THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song,
hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank.
Though it was past ten o'clock at night,
the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from the departed day;
and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short midsummer night.
Mole lay stretched on the bank,
still panting from the stress of the fierce day that had been cloudless from dawn to late sunset,
and waited for his friend to return.
He had been on the river with some companions,
leaving the Water Rat free to keep an engagement of long standing with Otter;
and he had come back to find the house dark and deserted,
and no sign of Rat,
who was doubtless keeping it up late with his old comrade.
It was still too hot to think of staying indoors,
so he lay on some cool dock-leaves,
and thought over the past day and its doings,
and how very good they all had been.
The Rat's light footfall was presently heard approaching over the parched grass.
the blessed coolness!"
and sat down,
gazing thoughtfully into the river,
silent and pre-occupied.
"You stayed to supper,
said the Mole presently.
"Simply had to,"
said the Rat.
"They wouldn't hear of my going before.
You know how kind they always are.
And they made things as jolly for me as ever they could,
right up to the moment I left.
But I felt a brute all the time,
as it was clear to me they were very unhappy,
though they tried to hide it.
I'm afraid they're in trouble.
Little Portly is missing again;
and you know what a lot his father thinks of him,
though he never says much about it."
said the Mole lightly.
suppose he is;
why worry about it?
He's always straying off and getting lost,
and turning up again;
he's so adventurous.
But no harm ever happens to him.
Everybody hereabouts knows him and likes him,
just as they do old Otter,
and you may be sure some animal or other will come across him and bring him back again all right.
we've found him ourselves,
miles from home,
and quite self-possessed and cheerful!"
but this time it's more serious,"
said the Rat gravely.
"He's been missing for some days now,
and the Otters have hunted everywhere,
high and low,
without finding the slightest trace.
And they've asked every animal,
for miles around,
and no one knows anything about him.
Otter's evidently more anxious than he'll admit.
I got out of him that young Portly hasn't learnt to swim very well yet,
and I can see he's thinking of the weir.
There's a lot of water coming down still,
considering the time of the year,
and the place always had a fascination for the child.
And then there are --well,
traps and things ---you- know.
Otter's not the fellow to be nervous about any son of his before it's time.
And now he -is- nervous.
When I left,
he came out with me --said he wanted some air,
and talked about stretching his legs.
But I could see it wasn't that,
so I drew him out and pumped him,
and got it all from him at last.
He was going to spend the night watching by the ford.
You know the place where the old ford used to be,
in by-gone days before they built the bridge?"
"I know it well,"
said the Mole.
"But why should Otter choose to watch there?"
it seems that it was there he gave Portly his first swimming-lesson,"
continued the Rat.
"From that shallow,
gravelly spit near the bank.
And it was there he used to teach him fishing,
and there young Portly caught his first fish,
of which he was so very proud.
The child loved the spot,
and Otter thinks that if he came wandering back from wherever he is --if he -is- anywhere by this time,
poor little chap --he might make for the ford he was so fond of;
or if he came across it he'd remember it well,
and stop there and play,
So Otter goes there every night and watches --on the chance,
just on the chance!"
They were silent for a time,
both thinking of the same thing --the lonely,
crouched by the ford,
watching and waiting,
the long night through --on the chance.
said the Rat presently,
"I suppose we ought to be thinking about turning in."
But he never offered to move.
said the Mole,
"I simply can't go and turn in,
and go to sleep,
and -do- nothing,
even though there doesn't seem to be anything to be done.
We'll get the boat out,
and paddle upstream.
The moon will be up in an hour or so,
and then we will search as well as we can --anyhow,
it will be better than going to bed and doing -nothing-."
"Just what I was thinking myself,"
said the Rat.
"It's not the sort of night for bed anyhow;
and daybreak is not so very far off,
and then we may pick up some news of him from early risers as we go along."
They got the boat out,
and the Rat took the sculls,
paddling with caution.
Out in mid-stream,
there was a clear,
narrow track that faintly reflected the sky;
but wherever shadows fell on the water from bank,
they were as solid to all appearance as the banks themselves,
and the Mole had to steer with judgment accordingly.
Dark and deserted as it was,
the night was full of small noises,
song and chatter and rustling,
telling of the busy little population who were up and about,
plying their trades and vocations through the night till sunshine should fall on them at last and send them off to their well-earned repose.
