The Wind in the Willows
Part 3 out of 4
I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid below me, and the
taste of my first fat insect! The past was like a bad dream; the
future was all happy holiday as I moved southwards week by week,
easily, lazily, lingering as long as I dared, but always heeding the
call! No, I had had my warning; never again did I think of
'Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!' twittered the other
two dreamily. 'Its songs its hues, its radiant air! O, do you
remember----' and, forgetting the Rat, they slid into passionate
reminiscence, while he listened fascinated, and his heart burned
within him. In himself, too, he knew that it was vibrating at last,
that chord hitherto dormant and unsuspected. The mere chatter of
these southern-bound birds, their pale and second-hand reports, had
yet power to awaken this wild new sensation and thrill him through and
through with it; what would one moment of the real thing work in him--
one passionate touch of the real southern sun, one waft of the
authentic odor? With closed eyes he dared to dream a moment in full
abandonment, and when he looked again the river seemed steely and
chill, the green fields grey and lightless. Then his loyal heart
seemed to cry out on his weaker self for its treachery.
'Why do you ever come back, then, at all?' he demanded of the swallows
jealously. 'What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little
'And do you think,' said the first swallow, 'that the other call is
not for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wet
orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of
haymaking, and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of
the perfect Eaves?'
'Do you suppose,' asked the second one, that you are the only living
thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo's note
'In due time,' said the third, 'we shall be home-sick once more for
quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. But
to-day all that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our
blood dances to other music.'
They fell a-twittering among themselves once more, and this time their
intoxicating babble was of violet seas, tawny sands, and lizard-haunted
Restlessly the Rat wandered off once more, climbed the slope that rose
gently from the north bank of the river, and lay looking out towards
the great ring of Downs that barred his vision further southwards--his
simple horizon hitherto, his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind
which lay nothing he had cared to see or to know. To-day, to him
gazing South with a new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky
over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; to-day,
the unseen was everything, the unknown the only real fact of life. On
this side of the hills was now the real blank, on the other lay the
crowded and coloured panorama that his inner eye was seeing so
clearly. What seas lay beyond, green, leaping, and crested! What
sun-bathed coasts, along which the white villas glittered against the
olive woods! What quiet harbours, thronged with gallant shipping
bound for purple islands of wine and spice, islands set low in
He rose and descended river-wards once more; then changed his mind and
sought the side of the dusty lane. There, lying half-buried in the
thick, cool under-hedge tangle that bordered it, he could muse on the
metalled road and all the wondrous world that it led to; on all the
wayfarers, too, that might have trodden it, and the fortunes and
adventures they had gone to seek or found unseeking--out there,
Footsteps fell on his ear, and the figure of one that walked somewhat
wearily came into view; and he saw that it was a Rat, and a very dusty
one. The wayfarer, as he reached him, saluted with a gesture of
courtesy that had something foreign about it--hesitated a moment--then
with a pleasant smile turned from the track and sat down by his side
in the cool herbage. He seemed tired, and the Rat let him rest
unquestioned, understanding something of what was in his thoughts;
knowing, too, the value all animals attach at times to mere silent
companionship, when the weary muscles slacken and the mind marks time.
The wayfarer was lean and keen-featured, and somewhat bowed at the
shoulders; his paws were thin and long, his eyes much wrinkled at the
corners, and he wore small gold ear rings in his neatly-set
well-shaped ears. His knitted jersey was of a faded blue, his
breeches, patched and stained, were based on a blue foundation, and
his small belongings that he carried were tied up in a blue cotton
When he had rested awhile the stranger sighed, snuffed the air, and
looked about him.
'That was clover, that warm whiff on the breeze,' he remarked; 'and
those are cows we hear cropping the grass behind us and blowing softly
between mouthfuls. There is a sound of distant reapers, and yonder
rises a blue line of cottage smoke against the woodland. The river
runs somewhere close by, for I hear the call of a moorhen, and I see
by your build that you're a freshwater mariner. Everything seems
asleep, and yet going on all the time. It is a goodly life that you
lead, friend; no doubt the best in the world, if only you are strong
enough to lead it!'
'Yes, it's THE life, the only life, to live,' responded the Water Rat
dreamily, and without his usual whole-hearted conviction.
'I did not say exactly that,' replied the stranger cautiously; 'but no
doubt it's the best. I've tried it, and I know. And because I've
just tried it--six months of it--and know it's the best, here am I,
footsore and hungry, tramping away from it, tramping southward,
following the old call, back to the old life, THE life which is mine
and which will not let me go.'
'Is this, then, yet another of them?' mused the Rat. 'And where have
you just come from?' he asked. He hardly dared to ask where he was
bound for; he seemed to know the answer only too well.
'Nice little farm,' replied the wayfarer, briefly. 'Upalong in that
direction'--he nodded northwards. 'Never mind about it. I had
everything I could want--everything I had any right to expect of life,
and more; and here I am! Glad to be here all the same, though, glad
to be here! So many miles further on the road, so many hours nearer
to my heart's desire!'
His shining eyes held fast to the horizon, and he seemed to be
listening for some sound that was wanting from that inland acreage,
vocal as it was with the cheerful music of pasturage and farmyard.
'You are not one of US,' said the Water Rat, 'nor yet a farmer; nor
even, I should judge, of this country.'
'Right,' replied the stranger. 'I'm a seafaring rat, I am, and the
port I originally hail from is Constantinople, though I'm a sort of a
foreigner there too, in a manner of speaking. You will have heard of
Constantinople, friend? A fair city, and an ancient and glorious one.
And you may have heard, too, of Sigurd, King of Norway, and how he
sailed thither with sixty ships, and how he and his men rode up
through streets all canopied in their honour with purple and gold; and
how the Emperor and Empress came down and banqueted with him on board
his ship. When Sigurd returned home, many of his Northmen remained
behind and entered the Emperor's body-guard, and my ancestor, a
Norwegian born, stayed behind too, with the ships that Sigurd gave the
Emperor. Seafarers we have ever been, and no wonder; as for me, the
city of my birth is no more my home than any pleasant port between
there and the London River. I know them all, and they know me. Set
me down on any of their quays or foreshores, and I am home again.'
'I suppose you go great voyages,' said the Water Rat with growing
interest. 'Months and months out of sight of land, and provisions
running short, and allowanced as to water, and your mind communing
with the mighty ocean, and all that sort of thing?'
'By no means,' said the Sea Rat frankly. 'Such a life as you describe
would not suit me at all. I'm in the coasting trade, and rarely out
of sight of land. It's the jolly times on shore that appeal to me, as
much as any seafaring. O, those southern seaports! The smell of
them, the riding-lights at night, the glamour!'
'Well, perhaps you have chosen the better way,' said the Water Rat,
but rather doubtfully. 'Tell me something of your coasting, then, if
you have a mind to, and what sort of harvest an animal of spirit might
hope to bring home from it to warm his latter days with gallant
memories by the fireside; for my life, I confess to you, feels to me
to-day somewhat narrow and circumscribed.'
'My last voyage,' began the Sea Rat, 'that landed me eventually in
this country, bound with high hopes for my inland farm, will serve as
a good example of any of them, and, indeed, as an epitome of my
highly-coloured life. Family troubles, as usual, began it. The
domestic storm-cone was hoisted, and I shipped myself on board a small
trading vessel bound from Constantinople, by classic seas whose every
wave throbs with a deathless memory, to the Grecian Islands and the
Levant. Those were golden days and balmy nights! In and out of
harbour all the time--old friends everywhere--sleeping in some cool
temple or ruined cistern during the heat of the day--feasting and song
after sundown, under great stars set in a velvet sky! Thence we
turned and coasted up the Adriatic, its shores swimming in an
atmosphere of amber, rose, and aquamarine; we lay in wide land-locked
harbours, we roamed through ancient and noble cities, until at last
one morning, as the sun rose royally behind us, we rode into Venice
down a path of gold. O, Venice is a fine city, wherein a rat can
wander at his ease and take his pleasure! Or, when weary of
wandering, can sit at the edge of the Grand Canal at night, feasting
with his friends, when the air is full of music and the sky full of
stars, and the lights flash and shimmer on the polished steel prows of
the swaying gondolas, packed so that you could walk across the canal
on them from side to side! And then the food--do you like shellfish?
Well, well, we won't linger over that now.'
He was silent for a time; and the Water Rat, silent too and
enthralled, floated on dream-canals and heard a phantom song pealing
high between vaporous grey wave-lapped walls.
'Southwards we sailed again at last,' continued the Sea Rat, 'coasting
down the Italian shore, till finally we made Palermo, and there I
quitted for a long, happy spell on shore. I never stick too long to
one ship; one gets narrow-minded and prejudiced. Besides, Sicily is
one of my happy hunting-grounds. I know everybody there, and their
ways just suit me. I spent many jolly weeks in the island, staying
with friends up country. When I grew restless again I took advantage
of a ship that was trading to Sardinia and Corsica; and very glad I
was to feel the fresh breeze and the sea-spray in my face once more.'
'But isn't it very hot and stuffy, down in the--hold, I think you call
it?' asked the Water Rat.
The seafarer looked at him with the suspicion go a wink. 'I'm an old
hand,' he remarked with much simplicity. 'The captain's cabin's good
enough for me.'
'It's a hard life, by all accounts,' murmured the Rat, sunk in deep
'For the crew it is,' replied the seafarer gravely, again with the
ghost of a wink.
'From Corsica,' he went on, 'I made use of a ship that was taking wine
to the mainland. We made Alassio in the evening, lay to, hauled up
our wine-casks, and hove them overboard, tied one to the other by a
long line. Then the crew took to the boats and rowed shorewards,
singing as they went, and drawing after them the long bobbing
procession of casks, like a mile of porpoises. On the sands they had
horses waiting, which dragged the casks up the steep street of the
little town with a fine rush and clatter and scramble. When the last
cask was in, we went and refreshed and rested, and sat late into the
night, drinking with our friends, and next morning I took to the great
olive-woods for a spell and a rest. For now I had done with islands
for the time, and ports and shipping were plentiful; so I led a lazy
life among the peasants, lying and watching them work, or stretched
high on the hillside with the blue Mediterranean far below me. And so
at length, by easy stages, and partly on foot, partly by sea, to
Marseilles, and the meeting of old shipmates, and the visiting of
great ocean-bound vessels, and feasting once more. Talk of shell-fish!
Why, sometimes I dream of the shell-fish of Marseilles, and wake up
'That reminds me,' said the polite Water Rat; 'you happened to mention
that you were hungry, and I ought to have spoken earlier. Of course,
you will stop and take your midday meal with me? My hole is close by;
it is some time past noon, and you are very welcome to whatever there
'Now I call that kind and brotherly of you,' said the Sea Rat. 'I was
indeed hungry when I sat down, and ever since I inadvertently happened
to mention shell-fish, my pangs have been extreme. But couldn't you
fetch it along out here? I am none too fond of going under hatches,
unless I'm obliged to; and then, while we eat, I could tell you more
concerning my voyages and the pleasant life I lead--at least, it is
very pleasant to me, and by your attention I judge it commends itself
to you; whereas if we go indoors it is a hundred to one that I shall
presently fall asleep.'
