The Wind in the Willows
Part 2 out of 4
stillness. Then a gust of bitter wind took them in the back of the
neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a
dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their legs tired, and
their own home distant a weary way.
Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either
side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly
fields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch,
the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time,
in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight
of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far
over-sea. They plodded along steadily and silently, each of them
thinking his own thoughts. The Mole's ran a good deal on supper, as it
was pitch-dark, and it was all a strange country for him as far as he
knew, and he was following obediently in the wake of the Rat, leaving
the guidance entirely to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little
way ahead, as his habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on
the straight grey road in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole
when suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric
We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses,
have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications
with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word
'smell,' for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills
which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning,
warning? inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy
calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness,
making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal,
even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped
dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its
efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that
had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and
with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft
touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling
and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that
moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought
again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending
out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in.
Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a
thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its
pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now,
with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in
the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet
his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy
to get back to after his day's work. And the home had been happy with
him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was
telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with
no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was
there, and wanted him.
The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly,
and go. 'Ratty!' he called, full of joyful excitement, 'hold on!
Come back! I want you, quick!'
'Oh, COME along, Mole, do!' replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding
'PLEASE stop, Ratty!' pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart.
'You don't understand! It's my home, my old home! I've just come
across the smell of it, and it's close by here, really quite close.
And I MUST go to it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please,
please come back!'
The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what
the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful
appeal in his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for
he too could smell something--something suspiciously like approaching
'Mole, we mustn't stop now, really!' he called back. 'We'll come for
it to-morrow, whatever it is you've found. But I daren't stop now--
it's late, and the snow's coming on again, and I'm not sure of the
way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there's a good
fellow!' And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for
Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big
sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to
the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under
such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a
moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his
old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him
imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle.
With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the
road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint,
thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him
for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.
With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began
chattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and
how jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he
meant to eat; never noticing his companion's silence and distressful
state of mind. At last, however, when they had gone some considerable
way further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse
that bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, 'Look here, Mole
old chap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet
dragging like lead. We'll sit down here for a minute and rest. The
snow has held off so far, and the best part of our journey is over.'
The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control
himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so
long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air,
and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor
Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and
openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could
hardly be said to have found.
The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm of
grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very
quietly and sympathetically, 'What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be
the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.'
Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the
upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and
held back speech and choked it as it came. 'I know it's a--shabby,
dingy little place,' he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: 'not like--
your cosy quarters--or Toad's beautiful hall--or Badger's great
house--but it was my own little home--and I was fond of it--and I went
away and forgot all about it--and then I smelt it suddenly--on the
road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat--and everything came
back to me with a rush--and I WANTED it!--O dear, O dear!--and when
you WOULDN'T turn back, Ratty--and I had to leave it, though I was
smelling it all the time--I thought my heart would break.--We might
have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty--only one look--it was
close by--but you wouldn't turn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O
dear, O dear!'
Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full
charge of him, preventing further speech.
The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting
Mole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, 'I
see it all now! What a PIG I have been! A pig--that's me! Just a
pig--a plain pig!'
He waited till Mole's sobs became gradually less stormy and more
rhythmical; he waited till at last sniffs were frequent and sobs only
intermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and, remarking carelessly,
'Well, now we'd really better be getting on, old chap!' set off up the
road again, over the toilsome way they had come.
'Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?' cried the tearful
Mole, looking up in alarm.
'We're going to find that home of yours, old fellow,' replied the Rat
pleasantly; 'so you had better come along, for it will take some
finding, and we shall want your nose.'
'Oh, come back, Ratty, do!' cried the Mole, getting up and hurrying
after him. 'It's no good, I tell you! It's too late, and too dark,
and the place is too far off, and the snow's coming! And--and I never
meant to let you know I was feeling that way about it--it was all an
accident and a mistake! And think of River Bank, and your supper!'
'Hang River Bank, and supper too!' said the Rat heartily. 'I tell
you, I'm going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. So
cheer up, old chap, and take my arm, and we'll very soon be back there
Still snuffling, pleading, and reluctant, Mole suffered himself to be
dragged back along the road by his imperious companion, who by a flow
of cheerful talk and anecdote endeavoured to beguile his spirits back
and make the weary way seem shorter. When at last it seemed to the
Rat that they must be nearing that part of the road where the Mole had
been 'held up,' he said, 'Now, no more talking. Business! Use your
nose, and give your mind to it.'
They moved on in silence for some little way, when suddenly the Rat
was conscious, through his arm that was linked in Mole's, of a faint
sort of electric thrill that was passing down that animal's body.
Instantly he disengaged himself, fell back a pace, and waited, all
The signals were coming through!
Mole stood a moment rigid, while his uplifted nose, quivering
slightly, felt the air.
Then a short, quick run forward--a fault--a check--a try back; and
then a slow, steady, confident advance.
The Rat, much excited, kept close to his heels as the Mole, with
something of the air of a sleep-walker, crossed a dry ditch, scrambled
through a hedge, and nosed his way over a field open and trackless and
bare in the faint starlight.
Suddenly, without giving warning, he dived; but the Rat was on the
alert, and promptly followed him down the tunnel to which his unerring
nose had faithfully led him.
It was close and airless, and the earthy smell was strong, and it
seemed a long time to Rat ere the passage ended and he could stand
erect and stretch and shake himself. The Mole struck a match, and by
its light the Rat saw that they were standing in an open space, neatly
swept and sanded underfoot, and directly facing them was Mole's little
front door, with 'Mole End' painted, in Gothic lettering, over the
bell-pull at the side.
Mole reached down a lantern from a nail on the wail and lit it, and
the Rat, looking round him, saw that they were in a sort of
fore-court. A garden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the
other a roller; for the Mole, who was a tidy animal when at home,
could not stand having his ground kicked up by other animals into
little runs that ended in earth-heaps. On the walls hung wire baskets
with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plaster
statuary--Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and
other heroes of modern Italy. Down on one side of the forecourt ran a
skittle-alley, with benches along it and little wooden tables marked
with rings that hinted at beer-mugs. In the middle was a small round
pond containing gold-fish and surrounded by a cockle-shell border.
Out of the centre of the pond rose a fanciful erection clothed in more
cockle-shells and topped by a large silvered glass ball that reflected
everything all wrong and had a very pleasing effect.
Mole's face-beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him,
and he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took
one glance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on
everything, saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected
house, and its narrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby
contents--and collapsed again on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws.
'O Ratty!' he cried dismally, 'why ever did I do it? Why did I bring
you to this poor, cold little place, on a night like this, when you
might have been at River Bank by this time, toasting your toes before
a blazing fire, with all your own nice things about you!'
The Rat paid no heed to his doleful self-reproaches. He was running
here and there, opening doors, inspecting rooms and cupboards, and
lighting lamps and candles and sticking them, up everywhere. 'What a
capital little house this is!' he called out cheerily. 'So compact!
So well planned! Everything here and everything in its place! We'll
make a jolly night of it. The first thing we want is a good fire;
I'll see to that--I always know where to find things. So this is the
parlour? Splendid! Your own idea, those little sleeping-bunks in the
wall? Capital! Now, I'll fetch the wood and the coals, and you get a
duster, Mole--you'll find one in the drawer of the kitchen table--and
try and smarten things up a bit. Bustle about, old chap!'
Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself and
dusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, running
to and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaring up
the chimney. He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Mole
promptly had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in
dark despair and burying his face in his duster. 'Rat,' he moaned,
'how about your supper, you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I've
nothing to give you--nothing--not a crumb!'
'What a fellow you are for giving in!' said the Rat reproachfully.
'Why, only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser,
quite distinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines
about somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! pull yourself
together, and come with me and forage.'
They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard and
turning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing after
all, though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines--a
box of captain's biscuits, nearly full--and a German sausage encased
in silver paper.
'There's a banquet for you!' observed the Rat, as he arranged the
table. 'I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting
down to supper with us to-night!'
'No bread!' groaned the Mole dolorously; 'no butter, no----'
'No pate de foie gras, no champagne!' continued the Rat, grinning.
'And that reminds me--what's that little door at the end of the
passage? Your cellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just
you wait a minute.'
He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared, somewhat dusty,
with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm,
'Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole,' he observed. 'Deny
yourself nothing. This is really the jolliest little place I ever was
in. Now, wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look
so home-like, they do. No wonder you're so fond of it, Mole. Tell us
all about it, and how you came to make it what it is.'
Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and
forks, and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom
still heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related--somewhat
shyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject--how
this was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was got
through a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and a
bargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and
a certain amount of 'going without.' His spirits finally quite
restored, he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp
and show off their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite
forgetful of the supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was
desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously,
examining with a puckered brow, and saying, 'wonderful,' and 'most
remarkable,' at intervals, when the chance for an observation was
At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just
got seriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard
from the fore-court without--sounds like the scuffling of small feet
in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken
sentences reached them--'Now, all in a line--hold the lantern up a
bit, Tommy--clear your throats first--no coughing after I say one,
two, three.--Where's young Bill?--Here, come on, do, we're all
'What's up?' inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.
'I think it must be the field-mice,' replied the Mole, with a touch of
pride in his manner. 'They go round carol-singing regularly at this
time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And
they never pass me over--they come to Mole End last of all; and I used
to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford
it. It will be like old times to hear them again.'
'Let's have a look at them!' cried the Rat, jumping up and running to
It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when
they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a
horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a
semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their
fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for
warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other,
sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal.
As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was
just saying, 'Now then, one, two, three!' and forthwith their shrill
little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols
that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by
frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be
sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
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
Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow--Saw the star o'er a stable
low; Mary she might not further go--Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!
