating heart he was following the
adventures of a dozen seaports, the fights, the escapes, the rallies, the
comradeships, the gallant undertakings; or he searched islands for
treasure, fished in still lagoons and dozed day-long on warm white sand.
Of deep-sea fishings he heard tell, and mighty silver gatherings of the
mile-long net; of sudden perils, noise of breakers on a moonless night, or
the tall bows of the great liner taking shape overhead through the fog; of
the merry home-coming, the headland rounded, the harbour lights opened
out; the groups seen dimly on the quay, the cheery hail, the splash of the
hawser; the trudge up the steep little street towards the comforting glow
of red-curtained windows.



Lastly, in his waking dream it seemed to him that the Adventurer had risen
to his feet, but was still speaking, still holding him fast with his
sea-grey eyes.



‘And now,’ he was softly saying, ‘I take to the road again, holding on
southwestwards for many a long and dusty day; till at last I reach the
little grey sea town I know so well, that clings along one steep side of
the harbour. There through dark doorways you look down flights of stone
steps, overhung by great pink tufts of valerian and ending in a patch of
sparkling blue water. The little boats that lie tethered to the rings and
stanchions of the old sea-wall are gaily painted as those I clambered in
and out of in my own childhood; the salmon leap on the flood tide, schools
of mackerel flash and play past quay-sides and foreshores, and by the
windows the great vessels glide, night and day, up to their moorings or
forth to the open sea. There, sooner or later, the ships of all seafaring
nations arrive; and there, at its destined hour, the ship of my choice
will let go its anchor. I shall take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till
at last the right one lies waiting for me, warped out into midstream,
loaded low, her bowsprit pointing down harbour. I shall slip on board, by
boat or along hawser; and then one morning I shall wake to the song and
tramp of the sailors, the clink of the capstan, and the rattle of the
anchor-chain coming merrily in. We shall break out the jib and the
foresail, the white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us
as she gathers steering-way, and the voyage will have begun! As she forges
towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas; and then, once
outside, the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to the wind,
pointing South!



‘And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and never
return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the
call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!’ ‘Tis but a banging of the
door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old
life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here
if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played,
and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for
company. You can easily overtake me on the road, for you are young, and I
am ageing and go softly. I will linger, and look back; and at last I will
surely see you coming, eager and light-hearted, with all the South in your
face!’



The voice died away and ceased as an insect’s tiny trumpet dwindles
swiftly into silence; and the Water Rat, paralysed and staring, saw at
last but a distant speck on the white surface of the road.



Mechanically he rose and proceeded to repack the luncheon-basket,
carefully and without haste. Mechanically he returned home, gathered
together a few small necessaries and special treasures he was fond of, and
put them in a satchel; acting with slow deliberation, moving about the
room like a sleep-walker; listening ever with parted lips. He swung the
satchel over his shoulder, carefully selected a stout stick for his
wayfaring, and with no haste, but with no hesitation at all, he stepped
across the threshold just as the Mole appeared at the door.



‘Why, where are you off to, Ratty?’ asked the Mole in great surprise,
grasping him by the arm.



‘Going South, with the rest of them,’ murmured the Rat in a dreamy
monotone, never looking at him. ‘Seawards first and then on shipboard, and
so to the shores that are calling me!’



He pressed resolutely forward, still without haste, but with dogged fixity
of purpose; but the Mole, now thoroughly alarmed, placed himself in front
of him, and looking into his eyes saw that they were glazed and set and
turned a streaked and shifting grey—not his friend’s eyes, but the
eyes of some other animal! Grappling with him strongly he dragged him
inside, threw him down, and held him.



The Rat struggled desperately for a few moments, and then his strength
seemed suddenly to leave him, and he lay still and exhausted, with closed
eyes, trembling. Presently the Mole assisted him to rise and placed him in
a chair, where he sat collapsed and shrunken into himself, his body shaken
by a violent shivering, passing in time into an hysterical fit of dry
sobbing. Mole made the door fast, threw the satchel into a drawer and
locked it, and sat down quietly on the table by his friend, waiting for
the strange seizure to pass. Gradually the Rat sank into a troubled doze,
broken by starts and confused murmurings of things strange and wild and
foreign to the unenlightened Mole; and from that he passed into a deep
slumber.



Very anxious in mind, the Mole left him for a time and busied himself with
household matters; and it was getting dark when he returned to the parlour
and found the Rat where he had left him, wide awake indeed, but listless,
silent, and dejected. He took one hasty glance at his eyes; found them, to
his great gratification, clear and dark and brown again as before; and
then sat down and tried to cheer him up and help him to relate what had
happened to him.



Poor Ratty did his best, by degrees, to explain things; but how could he
put into cold words what had mostly been suggestion? How recall, for
another’s benefit, the haunting sea voices that had sung to him, how
reproduce at second-hand the magic of the Seafarer’s hundred
reminiscences? Even to himself, now the spell was broken and the glamour
gone, he found it difficult to account for what had seemed, some hours
ago, the inevitable and only thing. It is not surprising, then, that he
failed to convey to the Mole any clear idea of what he had been through
that day.



To the Mole this much was plain: the fit, or attack, had passed away, and
had left him sane again, though shaken and cast down by the reaction. But
he seemed to have lost all interest for the time in the things that went
to make up his daily life, as well as in all pleasant forecastings of the
altered days and doings that the changing season was surely bringing.



Casually, then, and with seeming indifference, the Mole turned his talk to
the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons and their
straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare
acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the reddening apples around, of
the browning nuts, of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials;
till by easy stages such as these he reached midwinter, its hearty joys
and its snug home life, and then he became simply lyrical.



By degrees the Rat began to sit up and to join in. His dull eye
brightened, and he lost some of his listening air.



Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and a
few half-sheets of paper, which he placed on the table at his friend’s
elbow.



‘It’s quite a long time since you did any poetry,’ he remarked. ‘You might
have a try at it this evening, instead of—well, brooding over things
so much. I’ve an idea that you’ll feel a lot better when you’ve got
something jotted down—if it’s only just the rhymes.’



The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discreet Mole took
occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time later,
the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and
sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more
than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at
least begun.














X. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD



The front door of the hollow tree faced eastwards, so Toad was called at
an early hour; partly by the bright sunlight streaming in on him, partly
by the exceeding coldness of his toes, which made him dream that he was at
home in bed in his own handsome room with the Tudor window, on a cold
winter’s night, and his bedclothes had got up, grumbling and protesting
they couldn’t stand the cold any longer, and had run downstairs to the
kitchen fire to warm themselves; and he had followed, on bare feet, along
miles and miles of icy stone-paved passages, arguing and beseeching them
to be reasonable. He would probably have been aroused much earlier, had he
not slept for some weeks on straw over stone flags, and almost forgotten
the friendly feeling of thick blankets pulled well up round the chin.



Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes first and his complaining toes next,
wondered for a moment where he was, looking round for familiar stone wall
and little barred window; then, with a leap of the heart, remembered
everything—his escape, his flight, his pursuit; remembered, first
and best thing of all, that he was free!



Free! The word and the thought alone were worth fifty blankets. He was
warm from end to end as he thought of the jolly world outside, waiting
eagerly for him to make his triumphal entrance, ready to serve him and
play up to him, anxious to help him and to keep him company, as it always
had been in days of old before misfortune fell upon him. He shook himself
and combed the dry leaves out of his hair with his fingers; and, his
toilet complete, marched forth into the comfortable morning sun, cold but
confident, hungry but hopeful, all nervous terrors of yesterday dispelled
by rest and sleep and frank and heartening sunshine.



He had the world all to himself, that early summer morning. The dewy
woodland, as he threaded it, was solitary and still: the green fields that
succeeded the trees were his own to do as he liked with; the road itself,
when he reached it, in that loneliness that was everywhere, seemed, like a
stray dog, to be looking anxiously for company. Toad, however, was looking
for something that could talk, and tell him clearly which way he ought to
go. It is all very well, when you have a light heart, and a clear
conscience, and money in your pocket, and nobody scouring the country for
you to drag you off to prison again, to follow where the road beckons and
points, not caring whither. The practical Toad cared very much indeed, and
he could have kicked the road for its helpless silence when every minute
was of importance to him.



The reserved rustic road was presently joined by a shy little brother in
the shape of a canal, which took its hand and ambled along by its side in
perfect confidence, but with the same tongue-tied, uncommunicative
attitude towards strangers. ‘Bother them!’ said Toad to himself. ‘But,
anyhow, one thing’s clear. They must both be coming FROM somewhere, and
going TO somewhere. You can’t get over that. Toad, my boy!’ So he marched
on patiently by the water’s edge.



Round a bend in the canal came plodding a solitary horse, stooping forward
as if in anxious thought. From rope traces attached to his collar
stretched a long line, taut, but dipping with his stride, the further part
of it dripping pearly drops. Toad let the horse pass, and stood waiting
for what the fates were sending him.



With a pleasant swirl of quiet water at its blunt bow the barge slid up
alongside of him, its gaily painted gunwale level with the towing-path,
its sole occupant a big stout woman wearing a linen sun-bonnet, one brawny
arm laid along the tiller.



‘A nice morning, ma’am!’ she remarked to Toad, as she drew up level with
him.



‘I dare say it is, ma’am!’ responded Toad politely, as he walked along the
tow-path abreast of her. ‘I dare it IS a nice morning to them that’s not
in sore trouble, like what I am. Here’s my married daughter, she sends off
to me post-haste to come to her at once; so off I comes, not knowing what
may be happening or going to happen, but fearing the worst, as you will
understand, ma’am, if you’re a mother, too. And I’ve left my business to
look after itself—I’m in the washing and laundering line, you must
know, ma’am—and I’ve left my young children to look after
themselves, and a more mischievous and troublesome set of young imps
doesn’t exist, ma’am; and I’ve lost all my money, and lost my way, and as
for what may be happening to my married daughter, why, I don’t like to
think of it, ma’am!’



‘Where might your married daughter be living, ma’am?’ asked the
barge-woman.



‘She lives near to the river, ma’am,’ replied Toad. ‘Close to a fine house
called Toad Hall, that’s somewheres hereabouts in these parts. Perhaps you
may have heard of it.’



‘Toad Hall? Why, I’m going that way myself,’ replied the barge-woman.
‘This canal joins the river some miles further on, a little above Toad
Hall; and then it’s an easy walk. You come along in the barge with me, and
I’ll give you a lift.’



She steered the barge close to the bank, and Toad, with many humble and
grateful acknowledgments, stepped lightly on board and sat down with great
satisfaction. ‘Toad’s luck again!’ thought he. ‘I always come out on top!’



‘So you’re in the washing business, ma’am?’ said the barge-woman politely,
as they glided along. ‘And a very good business you’ve got too, I dare
say, if I’m not making too free in saying so.’



