THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
BY KENNETH GRAHAME
AUTHOR OF "THE GOLDEN AGE," "DREAM DAYS," ETC.
I. THE RIVER BANK
II. THE OPEN ROAD
III. THE WILD WOOD
IV. MR. BADGER
V. DULCE DOMUM
VI. MR. TOAD
VII. THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
VIII. TOAD'S ADVENTURES
IX. WAYFARERS ALL
X. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD
XI. "LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS"
XII. THE RETURN OF ULYSSES
THE RIVER BANK
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning
his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on
ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash;
till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all
over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was
moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him,
penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of
divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he
suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O
blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house
without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was
calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which
answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals
whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and
scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and
scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little
paws and muttering to himself, 'Up we go! Up we go!' till at last,
pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself
rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.
'This is fine!' he said to himself. 'This is better than
whitewashing!' The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes
caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he
had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled
hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once,
in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning,
he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the
'Hold up!' said an elderly rabbit at the gap. 'Sixpence for the
privilege of passing by the private road!' He was bowled over in an
instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the
side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly
from their holes to see what the row was about. 'Onion-sauce!
Onion-sauce!' he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could
think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started
grumbling at each other. 'How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell
him----' 'Well, why didn't YOU say----' 'You might have reminded him
----' and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too
late, as is always the case.
It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the
meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses,
finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting--
everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of
having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering 'whitewash!'
he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog
among all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday
is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other
fellows busy working.
He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly
along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in
his life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied
animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and
leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that
shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was
a-shake and a-shiver--glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and
swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced,
fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when
very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting
stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river
still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories
in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to
the insatiable sea.
As he sat on the grass and looked across the river, a dark hole in the
bank opposite, just above the water's edge, caught his eye, and
dreamily he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it
would make for an animal with few wants and fond of a bijou riverside
residence, above flood level and remote from noise and dust. As he
gazed, something bright and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart
of it, vanished, then twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it
could hardly be a star in such an unlikely situation; and it was too
glittering and small for a glow-worm. Then, as he looked, it winked
at him, and so declared itself to be an eye; and a small face began
gradually to grow up round it, like a frame round a picture.
A brown little face, with whiskers.
A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had first
attracted his notice.
Small neat ears and thick silky hair.
It was the Water Rat!
Then the two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.
'Hullo, Mole!' said the Water Rat.
'Hullo, Rat!' said the Mole.
'Would you like to come over?' enquired the Rat presently.
'Oh, its all very well to TALK,' said the Mole, rather pettishly, he
being new to a river and riverside life and its ways.
The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened a rope and hauled on
it; then lightly stepped into a little boat which the Mole had not
observed. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just
the size for two animals; and the Mole's whole heart went out to it at
once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.
The Rat sculled smartly across and made fast. Then he held up his
forepaw as the Mole stepped gingerly down. 'Lean on that!' he said.
'Now then, step lively!' and the Mole to his surprise and rapture
found himself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.
'This has been a wonderful day!' said he, as the Rat shoved off and
took to the sculls again. 'Do you know, I've never been in a boat
before in all my life.'
'What?' cried the Rat, open-mouthed: 'Never been in a--you never--
well I--what have you been doing, then?'
'Is it so nice as all that?' asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite
prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the
cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings,
and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
'Nice? It's the ONLY thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant
forward for his stroke. 'Believe me, my young friend, there is
NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing
about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: 'messing--
'Look ahead, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer,
the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his
heels in the air.
'--about in boats--or WITH boats,' the Rat went on composedly, picking
himself up with a pleasant laugh. 'In or out of 'em, it doesn't
matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it.
Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your
destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never
get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in
particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to
do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not. Look
here! If you've really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing
we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?'
The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with
a sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft
cushions. 'WHAT a day I'm having!' he said. 'Let us start at once!'
'Hold hard a minute, then!' said the Rat. He looped the painter
through a ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above,
and after a short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker
'Shove that under your feet,' he observed to the Mole, as he passed it
down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls
'What's inside it?' asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.
'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly;
'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'
'Do you really think so?' enquired the Rat seriously. 'It's only what
I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are
always telling me that I'm a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!'
The Mole never heard a word he was saying. Absorbed in the new life
he was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the
scents and the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water
and dreamed long waking dreams. The Water Rat, like the good little
fellow he was, sculled steadily on and forebore to disturb him.
'I like your clothes awfully, old chap,' he remarked after some half
an hour or so had passed. 'I'm going to get a black velvet
smoking-suit myself some day, as soon as I can afford it.'
'I beg your pardon,' said the Mole, pulling himself together with an
effort. 'You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me.
'THE River,' corrected the Rat.
'And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!'
'By it and with it and on it and in it,' said the Rat. 'It's brother
and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and
(naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What
it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not
worth knowing. Lord! the times we've had together! Whether in winter
or summer, spring or autumn, it's always got its fun and its
excitements. When the floods are on in February, and my cellars and
basement are brimming with drink that's no good to me, and the brown
water runs by my best bedroom window; or again when it all drops away
and, shows patches of mud that smells like plum-cake, and the rushes
and weed clog the channels, and I can potter about dry shod over most
of the bed of it and find fresh food to eat, and things careless
people have dropped out of boats!'
'But isn't it a bit dull at times?' the Mole ventured to ask. 'Just
you and the river, and no one else to pass a word with?'
'No one else to--well, I mustn't be hard on you,' said the Rat with
forbearance. 'You're new to it, and of course you don't know. The
bank is so crowded nowadays that many people are moving away
altogether: O no, it isn't what it used to be, at all. Otters,
kingfishers, dabchicks, moorhens, all of them about all day long and
always wanting you to DO something--as if a fellow had no business of
his own to attend to!'
'What lies over THERE' asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a
background of woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one
side of the river.
'That? O, that's just the Wild Wood,' said the Rat shortly. 'We
don't go there very much, we river-bankers.'
'Aren't they--aren't they very NICE people in there?' said the Mole, a
'W-e-ll,' replied the Rat, 'let me see. The squirrels are all right.
AND the rabbits--some of 'em, but rabbits are a mixed lot. And then
there's Badger, of course. He lives right in the heart of it;
wouldn't live anywhere else, either, if you paid him to do it. Dear
old Badger! Nobody interferes with HIM. They'd better not,' he added
'Why, who SHOULD interfere with him?' asked the Mole.
'Well, of course--there--are others,' explained the Rat in a
hesitating sort of way.
'Weasels--and stoats--and foxes--and so on. They're all right in a
way--I'm very good friends with them--pass the time of day when we
meet, and all that--but they break out sometimes, there's no denying
it, and then--well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact.'
The Mole knew well that it is quite against animal-etiquette to dwell
on possible trouble ahead, or even to allude to it; so he dropped the
'And beyond the Wild Wood again?' he asked: 'Where it's all blue and
dim, and one sees what may be hills or perhaps they mayn't, and
something like the smoke of towns, or is it only cloud-drift?'
'Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,' said the Rat. 'And
that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never
been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any
sense at all. Don't ever refer to it again, please. Now then!
Here's our backwater at last, where we're going to lunch.'
Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first
sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to
either edge, brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the
quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble
of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held
up in its turn a grey-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a
soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear
voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very
beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, 'O
my! O my! O my!'
The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, made her fast, helped the
still awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the luncheon-basket.
The Mole begged as a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself;
and the Rat was very pleased to indulge him, and to sprawl at full
length on the grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the
table-cloth and spread it, took out all the mysterious packets one by
one and arranged their contents in due order, still gasping, 'O my! O
my!' at each fresh revelation. When all was ready, the Rat said,
'Now, pitch in, old fellow!' and the Mole was indeed very glad to
obey, for he had started his spring-cleaning at a very early hour that
morning, as people WILL do, and had not paused for bite or sup; and he
had been through a very great deal since that distant time which now
seemed so many days ago.
'What are you looking at?' said the Rat presently, when the edge of
their hunger was somewhat dulled, and the Mole's eyes were able to
wander off the table-cloth a little.
'I am looking,' said the Mole, 'at a streak of bubbles that I see
travelling along the surface of the water. That is a thing that
strikes me as funny.'
'Bubbles? Oho!' said the Rat, and chirruped cheerily in an inviting
sort of way.
A broad glistening muzzle showed itself above the edge of the bank,
and the Otter hauled himself out and shook the water from his coat.
'Greedy beggars!' he observed, making for the provender. 'Why didn't
you invite me, Ratty?'
'This was an impromptu affair,' explained the Rat. 'By the way--my
friend Mr. Mole.'
'Proud, I'm sure,' said the Otter, and the two animals were friends
'Such a rumpus everywhere!' continued the Otter. 'All the world seems
out on the river to-day. I came up this backwater to try and get a
moment's peace, and then stumble upon you fellows!--At least--I beg
pardon--I don't exactly mean that, you know.'
There was a rustle behind them, proceeding from a hedge wherein last
year's leaves still clung thick, and a stripy head, with high
shoulders behind it, peered forth on them.
'Come on, old Badger!' shouted the Rat.
The Badger trotted forward a pace or two; then grunted, 'H'm!
Company,' and turned his back and disappeared from view.
'That's JUST the sort of fellow he is!' observed the disappointed Rat.
'Simply hates Society! Now we shan't see any more of him to-day.
Well, tell us, WHO'S out on the river?'
'Toad's out, for one,' replied the Otter. 'In his brand-new
wager-boat; new togs, new everything!'
