The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (2024)

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

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Title: The Wind in the Willows

Author: Kenneth Grahame

Release Date: July, 1995 [eBook #289]
[Most recently updated: May 15, 2021]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

Produced by: Mike Lough and David Widger

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS ***

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (1)

by Kenneth Grahame

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

Contents

CHAPTER I. THE RIVER BANK
CHAPTER II. THE OPEN ROAD
CHAPTER III. THE WILD WOOD
CHAPTER IV. MR. BADGER
CHAPTER V. DULCE DOMUM
CHAPTER VI. MR. TOAD
CHAPTER VII. THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
CHAPTER VIII. TOAD’S ADVENTURES
CHAPTER IX. WAYFARERS ALL
CHAPTER X. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD
CHAPTER XI. “LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS”
CHAPTER XII. THE RETURN OF ULYSSES

I.
THE RIVER BANK

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his littlehome. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps andchairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throatand eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching backand weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below andaround him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit ofdivine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenlyflung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “Oblow!” and also “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of thehouse without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was callinghim imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in hiscase to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences arenearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled andscrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped,working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go!Up we go!” till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, andhe found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

“This is fine!” he said to himself. “This is better thanwhitewashing!” The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressedhis heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in solong 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 ofspring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till hereached the hedge on the further side.

“Hold up!” said an elderly rabbit at the gap. “Sixpence forthe privilege of passing by the private road!” He was bowled over in aninstant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side ofthe hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holesto see what the row was about. “Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!” heremarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughlysatisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. “Howstupid you are! Why didn’t you tell him——” “Well,why didn’t you say——” “You might have remindedhim——” and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it wasthen much too late, as is always the case.

It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows herambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywherebirds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything happy, andprogressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience prickinghim and whispering “whitewash!” he somehow could only feel howjolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens. After all,the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as tosee 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 heseen a river before—this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing andchuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, tofling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught andheld again. All was a-shake and a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles,rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced,fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small,by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and whentired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, ababbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart ofthe 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 bankopposite, just above the water’s edge, caught his eye, and dreamily hefell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make for an animalwith few wants and fond of a bijou riverside residence, above flood level andremote from noise and dust. As he gazed, something bright and small seemed totwinkle down in the heart of it, vanished, then twinkled once more like a tinystar. But it could hardly be a star in such an unlikely situation; and it wastoo glittering and small for a glow-worm. Then, as he looked, it winked at him,and so declared itself to be an eye; and a small face began gradually to growup round it, like a frame round a picture.

A brown little face, with whiskers.

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

Small neat ears and thick silky hair.

It was the Water Rat!

Then the two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.

“Hullo, Mole!” said the Water Rat.

“Hullo, Rat!” said the Mole.

“Would you like to come over?” enquired the Rat presently.

“Oh, its all very well to talk,” said the Mole, rather pettishly,he being new to a river and riverside life and its ways.

The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened a rope and hauled on it; thenlightly stepped into a little boat which the Mole had not observed. It waspainted 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 notyet fully understand its uses.

The Rat sculled smartly across and made fast. Then he held up his forepaw asthe Mole stepped gingerly down. “Lean on that!” he said. “Nowthen, step lively!” and the Mole to his surprise and rapture foundhimself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.

“This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off andtook to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boatbefore in all my life.”

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been ina—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he wasquite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed thecushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and feltthe boat sway lightly under him.

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

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

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

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

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a sigh offull contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft cushions.“What a day I’m having!” he said. “Let us start atonce!”

“Hold hard a minute, then!” said the Rat. He looped the painterthrough a ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and aftera short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.

“Shove that under your feet,” he observed to the Mole, as he passedit down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.

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

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

“O stop, stop,” cried the Mole in ecstacies: “This is toomuch!”

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

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

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

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

The River,” corrected the Rat.

“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!”

“By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat.“It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and foodand drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t wantany other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what itdoesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we’ve hadtogether! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it’s always gotit* fun and its excitements. When the floods are on in February, and my cellarsand basem*nt are brimming with drink that’s no good to me, and the brownwater 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 clogthe channels, and I can potter about dry shod over most of the bed of it andfind fresh food to eat, and things careless people have dropped out ofboats!”

“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,” saidthe Rat with forbearance. “You’re new to it, and of course youdon’t know. The bank is so crowded nowadays that many people are movingaway altogether: O no, it isn’t what it used to be, at all. Otters,kingfishers, dabchicks, moorhens, all of them about all day long and alwayswanting you to do something—as if a fellow had no business of his own toattend to!”

“What lies over there?” asked the Mole, waving a paw towards abackground of woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one side of theriver.

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

“Aren’t they—aren’t they very nice people inthere?” said the Mole, a trifle nervously.

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

“Why, who should interfere with him?” asked the Mole.

“Well, of course—there—are others,” explained the Ratin a hesitating sort of way.

“Weasels—and stoats—and foxes—and so on. They’reall right in a way—I’m very good friends with them—pass thetime 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 trustthem, and that’s the fact.”

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

“And beyond the Wild Wood again?” he asked: “Where it’sall 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 orme. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, ifyou’ve got any sense at all. Don’t ever refer to it again, please.Now then! Here’s our backwater at last, where we’re going tolunch.”

Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight like alittle land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown snakytree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of themthe silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restlessdripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a grey-gabled mill-house, filledthe air with a soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with littleclear voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so verybeautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, “O my!O my! O my!”

The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, made her fast, helped the stillawkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the luncheon-basket. The Mole beggedas a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself; and the Rat was verypleased 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 allthe mysterious packets one by one and arranged their contents in due order,still gasping, “O my! O my!” at each fresh revelation. When all wasready, the Rat said, “Now, pitch in, old fellow!” and the Mole wasindeed very glad to obey, for he had started his spring-cleaning at a veryearly 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 nowseemed so many days ago.

“What are you looking at?” said the Rat presently, when the edge oftheir hunger was somewhat dulled, and the Mole’s eyes were able to wanderoff the table-cloth a little.

“I am looking,” said the Mole, “at a streak of bubbles that Isee travelling along the surface of the water. That is a thing that strikes meas funny.”

“Bubbles? Oho!” said the Rat, and chirruped cheerily in an invitingsort of way.

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

“Greedy beggars!” he observed, making for the provender. “Whydidn’t you invite me, Ratty?”

“This was an impromptu affair,” explained the Rat. “By theway—my friend Mr. Mole.”

“Proud, I’m sure,” said the Otter, and the two animals werefriends forthwith.

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

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

“Come on, old Badger!” shouted the Rat.

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

“That’s just the sort of fellow he is!” observed thedisappointed Rat. “Simply hates Society! Now we shan’t see any moreof him to-day. Well, tell us, who’s out on the river?”

“Toad’s out, for one,” replied the Otter. “In hisbrand-new wager-boat; new togs, new everything!”

The two animals looked at each other and laughed.

“Once, it was nothing but sailing,” said the Rat, “Then hetired of that and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all dayand 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 likedit. He was going to spend the rest of his life in a house-boat. It’s allthe same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired of it, and starts on somethingfresh.”

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

From where they sat they could get a glimpse of the main stream across theisland that separated them; and just then a wager-boat flashed into view, therower—a short, stout figure—splashing badly and rolling a gooddeal, but working his hardest. The Rat stood up and hailed him, butToad—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 youthat good story about Toad and the lock-keeper? It happened this way.Toad....”

An errant May-fly swerved unsteadily athwart the current in the intoxicatedfashion affected by young bloods of May-flies seeing life. A swirl of water anda “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 hehad sprawled was clearly vacant. Not an Otter to be seen, as far as the distanthorizon.

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 forbadeany sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one’s friends at anymoment, for any reason or no reason whatever.

“Well, well,” said the Rat, “I suppose we ought to be moving.I wonder which of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?” He did notspeak as if he was frightfully eager for the treat.

“O, please let me,” said the Mole. So, of course, the Rat let him.

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

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

The Rat shook his head with a smile. “Not yet, my young friend,” hesaid—“wait till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not soeasy as it looks.”

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

“Stop it, you silly ass!” cried the Rat, from the bottom of theboat. “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 thewater. He missed the surface altogether, his legs flew up above his head, andhe found himself lying on the top of the prostrate Rat. Greatly alarmed, hemade a grab at the side of the boat, and the next moment—Sploosh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s all right, bless you!” responded the Rat cheerily.“What’s a little wet to a Water Rat? I’m more in the waterthan out of it most days. Don’t you think any more about it; and, lookhere! 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 atall—but you haven’t seen that yet; still, I can make youcomfortable. And I’ll teach you to row, and to swim, and you’llsoon 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 novoice to answer him; and he had to brush away a tear or two with the back ofhis paw. But the Rat kindly looked in another direction, and presently theMole’s spirits revived again, and he was even able to give some straightback-talk to a couple of moorhens who were snigg*ring to each other about hisbedraggled appearance.

When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, and planted theMole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched down a dressing-gown andslippers for him, and told him river stories till supper-time. Very thrillingstories they were, too, to an earth-dwelling animal like Mole. Stories aboutweirs, and sudden floods, and leaping pike, and steamers that flung hardbottles—at least bottles were certainly flung, and from steamers, sopresumably by them; and about herons, and how particular they were whom theyspoke to; and about adventures down drains, and night-fishings with Otter, orexcursions far a-field with Badger. Supper was a most cheerful meal; but veryshortly afterwards a terribly sleepy Mole had to be escorted upstairs by hisconsiderate host, to the best bedroom, where he soon laid his head on hispillow in great peace and contentment, knowing that his new-found friend theRiver was lapping the sill of his window.

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

II.
THE OPEN ROAD

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

The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had justcomposed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay properattention to Mole or anything else. Since early morning he had been swimming inthe river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the ducks stood ontheir 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 forcedto come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shakingtheir feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when yourhead is under water. At last they implored him to go away and attend to his ownaffairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on theriver bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called

“DUCKS’ DITTY.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So it is, so it is,” said the Mole, with great heartiness.

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

“Well then, it isn’t, it isn’t,” replied the Molesoothingly. “But what I wanted to ask you was, won’t you take me tocall on Mr. Toad? I’ve heard so much about him, and I do so want to makehis acquaintance.”

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

“He must be a very nice animal,” observed the Mole, as he got intothe boat and took the sculls, while the Rat settled himself comfortably in thestern.

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

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

“There’s Toad Hall,” said the Rat; “and that creek onthe left, where the notice-board says, ‘Private. No landingallowed,’ leads to his boat-house, where we’ll leave the boat. Thestables are over there to the right. That’s the banqueting-hallyou’re looking at now—very old, that is. Toad is rather rich, youknow, and this is really one of the nicest houses in these parts, though wenever admit as much to Toad.”

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

The Rat looked around him. “I understand,” said he. “Boatingis played out. He’s tired of it, and done with it. I wonder what new fadhe has taken up now? Come along and let’s look him up. We shall hear allabout it quite soon enough.”

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

“Hooray!” he cried, jumping up on seeing them, “this issplendid!” He shook the paws of both of them warmly, never waiting for anintroduction to the Mole. “How kind of you!” he went on, dancinground them. “I was just going to send a boat down the river for you,Ratty, with strict orders that you were to be fetched up here at once, whateveryou 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, yourturning up just now!”

“Let’s sit quiet a bit, Toady!” said the Rat, throwinghimself into an easy chair, while the Mole took another by the side of him andmade 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 turnedvery red. There was a moment’s painful silence. Then Toad burst outlaughing. “All right, Ratty,” he said. “It’s only myway, you know. And it’s not such a very bad house, is it? You know yourather like it yourself. Now, look here. Let’s be sensible. You are thevery animals I wanted. You’ve got to help me. It’s mostimportant!”

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

“O, pooh! boating!” interrupted the Toad, in great disgust.“Silly boyish amusem*nt. I’ve given that up long ago. Sheer wasteof time, that’s what it is. It makes me downright sorry to see youfellows, who ought to know better, spending all your energies in that aimlessmanner. No, I’ve discovered the real thing, the only genuine occupationfor a life time. I propose to devote the remainder of mine to it, and can onlyregret the wasted years that lie behind me, squandered in trivialities. Comewith me, dear Ratty, and your amiable friend also, if he will be so very good,just as far as the stable-yard, and you shall see what you shall see!”

He led the way to the stable-yard accordingly, the Rat following with a mostmistrustful expression; and there, drawn out of the coach house into the open,they saw a gipsy caravan, shining with newness, painted a canary-yellow pickedout 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 openroad, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rollingdowns! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhereelse to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world beforeyou, and a horizon that’s always changing! And mind! this is the veryfinest cart of its sort that was ever built, without any exception. Come insideand look at the arrangements. Planned ’em all myself, I did!”

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

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

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

“I beg your pardon,” said the Rat slowly, as he chewed a straw,“but did I overhear you say something about ‘we,’ and‘start,’ and ‘this afternoon?’”

“Now, you dear good old Ratty,” said Toad, imploringly,“don’t begin talking in that stiff and sniffy sort of way, becauseyou 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 onething I can’t stand. You surely don’t mean to stick to your dullfusty old river all your life, and just live in a hole in a bank, and boat? Iwant to show you the world! I’m going to make an animal of you, myboy!”

“I don’t care,” said the Rat, doggedly. “I’m notcoming, and that’s flat. And I am going to stick to my old river, andlive in a hole, and boat, as I’ve always done. And what’s more,Mole’s going to stick to me and do as I do, aren’t you,Mole?”

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

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

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

During luncheon—which was excellent, of course, as everything at ToadHall always was—the Toad simply let himself go. Disregarding the Rat, heproceeded to play upon the inexperienced Mole as on a harp. Naturally a volubleanimal, and always mastered by his imagination, he painted the prospects of thetrip and the joys of the open life and the roadside in such glowing coloursthat the Mole could hardly sit in his chair for excitement. Somehow, it soonseemed taken for granted by all three of them that the trip was a settledthing; and the Rat, though still unconvinced in his mind, allowed hisgood-nature to over-ride his personal objections. He could not bear todisappoint 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 thepaddock and set them to capture the old grey horse, who, without having beenconsulted, and to his own extreme annoyance, had been told off by Toad for thedustiest job in this dusty expedition. He frankly preferred the paddock, andtook a deal of catching. Meantime Toad packed the lockers still tighter withnecessaries, and hung nosebags, nets of onions, bundles of hay, and basketsfrom the bottom of the cart. At last the horse was caught and harnessed, andthey set off, all talking at once, each animal either trudging by the side ofthe cart or sitting on the shaft, as the humour took him. It was a goldenafternoon. The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying; out ofthick orchards on either side the road, birds called and whistled to themcheerily; good-natured wayfarers, passing them, gave them“Good-day,” or stopped to say nice things about their beautifulcart; and rabbits, sitting at their front doors in the hedgerows, held up theirfore-paws, and said, “O my! O my! O my!”

Late in the evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up on aremote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to graze, and atetheir simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of the cart. Toad talkedbig about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fullerand larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silentlyfrom nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.At last they turned in to their little bunks in the cart; and Toad, kicking outhis legs, sleepily said, “Well, good night, you fellows! This is the reallife for a gentleman! Talk about your old river!”