And then they heard the angels tell 'Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell, In the stable where they did dwell! Joy
shall be theirs in the morning!'
The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged
sidelong glances, and silence succeeded--but for a moment only. Then,
from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately
travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of
distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.
'Very well sung, boys!' cried the Rat heartily. 'And now come along
in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something
'Yes, come along, field-mice,' cried the Mole eagerly. 'This is quite
like old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle to the
fire. Now, you just wait a minute, while we--O, Ratty!' he cried in
despair, plumping down on a seat, with tears impending. 'Whatever are
we doing? We've nothing to give them!'
'You leave all that to me,' said the masterful Rat. 'Here, you with
the lantern! Come over this way. I want to talk to you. Now, tell
me, are there any shops open at this hour of the night?'
'Why, certainly, sir,' replied the field-mouse respectfully. 'At this
time of the year our shops keep open to all sorts of hours.'
'Then look here!' said the Rat. 'You go off at once, you and your
lantern, and you get me----'
Here much muttered conversation ensued, and the Mole only heard bits
of it, such as--'Fresh, mind!--no, a pound of that will do--see you
get Buggins's, for I won't have any other--no, only the best--if you
can't get it there, try somewhere else--yes, of course, home-made, no
tinned stuff--well then, do the best you can!' Finally, there was a
chink of coin passing from paw to paw, the field-mouse was provided
with an ample basket for his purchases, and off he hurried, he and his
The rest of the field-mice, perched in a row on the settle, their
small legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and
toasted their chilblains till they tingled; while the Mole, failing to
draw them into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made
each of them recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too
young, it appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but
looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.
The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the
beer-bottles. 'I perceive this to be Old Burton,' he remarked
approvingly. 'SENSIBLE Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to
mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.'
It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater
well into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was
sipping and coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long
way) and wiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been
cold in all his life.
'They act plays too, these fellows,' the Mole explained to the Rat.
'Make them up all by themselves, and act them afterwards. And very
well they do it, too! They gave us a capital one last year, about a
field-mouse who was captured at sea by a Barbary corsair, and made to
row in a galley; and when he escaped and got home again, his lady-love
had gone into a convent. Here, YOU! You were in it, I remember. Get
up and recite a bit.'
The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, looked
round the room, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comrades
cheered him on, Mole coaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went so
far as to take him by the shoulders and shake him; but nothing could
overcome his stage-fright. They were all busily engaged on him like
watermen applying the Royal Humane Society's regulations to a case of
long submersion, when the latch clicked, the door opened, and the
field-mouse with the lantern reappeared, staggering under the weight
of his basket.
There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solid
contents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table. Under the
generalship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetch
something. In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he
took the head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren
board set thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends' faces
brighten and beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself
loose--for he was famished indeed--on the provender so magically
provided, thinking what a happy home-coming this had turned out, after
all. As they ate, they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave
him the local gossip up to date, and answered as well as they could
the hundred questions he had to ask them. The Rat said little or
nothing, only taking care that each guest had what he wanted, and
plenty of it, and that Mole had no trouble or anxiety about anything.
They clattered off at last, very grateful and showering wishes of the
season, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for the
small brothers and sisters at home. When the door had closed on the
last of them and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat
kicked the fire up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last
nightcap of mulled ale, and discussed the events of the long day. At
last the Rat, with a tremendous yawn, said, 'Mole, old chap, I'm ready
to drop. Sleepy is simply not the word. That your own bunk over on
that side? Very well, then, I'll take this. What a ripping little
house this is! Everything so handy!'
He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets,
and slumber gathered him forthwith, as a swathe of barley is folded
into the arms of the reaping machine.
The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had
his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he
closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the
glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly
things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now
smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the
frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about
in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple--how narrow, even--it all
was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special
value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all
want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back
on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there;
the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down
there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was
good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all
his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could
always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
It was a bright morning in the early part of summer; the river had
resumed its wonted banks and its accustomed pace, and a hot sun seemed
to be pulling everything green and bushy and spiky up out of the earth
towards him, as if by strings. The Mole and the Water Rat had been up
since dawn, very busy on matters connected with boats and the opening
of the boating season; painting and varnishing, mending paddles,
repairing cushions, hunting for missing boat-hooks, and so on; and
were finishing breakfast in their little parlour and eagerly
discussing their plans for the day, when a heavy knock sounded at the
'Bother!' said the Rat, all over egg. 'See who it is, Mole, like a
good chap, since you've finished.'
The Mole went to attend the summons, and the Rat heard him utter a cry
of surprise. Then he flung the parlour door open, and announced with
much importance, 'Mr. Badger!'
This was a wonderful thing, indeed, that the Badger should pay a
formal call on them, or indeed on anybody. He generally had to be
caught, if you wanted him badly, as he slipped quietly along a
hedgerow of an early morning or a late evening, or else hunted up in
his own house in the middle of the Wood, which was a serious
The Badger strode heavily into the room, and stood looking at the two
animals with an expression full of seriousness. The Rat let his
egg-spoon fall on the table-cloth, and sat open-mouthed.
'The hour has come!' said the Badger at last with great solemnity.
'What hour?' asked the Rat uneasily, glancing at the clock on the
'WHOSE hour, you should rather say,' replied the Badger. 'Why, Toad's
hour! The hour of Toad! I said I would take him in hand as soon as
the winter was well over, and I'm going to take him in hand to-day!'
'Toad's hour, of course!' cried the Mole delightedly. 'Hooray! I
remember now! WE'LL teach him to be a sensible Toad!'
'This very morning,' continued the Badger, taking an arm-chair, 'as I
learnt last night from a trustworthy source, another new and
exceptionally powerful motor-car will arrive at Toad Hall on approval
or return. At this very moment, perhaps, Toad is busy arraying
himself in those singularly hideous habiliments so dear to him, which
transform him from a (comparatively) good-looking Toad into an Object
which throws any decent-minded animal that comes across it into a
violent fit. We must be up and doing, ere it is too late. You two
animals will accompany me instantly to Toad Hall, and the work of
rescue shall be accomplished.'
'Right you are!' cried the Rat, starting up. 'We'll rescue the poor
unhappy animal! We'll convert him! He'll be the most converted Toad
that ever was before we've done with him!'
They set off up the road on their mission of mercy, Badger leading the
way. Animals when in company walk in a proper and sensible manner, in
single file, instead of sprawling all across the road and being of no
use or support to each other in case of sudden trouble or danger.
They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find, as the Badger
had anticipated, a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a
bright red (Toad's favourite colour), standing in front of the house.
As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in
goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the
steps, drawing on his gauntleted gloves.
'Hullo! come on, you fellows!' he cried cheerfully on catching sight
of them. 'You're just in time to come with me for a jolly--to come
for a jolly--for a--er--jolly----'
His hearty accents faltered and fell away as he noticed the stern
unbending look on the countenances of his silent friends, and his
invitation remained unfinished.
The Badger strode up the steps. 'Take him inside,' he said sternly to
his companions. Then, as Toad was hustled through the door,
struggling and protesting, he turned to the chauffeur in charge of the
'I'm afraid you won't be wanted to-day,' he said. 'Mr. Toad has
changed his mind. He will not require the car. Please understand
that this is final. You needn't wait.' Then he followed the others
inside and shut the door.
'Now then!' he said to the Toad, when the four of them stood together
in the Hall, 'first of all, take those ridiculous things off!'
'Shan't!' replied Toad, with great spirit. 'What is the meaning of
this gross outrage? I demand an instant explanation.'
'Take them off him, then, you two,' ordered the Badger briefly.
They had to lay Toad out on the floor, kicking and calling all sorts
of names, before they could get to work properly. Then the Rat sat on
him, and the Mole got his motor-clothes off him bit by bit, and they
stood him up on his legs again. A good deal of his blustering spirit
seemed to have evaporated with the removal of his fine panoply. Now
that he was merely Toad, and no longer the Terror of the Highway, he
giggled feebly and looked from one to the other appealingly, seeming
quite to understand the situation.
'You knew it must come to this, sooner or later, Toad,' the Badger
You've disregarded all the warnings we've given you, you've gone on
squandering the money your father left you, and you're getting us
animals a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your
smashes and your rows with the police. Independence is all very well,
but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves
beyond a certain limit; and that limit you've reached. Now, you're a
good fellow in many respects, and I don't want to be too hard on you.
I'll make one more effort to bring you to reason. You will come with
me into the smoking-room, and there you will hear some facts about
yourself; and we'll see whether you come out of that room the same
Toad that you went in.'
He took Toad firmly by the arm, led him into the smoking-room, and
closed the door behind them.
'THAT'S no good!' said the Rat contemptuously. 'TALKING to Toad'll
never cure him. He'll SAY anything.'
They made themselves comfortable in armchairs and waited patiently.
Through the closed door they could just hear the long continuous drone
of the Badger's voice, rising and falling in waves of oratory; and
presently they noticed that the sermon began to be punctuated at
intervals by long-drawn sobs, evidently proceeding from the bosom of
Toad, who was a soft-hearted and affectionate fellow, very easily
converted--for the time being--to any point of view.
After some three-quarters of an hour the door opened, and the Badger
reappeared, solemnly leading by the paw a very limp and dejected Toad.
His skin hung baggily about him, his legs wobbled, and his cheeks were
furrowed by the tears so plentifully called forth by the Badger's
'Sit down there, Toad,' said the Badger kindly, pointing to a chair.