'That is indeed an excellent suggestion,' said the Water Rat, and
hurried off home. There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a
simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and
preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a
sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and
cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled
sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes. Thus laden, he
returned with all speed, and blushed for pleasure at the old seaman's
commendations of his taste and judgment, as together they unpacked the
basket and laid out the contents on the grass by the roadside.
The Sea Rat, as soon as his hunger was somewhat assuaged, continued
the history of his latest voyage, conducting his simple hearer from
port to port of Spain, landing him at Lisbon, Oporto, and Bordeaux,
introducing him to the pleasant harbours of Cornwall and Devon, and so
up the Channel to that final quayside, where, landing after winds long
contrary, storm-driven and weather-beaten, he had caught the first
magical hints and heraldings of another Spring, and, fired by these,
had sped on a long tramp inland, hungry for the experiment of life on
some quiet farmstead, very far from the weary beating of any sea.
Spell-bound and quivering with excitement, the Water Rat followed the
Adventurer league by league, over stormy bays, through crowded
roadsteads, across harbour bars on a racing tide, up winding rivers
that hid their busy little towns round a sudden turn; and left him
with a regretful sigh planted at his dull inland farm, about which he
desired to hear nothing.
By this time their meal was over, and the Seafarer, refreshed and
strengthened, his voice more vibrant, his eye lit with a brightness
that seemed caught from some far-away sea-beacon, filled his glass
with the red and glowing vintage of the South, and, leaning towards
the Water Rat, compelled his gaze and held him, body and soul, while
he talked. Those eyes were of the changing foam-streaked grey-green
of leaping Northern seas; in the glass shone a hot ruby that seemed
the very heart of the South, beating for him who had courage to
respond to its pulsation. The twin lights, the shifting grey and the
steadfast red, mastered the Water Rat and held him bound, fascinated,
powerless. The quiet world outside their rays receded far away and
ceased to be. And the talk, the wonderful talk flowed on--or was it
speech entirely, or did it pass at times into song--chanty of the
sailors weighing the dripping anchor, sonorous hum of the shrouds in a
tearing North-Easter, ballad of the fisherman hauling his nets at
sundown against an apricot sky, chords of guitar and mandoline from
gondola or caique? Did it change into the cry of the wind, plaintive
at first, angrily shrill as it freshened, rising to a tearing whistle,
sinking to a musical trickle of air from the leech of the bellying
sail? All these sounds the spell-bound listener seemed to hear, and
with them the hungry complaint of the gulls and the sea-mews, the soft
thunder of the breaking wave, the cry of the protesting shingle. Back
into speech again it passed, and with beating heart he was following
the adventures of a dozen seaports, the fights, the escapes, the
rallies, the comradeships, the gallant undertakings; or he searched
islands for treasure, fished in still lagoons and dozed day-long on
warm white sand. Of deep-sea fishings he heard tell, and mighty
silver gatherings of the mile-long net; of sudden perils, noise of
breakers on a moonless night, or the tall bows of the great liner
taking shape overhead through the fog; of the merry home-coming, the
headland rounded, the harbour lights opened out; the groups seen dimly
on the quay, the cheery hail, the splash of the hawser; the trudge up
the steep little street towards the comforting glow of red-curtained
Lastly, in his waking dream it seemed to him that the Adventurer had
risen to his feet, but was still speaking, still holding him fast with
his sea-grey eyes.
'And now,' he was softly saying, 'I take to the road again, holding on
southwestwards for many a long and dusty day; till at last I reach the
little grey sea town I know so well, that clings along one steep side
of the harbour. There through dark doorways you look down flights of
stone steps, overhung by great pink tufts of valerian and ending in a
patch of sparkling blue water. The little boats that lie tethered to
the rings and stanchions of the old sea-wall are gaily painted as
those I clambered in and out of in my own childhood; the salmon leap
on the flood tide, schools of mackerel flash and play past quay-sides
and foreshores, and by the windows the great vessels glide, night and
day, up to their moorings or forth to the open sea. There, sooner or
later, the ships of all seafaring nations arrive; and there, at its
destined hour, the ship of my choice will let go its anchor. I shall
take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till at last the right one lies
waiting for me, warped out into midstream, loaded low, her bowsprit
pointing down harbour. I shall slip on board, by boat or along
hawser; and then one morning I shall wake to the song and tramp of the
sailors, the clink of the capstan, and the rattle of the anchor-chain
coming merrily in. We shall break out the jib and the foresail, the
white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us as she
gathers steering-way, and the voyage will have begun! As she forges
towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas; and then,
once outside, the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to
the wind, pointing South!
'And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and
never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure,
heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!' 'Tis but a
banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are
out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long
hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and
the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a
store of goodly memories for company. You can easily overtake me on
the road, for you are young, and I am ageing and go softly. I will
linger, and look back; and at last I will surely see you coming, eager
and light-hearted, with all the South in your face!'
The voice died away and ceased as an insect's tiny trumpet dwindles
swiftly into silence; and the Water Rat, paralysed and staring, saw at
last but a distant speck on the white surface of the road.
Mechanically he rose and proceeded to repack the luncheon-basket,
carefully and without haste. Mechanically he returned home, gathered
together a few small necessaries and special treasures he was fond of,
and put them in a satchel; acting with slow deliberation, moving about
the room like a sleep-walker; listening ever with parted lips. He
swung the satchel over his shoulder, carefully selected a stout stick
for his wayfaring, and with no haste, but with no hesitation at all,
he stepped across the threshold just as the Mole appeared at the door.
'Why, where are you off to, Ratty?' asked the Mole in great surprise,
grasping him by the arm.
'Going South, with the rest of them,' murmured the Rat in a dreamy
monotone, never looking at him. 'Seawards first and then on
shipboard, and so to the shores that are calling me!'
He pressed resolutely forward, still without haste, but with dogged
fixity of purpose; but the Mole, now thoroughly alarmed, placed
himself in front of him, and looking into his eyes saw that they were
glazed and set and turned a streaked and shifting grey--not his
friend's eyes, but the eyes of some other animal! Grappling with him
strongly he dragged him inside, threw him down, and held him.
The Rat struggled desperately for a few moments, and then his strength
seemed suddenly to leave him, and he lay still and exhausted, with
closed eyes, trembling. Presently the Mole assisted him to rise and
placed him in a chair, where he sat collapsed and shrunken into
himself, his body shaken by a violent shivering, passing in time into
an hysterical fit of dry sobbing. Mole made the door fast, threw the
satchel into a drawer and locked it, and sat down quietly on the table
by his friend, waiting for the strange seizure to pass. Gradually the
Rat sank into a troubled doze, broken by starts and confused
murmurings of things strange and wild and foreign to the unenlightened
Mole; and from that he passed into a deep slumber.
Very anxious in mind, the Mole left him for a time and busied himself
with household matters; and it was getting dark when he returned to
the parlour and found the Rat where he had left him, wide awake
indeed, but listless, silent, and dejected. He took one hasty glance
at his eyes; found them, to his great gratification, clear and dark
and brown again as before; and then sat down and tried to cheer him up
and help him to relate what had happened to him.
Poor Ratty did his best, by degrees, to explain things; but how could
he put into cold words what had mostly been suggestion? How recall,
for another's benefit, the haunting sea voices that had sung to him,
how reproduce at second-hand the magic of the Seafarer's hundred
reminiscences? Even to himself, now the spell was broken and the
glamour gone, he found it difficult to account for what had seemed,
some hours ago, the inevitable and only thing. It is not surprising,
then, that he failed to convey to the Mole any clear idea of what he
had been through that day.
To the Mole this much was plain: the fit, or attack, had passed away,
and had left him sane again, though shaken and cast down by the
reaction. But he seemed to have lost all interest for the time in the
things that went to make up his daily life, as well as in all pleasant
forecastings of the altered days and doings that the changing season
was surely bringing.
Casually, then, and with seeming indifference, the Mole turned his
talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons
and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon
rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the
reddening apples around, of the browning nuts, of jams and preserves
and the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he
reached midwinter, its hearty joys and its snug home life, and then he
became simply lyrical.
By degrees the Rat began to sit up and to join in. His dull eye
brightened, and he lost some of his listening air.
Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and
a few half-sheets of paper, which he placed on the table at his
'It's quite a long time since you did any poetry,' he remarked. 'You
might have a try at it this evening, instead of--well, brooding over
things so much. I've an idea that you'll feel a lot better when
you've got something jotted down--if it's only just the rhymes.'
The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discreet Mole
took occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time
later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately
scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he
sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole
to know that the cure had at least begun.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD
The front door of the hollow tree faced eastwards, so Toad was called
at an early hour; partly by the bright sunlight streaming in on him,
partly by the exceeding coldness of his toes, which made him dream
that he was at home in bed in his own handsome room with the Tudor
window, on a cold winter's night, and his bedclothes had got up,
grumbling and protesting they couldn't stand the cold any longer, and
had run downstairs to the kitchen fire to warm themselves; and he had
followed, on bare feet, along miles and miles of icy stone-paved
passages, arguing and beseeching them to be reasonable. He would
probably have been aroused much earlier, had he not slept for some
weeks on straw over stone flags, and almost forgotten the friendly
feeling of thick blankets pulled well up round the chin.
Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes first and his complaining toes next,
wondered for a moment where he was, looking round for familiar stone
wall and little barred window; then, with a leap of the heart,
remembered everything--his escape, his flight, his pursuit;
remembered, first and best thing of all, that he was free!
Free! The word and the thought alone were worth fifty blankets. He
was warm from end to end as he thought of the jolly world outside,
waiting eagerly for him to make his triumphal entrance, ready to serve
him and play up to him, anxious to help him and to keep him company,
as it always had been in days of old before misfortune fell upon him.
He shook himself and combed the dry leaves out of his hair with his
fingers; and, his toilet complete, marched forth into the comfortable
morning sun, cold but confident, hungry but hopeful, all nervous
terrors of yesterday dispelled by rest and sleep and frank and
He had the world all to himself, that early summer morning. The dewy
woodland, as he threaded it, was solitary and still: the green fields
that succeeded the trees were his own to do as he liked with; the road
itself, when he reached it, in that loneliness that was everywhere,
seemed, like a stray dog, to be looking anxiously for company. Toad,
however, was looking for something that could talk, and tell him
clearly which way he ought to go. It is all very well, when you have
a light heart, and a clear conscience, and money in your pocket, and
nobody scouring the country for you to drag you off to prison again,
to follow where the road beckons and points, not caring whither. The
practical Toad cared very much indeed, and he could have kicked the
road for its helpless silence when every minute was of importance to
The reserved rustic road was presently joined by a shy little brother
in the shape of a canal, which took its hand and ambled along by its
side in perfect confidence, but with the same tongue-tied,
uncommunicative attitude towards strangers. 'Bother them!' said Toad
to himself. 'But, anyhow, one thing's clear. They must both be coming
FROM somewhere, and going TO somewhere. You can't get over that.
Toad, my boy!' So he marched on patiently by the water's edge.
Round a bend in the canal came plodding a solitary horse, stooping
forward as if in anxious thought. From rope traces attached to his
collar stretched a long line, taut, but dipping with his stride, the
further part of it dripping pearly drops. Toad let the horse pass, and
stood waiting for what the fates were sending him.