‘Finest business in the whole country,’ said Toad airily. ‘All the gentry
come to me—wouldn’t go to any one else if they were paid, they know
me so well. You see, I understand my work thoroughly, and attend to it all
myself. Washing, ironing, clear-starching, making up gents’ fine shirts
for evening wear—everything’s done under my own eye!’



‘But surely you don’t DO all that work yourself, ma’am?’ asked the
barge-woman respectfully.



‘O, I have girls,’ said Toad lightly: ‘twenty girls or thereabouts, always
at work. But you know what GIRLS are, ma’am! Nasty little hussies, that’s
what I call ‘em!’



‘So do I, too,’ said the barge-woman with great heartiness. ‘But I dare
say you set yours to rights, the idle trollops! And are you very fond of
washing?’



‘I love it,’ said Toad. ‘I simply dote on it. Never so happy as when I’ve
got both arms in the wash-tub. But, then, it comes so easy to me! No
trouble at all! A real pleasure, I assure you, ma’am!’



‘What a bit of luck, meeting you!’ observed the barge-woman, thoughtfully.
‘A regular piece of good fortune for both of us!’



‘Why, what do you mean?’ asked Toad, nervously.



‘Well, look at me, now,’ replied the barge-woman. ‘I like washing,
too, just the same as you do; and for that matter, whether I like it or
not I have got to do all my own, naturally, moving about as I do. Now my
husband, he’s such a fellow for shirking his work and leaving the barge to
me, that never a moment do I get for seeing to my own affairs. By rights
he ought to be here now, either steering or attending to the horse, though
luckily the horse has sense enough to attend to himself. Instead of which,
he’s gone off with the dog, to see if they can’t pick up a rabbit for
dinner somewhere. Says he’ll catch me up at the next lock. Well, that’s as
may be—I don’t trust him, once he gets off with that dog, who’s
worse than he is. But meantime, how am I to get on with my washing?’



‘O, never mind about the washing,’ said Toad, not liking the subject. ‘Try
and fix your mind on that rabbit. A nice fat young rabbit, I’ll be bound.
Got any onions?’



‘I can’t fix my mind on anything but my washing,’ said the barge-woman,
‘and I wonder you can be talking of rabbits, with such a joyful prospect
before you. There’s a heap of things of mine that you’ll find in a corner
of the cabin. If you’ll just take one or two of the most necessary sort—I
won’t venture to describe them to a lady like you, but you’ll recognise
them at a glance—and put them through the wash-tub as we go along,
why, it’ll be a pleasure to you, as you rightly say, and a real help to
me. You’ll find a tub handy, and soap, and a kettle on the stove, and a
bucket to haul up water from the canal with. Then I shall know you’re
enjoying yourself, instead of sitting here idle, looking at the scenery
and yawning your head off.’



‘Here, you let me steer!’ said Toad, now thoroughly frightened, ‘and then
you can get on with your washing your own way. I might spoil your things,
or not do ‘em as you like. I’m more used to gentlemen’s things myself.
It’s my special line.’



‘Let you steer?’ replied the barge-woman, laughing. ‘It takes some
practice to steer a barge properly. Besides, it’s dull work, and I want
you to be happy. No, you shall do the washing you are so fond of, and I’ll
stick to the steering that I understand. Don’t try and deprive me of the
pleasure of giving you a treat!’



Toad was fairly cornered. He looked for escape this way and that, saw that
he was too far from the bank for a flying leap, and sullenly resigned
himself to his fate. ‘If it comes to that,’ he thought in desperation, ‘I
suppose any fool can WASH!’



He fetched tub, soap, and other necessaries from the cabin, selected a few
garments at random, tried to recollect what he had seen in casual glances
through laundry windows, and set to.



A long half-hour passed, and every minute of it saw Toad getting crosser
and crosser. Nothing that he could do to the things seemed to please them
or do them good. He tried coaxing, he tried slapping, he tried punching;
they smiled back at him out of the tub unconverted, happy in their
original sin. Once or twice he looked nervously over his shoulder at the
barge-woman, but she appeared to be gazing out in front of her, absorbed
in her steering. His back ached badly, and he noticed with dismay that his
paws were beginning to get all crinkly. Now Toad was very proud of his
paws. He muttered under his breath words that should never pass the lips
of either washerwomen or Toads; and lost the soap, for the fiftieth time.



A burst of laughter made him straighten himself and look round. The
barge-woman was leaning back and laughing unrestrainedly, till the tears
ran down her cheeks.



‘I’ve been watching you all the time,’ she gasped. ‘I thought you must be
a humbug all along, from the conceited way you talked. Pretty washerwoman
you are! Never washed so much as a dish-clout in your life, I’ll lay!’



Toad’s temper which had been simmering viciously for some time, now fairly
boiled over, and he lost all control of himself.



‘You common, low, FAT barge-woman!’ he shouted; ‘don’t you dare to talk to
your betters like that! Washerwoman indeed! I would have you to know that
I am a Toad, a very well-known, respected, distinguished Toad! I may be
under a bit of a cloud at present, but I will NOT be laughed at by a
bargewoman!’



The woman moved nearer to him and peered under his bonnet keenly and
closely. ‘Why, so you are!’ she cried. ‘Well, I never! A horrid, nasty,
crawly Toad! And in my nice clean barge, too! Now that is a thing that I
will NOT have.’



She relinquished the tiller for a moment. One big mottled arm shot out and
caught Toad by a fore-leg, while the other-gripped him fast by a hind-leg.
Then the world turned suddenly upside down, the barge seemed to flit
lightly across the sky, the wind whistled in his ears, and Toad found
himself flying through the air, revolving rapidly as he went.



The water, when he eventually reached it with a loud splash, proved quite
cold enough for his taste, though its chill was not sufficient to quell
his proud spirit, or slake the heat of his furious temper. He rose to the
surface spluttering, and when he had wiped the duck-weed out of his eyes
the first thing he saw was the fat barge-woman looking back at him over
the stern of the retreating barge and laughing; and he vowed, as he
coughed and choked, to be even with her.



He struck out for the shore, but the cotton gown greatly impeded his
efforts, and when at length he touched land he found it hard to climb up
the steep bank unassisted. He had to take a minute or two’s rest to
recover his breath; then, gathering his wet skirts well over his arms, he
started to run after the barge as fast as his legs would carry him, wild
with indignation, thirsting for revenge.



The barge-woman was still laughing when he drew up level with her. ‘Put
yourself through your mangle, washerwoman,’ she called out, ‘and iron your
face and crimp it, and you’ll pass for quite a decent-looking Toad!’



Toad never paused to reply. Solid revenge was what he wanted, not cheap,
windy, verbal triumphs, though he had a thing or two in his mind that he
would have liked to say. He saw what he wanted ahead of him. Running
swiftly on he overtook the horse, unfastened the towrope and cast off,
jumped lightly on the horse’s back, and urged it to a gallop by kicking it
vigorously in the sides. He steered for the open country, abandoning the
tow-path, and swinging his steed down a rutty lane. Once he looked back,
and saw that the barge had run aground on the other side of the canal, and
the barge-woman was gesticulating wildly and shouting, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’
‘I’ve heard that song before,’ said Toad, laughing, as he continued to
spur his steed onward in its wild career.



The barge-horse was not capable of any very sustained effort, and its
gallop soon subsided into a trot, and its trot into an easy walk; but Toad
was quite contented with this, knowing that he, at any rate, was moving,
and the barge was not. He had quite recovered his temper, now that he had
done something he thought really clever; and he was satisfied to jog along
quietly in the sun, steering his horse along by-ways and bridle-paths, and
trying to forget how very long it was since he had had a square meal, till
the canal had been left very far behind him.



He had travelled some miles, his horse and he, and he was feeling drowsy
in the hot sunshine, when the horse stopped, lowered his head, and began
to nibble the grass; and Toad, waking up, just saved himself from falling
off by an effort. He looked about him and found he was on a wide common,
dotted with patches of gorse and bramble as far as he could see. Near him
stood a dingy gipsy caravan, and beside it a man was sitting on a bucket
turned upside down, very busy smoking and staring into the wide world. A
fire of sticks was burning near by, and over the fire hung an iron pot,
and out of that pot came forth bubblings and gurglings, and a vague
suggestive steaminess. Also smells—warm, rich, and varied smells—that
twined and twisted and wreathed themselves at last into one complete,
voluptuous, perfect smell that seemed like the very soul of Nature taking
form and appearing to her children, a true Goddess, a mother of solace and
comfort. Toad now knew well that he had not been really hungry before.
What he had felt earlier in the day had been a mere trifling qualm. This
was the real thing at last, and no mistake; and it would have to be dealt
with speedily, too, or there would be trouble for somebody or something.
He looked the gipsy over carefully, wondering vaguely whether it would be
easier to fight him or cajole him. So there he sat, and sniffed and
sniffed, and looked at the gipsy; and the gipsy sat and smoked, and looked
at him.



Presently the gipsy took his pipe out of his mouth and remarked in a
careless way, ‘Want to sell that there horse of yours?’



Toad was completely taken aback. He did not know that gipsies were very
fond of horse-dealing, and never missed an opportunity, and he had not
reflected that caravans were always on the move and took a deal of
drawing. It had not occurred to him to turn the horse into cash, but the
gipsy’s suggestion seemed to smooth the way towards the two things he
wanted so badly—ready money, and a solid breakfast.



‘What?’ he said, ‘me sell this beautiful young horse of mine? O, no; it’s
out of the question. Who’s going to take the washing home to my customers
every week? Besides, I’m too fond of him, and he simply dotes on me.’



‘Try and love a donkey,’ suggested the gipsy. ‘Some people do.’



‘You don’t seem to see,’ continued Toad, ‘that this fine horse of mine is
a cut above you altogether. He’s a blood horse, he is, partly; not the
part you see, of course—another part. And he’s been a Prize Hackney,
too, in his time—that was the time before you knew him, but you can
still tell it on him at a glance, if you understand anything about horses.
No, it’s not to be thought of for a moment. All the same, how much might
you be disposed to offer me for this beautiful young horse of mine?’



The gipsy looked the horse over, and then he looked Toad over with equal
care, and looked at the horse again. ‘Shillin’ a leg,’ he said briefly,
and turned away, continuing to smoke and try to stare the wide world out
of countenance.



‘A shilling a leg?’ cried Toad. ‘If you please, I must take a little time
to work that out, and see just what it comes to.’



He climbed down off his horse, and left it to graze, and sat down by the
gipsy, and did sums on his fingers, and at last he said, ‘A shilling a
leg? Why, that comes to exactly four shillings, and no more. O, no; I
could not think of accepting four shillings for this beautiful young horse
of mine.’



‘Well,’ said the gipsy, ‘I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll make it five
shillings, and that’s three-and-sixpence more than the animal’s worth. And
that’s my last word.’