'My friends,' he went on, 'I am pleased to inform you that Toad has at
last seen the error of his ways. He is truly sorry for his misguided
conduct in the past, and he has undertaken to give up motor-cars
entirely and for ever. I have his solemn promise to that effect.'
'That is very good news,' said the Mole gravely.
'Very good news indeed,' observed the Rat dubiously, 'if only--IF
He was looking very hard at Toad as he said this, and could not help
thinking he perceived something vaguely resembling a twinkle in that
animal's still sorrowful eye.
'There's only one thing more to be done,' continued the gratified
Badger. 'Toad, I want you solemnly to repeat, before your friends
here, what you fully admitted to me in the smoking-room just now.
First, you are sorry for what you've done, and you see the folly of it
There was a long, long pause. Toad looked desperately this way and
that, while the other animals waited in grave silence. At last he
'No!' he said, a little sullenly, but stoutly; 'I'm NOT sorry. And it
wasn't folly at all! It was simply glorious!'
'What?' cried the Badger, greatly scandalised. 'You backsliding
animal, didn't you tell me just now, in there----'
'Oh, yes, yes, in THERE,' said Toad impatiently. 'I'd have said
anything in THERE. You're so eloquent, dear Badger, and so moving,
and so convincing, and put all your points so frightfully well--you
can do what you like with me in THERE, and you know it. But I've been
searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that
I'm not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it's no earthly good
saying I am; now, is it?'
'Then you don't promise,' said the Badger, 'never to touch a motor-car
'Certainly not!' replied Toad emphatically. 'On the contrary, I
faithfully promise that the very first motor-car I see, poop-poop! off
I go in it!'
'Told you so, didn't I?' observed the Rat to the Mole.
'Very well, then,' said the Badger firmly, rising to his feet. 'Since
you won't yield to persuasion, we'll try what force can do. I feared
it would come to this all along. You've often asked us three to come
and stay with you, Toad, in this handsome house of yours; well, now
we're going to. When we've converted you to a proper point of view we
may quit, but not before. Take him upstairs, you two, and lock him up
in his bedroom, while we arrange matters between ourselves.'
'It's for your own good, Toady, you know,' said the Rat kindly, as
Toad, kicking and struggling, was hauled up the stairs by his two
faithful friends. 'Think what fun we shall all have together, just as
we used to, when you've quite got over this--this painful attack of
'We'll take great care of everything for you till you're well, Toad,'
said the Mole; 'and we'll see your money isn't wasted, as it has
'No more of those regrettable incidents with the police, Toad,' said
the Rat, as they thrust him into his bedroom.
'And no more weeks in hospital, being ordered about by female nurses,
Toad,' added the Mole, turning the key on him.
They descended the stair, Toad shouting abuse at them through the
keyhole; and the three friends then met in conference on the
'It's going to be a tedious business,' said the Badger, sighing. 'I've
never seen Toad so determined. However, we will see it out. He must
never be left an instant unguarded. We shall have to take it in turns
to be with him, till the poison has worked itself out of his system.'
They arranged watches accordingly. Each animal took it in turns to
sleep in Toad's room at night, and they divided the day up between
them. At first Toad was undoubtedly very trying to his careful
guardians. When his violent paroxysms possessed him he would arrange
bedroom chairs in rude resemblance of a motor-car and would crouch on
the foremost of them, bent forward and staring fixedly ahead, making
uncouth and ghastly noises, till the climax was reached, when, turning
a complete somersault, he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins of the
chairs, apparently completely satisfied for the moment. As time
passed, however, these painful seizures grew gradually less frequent,
and his friends strove to divert his mind into fresh channels. But
his interest in other matters did not seem to revive, and he grew
apparently languid and depressed.
One fine morning the Rat, whose turn it was to go on duty, went
upstairs to relieve Badger, whom he found fidgeting to be off and
stretch his legs in a long ramble round his wood and down his earths
and burrows. 'Toad's still in bed,' he told the Rat, outside the
door. 'Can't get much out of him, except, "O leave him alone, he
wants nothing, perhaps he'll be better presently, it may pass off in
time, don't be unduly anxious," and so on. Now, you look out, Rat!
When Toad's quiet and submissive and playing at being the hero of a
Sunday-school prize, then he's at his artfullest. There's sure to be
something up. I know him. Well, now, I must be off.'
'How are you to-day, old chap?' inquired the Rat cheerfully, as he
approached Toad's bedside.
He had to wait some minutes for an answer. At last a feeble voice
replied, 'Thank you so much, dear Ratty! So good of you to inquire!
But first tell me how you are yourself, and the excellent Mole?'
'O, WE'RE all right,' replied the Rat. 'Mole,' he added incautiously,
'is going out for a run round with Badger. They'll be out till
luncheon time, so you and I will spend a pleasant morning together,
and I'll do my best to amuse you. Now jump up, there's a good fellow,
and don't lie moping there on a fine morning like this!'
'Dear, kind Rat,' murmured Toad, 'how little you realise my condition,
and how very far I am from "jumping up" now--if ever! But do not
trouble about me. I hate being a burden to my friends, and I do not
expect to be one much longer. Indeed, I almost hope not.'
'Well, I hope not, too,' said the Rat heartily. 'You've been a fine
bother to us all this time, and I'm glad to hear it's going to stop.
And in weather like this, and the boating season just beginning! It's
too bad of you, Toad! It isn't the trouble we mind, but you're making
us miss such an awful lot.'
'I'm afraid it IS the trouble you mind, though,' replied the Toad
languidly. 'I can quite understand it. It's natural enough. You're
tired of bothering about me. I mustn't ask you to do anything
further. I'm a nuisance, I know.'
'You are, indeed,' said the Rat. 'But I tell you, I'd take any
trouble on earth for you, if only you'd be a sensible animal.'
'If I thought that, Ratty,' murmured Toad, more feebly than ever,
'then I would beg you--for the last time, probably--to step round to
the village as quickly as possible--even now it may be too late--and
fetch the doctor. But don't you bother. It's only a trouble, and
perhaps we may as well let things take their course.'
'Why, what do you want a doctor for?' inquired the Rat, coming closer
and examining him. He certainly lay very still and flat, and his
voice was weaker and his manner much changed.
'Surely you have noticed of late----' murmured Toad. 'But, no--why
should you? Noticing things is only a trouble. To-morrow, indeed,
you may be saying to yourself, "O, if only I had noticed sooner! If
only I had done something!" But no; it's a trouble. Never mind--
forget that I asked.'
'Look here, old man,' said the Rat, beginning to get rather alarmed,
'of course I'll fetch a doctor to you, if you really think you want
him. But you can hardly be bad enough for that yet. Let's talk about
'I fear, dear friend,' said Toad, with a sad smile, 'that "talk" can
do little in a case like this--or doctors either, for that matter;
still, one must grasp at the slightest straw. And, by the way--while
you are about it--I HATE to give you additional trouble, but I happen
to remember that you will pass the door--would you mind at the same
time asking the lawyer to step up? It would be a convenience to me,
and there are moments--perhaps I should say there is A moment--when
one must face disagreeable tasks, at whatever cost to exhausted
'A lawyer! O, he must be really bad!' the affrighted Rat said to
himself, as he hurried from the room, not forgetting, however, to lock
the door carefully behind him.
Outside, he stopped to consider. The other two were far away, and he
had no one to consult.
'It's best to be on the safe side,' he said, on reflection. 'I've
known Toad fancy himself frightfully bad before, without the slightest
reason; but I've never heard him ask for a lawyer! If there's nothing
really the matter, the doctor will tell him he's an old ass, and cheer
him up; and that will be something gained. I'd better humour him and
go; it won't take very long.' So he ran off to the village on his
errand of mercy.
The Toad, who had hopped lightly out of bed as soon as he heard the
key turned in the lock, watched him eagerly from the window till he
disappeared down the carriage-drive. Then, laughing heartily, he
dressed as quickly as possible in the smartest suit he could lay hands
on at the moment, filled his pockets with cash which he took from a
small drawer in the dressing-table, and next, knotting the sheets from
his bed together and tying one end of the improvised rope round the
central mullion of the handsome Tudor window which formed such a
feature of his bedroom, he scrambled out, slid lightly to the ground,
and, taking the opposite direction to the Rat, marched off
lightheartedly, whistling a merry tune.
It was a gloomy luncheon for Rat when the Badger and the Mole at
length returned, and he had to face them at table with his pitiful and
unconvincing story. The Badger's caustic, not to say brutal, remarks
may be imagined, and therefore passed over; but it was painful to the
Rat that even the Mole, though he took his friend's side as far as
possible, could not help saying, 'You've been a bit of a duffer this
time, Ratty! Toad, too, of all animals!'
'He did it awfully well,' said the crestfallen Rat.
'He did YOU awfully well!' rejoined the Badger hotly. 'However,
talking won't mend matters. He's got clear away for the time, that's
certain; and the worst of it is, he'll be so conceited with what he'll
think is his cleverness that he may commit any folly. One comfort is,
we're free now, and needn't waste any more of our precious time doing
sentry-go. But we'd better continue to sleep at Toad Hall for a while
longer. Toad may be brought back at any moment--on a stretcher, or
between two policemen.'
So spoke the Badger, not knowing what the future held in store, or how
much water, and of how turbid a character, was to run under bridges
before Toad should sit at ease again in his ancestral Hall.
Meanwhile, Toad, gay and irresponsible, was walking briskly along the
high road, some miles from home. At first he had taken by-paths, and
crossed many fields, and changed his course several times, in case of
pursuit; but now, feeling by this time safe from recapture, and the
sun smiling brightly on him, and all Nature joining in a chorus of
approval to the song of self-praise that his own heart was singing to
him, he almost danced along the road in his satisfaction and conceit.