The two animals looked at each other and laughed.
'Once, it was nothing but sailing,' said the Rat, 'Then he tired of
that and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all
day and every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it was
house-boating, and we all had to go and stay with him in his
house-boat, and pretend we liked it. He was going to spend the rest
of his life in a house-boat. It's all the same, whatever he takes up;
he gets tired of it, and starts on something fresh.'
'Such a good fellow, too,' remarked the Otter reflectively: 'But no
stability--especially in a boat!'
From where they sat they could get a glimpse of the main stream across
the island that separated them; and just then a wager-boat flashed
into view, the rower--a short, stout figure--splashing badly and
rolling a good deal, but working his hardest. The Rat stood up and
hailed him, but Toad--for it was he--shook his head and settled
sternly to his work.
'He'll be out of the boat in a minute if he rolls like that,' said the
Rat, sitting down again.
'Of course he will,' chuckled the Otter. 'Did I ever tell you that
good story about Toad and the lock-keeper? It happened this way.
Toad. . . .'
An errant May-fly swerved unsteadily athwart the current in the
intoxicated fashion affected by young bloods of May-flies seeing life.
A swirl of water and a 'cloop!' and the May-fly was visible no more.
Neither was the Otter.
The Mole looked down. The voice was still in his ears, but the turf
whereon he had sprawled was clearly vacant. Not an Otter to be seen,
as far as the distant horizon.
But again there was a streak of bubbles on the surface of the river.
The Rat hummed a tune, and the Mole recollected that animal-etiquette
forbade any sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one's
friends at any moment, for any reason or no reason whatever.
'Well, well,' said the Rat, 'I suppose we ought to be moving. I
wonder which of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?' He did not
speak as if he was frightfully eager for the treat.
'O, please let me,' said the Mole. So, of course, the Rat let him.
Packing the basket was not quite such pleasant work as unpacking' the
basket. It never is. But the Mole was bent on enjoying everything,
and although just when he had got the basket packed and strapped up
tightly he saw a plate staring up at him from the grass, and when the
job had been done again the Rat pointed out a fork which anybody ought
to have seen, and last of all, behold! the mustard pot, which he had
been sitting on without knowing it--still, somehow, the thing got
finished at last, without much loss of temper.
The afternoon sun was getting low as the Rat sculled gently homewards
in a dreamy mood, murmuring poetry-things over to himself, and not
paying much attention to Mole. But the Mole was very full of lunch,
and self-satisfaction, and pride, and already quite at home in a boat
(so he thought) and was getting a bit restless besides: and presently
he said, 'Ratty! Please, _I_ want to row, now!'
The Rat shook his head with a smile. 'Not yet, my young friend,' he
said--'wait till you've had a few lessons. It's not so easy as it
The Mole was quiet for a minute or two. But he began to feel more and
more jealous of Rat, sculling so strongly and so easily along, and his
pride began to whisper that he could do it every bit as well. He
jumped up and seized the sculls, so suddenly, that the Rat, who was
gazing out over the water and saying more poetry-things to himself,
was taken by surprise and fell backwards off his seat with his legs in
the air for the second time, while the triumphant Mole took his place
and grabbed the sculls with entire confidence.
'Stop it, you SILLY ass!' cried the Rat, from the bottom of the boat.
'You can't do it! You'll have us over!'
The Mole flung his sculls back with a flourish, and made a great dig
at the water. He missed the surface altogether, his legs flew up
above his head, and he found himself lying on the top of the prostrate
Rat. Greatly alarmed, he made a grab at the side of the boat, and the
Over went the boat, and he found himself struggling in the river.
O my, how cold the water was, and O, how VERY wet it felt. How it sang
in his ears as he went down, down, down! How bright and welcome the
sun looked as he rose to the surface coughing and spluttering! How
black was his despair when he felt himself sinking again! Then a firm
paw gripped him by the back of his neck. It was the Rat, and he was
evidently laughing--the Mole could FEEL him laughing, right down his
arm and through his paw, and so into his--the Mole's--neck.
The Rat got hold of a scull and shoved it under the Mole's arm; then
he did the same by the other side of him and, swimming behind,
propelled the helpless animal to shore, hauled him out, and set him
down on the bank, a squashy, pulpy lump of misery.
When the Rat had rubbed him down a bit, and wrung some of the wet out
of him, he said, 'Now, then, old fellow! Trot up and down the
towing-path as hard as you can, till you're warm and dry again, while
I dive for the luncheon-basket.'
So the dismal Mole, wet without and ashamed within, trotted about till
he was fairly dry, while the Rat plunged into the water again,
recovered the boat, righted her and made her fast, fetched his
floating property to shore by degrees, and finally dived successfully
for the luncheon-basket and struggled to land with it.
When all was ready for a start once more, the Mole, limp and dejected,
took his seat in the stern of the boat; and as they set off, he said
in a low voice, broken with emotion, 'Ratty, my generous friend! I am
very sorry indeed for my foolish and ungrateful conduct. My heart
quite fails me when I think how I might have lost that beautiful
luncheon-basket. Indeed, I have been a complete ass, and I know it.
Will you overlook it this once and forgive me, and let things go on as
'That's all right, bless you!' responded the Rat cheerily. 'What's a
little wet to a Water Rat? I'm more in the water than out of it most
days. Don't you think any more about it; and, look here! I really
think you had better come and stop with me for a little time. It's
very plain and rough, you know--not like Toad's house at all--but you
haven't seen that yet; still, I can make you comfortable. And I'll
teach you to row, and to swim, and you'll soon be as handy on the
water as any of us.'
The Mole was so touched by his kind manner of speaking that he could
find no voice to answer him; and he had to brush away a tear or two
with the back of his paw. But the Rat kindly looked in another
direction, and presently the Mole's spirits revived again, and he was
even able to give some straight back-talk to a couple of moorhens who
were sniggering to each other about his bedraggled appearance.
When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, and
planted the Mole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched down a
dressing-gown and slippers for him, and told him river stories till
supper-time. Very thrilling stories they were, too, to an
earth-dwelling animal like Mole. Stories about weirs, and sudden
floods, and leaping pike, and steamers that flung hard bottles--at
least bottles were certainly flung, and FROM steamers, so presumably
BY them; and about herons, and how particular they were whom they
spoke to; and about adventures down drains, and night-fishings with
Otter, or excursions far a-field with Badger. Supper was a most
cheerful meal; but very shortly afterwards a terribly sleepy Mole had
to be escorted upstairs by his considerate host, to the best bedroom,
where he soon laid his head on his pillow in great peace and
contentment, knowing that his new-found friend the River was lapping
the sill of his window.
This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated
Mole, each of them longer and full of interest as the ripening summer
moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy
of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at
intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly
THE OPEN ROAD
'Ratty,' said the Mole suddenly, one bright summer morning, 'if you
please, I want to ask you a favour.'
The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had
just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would
not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else. Since early morning
he had been swimming in the river, in company with his friends the
ducks. And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks
will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where
their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come
to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking
their feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite ALL you feel
when your head is under water. At last they implored him to go away
and attend to his own affairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the
Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a
song about them, which he called
'DUCKS' DITTY.' All along the backwater, Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling, Up tails all!
Ducks' tails, drakes' tails, Yellow feet a-quiver, Yellow bills all
out of sight Busy in the river!
Slushy green undergrowth Where the roach swim--Here we keep our
larder, Cool and full and dim.
Everyone for what he likes! WE like to be Heads down, tails up,
High in the blue above Swifts whirl and call--WE are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!
'I don't know that I think so VERY much of that little song, Rat,'
observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn't care
who knew it; and he had a candid nature.
'Nor don't the ducks neither,' replied the Rat cheerfully. 'They say,
"WHY can't fellows be allowed to do what they like WHEN they like and
AS they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching
them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them?
What NONSENSE it all is!" That's what the ducks say.'
'So it is, so it is,' said the Mole, with great heartiness.
'No, it isn't!' cried the Rat indignantly.
'Well then, it isn't, it isn't,' replied the Mole soothingly. 'But
what I wanted to ask you was, won't you take me to call on Mr. Toad?
I've heard so much about him, and I do so want to make his
'Why, certainly,' said the good-natured Rat, jumping to his feet and
dismissing poetry from his mind for the day. 'Get the boat out, and
we'll paddle up there at once. It's never the wrong time to call on
Toad. Early or late he's always the same fellow. Always
good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!'
'He must be a very nice animal,' observed the Mole, as he got into the
boat and took the sculls, while the Rat settled himself comfortably in
'He is indeed the best of animals,' replied Rat. 'So simple, so
good-natured, and so affectionate. Perhaps he's not very clever--we
can't all be geniuses; and it may be that he is both boastful and
conceited. But he has got some great qualities, has Toady.'
Rounding a bend in the river, they came in sight of a handsome,
dignified old house of mellowed red brick, with well-kept lawns
reaching down to the water's edge.
'There's Toad Hall,' said the Rat; 'and that creek on the left, where
the notice-board says, "Private. No landing allowed," leads to his
boat-house, where we'll leave the boat. The stables are over there to
the right. That's the banqueting-hall you're looking at now--very
old, that is. Toad is rather rich, you know, and this is really one
of the nicest houses in these parts, though we never admit as much to
They glided up the creek, and the Mole slipped his sculls as they
passed into the shadow of a large boat-house. Here they saw many
handsome boats, slung from the cross beams or hauled up on a slip, but
none in the water; and the place had an unused and a deserted air.