“I don’t talk about my river,” replied the patient Rat.“You know I don’t, Toad. But I think about it,” he addedpathetically, in a lower tone: “I think about it—all thetime!”

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

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

The end was indeed nearer than even the Rat suspected.

After so much open air and excitement the Toad slept very soundly, and noamount of shaking could rouse him out of bed next morning. So the Mole and Ratturned to, quietly and manfully, and while the Rat saw to the horse, and lit afire, and cleaned last night’s cups and platters, and got things readyfor breakfast, the Mole trudged off to the nearest village, a long way off, formilk and eggs and various necessaries the Toad had, of course, forgotten toprovide. The hard work had all been done, and the two animals were resting,thoroughly exhausted, by the time Toad appeared on the scene, fresh and gay,remarking what a pleasant easy life it was they were all leading now, after thecares and worries and fatigues of housekeeping at home.

They had a pleasant ramble that day over grassy downs and along narrowby-lanes, and camped as before, on a common, only this time the two guests tookcare that Toad should do his fair share of work. In consequence, when the timecame for starting next morning, Toad was by no means so rapturous about thesimplicity of the primitive life, and indeed attempted to resume his place inhis bunk, whence he was hauled by force. Their way lay, as before, acrosscountry by narrow lanes, and it was not till the afternoon that they came outon the high-road, their first high-road; and there disaster, fleet andunforeseen, sprang out on them—disaster momentous indeed to theirexpedition, 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’shead, talking to him, since the horse had complained that he was beingfrightfully left out of it, and nobody considered him in the least; the Toadand the Water Rat walking behind the cart talking together—at least Toadwas talking, and Rat was saying at intervals, “Yes, precisely; and whatdid you say to him?”—and thinking all the time of something verydifferent, when far behind them they heard a faint warning hum; like the droneof a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a darkcentre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out thedust a faint “Poop-poop!” wailed like an uneasy animal in pain.Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in aninstant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of windand 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 amoment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and richmorocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate,with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for thefraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded andenwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance,changed back into a droning bee once more.

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

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

Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched outbefore him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car.He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression, and atintervals he faintly murmured “Poop-poop!”

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

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

The Toad never answered a word, or budged from his seat in the road; so theywent 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 theirdestroyer. At intervals he was still heard to murmur “Poop-poop!”

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

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

“O stop being an ass, Toad!” cried the Mole despairingly.

“And to think I never knew!” went on the Toad in a dreamy monotone.“All those wasted years that lie behind me, I never knew, never evendreamt! But now—but now that I know, now that I fully realise! O what aflowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What dust-clouds shall springup behind me as I speed on my reckless way! What carts I shall fling carelesslyinto the ditch in the wake of my magnificent onset! Horrid littlecarts—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 isreally nothing to be done. You see, I know him from of old. He is nowpossessed. He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in itsfirst stage. He’ll continue like that for days now, like an animalwalking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mindhim. 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 bythemselves, the cart would travel no longer. The axles were in a hopelessstate, and the missing wheel was shattered into pieces.

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

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

“O, bother Toad,” said the Rat savagely; “I’ve donewith him!”

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

“Now, look here, Toad!” said the Rat sharply: “as soon as weget to the town, you’ll have to go straight to the police-station, andsee if they know anything about that motor-car and who it belongs to, and lodgea complaint against it. And then you’ll have to go to ablacksmith’s or a wheelwright’s and arrange for the cart to befetched and mended and put to rights. It’ll take time, but it’s notquite a hopeless smash. Meanwhile, the Mole and I will go to an inn and findcomfortable rooms where we can stay till the cart’s ready, and till yournerves have recovered their shock.”

“Police-station! Complaint!” murmured Toad dreamily. “Mecomplain 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 thecart, or to hear of it, again. O, Ratty! You can’t think how obliged I amto you for consenting to come on this trip! I wouldn’t have gone withoutyou, and then I might never have seen that—that swan, that sunbeam, thatthunderbolt! I might never have heard that entrancing sound, or smelt thatbewitching smell! I owe it all to you, my best of friends!”

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

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

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

III.
THE WILD WOOD

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

“Couldn’t you ask him here dinner or something?” said theMole.

“He wouldn’t come,” replied the Rat simply. “Badgerhates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.”

“Well, then, supposing we go and call on him?” suggested the Mole.

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

“Well, supposing he does,” said the Mole. “You told me theWild Wood was all right, you know.”

“O, I know, I know, so it is,” replied the Rat evasively.“But I think we won’t go there just now. Not just yet. It’s along way, and he wouldn’t be at home at this time of year anyhow, andhe’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, andevery day brought its amusem*nts, and it was not till summer was long over, andcold and frost and miry ways kept them much indoors, and the swollen riverraced past outside their windows with a speed that mocked at boating of anysort or kind, that he found his thoughts dwelling again with much persistenceon the solitary grey Badger, who lived his own life by himself, in his hole inthe 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 domesticjobs about the house; and, of course, there were always animals dropping in fora chat, and consequently there was a good deal of story-telling and comparingnotes on the past summer and all its doings.

Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! Withillustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the riverbank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures thatsucceeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early,shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its ownface laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunsetcloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white,crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning thediffident 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 agavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was stillawaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladieswaited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back tolife and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin,moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.

And what a play it had been! Drowsy animals, snug in their holes while wind andrain were battering at their doors, recalled still keen mornings, an hourbefore sunrise, when the white mist, as yet undispersed, clung closely alongthe surface of the water; then the shock of the early plunge, the scamper alongthe bank, and the radiant transformation of earth, air, and water, whensuddenly the sun was with them again, and grey was gold and colour was born andsprang out of the earth once more. They recalled the languorous siesta of hotmid-day, deep in green undergrowth, the sun striking through in tiny goldenshafts and spots; the boating and bathing of the afternoon, the rambles alongdusty lanes and through yellow cornfields; and the long, cool evening at last,when so many threads were gathered up, so many friendships rounded, and so manyadventures planned for the morrow. There was plenty to talk about on thoseshort winter days when the animals found themselves round the fire; still, theMole had a good deal of spare time on his hands, and so one afternoon, when theRat in his arm-chair before the blaze was alternately dozing and trying overrhymes that wouldn’t fit, he formed the resolution to go out by himselfand 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 slippedout of the warm parlour into the open air. The country lay bare and entirelyleafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and sointimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature wasdeep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses,dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines forexploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secretspathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for awhile, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and enticehim with the old deceptions. It was pitiful in a way, and yetcheering—even exhilarating. He was glad that he liked the countryundecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the barebones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple. He did not want the warmclover and the play of seeding grasses; the screens of quickset, the billowydrapery of beech and elm seemed best away; and with great cheerfulness ofspirit he pushed on towards the Wild Wood, which lay before him low andthreatening, 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 himfor the moment by their likeness to something familiar and far away; but thatwas all fun, and exciting. It led him on, and he penetrated to where the lightwas less, and trees crouched nearer and nearer, and holes made ugly mouths athim on either side.

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

Then the faces began.

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

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

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

Then the whistling began.

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

Then the pattering began.

He thought it was only falling leaves at first, so slight and delicate was thesound of it. Then as it grew it took a regular rhythm, and he knew it fornothing else but the pat-pat-pat of little feet still a very long way off. Wasit in front or behind? It seemed to be first one, and then the other, thenboth. It grew and it multiplied, till from every quarter as he listenedanxiously, leaning this way and that, it seemed to be closing in on him. As hestood still to hearken, a rabbit came running hard towards him through thetrees. He waited, expecting it to slacken pace, or to swerve from him into adifferent course. Instead, the animal almost brushed him as it dashed past, hisface set and hard, his eyes staring. “Get out of this, you fool, getout!” the Mole heard him mutter as he swung round a stump and disappeareddown a friendly burrow.

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

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

But the Mole was not there.

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

Then he called “Moly!” several times, and, receiving no answer, gotup and went out into the hall.

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

The Rat left the house, and carefully examined the muddy surface of the groundoutside, hoping to find the Mole’s tracks. There they were, sure enough.The goloshes were new, just bought for the winter, and the pimples on theirsoles 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. Thenhe re-entered the house, strapped a belt round his waist, shoved a brace ofpistols into it, took up a stout cudgel that stood in a corner of the hall, andset off for the Wild Wood at a smart pace.

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

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

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

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

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

“Old Toad?” said the Rat, laughing heartily. “Hewouldn’t show his face here alone, not for a whole hatful of goldenguineas, Toad wouldn’t.”

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

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

“Dear Ratty,” said the poor Mole, “I’m dreadfullysorry, but I’m simply dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You mustlet me rest here a while longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to gethome at all.”

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

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

When at last the Mole woke up, much refreshed and in his usual spirits, the Ratsaid, “Now then! I’ll just take a look outside and see ifeverything’s quiet, and then we really must be off.”

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

“What’s up, Ratty?” asked the Mole.

Snow is up,” replied the Rat briefly; “or rather, down.It’s snowing hard.”

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

“Well, well, it can’t be helped,” said the Rat, afterpondering. “We must make a start, and take our chance, I suppose. Theworst of it is, I don’t exactly know where we are. And now this snowmakes everything look so very different.”

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

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

“We can’t sit here very long,” said the Rat. “We shallhave to make another push for it, and do something or other. The cold is tooawful for anything, and the snow will soon be too deep for us to wadethrough.” He peered about him and considered. “Look here,” hewent on, “this is what occurs to me. There’s a sort of dell downhere 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 therewe’ll have a good rest before we try again, for we’re both of uspretty dead beat. Besides, the snow may leave off, or something may turnup.”

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

“O my leg!” he cried. “O my poor shin!” and he sat upon the snow and nursed his leg in both his front paws.

“Poor old Mole!” said the Rat kindly.

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

“I must have tripped over a hidden branch or a stump,” said theMole miserably. “O, my! O, my!”

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

“Well, never mind what done it,” said the Mole, forgetting hisgrammar in his pain. “It hurts just the same, whatever done it.”

But the Rat, after carefully tying up the leg with his handkerchief, had lefthim and was busy scraping in the snow. He scratched and shovelled and explored,all four legs working busily, while the Mole waited impatiently, remarking atintervals, “O, come on, Rat!”

Suddenly the Rat cried “Hooray!” and then“Hooray-oo-ray-oo-ray-oo-ray!” and fell to executing a feeble jigin the snow.

“What have you found, Ratty?” asked the Mole, still nursing hisleg.

“Come and see!” said the delighted Rat, as he jigged on.

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

“Well,” he said at last, slowly, “I SEE it right enough. Seenthe same sort of thing before, lots of times. Familiar object, I call it. Adoor-scraper! Well, what of it? Why dance jigs around a door-scraper?”

“But don’t you see what it means, you—you dull-wittedanimal?” cried the Rat impatiently.

“Of course I see what it means,” replied the Mole. “It simplymeans that some VERY careless and forgetful person has left his door-scraperlying about in the middle of the Wild Wood, just where it’s sure to tripeverybody up. Very thoughtless of him, I call it. When I get home I shall goand complain about it to—to somebody or other, see if Idon’t!”

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

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

“There, what did I tell you?” exclaimed the Rat in great triumph.

“Absolutely nothing whatever,” replied the Mole, with perfecttruthfulness. “Well now,” he went on, “you seem to have foundanother piece of domestic litter, done for and thrown away, and I supposeyou’re perfectly happy. Better go ahead and dance your jig round that ifyou’ve got to, and get it over, and then perhaps we can go on and notwaste any more time over rubbish-heaps. Can we EAT a doormat? or sleep under adoor-mat? Or sit on a door-mat and sledge home over the snow on it, youexasperating rodent?”

“Do—you—mean—to—say,” cried the excitedRat, “that this door-mat doesn’t tell you anything?”

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

“Now look here, you—you thick-headed beast,” replied the Rat,really angry, “this must stop. Not another word, but scrape—scrapeand scratch and dig and hunt round, especially on the sides of the hummocks, ifyou 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 cudgeleverywhere and then digging with fury; and the Mole scraped busily too, more tooblige the Rat than for any other reason, for his opinion was that his friendwas getting light-headed.

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

In the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank stood a solid-looking littledoor, 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 couldread by the aid of moonlight

MR. BADGER.

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

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

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

IV.
MR. BADGER

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

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

“Now, the very next time this happens,” said a gruff and suspiciousvoice, “I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it this time, disturbingpeople on such a night? Speak up!”

“Oh, Badger,” cried the Rat, “let us in, please. It’sme, Rat, and my friend Mole, and we’ve lost our way in the snow.”

“What, Ratty, my dear little man!” exclaimed the Badger, in quite adifferent voice. “Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must beperished. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood, too, and atthis time of night! But come in with you.”

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

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

He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed him,nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long, gloomy, and, totell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall; out ofwhich they could dimly see other long tunnel-like passages branching, passagesmysterious and without apparent end. But there were doors in the hall aswell—stout oaken comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flungopen, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a largefire-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 anysuspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed settles, facing each other oneither side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodations for the sociablydisposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placedon trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chairstood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger’s plain butample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser atthe far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles ofdried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place whereheroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up inscores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, orwhere two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased andeat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiledup at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchangedcheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on theshelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything withoutdistinction.

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 themdressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the Mole’s shin with warmwater and mended the cut with sticking-plaster till the whole thing was just asgood as new, if not better. In the embracing light and warmth, warm and dry atlast, with weary legs propped up in front of them, and a suggestive clink ofplates being arranged on the table behind, it seemed to the storm-drivenanimals, now in safe anchorage, that the cold and trackless Wild Wood just leftoutside was miles and miles away, and all that they had suffered in it ahalf-forgotten dream.

When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to thetable, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt pretty hungrybefore, 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 wasso attractive, and whether the other things would obligingly wait for them tillthey had time to give them attention. Conversation was impossible for a longtime; and when it was slowly resumed, it was that regrettable sort ofconversation that results from talking with your mouth full. The Badger did notmind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take any notice of elbows on thetable, or everybody speaking at once. As he did not go into Society himself, hehad got an idea that these things belonged to the things that didn’treally matter. (We know of course that he was wrong, and took too narrow aview; because they do matter very much, though it would take too long toexplain why.) He sat in his arm-chair at the head of the table, and noddedgravely at intervals as the animals told their story; and he did not seemsurprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, “I told youso,” or, “Just what I always said,” or remarked that theyought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else. TheMole began to feel very friendly towards him.

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

“Oh, from bad to worse,” said the Rat gravely, while the Mole,co*cked up on a settle and basking in the firelight, his heels higher than hishead, tried to look properly mournful. “Another smash-up only last week,and a bad one. You see, he will insist on driving himself, and he’shopelessly incapable. If he’d only employ a decent, steady, well-trainedanimal, pay him good wages, and leave everything to him, he’d get on allright. But no; he’s convinced he’s a heaven-born driver, and nobodycan teach him anything; and all the rest follows.”

“How many has he had?” inquired the Badger gloomily.

“Smashes, or machines?” asked the Rat. “Oh, well, after all,it’s the same thing—with Toad. This is the seventh. As for theothers—you know that coach-house of his? Well, it’s piledup—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 faras 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 tothink of.”