With a pleasant swirl of quiet water at its blunt bow the barge slid
up alongside of him, its gaily painted gunwale level with the
towing-path, its sole occupant a big stout woman wearing a linen
sun-bonnet, one brawny arm laid along the tiller.
'A nice morning, ma'am!' she remarked to Toad, as she drew up level
'I dare say it is, ma'am!' responded Toad politely, as he walked along
the tow-path abreast of her. 'I dare it IS a nice morning to them
that's not in sore trouble, like what I am. Here's my married
daughter, she sends off to me post-haste to come to her at once; so
off I comes, not knowing what may be happening or going to happen, but
fearing the worst, as you will understand, ma'am, if you're a mother,
too. And I've left my business to look after itself--I'm in the
washing and laundering line, you must know, ma'am--and I've left my
young children to look after themselves, and a more mischievous and
troublesome set of young imps doesn't exist, ma'am; and I've lost all
my money, and lost my way, and as for what may be happening to my
married daughter, why, I don't like to think of it, ma'am!'
'Where might your married daughter be living, ma'am?' asked the
'She lives near to the river, ma'am,' replied Toad. 'Close to a fine
house called Toad Hall, that's somewheres hereabouts in these parts.
Perhaps you may have heard of it.'
'Toad Hall? Why, I'm going that way myself,' replied the barge-woman.
'This canal joins the river some miles further on, a little above Toad
Hall; and then it's an easy walk. You come along in the barge with
me, and I'll give you a lift.'
She steered the barge close to the bank, and Toad, with many humble
and grateful acknowledgments, stepped lightly on board and sat down
with great satisfaction. 'Toad's luck again!' thought he. 'I always
come out on top!'
'So you're in the washing business, ma'am?' said the barge-woman
politely, as they glided along. 'And a very good business you've got
too, I dare say, if I'm not making too free in saying so.'
'Finest business in the whole country,' said Toad airily. 'All the
gentry come to me--wouldn't go to any one else if they were paid, they
know me so well. You see, I understand my work thoroughly, and attend
to it all myself. Washing, ironing, clear-starching, making up gents'
fine shirts for evening wear--everything's done under my own eye!'
'But surely you don't DO all that work yourself, ma'am?' asked the
'O, I have girls,' said Toad lightly: 'twenty girls or thereabouts,
always at work. But you know what GIRLS are, ma'am! Nasty little
hussies, that's what _I_ call 'em!'
'So do I, too,' said the barge-woman with great heartiness. 'But I
dare say you set yours to rights, the idle trollops! And are you very
fond of washing?'
'I love it,' said Toad. 'I simply dote on it. Never so happy as when
I've got both arms in the wash-tub. But, then, it comes so easy to
me! No trouble at all! A real pleasure, I assure you, ma'am!'
'What a bit of luck, meeting you!' observed the barge-woman,
thoughtfully. 'A regular piece of good fortune for both of us!'
'Why, what do you mean?' asked Toad, nervously.
'Well, look at me, now,' replied the barge-woman. '_I_ like washing,
too, just the same as you do; and for that matter, whether I like it
or not I have got to do all my own, naturally, moving about as I do.
Now my husband, he's such a fellow for shirking his work and leaving
the barge to me, that never a moment do I get for seeing to my own
affairs. By rights he ought to be here now, either steering or
attending to the horse, though luckily the horse has sense enough to
attend to himself. Instead of which, he's gone off with the dog, to
see if they can't pick up a rabbit for dinner somewhere. Says he'll
catch me up at the next lock. Well, that's as may be--I don't trust
him, once he gets off with that dog, who's worse than he is. But
meantime, how am I to get on with my washing?'
'O, never mind about the washing,' said Toad, not liking the subject.
'Try and fix your mind on that rabbit. A nice fat young rabbit, I'll
be bound. Got any onions?'
'I can't fix my mind on anything but my washing,' said the
barge-woman, 'and I wonder you can be talking of rabbits, with such a
joyful prospect before you. There's a heap of things of mine that
you'll find in a corner of the cabin. If you'll just take one or two
of the most necessary sort--I won't venture to describe them to a lady
like you, but you'll recognise them at a glance--and put them through
the wash-tub as we go along, why, it'll be a pleasure to you, as you
rightly say, and a real help to me. You'll find a tub handy, and
soap, and a kettle on the stove, and a bucket to haul up water from
the canal with. Then I shall know you're enjoying yourself, instead
of sitting here idle, looking at the scenery and yawning your head
'Here, you let me steer!' said Toad, now thoroughly frightened, 'and
then you can get on with your washing your own way. I might spoil
your things, or not do 'em as you like. I'm more used to gentlemen's
things myself. It's my special line.'
'Let you steer?' replied the barge-woman, laughing. 'It takes some
practice to steer a barge properly. Besides, it's dull work, and I
want you to be happy. No, you shall do the washing you are so fond
of, and I'll stick to the steering that I understand. Don't try and
deprive me of the pleasure of giving you a treat!'
Toad was fairly cornered. He looked for escape this way and that, saw
that he was too far from the bank for a flying leap, and sullenly
resigned himself to his fate. 'If it comes to that,' he thought in
desperation, 'I suppose any fool can WASH!'
He fetched tub, soap, and other necessaries from the cabin, selected a
few garments at random, tried to recollect what he had seen in casual
glances through laundry windows, and set to.
A long half-hour passed, and every minute of it saw Toad getting
crosser and crosser. Nothing that he could do to the things seemed to
please them or do them good. He tried coaxing, he tried slapping, he
tried punching; they smiled back at him out of the tub unconverted,
happy in their original sin. Once or twice he looked nervously over
his shoulder at the barge-woman, but she appeared to be gazing out in
front of her, absorbed in her steering. His back ached badly, and he
noticed with dismay that his paws were beginning to get all crinkly.
Now Toad was very proud of his paws. He muttered under his breath
words that should never pass the lips of either washerwomen or Toads;
and lost the soap, for the fiftieth time.
A burst of laughter made him straighten himself and look round. The
barge-woman was leaning back and laughing unrestrainedly, till the
tears ran down her cheeks.
'I've been watching you all the time,' she gasped. 'I thought you
must be a humbug all along, from the conceited way you talked. Pretty
washerwoman you are! Never washed so much as a dish-clout in your
life, I'll lay!'
Toad's temper which had been simmering viciously for some time, now
fairly boiled over, and he lost all control of himself.
'You common, low, FAT barge-woman!' he shouted; 'don't you dare to
talk to your betters like that! Washerwoman indeed! I would have you
to know that I am a Toad, a very well-known, respected, distinguished
Toad! I may be under a bit of a cloud at present, but I will NOT be
laughed at by a bargewoman!'
The woman moved nearer to him and peered under his bonnet keenly and
closely. 'Why, so you are!' she cried. 'Well, I never! A horrid,
nasty, crawly Toad! And in my nice clean barge, too! Now that is a
thing that I will NOT have.'
She relinquished the tiller for a moment. One big mottled arm shot
out and caught Toad by a fore-leg, while the other-gripped him fast by
a hind-leg. Then the world turned suddenly upside down, the barge
seemed to flit lightly across the sky, the wind whistled in his ears,
and Toad found himself flying through the air, revolving rapidly as he
The water, when he eventually reached it with a loud splash, proved
quite cold enough for his taste, though its chill was not sufficient
to quell his proud spirit, or slake the heat of his furious temper.
He rose to the surface spluttering, and when he had wiped the
duck-weed out of his eyes the first thing he saw was the fat
barge-woman looking back at him over the stern of the retreating barge
and laughing; and he vowed, as he coughed and choked, to be even with
He struck out for the shore, but the cotton gown greatly impeded his
efforts, and when at length he touched land he found it hard to climb
up the steep bank unassisted. He had to take a minute or two's rest
to recover his breath; then, gathering his wet skirts well over his
arms, he started to run after the barge as fast as his legs would
carry him, wild with indignation, thirsting for revenge.
The barge-woman was still laughing when he drew up level with her.
'Put yourself through your mangle, washerwoman,' she called out, 'and
iron your face and crimp it, and you'll pass for quite a
Toad never paused to reply. Solid revenge was what he wanted, not
cheap, windy, verbal triumphs, though he had a thing or two in his
mind that he would have liked to say. He saw what he wanted ahead of
him. Running swiftly on he overtook the horse, unfastened the towrope
and cast off, jumped lightly on the horse's back, and urged it to a
gallop by kicking it vigorously in the sides. He steered for the open
country, abandoning the tow-path, and swinging his steed down a rutty
lane. Once he looked back, and saw that the barge had run aground on
the other side of the canal, and the barge-woman was gesticulating
wildly and shouting, 'Stop, stop, stop!' 'I've heard that song
before,' said Toad, laughing, as he continued to spur his steed onward
in its wild career.
The barge-horse was not capable of any very sustained effort, and its
gallop soon subsided into a trot, and its trot into an easy walk; but
Toad was quite contented with this, knowing that he, at any rate, was
moving, and the barge was not. He had quite recovered his temper, now
that he had done something he thought really clever; and he was
satisfied to jog along quietly in the sun, steering his horse along
by-ways and bridle-paths, and trying to forget how very long it was
since he had had a square meal, till the canal had been left very far
He had travelled some miles, his horse and he, and he was feeling
drowsy in the hot sunshine, when the horse stopped, lowered his head,
and began to nibble the grass; and Toad, waking up, just saved himself
from falling off by an effort. He looked about him and found he was
on a wide common, dotted with patches of gorse and bramble as far as
he could see. Near him stood a dingy gipsy caravan, and beside it a
man was sitting on a bucket turned upside down, very busy smoking and
staring into the wide world. A fire of sticks was burning near by,
and over the fire hung an iron pot, and out of that pot came forth
bubblings and gurglings, and a vague suggestive steaminess. Also
smells--warm, rich, and varied smells--that twined and twisted and
wreathed themselves at last into one complete, voluptuous, perfect
smell that seemed like the very soul of Nature taking form and
appearing to her children, a true Goddess, a mother of solace and
comfort. Toad now knew well that he had not been really hungry
before. What he had felt earlier in the day had been a mere trifling
qualm. This was the real thing at last, and no mistake; and it would
have to be dealt with speedily, too, or there would be trouble for
somebody or something. He looked the gipsy over carefully, wondering
vaguely whether it would be easier to fight him or cajole him. So
there he sat, and sniffed and sniffed, and looked at the gipsy; and
the gipsy sat and smoked, and looked at him.
Presently the gipsy took his pipe out of his mouth and remarked in a
careless way, 'Want to sell that there horse of yours?'
Toad was completely taken aback. He did not know that gipsies were
very fond of horse-dealing, and never missed an opportunity, and he
had not reflected that caravans were always on the move and took a
deal of drawing. It had not occurred to him to turn the horse into
cash, but the gipsy's suggestion seemed to smooth the way towards the
two things he wanted so badly--ready money, and a solid breakfast.
'What?' he said, 'me sell this beautiful young horse of mine? O, no;
it's out of the question. Who's going to take the washing home to my
customers every week? Besides, I'm too fond of him, and he simply
dotes on me.'
