THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
BY KENNETH GRAHAME
I. THE RIVER BANK
THE OPEN ROAD
THE WILD WOOD
V. DULCE DOMUM
THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
X. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD
"LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS"
THE RETURN OF ULYSSES
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,
that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor,
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,
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.
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.
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;
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,
leaves thrusting --everything happy,
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.
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,
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,
By the side of the river he trotted as one trots,
when very small,
by the side of a man who holds one spellbound 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,
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.
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,
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.
said the Water Rat.
said the Mole.
"Would you like to come over?"
enquired the Rat presently.
it's 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 fore-paw as the Mole stepped gingerly down.
"Lean on that!"
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!"
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."
[Illustration: -It was the Water Rat-]
cried the Rat,
"Never been in a --you never --well I --what have you been doing,
"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,
and all the fascinating fittings,
and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
It's the -only- thing,"
said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke.
my young friend,
there is -nothing ---absolute nothing --half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
he went on dreamily:
"messing --about --in --boats;
cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late.
The boat struck the bank full tilt.
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
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.
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 leant back blissfully into the soft cushions.
"-What- a day I'm having!"
"Let us start at once!"
"Hold hard a minute,
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:
"coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwiches pottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater --"
cried the Mole in ecstasies.
"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 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 forbore to disturb him.
"I like your clothes awfully,
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!"
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 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.
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.
it isn't what it used to be,
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's just the Wild Wood,"
said the Rat shortly.
"We don't go there very much,
"Aren't they --aren't they very -nice- people in there?"
said the Mole a trifle nervously.
replied the Rat,
"let me see.
The squirrels are all right.
-And- the rabbits --some of
but rabbits are a mixed lot.
And then there's Badger,
He lives right in the heart of it;
wouldn't live anywhere else,
if you paid him to do it.
Dear old Badger!
Nobody interferes with -him-.
They'd better not,"
he added significantly.
who -should- interfere with him?"
asked the Mole.
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?"
"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,
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 landlocked 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 fore-paws and gasp:
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,
at each fresh revelation.
When all was ready,
the Rat said,
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."
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.
making for the provender.
"Why didn't you invite me,
"This was an impromptu affair,"
explained the Rat.
"By the way --my friend Mr. Mole."
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,
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.
shouted the Rat.
The Badger trotted forward a pace or two,
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.
-who's- out on the river?"
replied the Otter.
"In his brand-new wager-boat;
The two animals looked at each other and laughed.
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,
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.
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.
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.
please let me,"
said the Mole.
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,
the mustard pot,
which he had been sitting on without knowing it --still,
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 already quite at home in a boat (so he thought),
and was getting a bit restless besides: and presently he said,
-I- want to row,
The Rat shook his head with a smile.
my young friend,"
"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.
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.
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.
how cold the water was,
how -very- wet it felt!
How it sang in his ears as he went 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,
propelled the helpless animal to shore,
hauled him out,
and set him down on the bank,
pulpy lump of misery.
When the Rat had rubbed him down a bit,
and wrung some of the wet out of him,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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;
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,
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,
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,
something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.
THE OPEN ROAD
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,
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:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
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,
High in the blue above Swifts whirl and call -- -We- are down a-dabbling Up tails all!
"I don't know that I think so -very- much of that little song,
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.
'-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.
cried the Rat indignantly.
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."
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 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,"
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,
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,
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,
Toad is rather rich,
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.
"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."
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.
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,
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,
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.
"It's only my way,
And it's not such a very bad house,
you rather like it yourself.
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,
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 --"
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.
I've discovered the real thing,
the only genuine occupation for a lifetime.
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,
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;
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 rolling downs!
up and off to somewhere else to-morrow!
The whole world before you,
and a horizon that's always changing!
this is the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built,
without any exception.
Come inside and look at the arrangements.
'em all myself,
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,
a bird-cage with a bird in it;
and kettles of every size and variety.
said the Toad triumphantly,
pulling open a locker.
"You see --biscuits,
sardines --everything you can possibly want.
Soda-water here --baccy there --letter-paper,
and dominoes --you'll find,"
as they descended the steps again,
"you'll find that nothing whatever 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
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,
I want to show you the world!
I'm going to make an -animal- of you,
"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,
as I've always done.