The Rat looked around him. 'I understand,' said he. 'Boating is
played out. He's tired of it, and done with it. I wonder what new
fad he has taken up now? Come along and let's look him up. We shall
hear all about it quite soon enough.'
They disembarked, and strolled across the gay flower-decked lawns in
search of Toad, whom they presently happened upon resting in a wicker
garden-chair, with a pre-occupied expression of face, and a large map
spread out on his knees.
'Hooray!' he cried, jumping up on seeing them, 'this is splendid!' He
shook the paws of both of them warmly, never waiting for an
introduction to the Mole. 'How KIND of you!' he went on, dancing
round them. 'I was just going to send a boat down the river for you,
Ratty, with strict orders that you were to be fetched up here at once,
whatever you were doing. I want you badly--both of you. Now what
will you take? Come inside and have something! You don't know how
lucky it is, your turning up just now!'
'Let's sit quiet a bit, Toady!' said the Rat, throwing himself into an
easy chair, while the Mole took another by the side of him and made
some civil remark about Toad's 'delightful residence.'
'Finest house on the whole river,' cried Toad boisterously. 'Or
anywhere else, for that matter,' he could not help adding.
Here the Rat nudged the Mole. Unfortunately the Toad saw him do it,
and turned very red. There was a moment's painful silence. Then Toad
burst out laughing. 'All right, Ratty,' he said. 'It's only my way,
you know. And it's not such a very bad house, is it? You know you
rather like it yourself. Now, look here. Let's be sensible. You are
the very animals I wanted. You've got to help me. It's most
'It's about your rowing, I suppose,' said the Rat, with an innocent
air. 'You're getting on fairly well, though you splash a good bit
still. With a great deal of patience, and any quantity of coaching,
'O, pooh! boating!' interrupted the Toad, in great disgust. Silly
boyish amusement. I've given that up LONG ago. Sheer waste of time,
that's what it is. It makes me downright sorry to see you fellows,
who ought to know better, spending all your energies in that aimless
manner. No, I've discovered the real thing, the only genuine
occupation for a life time. I propose to devote the remainder of mine
to it, and can only regret the wasted years that lie behind me,
squandered in trivialities. Come with me, dear Ratty, and your amiable
friend also, if he will be so very good, just as far as the
stable-yard, and you shall see what you shall see!'
He led the way to the stable-yard accordingly, the Rat following with
a most mistrustful expression; and there, drawn out of the coach house
into the open, they saw a gipsy caravan, shining with newness, painted
a canary-yellow picked out with green, and red wheels.
'There you are!' cried the Toad, straddling and expanding himself.
'There's real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open
road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the
rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and
off to somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement!
The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing! And
mind! this is the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built,
without any exception. Come inside and look at the arrangements.
Planned 'em all myself, I did!'
The Mole was tremendously interested and excited, and followed him
eagerly up the steps and into the interior of the caravan. The Rat
only snorted and thrust his hands deep into his pockets, remaining
where he was.
It was indeed very compact and comfortable. Little sleeping bunks--a
little table that folded up against the wall--a cooking-stove,
lockers, bookshelves, a bird-cage with a bird in it; and pots, pans,
jugs and kettles of every size and variety.
'All complete!' said the Toad triumphantly, pulling open a locker.
'You see--biscuits, potted lobster, sardines--everything you can
possibly want. Soda-water here--baccy there--letter-paper, bacon,
jam, cards and dominoes--you'll find,' he continued, as they descended
the steps again, 'you'll find that nothing what ever has been
forgotten, when we make our start this afternoon.'
'I beg your pardon,' said the Rat slowly, as he chewed a straw, 'but
did I overhear you say something about "WE," and "START," and "THIS
'Now, you dear good old Ratty,' said Toad, imploringly, 'don't begin
talking in that stiff and sniffy sort of way, because you know you've
GOT to come. I can't possibly manage without you, so please consider
it settled, and don't argue--it's the one thing I can't stand. You
surely don't mean to stick to your dull fusty old river all your life,
and just live in a hole in a bank, and BOAT? I want to show you the
world! I'm going to make an ANIMAL of you, my boy!'
'I don't care,' said the Rat, doggedly. 'I'm not coming, and that's
flat. And I AM going to stick to my old river, AND live in a hole,
AND boat, as I've always done. And what's more, Mole's going to stick
me and do as I do, aren't you, Mole?'
'Of course I am,' said the Mole, loyally. 'I'll always stick to you,
Rat, and what you say is to be--has got to be. All the same, it
sounds as if it might have been--well, rather fun, you know!' he
added, wistfully. Poor Mole! The Life Adventurous was so new a thing
to him, and so thrilling; and this fresh aspect of it was so tempting;
and he had fallen in love at first sight with the canary-coloured cart
and all its little fitments.
The Rat saw what was passing in his mind, and wavered. He hated
disappointing people, and he was fond of the Mole, and would do almost
anything to oblige him. Toad was watching both of them closely.
'Come along in, and have some lunch,' he said, diplomatically, 'and
we'll talk it over. We needn't decide anything in a hurry. Of course,
_I_ don't really care. I only want to give pleasure to you fellows.
"Live for others!" That's my motto in life.'
During luncheon--which was excellent, of course, as everything at Toad
Hall always was--the Toad simply let himself go. Disregarding the Rat,
he proceeded to play upon the inexperienced Mole as on a harp.
Naturally a voluble animal, and always mastered by his imagination, he
painted the prospects of the trip and the joys of the open life and
the roadside in such glowing colours that the Mole could hardly sit in
his chair for excitement. Somehow, it soon seemed taken for granted
by all three of them that the trip was a settled thing; and the Rat,
though still unconvinced in his mind, allowed his good-nature to
over-ride his personal objections. He could not bear to disappoint
his two friends, who were already deep in schemes and anticipations,
planning out each day's separate occupation for several weeks ahead.
When they were quite ready, the now triumphant Toad led his companions
to the paddock and set them to capture the old grey horse, who,
without having been consulted, and to his own extreme annoyance, had
been told off by Toad for the dustiest job in this dusty expedition.
He frankly preferred the paddock, and took a deal of catching.
Meantime Toad packed the lockers still tighter with necessaries, and
hung nosebags, nets of onions, bundles of hay, and baskets from the
bottom of the cart. At last the horse was caught and harnessed, and
they set off, all talking at once, each animal either trudging by the
side of the cart or sitting on the shaft, as the humour took him. It
was a golden afternoon. The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich
and satisfying; out of thick orchards on either side the road, birds
called and whistled to them cheerily; good-natured wayfarers, passing
them, gave them 'Good-day,' or stopped to say nice things about their
beautiful cart; and rabbits, sitting at their front doors in the
hedgerows, held up their fore-paws, and said, 'O my! O my! O my!'
Late in the evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up
on a remote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to
graze, and ate their simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of
the cart. Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to
come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow
moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came
to keep them company and listen to their talk. At last they turned in
to their little bunks in the cart; and Toad, kicking out his legs,
sleepily said, 'Well, good night, you fellows! This is the real life
for a gentleman! Talk about your old river!'
'I DON'T talk about my river,' replied the patient Rat. 'You KNOW I
don't, Toad. But I THINK about it,' he added pathetically, in a lower
tone: 'I think about it--all the time!'
The Mole reached out from under his blanket, felt for the Rat's paw in
the darkness, and gave it a squeeze. 'I'll do whatever you like,
Ratty,' he whispered. 'Shall we run away to-morrow morning, quite
early--VERY early--and go back to our dear old hole on the river?'
'No, no, we'll see it out,' whispered back the Rat. 'Thanks awfully,
but I ought to stick by Toad till this trip is ended. It wouldn't be
safe for him to be left to himself. It won't take very long. His
fads never do. Good night!'
The end was indeed nearer than even the Rat suspected.
After so much open air and excitement the Toad slept very soundly, and
no amount of shaking could rouse him out of bed next morning. So the
Mole and Rat turned to, quietly and manfully, and while the Rat saw to
the horse, and lit a fire, and cleaned last night's cups and platters,
and got things ready for breakfast, the Mole trudged off to the
nearest village, a long way off, for milk and eggs and various
necessaries the Toad had, of course, forgotten to provide. The hard
work had all been done, and the two animals were resting, thoroughly
exhausted, by the time Toad appeared on the scene, fresh and gay,
remarking what a pleasant easy life it was they were all leading now,
after the cares and worries and fatigues of housekeeping at home.
They had a pleasant ramble that day over grassy downs and along narrow
by-lanes, and camped as before, on a common, only this time the two
guests took care that Toad should do his fair share of work. In
consequence, when the time came for starting next morning, Toad was by
no means so rapturous about the simplicity of the primitive life, and
indeed attempted to resume his place in his bunk, whence he was hauled
by force. Their way lay, as before, across country by narrow lanes,
and it was not till the afternoon that they came out on the high-road,
their first high-road; and there disaster, fleet and unforeseen,
sprang out on them--disaster momentous indeed to their expedition, but
simply overwhelming in its effect on the after-career of Toad.
They were strolling along the high-road easily, the Mole by the
horse's head, talking to him, since the horse had complained that he
was being frightfully left out of it, and nobody considered him in the
least; the Toad and the Water Rat walking behind the cart talking
together--at least Toad was talking, and Rat was saying at intervals,
'Yes, precisely; and what did YOU say to HIM?'--and thinking all the
time of something very different, when far behind them they heard a
faint warning hum; like the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back,
they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy,
advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint
'Poop-poop!' wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. Hardly regarding
it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in an instant (as
it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of wind
and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, It was
on them! The 'Poop-poop' rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they
had a moment's glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and
rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense,
breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his
wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung
an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly,
and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a
droning bee once more.