“Yes, and that’s part of the trouble,” continued the Rat.“Toad’s rich, we all know; but he’s not a millionaire. Andhe’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 orlater. Badger! we’re his friends—oughtn’t we to dosomething?”

The Badger went through a bit of hard thinking. “Now look here!” hesaid at last, rather severely; “of course you know I can’t doanything now?

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

“Very well then!” continued the Badger. “But, when once theyear has really turned, and the nights are shorter, and halfway through themone rouses and feels fidgety and wanting to be up and doing by sunrise, if notbefore—you know!——”

Both animals nodded gravely. They knew!

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

“Not me!” said the Rat, waking up with a jerk.

“He’s been asleep two or three times since supper,” said theMole, laughing. He himself was feeling quite wakeful and even lively, though hedidn’t know why. The reason was, of course, that he being naturally anunderground animal by birth and breeding, the situation of Badger’s houseexactly suited him and made him feel at home; while the Rat, who slept everynight in a bedroom the windows of which opened on a breezy river, naturallyfelt the atmosphere still and oppressive.

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

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

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

“There, sit down, sit down,” said the Rat pleasantly, “and goon with your porridge. Where have you youngsters come from? Lost your way inthe snow, I suppose?”

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

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

“O, terrible bad, sir, terrible deep the snow is,” said thehedgehog. “No getting out for the likes of you gentlemen to-day.”

“Where’s Mr. Badger?” inquired the Mole, as he warmed thecoffee-pot before the fire.

“The master’s gone into his study, sir,” replied thehedgehog, “and he said as how he was going to be particular busy thismorning, and on no account was he to be disturbed.”

This explanation, of course, was thoroughly understood by every one present.The fact is, as already set forth, when you live a life of intense activity forsix months in the year, and of comparative or actual somnolence for the othersix, during the latter period you cannot be continually pleading sleepinesswhen 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 retiredto his study and settled himself in an arm-chair with his legs up on anotherand 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 withbuttered toast, sent Billy, the smaller hedgehog, to see who it might be. Therewas a sound of much stamping in the hall, and presently Billy returned in frontof the Otter, who threw himself on the Rat with an embrace and a shout ofaffectionate greeting.

“Get off!” spluttered the Rat, with his mouth full.

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

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

“Nervous?” The Otter showed a gleaming set of strong white teeth ashe laughed. “I’d give ’em nerves if any of them triedanything on with me. Here, Mole, fry me some slices of ham, like the goodlittle chap you are. I’m frightfully hungry, and I’ve got anyamount 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 tofry it, and returned to his own breakfast, while the Otter and the Rat, theirheads together, eagerly talked river-shop, which is long shop and talk that isendless, running on like the babbling river itself.

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

“Rather!” replied the Otter, winking at the Mole. “The sightof these greedy young hedgehogs stuffing themselves with fried ham makes mefeel positively famished.”

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

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

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

Presently they all sat down to luncheon together. The Mole found himself placednext to Mr. Badger, and, as the other two were still deep in river-gossip fromwhich nothing could divert them, he took the opportunity to tell Badger howcomfortable and home-like it all felt to him. “Once wellunderground,” he said, “you know exactly where you are. Nothing canhappen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your ownmaster, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say.Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ’em, and don’tbother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are,waiting for you.”

The Badger simply beamed on him. “That’s exactly what I say,”he replied. “There’s no security, or peace and tranquillity, exceptunderground. And then, if your ideas get larger and you want toexpand—why, a dig and a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your houseis a bit too big, you stop up a hole or two, and there you are again! Nobuilders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over yourwall, and, above all, no weather. Look at Rat, now. A couple of feet of floodwater, and he’s got to move into hired lodgings; uncomfortable,inconveniently situated, and horribly expensive. Take Toad. I say nothingagainst Toad Hall; quite the best house in these parts, as a house. Butsupposing a fire breaks out—where’s Toad? Supposing tiles are blownoff, or walls sink or crack, or windows get broken—where’s Toad?Supposing the rooms are draughty—I hate a draughtmyself—where’s Toad? No, up and out of doors is good enough to roamabout and get one’s living in; but underground to come back to atlast—that’s my idea of home!

The Mole assented heartily; and the Badger in consequence got very friendlywith him. “When lunch is over,” he said, “I’ll take youall round this little place of mine. I can see you’ll appreciate it. Youunderstand what domestic architecture ought to be, you do.”

After luncheon, accordingly, when the other two had settled themselves into thechimney-corner and had started a heated argument on the subject of eels, theBadger lighted a lantern and bade the Mole follow him. Crossing the hall, theypassed down one of the principal tunnels, and the wavering light of the lanterngave glimpses on either side of rooms both large and small, some merecupboards, others nearly as broad and imposing as Toad’s dining-hall. Anarrow passage at right angles led them into another corridor, and here thesame thing was repeated. The Mole was staggered at the size, the extent, theramifications of it all; at the length of the dim passages, the solid vaultingsof the crammed store-chambers, the masonry everywhere, the pillars, the arches,the pavements. “How on earth, Badger,” he said at last, “didyou ever find time and strength to do all this? It’s astonishing!”

“It would be astonishing indeed,” said the Badger simply, “ifI had done it. But as a matter of fact I did none of it—only cleaned outthe passages and chambers, as far as I had need of them. There’s lotsmore of it, all round about. I see you don’t understand, and I mustexplain it to you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood wavesnow, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, therewas a city—a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, theylived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Herethey stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight ordrove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders.They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.”

“But what has become of them all?” asked the Mole.

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

“Well, and when they went at last, those people?” said the Mole.

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

“I do indeed,” said the Mole, with a slight shiver.

“Well, well,” said the Badger, patting him on the shoulder,“it was your first experience of them, you see. They’re not so badreally; and we must all live and let live. But I’ll pass the word aroundto-morrow, and I think you’ll have no further trouble. Any friend of minewalks 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 anddown, very restless. The underground atmosphere was oppressing him and gettingon his nerves, and he seemed really to be afraid that the river would run awayif he wasn’t there to look after it. So he had his overcoat on, and hispistols thrust into his belt again. “Come along, Mole,” he saidanxiously, as soon as he caught sight of them. “We must get off whileit’s daylight. Don’t want to spend another night in the Wild Woodagain.”

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

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

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

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

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

V.
DULCE DOMUM

The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thin nostrilsand stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown back and a light steamrising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty air, as the two animalshastened by in high spirits, with much chatter and laughter. They werereturning across country after a long day’s outing with Otter, huntingand exploring on the wide uplands where certain streams tributary to their ownRiver had their first small beginnings; and the shades of the short winter daywere closing in on them, and they had still some distance to go. Plodding atrandom across the plough, they had heard the sheep and had made for them; andnow, leading from the sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made walking alighter business, and responded, moreover, to that small inquiring somethingwhich all animals carry inside them, saying unmistakably, “Yes, quiteright; this leads home!”

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

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

The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as theyapproached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little wasvisible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, wherethe firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casem*ntsinto the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent ofblinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round thetea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, hadeach that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shallcapture—the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness ofobservation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, sofar from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as theywatched 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 blanktransparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtainedworld within walls—the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut outand forgotten—most pulsated. Close against the white blind hung abird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and appurtenance distinctand recognisable, even to yesterday’s dull-edged lump of sugar. On themiddle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked well into feathers, seemed sonear to them as to be easily stroked, had they tried; even the delicate tips ofhis plumped-out plumage pencilled plainly on the illuminated screen. As theylooked, the sleepy little fellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, andraised his head. They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in abored sort of way, looked round, and then settled his head into his back again,while the ruffled feathers gradually subsided into perfect stillness. Then agust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozensleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to becold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.

Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either side ofthe road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields again; andthey braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretchthat we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, thesudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absenttravellers from far over-sea. They plodded along steadily and silently, each ofthem thinking his own thoughts. The Mole’s ran a good deal on supper, asit 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 guidanceentirely to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as hishabit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road infront of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons reachedhim, and took him like an electric shock.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have noteven proper terms to express an animal’s inter-communications with hissurroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word “smell,”for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur inthe nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling.It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenlyreached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with itsvery 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 itsefforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had sostrongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this timecame recollection in fullest flood.

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

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

“Oh, come along, Mole, do!” replied the Rat cheerfully, stillplodding along.

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

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Molewas 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 smellsomething—something suspiciously like approaching snow.

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of hischest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and chokedit as it came. “I know it’s a—shabby, dingy littleplace,” he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: “not like—yourcosy quarters—or Toad’s beautiful hall—or Badger’sgreat house—but it was my own little home—and I was fond ofit—and I went away and forgot all about it—and then I smelt itsuddenly—on the road, when I called and you wouldn’t listen,Rat—and everything came back to me with a rush—and I wantedit!—O dear, O dear!—and when you wouldn’t turn back,Ratty—and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all thetime—I thought my heart would break.—We might have just gone andhad one look at it, Ratty—only one look—it was close by—butyou wouldn’t turn back, Ratty, you wouldn’t turn back! O dear, Odear!”

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

The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Molegently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, “I see it allnow! What a pig I have been! A pig—that’s me! Just a pig—aplain pig!”

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

“Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?” cried the tearfulMole, looking up in alarm.

“We’re going to find that home of yours, old fellow,” repliedthe Rat pleasantly; “so you had better come along, for it will take somefinding, and we shall want your nose.”

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

“Hang River Bank, and supper too!” said the Rat heartily. “Itell you, I’m going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. Socheer up, old chap, and take my arm, and we’ll very soon be back thereagain.”

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

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

The signals were coming through!

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

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

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

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

It was close and airless, and the earthy smell was strong, and it seemed a longtime to Rat ere the passage ended and he could stand erect and stretch andshake himself. The Mole struck a match, and by its light the Rat saw that theywere standing in an open space, neatly swept and sanded underfoot, and directlyfacing 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-seatstood on one side of the door, and on the other a roller; for the Mole, who wasa tidy animal when at home, could not stand having his ground kicked up byother animals into little runs that ended in earth-heaps. On the walls hungwire baskets with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plasterstatuary—Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and otherheroes of modern Italy. Down on one side of the forecourt ran a skittle-alley,with benches along it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted atbeer-mugs. In the middle was a small round pond containing gold-fish andsurrounded by a co*ckle-shell border. Out of the centre of the pond rose afanciful erection clothed in more co*ckle-shells and topped by a large silveredglass 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, andhe hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took one glanceround his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on everything, saw thecheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and its narrow, meagredimensions, its worn and shabby contents—and collapsed again on ahall-chair, his nose to his paws. “O Ratty!” he cried dismally,“why ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, cold littleplace, on a night like this, when you might have been at River Bank by thistime, toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with all your own nice thingsabout you!”

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

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

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

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

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

“No bread!” groaned the Mole dolorously; “no butter,no——”

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

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

Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and forks, andmustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom still heaving withthe stress of his recent emotion, related—somewhat shyly at first, butwith more freedom as he warmed to his subject—how this was planned, andhow 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 boughtout of laborious savings and a certain amount of “going without.”His spirits finally quite restored, he must needs go and caress hispossessions, and take a lamp and show off their points to his visitor andexpatiate on them, quite forgetful of the supper they both so much needed; Rat,who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously,examining with a puckered brow, and saying, “wonderful,” and“most remarkable,” at intervals, when the chance for an observationwas given him.

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

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

“I think it must be the field-mice,” replied the Mole, with a touchof pride in his manner. “They go round carol-singing regularly at thistime of the year. They’re quite an institution in these parts. And theynever pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to givethem hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will belike old times to hear them again.”

“Let’s have a look at them!” cried the Rat, jumping up andrunning to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when theyflung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern,some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worstedcomforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets,their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly ateach other, snigg*ring a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a gooddeal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern wasjust saying, “Now then, one, two, three!” and forthwith theirshrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols thattheir forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, orwhen snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the mirystreet to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

CAROL

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very well sung, boys!” cried the Rat heartily. “And now comealong in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have somethinghot!”

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

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

“Why, certainly, sir,” replied the field-mouse respectfully.“At this time of the year our shops keep open to all sorts ofhours.”

“Then look here!” said the Rat. “You go off at once, you andyour lantern, and you get me——”

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

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

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

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

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

The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, looked round theroom, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comrades cheered him on, Molecoaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went so far as to take him by theshoulders and shake him; but nothing could overcome his stage-fright. They wereall busily engaged on him like watermen applying the Royal HumaneSociety’s regulations to a case of long submersion, when the latchclicked, 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 ofthe 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 minutessupper was ready, and Mole, as he took the head of the table in a sort of adream, saw a lately barren board set thick with savoury comforts; saw hislittle friends’ faces brighten and beam as they fell to without delay;and then let himself loose—for he was famished indeed—on theprovender so magically provided, thinking what a happy home-coming this hadturned out, after all. As they ate, they talked of old times, and thefield-mice gave him the local gossip up to date, and answered as well as theycould 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 thatMole 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 andsisters at home. When the door had closed on the last of them and the chink ofthe lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kicked the fire up, drew their chairsin, brewed themselves a last nightcap of mulled ale, and discussed the eventsof the long day. At last the Rat, with a tremendous yawn, said, “Mole,old chap, I’m ready to drop. Sleepy is simply not the word. That your ownbunk over on that side? Very well, then, I’ll take this. What a rippinglittle house this is! Everything so handy!”

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

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

VI.
MR. TOAD

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

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

The Mole went to attend the summons, and the Rat heard him utter a cry ofsurprise. Then he flung the parlour door open, and announced with muchimportance, “Mr. Badger!”

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

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

“The hour has come!” said the Badger at last with great solemnity.

“What hour?” asked the Rat uneasily, glancing at the clock on themantelpiece.

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

“Toad’s hour, of course!” cried the Mole delightedly.“Hooray! I remember now! We’ll teach him to be a sensibleToad!”

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

“Right you are!” cried the Rat, starting up. “We’llrescue the poor unhappy animal! We’ll convert him! He’ll be themost 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 eachother in case of sudden trouble or danger.

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

“Hullo! come on, you fellows!” he cried cheerfully on catchingsight of them. “You’re just in time to come with me for ajolly—to come for a jolly—fora—er—jolly——”

His hearty accents faltered and fell away as he noticed the stern unbendinglook on the countenances of his silent friends, and his invitation remainedunfinished.

The Badger strode up the steps. “Take him inside,” he said sternlyto his companions. Then, as Toad was hustled through the door, struggling andprotesting, he turned to the chauffeur in charge of the new motor-car.

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

“Now then!” he said to the Toad, when the four of them stoodtogether in the Hall, “first of all, take those ridiculous thingsoff!”

“Shan’t!” replied Toad, with great spirit. “What is themeaning of this gross outrage? I demand an instant explanation.”

“Take them off him, then, you two,” ordered the Badger briefly.

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

“You knew it must come to this, sooner or later, Toad,” the Badgerexplained severely.

You’ve disregarded all the warnings we’ve given you, you’vegone on squandering the money your father left you, and you’re getting usanimals a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your smashes andyour rows with the police. Independence is all very well, but we animals neverallow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and thatlimit you’ve reached. Now, you’re a good fellow in many respects,and I don’t want to be too hard on you. I’ll make one more effortto bring you to reason. You will come with me into the smoking-room, and thereyou will hear some facts about yourself; and we’ll see whether you comeout 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 thedoor behind them.