'Try and love a donkey,' suggested the gipsy. 'Some people do.'
'You don't seem to see,' continued Toad, 'that this fine horse of mine
is a cut above you altogether. He's a blood horse, he is, partly; not
the part you see, of course--another part. And he's been a Prize
Hackney, too, in his time--that was the time before you knew him, but
you can still tell it on him at a glance, if you understand anything
about horses. No, it's not to be thought of for a moment. All the
same, how much might you be disposed to offer me for this beautiful
young horse of mine?'
The gipsy looked the horse over, and then he looked Toad over with
equal care, and looked at the horse again. 'Shillin' a leg,' he said
briefly, and turned away, continuing to smoke and try to stare the
wide world out of countenance.
'A shilling a leg?' cried Toad. 'If you please, I must take a little
time to work that out, and see just what it comes to.'
He climbed down off his horse, and left it to graze, and sat down by
the gipsy, and did sums on his fingers, and at last he said, 'A
shilling a leg? Why, that comes to exactly four shillings, and no
more. O, no; I could not think of accepting four shillings for this
beautiful young horse of mine.'
'Well,' said the gipsy, 'I'll tell you what I will do. I'll make it
five shillings, and that's three-and-sixpence more than the animal's
worth. And that's my last word.'
Then Toad sat and pondered long and deeply. For he was hungry and
quite penniless, and still some way--he knew not how far--from home,
and enemies might still be looking for him. To one in such a
situation, five shillings may very well appear a large sum of money.
On the other hand, it did not seem very much to get for a horse. But
then, again, the horse hadn't cost him anything; so whatever he got
was all clear profit. At last he said firmly, 'Look here, gipsy! I
tell you what we will do; and this is MY last word. You shall hand me
over six shillings and sixpence, cash down; and further, in addition
thereto, you shall give me as much breakfast as I can possibly eat, at
one sitting of course, out of that iron pot of yours that keeps
sending forth such delicious and exciting smells. In return, I will
make over to you my spirited young horse, with all the beautiful
harness and trappings that are on him, freely thrown in. If that's
not good enough for you, say so, and I'll be getting on. I know a man
near here who's wanted this horse of mine for years.'
The gipsy grumbled frightfully, and declared if he did a few more
deals of that sort he'd be ruined. But in the end he lugged a dirty
canvas bag out of the depths of his trouser pocket, and counted out
six shillings and sixpence into Toad's paw. Then he disappeared into
the caravan for an instant, and returned with a large iron plate and a
knife, fork, and spoon. He tilted up the pot, and a glorious stream
of hot rich stew gurgled into the plate. It was, indeed, the most
beautiful stew in the world, being made of partridges, and pheasants,
and chickens, and hares, and rabbits, and pea-hens, and guinea-fowls,
and one or two other things. Toad took the plate on his lap, almost
crying, and stuffed, and stuffed, and stuffed, and kept asking for
more, and the gipsy never grudged it him. He thought that he had
never eaten so good a breakfast in all his life.
When Toad had taken as much stew on board as he thought he could
possibly hold, he got up and said good-bye to the gipsy, and took an
affectionate farewell of the horse; and the gipsy, who knew the
riverside well, gave him directions which way to go, and he set forth
on his travels again in the best possible spirits. He was, indeed, a
very different Toad from the animal of an hour ago. The sun was
shining brightly, his wet clothes were quite dry again, he had money
in his pocket once more, he was nearing home and friends and safety,
and, most and best of all, he had had a substantial meal, hot and
nourishing, and felt big, and strong, and careless, and
As he tramped along gaily, he thought of his adventures and escapes,
and how when things seemed at their worst he had always managed to
find a way out; and his pride and conceit began to swell within him.
'Ho, ho!' he said to himself as he marched along with his chin in the
air, 'what a clever Toad I am! There is surely no animal equal to me
for cleverness in the whole world! My enemies shut me up in prison,
encircled by sentries, watched night and day by warders; I walk out
through them all, by sheer ability coupled with courage. They pursue
me with engines, and policemen, and revolvers; I snap my fingers at
them, and vanish, laughing, into space. I am, unfortunately, thrown
into a canal by a woman fat of body and very evil-minded. What of it?
I swim ashore, I seize her horse, I ride off in triumph, and I sell
the horse for a whole pocketful of money and an excellent breakfast!
Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the successful
Toad!' He got so puffed up with conceit that he made up a song as he
walked in praise of himself, and sang it at the top of his voice,
though there was no one to hear it but him. It was perhaps the most
conceited song that any animal ever composed.
'The world has held great Heroes, As history-books have showed; But
never a name to go down to fame Compared with that of Toad!
'The clever men at Oxford Know all that there is to be knowed. But
they none of them know one half as much As intelligent Mr. Toad!
'The animals sat in the Ark and cried, Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, "There's land ahead?" Encouraging Mr. Toad!
'The army all saluted As they marched along the road. Was it the King?
Or Kitchener? No. It was Mr. Toad.
'The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting Sat at the window and sewed. She
cried, "Look! who's that HANDSOME man?" They answered, "Mr. Toad."'
There was a great deal more of the same sort, but too dreadfully
conceited to be written down. These are some of the milder verses.
He sang as he walked, and he walked as he sang, and got more inflated
every minute. But his pride was shortly to have a severe fall.
After some miles of country lanes he reached the high road, and as he
turned into it and glanced along its white length, he saw approaching
him a speck that turned into a dot and then into a blob, and then into
something very familiar; and a double note of warning, only too well
known, fell on his delighted ear.
'This is something like!' said the excited Toad. 'This is real life
again, this is once more the great world from which I have been missed
so long! I will hail them, my brothers of the wheel, and pitch them a
yarn, of the sort that has been so successful hitherto; and they will
give me a lift, of course, and then I will talk to them some more;
and, perhaps, with luck, it may even end in my driving up to Toad Hall
in a motor-car! That will be one in the eye for Badger!'
He stepped confidently out into the road to hail the motor-car, which
came along at an easy pace, slowing down as it neared the lane; when
suddenly he became very pale, his heart turned to water, his knees
shook and yielded under him, and he doubled up and collapsed with a
sickening pain in his interior. And well he might, the unhappy
animal; for the approaching car was the very one he had stolen out of
the yard of the Red Lion Hotel on that fatal day when all his troubles
began! And the people in it were the very same people he had sat and
watched at luncheon in the coffee-room!
He sank down in a shabby, miserable heap in the road, murmuring to
himself in his despair, 'It's all up! It's all over now! Chains and
policemen again! Prison again! Dry bread and water again! O, what a
fool I have been! What did I want to go strutting about the country
for, singing conceited songs, and hailing people in broad day on the
high road, instead of hiding till nightfall and slipping home quietly
by back ways! O hapless Toad! O ill-fated animal!'
The terrible motor-car drew slowly nearer and nearer, till at last he
heard it stop just short of him. Two gentlemen got out and walked
round the trembling heap of crumpled misery lying in the road, and one
of them said, 'O dear! this is very sad! Here is a poor old thing--a
washerwoman apparently--who has fainted in the road! Perhaps she is
overcome by the heat, poor creature; or possibly she has not had any
food to-day. Let us lift her into the car and take her to the nearest
village, where doubtless she has friends.'
They tenderly lifted Toad into the motor-car and propped him up with
soft cushions, and proceeded on their way.
When Toad heard them talk in so kind and sympathetic a way, and knew
that he was not recognised, his courage began to revive, and he
cautiously opened first one eye and then the other.
'Look!' said one of the gentlemen, 'she is better already. The fresh
air is doing her good. How do you feel now, ma'am?'
'Thank you kindly, Sir,' said Toad in a feeble voice, 'I'm feeling a
great deal better!' 'That's right,' said the gentleman. 'Now keep
quite still, and, above all, don't try to talk.'
'I won't,' said Toad. 'I was only thinking, if I might sit on the
front seat there, beside the driver, where I could get the fresh air
full in my face, I should soon be all right again.'
'What a very sensible woman!' said the gentleman. 'Of course you
shall.' So they carefully helped Toad into the front seat beside the
driver, and on they went again.
Toad was almost himself again by now. He sat up, looked about him,
and tried to beat down the tremors, the yearnings, the old cravings
that rose up and beset him and took possession of him entirely.
'It is fate!' he said to himself. 'Why strive? why struggle?' and he
turned to the driver at his side.
'Please, Sir,' he said, 'I wish you would kindly let me try and drive
the car for a little. I've been watching you carefully, and it looks
so easy and so interesting, and I should like to be able to tell my
friends that once I had driven a motor-car!'
The driver laughed at the proposal, so heartily that the gentleman
inquired what the matter was. When he heard, he said, to Toad's
delight, 'Bravo, ma'am! I like your spirit. Let her have a try, and
look after her. She won't do any harm.'
Toad eagerly scrambled into the seat vacated by the driver, took the
steering-wheel in his hands, listened with affected humility to the
instructions given him, and set the car in motion, but very slowly and
carefully at first, for he was determined to be prudent.
The gentlemen behind clapped their hands and applauded, and Toad heard
them saying, 'How well she does it! Fancy a washerwoman driving a car
as well as that, the first time!'
Toad went a little faster; then faster still, and faster.
He heard the gentlemen call out warningly, 'Be careful, washerwoman!'
And this annoyed him, and he began to lose his head.
The driver tried to interfere, but he pinned him down in his seat with
one elbow, and put on full speed. The rush of air in his face, the
hum of the engines, and the light jump of the car beneath him
intoxicated his weak brain. 'Washerwoman, indeed!' he shouted
recklessly. 'Ho! ho! I am the Toad, the motor-car snatcher, the
prison-breaker, the Toad who always escapes! Sit still, and you shall
know what driving really is, for you are in the hands of the famous,
the skilful, the entirely fearless Toad!'
With a cry of horror the whole party rose and flung themselves on him.
'Seize him!' they cried, 'seize the Toad, the wicked animal who stole
our motor-car! Bind him, chain him, drag him to the nearest
police-station! Down with the desperate and dangerous Toad!'
Alas! they should have thought, they ought to have been more prudent,
they should have remembered to stop the motor-car somehow before
playing any pranks of that sort. With a half-turn of the wheel the
Toad sent the car crashing through the low hedge that ran along the
roadside. One mighty bound, a violent shock, and the wheels of the
car were churning up the thick mud of a horse-pond.
Toad found himself flying through the air with the strong upward rush
and delicate curve of a swallow. He liked the motion, and was just
beginning to wonder whether it would go on until he developed wings
and turned into a Toad-bird, when he landed on his back with a thump,
in the soft rich grass of a meadow. Sitting up, he could just see the
motor-car in the pond, nearly submerged; the gentlemen and the driver,
encumbered by their long coats, were floundering helplessly in the
He picked himself up rapidly, and set off running across country as
hard as he could, scrambling through hedges, jumping ditches, pounding
across fields, till he was breathless and weary, and had to settle
down into an easy walk. When he had recovered his breath somewhat,
and was able to think calmly, he began to giggle, and from giggling he
took to laughing, and he laughed till he had to sit down under a
hedge. 'Ho, ho!' he cried, in ecstasies of self-admiration, 'Toad
again! Toad, as usual, comes out on the top! Who was it got them to
give him a lift? Who managed to get on the front seat for the sake of
fresh air? Who persuaded them into letting him see if he could drive?