And what's more,
Mole's going to stick to me and do as I do,
"Of course I am,"
said the Mole,
"I'll always stick to you,
and what you say is to be --has got to be.
All the same,
it sounds as if it might have been --well,
he added wistfully.
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,
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,"
"and we'll talk it over.
We needn't decide anything in a hurry.
-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,
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.
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,
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 nose-bags,
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;
gave them "Good day,"
or stopped to say nice things about their beautiful cart;
sitting at their front doors in the hedgerows,
held up their fore-paws,
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;
kicking out his legs,
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,
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,
"Shall we run away to-morrow morning,
quite early ---very- early --and go back to our dear old hole on the river?"
we'll see it out,"
whispered back the Rat.
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.
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,
forgotten to provide.
The hard work had all been done,
and the two animals were resting,
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,
on a common,
only this time the two guests took care that Toad should do his fair share of work.
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,
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,
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.
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,
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,
as he plodded along,
of his quiet paddock,
in a new raw situation such as this,
simply abandoned himself to his natural emotions.
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 backward towards the deep ditch at the side of the road.
It wavered an instant --then there was a heart-rending 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.
shaking both fists.
you --you --road-hogs!
--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,
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.
"Come and bear a hand,
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,
he demanded sternly.
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!
towns and cities jumped --always somebody else's horizon!
"O -stop- being an ass,
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,
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.
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.
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?"
said the Rat savagely;
"I've done with him."
They had not proceeded very far on their way,
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.
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.
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."
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,
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,
I might never have heard that entrancing sound,
or smelt that bewitching smell!
I owe it all to you,
my best of friends!"
[Illustration: -"Come on!"
"We shall just have to walk it"-]
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 river bank to-night.
And if ever you catch me going a-pleasuring with this provoking animal again!"
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.
a slow train having landed them at a station not very far from Toad Hall,
they escorted the spellbound,
sleep-walking Toad to his door,
put him inside it,
and instructed his housekeeper to feed 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?"
"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."
THE WILD WOOD
The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger.
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 all that sort of thing."
supposing we go and call on -him-?"
suggested the Mole.
I'm sure he wouldn't like that at -all-,"
said the Rat,
"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.
It's quite out of the question,
because he lives in the very middle of the Wild Wood."
supposing he does,"
said the Mole.
"You told me the Wild Wood was all right,
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;
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.
tender and wistful,
like a pink sunset cloud,
was not slow to follow.
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!
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,
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 corn-fields;
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;
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.
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,
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,
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,
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,
that he first thought he saw a 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 then --yes!
certainly a little,
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.
and as if it had been so all the time,
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,
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.
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,
whoever they were!
And he --he was alone,
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,
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.
expecting it to slacken pace or to swerve from him into a different course.
the animal almost brushed him as it dashed past,
his face set and hard,
his eyes staring.
"Get out of this,
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,
closing in round something or --somebody?
he began to run too,
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?
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 fulness,
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!
[Illustration: -In panic,
he began to run-]
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!"
receiving no answer,
got up and went out into the hall.
The Mole's cap was missing from its accustomed peg.
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,
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,
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;
forsaking all paths,
he set himself to traverse it,
laboriously working over the whole ground,
and all the time calling out cheerfully,
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,
Is that really you?"
The Rat crept into the hollow,
and there he found the Mole,
exhausted and still trembling.
"I've been so frightened,
you can't think!"
I quite understand,"
said the Rat soothingly.
"You shouldn't really have gone and done it,
I did my best to keep you from it.
we hardly ever come here by ourselves.
If we have to come,
we come in couples at least;
then we're generally all right.
there are a hundred things one has to know,
which we understand all about and you don't,
I mean passwords,
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,
inquired the Mole.
said the Rat,
"He wouldn't show his face here alone,
not for a whole hatful of golden guineas,
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.
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,
for one thing."
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."
said the good-natured Rat,
It's pretty nearly pitch dark now,
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,
as best he might,
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,
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,
here ---is ---a --go!"
asked the Mole.
"-Snow- is up,"
replied the Rat briefly;
It's snowing hard."
The Mole came and crouched beside him,
saw the wood that had been so dreadful to him in quite a changed aspect.