The old grey horse, dreaming, as he plodded along, of his quiet
paddock, in a new raw situation such as this simply abandoned himself
to his natural emotions. Rearing, plunging, backing steadily, in
spite of all the Mole's efforts at his head, and all the Mole's lively
language directed at his better feelings, he drove the cart backwards
towards the deep ditch at the side of the road. It wavered an
instant--then there was a heartrending crash--and the canary-coloured
cart, their pride and their joy, lay on its side in the ditch, an
The Rat danced up and down in the road, simply transported with
passion. 'You villains!' he shouted, shaking both fists, 'You
scoundrels, you highwaymen, you--you--roadhogs!--I'll have the law of
you! I'll report you! I'll take you through all the Courts!' His
home-sickness had quite slipped away from him, and for the moment he
was the skipper of the canary-coloured vessel driven on a shoal by the
reckless jockeying of rival mariners, and he was trying to recollect
all the fine and biting things he used to say to masters of
steam-launches when their wash, as they drove too near the bank,
used to flood his parlour-carpet at home.
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs
stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the
disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid
satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured
The Mole was busy trying to quiet the horse, which he succeeded in
doing after a time. Then he went to look at the cart, on its side in
the ditch. It was indeed a sorry sight. Panels and windows smashed,
axles hopelessly bent, one wheel off, sardine-tins scattered over the
wide world, and the bird in the bird-cage sobbing pitifully and
calling to be let out.
The Rat came to help him, but their united efforts were not sufficient
to right the cart. 'Hi! Toad!' they cried. 'Come and bear a hand,
The Toad never answered a word, or budged from his seat in the road;
so they went to see what was the matter with him. They found him in a
sort of a trance, a happy smile on his face, his eyes still fixed on
the dusty wake of their destroyer. At intervals he was still heard to
The Rat shook him by the shoulder. 'Are you coming to help us, Toad?'
he demanded sternly.
'Glorious, stirring sight!' murmured Toad, never offering to move.
'The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to
travel! Here to-day--in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns
and cities jumped--always somebody else's horizon! O bliss!
O poop-poop! O my! O my!'
'O STOP being an ass, Toad!' cried the Mole despairingly.
'And to think I never KNEW!' went on the Toad in a dreamy monotone.
'All those wasted years that lie behind me, I never knew, never even
DREAMT! But NOW--but now that I know, now that I fully realise! O
what a flowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What
dust-clouds shall spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way!
What carts I shall fling carelessly into the ditch in the wake of my
magnificent onset! Horrid little carts--common carts--canary-coloured
'What are we to do with him?' asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
'Nothing at all,' replied the Rat firmly. 'Because there is really
nothing to be done. You see, I know him from of old. He is now
possessed. He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way,
in its first stage. He'll continue like that for days now, like an
animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical
purposes. Never mind him. Let's go and see what there is to be done
about the cart.'
A careful inspection showed them that, even if they succeeded in
righting it by themselves, the cart would travel no longer. The axles
were in a hopeless state, and the missing wheel was shattered into
The Rat knotted the horse's reins over his back and took him by the
head, carrying the bird cage and its hysterical occupant in the other
hand. 'Come on!' he said grimly to the Mole. 'It's five or six miles
to the nearest town, and we shall just have to walk it. The sooner we
make a start the better.'
'But what about Toad?' asked the Mole anxiously, as they set off
together. 'We can't leave him here, sitting in the middle of the road
by himself, in the distracted state he's in! It's not safe. Supposing
another Thing were to come along?'
'O, BOTHER Toad,' said the Rat savagely; 'I've done with him!'
They had not proceeded very far on their way, however, when there was
a pattering of feet behind them, and Toad caught them up and thrust a
paw inside the elbow of each of them; still breathing short and
staring into vacancy.
'Now, look here, Toad!' said the Rat sharply: 'as soon as we get to
the town, you'll have to go straight to the police-station, and see if
they know anything about that motor-car and who it belongs to, and
lodge a complaint against it. And then you'll have to go to a
blacksmith's or a wheelwright's and arrange for the cart to be fetched
and mended and put to rights. It'll take time, but it's not quite a
hopeless smash. Meanwhile, the Mole and I will go to an inn and find
comfortable rooms where we can stay till the cart's ready, and till
your nerves have recovered their shock.'
'Police-station! Complaint!'murmured Toad dreamily. 'Me COMPLAIN of
that beautiful, that heavenly vision that has been vouchsafed me!
MEND THE CART! I've done with carts for ever. I never want to see the
cart, or to hear of it, again. O, Ratty! You can't think how obliged
I am to you for consenting to come on this trip! I wouldn't have gone
without you, and then I might never have seen that--that swan, that
sunbeam, that thunderbolt! I might never have heard that entrancing
sound, or smelt that bewitching smell! I owe it all to you, my best
The Rat turned from him in despair. 'You see what it is?' he said to
the Mole, addressing him across Toad's head: 'He's quite hopeless. I
give it up--when we get to the town we'll go to the railway station,
and with luck we may pick up a train there that'll get us back to
riverbank to-night. And if ever you catch me going a-pleasuring with
this provoking animal again!'
He snorted, and during the rest of that weary trudge addressed his
remarks exclusively to Mole.
On reaching the town they went straight to the station and deposited
Toad in the second-class waiting-room, giving a porter twopence to
keep a strict eye on him. They then left the horse at an inn stable,
and gave what directions they could about the cart and its contents.
Eventually, a slow train having landed them at a station not very far
from Toad Hall, they escorted the spell-bound, sleep-walking Toad to
his door, put him inside it, and instructed his housekeeper to feed
him, undress him, and put him to bed. Then they got out their boat
from the boat-house, sculled down the river home, and at a very late
hour sat down to supper in their own cosy riverside parlour, to the
Rat's great joy and contentment.
The following evening the Mole, who had risen late and taken things
very easy all day, was sitting on the bank fishing, when the Rat, who
had been looking up his friends and gossiping, came strolling along to
find him. 'Heard the news?' he said. 'There's nothing else being
talked about, all along the river bank. Toad went up to Town by an
early train this morning. And he has ordered a large and very
THE WILD WOOD
The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He
seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though
rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about
the place. But whenever the Mole mentioned his wish to the Water Rat
he always found himself put off. 'It's all right,' the Rat would say.
'Badger'll turn up some day or other--he's always turning up--and then
I'll introduce you. The best of fellows! But you must not only take
him AS you find him, but WHEN you find him.'
'Couldn't you ask him here dinner or something?' said the Mole.
'He wouldn't come,' replied the Rat simply. 'Badger hates Society,
and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.'
'Well, then, supposing we go and call on HIM?' suggested the Mole.
'O, I'm sure he wouldn't like that at ALL,' said the Rat, quite
alarmed. 'He's so very shy, he'd be sure to be offended. I've never
even ventured to call on him at his own home myself, though I know him
so well. Besides, we can't. It's quite out of the question, because
he lives in the very middle of the Wild Wood.'
'Well, supposing he does,' said the Mole. 'You told me the Wild Wood
was all right, you know.'
'O, I know, I know, so it is,' replied the Rat evasively. 'But I
think we won't go there just now. Not JUST yet. It's a long way, and
he wouldn't be at home at this time of year anyhow, and he'll be
coming along some day, if you'll wait quietly.'
The Mole had to be content with this. But the Badger never came
along, and every day brought its amusements, and it was not till
summer was long over, and cold and frost and miry ways kept them much
indoors, and the swollen river raced past outside their windows with a
speed that mocked at boating of any sort or kind, that he found his
thoughts dwelling again with much persistence on the solitary grey
Badger, who lived his own life by himself, in his hole in the middle
of the Wild Wood.
In the winter time the Rat slept a great deal, retiring early and
rising late. During his short day he sometimes scribbled poetry or
did other small domestic jobs about the house; and, of course, there
were always animals dropping in for a chat, and consequently there was
a good deal of story-telling and comparing notes on the past summer
and all its doings.
Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all!
With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The
pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself
in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession.
Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks
along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it.
Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not
slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white,
crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the
diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and
one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that
strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the
company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the
knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was
to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when
meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously
to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.
And what a play it had been! Drowsy animals, snug in their holes
while wind and rain were battering at their doors, recalled still keen
mornings, an hour before sunrise, when the white mist, as yet
undispersed, clung closely along the surface of the water; then the
shock of the early plunge, the scamper along the bank, and the radiant
transformation of earth, air, and water, when suddenly the sun was
with them again, and grey was gold and colour was born and sprang out
of the earth once more. They recalled the languorous siesta of hot
mid-day, deep in green undergrowth, the sun striking through in tiny
golden shafts and spots; the boating and bathing of the afternoon, the
rambles along dusty lanes and through yellow cornfields; and the long,
cool evening at last, when so many threads were gathered up, so many
friendships rounded, and so many adventures planned for the morrow.
There was plenty to talk about on those short winter days when the
animals found themselves round the fire; still, the Mole had a good
deal of spare time on his hands, and so one afternoon, when the Rat in
his arm-chair before the blaze was alternately dozing and trying over
rhymes that wouldn't fit, he formed the resolution to go out by
himself and explore the Wild Wood, and perhaps strike up an
acquaintance with Mr. Badger.