'Smart piece of work that!' he remarked to himself chuckling. 'Brain
against brute force--and brain came out on the top--as it's bound to
do. Poor old Ratty! My! won't he catch it when the Badger gets back!
A worthy fellow, Ratty, with many good qualities, but very little
intelligence and absolutely no education. I must take him in hand
some day, and see if I can make something of him.'
Filled full of conceited thoughts such as these he strode along, his
head in the air, till he reached a little town, where the sign of 'The
Red Lion,' swinging across the road halfway down the main street,
reminded him that he had not breakfasted that day, and that he was
exceedingly hungry after his long walk. He marched into the Inn,
ordered the best luncheon that could be provided at so short a notice,
and sat down to eat it in the coffee-room.
He was about half-way through his meal when an only too familiar
sound, approaching down the street, made him start and fall
a-trembling all over. The poop-poop! drew nearer and nearer, the car
could be heard to turn into the inn-yard and come to a stop, and Toad
had to hold on to the leg of the table to conceal his over-mastering
emotion. Presently the party entered the coffee-room, hungry,
talkative, and gay, voluble on their experiences of the morning and
the merits of the chariot that had brought them along so well. Toad
listened eagerly, all ears, for a time; at last he could stand it no
longer. He slipped out of the room quietly, paid his bill at the bar,
and as soon as he got outside sauntered round quietly to the inn-yard.
'There cannot be any harm,' he said to himself, 'in my only just
LOOKING at it!'
The car stood in the middle of the yard, quite unattended, the
stable-helps and other hangers-on being all at their dinner. Toad
walked slowly round it, inspecting, criticising, musing deeply.
'I wonder,' he said to himself presently, 'I wonder if this sort of
car STARTS easily?'
Next moment, hardly knowing how it came about, he found he had hold of
the handle and was turning it. As the familiar sound broke forth, the
old passion seized on Toad and completely mastered him, body and soul.
As if in a dream he found himself, somehow, seated in the driver's
seat; as if in a dream, he pulled the lever and swung the car round
the yard and out through the archway; and, as if in a dream, all sense
of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed
temporarily suspended. He increased his pace, and as the car devoured
the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country,
he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and
highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone
trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness
and everlasting night. He chanted as he flew, and the car responded
with sonorous drone; the miles were eaten up under him as he sped he
knew not whither, fulfilling his instincts, living his hour, reckless
of what might come to him.
* * * * * *
'To my mind,' observed the Chairman of the Bench of Magistrates
cheerfully, 'the ONLY difficulty that presents itself in this
otherwise very clear case is, how we can possibly make it sufficiently
hot for the incorrigible rogue and hardened ruffian whom we see
cowering in the dock before us. Let me see: he has been found guilty,
on the clearest evidence, first, of stealing a valuable motor-car;
secondly, of driving to the public danger; and, thirdly, of gross
impertinence to the rural police. Mr. Clerk, will you tell us, please,
what is the very stiffest penalty we can impose for each of these
offences? Without, of course, giving the prisoner the benefit of any
doubt, because there isn't any.'
The Clerk scratched his nose with his pen. 'Some people would
consider,' he observed, 'that stealing the motor-car was the worst
offence; and so it is. But cheeking the police undoubtedly carries
the severest penalty; and so it ought. Supposing you were to say
twelve months for the theft, which is mild; and three years for the
furious driving, which is lenient; and fifteen years for the cheek,
which was pretty bad sort of cheek, judging by what we've heard from
the witness-box, even if you only believe one-tenth part of what you
heard, and I never believe more myself--those figures, if added
together correctly, tot up to nineteen years----'
'First-rate!' said the Chairman.
'--So you had better make it a round twenty years and be on the safe
side,' concluded the Clerk.
'An excellent suggestion!' said the Chairman approvingly. 'Prisoner!
Pull yourself together and try and stand up straight. It's going to be
twenty years for you this time. And mind, if you appear before us
again, upon any charge whatever, we shall have to deal with you very
Then the brutal minions of the law fell upon the hapless Toad; loaded
him with chains, and dragged him from the Court House, shrieking,
praying, protesting; across the marketplace, where the playful
populace, always as severe upon detected crime as they are sympathetic
and helpful when one is merely 'wanted,' assailed him with jeers,
carrots, and popular catch-words; past hooting school children, their
innocent faces lit up with the pleasure they ever derive from the
sight of a gentleman in difficulties; across the hollow-sounding
drawbridge, below the spiky portcullis, under the frowning archway of
the grim old castle, whose ancient towers soared high overhead; past
guardrooms full of grinning soldiery off duty, past sentries who
coughed in a horrid, sarcastic way, because that is as much as a
sentry on his post dare do to show his contempt and abhorrence of
crime; up time-worn winding stairs, past men-at-arms in casquet and
corselet of steel, darting threatening looks through their vizards;
across courtyards, where mastiffs strained at their leash and pawed
the air to get at him; past ancient warders, their halberds leant
against the wall, dozing over a pasty and a flagon of brown ale; on
and on, past the rack-chamber and the thumbscrew-room, past the
turning that led to the private scaffold, till they reached the door
of the grimmest dungeon that lay in the heart of the innermost keep.
There at last they paused, where an ancient gaoler sat fingering a
bunch of mighty keys.
'Oddsbodikins!' said the sergeant of police, taking off his helmet and
wiping his forehead. 'Rouse thee, old loon, and take over from us
this vile Toad, a criminal of deepest guilt and matchless artfulness
and resource. Watch and ward him with all thy skill; and mark thee
well, greybeard, should aught untoward befall, thy old head shall
answer for his--and a murrain on both of them!'
The gaoler nodded grimly, laying his withered hand on the shoulder of
the miserable Toad. The rusty key creaked in the lock, the great door
clanged behind them; and Toad was a helpless prisoner in the remotest
dungeon of the best-guarded keep of the stoutest castle in all the
length and breadth of Merry England.
THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in
the dark selvedge of the river bank. Though it was past ten o'clock
at night, the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of
light from the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid
afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool
fingers of the short midsummer night. Mole lay stretched on the bank,
still panting from the stress of the fierce day that had been
cloudless from dawn to late sunset, and waited for his friend to
return. He had been on the river with some companions, leaving the
Water Rat free to keep a engagement of long standing with Otter; and
he had come back to find the house dark and deserted, and no sign of
Rat, who was doubtless keeping it up late with his old comrade. It was
still too hot to think of staying indoors, so he lay on some cool
dock-leaves, and thought over the past day and its doings, and how
very good they all had been.
The Rat's light footfall was presently heard approaching over the
parched grass. 'O, the blessed coolness!' he said, and sat down,
gazing thoughtfully into the river, silent and pre-occupied.
'You stayed to supper, of course?' said the Mole presently.
'Simply had to,' said the Rat. 'They wouldn't hear of my going
before. You know how kind they always are. And they made things as
jolly for me as ever they could, right up to the moment I left. But I
felt a brute all the time, as it was clear to me they were very
unhappy, though they tried to hide it. Mole, I'm afraid they're in
trouble. Little Portly is missing again; and you know what a lot his
father thinks of him, though he never says much about it.'
'What, that child?' said the Mole lightly. 'Well, suppose he is; why
worry about it? He's always straying off and getting lost, and
turning up again; he's so adventurous. But no harm ever happens to
him. Everybody hereabouts knows him and likes him, just as they do
old Otter, and you may be sure some animal or other will come across
him and bring him back again all right. Why, we've found him
ourselves, miles from home, and quite self-possessed and cheerful!'
'Yes; but this time it's more serious,' said the Rat gravely. 'He's
been missing for some days now, and the Otters have hunted everywhere,
high and low, without finding the slightest trace. And they've asked
every animal, too, for miles around, and no one knows anything about
him. Otter's evidently more anxious than he'll admit. I got out of
him that young Portly hasn't learnt to swim very well yet, and I can
see he's thinking of the weir. There's a lot of water coming down
still, considering the time of the year, and the place always had a
fascination for the child. And then there are--well, traps and
things--YOU know. Otter's not the fellow to be nervous about any son
of his before it's time. And now he IS nervous. When I left, he came
out with me--said he wanted some air, and talked about stretching his
legs. But I could see it wasn't that, so I drew him out and pumped
him, and got it all from him at last. He was going to spend the night
watching by the ford. You know the place where the old ford used to
be, in by-gone days before they built the bridge?'
'I know it well,' said the Mole. 'But why should Otter choose to
'Well, it seems that it was there he gave Portly his first
swimming-lesson,' continued the Rat. 'From that shallow, gravelly
spit near the bank. And it was there he used to teach him fishing,
and there young Portly caught his first fish, of which he was so very
proud. The child loved the spot, and Otter thinks that if he came
wandering back from wherever he is--if he IS anywhere by this time,
poor little chap--he might make for the ford he was so fond of; or if
he came across it he'd remember it well, and stop there and play,
perhaps. So Otter goes there every night and watches--on the chance,
you know, just on the chance!'
They were silent for a time, both thinking of the same thing--the
lonely, heart-sore animal, crouched by the ford, watching and waiting,
the long night through--on the chance.
'Well, well,' said the Rat presently, 'I suppose we ought to be
thinking about turning in.' But he never offered to move.
'Rat,' said the Mole, 'I simply can't go and turn in, and go to sleep,
and DO nothing, even though there doesn't seem to be anything to be
done. We'll get the boat out, and paddle up stream. The moon will be
up in an hour or so, and then we will search as well as we can--
anyhow, it will be better than going to bed and doing NOTHING.'