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.
it can't be helped,"
said the Rat,
"We must make a start,
and take our chance,
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.
they set out bravely,
and took the line that seemed most promising,
holding on to each other and pretending with invincible cheerfulness that they recognised an old friend in every fresh tree that grimly and silently greeted them,
or saw openings,
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,
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,
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.
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.
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!"
"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,
Let's have a look at the leg.
he went on,
going down on his knees to look,
"you've cut your shin,
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.
"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.
He pondered awhile,
and examined the humps and slopes that surrounded them.
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,
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,
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.
he said at last,
"I -see- it right enough.
Seen the same sort of thing before,
lots of times.
I call it.
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!"
cried the Rat,
in despair at his obtuseness.
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.
what did I tell you?"
exclaimed the Rat in great triumph.
"Absolutely nothing whatever,"
replied the Mole,
with perfect truthfulness.
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 door-mat?
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?"
said the Mole,
"I think we've had enough of this folly.
Who ever heard of a door-mat -telling- any one 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,
"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
The Mole fell backwards on the snow from sheer surprise and delight.
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,
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.
'that door exists,
as plain as if I saw it.
There's nothing else remains to be done but to find it!'
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,
"But as you haven't,"
interrupted the Rat,
"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.
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.
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.
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?
cried the Rat,
"let us in,
and my friend Mole,
and we've lost our way in the snow."
my dear little man!"
exclaimed the Badger,
in quite a different voice.
"Come along in,
both of you,
you must be perished.
Lost in the snow!
And in the Wild Wood,
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.
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,
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,
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,
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,"
"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,
tell us the news from your part of the world.
How's old Toad going on?"
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.
he will insist on driving himself,
and he's hopelessly incapable.
If he'd only employ a decent,
pay him good wages,
and leave everything to him,
he'd get on all right.
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.
asked the Rat.
it's the same thing --with Toad.
This is the seventh.
As for the others --you know that coach-house of his?
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."
and that's part of the trouble,"
continued the Rat.
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.
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,
"of course you know I can't do anything -now-?"
His two friends assented,
quite understanding his point.
according to the rules of animal etiquette,
is ever expected to do anything strenuous,
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.
when once the year has really turned,
and the nights are shorter,
and half-way 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.
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,
said the Rat,
waking up with a jerk.
"He's been asleep two or three times since supper,"
said the Mole,
He himself was feeling quite wakeful and even lively,
though he didn't know why.
The reason was,
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.
it's time we were all in bed,"
said the Badger,
getting up and fetching flat candlesticks.
and I'll show you your quarters.
And take your time to-morrow 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,
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,
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.
said the Rat pleasantly,
"and go on with your porridge.
Where have you youngsters come from?
Lost your way in the snow,
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,
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,
for Mr. Badger he's a kind-hearted gentleman,
as every one knows --"
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?
'sir' me quite so much,"
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,
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."
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,
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.
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,
and the snow had covered up all your tracks,
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!
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,
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,
and flapped off homewards with a disgusted expression;
but I met no sensible being to ask the news of.
About half-way 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 fore-paw 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,
Mr. Rat's particular friend,
was in a bad fix;
how he had lost his way,
'They' were up and out hunting,
and were chivvying him round and round.
'Then why didn't any of you -do- something?'
'You mayn't be blessed with brains,
but there are hundreds and hundreds of you,
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.'
he merely said:
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."
[Illustration: -Through the Wild Wood and the snow-]
"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.
The Otter showed a gleaming set of strong white teeth as he laughed.
'em nerves if any of them tried anything on with me.
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,
with kind inquiries 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."
replied the Otter,
winking at the Mole.
"The sight of these greedy young hedgehogs stuffing themselves with fried ham makes me feel positively famished."
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.
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 a-piece 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,
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,"
"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
and don't bother about
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,"
"There's no security,
or peace and tranquillity,
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 remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall,
Look at Rat,
A couple of feet of flood water,
and he's got to move into hired lodgings;
and horribly expensive.
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?
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,"
"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,
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 ramifications of it all;
at the length of the dim passages,
the solid vaultings of the crammed store-chambers,
the masonry everywhere,
"How on earth,
he said at last,
"did you ever find time and strength to do all this?
"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.
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,
where we are standing,
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 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 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."
and when they went at last,
said the Mole.
"When they went,"
continued the Badger,
"the strong winds and persistent rains took the matter in hand,
year after year.