Who landed them all in a horse-pond? Who escaped, flying gaily and
unscathed through the air, leaving the narrow-minded, grudging, timid
excursionists in the mud where they should rightly be? Why, Toad, of
course; clever Toad, great Toad, GOOD Toad!'
Then he burst into song again, and chanted with uplifted voice--
'The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop, As it raced along the road. Who
was it steered it into a pond? Ingenious Mr. Toad!
O, how clever I am! How clever, how clever, how very clev----'
A slight noise at a distance behind him made him turn his head and
look. O horror! O misery! O despair!
About two fields off, a chauffeur in his leather gaiters and two large
rural policemen were visible, running towards him as hard as they
Poor Toad sprang to his feet and pelted away again, his heart in his
mouth. O, my!' he gasped, as he panted along, 'what an ASS I am!
What a CONCEITED and heedless ass! Swaggering again! Shouting and
singing songs again! Sitting still and gassing again! O my! O my!
He glanced back, and saw to his dismay that they were gaining on him.
On he ran desperately, but kept looking back, and saw that they still
gained steadily. He did his best, but he was a fat animal, and his
legs were short, and still they gained. He could hear them close
behind him now. Ceasing to heed where he was going, he struggled on
blindly and wildly, looking back over his shoulder at the now
triumphant enemy, when suddenly the earth failed under his feet, he
grasped at the air, and, splash! he found himself head over ears in
deep water, rapid water, water that bore him along with a force he
could not contend with; and he knew that in his blind panic he had run
straight into the river!
He rose to the surface and tried to grasp the reeds and the rushes
that grew along the water's edge close under the bank, but the stream
was so strong that it tore them out of his hands. 'O my!' gasped poor
Toad, 'if ever I steal a motor-car again! If ever I sing another
conceited song'--then down he went, and came up breathless and
spluttering. Presently he saw that he was approaching a big dark hole
in the bank, just above his head, and as the stream bore him past he
reached up with a paw and caught hold of the edge and held on. Then
slowly and with difficulty he drew himself up out of the water, till
at last he was able to rest his elbows on the edge of the hole. There
he remained for some minutes, puffing and panting, for he was quite
As he sighed and blew and stared before him into the dark hole, some
bright small thing shone and twinkled in its depths, moving towards
him. As it approached, a face grew up gradually around it, and it was
a familiar face!
Brown and small, with whiskers.
Grave and round, with neat ears and silky hair.
It was the Water Rat!
'LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS'
The Rat put out a neat little brown paw, gripped Toad firmly by the
scruff of the neck, and gave a great hoist and a pull; and the
water-logged Toad came up slowly but surely over the edge of the hole,
till at last he stood safe and sound in the hall, streaked with mud
and weed to be sure, and with the water streaming off him, but happy
and high-spirited as of old, now that he found himself once more in
the house of a friend, and dodgings and evasions were over, and he
could lay aside a disguise that was unworthy of his position and
wanted such a lot of living up to.
'O, Ratty!' he cried. 'I've been through such times since I saw you
last, you can't think! Such trials, such sufferings, and all so nobly
borne! Then such escapes, such disguises such subterfuges, and all so
cleverly planned and carried out! Been in prison--got out of it, of
course! Been thrown into a canal--swam ashore! Stole a horse--sold
him for a large sum of money! Humbugged everybody--made 'em all do
exactly what I wanted! Oh, I AM a smart Toad, and no mistake! What
do you think my last exploit was? Just hold on till I tell you----'
'Toad,' said the Water Rat, gravely and firmly, 'you go off upstairs
at once, and take off that old cotton rag that looks as if it might
formerly have belonged to some washerwoman, and clean yourself
thoroughly, and put on some of my clothes, and try and come down
looking like a gentleman if you CAN; for a more shabby, bedraggled,
disreputable-looking object than you are I never set eyes on in my
whole life! Now, stop swaggering and arguing, and be off! I'll have
something to say to you later!'
Toad was at first inclined to stop and do some talking back at him.
He had had enough of being ordered about when he was in prison, and
here was the thing being begun all over again, apparently; and by a
Rat, too! However, he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass
over the hat-stand, with the rusty black bonnet perched rakishly over
one eye, and he changed his mind and went very quickly and humbly
upstairs to the Rat's dressing-room. There he had a thorough wash and
brush-up, changed his clothes, and stood for a long time before the
glass, contemplating himself with pride and pleasure, and thinking
what utter idiots all the people must have been to have ever mistaken
him for one moment for a washerwoman.
By the time he came down again luncheon was on the table, and very
glad Toad was to see it, for he had been through some trying
experiences and had taken much hard exercise since the excellent
breakfast provided for him by the gipsy. While they ate Toad told the
Rat all his adventures, dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness, and
presence of mind in emergencies, and cunning in tight places; and
rather making out that he had been having a gay and highly-coloured
experience. But the more he talked and boasted, the more grave and
silent the Rat became.
When at last Toad had talked himself to a standstill, there was
silence for a while; and then the Rat said, 'Now, Toady, I don't want
to give you pain, after all you've been through already; but,
seriously, don't you see what an awful ass you've been making of
yourself? On your own admission you have been handcuffed, imprisoned,
starved, chased, terrified out of your life, insulted, jeered at, and
ignominiously flung into the water--by a woman, too! Where's the
amusement in that? Where does the fun come in? And all because you
must needs go and steal a motor-car. You know that you've never had
anything but trouble from motor-cars from the moment you first set
eyes on one. But if you WILL be mixed up with them--as you generally
are, five minutes after you've started--why STEAL them? Be a cripple,
if you think it's exciting; be a bankrupt, for a change, if you've set
your mind on it: but why choose to be a convict? When are you going to
be sensible, and think of your friends, and try and be a credit to
them? Do you suppose it's any pleasure to me, for instance, to hear
animals saying, as I go about, that I'm the chap that keeps company
Now, it was a very comforting point in Toad's character that he was a
thoroughly good-hearted animal and never minded being jawed by those
who were his real friends. And even when most set upon a thing, he
was always able to see the other side of the question. So although,
while the Rat was talking so seriously, he kept saying to himself
mutinously, 'But it WAS fun, though! Awful fun!' and making strange
suppressed noises inside him, k-i-ck-ck-ck, and poop-p-p, and other
sounds resembling stifled snorts, or the opening of soda-water
bottles, yet when the Rat had quite finished, he heaved a deep sigh
and said, very nicely and humbly, 'Quite right, Ratty! How SOUND you
always are! Yes, I've been a conceited old ass, I can quite see that;
but now I'm going to be a good Toad, and not do it any more. As for
motor-cars, I've not been at all so keen about them since my last
ducking in that river of yours. The fact is, while I was hanging on
to the edge of your hole and getting my breath, I had a sudden idea--a
really brilliant idea--connected with motor-boats--there, there! don't
take on so, old chap, and stamp, and upset things; it was only an
idea, and we won't talk any more about it now. We'll have our coffee,
AND a smoke, and a quiet chat, and then I'm going to stroll quietly
down to Toad Hall, and get into clothes of my own, and set things
going again on the old lines. I've had enough of adventures. I shall
lead a quiet, steady, respectable life, pottering about my property,
and improving it, and doing a little landscape gardening at times.
There will always be a bit of dinner for my friends when they come to
see me; and I shall keep a pony-chaise to jog about the country in,
just as I used to in the good old days, before I got restless, and
wanted to DO things.'
'Stroll quietly down to Toad Hall?' cried the Rat, greatly excited.
'What are you talking about? Do you mean to say you haven't HEARD?'
'Heard what?' said Toad, turning rather pale. 'Go on, Ratty! Quick!
Don't spare me! What haven't I heard?'
'Do you mean to tell me,' shouted the Rat, thumping with his little
fist upon the table, 'that you've heard nothing about the Stoats and
What, the Wild Wooders?' cried Toad, trembling in every limb. 'No, not
a word! What have they been doing?'
'--And how they've been and taken Toad Hall?' continued the Rat.
Toad leaned his elbows on the table, and his chin on his paws; and a
large tear welled up in each of his eyes, overflowed and splashed on
the table, plop! plop!
'Go on, Ratty,' he murmured presently; 'tell me all. The worst is
over. I am an animal again. I can bear it.'
'When you--got--into that--that--trouble of yours,' said the Rat,
slowly and impressively; 'I mean, when you--disappeared from society
for a time, over that misunderstanding about a--a machine, you know--'
Toad merely nodded.
'Well, it was a good deal talked about down here, naturally,'
continued the Rat, 'not only along the river-side, but even in the
Wild Wood. Animals took sides, as always happens. The River-bankers
stuck up for you, and said you had been infamously treated, and there
was no justice to be had in the land nowadays. But the Wild Wood
animals said hard things, and served you right, and it was time this
sort of thing was stopped. And they got very cocky, and went about
saying you were done for this time! You would never come back again,
Toad nodded once more, keeping silence.
'That's the sort of little beasts they are,' the Rat went on. 'But
Mole and Badger, they stuck out, through thick and thin, that you
would come back again soon, somehow. They didn't know exactly how,
Toad began to sit up in his chair again, and to smirk a little.
'They argued from history,' continued the Rat. 'They said that no
criminal laws had ever been known to prevail against cheek and
plausibility such as yours, combined with the power of a long purse.
So they arranged to move their things in to Toad Hall, and sleep
there, and keep it aired, and have it all ready for you when you
turned up. They didn't guess what was going to happen, of course;
still, they had their suspicions of the Wild Wood animals. Now I come
to the most painful and tragic part of my story. One dark night--it
was a VERY dark night, and blowing hard, too, and raining simply cats
and dogs--a band of weasels, armed to the teeth, crept silently up the
carriage-drive to the front entrance. Simultaneously, a body of
desperate ferrets, advancing through the kitchen-garden, possessed
themselves of the backyard and offices; while a company of skirmishing
stoats who stuck at nothing occupied the conservatory and the
billiard-room, and held the French windows opening on to the lawn.
'The Mole and the Badger were sitting by the fire in the smoking-room,
telling stories and suspecting nothing, for it wasn't a night for any
animals to be out in, when those bloodthirsty villains broke down the
doors and rushed in upon them from every side. They made the best
fight they could, but what was the good? They were unarmed, and taken
by surprise, and what can two animals do against hundreds? They took
and beat them severely with sticks, those two poor faithful creatures,
and turned them out into the cold and the wet, with many insulting and
Here the unfeeling Toad broke into a snigger, and then pulled himself
together and tried to look particularly solemn.
'And the Wild Wooders have been living in Toad Hall ever since,'
continued the Rat; 'and going on simply anyhow! Lying in bed half the
day, and breakfast at all hours, and the place in such a mess (I'm
told) it's not fit to be seen! Eating your grub, and drinking your
drink, and making bad jokes about you, and singing vulgar songs,
about--well, about prisons and magistrates, and policemen; horrid
personal songs, with no humour in them. And they're telling the
tradespeople and everybody that they've come to stay for good.'