'Just what I was thinking myself,' said the Rat. 'It's not the sort
of night for bed anyhow; and daybreak is not so very far off, and then
we may pick up some news of him from early risers as we go along.'
They got the boat out, and the Rat took the sculls, paddling with
caution. Out in midstream, there was a clear, narrow track that
faintly reflected the sky; but wherever shadows fell on the water from
bank, bush, or tree, they were as solid to all appearance as the banks
themselves, and the Mole had to steer with judgment accordingly. Dark
and deserted as it was, the night was full of small noises, song and
chatter and rustling, telling of the busy little population who were
up and about, plying their trades and vocations through the night till
sunshine should fall on them at last and send them off to their
well-earned repose. The water's own noises, too, were more apparent
than by day, its gurglings and 'cloops' more unexpected and near at
hand; and constantly they started at what seemed a sudden clear call
from an actual articulate voice.
The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky, and in one
particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing
phosphorescence that grew and grew. At last, over the rim of the
waiting earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of
the horizon and rode off, free of moorings; and once more they began
to see surfaces--meadows wide-spread, and quiet gardens, and the river
itself from bank to bank, all softly disclosed, all washed clean of
mystery and terror, all radiant again as by day, but with a difference
that was tremendous. Their old haunts greeted them again in other
raiment, as if they had slipped away and put on this pure new apparel
and come quietly back, smiling as they shyly waited to see if they
would be recognised again under it.
Fastening their boat to a willow, the friends landed in this silent,
silver kingdom, and patiently explored the hedges, the hollow trees,
the runnels and their little culverts, the ditches and dry water-ways.
Embarking again and crossing over, they worked their way up the stream
in this manner, while the moon, serene and detached in a cloudless
sky, did what she could, though so far off, to help them in their
quest; till her hour came and she sank earthwards reluctantly, and
left them, and mystery once more held field and river.
Then a change began slowly to declare itself. The horizon became
clearer, field and tree came more into sight, and somehow with a
different look; the mystery began to drop away from them. A bird
piped suddenly, and was still; and a light breeze sprang up and set
the reeds and bulrushes rustling. Rat, who was in the stern of the
boat, while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a
passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping
the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him
'It's gone!' sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. 'So
beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost
wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is
pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once
more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!' he
cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space,
'Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,' he said presently. 'O
Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear,
happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and
the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on,
Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.'
The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. 'I hear nothing myself,' he
said, 'but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.'
The Rat never answered, if indeed he heard. Rapt, transported,
trembling, he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing
that caught up his helpless soul and swung and dandled it, a powerless
but happy infant in a strong sustaining grasp.
In silence Mole rowed steadily, and soon they came to a point where
the river divided, a long backwater branching off to one side. With a
slight movement of his head Rat, who had long dropped the
rudder-lines, directed the rower to take the backwater. The creeping
tide of light gained and gained, and now they could see the colour of
the flowers that gemmed the water's edge.
'Clearer and nearer still,' cried the Rat joyously. 'Now you must
surely hear it! Ah--at last--I see you do!'
Breathless and transfixed the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of
that glad piping broke on him like a wave, caught him up, and
possessed him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks, and
bowed his head and understood. For a space they hung there, brushed
by the purple loose-strife that fringed the bank; then the clear
imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating
melody imposed its will on Mole, and mechanically he bent to his oars
again. And the light grew steadily stronger, but no birds sang as
they were wont to do at the approach of dawn; and but for the heavenly
music all was marvellously still.
On either side of them, as they glided onwards, the rich meadow-grass
seemed that morning of a freshness and a greenness unsurpassable.
Never had they noticed the roses so vivid, the willow-herb so riotous,
the meadow-sweet so odorous and pervading. Then the murmur of the
approaching weir began to hold the air, and they felt a consciousness
that they were nearing the end, whatever it might be, that surely
awaited their expedition.
A wide half-circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders
of green water, the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank,
troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating
foam-streaks, and deadened all other sounds with its solemn and
soothing rumble. In midmost of the stream, embraced in the weir's
shimmering arm-spread, a small island lay anchored, fringed close with
willow and silver birch and alder. Reserved, shy, but full of
significance, it hid whatever it might hold behind a veil, keeping it
till the hour should come, and, with the hour, those who were called
Slowly, but with no doubt or hesitation whatever, and in something of
a solemn expectancy, the two animals passed through the broken
tumultuous water and moored their boat at the flowery margin of the
island. In silence they landed, and pushed through the blossom and
scented herbage and undergrowth that led up to the level ground, till
they stood on a little lawn of a marvellous green, set round with
Nature's own orchard-trees--crab-apple, wild cherry, and sloe.
'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to
me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place,
here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that
turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to
the ground. It was no panic terror--indeed he felt wonderfully at
peace and happy--but it was an awe that smote and held him and,
without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence
was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his
friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling
violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous
bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though
the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still
dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself
waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on
things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his
humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn,
while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to
hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the
Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns,
gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between
the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the
bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling
muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple
hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted
lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic
ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves,
sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round,
podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one
moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as
he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.
'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'
'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
'Afraid! Of HIM? O, never, never! And yet--and yet--O, Mole, I am
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and
Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over
the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level
water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them.
When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and
the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
As they stared blankly in dumb misery deepening as they slowly
realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little
breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens,
shook the dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces;
and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last
best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to
whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of
forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and
overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should
spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of
difficulties, in order that they should be happy and lighthearted as
Mole rubbed his eyes and stared at Rat, who was looking about him in a
puzzled sort of way. 'I beg your pardon; what did you say, Rat?' he
'I think I was only remarking,' said Rat slowly, 'that this was the
right sort of place, and that here, if anywhere, we should find him.
And look! Why, there he is, the little fellow!' And with a cry of
delight he ran towards the slumbering Portly.
But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened
suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can
re-capture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!
Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly
accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties; so Mole, after
struggling with his memory for a brief space, shook his head sadly and
followed the Rat.
Portly woke up with a joyous squeak, and wriggled with pleasure at the
sight of his father's friends, who had played with him so often in
past days. In a moment, however, his face grew blank, and he fell to
hunting round in a circle with pleading whine. As a child that has
fallen happily asleep in its nurse's arms, and wakes to find itself
alone and laid in a strange place, and searches corners and cupboards,
and runs from room to room, despair growing silently in its heart,
even so Portly searched the island and searched, dogged and
unwearying, till at last the black moment came for giving it up, and
sitting down and crying bitterly.
The Mole ran quickly to comfort the little animal; but Rat, lingering,
looked long and doubtfully at certain hoof-marks deep in the sward.
'Some--great--animal--has been here,' he murmured slowly and
thoughtfully; and stood musing, musing; his mind strangely stirred.
'Come along, Rat!' called the Mole. 'Think of poor Otter, waiting up
there by the ford!'
Portly had soon been comforted by the promise of a treat--a jaunt on
the river in Mr. Rat's real boat; and the two animals conducted him to
the water's side, placed him securely between them in the bottom of
the boat, and paddled off down the backwater. The sun was fully up by
now, and hot on them, birds sang lustily and without restraint, and
flowers smiled and nodded from either bank, but somehow--so thought
the animals--with less of richness and blaze of colour than they
seemed to remember seeing quite recently somewhere--they wondered
The main river reached again, they turned the boat's head upstream,
towards the point where they knew their friend was keeping his lonely
vigil. As they drew near the familiar ford, the Mole took the boat in
to the bank, and they lifted Portly out and set him on his legs on the
tow-path, gave him his marching orders and a friendly farewell pat on
the back, and shoved out into mid-stream. They watched the little
animal as he waddled along the path contentedly and with importance;
watched him till they saw his muzzle suddenly lift and his waddle
break into a clumsy amble as he quickened his pace with shrill whines
and wriggles of recognition. Looking up the river, they could see
Otter start up, tense and rigid, from out of the shallows where he
crouched in dumb patience, and could hear his amazed and joyous bark
as he bounded up through the osiers on to the path. Then the Mole,
with a strong pull on one oar, swung the boat round and let the full
stream bear them down again whither it would, their quest now happily
'I feel strangely tired, Rat,' said the Mole, leaning wearily over his
oars as the boat drifted. 'It's being up all night, you'll say,
perhaps; but that's nothing. We do as much half the nights of the
week, at this time of the year. No; I feel as if I had been through
something very exciting and rather terrible, and it was just over; and
yet nothing particular has happened.'
'Or something very surprising and splendid and beautiful,' murmured
the Rat, leaning back and closing his eyes. 'I feel just as you do,
Mole; simply dead tired, though not body tired. It's lucky we've got
the stream with us, to take us home. Isn't it jolly to feel the sun
again, soaking into one's bones! And hark to the wind playing in the
'It's like music--far away music,' said the Mole nodding drowsily.
'So I was thinking,' murmured the Rat, dreamful and languid.
'Dance-music--the lilting sort that runs on without a stop--but with
words in it, too--it passes into words and out of them again--I catch
them at intervals--then it is dance-music once more, and then nothing
but the reeds' soft thin whispering.'
'You hear better than I,' said the Mole sadly. 'I cannot catch the
'Let me try and give you them,' said the Rat softly, his eyes still
closed. 'Now it is turning into words again--faint but clear--Lest
the awe should dwell--And turn your frolic to fret--You shall look on
my power at the helping hour--But then you shall forget! Now the
reeds take it up--forget, forget, they sigh, and it dies away in a
rustle and a whisper. Then the voice returns--
'Lest limbs be reddened and rent--I spring the trap that is set--As I
loose the snare you may glimpse me there--For surely you shall forget!