That’s no good!” said the Rat contemptuously. “Talkingto Toad’ll never cure him. He’ll say anything.”

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

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

“Sit down there, Toad,” said the Badger kindly, pointing to achair. “My friends,” he went on, “I am pleased to inform youthat Toad has at last seen the error of his ways. He is truly sorry for hismisguided conduct in the past, and he has undertaken to give up motor-carsentirely 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, “ifonly—if only——”

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

“There’s only one thing more to be done,” continued thegratified Badger. “Toad, I want you solemnly to repeat, before yourfriends here, what you fully admitted to me in the smoking-room just now.First, you are sorry for what you’ve done, and you see the folly of itall?”

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

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

“What?” cried the Badger, greatly scandalised. “Youbacksliding animal, didn’t you tell me just now, inthere——”

“Oh, yes, yes, in there,” said Toad impatiently. “I’dhave said anything in there. You’re so eloquent, dear Badger, and somoving, and so convincing, and put all your points so frightfullywell—you can do what you like with me in there, and you know it. ButI’ve been searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and Ifind that I’m not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it’s noearthly good saying I am; now, is it?”

“Then you don’t promise,” said the Badger, “never totouch a motor-car again?”

“Certainly not!” replied Toad emphatically. “On the contrary,I faithfully promise that the very first motor-car I see, poop-poop! off I goin it!”

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

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

“It’s for your own good, Toady, you know,” said the Ratkindly, as Toad, kicking and struggling, was hauled up the stairs by his twofaithful friends. “Think what fun we shall all have together, just as weused to, when you’ve quite got over this—this painful attack ofyours!”

“We’ll take great care of everything for you till you’rewell, Toad,” said the Mole; “and we’ll see your moneyisn’t wasted, as it has been.”

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

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

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

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

They arranged watches accordingly. Each animal took it in turns to sleep inToad’s room at night, and they divided the day up between them. At firstToad was undoubtedly very trying to his careful guardians. When his violentparoxysms possessed him he would arrange bedroom chairs in rude resemblance ofa motor-car and would crouch on the foremost of them, bent forward and staringfixedly ahead, making uncouth and ghastly noises, till the climax was reached,when, turning a complete somersault, he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins ofthe chairs, apparently completely satisfied for the moment. As time passed,however, these painful seizures grew gradually less frequent, and his friendsstrove to divert his mind into fresh channels. But his interest in othermatters 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 torelieve Badger, whom he found fidgeting to be off and stretch his legs in along ramble round his wood and down his earths and burrows. “Toad’sstill in bed,” he told the Rat, outside the door. “Can’t getmuch out of him, except, ‘O leave him alone, he wants nothing, perhapshe’ll be better presently, it may pass off in time, don’t be undulyanxious,’ and so on. Now, you look out, Rat! When Toad’s quiet andsubmissive and playing at being the hero of a Sunday-school prize, thenhe’s at his artfullest. There’s sure to be something up. I knowhim. Well, now, I must be off.”

“How are you to-day, old chap?” inquired the Rat cheerfully, as heapproached Toad’s bedside.

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

“O, we’re all right,” replied the Rat. “Mole,” headded incautiously, “is going out for a run round with Badger.They’ll be out till luncheon time, so you and I will spend a pleasantmorning 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 morninglike this!”

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

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

“I’m afraid it is the trouble you mind, though,” replied theToad languidly. “I can quite understand it. It’s natural enough.You’re tired of bothering about me. I mustn’t ask you to doanything further. I’m a nuisance, I know.”

“You are, indeed,” said the Rat. “But I tell you, I’dtake any trouble on earth for you, if only you’d be a sensibleanimal.”

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

“Why, what do you want a doctor for?” inquired the Rat, comingcloser and examining him. He certainly lay very still and flat, and his voicewas weaker and his manner much changed.

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

“Look here, old man,” said the Rat, beginning to get ratheralarmed, “of course I’ll fetch a doctor to you, if you really thinkyou want him. But you can hardly be bad enough for that yet. Let’s talkabout something else.”

“I fear, dear friend,” said Toad, with a sad smile, “that‘talk’ can do little in a case like this—or doctors either,for that matter; still, one must grasp at the slightest straw. And, by theway—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 atthe 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—whenone must face disagreeable tasks, at whatever cost to exhausted nature!”

“A lawyer! O, he must be really bad!” the affrighted Rat said tohimself, as he hurried from the room, not forgetting, however, to lock the doorcarefully behind him.

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

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

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

It was a gloomy luncheon for Rat when the Badger and the Mole at lengthreturned, and he had to face them at table with his pitiful and unconvincingstory. 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 helpsaying, “You’ve been a bit of a duffer this time, Ratty! Toad, too,of all animals!”

“He did it awfully well,” said the crestfallen Rat.

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

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

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

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

Filled full of conceited thoughts such as these he strode along, his head inthe air, till he reached a little town, where the sign of “The RedLion,” swinging across the road halfway down the main street, remindedhim that he had not breakfasted that day, and that he was exceedingly hungryafter his long walk. He marched into the Inn, ordered the best luncheon thatcould be provided at so short a notice, and sat down to eat it in thecoffee-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. Thepoop-poop! drew nearer and nearer, the car could be heard to turn into theinn-yard and come to a stop, and Toad had to hold on to the leg of the table toconceal his over-mastering emotion. Presently the party entered thecoffee-room, hungry, talkative, and gay, voluble on their experiences of themorning and the merits of the chariot that had brought them along so well. Toadlistened eagerly, all ears, for a time; at last he could stand it no longer. Heslipped out of the room quietly, paid his bill at the bar, and as soon as hegot outside sauntered round quietly to the inn-yard. “There cannot be anyharm,” he said to himself, “in my only just looking at it!”

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

“I wonder,” he said to himself presently, “I wonder if thissort of car starts easily?”

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

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

The Clerk scratched his nose with his pen. “Some people wouldconsider,” he observed, “that stealing the motor-car was the worstoffence; and so it is. But cheeking the police undoubtedly carries the severestpenalty; and so it ought. Supposing you were to say twelve months for thetheft, which is mild; and three years for the furious driving, which islenient; 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 onlybelieve one-tenth part of what you heard, and I never believe moremyself—those figures, if added together correctly, tot up to nineteenyears——”

“First-rate!” said the Chairman.

“—So you had better make it a round twenty years and be on the safeside,” concluded the Clerk.

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

Then the brutal minions of the law fell upon the hapless Toad; loaded him withchains, and dragged him from the Court House, shrieking, praying, protesting;across the marketplace, where the playful populace, always as severe upondetected crime as they are sympathetic and helpful when one is merely“wanted,” assailed him with jeers, carrots, and popularcatch-words; past hooting school children, their innocent faces lit up with thepleasure they ever derive from the sight of a gentleman in difficulties; acrossthe hollow-sounding drawbridge, below the spiky portcullis, under the frowningarchway of the grim old castle, whose ancient towers soared high overhead; pastguardrooms full of grinning soldiery off duty, past sentries who coughed in ahorrid, sarcastic way, because that is as much as a sentry on his post dare doto show his contempt and abhorrence of crime; up time-worn winding stairs, pastmen-at-arms in casquet and corselet of steel, darting threatening looks throughtheir vizards; across courtyards, where mastiffs strained at their leash andpawed the air to get at him; past ancient warders, their halberds leant againstthe wall, dozing over a pasty and a flagon of brown ale; on and on, past therack-chamber and the thumbscrew-room, past the turning that led to the privatescaffold, till they reached the door of the grimmest dungeon that lay in theheart of the innermost keep. There at last they paused, where an ancient gaolersat fingering a bunch of mighty keys.

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

The gaoler nodded grimly, laying his withered hand on the shoulder of themiserable Toad. The rusty key creaked in the lock, the great door clangedbehind them; and Toad was a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon of thebest-guarded keep of the stoutest castle in all the length and breadth of MerryEngland.

VII.
THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN

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

The Rat’s light footfall was presently heard approaching over the parchedgrass. “O, the blessed coolness!” he said, and sat down, gazingthoughtfully into the river, silent and pre-occupied.

“You stayed to supper, of course?” said the Mole presently.

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

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

“Yes; but this time it’s more serious,” said the Rat gravely.“He’s been missing for some days now, and the Otters have huntedeverywhere, high and low, without finding the slightest trace. Andthey’ve asked every animal, too, for miles around, and no one knowsanything about him. Otter’s evidently more anxious than he’lladmit. I got out of him that young Portly hasn’t learnt to swim very wellyet, and I can see he’s thinking of the weir. There’s a lot ofwater coming down still, considering the time of the year, and the place alwayshad a fascination for the child. And then there are—well, traps andthings—you know. Otter’s not the fellow to be nervous about any sonof his before it’s time. And now he is nervous. When I left, he came outwith me—said he wanted some air, and talked about stretching his legs.But I could see it wasn’t that, so I drew him out and pumped him, and gotit all from him at last. He was going to spend the night watching by the ford.You know the place where the old ford used to be, in by-gone days before theybuilt the bridge?”

“I know it well,” said the Mole. “But why should Otter chooseto watch there?”

“Well, it seems that it was there he gave Portly his firstswimming-lesson,” continued the Rat. “From that shallow, gravellyspit near the bank. And it was there he used to teach him fishing, and thereyoung Portly caught his first fish, of which he was so very proud. The childloved the spot, and Otter thinks that if he came wandering back from whereverhe is—if he is anywhere by this time, poor little chap—he mightmake for the ford he was so fond of; or if he came across it he’dremember it well, and stop there and play, perhaps. So Otter goes there everynight and watches—on the chance, you know, just on the chance!”

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

“Well, well,” said the Rat presently, “I suppose we ought tobe thinking about turning in.” But he never offered to move.

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

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

They got the boat out, and the Rat took the sculls, paddling with caution. Outin midstream, there was a clear, narrow track that faintly reflected the sky;but wherever shadows fell on the water from bank, bush, or tree, they were assolid to all appearance as the banks themselves, and the Mole had to steer withjudgment accordingly. Dark and deserted as it was, the night was full of smallnoises, song and chatter and rustling, telling of the busy little populationwho were up and about, plying their trades and vocations through the night tillsunshine should fall on them at last and send them off to their well-earnedrepose. The water’s own noises, too, were more apparent than by day, itsgurglings and “cloops” more unexpected and near at hand; andconstantly they started at what seemed a sudden clear call from an actualarticulate voice.

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

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

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

“It’s gone!” sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again.“So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almostwish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, andnothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go onlistening to it for ever. No! There it is again!” he cried, alert oncemore. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.

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

The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. “I hear nothing myself,” hesaid, “but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.”

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

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

“Clearer and nearer still,” cried the Rat joyously. “Now youmust surely hear it! Ah—at last—I see you do!”

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

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

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

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

“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played tome,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here, in this holyplace, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned hismuscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was nopanic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but itwas an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could onlymean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turnedto look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and tremblingviolently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-hauntedbranches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though thepiping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant andimperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike himinstantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden.Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utterclearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness ofincredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in thevery eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns,gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindlyeyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth brokeinto a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that layacross the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes onlyjust fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggylimbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestlingbetween his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, thelittle, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for onemoment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as helooked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are youafraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.“Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, Iam afraid!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Some—great—animal—has been here,” he murmuredslowly and thoughtfully; and stood musing, musing; his mind strangely stirred.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s like music—far away music,” said the Mole noddingdrowsily.

“So I was thinking,” murmured the Rat, dreamful and languid.“Dance-music—the lilting sort that runs on without a stop—butwith words in it, too—it passes into words and out of them again—Icatch them at intervals—then it is dance-music once more, and thennothing but the reeds’ soft thin whispering.”

“You hear better than I,” said the Mole sadly. “I cannotcatch the words.”

“Let me try and give you them,” said the Rat softly, his eyes stillclosed. “Now it is turning into words again—faint butclear—Lest the awe should dwell—And turn your frolic tofret—You shall look on my power at the helping hour—But then youshall forget! Now the reeds take it up—forget, forget, they sigh, and itdies away in a rustle and a whisper. Then the voice returns—

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

Helper and healer, I cheer—Small waifs in the woodlandwet—Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it—Bidding them allforget! Nearer, Mole, nearer! No, it is no good; the song has died away intoreed-talk.”

“But what do the words mean?” asked the wondering Mole.

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

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

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

VIII.
TOAD’S ADVENTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about Toad Hall,” said she. “It soundsbeautiful.”

“Toad Hall,” said the Toad proudly, “is an eligibleself-contained gentleman’s residence very unique; dating in part from thefourteenth century, but replete with every modern convenience. Up-to-datesanitation. Five minutes from church, post-office, and golf-links, Suitablefor——”

“Bless the animal,” said the girl, laughing, “I don’twant to take it. Tell me something real about it. But first wait till I fetchyou some more tea and toast.”

She tripped away, and presently returned with a fresh trayful; and Toad,pitching into the toast with avidity, his spirits quite restored to their usuallevel, told her about the boathouse, and the fish-pond, and the old walledkitchen-garden; and about the pig-styes, and the stables, and the pigeon-house,and the hen-house; and about the dairy, and the wash-house, and thechina-cupboards, and the linen-presses (she liked that bit especially); andabout the banqueting-hall, and the fun they had there when the other animalswere gathered round the table and Toad was at his best, singing songs, tellingstories, carrying on generally. Then she wanted to know about hisanimal-friends, and was very interested in all he had to tell her about themand how they lived, and what they did to pass their time. Of course, she didnot say she was fond of animals as pets, because she had the sense to see thatToad would be extremely offended. When she said good night, having filled hiswater-jug and shaken up his straw for him, Toad was very much the samesanguine, self-satisfied animal that he had been of old. He sang a little songor two, of the sort he used to sing at his dinner-parties, curled himself up inthe straw, and had an excellent night’s rest and the pleasantest ofdreams.

They had many interesting talks together, after that, as the dreary days wenton; and the gaoler’s daughter grew very sorry for Toad, and thought it agreat shame that a poor little animal should be locked up in prison for whatseemed to her a very trivial offence. Toad, of course, in his vanity, thoughtthat her interest in him proceeded from a growing tenderness; and he could nothelp half-regretting that the social gulf between them was so very wide, forshe was a comely lass, and evidently admired him very much.

One morning the girl was very thoughtful, and answered at random, and did notseem to Toad to be paying proper attention to his witty sayings and sparklingcomments.

“Toad,” she said presently, “just listen, please. I have anaunt who is a washerwoman.”

“There, there,” said Toad, graciously and affably, “nevermind; think no more about it. I have several aunts who ought to bewasherwomen.”

“Do be quiet a minute, Toad,” said the girl. “You talk toomuch, that’s your chief fault, and I’m trying to think, and youhurt my head. As I said, I have an aunt who is a washerwoman; she does thewashing for all the prisoners in this castle—we try to keep any payingbusiness of that sort in the family, you understand. She takes out the washingon Monday morning, and brings it in on Friday evening. This is a Thursday. Now,this is what occurs to me: you’re very rich—at least you’realways telling me so—and she’s very poor. A few poundswouldn’t make any difference to you, and it would mean a lot to her. Now,I think if she were properly approached—squared, I believe is the wordyou animals use—you could come to some arrangement by which she would letyou have her dress and bonnet and so on, and you could escape from the castleas the official washerwoman. You’re very alike in manyrespects—particularly about the figure.”