Then Toad sat and pondered long and deeply. For he was hungry and quite
penniless, and still some way—he knew not how far—from home,
and enemies might still be looking for him. To one in such a situation,
five shillings may very well appear a large sum of money. On the other
hand, it did not seem very much to get for a horse. But then, again, the
horse hadn’t cost him anything; so whatever he got was all clear profit.
At last he said firmly, ‘Look here, gipsy! I tell you what we will do; and
this is MY last word. You shall hand me over six shillings and sixpence,
cash down; and further, in addition thereto, you shall give me as much
breakfast as I can possibly eat, at one sitting of course, out of that
iron pot of yours that keeps sending forth such delicious and exciting
smells. In return, I will make over to you my spirited young horse, with
all the beautiful harness and trappings that are on him, freely thrown in.
If that’s not good enough for you, say so, and I’ll be getting on. I know
a man near here who’s wanted this horse of mine for years.’



The gipsy grumbled frightfully, and declared if he did a few more deals of
that sort he’d be ruined. But in the end he lugged a dirty canvas bag out
of the depths of his trouser pocket, and counted out six shillings and
sixpence into Toad’s paw. Then he disappeared into the caravan for an
instant, and returned with a large iron plate and a knife, fork, and
spoon. He tilted up the pot, and a glorious stream of hot rich stew
gurgled into the plate. It was, indeed, the most beautiful stew in the
world, being made of partridges, and pheasants, and chickens, and hares,
and rabbits, and pea-hens, and guinea-fowls, and one or two other things.
Toad took the plate on his lap, almost crying, and stuffed, and stuffed,
and stuffed, and kept asking for more, and the gipsy never grudged it him.
He thought that he had never eaten so good a breakfast in all his life.



When Toad had taken as much stew on board as he thought he could possibly
hold, he got up and said good-bye to the gipsy, and took an affectionate
farewell of the horse; and the gipsy, who knew the riverside well, gave
him directions which way to go, and he set forth on his travels again in
the best possible spirits. He was, indeed, a very different Toad from the
animal of an hour ago. The sun was shining brightly, his wet clothes were
quite dry again, he had money in his pocket once more, he was nearing home
and friends and safety, and, most and best of all, he had had a
substantial meal, hot and nourishing, and felt big, and strong, and
careless, and self-confident.



As he tramped along gaily, he thought of his adventures and escapes, and
how when things seemed at their worst he had always managed to find a way
out; and his pride and conceit began to swell within him. ‘Ho, ho!’ he
said to himself as he marched along with his chin in the air, ‘what a
clever Toad I am! There is surely no animal equal to me for cleverness in
the whole world! My enemies shut me up in prison, encircled by sentries,
watched night and day by warders; I walk out through them all, by sheer
ability coupled with courage. They pursue me with engines, and policemen,
and revolvers; I snap my fingers at them, and vanish, laughing, into
space. I am, unfortunately, thrown into a canal by a woman fat of body and
very evil-minded. What of it? I swim ashore, I seize her horse, I ride off
in triumph, and I sell the horse for a whole pocketful of money and an
excellent breakfast! Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the
successful Toad!’ He got so puffed up with conceit that he made up a song
as he walked in praise of himself, and sang it at the top of his voice,
though there was no one to hear it but him. It was perhaps the most
conceited song that any animal ever composed.


          ‘The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!

‘The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

‘The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, “There’s land ahead?”
Encouraging Mr. Toad!

‘The army all saluted
As they marched along the road.
Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
No. It was Mr. Toad.

‘The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting
Sat at the window and sewed.
She cried, “Look! who’s that handsome man?”
They answered, “Mr. Toad.”’



There was a great deal more of the same sort, but too dreadfully conceited
to be written down. These are some of the milder verses.



He sang as he walked, and he walked as he sang, and got more inflated
every minute. But his pride was shortly to have a severe fall.



After some miles of country lanes he reached the high road, and as he
turned into it and glanced along its white length, he saw approaching him
a speck that turned into a dot and then into a blob, and then into
something very familiar; and a double note of warning, only too well
known, fell on his delighted ear.



‘This is something like!’ said the excited Toad. ‘This is real life again,
this is once more the great world from which I have been missed so long! I
will hail them, my brothers of the wheel, and pitch them a yarn, of the
sort that has been so successful hitherto; and they will give me a lift,
of course, and then I will talk to them some more; and, perhaps, with
luck, it may even end in my driving up to Toad Hall in a motor-car! That
will be one in the eye for Badger!’



He stepped confidently out into the road to hail the motor-car, which came
along at an easy pace, slowing down as it neared the lane; when suddenly
he became very pale, his heart turned to water, his knees shook and
yielded under him, and he doubled up and collapsed with a sickening pain
in his interior. And well he might, the unhappy animal; for the
approaching car was the very one he had stolen out of the yard of the Red
Lion Hotel on that fatal day when all his troubles began! And the people
in it were the very same people he had sat and watched at luncheon in the
coffee-room!



He sank down in a shabby, miserable heap in the road, murmuring to himself
in his despair, ‘It’s all up! It’s all over now! Chains and policemen
again! Prison again! Dry bread and water again! O, what a fool I have
been! What did I want to go strutting about the country for, singing
conceited songs, and hailing people in broad day on the high road, instead
of hiding till nightfall and slipping home quietly by back ways! O hapless
Toad! O ill-fated animal!’



The terrible motor-car drew slowly nearer and nearer, till at last he
heard it stop just short of him. Two gentlemen got out and walked round
the trembling heap of crumpled misery lying in the road, and one of them
said, ‘O dear! this is very sad! Here is a poor old thing—a
washerwoman apparently—who has fainted in the road! Perhaps she is
overcome by the heat, poor creature; or possibly she has not had any food
to-day. Let us lift her into the car and take her to the nearest village,
where doubtless she has friends.’



They tenderly lifted Toad into the motor-car and propped him up with soft
cushions, and proceeded on their way.



When Toad heard them talk in so kind and sympathetic a way, and knew that
he was not recognised, his courage began to revive, and he cautiously
opened first one eye and then the other.



‘Look!’ said one of the gentlemen, ‘she is better already. The fresh air
is doing her good. How do you feel now, ma’am?’



‘Thank you kindly, Sir,’ said Toad in a feeble voice, ‘I’m feeling a great
deal better!’ ‘That’s right,’ said the gentleman. ‘Now keep quite still,
and, above all, don’t try to talk.’



‘I won’t,’ said Toad. ‘I was only thinking, if I might sit on the front
seat there, beside the driver, where I could get the fresh air full in my
face, I should soon be all right again.’



‘What a very sensible woman!’ said the gentleman. ‘Of course you shall.’
So they carefully helped Toad into the front seat beside the driver, and
on they went again.



Toad was almost himself again by now. He sat up, looked about him, and
tried to beat down the tremors, the yearnings, the old cravings that rose
up and beset him and took possession of him entirely.



‘It is fate!’ he said to himself. ‘Why strive? why struggle?’ and he
turned to the driver at his side.



‘Please, Sir,’ he said, ‘I wish you would kindly let me try and drive the
car for a little. I’ve been watching you carefully, and it looks so easy
and so interesting, and I should like to be able to tell my friends that
once I had driven a motor-car!’



The driver laughed at the proposal, so heartily that the gentleman
inquired what the matter was. When he heard, he said, to Toad’s delight,
‘Bravo, ma’am! I like your spirit. Let her have a try, and look after her.
She won’t do any harm.’



Toad eagerly scrambled into the seat vacated by the driver, took the
steering-wheel in his hands, listened with affected humility to the
instructions given him, and set the car in motion, but very slowly and
carefully at first, for he was determined to be prudent.



The gentlemen behind clapped their hands and applauded, and Toad heard
them saying, ‘How well she does it! Fancy a washerwoman driving a car as
well as that, the first time!’



Toad went a little faster; then faster still, and faster.



He heard the gentlemen call out warningly, ‘Be careful, washerwoman!’ And
this annoyed him, and he began to lose his head.



The driver tried to interfere, but he pinned him down in his seat with one
elbow, and put on full speed. The rush of air in his face, the hum of the
engines, and the light jump of the car beneath him intoxicated his weak
brain. ‘Washerwoman, indeed!’ he shouted recklessly. ‘Ho! ho! I am the
Toad, the motor-car snatcher, the prison-breaker, the Toad who always
escapes! Sit still, and you shall know what driving really is, for you are
in the hands of the famous, the skilful, the entirely fearless Toad!’



With a cry of horror the whole party rose and flung themselves on him.
‘Seize him!’ they cried, ‘seize the Toad, the wicked animal who stole our
motor-car! Bind him, chain him, drag him to the nearest police-station!
Down with the desperate and dangerous Toad!’



Alas! they should have thought, they ought to have been more prudent, they
should have remembered to stop the motor-car somehow before playing any
pranks of that sort. With a half-turn of the wheel the Toad sent the car
crashing through the low hedge that ran along the roadside. One mighty
bound, a violent shock, and the wheels of the car were churning up the
thick mud of a horse-pond.



Toad found himself flying through the air with the strong upward rush and
delicate curve of a swallow. He liked the motion, and was just beginning
to wonder whether it would go on until he developed wings and turned into
a Toad-bird, when he landed on his back with a thump, in the soft rich
grass of a meadow. Sitting up, he could just see the motor-car in the
pond, nearly submerged; the gentlemen and the driver, encumbered by their
long coats, were floundering helplessly in the water.



He picked himself up rapidly, and set off running across country as hard
as he could, scrambling through hedges, jumping ditches, pounding across
fields, till he was breathless and weary, and had to settle down into an
easy walk. When he had recovered his breath somewhat, and was able to
think calmly, he began to giggle, and from giggling he took to laughing,
and he laughed till he had to sit down under a hedge. ‘Ho, ho!’ he cried,
in ecstasies of self-admiration, ‘Toad again! Toad, as usual, comes out on
the top! Who was it got them to give him a lift? Who managed to get on the
front seat for the sake of fresh air? Who persuaded them into letting him
see if he could drive? Who landed them all in a horse-pond? Who escaped,
flying gaily and unscathed through the air, leaving the narrow-minded,
grudging, timid excursionists in the mud where they should rightly be?
Why, Toad, of course; clever Toad, great Toad, GOOD Toad!’



Then he burst into song again, and chanted with uplifted voice—


          ‘The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop,
As it raced along the road.
Who was it steered it into a pond?
Ingenious Mr. Toad!



O, how clever I am! How clever, how clever, how very clev——’



A slight noise at a distance behind him made him turn his head and look. O
horror! O misery! O despair!



About two fields off, a chauffeur in his leather gaiters and two large
rural policemen were visible, running towards him as hard as they could
go!