Row nearer, Mole, nearer to the reeds! It is hard to catch, and grows
each minute fainter.
'Helper and healer, I cheer--Small waifs in the woodland wet--Strays I
find in it, wounds I bind in it--Bidding them all forget! Nearer,
Mole, nearer! No, it is no good; the song has died away into
'But what do the words mean?' asked the wondering Mole.
'That I do not know,' said the Rat simply. 'I passed them on to you
as they reached me. Ah! now they return again, and this time full and
clear! This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing,
'Well, let's have it, then,' said the Mole, after he had waited
patiently for a few minutes, half-dozing in the hot sun.
But no answer came. He looked, and understood the silence. With a
smile of much happiness on his face, and something of a listening look
still lingering there, the weary Rat was fast asleep.
When Toad found himself immured in a dank and noisome dungeon, and
knew that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him
and the outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high roads where he
had lately been so happy, disporting himself as if he had bought up
every road in England, he flung himself at full length on the floor,
and shed bitter tears, and abandoned himself to dark despair. 'This
is the end of everything' (he said), 'at least it is the end of the
career of Toad, which is the same thing; the popular and handsome
Toad, the rich and hospitable Toad, the Toad so free and careless and
debonair! How can I hope to be ever set at large again' (he said),
'who have been imprisoned so justly for stealing so handsome a
motor-car in such an audacious manner, and for such lurid and
imaginative cheek, bestowed upon such a number of fat, red-faced
policemen!' (Here his sobs choked him.) 'Stupid animal that I was'
(he said), 'now I must languish in this dungeon, till people who were
proud to say they knew me, have forgotten the very name of Toad! O
wise old Badger!' (he said), 'O clever, intelligent Rat and sensible
Mole! What sound judgments, what a knowledge of men and matters you
possess! O unhappy and forsaken Toad!' With lamentations such as
these he passed his days and nights for several weeks, refusing his
meals or intermediate light refreshments, though the grim and ancient
gaoler, knowing that Toad's pockets were well lined, frequently
pointed out that many comforts, and indeed luxuries, could by
arrangement be sent in--at a price--from outside.
Now the gaoler had a daughter, a pleasant wench and good-hearted, who
assisted her father in the lighter duties of his post. She was
particularly fond of animals, and, besides her canary, whose cage hung
on a nail in the massive wall of the keep by day, to the great
annoyance of prisoners who relished an after-dinner nap, and was
shrouded in an antimacassar on the parlour table at night, she kept
several piebald mice and a restless revolving squirrel. This
kind-hearted girl, pitying the misery of Toad, said to her father one
day, 'Father! I can't bear to see that poor beast so unhappy, and
getting so thin! You let me have the managing of him. You know how
fond of animals I am. I'll make him eat from my hand, and sit up, and
do all sorts of things.'
Her father replied that she could do what she liked with him. He was
tired of Toad, and his sulks and his airs and his meanness. So that
day she went on her errand of mercy, and knocked at the door of Toad's
'Now, cheer up, Toad,' she said, coaxingly, on entering, 'and sit up
and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal. And do try and eat a bit
of dinner. See, I've brought you some of mine, hot from the oven!'
It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled
the narrow cell. The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of
Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the
idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate
thing as he had imagined. But still he wailed, and kicked with his
legs, and refused to be comforted. So the wise girl retired for the
time, but, of course, a good deal of the smell of hot cabbage remained
behind, as it will do, and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and
reflected, and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of
chivalry, and poetry, and deeds still to be done; of broad meadows,
and cattle browsing in them, raked by sun and wind; of
kitchen-gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm snap-dragon beset
by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table
at Toad Hall, and the scrape of chair-legs on the floor as every one
pulled himself close up to his work. The air of the narrow cell took
a rosy tinge; he began to think of his friends, and how they would
surely be able to do something; of lawyers, and how they would have
enjoyed his case, and what an ass he had been not to get in a few; and
lastly, he thought of his own great cleverness and resource, and all
that he was capable of if he only gave his great mind to it; and the
cure was almost complete.
When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a
cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot
buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter
running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from
the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to
Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of
breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on
winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were
propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the
twitter of sleepy canaries. Toad sat up on end once more, dried his
eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast, and soon began talking
freely about himself, and the house he lived in, and his doings there,
and how important he was, and what a lot his friends thought of him.
The gaoler's daughter saw that the topic was doing him as much good as
the tea, as indeed it was, and encouraged him to go on.
'Tell me about Toad Hall,' said she. 'It sounds beautiful.'
'Toad Hall,' said the Toad proudly, 'is an eligible self-contained
gentleman's residence very unique; dating in part from the fourteenth
century, but replete with every modern convenience. Up-to-date
sanitation. Five minutes from church, post-office, and golf-links,
'Bless the animal,' said the girl, laughing, 'I don't want to TAKE it.
Tell me something REAL about it. But first wait till I fetch you some
more tea and toast.'
She tripped away, and presently returned with a fresh trayful; and
Toad, pitching into the toast with avidity, his spirits quite restored
to their usual level, told her about the boathouse, and the fish-pond,
and the old walled kitchen-garden; and about the pig-styes, and the
stables, and the pigeon-house, and the hen-house; and about the dairy,
and the wash-house, and the china-cupboards, and the linen-presses
(she liked that bit especially); and about the banqueting-hall, and
the fun they had there when the other animals were gathered round the
table and Toad was at his best, singing songs, telling stories,
carrying on generally. Then she wanted to know about his
animal-friends, and was very interested in all he had to tell her
about them and how they lived, and what they did to pass their time.
Of course, she did not say she was fond of animals as PETS, because
she had the sense to see that Toad would be extremely offended. When
she said good night, having filled his water-jug and shaken up his
straw for him, Toad was very much the same sanguine, self-satisfied
animal that he had been of old. He sang a little song or two, of the
sort he used to sing at his dinner-parties, curled himself up in the
straw, and had an excellent night's rest and the pleasantest of
They had many interesting talks together, after that, as the dreary
days went on; and the gaoler's daughter grew very sorry for Toad, and
thought it a great shame that a poor little animal should be locked up
in prison for what seemed to her a very trivial offence. Toad, of
course, in his vanity, thought that her interest in him proceeded from
a growing tenderness; and he could not help half-regretting that the
social gulf between them was so very wide, for she was a comely lass,
and evidently admired him very much.
One morning the girl was very thoughtful, and answered at random, and
did not seem to Toad to be paying proper attention to his witty
sayings and sparkling comments.
'Toad,' she said presently, 'just listen, please. I have an aunt who
is a washerwoman.'
'There, there,' said Toad, graciously and affably, 'never mind; think
no more about it. _I_ have several aunts who OUGHT to be
'Do be quiet a minute, Toad,' said the girl. 'You talk too much,
that's your chief fault, and I'm trying to think, and you hurt my
head. As I said, I have an aunt who is a washerwoman; she does the
washing for all the prisoners in this castle--we try to keep any
paying business of that sort in the family, you understand. She takes
out the washing on Monday morning, and brings it in on Friday evening.
This is a Thursday. Now, this is what occurs to me: you're very
rich--at least you're always telling me so--and she's very poor. A
few pounds wouldn't make any difference to you, and it would mean a
lot to her. Now, I think if she were properly approached--squared, I
believe is the word you animals use--you could come to some
arrangement by which she would let you have her dress and bonnet and
so on, and you could escape from the castle as the official
washerwoman. You're very alike in many respects--particularly about
'We're NOT,' said the Toad in a huff. 'I have a very elegant figure--
for what I am.'
'So has my aunt,' replied the girl, 'for what SHE is. But have it
your own way. You horrid, proud, ungrateful animal, when I'm sorry
for you, and trying to help you!'
'Yes, yes, that's all right; thank you very much indeed,' said the
Toad hurriedly. 'But look here! you wouldn't surely have Mr. Toad of
Toad Hall, going about the country disguised as a washerwoman!'
'Then you can stop here as a Toad,' replied the girl with much spirit.
'I suppose you want to go off in a coach-and-four!'
Honest Toad was always ready to admit himself in the wrong. 'You are
a good, kind, clever girl,' he said, 'and I am indeed a proud and a
stupid toad. Introduce me to your worthy aunt, if you will be so
kind, and I have no doubt that the excellent lady and I will be able
to arrange terms satisfactory to both parties.'
Next evening the girl ushered her aunt into Toad's cell, bearing his
week's washing pinned up in a towel. The old lady had been prepared
beforehand for the interview, and the sight of certain gold sovereigns
that Toad had thoughtfully placed on the table in full view
practically completed the matter and left little further to discuss.
In return for his cash, Toad received a cotton print gown, an apron, a
shawl, and a rusty black bonnet; the only stipulation the old lady
made being that she should be gagged and bound and dumped down in a
corner. By this not very convincing artifice, she explained, aided by
picturesque fiction which she could supply herself, she hoped to
retain her situation, in spite of the suspicious appearance of things.
Toad was delighted with the suggestion. It would enable him to leave
the prison in some style, and with his reputation for being a
desperate and dangerous fellow untarnished; and he readily helped the
gaoler's daughter to make her aunt appear as much as possible the
victim of circumstances over which she had no control.
'Now it's your turn, Toad,' said the girl. 'Take off that coat and
waistcoat of yours; you're fat enough as it is.'
Shaking with laughter, she proceeded to 'hook-and-eye' him into the
cotton print gown, arranged the shawl with a professional fold, and
tied the strings of the rusty bonnet under his chin.