It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead, when he
slipped out of the warm parlour into the open air. The country lay
bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had
never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on
that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed
to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden
places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy
summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and
seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till
they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him
with the old deceptions. It was pitiful in a way, and yet cheering--
even exhilarating. He was glad that he liked the country undecorated,
hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones
of it, and they were fine and strong and simple. He did not want the
warm clover and the play of seeding grasses; the screens of quickset,
the billowy drapery of beech and elm seemed best away; and with great
cheerfulness of spirit he pushed on towards the Wild Wood, which lay
before him low and threatening, like a black reef in some still
There was nothing to alarm him at first entry. Twigs crackled under
his feet, logs tripped him, funguses on stumps resembled caricatures,
and startled him for the moment by their likeness to something
familiar and far away; but that was all fun, and exciting. It led him
on, and he penetrated to where the light was less, and trees crouched
nearer and nearer, and holes made ugly mouths at him on either side.
Everything was very still now. The dusk advanced on him steadily,
rapidly, gathering in behind and before; and the light seemed to be
draining away like flood-water.
Then the faces began.
It was over his shoulder, and indistinctly, that he first thought he
saw a face; a little evil wedge-shaped face, looking out at him from a
hole. When he turned and confronted it, the thing had vanished.
He quickened his pace, telling himself cheerfully not to begin
imagining things, or there would be simply no end to it. He passed
another hole, and another, and another; and then--yes!--no!--yes!
certainly a little narrow face, with hard eyes, had flashed up for an
instant from a hole, and was gone. He hesitated--braced himself up
for an effort and strode on. Then suddenly, and as if it had been so
all the time, every hole, far and near, and there were hundreds of
them, seemed to possess its face, coming and going rapidly, all fixing
on him glances of malice and hatred: all hard-eyed and evil and sharp.
If he could only get away from the holes in the banks, he thought,
there would be no more faces. He swung off the path and plunged into
the untrodden places of the wood.
Then the whistling began.
Very faint and shrill it was, and far behind him, when first he heard
it; but somehow it made him hurry forward. Then, still very faint and
shrill, it sounded far ahead of him, and made him hesitate and want to
go back. As he halted in indecision it broke out on either side, and
seemed to be caught up and passed on throughout the whole length of
the wood to its farthest limit. They were up and alert and ready,
evidently, whoever they were! And he--he was alone, and unarmed, and
far from any help; and the night was closing in.
Then the pattering began.
He thought it was only falling leaves at first, so slight and delicate
was the sound of it. Then as it grew it took a regular rhythm, and he
knew it for nothing else but the pat-pat-pat of little feet still a
very long way off. Was it in front or behind? It seemed to be first
one, and then the other, then both. It grew and it multiplied, till
from every quarter as he listened anxiously, leaning this way and
that, it seemed to be closing in on him. As he stood still to
hearken, a rabbit came running hard towards him through the trees. He
waited, expecting it to slacken pace, or to swerve from him into a
different course. Instead, the animal almost brushed him as it dashed
past, his face set and hard, his eyes staring. 'Get out of this, you
fool, get out!' the Mole heard him mutter as he swung round a stump
and disappeared down a friendly burrow.
The pattering increased till it sounded like sudden hail on the dry
leaf-carpet spread around him. The whole wood seemed running now,
running hard, hunting, chasing, closing in round something or--
somebody? In panic, he began to run too, aimlessly, he knew not
whither. He ran up against things, he fell over things and into
things, he darted under things and dodged round things. At last he
took refuge in the deep dark hollow of an old beech tree, which
offered shelter, concealment--perhaps even safety, but who could tell?
Anyhow, he was too tired to run any further, and could only snuggle
down into the dry leaves which had drifted into the hollow and hope he
was safe for a time. And as he lay there panting and trembling, and
listened to the whistlings and the patterings outside, he knew it at
last, in all its fullness, that dread thing which other little
dwellers in field and hedgerow had encountered here, and known as
their darkest moment--that thing which the Rat had vainly tried to
shield him from--the Terror of the Wild Wood!
Meantime the Rat, warm and comfortable, dozed by his fireside. His
paper of half-finished verses slipped from his knee, his head fell
back, his mouth opened, and he wandered by the verdant banks of
dream-rivers. Then a coal slipped, the fire crackled and sent up a
spurt of flame, and he woke with a start. Remembering what he had
been engaged upon, he reached down to the floor for his verses, pored
over them for a minute, and then looked round for the Mole to ask him
if he knew a good rhyme for something or other.
But the Mole was not there.
He listened for a time. The house seemed very quiet.
Then he called 'Moly!' several times, and, receiving no answer, got up
and went out into the hall.
The Mole's cap was missing from its accustomed peg. His goloshes,
which always lay by the umbrella-stand, were also gone.
The Rat left the house, and carefully examined the muddy surface of
the ground outside, hoping to find the Mole's tracks. There they
were, sure enough. The goloshes were new, just bought for the winter,
and the pimples on their soles were fresh and sharp. He could see the
imprints of them in the mud, running along straight and purposeful,
leading direct to the Wild Wood.
The Rat looked very grave, and stood in deep thought for a minute or
two. Then he re-entered the house, strapped a belt round his waist,
shoved a brace of pistols into it, took up a stout cudgel that stood
in a corner of the hall, and set off for the Wild Wood at a smart
It was already getting towards dusk when he reached the first fringe
of trees and plunged without hesitation into the wood, looking
anxiously on either side for any sign of his friend. Here and there
wicked little faces popped out of holes, but vanished immediately at
sight of the valorous animal, his pistols, and the great ugly cudgel
in his grasp; and the whistling and pattering, which he had heard
quite plainly on his first entry, died away and ceased, and all was
very still. He made his way manfully through the length of the wood,
to its furthest edge; then, forsaking all paths, he set himself to
traverse it, laboriously working over the whole ground, and all the
time calling out cheerfully, 'Moly, Moly, Moly! Where are you? It's
me--it's old Rat!'
He had patiently hunted through the wood for an hour or more, when at
last to his joy he heard a little answering cry. Guiding himself by
the sound, he made his way through the gathering darkness to the foot
of an old beech tree, with a hole in it, and from out of the hole came
a feeble voice, saying 'Ratty! Is that really you?'
The Rat crept into the hollow, and there he found the Mole, exhausted
and still trembling. 'O Rat!' he cried, 'I've been so frightened, you
'O, I quite understand,' said the Rat soothingly. 'You shouldn't
really have gone and done it, Mole. I did my best to keep you from
it. We river-bankers, we hardly ever come here by ourselves. If we
have to come, we come in couples, at least; then we're generally all
right. Besides, there are a hundred things one has to know, which we
understand all about and you don't, as yet. I mean passwords, and
signs, and sayings which have power and effect, and plants you carry
in your pocket, and verses you repeat, and dodges and tricks you
practise; all simple enough when you know them, but they've got to be
known if you're small, or you'll find yourself in trouble. Of course
if you were Badger or Otter, it would be quite another matter.'
'Surely the brave Mr. Toad wouldn't mind coming here by himself, would
he?' inquired the Mole.
'Old Toad?' said the Rat, laughing heartily. 'He wouldn't show his
face here alone, not for a whole hatful of golden guineas, Toad
The Mole was greatly cheered by the sound of the Rat's careless
laughter, as well as by the sight of his stick and his gleaming
pistols, and he stopped shivering and began to feel bolder and more
'Now then,' said the Rat presently, 'we really must pull ourselves
together and make a start for home while there's still a little light
left. It will never do to spend the night here, you understand. Too
cold, for one thing.'
'Dear Ratty,' said the poor Mole, 'I'm dreadfully sorry, but I'm
simply dead beat and that's a solid fact. You MUST let me rest here a
while longer, and get my strength back, if I'm to get home at all.'
'O, all right,' said the good-natured Rat, 'rest away. It's pretty
nearly pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon
So the Mole got well into the dry leaves and stretched himself out,
and presently dropped off into sleep, though of a broken and troubled
sort; while the Rat covered himself up, too, as best he might, for
warmth, and lay patiently waiting, with a pistol in his paw.
When at last the Mole woke up, much refreshed and in his usual
spirits, the Rat said, 'Now then! I'll just take a look outside and
see if everything's quiet, and then we really must be off.'
He went to the entrance of their retreat and put his head out. Then
the Mole heard him saying quietly to himself, 'Hullo! hullo!
'What's up, Ratty?' asked the Mole.
'SNOW is up,' replied the Rat briefly; 'or rather, DOWN. It's snowing
The Mole came and crouched beside him, and, looking out, saw the wood
that had been so dreadful to him in quite a changed aspect. Holes,
hollows, pools, pitfalls, and other black menaces to the wayfarer were
vanishing fast, and a gleaming carpet of faery was springing up
everywhere, that looked too delicate to be trodden upon by rough feet.
A fine powder filled the air and caressed the cheek with a tingle in
its touch, and the black boles of the trees showed up in a light that
seemed to come from below.
'Well, well, it can't be helped,' said the Rat, after pondering. 'We
must make a start, and take our chance, I suppose. The worst of it
is, I don't exactly know where we are. And now this snow makes
everything look so very different.'
It did indeed. The Mole would not have known that it was the same
wood. However, they set out bravely, and took the line that seemed
most promising, holding on to each other and pretending with
invincible cheerfulness that they recognized an old friend in every
fresh tree that grimly and silently greeted them, or saw openings,
gaps, or paths with a familiar turn in them, in the monotony of white
space and black tree-trunks that refused to vary.
An hour or two later--they had lost all count of time--they pulled up,
dispirited, weary, and hopelessly at sea, and sat down on a fallen
tree-trunk to recover their breath and consider what was to be done.