Poor Toad sprang to his feet and pelted away again, his heart in his
mouth. O, my!’ he gasped, as he panted along, ‘what an ASS I am! What a
CONCEITED and heedless ass! Swaggering again! Shouting and singing songs
again! Sitting still and gassing again! O my! O my! O my!’



He glanced back, and saw to his dismay that they were gaining on him. On
he ran desperately, but kept looking back, and saw that they still gained
steadily. He did his best, but he was a fat animal, and his legs were
short, and still they gained. He could hear them close behind him now.
Ceasing to heed where he was going, he struggled on blindly and wildly,
looking back over his shoulder at the now triumphant enemy, when suddenly
the earth failed under his feet, he grasped at the air, and, splash! he
found himself head over ears in deep water, rapid water, water that bore
him along with a force he could not contend with; and he knew that in his
blind panic he had run straight into the river!



He rose to the surface and tried to grasp the reeds and the rushes that
grew along the water’s edge close under the bank, but the stream was so
strong that it tore them out of his hands. ‘O my!’ gasped poor Toad, ‘if
ever I steal a motor-car again! If ever I sing another conceited song’—then
down he went, and came up breathless and spluttering. Presently he saw
that he was approaching a big dark hole in the bank, just above his head,
and as the stream bore him past he reached up with a paw and caught hold
of the edge and held on. Then slowly and with difficulty he drew himself
up out of the water, till at last he was able to rest his elbows on the
edge of the hole. There he remained for some minutes, puffing and panting,
for he was quite exhausted.



As he sighed and blew and stared before him into the dark hole, some
bright small thing shone and twinkled in its depths, moving towards him.
As it approached, a face grew up gradually around it, and it was a
familiar face!



Brown and small, with whiskers.



Grave and round, with neat ears and silky hair.



It was the Water Rat!














XI. ‘LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS’



The Rat put out a neat little brown paw, gripped Toad firmly by the scruff
of the neck, and gave a great hoist and a pull; and the water-logged Toad
came up slowly but surely over the edge of the hole, till at last he stood
safe and sound in the hall, streaked with mud and weed to be sure, and
with the water streaming off him, but happy and high-spirited as of old,
now that he found himself once more in the house of a friend, and dodgings
and evasions were over, and he could lay aside a disguise that was
unworthy of his position and wanted such a lot of living up to.



‘O, Ratty!’ he cried. ‘I’ve been through such times since I saw you last,
you can’t think! Such trials, such sufferings, and all so nobly borne!
Then such escapes, such disguises such subterfuges, and all so cleverly
planned and carried out! Been in prison—got out of it, of course!
Been thrown into a canal—swam ashore! Stole a horse—sold him
for a large sum of money! Humbugged everybody—made ‘em all do
exactly what I wanted! Oh, I AM a smart Toad, and no mistake! What do you
think my last exploit was? Just hold on till I tell you——’



‘Toad,’ said the Water Rat, gravely and firmly, ‘you go off upstairs at
once, and take off that old cotton rag that looks as if it might formerly
have belonged to some washerwoman, and clean yourself thoroughly, and put
on some of my clothes, and try and come down looking like a gentleman if
you CAN; for a more shabby, bedraggled, disreputable-looking object than
you are I never set eyes on in my whole life! Now, stop swaggering and
arguing, and be off! I’ll have something to say to you later!’



Toad was at first inclined to stop and do some talking back at him. He had
had enough of being ordered about when he was in prison, and here was the
thing being begun all over again, apparently; and by a Rat, too! However,
he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass over the hat-stand, with
the rusty black bonnet perched rakishly over one eye, and he changed his
mind and went very quickly and humbly upstairs to the Rat’s dressing-room.
There he had a thorough wash and brush-up, changed his clothes, and stood
for a long time before the glass, contemplating himself with pride and
pleasure, and thinking what utter idiots all the people must have been to
have ever mistaken him for one moment for a washerwoman.



By the time he came down again luncheon was on the table, and very glad
Toad was to see it, for he had been through some trying experiences and
had taken much hard exercise since the excellent breakfast provided for
him by the gipsy. While they ate Toad told the Rat all his adventures,
dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness, and presence of mind in
emergencies, and cunning in tight places; and rather making out that he
had been having a gay and highly-coloured experience. But the more he
talked and boasted, the more grave and silent the Rat became.



When at last Toad had talked himself to a standstill, there was silence
for a while; and then the Rat said, ‘Now, Toady, I don’t want to give you
pain, after all you’ve been through already; but, seriously, don’t you see
what an awful ass you’ve been making of yourself? On your own admission
you have been handcuffed, imprisoned, starved, chased, terrified out of
your life, insulted, jeered at, and ignominiously flung into the water—by
a woman, too! Where’s the amusement in that? Where does the fun come in?
And all because you must needs go and steal a motor-car. You know that
you’ve never had anything but trouble from motor-cars from the moment you
first set eyes on one. But if you WILL be mixed up with them—as you
generally are, five minutes after you’ve started—why STEAL them? Be
a cripple, if you think it’s exciting; be a bankrupt, for a change, if
you’ve set your mind on it: but why choose to be a convict? When are you
going to be sensible, and think of your friends, and try and be a credit
to them? Do you suppose it’s any pleasure to me, for instance, to hear
animals saying, as I go about, that I’m the chap that keeps company with
gaol-birds?’



Now, it was a very comforting point in Toad’s character that he was a
thoroughly good-hearted animal and never minded being jawed by those who
were his real friends. And even when most set upon a thing, he was always
able to see the other side of the question. So although, while the Rat was
talking so seriously, he kept saying to himself mutinously, ‘But it WAS
fun, though! Awful fun!’ and making strange suppressed noises inside him,
k-i-ck-ck-ck, and poop-p-p, and other sounds resembling stifled snorts, or
the opening of soda-water bottles, yet when the Rat had quite finished, he
heaved a deep sigh and said, very nicely and humbly, ‘Quite right, Ratty!
How SOUND you always are! Yes, I’ve been a conceited old ass, I can quite
see that; but now I’m going to be a good Toad, and not do it any more. As
for motor-cars, I’ve not been at all so keen about them since my last
ducking in that river of yours. The fact is, while I was hanging on to the
edge of your hole and getting my breath, I had a sudden idea—a
really brilliant idea—connected with motor-boats—there, there!
don’t take on so, old chap, and stamp, and upset things; it was only an
idea, and we won’t talk any more about it now. We’ll have our coffee, AND
a smoke, and a quiet chat, and then I’m going to stroll quietly down to
Toad Hall, and get into clothes of my own, and set things going again on
the old lines. I’ve had enough of adventures. I shall lead a quiet,
steady, respectable life, pottering about my property, and improving it,
and doing a little landscape gardening at times. There will always be a
bit of dinner for my friends when they come to see me; and I shall keep a
pony-chaise to jog about the country in, just as I used to in the good old
days, before I got restless, and wanted to DO things.’



‘Stroll quietly down to Toad Hall?’ cried the Rat, greatly excited. ‘What
are you talking about? Do you mean to say you haven’t HEARD?’



‘Heard what?’ said Toad, turning rather pale. ‘Go on, Ratty! Quick! Don’t
spare me! What haven’t I heard?’



‘Do you mean to tell me,’ shouted the Rat, thumping with his little fist
upon the table, ‘that you’ve heard nothing about the Stoats and Weasels?’



What, the Wild Wooders?’ cried Toad, trembling in every limb. ‘No, not a
word! What have they been doing?’



‘—And how they’ve been and taken Toad Hall?’ continued the Rat.



Toad leaned his elbows on the table, and his chin on his paws; and a large
tear welled up in each of his eyes, overflowed and splashed on the table,
plop! plop!



‘Go on, Ratty,’ he murmured presently; ‘tell me all. The worst is over. I
am an animal again. I can bear it.’



‘When you—got—into that—that—trouble of yours,’
said the Rat, slowly and impressively; ‘I mean, when you—disappeared
from society for a time, over that misunderstanding about a—a
machine, you know—’



Toad merely nodded.



‘Well, it was a good deal talked about down here, naturally,’ continued
the Rat, ‘not only along the river-side, but even in the Wild Wood.
Animals took sides, as always happens. The River-bankers stuck up for you,
and said you had been infamously treated, and there was no justice to be
had in the land nowadays. But the Wild Wood animals said hard things, and
served you right, and it was time this sort of thing was stopped. And they
got very cocky, and went about saying you were done for this time! You
would never come back again, never, never!’



Toad nodded once more, keeping silence.



‘That’s the sort of little beasts they are,’ the Rat went on. ‘But Mole
and Badger, they stuck out, through thick and thin, that you would come
back again soon, somehow. They didn’t know exactly how, but somehow!’



Toad began to sit up in his chair again, and to smirk a little.



‘They argued from history,’ continued the Rat. ‘They said that no criminal
laws had ever been known to prevail against cheek and plausibility such as
yours, combined with the power of a long purse. So they arranged to move
their things in to Toad Hall, and sleep there, and keep it aired, and have
it all ready for you when you turned up. They didn’t guess what was going
to happen, of course; still, they had their suspicions of the Wild Wood
animals. Now I come to the most painful and tragic part of my story. One
dark night—it was a VERY dark night, and blowing hard, too, and
raining simply cats and dogs—a band of weasels, armed to the teeth,
crept silently up the carriage-drive to the front entrance.
Simultaneously, a body of desperate ferrets, advancing through the
kitchen-garden, possessed themselves of the backyard and offices; while a
company of skirmishing stoats who stuck at nothing occupied the
conservatory and the billiard-room, and held the French windows opening on
to the lawn.



‘The Mole and the Badger were sitting by the fire in the smoking-room,
telling stories and suspecting nothing, for it wasn’t a night for any
animals to be out in, when those bloodthirsty villains broke down the
doors and rushed in upon them from every side. They made the best fight
they could, but what was the good? They were unarmed, and taken by
surprise, and what can two animals do against hundreds? They took and beat
them severely with sticks, those two poor faithful creatures, and turned
them out into the cold and the wet, with many insulting and uncalled-for
remarks!’



Here the unfeeling Toad broke into a snigger, and then pulled himself
together and tried to look particularly solemn.



‘And the Wild Wooders have been living in Toad Hall ever since,’ continued
the Rat; ‘and going on simply anyhow! Lying in bed half the day, and
breakfast at all hours, and the place in such a mess (I’m told) it’s not
fit to be seen! Eating your grub, and drinking your drink, and making bad
jokes about you, and singing vulgar songs, about—well, about prisons
and magistrates, and policemen; horrid personal songs, with no humour in
them. And they’re telling the tradespeople and everybody that they’ve come
to stay for good.’



‘O, have they!’ said Toad getting up and seizing a stick. ‘I’ll jolly soon
see about that!’



‘It’s no good, Toad!’ called the Rat after him. ‘You’d better come back
and sit down; you’ll only get into trouble.’