'You're the very image of her,' she giggled, 'only I'm sure you never
looked half so respectable in all your life before. Now, good-bye,
Toad, and good luck. Go straight down the way you came up; and if any
one says anything to you, as they probably will, being but men, you
can chaff back a bit, of course, but remember you're a widow woman,
quite alone in the world, with a character to lose.'
With a quaking heart, but as firm a footstep as he could command, Toad
set forth cautiously on what seemed to be a most hare-brained and
hazardous undertaking; but he was soon agreeably surprised to find how
easy everything was made for him, and a little humbled at the thought
that both his popularity, and the sex that seemed to inspire it, were
really another's. The washerwoman's squat figure in its familiar
cotton print seemed a passport for every barred door and grim gateway;
even when he hesitated, uncertain as to the right turning to take, he
found himself helped out of his difficulty by the warder at the next
gate, anxious to be off to his tea, summoning him to come along sharp
and not keep him waiting there all night. The chaff and the humourous
sallies to which he was subjected, and to which, of course, he had to
provide prompt and effective reply, formed, indeed, his chief danger;
for Toad was an animal with a strong sense of his own dignity, and the
chaff was mostly (he thought) poor and clumsy, and the humour of the
sallies entirely lacking. However, he kept his temper, though with
great difficulty, suited his retorts to his company and his supposed
character, and did his best not to overstep the limits of good taste.
It seemed hours before he crossed the last courtyard, rejected the
pressing invitations from the last guardroom, and dodged the outspread
arms of the last warder, pleading with simulated passion for just one
farewell embrace. But at last he heard the wicket-gate in the great
outer door click behind him, felt the fresh air of the outer world
upon his anxious brow, and knew that he was free!
Dizzy with the easy success of his daring exploit, he walked quickly
towards the lights of the town, not knowing in the least what he
should do next, only quite certain of one thing, that he must remove
himself as quickly as possible from the neighbourhood where the lady
he was forced to represent was so well-known and so popular a
As he walked along, considering, his attention was caught by some red
and green lights a little way off, to one side of the town, and the
sound of the puffing and snorting of engines and the banging of
shunted trucks fell on his ear. 'Aha!' he thought, 'this is a piece
of luck! A railway station is the thing I want most in the whole
world at this moment; and what's more, I needn't go through the town
to get it, and shan't have to support this humiliating character by
repartees which, though thoroughly effective, do not assist one's
sense of self-respect.'
He made his way to the station accordingly, consulted a time-table,
and found that a train, bound more or less in the direction of his
home, was due to start in half-an-hour. 'More luck!' said Toad, his
spirits rising rapidly, and went off to the booking-office to buy his
He gave the name of the station that he knew to be nearest to the
village of which Toad Hall was the principal feature, and mechanically
put his fingers, in search of the necessary money, where his waistcoat
pocket should have been. But here the cotton gown, which had nobly
stood by him so far, and which he had basely forgotten, intervened,
and frustrated his efforts. In a sort of nightmare he struggled with
the strange uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands, turn all
muscular strivings to water, and laugh at him all the time; while
other travellers, forming up in a line behind, waited with impatience,
making suggestions of more or less value and comments of more or less
stringency and point. At last--somehow--he never rightly understood
how--he burst the barriers, attained the goal, arrived at where all
waistcoat pockets are eternally situated, and found--not only no
money, but no pocket to hold it, and no waistcoat to hold the pocket!
To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat
behind him in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys,
watch, matches, pencil-case--all that makes life worth living, all
that distinguishes the many-pocketed animal, the lord of creation,
from the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or
trip about permissively, unequipped for the real contest.
In his misery he made one desperate effort to carry the thing off,
and, with a return to his fine old manner--a blend of the Squire and
the College Don--he said, 'Look here! I find I've left my purse
behind. Just give me that ticket, will you, and I'll send the money
on to-morrow? I'm well-known in these parts.'
The clerk stared at him and the rusty black bonnet a moment, and then
laughed. 'I should think you were pretty well known in these parts,'
he said, 'if you've tried this game on often. Here, stand away from
the window, please, madam; you're obstructing the other passengers!'
An old gentleman who had been prodding him in the back for some
moments here thrust him away, and, what was worse, addressed him as
his good woman, which angered Toad more than anything that had
occurred that evening.
Baffled and full of despair, he wandered blindly down the platform
where the train was standing, and tears trickled down each side of his
nose. It was hard, he thought, to be within sight of safety and
almost of home, and to be baulked by the want of a few wretched
shillings and by the pettifogging mistrustfulness of paid officials.
Very soon his escape would be discovered, the hunt would be up, he
would be caught, reviled, loaded with chains, dragged back again to
prison and bread-and-water and straw; his guards and penalties would
be doubled; and O, what sarcastic remarks the girl would make! What
was to be done? He was not swift of foot; his figure was
unfortunately recognisable. Could he not squeeze under the seat of a
carriage? He had seen this method adopted by schoolboys, when the
journey-money provided by thoughtful parents had been diverted to
other and better ends. As he pondered, he found himself opposite the
engine, which was being oiled, wiped, and generally caressed by its
affectionate driver, a burly man with an oil-can in one hand and a
lump of cotton-waste in the other.
'Hullo, mother!' said the engine-driver, 'what's the trouble? You
don't look particularly cheerful.'
'O, sir!' said Toad, crying afresh, 'I am a poor unhappy washerwoman,
and I've lost all my money, and can't pay for a ticket, and I must get
home to-night somehow, and whatever I am to do I don't know. O dear,
'That's a bad business, indeed,' said the engine-driver reflectively.
'Lost your money--and can't get home--and got some kids, too, waiting
for you, I dare say?'
'Any amount of 'em,' sobbed Toad. 'And they'll be hungry--and playing
with matches--and upsetting lamps, the little innocents!--and
quarrelling, and going on generally. O dear, O dear!'
'Well, I'll tell you what I'll do,' said the good engine-driver.
'You're a washerwoman to your trade, says you. Very well, that's
that. And I'm an engine-driver, as you well may see, and there's no
denying it's terribly dirty work. Uses up a power of shirts, it does,
till my missus is fair tired of washing of 'em. If you'll wash a few
shirts for me when you get home, and send 'em along, I'll give you a
ride on my engine. It's against the Company's regulations, but we're
not so very particular in these out-of-the-way parts.'
The Toad's misery turned into rapture as he eagerly scrambled up into
the cab of the engine. Of course, he had never washed a shirt in his
life, and couldn't if he tried and, anyhow, he wasn't going to begin;
but he thought: 'When I get safely home to Toad Hall, and have money
again, and pockets to put it in, I will send the engine-driver enough
to pay for quite a quantity of washing, and that will be the same
thing, or better.'
The guard waved his welcome flag, the engine-driver whistled in
cheerful response, and the train moved out of the station. As the
speed increased, and the Toad could see on either side of him real
fields, and trees, and hedges, and cows, and horses, all flying past
him, and as he thought how every minute was bringing him nearer to
Toad Hall, and sympathetic friends, and money to chink in his pocket,
and a soft bed to sleep in, and good things to eat, and praise and
admiration at the recital of his adventures and his surpassing
cleverness, he began to skip up and down and shout and sing snatches
of song, to the great astonishment of the engine-driver, who had come
across washerwomen before, at long intervals, but never one at all
They had covered many and many a mile, and Toad was already
considering what he would have for supper as soon as he got home, when
he noticed that the engine-driver, with a puzzled expression on his
face, was leaning over the side of the engine and listening hard.
Then he saw him climb on to the coals and gaze out over the top of the
train; then he returned and said to Toad: 'It's very strange; we're
the last train running in this direction to-night, yet I could be
sworn that I heard another following us!'
Toad ceased his frivolous antics at once. He became grave and
depressed, and a dull pain in the lower part of his spine,
communicating itself to his legs, made him want to sit down and try
desperately not to think of all the possibilities.
By this time the moon was shining brightly, and the engine-driver,
steadying himself on the coal, could command a view of the line behind
them for a long distance.
Presently he called out, 'I can see it clearly now! It is an engine,
on our rails, coming along at a great pace! It looks as if we were
The miserable Toad, crouching in the coal-dust, tried hard to think of
something to do, with dismal want of success.
'They are gaining on us fast!' cried the engine-driver. And the
engine is crowded with the queerest lot of people! Men like ancient
warders, waving halberds; policemen in their helmets, waving
truncheons; and shabbily dressed men in pot-hats, obvious and
unmistakable plain-clothes detectives even at this distance, waving
revolvers and walking-sticks; all waving, and all shouting the same
thing--"Stop, stop, stop!"'
Then Toad fell on his knees among the coals and, raising his clasped
paws in supplication, cried, 'Save me, only save me, dear kind Mr.
Engine-driver, and I will confess everything! I am not the simple
washerwoman I seem to be! I have no children waiting for me, innocent
or otherwise! I am a toad--the well-known and popular Mr. Toad, a
landed proprietor; I have just escaped, by my great daring and
cleverness, from a loathsome dungeon into which my enemies had flung
me; and if those fellows on that engine recapture me, it will be
chains and bread-and-water and straw and misery once more for poor,
unhappy, innocent Toad!'
The engine-driver looked down upon him very sternly, and said, 'Now
tell the truth; what were you put in prison for?'
'It was nothing very much,' said poor Toad, colouring deeply. 'I only
borrowed a motorcar while the owners were at lunch; they had no need
of it at the time. I didn't mean to steal it, really; but people--
especially magistrates--take such harsh views of thoughtless and
The engine-driver looked very grave and said, 'I fear that you have
been indeed a wicked toad, and by rights I ought to give you up to
offended justice. But you are evidently in sore trouble and distress,
so I will not desert you. I don't hold with motor-cars, for one
thing; and I don't hold with being ordered about by policemen when I'm
on my own engine, for another. And the sight of an animal in tears
always makes me feel queer and softhearted. So cheer up, Toad! I'll
do my best, and we may beat them yet!'