They were aching with fatigue and bruised with tumbles; they had
fallen into several holes and got wet through; the snow was getting so
deep that they could hardly drag their little legs through it, and the
trees were thicker and more like each other than ever. There seemed
to be no end to this wood, and no beginning, and no difference in it,
and, worst of all, no way out.
'We can't sit here very long,' said the Rat. 'We shall have to make
another push for it, and do something or other. The cold is too awful
for anything, and the snow will soon be too deep for us to wade
through.' He peered about him and considered. 'Look here,' he went
on, 'this is what occurs to me. There's a sort of dell down here in
front of us, where the ground seems all hilly and humpy and hummocky.
We'll make our way down into that, and try and find some sort of
shelter, a cave or hole with a dry floor to it, out of the snow and
the wind, and there we'll have a good rest before we try again, for
we're both of us pretty dead beat. Besides, the snow may leave off,
or something may turn up.'
So once more they got on their feet, and struggled down into the dell,
where they hunted about for a cave or some corner that was dry and a
protection from the keen wind and the whirling snow. They were
investigating one of the hummocky bits the Rat had spoken of, when
suddenly the Mole tripped up and fell forward on his face with a
'O my leg!' he cried. 'O my poor shin!' and he sat up on the snow and
nursed his leg in both his front paws.
'Poor old Mole!' said the Rat kindly.
'You don't seem to be having much luck to-day, do you? Let's have a
look at the leg. Yes,' he went on, going down on his knees to look,
'you've cut your shin, sure enough. Wait till I get at my
handkerchief, and I'll tie it up for you.'
'I must have tripped over a hidden branch or a stump,' said the Mole
miserably. 'O, my! O, my!'
'It's a very clean cut,' said the Rat, examining it again attentively.
'That was never done by a branch or a stump. Looks as if it was made
by a sharp edge of something in metal. Funny!' He pondered awhile,
and examined the humps and slopes that surrounded them.
'Well, never mind what done it,' said the Mole, forgetting his grammar
in his pain. 'It hurts just the same, whatever done it.'
But the Rat, after carefully tying up the leg with his handkerchief,
had left him and was busy scraping in the snow. He scratched and
shovelled and explored, all four legs working busily, while the Mole
waited impatiently, remarking at intervals, 'O, COME on, Rat!'
Suddenly the Rat cried 'Hooray!' and then 'Hooray-oo-ray-oo-ray-oo-ray!'
and fell to executing a feeble jig in the snow.
'What HAVE you found, Ratty?' asked the Mole, still nursing his leg.
'Come and see!' said the delighted Rat, as he jigged on.
The Mole hobbled up to the spot and had a good look.
'Well,' he said at last, slowly, 'I SEE it right enough. Seen the
same sort of thing before, lots of times. Familiar object, I call it.
A door-scraper! Well, what of it? Why dance jigs around a
'But don't you see what it MEANS, you--you dull-witted animal?' cried
the Rat impatiently.
'Of course I see what it means,' replied the Mole. 'It simply means
that some VERY careless and forgetful person has left his door-scraper
lying about in the middle of the Wild Wood, JUST where it's SURE to
trip EVERYBODY up. Very thoughtless of him, I call it. When I get
home I shall go and complain about it to--to somebody or other, see if
'O, dear! O, dear!' cried the Rat, in despair at his obtuseness.
'Here, stop arguing and come and scrape!' And he set to work again
and made the snow fly in all directions around him.
After some further toil his efforts were rewarded, and a very shabby
door-mat lay exposed to view.
'There, what did I tell you?' exclaimed the Rat in great triumph.
'Absolutely nothing whatever,' replied the Mole, with perfect
truthfulness. 'Well now,' he went on, 'you seem to have found another
piece of domestic litter, done for and thrown away, and I suppose
you're perfectly happy. Better go ahead and dance your jig round that
if you've got to, and get it over, and then perhaps we can go on and
not waste any more time over rubbish-heaps. Can we EAT a doormat? or
sleep under a door-mat? Or sit on a door-mat and sledge home over the
snow on it, you exasperating rodent?'
'Do--you--mean--to--say,' cried the excited Rat, 'that this door-mat
doesn't TELL you anything?'
'Really, Rat,' said the Mole, quite pettishly, 'I think we'd had
enough of this folly. Who ever heard of a door-mat TELLING anyone
anything? They simply don't do it. They are not that sort at all.
Door-mats know their place.'
'Now look here, you--you thick-headed beast,' replied the Rat, really
angry, 'this must stop. Not another word, but scrape--scrape and
scratch and dig and hunt round, especially on the sides of the
hummocks, if you want to sleep dry and warm to-night, for it's our
The Rat attacked a snow-bank beside them with ardour, probing with his
cudgel everywhere and then digging with fury; and the Mole scraped
busily too, more to oblige the Rat than for any other reason, for his
opinion was that his friend was getting light-headed.
Some ten minutes' hard work, and the point of the Rat's cudgel struck
something that sounded hollow. He worked till he could get a paw
through and feel; then called the Mole to come and help him. Hard at
it went the two animals, till at last the result of their labours
stood full in view of the astonished and hitherto incredulous Mole.
In the side of what had seemed to be a snow-bank stood a solid-looking
little door, painted a dark green. An iron bell-pull hung by the
side, and below it, on a small brass plate, neatly engraved in square
capital letters, they could read by the aid of moonlight MR. BADGER.
The Mole fell backwards on the snow from sheer surprise and delight.
'Rat!' he cried in penitence, 'you're a wonder! A real wonder, that's
what you are. I see it all now! You argued it out, step by step, in
that wise head of yours, from the very moment that I fell and cut my
shin, and you looked at the cut, and at once your majestic mind said
to itself, "Door-scraper!" And then you turned to and found the very
door-scraper that done it! Did you stop there? No. Some people
would have been quite satisfied; but not you. Your intellect went on
working. "Let me only just find a door-mat," says you to yourself,
"and my theory is proved!" And of course you found your door-mat.
You're so clever, I believe you could find anything you liked. "Now,"
says you, "that door exists, as plain as if I saw it. There's nothing
else remains to be done but to find it!" Well, I've read about that
sort of thing in books, but I've never come across it before in real
life. You ought to go where you'll be properly appreciated. You're
simply wasted here, among us fellows. If I only had your head,
'But as you haven't,' interrupted the Rat, rather unkindly, 'I suppose
you're going to sit on the snow all night and TALK Get up at once and
hang on to that bell-pull you see there, and ring hard, as hard as you
can, while I hammer!'
While the Rat attacked the door with his stick, the Mole sprang up at
the bell-pull, clutched it and swung there, both feet well off the
ground, and from quite a long way off they could faintly hear a
deep-toned bell respond.
THEY waited patiently for what seemed a very long time, stamping in
the snow to keep their feet warm. At last they heard the sound of
slow shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the inside. It
seemed, as the Mole remarked to the Rat, like some one walking in
carpet slippers that were too large for him and down at heel; which
was intelligent of Mole, because that was exactly what it was.
There was the noise of a bolt shot back, and the door opened a few
inches, enough to show a long snout and a pair of sleepy blinking
'Now, the VERY next time this happens,' said a gruff and suspicious
voice, 'I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it THIS time, disturbing
people on such a night? Speak up!'
'Oh, Badger,' cried the Rat, 'let us in, please. It's me, Rat, and my
friend Mole, and we've lost our way in the snow.'
'What, Ratty, my dear little man!' exclaimed the Badger, in quite a
different voice. 'Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must
be perished. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood,
too, and at this time of night! But come in with you.'
The two animals tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get
inside, and heard the door shut behind them with great joy and relief.
The Badger, who wore a long dressing-gown, and whose slippers were
indeed very down at heel, carried a flat candlestick in his paw and
had probably been on his way to bed when their summons sounded. He
looked kindly down on them and patted both their heads. 'This is not
the sort of night for small animals to be out,' he said paternally.
'I'm afraid you've been up to some of your pranks again, Ratty. But
come along; come into the kitchen. There's a first-rate fire there,
and supper and everything.'
He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed
him, nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long,
gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort
of a central hall; out of which they could dimly see other long
tunnel-like passages branching, passages mysterious and without
apparent end. But there were doors in the hall as well--stout oaken
comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at
once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large
The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire
of logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the
wall, well out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed
settles, facing each other on either side of the fire, gave further
sitting accommodations for the sociably disposed. In the middle of
the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with
benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood
pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger's plain but ample
supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the
dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung
hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It
seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where
weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep
their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends
of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and
talk in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at
the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged
cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at
pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over
everything without distinction.
The kindly Badger thrust them down on a settle to toast themselves at
the fire, and bade them remove their wet coats and boots. Then he
fetched them dressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the
Mole's shin with warm water and mended the cut with sticking-plaster
till the whole thing was just as good as new, if not better. In the
embracing light and warmth, warm and dry at last, with weary legs
propped up in front of them, and a suggestive clink of plates being
arranged on the table behind, it seemed to the storm-driven animals,
now in safe anchorage, that the cold and trackless Wild Wood just left
outside was miles and miles away, and all that they had suffered in it
a half-forgotten dream.
When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to
the table, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt
pretty hungry before, but when they actually saw at last the supper
that was spread for them, really it seemed only a question of what
they should attack first where all was so attractive, and whether the
other things would obligingly wait for them till they had time to give
them attention. Conversation was impossible for a long time; and when
it was slowly resumed, it was that regrettable sort of conversation
that results from talking with your mouth full. The Badger did not
mind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take any notice of elbows
on the table, or everybody speaking at once. As he did not go into
Society himself, he had got an idea that these things belonged to the
things that didn't really matter. (We know of course that he was
wrong, and took too narrow a view; because they do matter very much,
though it would take too long to explain why.) He sat in his
arm-chair at the head of the table, and nodded gravely at intervals as
the animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked
at anything, and he never said, 'I told you so,' or, 'Just what I
always said,' or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or
ought not to have done something else. The Mole began to feel very
friendly towards him.