But the Toad was off, and there was no holding him. He marched rapidly
down the road, his stick over his shoulder, fuming and muttering to
himself in his anger, till he got near his front gate, when suddenly there
popped up from behind the palings a long yellow ferret with a gun.



‘Who comes there?’ said the ferret sharply.



‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Toad, very angrily. ‘What do you mean by
talking like that to me? Come out of that at once, or I’ll——’



The ferret said never a word, but he brought his gun up to his shoulder.
Toad prudently dropped flat in the road, and BANG! a bullet whistled over
his head.



The startled Toad scrambled to his feet and scampered off down the road as
hard as he could; and as he ran he heard the ferret laughing and other
horrid thin little laughs taking it up and carrying on the sound.



He went back, very crestfallen, and told the Water Rat.



‘What did I tell you?’ said the Rat. ‘It’s no good. They’ve got sentries
posted, and they are all armed. You must just wait.’



Still, Toad was not inclined to give in all at once. So he got out the
boat, and set off rowing up the river to where the garden front of Toad
Hall came down to the waterside.



Arriving within sight of his old home, he rested on his oars and surveyed
the land cautiously. All seemed very peaceful and deserted and quiet. He
could see the whole front of Toad Hall, glowing in the evening sunshine,
the pigeons settling by twos and threes along the straight line of the
roof; the garden, a blaze of flowers; the creek that led up to the
boat-house, the little wooden bridge that crossed it; all tranquil,
uninhabited, apparently waiting for his return. He would try the
boat-house first, he thought. Very warily he paddled up to the mouth of
the creek, and was just passing under the bridge, when ... CRASH!



A great stone, dropped from above, smashed through the bottom of the boat.
It filled and sank, and Toad found himself struggling in deep water.
Looking up, he saw two stoats leaning over the parapet of the bridge and
watching him with great glee. ‘It will be your head next time, Toady!’
they called out to him. The indignant Toad swam to shore, while the stoats
laughed and laughed, supporting each other, and laughed again, till they
nearly had two fits—that is, one fit each, of course.



The Toad retraced his weary way on foot, and related his disappointing
experiences to the Water Rat once more.



‘Well, WHAT did I tell you?’ said the Rat very crossly. ‘And, now, look
here! See what you’ve been and done! Lost me my boat that I was so fond
of, that’s what you’ve done! And simply ruined that nice suit of clothes
that I lent you! Really, Toad, of all the trying animals—I wonder
you manage to keep any friends at all!’



The Toad saw at once how wrongly and foolishly he had acted. He admitted
his errors and wrong-headedness and made a full apology to Rat for losing
his boat and spoiling his clothes. And he wound up by saying, with that
frank self-surrender which always disarmed his friend’s criticism and won
them back to his side, ‘Ratty! I see that I have been a headstrong and a
wilful Toad! Henceforth, believe me, I will be humble and submissive, and
will take no action without your kind advice and full approval!’



‘If that is really so,’ said the good-natured Rat, already appeased, ‘then
my advice to you is, considering the lateness of the hour, to sit down and
have your supper, which will be on the table in a minute, and be very
patient. For I am convinced that we can do nothing until we have seen the
Mole and the Badger, and heard their latest news, and held conference and
taken their advice in this difficult matter.’



‘Oh, ah, yes, of course, the Mole and the Badger,’ said Toad, lightly.
‘What’s become of them, the dear fellows? I had forgotten all about them.’



‘Well may you ask!’ said the Rat reproachfully. ‘While you were riding
about the country in expensive motor-cars, and galloping proudly on
blood-horses, and breakfasting on the fat of the land, those two poor
devoted animals have been camping out in the open, in every sort of
weather, living very rough by day and lying very hard by night; watching
over your house, patrolling your boundaries, keeping a constant eye on the
stoats and the weasels, scheming and planning and contriving how to get
your property back for you. You don’t deserve to have such true and loyal
friends, Toad, you don’t, really. Some day, when it’s too late, you’ll be
sorry you didn’t value them more while you had them!’



‘I’m an ungrateful beast, I know,’ sobbed Toad, shedding bitter tears.
‘Let me go out and find them, out into the cold, dark night, and share
their hardships, and try and prove by——Hold on a bit! Surely I
heard the chink of dishes on a tray! Supper’s here at last, hooray! Come
on, Ratty!’



The Rat remembered that poor Toad had been on prison fare for a
considerable time, and that large allowances had therefore to be made. He
followed him to the table accordingly, and hospitably encouraged him in
his gallant efforts to make up for past privations.



They had just finished their meal and resumed their arm-chairs, when there
came a heavy knock at the door.



Toad was nervous, but the Rat, nodding mysteriously at him, went straight
up to the door and opened it, and in walked Mr. Badger.



He had all the appearance of one who for some nights had been kept away
from home and all its little comforts and conveniences. His shoes were
covered with mud, and he was looking very rough and touzled; but then he
had never been a very smart man, the Badger, at the best of times. He came
solemnly up to Toad, shook him by the paw, and said, ‘Welcome home, Toad!
Alas! what am I saying? Home, indeed! This is a poor home-coming. Unhappy
Toad!’ Then he turned his back on him, sat down to the table, drew his
chair up, and helped himself to a large slice of cold pie.



Toad was quite alarmed at this very serious and portentous style of
greeting; but the Rat whispered to him, ‘Never mind; don’t take any
notice; and don’t say anything to him just yet. He’s always rather low and
despondent when he’s wanting his victuals. In half an hour’s time he’ll be
quite a different animal.’



So they waited in silence, and presently there came another and a lighter
knock. The Rat, with a nod to Toad, went to the door and ushered in the
Mole, very shabby and unwashed, with bits of hay and straw sticking in his
fur.



‘Hooray! Here’s old Toad!’ cried the Mole, his face beaming. ‘Fancy having
you back again!’ And he began to dance round him. ‘We never dreamt you
would turn up so soon! Why, you must have managed to escape, you clever,
ingenious, intelligent Toad!’



The Rat, alarmed, pulled him by the elbow; but it was too late. Toad was
puffing and swelling already.



‘Clever? O, no!’ he said. ‘I’m not really clever, according to my friends.
I’ve only broken out of the strongest prison in England, that’s all! And
captured a railway train and escaped on it, that’s all! And disguised
myself and gone about the country humbugging everybody, that’s all! O, no!
I’m a stupid ass, I am! I’ll tell you one or two of my little adventures,
Mole, and you shall judge for yourself!’



‘Well, well,’ said the Mole, moving towards the supper-table; ‘supposing
you talk while I eat. Not a bite since breakfast! O my! O my!’ And he sat
down and helped himself liberally to cold beef and pickles.



Toad straddled on the hearth-rug, thrust his paw into his trouser-pocket
and pulled out a handful of silver. ‘Look at that!’ he cried, displaying
it. ‘That’s not so bad, is it, for a few minutes’ work? And how do you
think I done it, Mole? Horse-dealing! That’s how I done it!’



‘Go on, Toad,’ said the Mole, immensely interested.



‘Toad, do be quiet, please!’ said the Rat. ‘And don’t you egg him on,
Mole, when you know what he is; but please tell us as soon as possible
what the position is, and what’s best to be done, now that Toad is back at
last.’



‘The position’s about as bad as it can be,’ replied the Mole grumpily;
‘and as for what’s to be done, why, blest if I know! The Badger and I have
been round and round the place, by night and by day; always the same
thing. Sentries posted everywhere, guns poked out at us, stones thrown at
us; always an animal on the look-out, and when they see us, my! how they
do laugh! That’s what annoys me most!’



‘It’s a very difficult situation,’ said the Rat, reflecting deeply. ‘But I
think I see now, in the depths of my mind, what Toad really ought to do. I
will tell you. He ought to——’



‘No, he oughtn’t!’ shouted the Mole, with his mouth full. ‘Nothing of the
sort! You don’t understand. What he ought to do is, he ought to——’



‘Well, I shan’t do it, anyway!’ cried Toad, getting excited. ‘I’m not
going to be ordered about by you fellows! It’s my house we’re talking
about, and I know exactly what to do, and I’ll tell you. I’m going to——’



By this time they were all three talking at once, at the top of their
voices, and the noise was simply deafening, when a thin, dry voice made
itself heard, saying, ‘Be quiet at once, all of you!’ and instantly every
one was silent.



It was the Badger, who, having finished his pie, had turned round in his
chair and was looking at them severely. When he saw that he had secured
their attention, and that they were evidently waiting for him to address
them, he turned back to the table again and reached out for the cheese.
And so great was the respect commanded by the solid qualities of that
admirable animal, that not another word was uttered until he had quite
finished his repast and brushed the crumbs from his knees. The Toad
fidgeted a good deal, but the Rat held him firmly down.



When the Badger had quite done, he got up from his seat and stood before
the fireplace, reflecting deeply. At last he spoke.



‘Toad!’ he said severely. ‘You bad, troublesome little animal! Aren’t you
ashamed of yourself? What do you think your father, my old friend, would
have said if he had been here to-night, and had known of all your goings
on?’



Toad, who was on the sofa by this time, with his legs up, rolled over on
his face, shaken by sobs of contrition.



‘There, there!’ went on the Badger, more kindly. ‘Never mind. Stop crying.
We’re going to let bygones be bygones, and try and turn over a new leaf.
But what the Mole says is quite true. The stoats are on guard, at every
point, and they make the best sentinels in the world. It’s quite useless
to think of attacking the place. They’re too strong for us.’



‘Then it’s all over,’ sobbed the Toad, crying into the sofa cushions. ‘I
shall go and enlist for a soldier, and never see my dear Toad Hall any
more!’



‘Come, cheer up, Toady!’ said the Badger. ‘There are more ways of getting
back a place than taking it by storm. I haven’t said my last word yet. Now
I’m going to tell you a great secret.’



Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction
for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of
unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal,
after having faithfully promised not to.



‘There—is—an—underground—passage,’ said the
Badger, impressively, ‘that leads from the river-bank, quite near here,
right up into the middle of Toad Hall.’



‘O, nonsense! Badger,’ said Toad, rather airily. ‘You’ve been listening to
some of the yarns they spin in the public-houses about here. I know every
inch of Toad Hall, inside and out. Nothing of the sort, I do assure you!’



‘My young friend,’ said the Badger, with great severity, ‘your father, who
was a worthy animal—a lot worthier than some others I know—was
a particular friend of mine, and told me a great deal he wouldn’t have
dreamt of telling you. He discovered that passage—he didn’t make it,
of course; that was done hundreds of years before he ever came to live
there—and he repaired it and cleaned it out, because he thought it
might come in useful some day, in case of trouble or danger; and he showed
it to me. “Don’t let my son know about it,” he said. “He’s a good boy, but
very light and volatile in character, and simply cannot hold his tongue.
If he’s ever in a real fix, and it would be of use to him, you may tell
him about the secret passage; but not before.”’