They piled on more coals, shovelling furiously; the furnace roared,
the sparks flew, the engine leapt and swung but still their pursuers
slowly gained. The engine-driver, with a sigh, wiped his brow with a
handful of cotton-waste, and said, 'I'm afraid it's no good, Toad.
You see, they are running light, and they have the better engine.
There's just one thing left for us to do, and it's your only chance,
so attend very carefully to what I tell you. A short way ahead of us
is a long tunnel, and on the other side of that the line passes
through a thick wood. Now, I will put on all the speed I can while we
are running through the tunnel, but the other fellows will slow down a
bit, naturally, for fear of an accident. When we are through, I will
shut off steam and put on brakes as hard as I can, and the moment it's
safe to do so you must jump and hide in the wood, before they get
through the tunnel and see you. Then I will go full speed ahead
again, and they can chase me if they like, for as long as they like,
and as far as they like. Now mind and be ready to jump when I tell
They piled on more coals, and the train shot into the tunnel, and the
engine rushed and roared and rattled, till at last they shot out at
the other end into fresh air and the peaceful moonlight, and saw the
wood lying dark and helpful upon either side of the line. The driver
shut off steam and put on brakes, the Toad got down on the step, and
as the train slowed down to almost a walking pace he heard the driver
call out, 'Now, jump!'
Toad jumped, rolled down a short embankment, picked himself up unhurt,
scrambled into the wood and hid.
Peeping out, he saw his train get up speed again and disappear at a
great pace. Then out of the tunnel burst the pursuing engine, roaring
and whistling, her motley crew waving their various weapons and
shouting, 'Stop! stop! stop!' When they were past, the Toad had a
hearty laugh--for the first time since he was thrown into prison.
But he soon stopped laughing when he came to consider that it was now
very late and dark and cold, and he was in an unknown wood, with no
money and no chance of supper, and still far from friends and home;
and the dead silence of everything, after the roar and rattle of the
train, was something of a shock. He dared not leave the shelter of
the trees, so he struck into the wood, with the idea of leaving the
railway as far as possible behind him.
After so many weeks within walls, he found the wood strange and
unfriendly and inclined, he thought, to make fun of him. Night-jars,
sounding their mechanical rattle, made him think that the wood was
full of searching warders, closing in on him. An owl, swooping
noiselessly towards him, brushed his shoulder with its wing, making
him jump with the horrid certainty that it was a hand; then flitted
off, moth-like, laughing its low ho! ho! ho; which Toad thought in
very poor taste. Once he met a fox, who stopped, looked him up and
down in a sarcastic sort of way, and said, 'Hullo, washerwoman! Half
a pair of socks and a pillow-case short this week! Mind it doesn't
occur again!' and swaggered off, sniggering. Toad looked about for a
stone to throw at him, but could not succeed in finding one, which
vexed him more than anything. At last, cold, hungry, and tired out,
he sought the shelter of a hollow tree, where with branches and dead
leaves he made himself as comfortable a bed as he could, and slept
soundly till the morning.
The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all
appearance the summer's pomp was still at fullest height, and although
in the tilled acres green had given way to gold, though rowans were
reddening, and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny
fierceness, yet light and warmth and colour were still present in
undiminished measure, clean of any chilly premonitions of the passing
year. But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk
to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers; the robin
was beginning to assert himself once more; and there was a feeling in
the air of change and departure. The cuckoo, of course, had long been
silent; but many another feathered friend, for months a part of the
familiar landscape and its small society, was missing too and it
seemed that the ranks thinned steadily day by day. Rat, ever
observant of all winged movement, saw that it was taking daily a
southing tendency; and even as he lay in bed at night he thought he
could make out, passing in the darkness overhead, the beat and quiver
of impatient pinions, obedient to the peremptory call.
Nature's Grand Hotel has its Season, like the others. As the guests
one by one pack, pay, and depart, and the seats at the table-d'hote
shrink pitifully at each succeeding meal; as suites of rooms are
closed, carpets taken up, and waiters sent away; those boarders who
are staying on, en pension, until the next year's full re-opening,
cannot help being somewhat affected by all these flittings and
farewells, this eager discussion of plans, routes, and fresh quarters,
this daily shrinkage in the stream of comradeship. One gets
unsettled, depressed, and inclined to be querulous. Why this craving
for change? Why not stay on quietly here, like us, and be jolly? You
don't know this hotel out of the season, and what fun we have among
ourselves, we fellows who remain and see the whole interesting year
out. All very true, no doubt the others always reply; we quite envy
you--and some other year perhaps--but just now we have engagements--
and there's the bus at the door--our time is up! So they depart, with
a smile and a nod, and we miss them, and feel resentful. The Rat was
a self-sufficing sort of animal, rooted to the land, and, whoever
went, he stayed; still, he could not help noticing what was in the
air, and feeling some of its influence in his bones.
It was difficult to settle down to anything seriously, with all this
flitting going on. Leaving the water-side, where rushes stood thick
and tall in a stream that was becoming sluggish and low, he wandered
country-wards, crossed a field or two of pasturage already looking
dusty and parched, and thrust into the great sea of wheat, yellow,
wavy, and murmurous, full of quiet motion and small whisperings. Here
he often loved to wander, through the forest of stiff strong stalks
that carried their own golden sky away over his head--a sky that was
always dancing, shimmering, softly talking; or swaying strongly to the
passing wind and recovering itself with a toss and a merry laugh.
Here, too, he had many small friends, a society complete in itself,
leading full and busy lives, but always with a spare moment to gossip,
and exchange news with a visitor. Today, however, though they were
civil enough, the field-mice and harvest-mice seemed preoccupied.
Many were digging and tunnelling busily; others, gathered together in
small groups, examined plans and drawings of small flats, stated to be
desirable and compact, and situated conveniently near the Stores. Some
were hauling out dusty trunks and dress-baskets, others were already
elbow-deep packing their belongings; while everywhere piles and
bundles of wheat, oats, barley, beech-mast and nuts, lay about ready
'Here's old Ratty!' they cried as soon as they saw him. 'Come and
bear a hand, Rat, and don't stand about idle!'
'What sort of games are you up to?' said the Water Rat severely. 'You
know it isn't time to be thinking of winter quarters yet, by a long
'O yes, we know that,' explained a field-mouse rather shamefacedly;
'but it's always as well to be in good time, isn't it? We really MUST
get all the furniture and baggage and stores moved out of this before
those horrid machines begin clicking round the fields; and then, you
know, the best flats get picked up so quickly nowadays, and if you're
late you have to put up with ANYTHING; and they want such a lot of
doing up, too, before they're fit to move into. Of course, we're
early, we know that; but we're only just making a start.'
'O, bother STARTS,' said the Rat. 'It's a splendid day. Come for a
row, or a stroll along the hedges, or a picnic in the woods, or
'Well, I THINK not TO-DAY, thank you,' replied the field-mouse
hurriedly. 'Perhaps some OTHER day--when we've more TIME----'
The Rat, with a snort of contempt, swung round to go, tripped over a
hat-box, and fell, with undignified remarks.
'If people would be more careful,' said a field-mouse rather stiffly,
'and look where they're going, people wouldn't hurt themselves--and
forget themselves. Mind that hold-all, Rat! You'd better sit down
somewhere. In an hour or two we may be more free to attend to you.'
'You won't be "free" as you call it much this side of Christmas, I can
see that,' retorted the Rat grumpily, as he picked his way out of the
He returned somewhat despondently to his river again--his faithful,
steady-going old river, which never packed up, flitted, or went into
In the osiers which fringed the bank he spied a swallow sitting.
Presently it was joined by another, and then by a third; and the
birds, fidgeting restlessly on their bough, talked together earnestly
'What, ALREADY,' said the Rat, strolling up to them. 'What's the
hurry? I call it simply ridiculous.'
'O, we're not off yet, if that's what you mean,' replied the first
swallow. 'We're only making plans and arranging things. Talking it
over, you know--what route we're taking this year, and where we'll
stop, and so on. That's half the fun!'
'Fun?' said the Rat; 'now that's just what I don't understand. If
you've GOT to leave this pleasant place, and your friends who will
miss you, and your snug homes that you've just settled into, why, when
the hour strikes I've no doubt you'll go bravely, and face all the
trouble and discomfort and change and newness, and make believe that
you're not very unhappy. But to want to talk about it, or even think
about it, till you really need----'
'No, you don't understand, naturally,' said the second swallow.
'First, we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come
the recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter
through our dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and
circlings by day. We hunger to inquire of each other, to compare
notes and assure ourselves that it was all really true, as one by one
the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come
gradually back and beckon to us.'
'Couldn't you stop on for just this year?' suggested the Water Rat,
wistfully. 'We'll all do our best to make you feel at home. You've no
idea what good times we have here, while you are far away.'
'I tried "stopping on" one year,' said the third swallow. 'I had
grown so fond of the place that when the time came I hung back and let
the others go on without me. For a few weeks it was all well enough,
but afterwards, O the weary length of the nights! The shivering,
sunless days! The air so clammy and chill, and not an insect in an
acre of it! No, it was no good; my courage broke down, and one cold,
stormy night I took wing, flying well inland on account of the strong
easterly gales. It was snowing hard as I beat through the passes of
the great mountains, and I had a stiff fight to win through; but never
shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun again on my back as
Back to Full Books