'O, have they!' said Toad getting up and seizing a stick. 'I'll jolly
soon see about that!'
'It's no good, Toad!' called the Rat after him. 'You'd better come
back and sit down; you'll only get into trouble.'
But the Toad was off, and there was no holding him. He marched
rapidly down the road, his stick over his shoulder, fuming and
muttering to himself in his anger, till he got near his front gate,
when suddenly there popped up from behind the palings a long yellow
ferret with a gun.
'Who comes there?' said the ferret sharply.
'Stuff and nonsense!' said Toad, very angrily. 'What do you mean by
talking like that to me? Come out of that at once, or I'll----'
The ferret said never a word, but he brought his gun up to his
shoulder. Toad prudently dropped flat in the road, and BANG! a bullet
whistled over his head.
The startled Toad scrambled to his feet and scampered off down the
road as hard as he could; and as he ran he heard the ferret laughing
and other horrid thin little laughs taking it up and carrying on the
He went back, very crestfallen, and told the Water Rat.
'What did I tell you?' said the Rat. 'It's no good. They've got
sentries posted, and they are all armed. You must just wait.'
Still, Toad was not inclined to give in all at once. So he got out
the boat, and set off rowing up the river to where the garden front of
Toad Hall came down to the waterside.
Arriving within sight of his old home, he rested on his oars and
surveyed the land cautiously. All seemed very peaceful and deserted
and quiet. He could see the whole front of Toad Hall, glowing in the
evening sunshine, the pigeons settling by twos and threes along the
straight line of the roof; the garden, a blaze of flowers; the creek
that led up to the boat-house, the little wooden bridge that crossed
it; all tranquil, uninhabited, apparently waiting for his return. He
would try the boat-house first, he thought. Very warily he paddled up
to the mouth of the creek, and was just passing under the bridge, when
. . . CRASH!
A great stone, dropped from above, smashed through the bottom of the
boat. It filled and sank, and Toad found himself struggling in deep
water. Looking up, he saw two stoats leaning over the parapet of the
bridge and watching him with great glee. 'It will be your head next
time, Toady!' they called out to him. The indignant Toad swam to
shore, while the stoats laughed and laughed, supporting each other,
and laughed again, till they nearly had two fits--that is, one fit
each, of course.
The Toad retraced his weary way on foot, and related his disappointing
experiences to the Water Rat once more.
'Well, WHAT did I tell you?' said the Rat very crossly. 'And, now,
look here! See what you've been and done! Lost me my boat that I was
so fond of, that's what you've done! And simply ruined that nice suit
of clothes that I lent you! Really, Toad, of all the trying animals--
I wonder you manage to keep any friends at all!'
The Toad saw at once how wrongly and foolishly he had acted. He
admitted his errors and wrong-headedness and made a full apology to
Rat for losing his boat and spoiling his clothes. And he wound up by
saying, with that frank self-surrender which always disarmed his
friend's criticism and won them back to his side, 'Ratty! I see that I
have been a headstrong and a wilful Toad! Henceforth, believe me, I
will be humble and submissive, and will take no action without your
kind advice and full approval!'
'If that is really so,' said the good-natured Rat, already appeased,
'then my advice to you is, considering the lateness of the hour, to
sit down and have your supper, which will be on the table in a minute,
and be very patient. For I am convinced that we can do nothing until
we have seen the Mole and the Badger, and heard their latest news, and
held conference and taken their advice in this difficult matter.'
'Oh, ah, yes, of course, the Mole and the Badger,' said Toad, lightly.
'What's become of them, the dear fellows? I had forgotten all about
'Well may you ask!' said the Rat reproachfully. 'While you were
riding about the country in expensive motor-cars, and galloping
proudly on blood-horses, and breakfasting on the fat of the land,
those two poor devoted animals have been camping out in the open, in
every sort of weather, living very rough by day and lying very hard by
night; watching over your house, patrolling your boundaries, keeping a
constant eye on the stoats and the weasels, scheming and planning and
contriving how to get your property back for you. You don't deserve
to have such true and loyal friends, Toad, you don't, really. Some
day, when it's too late, you'll be sorry you didn't value them more
while you had them!'
'I'm an ungrateful beast, I know,' sobbed Toad, shedding bitter tears.
'Let me go out and find them, out into the cold, dark night, and share
their hardships, and try and prove by----Hold on a bit! Surely I
heard the chink of dishes on a tray! Supper's here at last, hooray!
Come on, Ratty!'
The Rat remembered that poor Toad had been on prison fare for a
considerable time, and that large allowances had therefore to be made.
He followed him to the table accordingly, and hospitably encouraged
him in his gallant efforts to make up for past privations.
They had just finished their meal and resumed their arm-chairs, when
there came a heavy knock at the door.
Toad was nervous, but the Rat, nodding mysteriously at him, went
straight up to the door and opened it, and in walked Mr. Badger.
He had all the appearance of one who for some nights had been kept
away from home and all its little comforts and conveniences. His shoes
were covered with mud, and he was looking very rough and touzled; but
then he had never been a very smart man, the Badger, at the best of
times. He came solemnly up to Toad, shook him by the paw, and said,
'Welcome home, Toad! Alas! what am I saying? Home, indeed! This is
a poor home-coming. Unhappy Toad!' Then he turned his back on him,
sat down to the table, drew his chair up, and helped himself to a
large slice of cold pie.
Toad was quite alarmed at this very serious and portentous style of
greeting; but the Rat whispered to him, 'Never mind; don't take any
notice; and don't say anything to him just yet. He's always rather low
and despondent when he's wanting his victuals. In half an hour's time
he'll be quite a different animal.'
So they waited in silence, and presently there came another and a
lighter knock. The Rat, with a nod to Toad, went to the door and
ushered in the Mole, very shabby and unwashed, with bits of hay and
straw sticking in his fur.
'Hooray! Here's old Toad!' cried the Mole, his face beaming. 'Fancy
having you back again!' And he began to dance round him. 'We never
dreamt you would turn up so soon! Why, you must have managed to
escape, you clever, ingenious, intelligent Toad!'
The Rat, alarmed, pulled him by the elbow; but it was too late. Toad
was puffing and swelling already.
'Clever? O, no!' he said. 'I'm not really clever, according to my
friends. I've only broken out of the strongest prison in England,
that's all! And captured a railway train and escaped on it, that's
all! And disguised myself and gone about the country humbugging
everybody, that's all! O, no! I'm a stupid ass, I am! I'll tell you
one or two of my little adventures, Mole, and you shall judge for
'Well, well,' said the Mole, moving towards the supper-table;
'supposing you talk while I eat. Not a bite since breakfast! O my!
O my!' And he sat down and helped himself liberally to cold beef and
Toad straddled on the hearth-rug, thrust his paw into his
trouser-pocket and pulled out a handful of silver. 'Look at that!' he
cried, displaying it. 'That's not so bad, is it, for a few minutes'
work? And how do you think I done it, Mole? Horse-dealing! That's
how I done it!'
'Go on, Toad,' said the Mole, immensely interested.
'Toad, do be quiet, please!' said the Rat. 'And don't you egg him on,
Mole, when you know what he is; but please tell us as soon as possible
what the position is, and what's best to be done, now that Toad is
back at last.'
'The position's about as bad as it can be,' replied the Mole grumpily;
'and as for what's to be done, why, blest if I know! The Badger and I
have been round and round the place, by night and by day; always the
same thing. Sentries posted everywhere, guns poked out at us, stones
thrown at us; always an animal on the look-out, and when they see us,
my! how they do laugh! That's what annoys me most!'
'It's a very difficult situation,' said the Rat, reflecting deeply.
'But I think I see now, in the depths of my mind, what Toad really
ought to do. I will tell you. He ought to----'
'No, he oughtn't!' shouted the Mole, with his mouth full. 'Nothing of
the sort! You don't understand. What he ought to do is, he ought
'Well, I shan't do it, anyway!' cried Toad, getting excited. 'I'm not
going to be ordered about by you fellows! It's my house we're talking
about, and I know exactly what to do, and I'll tell you. I'm going
By this time they were all three talking at once, at the top of their
voices, and the noise was simply deafening, when a thin, dry voice
made itself heard, saying, 'Be quiet at once, all of you!' and
instantly every one was silent.
It was the Badger, who, having finished his pie, had turned round in
his chair and was looking at them severely. When he saw that he had
secured their attention, and that they were evidently waiting for him
to address them, he turned back to the table again and reached out for
the cheese. And so great was the respect commanded by the solid
qualities of that admirable animal, that not another word was uttered
until he had quite finished his repast and brushed the crumbs from his
knees. The Toad fidgeted a good deal, but the Rat held him firmly
When the Badger had quite done, he got up from his seat and stood
before the fireplace, reflecting deeply. At last he spoke.
'Toad!' he said severely. 'You bad, troublesome little animal! Aren't
you ashamed of yourself? What do you think your father, my old friend,
would have said if he had been here to-night, and had known of all
your goings on?'
Toad, who was on the sofa by this time, with his legs up, rolled over
on his face, shaken by sobs of contrition.
'There, there!' went on the Badger, more kindly. 'Never mind. Stop
crying. We're going to let bygones be bygones, and try and turn over
a new leaf. But what the Mole says is quite true. The stoats are on
guard, at every point, and they make the best sentinels in the world.
It's quite useless to think of attacking the place. They're too
strong for us.'
'Then it's all over,' sobbed the Toad, crying into the sofa cushions.
'I shall go and enlist for a soldier, and never see my dear Toad Hall
'Come, cheer up, Toady!' said the Badger. 'There are more ways of
getting back a place than taking it by storm. I haven't said my last
word yet. Now I'm going to tell you a great secret.'
Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense
attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed
the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told
another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.
'There--is--an--underground--passage,' said the Badger, impressively,
'that leads from the river-bank, quite near here, right up into the
middle of Toad Hall.'
'O, nonsense! Badger,' said Toad, rather airily. 'You've been
listening to some of the yarns they spin in the public-houses about
here. I know every inch of Toad Hall, inside and out. Nothing of the
sort, I do assure you!'
'My young friend,' said the Badger, with great severity, 'your father,
who was a worthy animal--a lot worthier than some others I know--was a
particular friend of mine, and told me a great deal he wouldn't have
dreamt of telling you. He discovered that passage--he didn't make it,
of course; that was done hundreds of years before he ever came to live
there--and he repaired it and cleaned it out, because he thought it
might come in useful some day, in case of trouble or danger; and he
showed it to me. "Don't let my son know about it," he said. "He's a
good boy, but very light and volatile in character, and simply cannot
hold his tongue. If he's ever in a real fix, and it would be of use
to him, you may tell him about the secret passage; but not before."'
The other animals looked hard at Toad to see how he would take it.
Toad was inclined to be sulky at first; but he brightened up
immediately, like the good fellow he was.
'Well, well,' he said; 'perhaps I am a bit of a talker. A popular
fellow such as I am--my friends get round me--we chaff, we sparkle, we
tell witty stories--and somehow my tongue gets wagging. I have the
gift of conversation. I've been told I ought to have a salon,
whatever that may be. Never mind. Go on, Badger. How's this passage
of yours going to help us?'