The other animals looked hard at Toad to see how he would take it. Toad
was inclined to be sulky at first; but he brightened up immediately, like
the good fellow he was.



‘Well, well,’ he said; ‘perhaps I am a bit of a talker. A popular fellow
such as I am—my friends get round me—we chaff, we sparkle, we
tell witty stories—and somehow my tongue gets wagging. I have the
gift of conversation. I’ve been told I ought to have a salon, whatever
that may be. Never mind. Go on, Badger. How’s this passage of yours going
to help us?’



‘I’ve found out a thing or two lately,’ continued the Badger. ‘I got Otter
to disguise himself as a sweep and call at the back-door with brushes over
his shoulder, asking for a job. There’s going to be a big banquet
to-morrow night. It’s somebody’s birthday—the Chief Weasel’s, I
believe—and all the weasels will be gathered together in the
dining-hall, eating and drinking and laughing and carrying on, suspecting
nothing. No guns, no swords, no sticks, no arms of any sort whatever!’



‘But the sentinels will be posted as usual,’ remarked the Rat.



‘Exactly,’ said the Badger; ‘that is my point. The weasels will trust
entirely to their excellent sentinels. And that is where the passage comes
in. That very useful tunnel leads right up under the butler’s pantry, next
to the dining-hall!’



‘Aha! that squeaky board in the butler’s pantry!’ said Toad. ‘Now I
understand it!’



‘We shall creep out quietly into the butler’s pantry—’ cried the
Mole.



‘—with our pistols and swords and sticks—’ shouted the Rat.



‘—and rush in upon them,’ said the Badger.



‘—and whack ‘em, and whack ‘em, and whack ‘em!’ cried the Toad in
ecstasy, running round and round the room, and jumping over the chairs.



‘Very well, then,’ said the Badger, resuming his usual dry manner, ‘our
plan is settled, and there’s nothing more for you to argue and squabble
about. So, as it’s getting very late, all of you go right off to bed at
once. We will make all the necessary arrangements in the course of the
morning to-morrow.’



Toad, of course, went off to bed dutifully with the rest—he knew
better than to refuse—though he was feeling much too excited to
sleep. But he had had a long day, with many events crowded into it; and
sheets and blankets were very friendly and comforting things, after plain
straw, and not too much of it, spread on the stone floor of a draughty
cell; and his head had not been many seconds on his pillow before he was
snoring happily. Naturally, he dreamt a good deal; about roads that ran
away from him just when he wanted them, and canals that chased him and
caught him, and a barge that sailed into the banqueting-hall with his
week’s washing, just as he was giving a dinner-party; and he was alone in
the secret passage, pushing onwards, but it twisted and turned round and
shook itself, and sat up on its end; yet somehow, at the last, he found
himself back in Toad Hall, safe and triumphant, with all his friends
gathered round about him, earnestly assuring him that he really was a
clever Toad.



He slept till a late hour next morning, and by the time he got down he
found that the other animals had finished their breakfast some time
before. The Mole had slipped off somewhere by himself, without telling any
one where he was going to. The Badger sat in the arm-chair, reading the
paper, and not concerning himself in the slightest about what was going to
happen that very evening. The Rat, on the other hand, was running round
the room busily, with his arms full of weapons of every kind, distributing
them in four little heaps on the floor, and saying excitedly under his
breath, as he ran, ‘Here’s-a-sword-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-sword-for-the
Mole, here’s-a-sword-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-sword-for-the-Badger!
Here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Mole,
here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Badger!’ And so on,
in a regular, rhythmical way, while the four little heaps gradually grew
and grew.



‘That’s all very well, Rat,’ said the Badger presently, looking at the
busy little animal over the edge of his newspaper; ‘I’m not blaming you.
But just let us once get past the stoats, with those detestable guns of
theirs, and I assure you we shan’t want any swords or pistols. We four,
with our sticks, once we’re inside the dining-hall, why, we shall clear
the floor of all the lot of them in five minutes. I’d have done the whole
thing by myself, only I didn’t want to deprive you fellows of the fun!’



‘It’s as well to be on the safe side,’ said the Rat reflectively,
polishing a pistol-barrel on his sleeve and looking along it.



The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and swung
it vigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. ‘I’ll learn ‘em to steal my
house!’ he cried. ‘I’ll learn ‘em, I’ll learn ‘em!’



‘Don’t say “learn ‘em,” Toad,’ said the Rat, greatly shocked. ‘It’s not
good English.’



‘What are you always nagging at Toad for?’ inquired the Badger, rather
peevishly. ‘What’s the matter with his English? It’s the same what I use
myself, and if it’s good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for
you!’



‘I’m very sorry,’ said the Rat humbly. ‘Only I THINK it ought to be “teach
‘em,” not “learn ‘em.”’



‘But we don’t WANT to teach ‘em,’ replied the Badger. ‘We want to LEARN
‘em—learn ‘em, learn ‘em! And what’s more, we’re going to DO it,
too!’



‘Oh, very well, have it your own way,’ said the Rat. He was getting rather
muddled about it himself, and presently he retired into a corner, where he
could be heard muttering, ‘Learn ‘em, teach ‘em, teach ‘em, learn ‘em!’
till the Badger told him rather sharply to leave off.



Presently the Mole came tumbling into the room, evidently very pleased
with himself. ‘I’ve been having such fun!’ he began at once; ‘I’ve been
getting a rise out of the stoats!’



‘I hope you’ve been very careful, Mole?’ said the Rat anxiously.



‘I should hope so, too,’ said the Mole confidently. ‘I got the idea when I
went into the kitchen, to see about Toad’s breakfast being kept hot for
him. I found that old washerwoman-dress that he came home in yesterday,
hanging on a towel-horse before the fire. So I put it on, and the bonnet
as well, and the shawl, and off I went to Toad Hall, as bold as you
please. The sentries were on the look-out, of course, with their guns and
their “Who comes there?” and all the rest of their nonsense. “Good
morning, gentlemen!” says I, very respectful. “Want any washing done
to-day?”



‘They looked at me very proud and stiff and haughty, and said, “Go away,
washerwoman! We don’t do any washing on duty.” “Or any other time?” says
I. Ho, ho, ho! Wasn’t I FUNNY, Toad?’



‘Poor, frivolous animal!’ said Toad, very loftily. The fact is, he felt
exceedingly jealous of Mole for what he had just done. It was exactly what
he would have liked to have done himself, if only he had thought of it
first, and hadn’t gone and overslept himself.



‘Some of the stoats turned quite pink,’ continued the Mole, ‘and the
Sergeant in charge, he said to me, very short, he said, “Now run away, my
good woman, run away! Don’t keep my men idling and talking on their
posts.” “Run away?” says I; “it won’t be me that’ll be running away, in a
very short time from now!”’



‘O MOLY, how could you?’ said the Rat, dismayed.



The Badger laid down his paper.



‘I could see them pricking up their ears and looking at each other,’ went
on the Mole; ‘and the Sergeant said to them, “Never mind HER; she doesn’t
know what she’s talking about.”’



‘“O! don’t I?”’ said I. ‘“Well, let me tell you this. My daughter, she
washes for Mr. Badger, and that’ll show you whether I know what I’m
talking about; and YOU’LL know pretty soon, too! A hundred bloodthirsty
badgers, armed with rifles, are going to attack Toad Hall this very night,
by way of the paddock. Six boatloads of Rats, with pistols and cutlasses,
will come up the river and effect a landing in the garden; while a picked
body of Toads, known at the Die-hards, or the Death-or-Glory Toads, will
storm the orchard and carry everything before them, yelling for vengeance.
There won’t be much left of you to wash, by the time they’ve done with
you, unless you clear out while you have the chance!” Then I ran away, and
when I was out of sight I hid; and presently I came creeping back along
the ditch and took a peep at them through the hedge. They were all as
nervous and flustered as could be, running all ways at once, and falling
over each other, and every one giving orders to everybody else and not
listening; and the Sergeant kept sending off parties of stoats to distant
parts of the grounds, and then sending other fellows to fetch ‘em back
again; and I heard them saying to each other, “That’s just like the
weasels; they’re to stop comfortably in the banqueting-hall, and have
feasting and toasts and songs and all sorts of fun, while we must stay on
guard in the cold and the dark, and in the end be cut to pieces by
bloodthirsty Badgers!’”



‘Oh, you silly ass, Mole!’ cried Toad, ‘You’ve been and spoilt
everything!’



‘Mole,’ said the Badger, in his dry, quiet way, ‘I perceive you have more
sense in your little finger than some other animals have in the whole of
their fat bodies. You have managed excellently, and I begin to have great
hopes of you. Good Mole! Clever Mole!’



The Toad was simply wild with jealousy, more especially as he couldn’t
make out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so
particularly clever; but, fortunately for him, before he could show temper
or expose himself to the Badger’s sarcasm, the bell rang for luncheon.



It was a simple but sustaining meal—bacon and broad beans, and a
macaroni pudding; and when they had quite done, the Badger settled himself
into an arm-chair, and said, ‘Well, we’ve got our work cut out for us
to-night, and it will probably be pretty late before we’re quite through
with it; so I’m just going to take forty winks, while I can.’ And he drew
a handkerchief over his face and was soon snoring.



The anxious and laborious Rat at once resumed his preparations, and
started running between his four little heaps, muttering,
‘Here’s-a-belt-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Mole,
here’s-a-belt-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Badger!’ and so on, with
every fresh accoutrement he produced, to which there seemed really no end;
so the Mole drew his arm through Toad’s, led him out into the open air,
shoved him into a wicker chair, and made him tell him all his adventures
from beginning to end, which Toad was only too willing to do. The Mole was
a good listener, and Toad, with no one to check his statements or to
criticise in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go. Indeed, much
that he related belonged more properly to the category of
what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of
ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and the raciest
adventures; and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat
inadequate things that really come off?














XII. THE RETURN OF ULYSSES



When it began to grow dark, the Rat, with an air of excitement and
mystery, summoned them back into the parlour, stood each of them up
alongside of his little heap, and proceeded to dress them up for the
coming expedition. He was very earnest and thoroughgoing about it, and the
affair took quite a long time. First, there was a belt to go round each
animal, and then a sword to be stuck into each belt, and then a cutlass on
the other side to balance it. Then a pair of pistols, a policeman’s
truncheon, several sets of handcuffs, some bandages and sticking-plaster,
and a flask and a sandwich-case. The Badger laughed good-humouredly and
said, ‘All right, Ratty! It amuses you and it doesn’t hurt me. I’m going
to do all I’ve got to do with this here stick.’ But the Rat only said,
‘PLEASE, Badger. You know I shouldn’t like you to blame me afterwards and
say I had forgotten ANYTHING!’