When supper was really finished at last, and each animal felt that his
skin was now as tight as was decently safe, and that by this time he
didn't care a hang for anybody or anything, they gathered round the
glowing embers of the great wood fire, and thought how jolly it was to
be sitting up SO late, and SO independent, and SO full; and after they
had chatted for a time about things in general, the Badger said
heartily, 'Now then! tell us the news from your part of the world.
How's old Toad going on?'
'Oh, from bad to worse,' said the Rat gravely, while the Mole, cocked
up on a settle and basking in the firelight, his heels higher than his
head, tried to look properly mournful. 'Another smash-up only last
week, and a bad one. You see, he will insist on driving himself, and
he's hopelessly incapable. If he'd only employ a decent, steady,
well-trained animal, pay him good wages, and leave everything to him,
he'd get on all right. But no; he's convinced he's a heaven-born
driver, and nobody can teach him anything; and all the rest follows.'
'How many has he had?' inquired the Badger gloomily.
'Smashes, or machines?' asked the Rat. 'Oh, well, after all, it's the
same thing--with Toad. This is the seventh. As for the others--you
know that coach-house of his? Well, it's piled up--literally piled up
to the roof--with fragments of motor-cars, none of them bigger than
your hat! That accounts for the other six--so far as they can be
'He's been in hospital three times,' put in the Mole; 'and as for the
fines he's had to pay, it's simply awful to think of.'
'Yes, and that's part of the trouble,' continued the Rat. 'Toad's
rich, we all know; but he's not a millionaire. And he's a hopelessly
bad driver, and quite regardless of law and order. Killed or ruined--
it's got to be one of the two things, sooner or later. Badger! we're
his friends--oughtn't we to do something?'
The Badger went through a bit of hard thinking. 'Now look here!' he
said at last, rather severely; 'of course you know I can't do anything
His two friends assented, quite understanding his point. No animal,
according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do
anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the
off-season of winter. All are sleepy--some actually asleep. All are
weather-bound, more or less; and all are resting from arduous days and
nights, during which every muscle in them has been severely tested,
and every energy kept at full stretch.
'Very well then!' continued the Badger. 'BUT, when once the year has
really turned, and the nights are shorter, and halfway through them
one rouses and feels fidgety and wanting to be up and doing by
sunrise, if not before--YOU know!----'
Both animals nodded gravely. THEY knew!
'Well, THEN,' went on the Badger, 'we--that is, you and me and our
friend the Mole here--we'll take Toad seriously in hand. We'll stand
no nonsense whatever. We'll bring him back to reason, by force if
need be. We'll MAKE him be a sensible Toad. We'll--you're asleep,
'Not me!' said the Rat, waking up with a jerk.
'He's been asleep two or three times since supper,' said the Mole,
laughing. He himself was feeling quite wakeful and even lively,
though he didn't know why. The reason was, of course, that he being
naturally an underground animal by birth and breeding, the situation
of Badger's house exactly suited him and made him feel at home; while
the Rat, who slept every night in a bedroom the windows of which
opened on a breezy river, naturally felt the atmosphere still and
'Well, it's time we were all in bed,' said the Badger, getting up and
fetching flat candlesticks. 'Come along, you two, and I'll show you
your quarters. And take your time tomorrow morning--breakfast at any
hour you please!'
He conducted the two animals to a long room that seemed half
bedchamber and half loft. The Badger's winter stores, which indeed
were visible everywhere, took up half the room--piles of apples,
turnips, and potatoes, baskets full of nuts, and jars of honey; but
the two little white beds on the remainder of the floor looked soft
and inviting, and the linen on them, though coarse, was clean and
smelt beautifully of lavender; and the Mole and the Water Rat, shaking
off their garments in some thirty seconds, tumbled in between the
sheets in great joy and contentment.
In accordance with the kindly Badger's injunctions, the two tired
animals came down to breakfast very late next morning, and found a
bright fire burning in the kitchen, and two young hedgehogs sitting on
a bench at the table, eating oatmeal porridge out of wooden bowls.
The hedgehogs dropped their spoons, rose to their feet, and ducked
their heads respectfully as the two entered.
'There, sit down, sit down,' said the Rat pleasantly, 'and go on with
your porridge. Where have you youngsters come from? Lost your way in
the snow, I suppose?'
'Yes, please, sir,' said the elder of the two hedgehogs respectfully.
'Me and little Billy here, we was trying to find our way to school--
mother WOULD have us go, was the weather ever so--and of course we
lost ourselves, sir, and Billy he got frightened and took and cried,
being young and faint-hearted. And at last we happened up against Mr.
Badger's back door, and made so bold as to knock, sir, for Mr. Badger
he's a kind-hearted gentleman, as everyone knows----'
'I understand,' said the Rat, cutting himself some rashers from a side
of bacon, while the Mole dropped some eggs into a saucepan. 'And
what's the weather like outside? You needn't "sir" me quite so much?'
'O, terrible bad, sir, terrible deep the snow is,' said the hedgehog.
'No getting out for the likes of you gentlemen to-day.'
'Where's Mr. Badger?' inquired the Mole, as he warmed the coffee-pot
before the fire.
'The master's gone into his study, sir,' replied the hedgehog, 'and he
said as how he was going to be particular busy this morning, and on no
account was he to be disturbed.'
This explanation, of course, was thoroughly understood by every one
present. The fact is, as already set forth, when you live a life of
intense activity for six months in the year, and of comparative or
actual somnolence for the other six, during the latter period you
cannot be continually pleading sleepiness when there are people about
or things to be done. The excuse gets monotonous. The animals well
knew that Badger, having eaten a hearty breakfast, had retired to his
study and settled himself in an arm-chair with his legs up on another
and a red cotton handkerchief over his face, and was being 'busy' in
the usual way at this time of the year.
The front-door bell clanged loudly, and the Rat, who was very greasy
with buttered toast, sent Billy, the smaller hedgehog, to see who it
might be. There was a sound of much stamping in the hall, and
presently Billy returned in front of the Otter, who threw himself on
the Rat with an embrace and a shout of affectionate greeting.
'Get off!' spluttered the Rat, with his mouth full.
'Thought I should find you here all right,' said the Otter cheerfully.
'They were all in a great state of alarm along River Bank when I
arrived this morning. Rat never been home all night--nor Mole
either--something dreadful must have happened, they said; and the snow
had covered up all your tracks, of course. But I knew that when
people were in any fix they mostly went to Badger, or else Badger got
to know of it somehow, so I came straight off here, through the Wild
Wood and the snow! My! it was fine, coming through the snow as the red
sun was rising and showing against the black tree-trunks! As you went
along in the stillness, every now and then masses of snow slid off the
branches suddenly with a flop! making you jump and run for cover.
Snow-castles and snow-caverns had sprung up out of nowhere in the
night--and snow bridges, terraces, ramparts--I could have stayed and
played with them for hours. Here and there great branches had been
torn away by the sheer weight of the snow, and robins perched and
hopped on them in their perky conceited way, just as if they had done
it themselves. A ragged string of wild geese passed overhead, high on
the grey sky, and a few rooks whirled over the trees, inspected, and
flapped off homewards with a disgusted expression; but I met no
sensible being to ask the news of. About halfway across I came on a
rabbit sitting on a stump, cleaning his silly face with his paws. He
was a pretty scared animal when I crept up behind him and placed a
heavy forepaw on his shoulder. I had to cuff his head once or twice
to get any sense out of it at all. At last I managed to extract from
him that Mole had been seen in the Wild Wood last night by one of
them. It was the talk of the burrows, he said, how Mole, Mr. Rat's
particular friend, was in a bad fix; how he had lost his way, and
"They" were up and out hunting, and were chivvying him round and
round. "Then why didn't any of you DO something?" I asked. "You
mayn't be blest with brains, but there are hundreds and hundreds of
you, big, stout fellows, as fat as butter, and your burrows running in
all directions, and you could have taken him in and made him safe and
comfortable, or tried to, at all events." "What, US?" he merely said:
"DO something? us rabbits?" So I cuffed him again and left him. There
was nothing else to be done. At any rate, I had learnt something; and
if I had had the luck to meet any of "Them" I'd have learnt something
more--or THEY would.'
'Weren't you at all--er--nervous?' asked the Mole, some of yesterday's
terror coming back to him at the mention of the Wild Wood.
'Nervous?' The Otter showed a gleaming set of strong white teeth as
he laughed. 'I'd give 'em nerves if any of them tried anything on
with me. Here, Mole, fry me some slices of ham, like the good little
chap you are. I'm frightfully hungry, and I've got any amount to say
to Ratty here. Haven't seen him for an age.'
So the good-natured Mole, having cut some slices of ham, set the
hedgehogs to fry it, and returned to his own breakfast, while the
Otter and the Rat, their heads together, eagerly talked river-shop,
which is long shop and talk that is endless, running on like the
babbling river itself.
A plate of fried ham had just been cleared and sent back for more,
when the Badger entered, yawning and rubbing his eyes, and greeted
them all in his quiet, simple way, with kind enquiries for every one.
'It must be getting on for luncheon time,' he remarked to the Otter.