Perhaps we badgers too,
in our small way,
helped a little --who knows?
It was all down,
gradually --ruin and levelling and disappearance.
Then it was all up,
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.
liked the look of the place,
took up their quarters,
They didn't bother themselves about the past --they never do;
they're too busy.
The place was a bit humpy and hillocky,
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,
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.
said the Badger,
patting him on the shoulder,
"it was your first experience of them,
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,
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.
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,
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.
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 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,
and dead leaves,
They found themselves standing on the very edge of the Wild Wood.
Rocks and brambles and tree-roots behind them,
confusedly heaped and tangled;
a great space of quiet fields,
hemmed by lines of hedges black on the snow,
a glint of the familiar old river,
while the wintry sun hung red and low on the horizon.
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,
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 hedgerow,
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.
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;
leading from the sheep-pen,
they found a beaten track that made walking a lighter business,
to that small inquiring something which all animals carry inside them,
-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,
said the Rat.
"At this season of the year they're all safe indoors by this time,
sitting round the fire;
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,
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,
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,
and raised his head.
They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way,
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,
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.
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,"
to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day,
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.
and he had caught it again;
and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
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!
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 fresh and captivating experiences.
with a rush of old memories,
how clearly it stood up before him,
in the darkness!
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,
and was missing him,
and wanted him back,
and was telling him so,
through his nose,
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,
full of joyful excitement,
I want you,
replied the Rat cheerfully,
still plodding along.
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,
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.
we mustn't stop now,
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,
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,
somewhere low down inside him,
to leap up to the surface presently,
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.
the wafts from his old home pleaded,
and finally claimed him imperiously.
He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle.
With a wrench that tore his very heart-strings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat,
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.
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,
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 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.
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,
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!
--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,
you wouldn't turn back!
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,
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,
now we'd really better be getting on,
set off up the road again over the toilsome way they had come.
"Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic),
cried the tearful Mole,
looking up in alarm.
"We're going to find that home of yours,
replied the Rat pleasantly;
"so you had better come along,
for it will take some finding,
and we shall want your nose."
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,
said the Rat heartily.
"I tell you,
I'm going to find this place now,
if I stay out all night.
So cheer up,
and take my arm,
and we'll very soon be back there again."
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,"
no more talking.
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,
The signals were coming through!
Mole stood a moment rigid,
while his uplifted nose,
felt the air.
Then a short,
quick run forward --a fault --a check --a try back;
and then a slow,
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.
without giving warning,
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 fore-court 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,
its worn and shabby contents --and collapsed again on a hall-chair,
his nose to his paws.
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,
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 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?
Your own idea,
those little sleeping-bunks in the wall?
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.
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.
"how about your supper,
I've nothing to give you --nothing --not a crumb!"
"What a fellow you are for giving in!"
said the Rat reproachfully.
only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser,
and everybody knows that means there are sardines about somewhere in the neighbourhood.
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!"
groaned the Mole dolorously;
"No -pâté de foie gras-,
continued the Rat,
"And that reminds me --what's that little door at the end of the passage?
Every luxury in this house!
Just you wait a minute."
He made for the cellar-door,
and presently reappeared,
with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm,
"Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be,
"Deny yourself nothing.
This is really the jolliest little place I ever was in.
wherever did you pick up those prints?
Make the place look so home-like,
No wonder you're so fond of it,
Tell us all about it,
and how you came to make it what it is."
while the Rat busied himself fetching plates,
and knives and forks,
and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup,
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;
who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it,
examining with a puckered brow,
and "most remarkable,"
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,
--Where's young Bill?
we're all a-waiting --"
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 field-mice 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,
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.
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-?
as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!"-
The voices ceased,
bashful but smiling,
exchanged sidelong glances,
and silence succeeded --but for a moment only.
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,
cried the Rat heartily.
"And now come along in,
all of you,
and warm yourselves by the fire,
and have something hot!"
cried the Mole eagerly.
"This is quite like old times!
Shut the door after you.
Pull up that settle to the fire.
you just wait a minute,
while we --O,
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.
you with the lantern!
Come over this way.
I want to talk to you.
are there any shops open at this hour of the night?"
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,
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,
no tinned stuff --well then,
do the best you can!"
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,
to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year,
but looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.
was busy examining the label on one of the beer-bottles.