When all was quite ready, the Badger took a dark lantern in one paw,
grasped his great stick with the other, and said, ‘Now then, follow me!
Mole first, ‘cos I’m very pleased with him; Rat next; Toad last. And look
here, Toady! Don’t you chatter so much as usual, or you’ll be sent back,
as sure as fate!’



The Toad was so anxious not to be left out that he took up the inferior
position assigned to him without a murmur, and the animals set off. The
Badger led them along by the river for a little way, and then suddenly
swung himself over the edge into a hole in the river-bank, a little above
the water. The Mole and the Rat followed silently, swinging themselves
successfully into the hole as they had seen the Badger do; but when it
came to Toad’s turn, of course he managed to slip and fall into the water
with a loud splash and a squeal of alarm. He was hauled out by his
friends, rubbed down and wrung out hastily, comforted, and set on his
legs; but the Badger was seriously angry, and told him that the very next
time he made a fool of himself he would most certainly be left behind.



So at last they were in the secret passage, and the cutting-out expedition
had really begun!



It was cold, and dark, and damp, and low, and narrow, and poor Toad began
to shiver, partly from dread of what might be before him, partly because
he was wet through. The lantern was far ahead, and he could not help
lagging behind a little in the darkness. Then he heard the Rat call out
warningly, ‘COME on, Toad!’ and a terror seized him of being left behind,
alone in the darkness, and he ‘came on’ with such a rush that he upset the
Rat into the Mole and the Mole into the Badger, and for a moment all was
confusion. The Badger thought they were being attacked from behind, and,
as there was no room to use a stick or a cutlass, drew a pistol, and was
on the point of putting a bullet into Toad. When he found out what had
really happened he was very angry indeed, and said, ‘Now this time that
tiresome Toad SHALL be left behind!’



But Toad whimpered, and the other two promised that they would be
answerable for his good conduct, and at last the Badger was pacified, and
the procession moved on; only this time the Rat brought up the rear, with
a firm grip on the shoulder of Toad.



So they groped and shuffled along, with their ears pricked up and their
paws on their pistols, till at last the Badger said, ‘We ought by now to
be pretty nearly under the Hall.’



Then suddenly they heard, far away as it might be, and yet apparently
nearly over their heads, a confused murmur of sound, as if people were
shouting and cheering and stamping on the floor and hammering on tables.
The Toad’s nervous terrors all returned, but the Badger only remarked
placidly, ‘They ARE going it, the Weasels!’



The passage now began to slope upwards; they groped onward a little
further, and then the noise broke out again, quite distinct this time, and
very close above them. ‘Ooo-ray-ooray-oo-ray-ooray!’ they heard, and the
stamping of little feet on the floor, and the clinking of glasses as
little fists pounded on the table. ‘WHAT a time they’re having!’ said the
Badger. ‘Come on!’ They hurried along the passage till it came to a full
stop, and they found themselves standing under the trap-door that led up
into the butler’s pantry.



Such a tremendous noise was going on in the banqueting-hall that there was
little danger of their being overheard. The Badger said, ‘Now, boys, all
together!’ and the four of them put their shoulders to the trap-door and
heaved it back. Hoisting each other up, they found themselves standing in
the pantry, with only a door between them and the banqueting-hall, where
their unconscious enemies were carousing.



The noise, as they emerged from the passage, was simply deafening. At
last, as the cheering and hammering slowly subsided, a voice could be made
out saying, ‘Well, I do not propose to detain you much longer’—(great
applause)—‘but before I resume my seat’—(renewed cheering)—‘I
should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr. Toad. We all know
Toad!’—(great laughter)—‘GOOD Toad, MODEST Toad, HONEST Toad!’
(shrieks of merriment).



‘Only just let me get at him!’ muttered Toad, grinding his teeth.



‘Hold hard a minute!’ said the Badger, restraining him with difficulty.
‘Get ready, all of you!’



‘—Let me sing you a little song,’ went on the voice, ‘which I have
composed on the subject of Toad’—(prolonged applause).



Then the Chief Weasel—for it was he—began in a high, squeaky
voice—



‘Toad he went a-pleasuring
Gaily down the street—’



The Badger drew himself up, took a firm grip of his stick with both paws,
glanced round at his comrades, and cried—



‘The hour is come! Follow me!’



And flung the door open wide.



My!



What a squealing and a squeaking and a screeching filled the air!



Well might the terrified weasels dive under the tables and spring madly up
at the windows! Well might the ferrets rush wildly for the fireplace and
get hopelessly jammed in the chimney! Well might tables and chairs be
upset, and glass and china be sent crashing on the floor, in the panic of
that terrible moment when the four Heroes strode wrathfully into the room!
The mighty Badger, his whiskers bristling, his great cudgel whistling
through the air; Mole, black and grim, brandishing his stick and shouting
his awful war-cry, ‘A Mole! A Mole!’ Rat; desperate and determined, his
belt bulging with weapons of every age and every variety; Toad, frenzied
with excitement and injured pride, swollen to twice his ordinary size,
leaping into the air and emitting Toad-whoops that chilled them to the
marrow! ‘Toad he went a-pleasuring!’ he yelled. ‘I’LL pleasure ‘em!’ and
he went straight for the Chief Weasel. They were but four in all, but to
the panic-stricken weasels the hall seemed full of monstrous animals,
grey, black, brown and yellow, whooping and flourishing enormous cudgels;
and they broke and fled with squeals of terror and dismay, this way and
that, through the windows, up the chimney, anywhere to get out of reach of
those terrible sticks.



The affair was soon over. Up and down, the whole length of the hall,
strode the four Friends, whacking with their sticks at every head that
showed itself; and in five minutes the room was cleared. Through the
broken windows the shrieks of terrified weasels escaping across the lawn
were borne faintly to their ears; on the floor lay prostrate some dozen or
so of the enemy, on whom the Mole was busily engaged in fitting handcuffs.
The Badger, resting from his labours, leant on his stick and wiped his
honest brow.



‘Mole,’ he said,’ ‘you’re the best of fellows! Just cut along outside and
look after those stoat-sentries of yours, and see what they’re doing. I’ve
an idea that, thanks to you, we shan’t have much trouble from them
to-night!’



The Mole vanished promptly through a window; and the Badger bade the other
two set a table on its legs again, pick up knives and forks and plates and
glasses from the debris on the floor, and see if they could find materials
for a supper. ‘I want some grub, I do,’ he said, in that rather common way
he had of speaking. ‘Stir your stumps, Toad, and look lively! We’ve got
your house back for you, and you don’t offer us so much as a sandwich.’
Toad felt rather hurt that the Badger didn’t say pleasant things to him,
as he had to the Mole, and tell him what a fine fellow he was, and how
splendidly he had fought; for he was rather particularly pleased with
himself and the way he had gone for the Chief Weasel and sent him flying
across the table with one blow of his stick. But he bustled about, and so
did the Rat, and soon they found some guava jelly in a glass dish, and a
cold chicken, a tongue that had hardly been touched, some trifle, and
quite a lot of lobster salad; and in the pantry they came upon a basketful
of French rolls and any quantity of cheese, butter, and celery. They were
just about to sit down when the Mole clambered in through the window,
chuckling, with an armful of rifles.



‘It’s all over,’ he reported. ‘From what I can make out, as soon as the
stoats, who were very nervous and jumpy already, heard the shrieks and the
yells and the uproar inside the hall, some of them threw down their rifles
and fled. The others stood fast for a bit, but when the weasels came
rushing out upon them they thought they were betrayed; and the stoats
grappled with the weasels, and the weasels fought to get away, and they
wrestled and wriggled and punched each other, and rolled over and over,
till most of ‘em rolled into the river! They’ve all disappeared by now,
one way or another; and I’ve got their rifles. So that’s all right!’



‘Excellent and deserving animal!’ said the Badger, his mouth full of
chicken and trifle. ‘Now, there’s just one more thing I want you to do,
Mole, before you sit down to your supper along of us; and I wouldn’t
trouble you only I know I can trust you to see a thing done, and I wish I
could say the same of every one I know. I’d send Rat, if he wasn’t a poet.
I want you to take those fellows on the floor there upstairs with you, and
have some bedrooms cleaned out and tidied up and made really comfortable.
See that they sweep UNDER the beds, and put clean sheets and pillow-cases
on, and turn down one corner of the bed-clothes, just as you know it ought
to be done; and have a can of hot water, and clean towels, and fresh cakes
of soap, put in each room. And then you can give them a licking a-piece,
if it’s any satisfaction to you, and put them out by the back-door, and we
shan’t see any more of THEM, I fancy. And then come along and have some of
this cold tongue. It’s first rate. I’m very pleased with you, Mole!’



The goodnatured Mole picked up a stick, formed his prisoners up in a line
on the floor, gave them the order ‘Quick march!’ and led his squad off to
the upper floor. After a time, he appeared again, smiling, and said that
every room was ready, and as clean as a new pin. ‘And I didn’t have to
lick them, either,’ he added. ‘I thought, on the whole, they had had
licking enough for one night, and the weasels, when I put the point to
them, quite agreed with me, and said they wouldn’t think of troubling me.
They were very penitent, and said they were extremely sorry for what they
had done, but it was all the fault of the Chief Weasel and the stoats, and
if ever they could do anything for us at any time to make up, we had only
got to mention it. So I gave them a roll a-piece, and let them out at the
back, and off they ran, as hard as they could!’



Then the Mole pulled his chair up to the table, and pitched into the cold
tongue; and Toad, like the gentleman he was, put all his jealousy from
him, and said heartily, ‘Thank you kindly, dear Mole, for all your pains
and trouble tonight, and especially for your cleverness this morning!’ The
Badger was pleased at that, and said, ‘There spoke my brave Toad!’ So they
finished their supper in great joy and contentment, and presently retired
to rest between clean sheets, safe in Toad’s ancestral home, won back by
matchless valour, consummate strategy, and a proper handling of sticks.



The following morning, Toad, who had overslept himself as usual, came down
to breakfast disgracefully late, and found on the table a certain quantity
of egg-shells, some fragments of cold and leathery toast, a coffee-pot
three-fourths empty, and really very little else; which did not tend to
improve his temper, considering that, after all, it was his own house.
Through the French windows of the breakfast-room he could see the Mole and
the Water Rat sitting in wicker-chairs out on the lawn, evidently telling
each other stories; roaring with laughter and kicking their short legs up
in the air. The Badger, who was in an arm-chair and deep in the morning
paper, merely looked up and nodded when Toad entered the room. But Toad
knew his man, so he sat down and made the best breakfast he could, merely
observing to himself that he would get square with the others sooner or
later. When he had nearly finished, the Badger looked up and remarked
rather shortly: ‘I’m sorry, Toad, but I’m afraid there’s a heavy morning’s
work in front of you. You see, we really ought to have a Banquet at once,
to celebrate this affair. It’s expected of you—in fact, it’s the
rule.’