“We’re not,” said the Toad in a huff. “I have a veryelegant figure—for what I am.”

“So has my aunt,” replied the girl, “for what she is. Buthave it your own way. You horrid, proud, ungrateful animal, when I’msorry for you, and trying to help you!”

“Yes, yes, that’s all right; thank you very much indeed,”said the Toad hurriedly. “But look here! you wouldn’t surely haveMr. Toad of Toad Hall, going about the country disguised as awasherwoman!”

“Then you can stop here as a Toad,” replied the girl with muchspirit. “I suppose you want to go off in a coach-and-four!”

Honest Toad was always ready to admit himself in the wrong. “You are agood, kind, clever girl,” he said, “and I am indeed a proud and astupid toad. Introduce me to your worthy aunt, if you will be so kind, and Ihave no doubt that the excellent lady and I will be able to arrange termssatisfactory to both parties.”

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

Toad was delighted with the suggestion. It would enable him to leave the prisonin some style, and with his reputation for being a desperate and dangerousfellow untarnished; and he readily helped the gaoler’s daughter to makeher aunt appear as much as possible the victim of circ*mstances over which shehad no control.

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

Shaking with laughter, she proceeded to “hook-and-eye” him into thecotton print gown, arranged the shawl with a professional fold, and tied thestrings of the rusty bonnet under his chin.

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

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

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

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

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

He made his way to the station accordingly, consulted a time-table, and foundthat a train, bound more or less in the direction of his home, was due to startin half-an-hour. “More luck!” said Toad, his spirits risingrapidly, and went off to the booking-office to buy his ticket.

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

To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat behindhim in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys, watch, matches,pencil-case—all that makes life worth living, all that distinguishes themany-pocketed animal, the lord of creation, from the inferior one-pocketed orno-pocketed productions that hop or trip about permissively, unequipped for thereal contest.

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

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

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

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

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

“O, sir!” said Toad, crying afresh, “I am a poor unhappywasherwoman, and I’ve lost all my money, and can’t pay for aticket, and I must get home to-night somehow, and whatever I am to do Idon’t know. O dear, O dear!”

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

“Any amount of ’em,” sobbed Toad. “And they’ll behungry—and playing with matches—and upsetting lamps, the littleinnocents!—and quarrelling, and going on generally. O dear, Odear!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presently he called out, “I can see it clearly now! It is an engine, onour rails, coming along at a great pace! It looks as if we were beingpursued!”

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

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

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

The engine-driver looked down upon him very sternly, and said, “Now tellthe truth; what were you put in prison for?”

“It was nothing very much,” said poor Toad, colouring deeply.“I only borrowed a motorcar while the owners were at lunch; they had noneed of it at the time. I didn’t mean to steal it, really; butpeople—especially magistrates—take such harsh views of thoughtlessand high-spirited actions.”

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

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

They piled on more coals, and the train shot into the tunnel, and the enginerushed and roared and rattled, till at last they shot out at the other end intofresh air and the peaceful moonlight, and saw the wood lying dark and helpfulupon either side of the line. The driver shut off steam and put on brakes, theToad got down on the step, and as the train slowed down to almost a walkingpace he heard the driver call out, “Now, jump!”

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

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

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

After so many weeks within walls, he found the wood strange and unfriendly andinclined, he thought, to make fun of him. Night-jars, sounding their mechanicalrattle, made him think that the wood was full of searching warders, closing inon him. An owl, swooping noiselessly towards him, brushed his shoulder with itswing, making him jump with the horrid certainty that it was a hand; thenflitted off, moth-like, laughing its low ho! ho! ho; which Toad thought in verypoor taste. Once he met a fox, who stopped, looked him up and down in asarcastic sort of way, and said, “Hullo, washerwoman! Half a pair ofsocks and a pillow-case short this week! Mind it doesn’t occuragain!” and swaggered off, snigg*ring. Toad looked about for a stone tothrow at him, but could not succeed in finding one, which vexed him more thananything. At last, cold, hungry, and tired out, he sought the shelter of ahollow tree, where with branches and dead leaves he made himself as comfortablea bed as he could, and slept soundly till the morning.

IX.
WAYFARERS ALL

The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all appearancethe summer’s pomp was still at fullest height, and although in the tilledacres green had given way to gold, though rowans were reddening, and the woodswere dashed here and there with a tawny fierceness, yet light and warmth andcolour were still present in undiminished measure, clean of any chillypremonitions of the passing year. But the constant chorus of the orchards andhedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers; therobin was beginning to assert himself once more; and there was a feeling in theair of change and departure. The cuckoo, of course, had long been silent; butmany another feathered friend, for months a part of the familiar landscape andits small society, was missing too and it seemed that the ranks thinnedsteadily day by day. Rat, ever observant of all winged movement, saw that itwas taking daily a southing tendency; and even as he lay in bed at night hethought he could make out, passing in the darkness overhead, the beat andquiver of impatient pinions, obedient to the peremptory call.

Nature’s Grand Hotel has its Season, like the others. As the guests oneby one pack, pay, and depart, and the seats at the table-d’hôte shrinkpitifully at each succeeding meal; as suites of rooms are closed, carpets takenup, and waiters sent away; those boarders who are staying on, en pension, untilthe next year’s full re-opening, cannot help being somewhat affected byall these flittings and farewells, this eager discussion of plans, routes, andfresh quarters, this daily shrinkage in the stream of comradeship. One getsunsettled, depressed, and inclined to be querulous. Why this craving forchange? Why not stay on quietly here, like us, and be jolly? You don’tknow this hotel out of the season, and what fun we have among ourselves, wefellows who remain and see the whole interesting year out. All very true, nodoubt the others always reply; we quite envy you—and some other yearperhaps—but just now we have engagements—and there’s the busat the door—our time is up! So they depart, with a smile and a nod, andwe miss them, and feel resentful. The Rat was a self-sufficing sort of animal,rooted to the land, and, whoever went, he stayed; still, he could not helpnoticing what was in the air, and feeling some of its influence in his bones.

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

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

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

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

“O, bother starts,” said the Rat. “It’s a splendid day.Come for a row, or a stroll along the hedges, or a picnic in the woods, orsomething.”

“Well, I think not to-day, thank you,” replied the field-mousehurriedly. “Perhaps some other day—when we’ve moretime——”

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

“If people would be more careful,” said a field-mouse ratherstiffly, “and look where they’re going, people wouldn’t hurtthemselves—and forget themselves. Mind that hold-all, Rat! You’dbetter sit down somewhere. In an hour or two we may be more free to attend toyou.”

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

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

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

“What, already,” said the Rat, strolling up to them.“What’s the hurry? I call it simply ridiculous.”

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

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

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

“Couldn’t you stop on for just this year?” suggested theWater Rat, wistfully. “We’ll all do our best to make you feel athome. You’ve no idea what good times we have here, while you are faraway.”

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

“Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!” twittered the othertwo dreamily. “Its songs its hues, its radiant air! O, do youremember——” and, forgetting the Rat, they slid intopassionate reminiscence, while he listened fascinated, and his heart burnedwithin him. In himself, too, he knew that it was vibrating at last, that chordhitherto dormant and unsuspected. The mere chatter of these southern-boundbirds, their pale and second-hand reports, had yet power to awaken this wildnew sensation and thrill him through and through with it; what would one momentof the real thing work in him—one passionate touch of the real southernsun, one waft of the authentic odor? With closed eyes he dared to dream amoment in full abandonment, and when he looked again the river seemed steelyand chill, the green fields grey and lightless. Then his loyal heart seemed tocry out on his weaker self for its treachery.

“Why do you ever come back, then, at all?” he demanded of theswallows jealously. “What do you find to attract you in this poor drablittle country?”

“And do you think,” said the first swallow, “that the othercall is not for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wetorchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of haymaking, and allthe farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves?”

“Do you suppose,” asked the second one, that you are the onlyliving thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo’s noteagain?”

“In due time,” said the third, “we shall be home-sick oncemore for quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. Butto-day all that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our blooddances to other music.”

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

Restlessly the Rat wandered off once more, climbed the slope that rose gentlyfrom the north bank of the river, and lay looking out towards the great ring ofDowns that barred his vision further southwards—his simple horizonhitherto, his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind which lay nothing he hadcared to see or to know. To-day, to him gazing South with a new-born needstirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long low outline seemed topulsate with promise; to-day, the unseen was everything, the unknown the onlyreal fact of life. On this side of the hills was now the real blank, on theother lay the crowded and coloured panorama that his inner eye was seeing soclearly. What seas lay beyond, green, leaping, and crested! What sun-bathedcoasts, along which the white villas glittered against the olive woods! Whatquiet harbours, thronged with gallant shipping bound for purple islands of wineand spice, islands set low in languorous waters!

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

Footsteps fell on his ear, and the figure of one that walked somewhat wearilycame into view; and he saw that it was a Rat, and a very dusty one. Thewayfarer, as he reached him, saluted with a gesture of courtesy that hadsomething foreign about it—hesitated a moment—then with a pleasantsmile turned from the track and sat down by his side in the cool herbage. Heseemed tired, and the Rat let him rest unquestioned, understanding something ofwhat was in his thoughts; knowing, too, the value all animals attach at timesto mere silent companionship, when the weary muscles slacken and the mind markstime.

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

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

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

“Yes, it’s the life, the only life, to live,” responded theWater Rat dreamily, and without his usual whole-hearted conviction.

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

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

“Nice little farm,” replied the wayfarer, briefly. “Upalongin that direction”—he nodded northwards. “Never mind aboutit. I had everything I could want—everything I had any right to expect oflife, and more; and here I am! Glad to be here all the same, though, glad to behere! So many miles further on the road, so many hours nearer to myheart’s desire!”

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

“You are not one of us,” said the Water Rat, “nor yet afarmer; nor even, I should judge, of this country.”

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

“I suppose you go great voyages,” said the Water Rat with growinginterest. “Months and months out of sight of land, and provisions runningshort, and allowanced as to water, and your mind communing with the mightyocean, and all that sort of thing?”

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

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

“My last voyage,” began the Sea Rat, “that landed meeventually in this country, bound with high hopes for my inland farm, willserve as a good example of any of them, and, indeed, as an epitome of myhighly-coloured life. Family troubles, as usual, began it. The domesticstorm-cone was hoisted, and I shipped myself on board a small trading vesselbound from Constantinople, by classic seas whose every wave throbs with adeathless memory, to the Grecian Islands and the Levant. Those were golden daysand balmy nights! In and out of harbour all the time—old friendseverywhere—sleeping in some cool temple or ruined cistern during the heatof the day—feasting and song after sundown, under great stars set in avelvet sky! Thence we turned and coasted up the Adriatic, its shores swimmingin an atmosphere of amber, rose, and aquamarine; we lay in wide land-lockedharbours, we roamed through ancient and noble cities, until at last onemorning, as the sun rose royally behind us, we rode into Venice down a path ofgold. O, Venice is a fine city, wherein a rat can wander at his ease and takehis pleasure! Or, when weary of wandering, can sit at the edge of the GrandCanal at night, feasting with his friends, when the air is full of music andthe sky full of stars, and the lights flash and shimmer on the polished steelprows of the swaying gondolas, packed so that you could walk across the canalon them from side to side! And then the food—do you like shellfish? Well,well, we won’t linger over that now.”

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

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

“But isn’t it very hot and stuffy, down in the—hold, I thinkyou call it?” asked the Water Rat.

The seafarer looked at him with the suspicion of a wink. “I’m anold hand,” he remarked with much simplicity. “The captain’scabin’s good enough for me.”

“It’s a hard life, by all accounts,” murmured the Rat, sunkin deep thought.

“For the crew it is,” replied the seafarer gravely, again with theghost of a wink.

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

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

“Now I call that kind and brotherly of you,” said the Sea Rat.“I was indeed hungry when I sat down, and ever since I inadvertentlyhappened to mention shell-fish, my pangs have been extreme. But couldn’tyou fetch it along out here? I am none too fond of going under hatches, unlessI’m obliged to; and then, while we eat, I could tell you more concerningmy voyages and the pleasant life I lead—at least, it is very pleasant tome, and by your attention I judge it commends itself to you; whereas if we goindoors it is a hundred to one that I shall presently fall asleep.”

“That is indeed an excellent suggestion,” said the Water Rat, andhurried off home. There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simplemeal, in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences, hetook care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which thegarlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-neckedstraw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on farSouthern slopes. Thus laden, he returned with all speed, and blushed forpleasure at the old seaman’s commendations of his taste and judgment, astogether they unpacked the basket and laid out the contents on the grass by theroadside.

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

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

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

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

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

“And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and neverreturn, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the call,now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ’Tis but a banging of the doorbehind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and intothe new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, whenthe cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by yourquiet river with a store of goodly memories for company. You can easilyovertake me on the road, for you are young, and I am ageing and go softly. Iwill linger, and look back; and at last I will surely see you coming, eager andlight-hearted, with all the South in your face!”

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

Mechanically he rose and proceeded to repack the luncheon-basket, carefully andwithout haste. Mechanically he returned home, gathered together a few smallnecessaries and special treasures he was fond of, and put them in a satchel;acting with slow deliberation, moving about the room like a sleep-walker;listening ever with parted lips. He swung the satchel over his shoulder,carefully selected a stout stick for his wayfaring, and with no haste, but withno hesitation at all, he stepped across the threshold just as the Mole appearedat the door.

“Why, where are you off to, Ratty?” asked the Mole in greatsurprise, grasping him by the arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s quite a long time since you did any poetry,” heremarked. “You might have a try at it this evening, insteadof—well, brooding over things so much. I’ve an idea thatyou’ll feel a lot better when you’ve got something jotteddown—if it’s only just the rhymes.”

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

X.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD

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

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

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

He had the world all to himself, that early summer morning. The dewy woodland,as he threaded it, was solitary and still: the green fields that succeeded thetrees were his own to do as he liked with; the road itself, when he reached it,in that loneliness that was everywhere, seemed, like a stray dog, to be lookinganxiously for company. Toad, however, was looking for something that couldtalk, and tell him clearly which way he ought to go. It is all very well, whenyou have a light heart, and a clear conscience, and money in your pocket, andnobody scouring the country for you to drag you off to prison again, to followwhere the road beckons and points, not caring whither. The practical Toad caredvery much indeed, and he could have kicked the road for its helpless silencewhen every minute was of importance to him.

The reserved rustic road was presently joined by a shy little brother in theshape of a canal, which took its hand and ambled along by its side in perfectconfidence, but with the same tongue-tied, uncommunicative attitude towardsstrangers. “Bother them!” said Toad to himself. “But, anyhow,one thing’s clear. They must both be coming from somewhere, and going tosomewhere. You can’t get over that. Toad, my boy!” So he marched onpatiently by the water’s edge.

Round a bend in the canal came plodding a solitary horse, stooping forward asif in anxious thought. From rope traces attached to his collar stretched a longline, taut, but dipping with his stride, the further part of it dripping pearlydrops. Toad let the horse pass, and stood waiting for what the fates weresending him.