"I perceive this to be Old Burton,"
he remarked approvingly.
The very thing!
Now we shall be able to mull some ale!
Get the things ready,
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,
the Mole explained to the Rat.
"Make them up all by themselves,
and act them afterwards.
And very well they do it,
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.
You were in it,
Get up and recite a bit."
The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs,
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,
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,
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,
I'm ready to drop.
Sleepy is simply not the word.
That your own bunk over on that side?
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,
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;
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.
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,
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.
said the Rat,
all over egg.
"See who it is,
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,
This was a wonderful thing,
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.
asked the Rat uneasily,
glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece.
you should rather say,"
replied the Badger.
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!"
cried the Mole delightedly.
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,
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,
"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 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,
and enormous overcoat,
came swaggering down the steps,
drawing on his gauntleted gloves.
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.
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,"
"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.
he said to the Toad,
when the four of them stood together in the Hall,
"first of all,
take those ridiculous things off!"
with great spirit.
"What is the meaning of this gross outrage?
I demand an instant explanation."
"Take them off him,
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,
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.
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 arm-chairs 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,
said the Badger kindly,
pointing to a chair.
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.
I want you solemnly to repeat,
before your friends here,
what you fully admitted to me in the smoking-room just now.
you are sorry for what you've done,
and you see the folly of it all?"
There was a long,
Toad looked desperately this way and that,
while the other animals waited in grave silence.
At last he spoke.
a little sullenly,
"I'm -not- sorry.
And it wasn't folly at all!
It was simply glorious!"
cried the Badger,
"You backsliding animal,
didn't you tell me just now,
in there --"
said Toad impatiently.
"I'd have said anything in -there-.
You're so eloquent,
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;
"Then you don't promise,"
said the Badger,
"never to touch a motor-car again?"
replied Toad emphatically.
"On the contrary,
I faithfully promise that the very first motor-car I see,
off I go in it!"
"Told you so,
observed the Rat to the Mole.
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,
in this handsome house of yours;
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,
and lock him up in his bedroom,
while we arrange matters between ourselves."
"It's for your own good,
said the Rat kindly,
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,
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,
said the Rat,
as they thrust him into his bedroom.
"And no more weeks in hospital,
being ordered about by female nurses,
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,
"I've never seen Toad so determined.
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,
turning a complete somersault,
he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins of the chairs,
apparently completely satisfied for the moment.
As time passed,
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,
'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.
you look out,
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.
I must be off."
"How are you to-day,
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,
So good of you to inquire!
But first tell me how you are yourself,
and the excellent Mole?"
-we're- all right,"
replied the Rat.
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!"
"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.
I almost hope not."
I hope not,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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."
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.
no --why should you?
Noticing things is only a trouble.
you may be saying to yourself,
if only I had noticed sooner!
If only I had done something!'
it's a trouble.
Never mind --forget that I asked."
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."
with a sad smile,
'talk' can do little in a case like this --or doctors either,
for that matter;
one must grasp at the slightest straw.
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!"
he must be really bad!"
the affrighted Rat said to himself,
as he hurried from the room,
to lock the door carefully behind him.
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,"
"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.
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.
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,
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,
taking the opposite direction to the Rat,
marched off light-heartedly,
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,
of all animals!"
"He did it awfully well,"
said the crestfallen Rat.
"He did -you- awfully well!"
rejoined the Badger hotly.
talking won't mend matters.
He's got clear away for the time,
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.
* * * * *
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;
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!
won't he catch it when the Badger gets back!
A worthy fellow,
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 half-way 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.
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,
voluble on their experiences of the morning and the merits of the chariot that had brought them along so well.
Toad listened eagerly,
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,
the stable-helps and other hangers-on being all at their dinner.
Toad walked slowly round it,
he said to himself presently,
"I wonder if this sort of car -starts- easily?"
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,
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;
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 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,
of stealing a valuable motor-car;
of driving to the public danger;
of gross impertinence to the rural police.
will you tell us,
what is the very stiffest penalty we can impose for each of these offences?
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,"
"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 --"
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.
Pull yourself together and try and stand up straight.
It's going to be twenty years for you this time.
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,
across the market-place,
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,
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,
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;
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.
[Illustration: -Toad was a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon-]
said the sergeant of police,
taking off his helmet and wiping his forehead.
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,
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.