'I've found out a thing or two lately,' continued the Badger. 'I got
Otter to disguise himself as a sweep and call at the back-door with
brushes over his shoulder, asking for a job. There's going to be a
big banquet to-morrow night. It's somebody's birthday--the Chief
Weasel's, I believe--and all the weasels will be gathered together in
the dining-hall, eating and drinking and laughing and carrying on,
suspecting nothing. No guns, no swords, no sticks, no arms of any
'But the sentinels will be posted as usual,' remarked the Rat.
'Exactly,' said the Badger; 'that is my point. The weasels will trust
entirely to their excellent sentinels. And that is where the passage
comes in. That very useful tunnel leads right up under the butler's
pantry, next to the dining-hall!'
'Aha! that squeaky board in the butler's pantry!' said Toad. 'Now I
'We shall creep out quietly into the butler's pantry--' cried the
'--with our pistols and swords and sticks--' shouted the Rat.
'--and rush in upon them,' said the Badger.
'--and whack 'em, and whack 'em, and whack 'em!' cried the Toad in
ecstasy, running round and round the room, and jumping over the chairs.
'Very well, then,' said the Badger, resuming his usual dry manner,
'our plan is settled, and there's nothing more for you to argue and
squabble about. So, as it's getting very late, all of you go right
off to bed at once. We will make all the necessary arrangements in
the course of the morning to-morrow.'
Toad, of course, went off to bed dutifully with the rest--he knew
better than to refuse--though he was feeling much too excited to
sleep. But he had had a long day, with many events crowded into it;
and sheets and blankets were very friendly and comforting things,
after plain straw, and not too much of it, spread on the stone floor
of a draughty cell; and his head had not been many seconds on his
pillow before he was snoring happily. Naturally, he dreamt a good
deal; about roads that ran away from him just when he wanted them, and
canals that chased him and caught him, and a barge that sailed into
the banqueting-hall with his week's washing, just as he was giving a
dinner-party; and he was alone in the secret passage, pushing onwards,
but it twisted and turned round and shook itself, and sat up on its
end; yet somehow, at the last, he found himself back in Toad Hall,
safe and triumphant, with all his friends gathered round about him,
earnestly assuring him that he really was a clever Toad.
He slept till a late hour next morning, and by the time he got down he
found that the other animals had finished their breakfast some time
before. The Mole had slipped off somewhere by himself, without
telling any one where he was going to. The Badger sat in the
arm-chair, reading the paper, and not concerning himself in the slightest
about what was going to happen that very evening. The Rat, on the
other hand, was running round the room busily, with his arms full of
weapons of every kind, distributing them in four little heaps on the
floor, and saying excitedly under his breath, as he ran,
'Here's-a-sword-for-the-Rat, here's-a-sword-for-the Mole,
And so on, in a regular, rhythmical way, while the four little heaps
gradually grew and grew.
'That's all very well, Rat,' said the Badger presently, looking at the
busy little animal over the edge of his newspaper; 'I'm not blaming
you. But just let us once get past the stoats, with those detestable
guns of theirs, and I assure you we shan't want any swords or pistols.
We four, with our sticks, once we're inside the dining-hall, why, we
shall clear the floor of all the lot of them in five minutes. I'd
have done the whole thing by myself, only I didn't want to deprive you
fellows of the fun!'
'It's as well to be on the safe side,' said the Rat reflectively,
polishing a pistol-barrel on his sleeve and looking along it.
The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and
swung it vigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. 'I'll learn 'em
to steal my house!' he cried. 'I'll learn 'em, I'll learn 'em!'
'Don't say "learn 'em," Toad,' said the Rat, greatly shocked. 'It's
not good English.'
'What are you always nagging at Toad for?' inquired the Badger, rather
peevishly. 'What's the matter with his English? It's the same what I
use myself, and if it's good enough for me, it ought to be good enough
'I'm very sorry,' said the Rat humbly. 'Only I THINK it ought to be
"teach 'em," not "learn 'em."'
'But we don't WANT to teach 'em,' replied the Badger. 'We want to
LEARN 'em--learn 'em, learn 'em! And what's more, we're going to DO
'Oh, very well, have it your own way,' said the Rat. He was getting
rather muddled about it himself, and presently he retired into a
corner, where he could be heard muttering, 'Learn 'em, teach 'em,
teach 'em, learn 'em!' till the Badger told him rather sharply to
Presently the Mole came tumbling into the room, evidently very pleased
with himself. 'I've been having such fun!' he began at once; 'I've
been getting a rise out of the stoats!'
'I hope you've been very careful, Mole?' said the Rat anxiously.
'I should hope so, too,' said the Mole confidently. 'I got the idea
when I went into the kitchen, to see about Toad's breakfast being kept
hot for him. I found that old washerwoman-dress that he came home in
yesterday, hanging on a towel-horse before the fire. So I put it on,
and the bonnet as well, and the shawl, and off I went to Toad Hall, as
bold as you please. The sentries were on the look-out, of course,
with their guns and their "Who comes there?" and all the rest of their
nonsense. "Good morning, gentlemen!" says I, very respectful. "Want
any washing done to-day?"
'They looked at me very proud and stiff and haughty, and said, "Go
away, washerwoman! We don't do any washing on duty." "Or any other
time?" says I. Ho, ho, ho! Wasn't I FUNNY, Toad?'
'Poor, frivolous animal!' said Toad, very loftily. The fact is, he
felt exceedingly jealous of Mole for what he had just done. It was
exactly what he would have liked to have done himself, if only he had
thought of it first, and hadn't gone and overslept himself.
'Some of the stoats turned quite pink,' continued the Mole, 'and the
Sergeant in charge, he said to me, very short, he said, "Now run away,
my good woman, run away! Don't keep my men idling and talking on
their posts." "Run away?" says I; "it won't be me that'll be running
away, in a very short time from now!"'
'O MOLY, how could you?' said the Rat, dismayed.
The Badger laid down his paper.
'I could see them pricking up their ears and looking at each other,'
went on the Mole; 'and the Sergeant said to them, "Never mind HER; she
doesn't know what she's talking about."'
'"O! don't I?"' said I. '"Well, let me tell you this. My daughter,
she washes for Mr. Badger, and that'll show you whether I know what
I'm talking about; and YOU'LL know pretty soon, too! A hundred
bloodthirsty badgers, armed with rifles, are going to attack Toad Hall
this very night, by way of the paddock. Six boatloads of Rats, with
pistols and cutlasses, will come up the river and effect a landing in
the garden; while a picked body of Toads, known at the Die-hards, or
the Death-or-Glory Toads, will storm the orchard and carry everything
before them, yelling for vengeance. There won't be much left of you
to wash, by the time they've done with you, unless you clear out while
you have the chance!" Then I ran away, and when I was out of sight I
hid; and presently I came creeping back along the ditch and took a
peep at them through the hedge. They were all as nervous and
flustered as could be, running all ways at once, and falling over each
other, and every one giving orders to everybody else and not
listening; and the Sergeant kept sending off parties of stoats to
distant parts of the grounds, and then sending other fellows to fetch
'em back again; and I heard them saying to each other, "That's just
like the weasels; they're to stop comfortably in the banqueting-hall,
and have feasting and toasts and songs and all sorts of fun, while we
must stay on guard in the cold and the dark, and in the end be cut to
pieces by bloodthirsty Badgers!'"
'Oh, you silly ass, Mole!' cried Toad, 'You've been and spoilt
'Mole,' said the Badger, in his dry, quiet way, 'I perceive you have
more sense in your little finger than some other animals have in the
whole of their fat bodies. You have managed excellently, and I begin
to have great hopes of you. Good Mole! Clever Mole!'
The Toad was simply wild with jealousy, more especially as he couldn't
make out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so
particularly clever; but, fortunately for him, before he could show
temper or expose himself to the Badger's sarcasm, the bell rang for
It was a simple but sustaining meal--bacon and broad beans, and a
macaroni pudding; and when they had quite done, the Badger settled
himself into an arm-chair, and said, 'Well, we've got our work cut out
for us to-night, and it will probably be pretty late before we're
quite through with it; so I'm just going to take forty winks, while I
can.' And he drew a handkerchief over his face and was soon snoring.
The anxious and laborious Rat at once resumed his preparations, and
started running between his four little heaps, muttering,
'Here's-a-belt-for-the-Rat, here's-a-belt-for-the Mole,
and so on, with every fresh accoutrement he produced, to which there
seemed really no end; so the Mole drew his arm through Toad's, led him
out into the open air, shoved him into a wicker chair, and made him
tell him all his adventures from beginning to end, which Toad was only
too willing to do. The Mole was a good listener, and Toad, with no
one to check his statements or to criticise in an unfriendly spirit,
rather let himself go. Indeed, much that he related belonged more
properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-
thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are
always the best and the raciest adventures; and why should they not be
truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come
THE RETURN OF ULYSSES
When it began to grow dark, the Rat, with an air of excitement and
mystery, summoned them back into the parlour, stood each of them up
alongside of his little heap, and proceeded to dress them up for the
coming expedition. He was very earnest and thoroughgoing about it,
and the affair took quite a long time. First, there was a belt to go
round each animal, and then a sword to be stuck into each belt, and
then a cutlass on the other side to balance it. Then a pair of
pistols, a policeman's truncheon, several sets of handcuffs, some
bandages and sticking-plaster, and a flask and a sandwich-case. The
Badger laughed good-humouredly and said, 'All right, Ratty! It amuses
you and it doesn't hurt me. I'm going to do all I've got to do with
this here stick.' But the Rat only said, 'PLEASE, Badger. You know I
shouldn't like you to blame me afterwards and say I had forgotten
When all was quite ready, the Badger took a dark lantern in one paw,
grasped his great stick with the other, and said, 'Now then, follow
me! Mole first, 'cos I'm very pleased with him; Rat next; Toad last.
And look here, Toady! Don't you chatter so much as usual, or you'll
be sent back, as sure as fate!'
The Toad was so anxious not to be left out that he took up the
inferior position assigned to him without a murmur, and the animals
set off. The Badger led them along by the river for a little way, and
then suddenly swung himself over the edge into a hole in the
river-bank, a little above the water. The Mole and the Rat followed
silently, swinging themselves successfully into the hole as they had
seen the Badger do; but when it came to Toad's turn, of course he
managed to slip and fall into the water with a loud splash and a
squeal of alarm. He was hauled out by his friends, rubbed down and
wrung out hastily, comforted, and set on his legs; but the Badger was
seriously angry, and told him that the very next time he made a fool
of himself he would most certainly be left behind.
So at last they were in the secret passage, and the cutting-out
expedition had really begun!
It was cold, and dark, and damp, and low, and narrow, and poor Toad
began to shiver, partly from dread of what might be before him, partly
because he was wet through. The lantern was far ahead, and he could
not help lagging behind a little in the darkness. Then he heard the
Rat call out warningly, 'COME on, Toad!' and a terror seized him of
being left behind, alone in the darkness, and he 'came on' with such a
rush that he upset the Rat into the Mole and the Mole into the Badger,
and for a moment all was confusion. The Badger thought they were
being attacked from behind, and, as there was no room to use a stick
or a cutlass, drew a pistol, and was on the point of putting a bullet
into Toad. When he found out what had really happened he was very
angry indeed, and said, 'Now this time that tiresome Toad SHALL be
But Toad whimpered, and the other two promised that they would be
answerable for his good conduct, and at last the Badger was pacified,
and the procession moved on; only this time the Rat brought up the
rear, with a firm grip on the shoulder of Toad.