‘O, all right!’ said the Toad, readily. ‘Anything to oblige. Though why on
earth you should want to have a Banquet in the morning I cannot
understand. But you know I do not live to please myself, but merely to
find out what my friends want, and then try and arrange it for ‘em, you
dear old Badger!’



‘Don’t pretend to be stupider than you really are,’ replied the Badger,
crossly; ‘and don’t chuckle and splutter in your coffee while you’re
talking; it’s not manners. What I mean is, the Banquet will be at night,
of course, but the invitations will have to be written and got off at
once, and you’ve got to write ‘em. Now, sit down at that table—there’s
stacks of letter-paper on it, with “Toad Hall” at the top in blue and gold—and
write invitations to all our friends, and if you stick to it we shall get
them out before luncheon. And I’LL bear a hand, too; and take my share of
the burden. I’LL order the Banquet.’



‘What!’ cried Toad, dismayed. ‘Me stop indoors and write a lot of rotten
letters on a jolly morning like this, when I want to go around my
property, and set everything and everybody to rights, and swagger about
and enjoy myself! Certainly not! I’ll be—I’ll see you——Stop
a minute, though! Why, of course, dear Badger! What is my pleasure or
convenience compared with that of others! You wish it done, and it shall
be done. Go, Badger, order the Banquet, order what you like; then join our
young friends outside in their innocent mirth, oblivious of me and my
cares and toils. I sacrifice this fair morning on the altar of duty and
friendship!’



The Badger looked at him very suspiciously, but Toad’s frank, open
countenance made it difficult to suggest any unworthy motive in this
change of attitude. He quitted the room, accordingly, in the direction of
the kitchen, and as soon as the door had closed behind him, Toad hurried
to the writing-table. A fine idea had occurred to him while he was
talking. He WOULD write the invitations; and he would take care to mention
the leading part he had taken in the fight, and how he had laid the Chief
Weasel flat; and he would hint at his adventures, and what a career of
triumph he had to tell about; and on the fly-leaf he would set out a sort
of a programme of entertainment for the evening—something like this,
as he sketched it out in his head:—



SPEECH. . . . BY TOAD.



(There will be other speeches by TOAD during the evening.)



ADDRESS. . . BY TOAD



SYNOPSIS—Our Prison System—the Waterways of Old England—Horse-dealing,
and how to deal—Property, its rights and its duties—Back to
the Land—A Typical English Squire.



SONG. . . . BY TOAD. (Composed by himself.) OTHER COMPOSITIONS. BY TOAD



will be sung in the course of the evening by the. . . COMPOSER.



The idea pleased him mightily, and he worked very hard and got all the
letters finished by noon, at which hour it was reported to him that there
was a small and rather bedraggled weasel at the door, inquiring timidly
whether he could be of any service to the gentlemen. Toad swaggered out
and found it was one of the prisoners of the previous evening, very
respectful and anxious to please. He patted him on the head, shoved the
bundle of invitations into his paw, and told him to cut along quick and
deliver them as fast as he could, and if he liked to come back again in
the evening, perhaps there might be a shilling for him, or, again, perhaps
there mightn’t; and the poor weasel seemed really quite grateful, and
hurried off eagerly to do his mission.



When the other animals came back to luncheon, very boisterous and breezy
after a morning on the river, the Mole, whose conscience had been pricking
him, looked doubtfully at Toad, expecting to find him sulky or depressed.
Instead, he was so uppish and inflated that the Mole began to suspect
something; while the Rat and the Badger exchanged significant glances.



As soon as the meal was over, Toad thrust his paws deep into his
trouser-pockets, remarked casually, ‘Well, look after yourselves, you
fellows! Ask for anything you want!’ and was swaggering off in the
direction of the garden, where he wanted to think out an idea or two for
his coming speeches, when the Rat caught him by the arm.



Toad rather suspected what he was after, and did his best to get away; but
when the Badger took him firmly by the other arm he began to see that the
game was up. The two animals conducted him between them into the small
smoking-room that opened out of the entrance-hall, shut the door, and put
him into a chair. Then they both stood in front of him, while Toad sat
silent and regarded them with much suspicion and ill-humour.



‘Now, look here, Toad,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s about this Banquet, and very
sorry I am to have to speak to you like this. But we want you to
understand clearly, once and for all, that there are going to be no
speeches and no songs. Try and grasp the fact that on this occasion we’re
not arguing with you; we’re just telling you.’



Toad saw that he was trapped. They understood him, they saw through him,
they had got ahead of him. His pleasant dream was shattered.



‘Mayn’t I sing them just one LITTLE song?’ he pleaded piteously.



‘No, not ONE little song,’ replied the Rat firmly, though his heart bled
as he noticed the trembling lip of the poor disappointed Toad. ‘It’s no
good, Toady; you know well that your songs are all conceit and boasting
and vanity; and your speeches are all self-praise and—and—well,
and gross exaggeration and—and——’



‘And gas,’ put in the Badger, in his common way.



‘It’s for your own good, Toady,’ went on the Rat. ‘You know you MUST turn
over a new leaf sooner or later, and now seems a splendid time to begin; a
sort of turning-point in your career. Please don’t think that saying all
this doesn’t hurt me more than it hurts you.’



Toad remained a long while plunged in thought. At last he raised his head,
and the traces of strong emotion were visible on his features. ‘You have
conquered, my friends,’ he said in broken accents. ‘It was, to be sure,
but a small thing that I asked—merely leave to blossom and expand
for yet one more evening, to let myself go and hear the tumultuous
applause that always seems to me—somehow—to bring out my best
qualities. However, you are right, I know, and I am wrong. Hence forth I
will be a very different Toad. My friends, you shall never have occasion
to blush for me again. But, O dear, O dear, this is a hard world!’



And, pressing his handkerchief to his face, he left the room, with
faltering footsteps.



‘Badger,’ said the Rat, ‘I feel like a brute; I wonder what YOU
feel like?’



‘O, I know, I know,’ said the Badger gloomily. ‘But the thing had to be
done. This good fellow has got to live here, and hold his own, and be
respected. Would you have him a common laughing-stock, mocked and jeered
at by stoats and weasels?’



‘Of course not,’ said the Rat. ‘And, talking of weasels, it’s lucky we
came upon that little weasel, just as he was setting out with Toad’s
invitations. I suspected something from what you told me, and had a look
at one or two; they were simply disgraceful. I confiscated the lot, and
the good Mole is now sitting in the blue boudoir, filling up plain, simple
invitation cards.’





At last the hour for the banquet began to draw near, and Toad, who on
leaving the others had retired to his bedroom, was still sitting there,
melancholy and thoughtful. His brow resting on his paw, he pondered long
and deeply. Gradually his countenance cleared, and he began to smile long,
slow smiles. Then he took to giggling in a shy, self-conscious manner. At
last he got up, locked the door, drew the curtains across the windows,
collected all the chairs in the room and arranged them in a semicircle,
and took up his position in front of them, swelling visibly. Then he
bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go, with uplifted voice he
sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw.


                  TOAD’S LAST LITTLE SONG!

The Toad—came—home!
There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls,
There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
When the Toad—came—home!

When the Toad—came—home!
There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
There was chivvying of weasels that fainted on the floor,
When the Toad—came—home!

Bang! go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
As the—Hero—comes!

Shout—Hoo-ray!
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animal of whom you’re justly proud,
For it’s Toad’s—great—day!



He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had
done, he sang it all over again.



Then he heaved a deep sigh; a long, long, long sigh.



Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug, parted his hair in the
middle, and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his
face; and, unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his
guests, who he knew must be assembling in the drawing-room.



All the animals cheered when he entered, and crowded round to congratulate
him and say nice things about his courage, and his cleverness, and his
fighting qualities; but Toad only smiled faintly, and murmured, ‘Not at
all!’ Or, sometimes, for a change, ‘On the contrary!’ Otter, who was
standing on the hearthrug, describing to an admiring circle of friends
exactly how he would have managed things had he been there, came forward
with a shout, threw his arm round Toad’s neck, and tried to take him round
the room in triumphal progress; but Toad, in a mild way, was rather snubby
to him, remarking gently, as he disengaged himself, ‘Badger’s was the
mastermind; the Mole and the Water Rat bore the brunt of the fighting; I
merely served in the ranks and did little or nothing.’ The animals were
evidently puzzled and taken aback by this unexpected attitude of his; and
Toad felt, as he moved from one guest to the other, making his modest
responses, that he was an object of absorbing interest to every one.



The Badger had ordered everything of the best, and the banquet was a great
success. There was much talking and laughter and chaff among the animals,
but through it all Toad, who of course was in the chair, looked down his
nose and murmured pleasant nothings to the animals on either side of him.
At intervals he stole a glance at the Badger and the Rat, and always when
he looked they were staring at each other with their mouths open; and this
gave him the greatest satisfaction. Some of the younger and livelier
animals, as the evening wore on, got whispering to each other that things
were not so amusing as they used to be in the good old days; and there
were some knockings on the table and cries of ‘Toad! Speech! Speech from
Toad! Song! Mr. Toad’s song!’ But Toad only shook his head gently, raised
one paw in mild protest, and, by pressing delicacies on his guests, by
topical small-talk, and by earnest inquiries after members of their
families not yet old enough to appear at social functions, managed to
convey to them that this dinner was being run on strictly conventional
lines.



He was indeed an altered Toad!





After this climax, the four animals continued to lead their lives, so
rudely broken in upon by civil war, in great joy and contentment,
undisturbed by further risings or invasions. Toad, after due consultation
with his friends, selected a handsome gold chain and locket set with
pearls, which he dispatched to the gaoler’s daughter with a letter that
even the Badger admitted to be modest, grateful, and appreciative; and the
engine-driver, in his turn, was properly thanked and compensated for all
his pains and trouble. Under severe compulsion from the Badger, even the
barge-woman was, with some trouble, sought out and the value of her horse
discreetly made good to her; though Toad kicked terribly at this, holding
himself to be an instrument of Fate, sent to punish fat women with mottled
arms who couldn’t tell a real gentleman when they saw one. The amount
involved, it was true, was not very burdensome, the gipsy’s valuation
being admitted by local assessors to be approximately correct.



Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take a
stroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed so far as they
were concerned; and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were
greeted by the inhabitants, and how the mother-weasels would bring their
young ones to the mouths of their holes, and say, pointing, ‘Look, baby!
There goes the great Mr. Toad! And that’s the gallant Water Rat, a
terrible fighter, walking along o’ him! And yonder comes the famous Mr.
Mole, of whom you so often have heard your father tell!’ But when their
infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by
telling how, if they didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey
Badger would up and get them. This was a base libel on Badger, who, though
he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never
failed to have its full effect.

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