'Better stop and have it with us. You must be hungry, this cold
'Rather!' replied the Otter, winking at the Mole. 'The sight of these
greedy young hedgehogs stuffing themselves with fried ham makes me
feel positively famished.'
The hedgehogs, who were just beginning to feel hungry again after
their porridge, and after working so hard at their frying, looked
timidly up at Mr. Badger, but were too shy to say anything.
'Here, you two youngsters be off home to your mother,' said the Badger
kindly. 'I'll send some one with you to show you the way. You won't
want any dinner to-day, I'll be bound.'
He gave them sixpence apiece and a pat on the head, and they went off
with much respectful swinging of caps and touching of forelocks.
Presently they all sat down to luncheon together. The Mole found
himself placed next to Mr. Badger, and, as the other two were still
deep in river-gossip from which nothing could divert them, he took the
opportunity to tell Badger how comfortable and home-like it all felt
to him. 'Once well underground,' he said, 'you know exactly where you
are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You're
entirely your own master, and you don't have to consult anybody or
mind what they say. Things go on all the same overhead, and you let
'em, and don't bother about 'em. When you want to, up you go, and
there the things are, waiting for you.'
The Badger simply beamed on him. 'That's exactly what I say,' he
replied. 'There's no security, or peace and tranquillity, except
underground. And then, if your ideas get larger and you want to
expand--why, a dig and a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your
house is a bit too big, you stop up a hole or two, and there you are
again! No builders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows
looking over your wall, and, above all, no WEATHER. Look at Rat, now.
A couple of feet of flood water, and he's got to move into hired
lodgings; uncomfortable, inconveniently situated, and horribly
expensive. Take Toad. I say nothing against Toad Hall; quite the
best house in these parts, AS a house. But supposing a fire breaks
out--where's Toad? Supposing tiles are blown off, or walls sink or
crack, or windows get broken--where's Toad? Supposing the rooms are
draughty--I HATE a draught myself--where's Toad? No, up and out of
doors is good enough to roam about and get one's living in; but
underground to come back to at last--that's my idea of HOME'
The Mole assented heartily; and the Badger in consequence got very
friendly with him. 'When lunch is over,' he said, 'I'll take you all
round this little place of mine. I can see you'll appreciate it. You
understand what domestic architecture ought to be, you do.'
After luncheon, accordingly, when the other two had settled themselves
into the chimney-corner and had started a heated argument on the
subject of EELS, the Badger lighted a lantern and bade the Mole follow
him. Crossing the hall, they passed down one of the principal
tunnels, and the wavering light of the lantern gave glimpses on either
side of rooms both large and small, some mere cupboards, others nearly
as broad and imposing as Toad's dining-hall. A narrow passage at
right angles led them into another corridor, and here the same thing
was repeated. The Mole was staggered at the size, the extent, the
ramifications of it all; at the length of the dim passages, the solid
vaultings of the crammed store-chambers, the masonry everywhere, the
pillars, the arches, the pavements. 'How on earth, Badger,' he said
at last, 'did you ever find time and strength to do all this? It's
'It WOULD be astonishing indeed,' said the Badger simply, 'if I HAD
done it. But as a matter of fact I did none of it--only cleaned out
the passages and chambers, as far as I had need of them. There's lots
more of it, all round about. I see you don't understand, and I must
explain it to you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild
Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what
it now is, there was a city--a city of people, you know. Here, where
we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and
carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and
feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They
were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to
last, for they thought their city would last for ever.'
'But what has become of them all?' asked the Mole.
'Who can tell?' said the Badger. 'People come--they stay for a while,
they flourish, they build--and they go. It is their way. But we
remain. There were badgers here, I've been told, long before that
same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We
are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and
are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.'
'Well, and when they went at last, those people?' said the Mole.
'When they went,' continued the Badger, 'the strong winds and
persistent rains took the matter in hand, patiently, ceaselessly, year
after year. Perhaps we badgers too, in our small way, helped a
little--who knows? It was all down, down, down, gradually--ruin and
levelling and disappearance. Then it was all up, up, up, gradually,
as seeds grew to saplings, and saplings to forest trees, and bramble
and fern came creeping in to help. Leaf-mould rose and obliterated,
streams in their winter freshets brought sand and soil to clog and to
cover, and in course of time our home was ready for us again, and we
moved in. Up above us, on the surface, the same thing happened.
Animals arrived, liked the look of the place, took up their quarters,
settled down, spread, and flourished. They didn't bother themselves
about the past--they never do; they're too busy. The place was a bit
humpy and hillocky, naturally, and full of holes; but that was rather
an advantage. And they don't bother about the future, either--the
future when perhaps the people will move in again--for a time--as may
very well be. The Wild Wood is pretty well populated by now; with all
the usual lot, good, bad, and indifferent--I name no names. It takes
all sorts to make a world. But I fancy you know something about them
yourself by this time.'
'I do indeed,' said the Mole, with a slight shiver.
'Well, well,' said the Badger, patting him on the shoulder, 'it was
your first experience of them, you see. They're not so bad really;
and we must all live and let live. But I'll pass the word around
to-morrow, and I think you'll have no further trouble. Any friend of
MINE walks where he likes in this country, or I'll know the reason
When they got back to the kitchen again, they found the Rat walking up
and down, very restless. The underground atmosphere was oppressing
him and getting on his nerves, and he seemed really to be afraid that
the river would run away if he wasn't there to look after it. So he
had his overcoat on, and his pistols thrust into his belt again.
'Come along, Mole,' he said anxiously, as soon as he caught sight of
them. 'We must get off while it's daylight. Don't want to spend
another night in the Wild Wood again.'
'It'll be all right, my fine fellow,' said the Otter. 'I'm coming
along with you, and I know every path blindfold; and if there's a head
that needs to be punched, you can confidently rely upon me to punch
'You really needn't fret, Ratty,' added the Badger placidly. 'My
passages run further than you think, and I've bolt-holes to the edge
of the wood in several directions, though I don't care for everybody
to know about them. When you really have to go, you shall leave by
one of my short cuts. Meantime, make yourself easy, and sit down
The Rat was nevertheless still anxious to be off and attend to his
river, so the Badger, taking up his lantern again, led the way along a
damp and airless tunnel that wound and dipped, part vaulted, part hewn
through solid rock, for a weary distance that seemed to be miles. At
last daylight began to show itself confusedly through tangled growth
overhanging the mouth of the passage; and the Badger, bidding them a
hasty good-bye, pushed them hurriedly through the opening, made
everything look as natural as possible again, with creepers,
brushwood, and dead leaves, and retreated.
They found themselves standing on the very edge of the Wild Wood.
Rocks and brambles and tree-roots behind them, confusedly heaped and
tangled; in front, a great space of quiet fields, hemmed by lines of
hedges black on the snow, and, far ahead, a glint of the familiar old
river, while the wintry sun hung red and low on the horizon. The
Otter, as knowing all the paths, took charge of the party, and they
trailed out on a bee-line for a distant stile. Pausing there a moment
and looking back, they saw the whole mass of the Wild Wood, dense,
menacing, compact, grimly set in vast white surroundings;
simultaneously they turned and made swiftly for home, for firelight
and the familiar things it played on, for the voice, sounding cheerily
outside their window, of the river that they knew and trusted in all
its moods, that never made them afraid with any amazement.
As he hurried along, eagerly anticipating the moment when he would be
at home again among the things he knew and liked, the Mole saw clearly
that he was an animal of tilled field and hedge-row, linked to the
ploughed furrow, the frequented pasture, the lane of evening
lingerings, the cultivated garden-plot. For others the asperities,
the stubborn endurance, or the clash of actual conflict, that went
with Nature in the rough; he must be wise, must keep to the pleasant
places in which his lines were laid and which held adventure enough,
in their way, to last for a lifetime.
The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thin
nostrils and stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown back
and a light steam rising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty
air, as the two animals hastened by in high spirits, with much chatter
and laughter. They were returning across country after a long day's
outing with Otter, hunting and exploring on the wide uplands where
certain streams tributary to their own River had their first small
beginnings; and the shades of the short winter day were closing in on
them, and they had still some distance to go. Plodding at random
across the plough, they had heard the sheep and had made for them; and
now, leading from the sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made
walking a lighter business, and responded, moreover, to that small
inquiring something which all animals carry inside them, saying
unmistakably, 'Yes, quite right; THIS leads home!'
'It looks as if we were coming to a village,' said the Mole somewhat
dubiously, slackening his pace, as the track, that had in time become
a path and then had developed into a lane, now handed them over to the
charge of a well-metalled road. The animals did not hold with
villages, and their own highways, thickly frequented as they were,
took an independent course, regardless of church, post office, or
'Oh, never mind!' said the Rat. 'At this season of the year they're
all safe indoors by this time, sitting round the fire; men, women, and
children, dogs and cats and all. We shall slip through all right,
without any bother or unpleasantness, and we can have a look at them
through their windows if you like, and see what they're doing.'
The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village
as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery
snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either
side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage
overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of
the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the
lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table,
absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each
that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall
capture--the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of
observation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two
spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness
in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child
picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out
his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.
But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere
blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little
curtained world within walls--the larger stressful world of outside
Nature shut out and forgotten--most pulsated. Close against the white
blind hung a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and
appurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edged
lump of sugar. On the middle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked
well into feathers, seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked,
had they tried; even the delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage
pencilled plainly on the illuminated screen. As they looked, the
sleepy little fellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised
his head. They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a
bored sort of way, looked round, and then settled his head into his
back again, while the ruffled feathers gradually subsided into perfect