So they groped and shuffled along, with their ears pricked up and
their paws on their pistols, till at last the Badger said, 'We ought
by now to be pretty nearly under the Hall.'
Then suddenly they heard, far away as it might be, and yet apparently
nearly over their heads, a confused murmur of sound, as if people were
shouting and cheering and stamping on the floor and hammering on
tables. The Toad's nervous terrors all returned, but the Badger only
remarked placidly, 'They ARE going it, the Weasels!'
The passage now began to slope upwards; they groped onward a little
further, and then the noise broke out again, quite distinct this time,
and very close above them. 'Ooo-ray-ooray-oo-ray-ooray!' they heard,
and the stamping of little feet on the floor, and the clinking of
glasses as little fists pounded on the table. 'WHAT a time they're
having!' said the Badger. 'Come on!' They hurried along the passage
till it came to a full stop, and they found themselves standing under
the trap-door that led up into the butler's pantry.
Such a tremendous noise was going on in the banqueting-hall that there
was little danger of their being overheard. The Badger said, 'Now,
boys, all together!' and the four of them put their shoulders to the
trap-door and heaved it back. Hoisting each other up, they found
themselves standing in the pantry, with only a door between them and
the banqueting-hall, where their unconscious enemies were carousing.
The noise, as they emerged from the passage, was simply deafening. At
last, as the cheering and hammering slowly subsided, a voice could be
made out saying, 'Well, I do not propose to detain you much longer'--
(great applause)--'but before I resume my seat'--(renewed cheering)--
'I should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr. Toad. We all
know Toad!'--(great laughter)--'GOOD Toad, MODEST Toad, HONEST Toad!'
(shrieks of merriment).
'Only just let me get at him!' muttered Toad, grinding his teeth.
'Hold hard a minute!' said the Badger, restraining him with
difficulty. 'Get ready, all of you!'
'--Let me sing you a little song,' went on the voice, 'which I have
composed on the subject of Toad'--(prolonged applause).
Then the Chief Weasel--for it was he--began in a high, squeaky voice--
'Toad he went a-pleasuring Gaily down the street--'
The Badger drew himself up, took a firm grip of his stick with both
paws, glanced round at his comrades, and cried--
'The hour is come! Follow me!'
And flung the door open wide.
What a squealing and a squeaking and a screeching filled the air!
Well might the terrified weasels dive under the tables and spring
madly up at the windows! Well might the ferrets rush wildly for the
fireplace and get hopelessly jammed in the chimney! Well might tables
and chairs be upset, and glass and china be sent crashing on the
floor, in the panic of that terrible moment when the four Heroes
strode wrathfully into the room! The mighty Badger, his whiskers
bristling, his great cudgel whistling through the air; Mole, black and
grim, brandishing his stick and shouting his awful war-cry, 'A Mole!
A Mole!' Rat; desperate and determined, his belt bulging with weapons
of every age and every variety; Toad, frenzied with excitement and
injured pride, swollen to twice his ordinary size, leaping into the
air and emitting Toad-whoops that chilled them to the marrow! 'Toad
he went a-pleasuring!' he yelled. 'I'LL pleasure 'em!' and he went
straight for the Chief Weasel. They were but four in all, but to the
panic-stricken weasels the hall seemed full of monstrous animals,
grey, black, brown and yellow, whooping and flourishing enormous
cudgels; and they broke and fled with squeals of terror and dismay,
this way and that, through the windows, up the chimney, anywhere to
get out of reach of those terrible sticks.
The affair was soon over. Up and down, the whole length of the hall,
strode the four Friends, whacking with their sticks at every head that
showed itself; and in five minutes the room was cleared. Through the
broken windows the shrieks of terrified weasels escaping across the
lawn were borne faintly to their ears; on the floor lay prostrate some
dozen or so of the enemy, on whom the Mole was busily engaged in
fitting handcuffs. The Badger, resting from his labours, leant on his
stick and wiped his honest brow.
'Mole,' he said,' 'you're the best of fellows! Just cut along outside
and look after those stoat-sentries of yours, and see what they're
doing. I've an idea that, thanks to you, we shan't have much trouble
from them to-night!'
The Mole vanished promptly through a window; and the Badger bade the
other two set a table on its legs again, pick up knives and forks and
plates and glasses from the debris on the floor, and see if they could
find materials for a supper. 'I want some grub, I do,' he said, in
that rather common way he had of speaking. 'Stir your stumps, Toad,
and look lively! We've got your house back for you, and you don't
offer us so much as a sandwich.' Toad felt rather hurt that the
Badger didn't say pleasant things to him, as he had to the Mole, and
tell him what a fine fellow he was, and how splendidly he had fought;
for he was rather particularly pleased with himself and the way he had
gone for the Chief Weasel and sent him flying across the table with
one blow of his stick. But he bustled about, and so did the Rat, and
soon they found some guava jelly in a glass dish, and a cold chicken,
a tongue that had hardly been touched, some trifle, and quite a lot of
lobster salad; and in the pantry they came upon a basketful of French
rolls and any quantity of cheese, butter, and celery. They were just
about to sit down when the Mole clambered in through the window,
chuckling, with an armful of rifles.
'It's all over,' he reported. 'From what I can make out, as soon as
the stoats, who were very nervous and jumpy already, heard the shrieks
and the yells and the uproar inside the hall, some of them threw down
their rifles and fled. The others stood fast for a bit, but when the
weasels came rushing out upon them they thought they were betrayed;
and the stoats grappled with the weasels, and the weasels fought to
get away, and they wrestled and wriggled and punched each other, and
rolled over and over, till most of 'em rolled into the river! They've
all disappeared by now, one way or another; and I've got their rifles.
So that's all right!'
'Excellent and deserving animal!' said the Badger, his mouth full of
chicken and trifle. 'Now, there's just one more thing I want you to
do, Mole, before you sit down to your supper along of us; and I
wouldn't trouble you only I know I can trust you to see a thing done,
and I wish I could say the same of every one I know. I'd send Rat, if
he wasn't a poet. I want you to take those fellows on the floor there
upstairs with you, and have some bedrooms cleaned out and tidied up
and made really comfortable. See that they sweep UNDER the beds, and
put clean sheets and pillow-cases on, and turn down one corner of the
bed-clothes, just as you know it ought to be done; and have a can of
hot water, and clean towels, and fresh cakes of soap, put in each
room. And then you can give them a licking a-piece, if it's any
satisfaction to you, and put them out by the back-door, and we shan't
see any more of THEM, I fancy. And then come along and have some of
this cold tongue. It's first rate. I'm very pleased with you, Mole!'
The goodnatured Mole picked up a stick, formed his prisoners up in a
line on the floor, gave them the order 'Quick march!' and led his
squad off to the upper floor. After a time, he appeared again,
smiling, and said that every room was ready, and as clean as a new
pin. 'And I didn't have to lick them, either,' he added. 'I thought,
on the whole, they had had licking enough for one night, and the
weasels, when I put the point to them, quite agreed with me, and said
they wouldn't think of troubling me. They were very penitent, and
said they were extremely sorry for what they had done, but it was all
the fault of the Chief Weasel and the stoats, and if ever they could
do anything for us at any time to make up, we had only got to mention
it. So I gave them a roll a-piece, and let them out at the back, and
off they ran, as hard as they could!'
Then the Mole pulled his chair up to the table, and pitched into the
cold tongue; and Toad, like the gentleman he was, put all his jealousy
from him, and said heartily, 'Thank you kindly, dear Mole, for all
your pains and trouble tonight, and especially for your cleverness
this morning!' The Badger was pleased at that, and said, 'There spoke
my brave Toad!' So they finished their supper in great joy and
contentment, and presently retired to rest between clean sheets, safe
in Toad's ancestral home, won back by matchless valour, consummate
strategy, and a proper handling of sticks.
The following morning, Toad, who had overslept himself as usual, came
down to breakfast disgracefully late, and found on the table a certain
quantity of egg-shells, some fragments of cold and leathery toast, a
coffee-pot three-fourths empty, and really very little else; which did
not tend to improve his temper, considering that, after all, it was
his own house. Through the French windows of the breakfast-room he
could see the Mole and the Water Rat sitting in wicker-chairs out on
the lawn, evidently telling each other stories; roaring with laughter
and kicking their short legs up in the air. The Badger, who was in an
arm-chair and deep in the morning paper, merely looked up and nodded
when Toad entered the room. But Toad knew his man, so he sat down and
made the best breakfast he could, merely observing to himself that he
would get square with the others sooner or later. When he had nearly
finished, the Badger looked up and remarked rather shortly: 'I'm
sorry, Toad, but I'm afraid there's a heavy morning's work in front of
you. You see, we really ought to have a Banquet at once, to celebrate
this affair. It's expected of you--in fact, it's the rule.'
'O, all right!' said the Toad, readily. 'Anything to oblige. Though
why on earth you should want to have a Banquet in the morning I cannot
understand. But you know I do not live to please myself, but merely
to find out what my friends want, and then try and arrange it for 'em,
you dear old Badger!'
'Don't pretend to be stupider than you really are,' replied the
Badger, crossly; 'and don't chuckle and splutter in your coffee while
you're talking; it's not manners. What I mean is, the Banquet will be
at night, of course, but the invitations will have to be written and
got off at once, and you've got to write 'em. Now, sit down at that
table--there's stacks of letter-paper on it, with "Toad Hall" at the
top in blue and gold--and write invitations to all our friends, and if
you stick to it we shall get them out before luncheon. And I'LL bear
a hand, too; and take my share of the burden. I'LL order the
'What!' cried Toad, dismayed. 'Me stop indoors and write a lot of
rotten letters on a jolly morning like this, when I want to go around
my property, and set everything and everybody to rights, and swagger
about and enjoy myself! Certainly not! I'll be--I'll see you----Stop
a minute, though! Why, of course, dear Badger! What is my pleasure
or convenience compared with that of others! You wish it done, and it
shall be done. Go, Badger, order the Banquet, order what you like;
then join our young friends outside in their innocent mirth, oblivious
of me and my cares and toils. I sacrifice this fair morning on the
altar of duty and friendship!'
The Badger looked at him very suspiciously, but Toad's frank, open
countenance made it difficult to suggest any unworthy motive in this
change of attitude. He quitted the room, accordingly, in the
direction of the kitchen, and as soon as the door had closed behind
him, Toad hurried to the writing-table. A fine idea had occurred to
him while he was talking. He WOULD write the invitations; and he
would take care to mention the leading part he had taken in the fight,
and how he had laid the Chief Weasel flat; and he would hint at his
adventures, and what a career of triumph he had to tell about; and on
the fly-leaf he would set out a sort of a programme of entertainment
for the evening--something like this, as he sketched it out in his
SPEECH . . . . BY TOAD.
(There will be other speeches by TOAD during the evening.)
Back to Full Books