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

“A nice morning, ma’am!” she remarked to Toad, as she drew uplevel with him.

“I dare say it is, ma’am!” responded Toad politely, as hewalked along the tow-path abreast of her. “I dare it is a nice morning tothem that’s not in sore trouble, like what I am. Here’s my marrieddaughter, she sends off to me post-haste to come to her at once; so off Icomes, not knowing what may be happening or going to happen, but fearing theworst, as you will understand, ma’am, if you’re a mother, too. AndI’ve left my business to look after itself—I’m in the washingand laundering line, you must know, ma’am—and I’ve left myyoung children to look after themselves, and a more mischievous and troublesomeset of young imps doesn’t exist, ma’am; and I’ve lost all mymoney, and lost my way, and as for what may be happening to my marrieddaughter, why, I don’t like to think of it, ma’am!”

“Where might your married daughter be living, ma’am?” askedthe barge-woman.

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

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

She steered the barge close to the bank, and Toad, with many humble andgrateful acknowledgments, stepped lightly on board and sat down with greatsatisfaction. “Toad’s luck again!” thought he. “Ialways come out on top!”

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

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

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

“O, I have girls,” said Toad lightly: “twenty girls orthereabouts, always at work. But you know what girls are, ma’am! Nastylittle hussies, that’s what I call ’em!”

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

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

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

“Why, what do you mean?” asked Toad, nervously.

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

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

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

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

“Let you steer?” replied the barge-woman, laughing. “It takessome practice to steer a barge properly. Besides, it’s dull work, and Iwant you to be happy. No, you shall do the washing you are so fond of, andI’ll stick to the steering that I understand. Don’t try and depriveme of the pleasure of giving you a treat!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You common, low, fat barge-woman!” he shouted; “don’tyou dare to talk to your betters like that! Washerwoman indeed! I would haveyou to know that I am a Toad, a very well-known, respected, distinguished Toad!I may be under a bit of a cloud at present, but I will not be laughed at by abargewoman!”

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

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

The water, when he eventually reached it with a loud splash, proved quite coldenough for his taste, though its chill was not sufficient to quell his proudspirit, or slake the heat of his furious temper. He rose to the surfacespluttering, and when he had wiped the duck-weed out of his eyes the firstthing he saw was the fat barge-woman looking back at him over the stern of theretreating barge and laughing; and he vowed, as he coughed and choked, to beeven with her.

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

The barge-woman was still laughing when he drew up level with her. “Putyourself through your mangle, washerwoman,” she called out, “andiron your face and crimp it, and you’ll pass for quite a decent-lookingToad!”

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

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

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

Presently the gipsy took his pipe out of his mouth and remarked in a carelessway, “Want to sell that there horse of yours?”

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

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

“Try and love a donkey,” suggested the gipsy. “Some peopledo.”

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

The gipsy looked the horse over, and then he looked Toad over with equal care,and looked at the horse again. “Shillin’ a leg,” he saidbriefly, and turned away, continuing to smoke and try to stare the wide worldout of countenance.

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

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

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

Then Toad sat and pondered long and deeply. For he was hungry and quitepenniless, and still some way—he knew not how far—from home, andenemies might still be looking for him. To one in such a situation, fiveshillings may very well appear a large sum of money. On the other hand, it didnot seem very much to get for a horse. But then, again, the horse hadn’tcost him anything; so whatever he got was all clear profit. At last he saidfirmly, “Look here, gipsy! I tell you what we will do; and this is mylast word. You shall hand me over six shillings and sixpence, cash down; andfurther, in addition thereto, you shall give me as much breakfast as I canpossibly eat, at one sitting of course, out of that iron pot of yours thatkeeps sending forth such delicious and exciting smells. In return, I will makeover to you my spirited young horse, with all the beautiful harness andtrappings that are on him, freely thrown in. If that’s not good enoughfor you, say so, and I’ll be getting on. I know a man near herewho’s wanted this horse of mine for years.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is something like!” said the excited Toad. “This isreal life again, this is once more the great world from which I have beenmissed so long! I will hail them, my brothers of the wheel, and pitch them ayarn, of the sort that has been so successful hitherto; and they will give me alift, of course, and then I will talk to them some more; and, perhaps, withluck, it may even end in my driving up to Toad Hall in a motor-car! That willbe one in the eye for Badger!”

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

He sank down in a shabby, miserable heap in the road, murmuring to himself inhis despair, “It’s all up! It’s all over now! Chains andpolicemen again! Prison again! Dry bread and water again! O, what a fool I havebeen! What did I want to go strutting about the country for, singing conceitedsongs, and hailing people in broad day on the high road, instead of hiding tillnightfall and slipping home quietly by back ways! O hapless Toad! O ill-fatedanimal!”

The terrible motor-car drew slowly nearer and nearer, till at last he heard itstop just short of him. Two gentlemen got out and walked round the tremblingheap of crumpled misery lying in the road, and one of them said, “O dear!this is very sad! Here is a poor old thing—a washerwomanapparently—who has fainted in the road! Perhaps she is overcome by theheat, poor creature; or possibly she has not had any food to-day. Let us lifther into the car and take her to the nearest village, where doubtless she hasfriends.”

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

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

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

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

“I won’t,” said Toad. “I was only thinking, if I mightsit on the front seat there, beside the driver, where I could get the fresh airfull in my face, I should soon be all right again.”

“What a very sensible woman!” said the gentleman. “Of courseyou shall.” So they carefully helped Toad into the front seat beside thedriver, and on they went again.

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

“It is fate!” he said to himself. “Why strive? whystruggle?” and he turned to the driver at his side.

“Please, Sir,” he said, “I wish you would kindly let me tryand drive the car for a little. I’ve been watching you carefully, and itlooks so easy and so interesting, and I should like to be able to tell myfriends that once I had driven a motor-car!”

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

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

The gentlemen behind clapped their hands and applauded, and Toad heard themsaying, “How well she does it! Fancy a washerwoman driving a car as wellas that, the first time!”

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

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

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

With a cry of horror the whole party rose and flung themselves on him.“Seize him!” they cried, “seize the Toad, the wicked animalwho stole our motor-car! Bind him, chain him, drag him to the nearestpolice-station! Down with the desperate and dangerous Toad!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown and small, with whiskers.

Grave and round, with neat ears and silky hair.

It was the Water Rat!

XI.
“LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS”

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

“O, Ratty!” he cried. “I’ve been through such timessince I saw you last, you can’t think! Such trials, such sufferings, andall so nobly borne! Then such escapes, such disguises such subterfuges, and allso cleverly planned and carried out! Been in prison—got out of it, ofcourse! Been thrown into a canal—swam ashore! Stole a horse—soldhim for a large sum of money! Humbugged everybody—made ’em all doexactly what I wanted! Oh, I am a smart Toad, and no mistake! What do you thinkmy last exploit was? Just hold on till I tell you——”

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

Toad was at first inclined to stop and do some talking back at him. He had hadenough of being ordered about when he was in prison, and here was the thingbeing begun all over again, apparently; and by a Rat, too! However, he caughtsight of himself in the looking-glass over the hat-stand, with the rusty blackbonnet perched rakishly over one eye, and he changed his mind and went veryquickly and humbly upstairs to the Rat’s dressing-room. There he had athorough wash and brush-up, changed his clothes, and stood for a long timebefore the glass, contemplating himself with pride and pleasure, and thinkingwhat utter idiots all the people must have been to have ever mistaken him forone moment for a washerwoman.

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

When at last Toad had talked himself to a standstill, there was silence for awhile; and then the Rat said, “Now, Toady, I don’t want to give youpain, after all you’ve been through already; but, seriously, don’tyou see what an awful ass you’ve been making of yourself? On your ownadmission you have been handcuffed, imprisoned, starved, chased, terrified outof your life, insulted, jeered at, and ignominiously flung into thewater—by a woman, too! Where’s the amusem*nt in that? Where doesthe fun come in? And all because you must needs go and steal a motor-car. Youknow that you’ve never had anything but trouble from motor-cars from themoment you first set eyes on one. But if you will be mixed up withthem—as you generally are, five minutes after you’vestarted—why steal them? Be a cripple, if you think it’s exciting;be a bankrupt, for a change, if you’ve set your mind on it: but whychoose to be a convict? When are you going to be sensible, and think of yourfriends, and try and be a credit to them? Do you suppose it’s anypleasure to me, for instance, to hear animals saying, as I go about, thatI’m the chap that keeps company with gaol-birds?”

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

“Stroll quietly down to Toad Hall?” cried the Rat, greatly excited.“What are you talking about? Do you mean to say you haven’theard?

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

“Do you mean to tell me,” shouted the Rat, thumping with his littlefist upon the table, “that you’ve heard nothing about the Stoatsand Weasels?”

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

“—And how they’ve been and taken Toad Hall?” continuedthe Rat.

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

“Go on, Ratty,” he murmured presently; “tell me all. Theworst is over. I am an animal again. I can bear it.”

“When you—got—into that—that—trouble ofyours,” said the Rat, slowly and impressively; “I mean, whenyou—disappeared from society for a time, over that misunderstanding abouta—a machine, you know—”

Toad merely nodded.

“Well, it was a good deal talked about down here, naturally,”continued the Rat, “not only along the river-side, but even in the WildWood. Animals took sides, as always happens. The River-bankers stuck up foryou, and said you had been infamously treated, and there was no justice to behad in the land nowadays. But the Wild Wood animals said hard things, andserved you right, and it was time this sort of thing was stopped. And they gotvery co*cky, and went about saying you were done for this time! You would nevercome back again, never, never!”

Toad nodded once more, keeping silence.

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

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

“They argued from history,” continued the Rat. “They saidthat no criminal laws had ever been known to prevail against cheek andplausibility such as yours, combined with the power of a long purse. So theyarranged to move their things in to Toad Hall, and sleep there, and keep itaired, and have it all ready for you when you turned up. They didn’tguess what was going to happen, of course; still, they had their suspicions ofthe Wild Wood animals. Now I come to the most painful and tragic part of mystory. One dark night—it was a very dark night, and blowing hard, too,and raining simply cats and dogs—a band of weasels, armed to the teeth,crept silently up the carriage-drive to the front entrance. Simultaneously, abody of desperate ferrets, advancing through the kitchen-garden, possessedthemselves of the backyard and offices; while a company of skirmishing stoatswho stuck at nothing occupied the conservatory and the billiard-room, and heldthe French windows opening on to the lawn.

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

Here the unfeeling Toad broke into a snigg*r, and then pulled himself togetherand tried to look particularly solemn.

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

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

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

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

“Who comes there?” said the ferret sharply.

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Toad, very angrily. “What do youmean by talking like that to me? Come out of that at once, orI’ll——”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what did I tell you?” said the Rat very crossly. “And,now, look here! See what you’ve been and done! Lost me my boat that I wasso fond of, that’s what you’ve done! And simply ruined that nicesuit of clothes that I lent you! Really, Toad, of all the tryinganimals—I wonder you manage to keep any friends at all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clever? O, no!” he said. “I’m not really clever,according to my friends. I’ve only broken out of the strongest prison inEngland, that’s all! And captured a railway train and escaped on it,that’s all! And disguised myself and gone about the country humbuggingeverybody, that’s all! O, no! I’m a stupid ass, I am! I’lltell you one or two of my little adventures, Mole, and you shall judge foryourself!”

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

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

“Go on, Toad,” said the Mole, immensely interested.

“Toad, do be quiet, please!” said the Rat. “And don’tyou egg him on, Mole, when you know what he is; but please tell us as soon aspossible what the position is, and what’s best to be done, now that Toadis back at last.”

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

“It’s a very difficult situation,” said the Rat, reflectingdeeply. “But I think I see now, in the depths of my mind, what Toadreally ought to do. I will tell you. He ought to——”

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

“Well, I shan’t do it, anyway!” cried Toad, getting excited.“I’m not going to be ordered about by you fellows! It’s myhouse we’re talking about, and I know exactly what to do, and I’lltell you. I’m going to——”

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

It was the Badger, who, having finished his pie, had turned round in his chairand was looking at them severely. When he saw that he had secured theirattention, and that they were evidently waiting for him to address them, heturned back to the table again and reached out for the cheese. And so great wasthe respect commanded by the solid qualities of that admirable animal, that notanother word was uttered until he had quite finished his repast and brushed thecrumbs from his knees. The Toad fidgeted a good deal, but the Rat held himfirmly down.

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

“Toad!” he said severely. “You bad, troublesome littleanimal! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? What do you think your father, myold friend, would have said if he had been here to-night, and had known of allyour goings on?”

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

“There, there!” went on the Badger, more kindly. “Never mind.Stop crying. We’re going to let bygones be bygones, and try and turn overa new leaf. But what the Mole says is quite true. The stoats are on guard, atevery point, and they make the best sentinels in the world. It’s quiteuseless to think of attacking the place. They’re too strong forus.”

“Then it’s all over,” sobbed the Toad, crying into the sofacushions. “I shall go and enlist for a soldier, and never see my dearToad Hall any more!”

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

Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction forhim, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowedthrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after havingfaithfully promised not to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But the sentinels will be posted as usual,” remarked the Rat.

“Exactly,” said the Badger; “that is my point. The weaselswill trust entirely to their excellent sentinels. And that is where the passagecomes in. That very useful tunnel leads right up under the butler’spantry, next to the dining-hall!”

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

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

“—with our pistols and swords and sticks—” shouted theRat.

“—and rush in upon them,” said the Badger.

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

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

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

He slept till a late hour next morning, and by the time he got down he foundthat the other animals had finished their breakfast some time before. The Molehad slipped off somewhere by himself, without telling any one where he wasgoing to. The Badger sat in the arm-chair, reading the paper, and notconcerning himself in the slightest about what was going to happen that veryevening. The Rat, on the other hand, was running round the room busily, withhis arms full of weapons of every kind, distributing them in four little heapson the floor, and saying excitedly under his breath, as he ran,“Here’s-a-sword-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-sword-for-the Mole,here’s-a-sword-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-sword-for-the-Badger!Here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Mole,here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Toad,here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Badger!” And so on, in a regular,rhythmical way, while the four little heaps gradually grew and grew.

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

“It’s as well to be on the safe side,” said the Ratreflectively, polishing a pistol-barrel on his sleeve and looking along it.

The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and swung itvigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. “I’ll learn ’em tosteal my house!” he cried. “I’ll learn ’em, I’lllearn ’em!”

“Don’t say ‘learn ’em,’ Toad,” said theRat, greatly shocked. “It’s not good English.”

“What are you always nagging at Toad for?” inquired the Badger,rather peevishly. “What’s the matter with his English? It’sthe same what I use myself, and if it’s good enough for me, it ought tobe good enough for you!”

“I’m very sorry,” said the Rat humbly. “Only I think itought to be ‘teach ’em,’ not ‘learn’em.’”

“But we don’t want to teach ’em,” replied the Badger.“We want to learn ’em—learn ’em, learn ’em! Andwhat’s more, we’re going to do it, too!”

“Oh, very well, have it your own way,” said the Rat. He was gettingrather muddled about it himself, and presently he retired into a corner, wherehe could be heard muttering, “Learn ’em, teach ’em, teach’em, learn ’em!” till the Badger told him rather sharply toleave off.

Presently the Mole came tumbling into the room, evidently very pleased withhimself. “I’ve been having such fun!” he began at once;“I’ve been getting a rise out of the stoats!”

“I hope you’ve been very careful, Mole?” said the Ratanxiously.

“I should hope so, too,” said the Mole confidently. “I gotthe idea when I went into the kitchen, to see about Toad’s breakfastbeing kept hot for him. I found that old washerwoman-dress that he came home inyesterday, hanging on a towel-horse before the fire. So I put it on, and thebonnet as well, and the shawl, and off I went to Toad Hall, as bold as youplease. The sentries were on the look-out, of course, with their guns and their‘Who comes there?’ and all the rest of their nonsense. ‘Goodmorning, gentlemen!’ says I, very respectful. ‘Want any washingdone to-day?’

“They looked at me very proud and stiff and haughty, and said, ‘Goaway, washerwoman! We don’t do any washing on duty.’ ‘Or anyother time?’ says I. Ho, ho, ho! Wasn’t I funny, Toad?”

“Poor, frivolous animal!” said Toad, very loftily. The fact is, hefelt exceedingly jealous of Mole for what he had just done. It was exactly whathe would have liked to have done himself, if only he had thought of it first,and hadn’t gone and overslept himself.

“Some of the stoats turned quite pink,” continued the Mole,“and the Sergeant in charge, he said to me, very short, he said,‘Now run away, my good woman, run away! Don’t keep my men idlingand talking on their posts.’ ‘Run away?’ says I; ‘itwon’t be me that’ll be running away, in a very short time fromnow!’”

“O Moly, how could you?” said the Rat, dismayed.

The Badger laid down his paper.

“I could see them pricking up their ears and looking at eachother,” went on the Mole; “and the Sergeant said to them,‘Never mind her; she doesn’t know what she’s talkingabout.’”

“‘O! don’t I?’” said I. “‘Well, letme tell you this. My daughter, she washes for Mr. Badger, and that’llshow you whether I know what I’m talking about; and you>’ll knowpretty soon, too! A hundred bloodthirsty badgers, armed with rifles, are goingto attack Toad Hall this very night, by way of the paddock. Six boatloads ofRats, with pistols and cutlasses, will come up the river and effect a landingin the garden; while a picked body of Toads, known at the Die-hards, or theDeath-or-Glory Toads, will storm the orchard and carry everything before them,yelling for vengeance. There won’t be much left of you to wash, by thetime they’ve done with you, unless you clear out while you have thechance!’ Then I ran away, and when I was out of sight I hid; andpresently I came creeping back along the ditch and took a peep at them throughthe hedge. They were all as nervous and flustered as could be, running all waysat once, and falling over each other, and every one giving orders to everybodyelse and not listening; and the Sergeant kept sending off parties of stoats todistant parts of the grounds, and then sending other fellows to fetch ’emback again; and I heard them saying to each other, ‘That’s justlike the weasels; they’re to stop comfortably in the banqueting-hall, andhave feasting and toasts and songs and all sorts of fun, while we must stay onguard in the cold and the dark, and in the end be cut to pieces by bloodthirstyBadgers!”’

“Oh, you silly ass, Mole!” cried Toad, “You’ve been andspoilt everything!”

“Mole,” said the Badger, in his dry, quiet way, “I perceiveyou have more sense in your little finger than some other animals have in thewhole of their fat bodies. You have managed excellently, and I begin to havegreat hopes of you. Good Mole! Clever Mole!”

The Toad was simply wild with jealousy, more especially as he couldn’tmake out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so particularlyclever; but, fortunately for him, before he could show temper or expose himselfto the Badger’s sarcasm, the bell rang for luncheon.

It was a simple but sustaining meal—bacon and broad beans, and a macaronipudding; and when they had quite done, the Badger settled himself into anarm-chair, and said, “Well, we’ve got our work cut out for usto-night, and it will probably be pretty late before we’re quite throughwith it; so I’m just going to take forty winks, while I can.” Andhe drew a handkerchief over his face and was soon snoring.

The anxious and laborious Rat at once resumed his preparations, and startedrunning between his four little heaps, muttering,“Here’s-a-belt-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Mole,here’s-a-belt-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Badger!”and so on, with every fresh accoutrement he produced, to which there seemedreally no end; so the Mole drew his arm through Toad’s, led him out intothe open air, shoved him into a wicker chair, and made him tell him all hisadventures from beginning to end, which Toad was only too willing to do. TheMole was a good listener, and Toad, with no one to check his statements or tocriticise in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go. Indeed, much that herelated belonged more properly to the category ofwhat-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-often-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and the raciest adventures;and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequatethings that really come off?

XII.
THE RETURN OF ULYSSES

When it began to grow dark, the Rat, with an air of excitement and mystery,summoned them back into the parlour, stood each of them up alongside of hislittle heap, and proceeded to dress them up for the coming expedition. He wasvery earnest and thoroughgoing about it, and the affair took quite a long time.First, there was a belt to go round each animal, and then a sword to be stuckinto each belt, and then a cutlass on the other side to balance it. Then a pairof pistols, a policeman’s truncheon, several sets of handcuffs, somebandages and sticking-plaster, and a flask and a sandwich-case. The Badgerlaughed good-humouredly and said, “All right, Ratty! It amuses you and itdoesn’t hurt me. I’m going to do all I’ve got to do with thishere stick.” But the Rat only said, “please, Badger. You know Ishouldn’t like you to blame me afterwards and say I had forgottenanything!

When all was quite ready, the Badger took a dark lantern in one paw, graspedhis great stick with the other, and said, “Now then, follow me! Molefirst, “cos I’m very pleased with him; Rat next; Toad last. Andlook here, Toady! Don’t you chatter so much as usual, or you’ll besent back, as sure as fate!”

The Toad was so anxious not to be left out that he took up the inferiorposition assigned to him without a murmur, and the animals set off. The Badgerled them along by the river for a little way, and then suddenly swung himselfover the edge into a hole in the river-bank, a little above the water. The Moleand the Rat followed silently, swinging themselves successfully into the holeas they had seen the Badger do; but when it came to Toad’s turn, ofcourse he managed to slip and fall into the water with a loud splash and asqueal of alarm. He was hauled out by his friends, rubbed down and wrung outhastily, comforted, and set on his legs; but the Badger was seriously angry,and told him that the very next time he made a fool of himself he would mostcertainly be left behind.

So at last they were in the secret passage, and the cutting-out expedition hadreally begun!

It was cold, and dark, and damp, and low, and narrow, and poor Toad began toshiver, partly from dread of what might be before him, partly because he waswet through. The lantern was far ahead, and he could not help lagging behind alittle in the darkness. Then he heard the Rat call out warningly, “Comeon, Toad!” and a terror seized him of being left behind, alone in thedarkness, and he “came on” with such a rush that he upset the Ratinto the Mole and the Mole into the Badger, and for a moment all was confusion.The Badger thought they were being attacked from behind, and, as there was noroom to use a stick or a cutlass, drew a pistol, and was on the point ofputting a bullet into Toad. When he found out what had really happened he wasvery angry indeed, and said, “Now this time that tiresome Toad shall beleft behind!”

But Toad whimpered, and the other two promised that they would be answerablefor his good conduct, and at last the Badger was pacified, and the processionmoved on; only this time the Rat brought up the rear, with a firm grip on theshoulder of Toad.

So they groped and shuffled along, with their ears pricked up and their paws ontheir pistols, till at last the Badger said, “We ought by now to bepretty nearly under the Hall.”

Then suddenly they heard, far away as it might be, and yet apparently nearlyover their heads, a confused murmur of sound, as if people were shouting andcheering and stamping on the floor and hammering on tables. The Toad’snervous terrors all returned, but the Badger only remarked placidly,“They are going it, the Weasels!”

The passage now began to slope upwards; they groped onward a little further,and then the noise broke out again, quite distinct this time, and very closeabove them. “Ooo-ray-ooray-oo-ray-ooray!” they heard, and thestamping of little feet on the floor, and the clinking of glasses as littlefists pounded on the table. “What a time they’re having!”said the Badger. “Come on!” They hurried along the passage till itcame to a full stop, and they found themselves standing under the trap-doorthat led up into the butler’s pantry.

Such a tremendous noise was going on in the banqueting-hall that there waslittle danger of their being overheard. The Badger said, “Now, boys, alltogether!” and the four of them put their shoulders to the trap-door andheaved it back. Hoisting each other up, they found themselves standing in thepantry, with only a door between them and the banqueting-hall, where theirunconscious enemies were carousing.

The noise, as they emerged from the passage, was simply deafening. At last, asthe cheering and hammering slowly subsided, a voice could be made out saying,“Well, I do not propose to detain you much longer”—(greatapplause)—“but before I resume my seat”—(renewedcheering)—“I should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr.Toad. We all know Toad!”—(great laughter)—“Good Toad,modest Toad, honest Toad!” (shrieks of merriment).

“Only just let me get at him!” muttered Toad, grinding his teeth.

“Hold hard a minute!” said the Badger, restraining him withdifficulty. “Get ready, all of you!”

“—Let me sing you a little song,” went on the voice,“which I have composed on the subject of Toad”—(prolongedapplause).

Then the Chief Weasel—for it was he—began in a high, squeakyvoice—

“Toad he went a-pleasuring
Gaily down the street—”

The Badger drew himself up, took a firm grip of his stick with both paws,glanced round at his comrades, and cried—

“The hour is come! Follow me!”

And flung the door open wide.

My!

What a squealing and a squeaking and a screeching filled the air!

Well might the terrified weasels dive under the tables and spring madly up atthe windows! Well might the ferrets rush wildly for the fireplace and gethopelessly jammed in the chimney! Well might tables and chairs be upset, andglass and china be sent crashing on the floor, in the panic of that terriblemoment when the four Heroes strode wrathfully into the room! The mighty Badger,his whiskers bristling, his great cudgel whistling through the air; Mole, blackand grim, brandishing his stick and shouting his awful war-cry, “A Mole!A Mole!” Rat; desperate and determined, his belt bulging with weapons ofevery age and every variety; Toad, frenzied with excitement and injured pride,swollen to twice his ordinary size, leaping into the air and emittingToad-whoops that chilled them to the marrow! “Toad he wenta-pleasuring!” he yelled. “I’ll pleasure ’em!”and he went straight for the Chief Weasel. They were but four in all, but tothe panic-stricken weasels the hall seemed full of monstrous animals, grey,black, brown and yellow, whooping and flourishing enormous cudgels; and theybroke and fled with squeals of terror and dismay, this way and that, throughthe windows, up the chimney, anywhere to get out of reach of those terriblesticks.

The affair was soon over. Up and down, the whole length of the hall, strode thefour Friends, whacking with their sticks at every head that showed itself; andin five minutes the room was cleared. Through the broken windows the shrieks ofterrified weasels escaping across the lawn were borne faintly to their ears; onthe floor lay prostrate some dozen or so of the enemy, on whom the Mole wasbusily engaged in fitting handcuffs. The Badger, resting from his labours,leant on his stick and wiped his honest brow.

“Mole,” he said,” “you’re the best of fellows!Just cut along outside and look after those stoat-sentries of yours, and seewhat they’re doing. I’ve an idea that, thanks to you, weshan’t have much trouble from them to-night!”

The Mole vanished promptly through a window; and the Badger bade the other twoset a table on its legs again, pick up knives and forks and plates and glassesfrom the débris on the floor, and see if they could find materials for asupper. “I want some grub, I do,” he said, in that rather commonway he had of speaking. “Stir your stumps, Toad, and look lively!We’ve got your house back for you, and you don’t offer us so muchas a sandwich.” Toad felt rather hurt that the Badger didn’t saypleasant things to him, as he had to the Mole, and tell him what a fine fellowhe was, and how splendidly he had fought; for he was rather particularlypleased with himself and the way he had gone for the Chief Weasel and sent himflying across the table with one blow of his stick. But he bustled about, andso did the Rat, and soon they found some guava jelly in a glass dish, and acold chicken, a tongue that had hardly been touched, some trifle, and quite alot of lobster salad; and in the pantry they came upon a basketful of Frenchrolls and any quantity of cheese, butter, and celery. They were just about tosit down when the Mole clambered in through the window, chuckling, with anarmful of rifles.

“It’s all over,” he reported. “From what I can makeout, as soon as the stoats, who were very nervous and jumpy already, heard theshrieks and the yells and the uproar inside the hall, some of them threw downtheir rifles and fled. The others stood fast for a bit, but when the weaselscame rushing out upon them they thought they were betrayed; and the stoatsgrappled with the weasels, and the weasels fought to get away, and theywrestled and wriggled and punched each other, and rolled over and over, tillmost of ’em rolled into the river! They’ve all disappeared by now,one way or another; and I’ve got their rifles. So that’s allright!”

“Excellent and deserving animal!” said the Badger, his mouth fullof chicken and trifle. “Now, there’s just one more thing I want youto do, Mole, before you sit down to your supper along of us; and Iwouldn’t trouble you only I know I can trust you to see a thing done, andI wish I could say the same of every one I know. I’d send Rat, if hewasn’t a poet. I want you to take those fellows on the floor thereupstairs with you, and have some bedrooms cleaned out and tidied up and madereally comfortable. See that they sweep under the beds, and put clean sheetsand pillow-cases on, and turn down one corner of the bed-clothes, just as youknow it ought to be done; and have a can of hot water, and clean towels, andfresh cakes of soap, put in each room. And then you can give them a lickinga-piece, if it’s any satisfaction to you, and put them out by theback-door, and we shan’t see any more of them, I fancy. And then comealong and have some of this cold tongue. It’s first rate. I’m verypleased with you, Mole!”

The goodnatured Mole picked up a stick, formed his prisoners up in a line onthe floor, gave them the order “Quick march!” and led his squad offto the upper floor. After a time, he appeared again, smiling, and said thatevery room was ready, and as clean as a new pin. “And I didn’t haveto lick them, either,” he added. “I thought, on the whole, they hadhad licking enough for one night, and the weasels, when I put the point tothem, quite agreed with me, and said they wouldn’t think of troubling me.They were very penitent, and said they were extremely sorry for what they haddone, but it was all the fault of the Chief Weasel and the stoats, and if everthey could do anything for us at any time to make up, we had only got tomention it. So I gave them a roll a-piece, and let them out at the back, andoff they ran, as hard as they could!”

Then the Mole pulled his chair up to the table, and pitched into the coldtongue; and Toad, like the gentleman he was, put all his jealousy from him, andsaid heartily, “Thank you kindly, dear Mole, for all your pains andtrouble tonight, and especially for your cleverness this morning!” TheBadger was pleased at that, and said, “There spoke my brave Toad!”So they finished their supper in great joy and contentment, and presentlyretired to rest between clean sheets, safe in Toad’s ancestral home, wonback by matchless valour, consummate strategy, and a proper handling of sticks.

The following morning, Toad, who had overslept himself as usual, came down tobreakfast disgracefully late, and found on the table a certain quantity ofegg-shells, some fragments of cold and leathery toast, a coffee-potthree-fourths empty, and really very little else; which did not tend to improvehis temper, considering that, after all, it was his own house. Through theFrench windows of the breakfast-room he could see the Mole and the Water Ratsitting in wicker-chairs out on the lawn, evidently telling each other stories;roaring with laughter and kicking their short legs up in the air. The Badger,who was in an arm-chair and deep in the morning paper, merely looked up andnodded when Toad entered the room. But Toad knew his man, so he sat down andmade the best breakfast he could, merely observing to himself that he would getsquare with the others sooner or later. When he had nearly finished, the Badgerlooked up and remarked rather shortly: “I’m sorry, Toad, butI’m afraid there’s a heavy morning’s work in front of you.You see, we really ought to have a Banquet at once, to celebrate this affair.It’s expected of you—in fact, it’s the rule.”

“O, all right!” said the Toad, readily. “Anything to oblige.Though why on earth you should want to have a Banquet in the morning I cannotunderstand. But you know I do not live to please myself, but merely to find outwhat my friends want, and then try and arrange it for ’em, you dear oldBadger!”

“Don’t pretend to be stupider than you really are,” repliedthe Badger, crossly; “and don’t chuckle and splutter in your coffeewhile you’re talking; it’s not manners. What I mean is, the Banquetwill be at night, of course, but the invitations will have to be written andgot off at once, and you’ve got to write ’em. Now, sit down at thattable—there’s stacks of letter-paper on it, with ‘ToadHall’ at the top in blue and gold—and write invitations to all ourfriends, and if you stick to it we shall get them out before luncheon. AndI’ll bear a hand, too; and take my share of the burden. I’ll orderthe Banquet.”

“What!” cried Toad, dismayed. “Me stop indoors and write alot of rotten letters on a jolly morning like this, when I want to go around myproperty, and set everything and everybody to rights, and swagger about andenjoy myself! Certainly not! I’ll be—I’ll seeyou——Stop a minute, though! Why, of course, dear Badger! What is mypleasure or convenience compared with that of others! You wish it done, and itshall be done. Go, Badger, order the Banquet, order what you like; then joinour young friends outside in their innocent mirth, oblivious of me and my caresand toils. I sacrifice this fair morning on the altar of duty andfriendship!”

The Badger looked at him very suspiciously, but Toad’s frank, opencountenance made it difficult to suggest any unworthy motive in this change ofattitude. He quitted the room, accordingly, in the direction of the kitchen,and as soon as the door had closed behind him, Toad hurried to thewriting-table. A fine idea had occurred to him while he was talking. He wouldwrite the invitations; and he would take care to mention the leading part hehad taken in the fight, and how he had laid the Chief Weasel flat; and he wouldhint at his adventures, and what a career of triumph he had to tell about; andon the fly-leaf he would set out a sort of a programme of entertainment for theevening—something like this, as he sketched it out in his head:—

SPEECH. . . . BY TOAD.
(There will be other speeches by TOAD during the evening.)

ADDRESS. . . BY TOAD
SYNOPSIS—Our Prison System—the Waterways of OldEngland—Horse-dealing, and how to deal—Property, its rights and itsduties—Back to the Land—A Typical English Squire.

SONG. . . . BY TOAD.
(Composed by himself.)

OTHER COMPOSITIONS. BYTOAD
will be sung in the course of the evening by the. . . COMPOSER.

The idea pleased him mightily, and he worked very hard and got all the lettersfinished by noon, at which hour it was reported to him that there was a smalland rather bedraggled weasel at the door, inquiring timidly whether he could beof any service to the gentlemen. Toad swaggered out and found it was one of theprisoners of the previous evening, very respectful and anxious to please. Hepatted him on the head, shoved the bundle of invitations into his paw, and toldhim to cut along quick and deliver them as fast as he could, and if he liked tocome back again in the evening, perhaps there might be a shilling for him, or,again, perhaps there mightn’t; and the poor weasel seemed really quitegrateful, and hurried off eagerly to do his mission.

When the other animals came back to luncheon, very boisterous and breezy aftera morning on the river, the Mole, whose conscience had been pricking him,looked doubtfully at Toad, expecting to find him sulky or depressed. Instead,he was so uppish and inflated that the Mole began to suspect something; whilethe Rat and the Badger exchanged significant glances.

As soon as the meal was over, Toad thrust his paws deep into histrouser-pockets, remarked casually, “Well, look after yourselves, youfellows! Ask for anything you want!” and was swaggering off in thedirection of the garden, where he wanted to think out an idea or two for hiscoming speeches, when the Rat caught him by the arm.

Toad rather suspected what he was after, and did his best to get away; but whenthe Badger took him firmly by the other arm he began to see that the game wasup. The two animals conducted him between them into the small smoking-room thatopened out of the entrance-hall, shut the door, and put him into a chair. Thenthey both stood in front of him, while Toad sat silent and regarded them withmuch suspicion and ill-humour.

“Now, look here, Toad,” said the Rat. “It’s about thisBanquet, and very sorry I am to have to speak to you like this. But we want youto understand clearly, once and for all, that there are going to be no speechesand no songs. Try and grasp the fact that on this occasion we’re notarguing with you; we’re just telling you.”

Toad saw that he was trapped. They understood him, they saw through him, theyhad got ahead of him. His pleasant dream was shattered.

“Mayn’t I sing them just one little song?” he pleadedpiteously.

“No, not one little song,” replied the Rat firmly, though his heartbled as he noticed the trembling lip of the poor disappointed Toad.“It’s no good, Toady; you know well that your songs are all conceitand boasting and vanity; and your speeches are all self-praiseand—and—well, and gross exaggerationand—and——”

“And gas,” put in the Badger, in his common way.

“It’s for your own good, Toady,” went on the Rat. “Youknow you must turn over a new leaf sooner or later, and now seems a splendidtime to begin; a sort of turning-point in your career. Please don’t thinkthat saying all this doesn’t hurt me more than it hurts you.”

Toad remained a long while plunged in thought. At last he raised his head, andthe traces of strong emotion were visible on his features. “You haveconquered, my friends,” he said in broken accents. “It was, to besure, but a small thing that I asked—merely leave to blossom and expandfor yet one more evening, to let myself go and hear the tumultuous applausethat always seems to me—somehow—to bring out my best qualities.However, you are right, I know, and I am wrong. Hence forth I will be a verydifferent Toad. My friends, you shall never have occasion to blush for meagain. But, O dear, O dear, this is a hard world!”

And, pressing his handkerchief to his face, he left the room, with falteringfootsteps.

“Badger,” said the Rat, “I feel like a brute; I wonderwhat you feel like?”

“O, I know, I know,” said the Badger gloomily. “But the thinghad to be done. This good fellow has got to live here, and hold his own, and berespected. Would you have him a common laughing-stock, mocked and jeered at bystoats and weasels?”

“Of course not,” said the Rat. “And, talking of weasels,it’s lucky we came upon that little weasel, just as he was setting outwith Toad’s invitations. I suspected something from what you told me, andhad a look at one or two; they were simply disgraceful. I confiscated the lot,and the good Mole is now sitting in the blue boudoir, filling up plain, simpleinvitation cards.”

At last the hour for the banquet began to draw near, and Toad, who on leavingthe others had retired to his bedroom, was still sitting there, melancholy andthoughtful. His brow resting on his paw, he pondered long and deeply. Graduallyhis countenance cleared, and he began to smile long, slow smiles. Then he tookto giggling in a shy, self-conscious manner. At last he got up, locked thedoor, drew the curtains across the windows, collected all the chairs in theroom and arranged them in a semicircle, and took up his position in front ofthem, swelling visibly. Then he bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go,with uplifted voice he sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination soclearly saw.

TOAD’S LAST LITTLE SONG!

The Toad—came—home!
There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls,
There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
When the Toad—came—home!

When the Toad—came—home!
There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
There was chivvying of weasels that fainted on the floor,
When the Toad—came—home!

Bang! go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
As the—Hero—comes!

Shout—Hoo-ray!
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animal of whom you’re justly proud,
For it’s Toad’s—great—day!

He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he haddone, he sang it all over again.

Then he heaved a deep sigh; a long, long, long sigh.

Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug, parted his hair in the middle,and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face; and,unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests, who heknew must be assembling in the drawing-room.

All the animals cheered when he entered, and crowded round to congratulate himand say nice things about his courage, and his cleverness, and his fightingqualities; but Toad only smiled faintly, and murmured, “Not atall!” Or, sometimes, for a change, “On the contrary!” Otter,who was standing on the hearthrug, describing to an admiring circle of friendsexactly how he would have managed things had he been there, came forward with ashout, threw his arm round Toad’s neck, and tried to take him round theroom in triumphal progress; but Toad, in a mild way, was rather snubby to him,remarking gently, as he disengaged himself, “Badger’s was themastermind; the Mole and the Water Rat bore the brunt of the fighting; I merelyserved in the ranks and did little or nothing.” The animals wereevidently puzzled and taken aback by this unexpected attitude of his; and Toadfelt, as he moved from one guest to the other, making his modest responses,that he was an object of absorbing interest to every one.

The Badger had ordered everything of the best, and the banquet was a greatsuccess. There was much talking and laughter and chaff among the animals, butthrough it all Toad, who of course was in the chair, looked down his nose andmurmured pleasant nothings to the animals on either side of him. At intervalshe stole a glance at the Badger and the Rat, and always when he looked theywere staring at each other with their mouths open; and this gave him thegreatest satisfaction. Some of the younger and livelier animals, as the eveningwore on, got whispering to each other that things were not so amusing as theyused to be in the good old days; and there were some knockings on the table andcries of “Toad! Speech! Speech from Toad! Song! Mr. Toad’ssong!” But Toad only shook his head gently, raised one paw in mildprotest, and, by pressing delicacies on his guests, by topical small-talk, andby earnest inquiries after members of their families not yet old enough toappear at social functions, managed to convey to them that this dinner wasbeing run on strictly conventional lines.

He was indeed an altered Toad!

After this climax, the four animals continued to lead their lives, so rudelybroken in upon by civil war, in great joy and contentment, undisturbed byfurther risings or invasions. Toad, after due consultation with his friends,selected a handsome gold chain and locket set with pearls, which he dispatchedto the gaoler’s daughter with a letter that even the Badger admitted tobe modest, grateful, and appreciative; and the engine-driver, in his turn, wasproperly thanked and compensated for all his pains and trouble. Under severecompulsion from the Badger, even the barge-woman was, with some trouble, soughtout and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her; though Toad kickedterribly at this, holding himself to be an instrument of Fate, sent to punishfat women with mottled arms who couldn’t tell a real gentleman when theysaw one. The amount involved, it was true, was not very burdensome, thegipsy’s valuation being admitted by local assessors to be approximatelycorrect.

Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take astroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed so far as they wereconcerned; and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by theinhabitants, and how the mother-weasels would bring their young ones to themouths of their holes, and say, pointing, “Look, baby! There goes thegreat Mr. Toad! And that’s the gallant Water Rat, a terrible fighter,walking along o’ him! And yonder comes the famous Mr. Mole, of whom youso often have heard your father tell!” But when their infants werefractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, ifthey didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger wouldup and get them. This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared littleabout Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have itsfull effect.

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The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (2024)

FAQs

What is the moral of The Wind in the Willows? ›

While not written with a purposeful moral in mind, one can still be pulled from the book. Following its themes of nature, adventure, and friendship, the moral of The Wind in the Willows could be summarized as good friendship can overcome all obstacles.

Is Wind in the Willows worth reading? ›

This book is an absolute classic for both parents and children to enjoy. It is a shame that some people feel this book is not within the reach of modern day children. It is an excellent read aloud for younger children (starting around age 7).

What is the meaning of The Wind in the Willows? ›

The Wind in the Willows celebrates nature, friendship, loyalty, and adventure. Mole's travels bring him into contact with Ratty, Badger, and Toad. Mole makes friends easily; he is a seeker, and he reminds us that too much seclusion, too much time in our “cellerages,” will dull our hearing and more.

What is the first line of The Wind in the Willows? ›

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring- cleaning his little home.

What is the main theme of Wind in the Willows? ›

The Wind in the Willows is a classic children's novel that follows the adventures of anthropomorphic animals, including Mole, Rat, and Toad. Set in the English countryside, the story explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and the joy of simple pleasures.

Does The Wind in the Willows have a happy ending? ›

The friends plan, attack and are able to restore Toad's home to him. The happy ending is rounded off by a change in Toad's character as the experience teaches him to be more humble, quiet and generous.

What grade level is wind in the willows? ›

The interest level for the book runs from 4th through 9, and the reading level of the classic version is 4th grade. Some publishers like Capstone and Scholastic will edit the language in books to make sure that the book is a solid X grade level, making their version a leveled reader.

What age is wind in the willows appropriate for? ›

If you like great adventures, then The Wind in the Willows is for you! Not only does this edition include the unabridged text, it is also full of extra material to help you get the most from the story and gives lots of recommendations for other things you might enjoy. Suitable for age 9+.

What is the mole in The Wind in the Willows? ›

The Mole is a small, quick, nervous creature, given to excitement that sometimes leads him into trouble. He is also quick to understand others, which makes him a compassionate friend. He easily endears himself to others, even when he complicates their lives.

Who is the villain in Wind in the Willows? ›

The Chief Weasel is the main antagonist of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows. He is the leader of a rogue band of weasels living in the Wild Wood and thus inspires fear amongst the local river bankers.

What happens at the end of The Wind in the Willows? ›

After many further adventures, Toad is at last rescued by Rat. He learns that in his absence, Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels and stoats, but Badger knows that Toad Hall has a secret tunnel entrance, and the interlopers are evicted in a climactic battle, followed by a celebratory banquet.

Why is Wind in the Willows popular? ›

Above all, The Wind in the Willows makes a powerful contribution to the mythology of Edwardian England not only through its evocation of the turning seasons of the English countryside, from the riverbank in summer to the rolling open road, but also through its hints of an imminent class struggle from the inhabitants ( ...

Why you should read Wind in the Willows? ›

The book Wind in the Willows is very unique. It somehow ties together wood animals, humans and motor cars into the one story and pulls it off. This story is full of mischievious mayhem and friendships that are driven through the worst of times. It is quite a cute story for everyone to enjoy.

Who was Wind in the Willows written for? ›

What is a good quote from Wind in the Willows? ›

“Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.”

What moral lesson do you get from the wind? ›

Note: The central theme of this poem is that you should never give up in the face of adversity and obstacles; instead, you should make friends with them. Like the poet, who tries to make friends with his adversity, the wind, so that it can help him rather than harm him.

What is the conclusion of The Wind in the Willows? ›

Indeed, The Wind in the Willows ends in a scene of interloper weasels and stoats from the Wild Wood being unceremoniously and violently kicked out of Toad Hall, which they have overrun while Toad was in gaol.

What is a theme of the passage The Wind in the Willows? ›

Greed, Arrogance, and Social Class. Much of The Wind in the Willows focuses on Badger, Rat, and Mole's intervention to change Toad's rude and arrogant behavior.

What is the theme of the lesson wind? ›

The wind symbolises all difficulties, obstacles, struggles, and obstructions that we have to face in life. Through the symbol of wind, the poet teaches its readers an important lesson that one must be strong and bold. We must have strong hearts as well as will power to face any troubles or hardships of life.

References

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