The water's own noises,
were more apparent than by day,
its gurglings and "cloops" more unexpected and near at hand;
and constantly they started at what seemed a sudden clear call from an actual articulate voice.
The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky,
and in one particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing phosphorescence that grew and grew.
over the rim of the waiting earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of the horizon and rode off,
free of moorings;
and once more they began to see surfaces --meadows wide-spread,
and quiet gardens,
and the river itself from bank to bank,
all softly disclosed,
all washed clean of mystery and terror,
all radiant again as by day,
but with a difference that was tremendous.
Their old haunts greeted them again in other raiment,
as if they had slipped away and put on this pure new apparel and come quietly back,
smiling as they shyly waited to see if they would be recognised again under it.
Fastening their boat to a willow,
the friends landed in this silent,
and patiently explored the hedges,
the hollow trees,
the runnels and their little culverts,
the ditches and dry water-ways.
Embarking again and crossing over,
they worked their way up the stream in this manner,
while the moon,
serene and detached in a cloudless sky,
did what she could,
though so far off,
to help them in their quest;
till her hour came and she sank earthwards reluctantly,
and left them,
and mystery once more held field and river.
Then a change began slowly to declare itself.
The horizon became clearer,
field and tree came more into sight,
and somehow with a different look;
the mystery began to drop away from them.
A bird piped suddenly,
and was still;
and a light breeze sprang up and set the reeds and bulrushes rustling.
who was in the stern of the boat,
while Mole sculled,
sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness.
who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care,
looked at him with curiosity.
sighed the Rat,
sinking back in his seat again.
"So beautiful and strange and new!
Since it was to end so soon,
I almost wish I had never heard it.
For it has roused a longing in me that is pain,
and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever.
There it is again!"
alert once more.
he was silent for a long space,
"Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,"
he said presently.
the beauty of it!
The merry bubble and joy,
happy call of the distant piping!
Such music I never dreamed of,
and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet!
For the music and the call must be for us."
"I hear nothing myself,"
"but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers."
The Rat never answered,
if indeed he heard.
he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing that caught up his helpless soul and swung and dandled it,
a powerless but happy infant in a strong sustaining grasp.
In silence Mole rowed steadily,
and soon they came to a point where the river divided,
a long backwater branching off to one side.
With a slight movement of his head Rat,
who had long dropped the rudder-lines,
directed the rower to take the backwater.
The creeping tide of light gained and gained,
and now they could see the colour of the flowers that gemmed the water's edge.
"Clearer and nearer still,"
cried the Rat joyously.
"Now you must surely hear it!
Ah --at last --I see you do!"
Breathless and transfixed,
the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of that glad piping broke on him like a wave,
caught him up,
and possessed him utterly.
He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks,
and bowed his head and understood.
For a space they hung there,
brushed by the purple loosestrife that fringed the bank;
then the clear imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody imposed its will on Mole,
and mechanically he bent to his oars again.
And the light grew steadily stronger,
but no birds sang as they were wont to do at the approach of dawn;
and but for the heavenly music all was marvellously still.
On either side of them,
as they glided onwards,
the rich meadow-grass seemed that morning of a freshness and a greenness unsurpassable.
Never had they noticed the roses so vivid,
the willow-herb so riotous,
the meadow-sweet so odorous and pervading.
Then the murmur of the approaching weir began to hold the air,
and they felt a consciousness that they were nearing the end,
whatever it might be,
that surely awaited their expedition.
A wide half-circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders of green water,
the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank,
troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating foam-streaks,
and deadened all other sounds with its solemn and soothing rumble.
In midmost of the stream,
embraced in the weir's shimmering arm-spread,
a small island lay anchored,
fringed close with willow and silver birch and alder.
but full of significance,
it hid whatever it might hold behind a veil,
keeping it till the hour should come,
with the hour,
those who were called and chosen.
but with no doubt or hesitation whatever,
and in something of a solemn expectancy,
the two animals passed through the broken,
tumultuous water and moored their boat at the flowery margin of the island.
In silence they landed,
and pushed through the blossom and scented herbage and undergrowth that led up to the level ground,
till they stood on a little lawn of a marvellous green,
set round with Nature's own orchard-trees --crab-apple,
"This is the place of my song-dream,
the place the music played to me,"
whispered the Rat,
as if in a trance.
in this holy place,
here if anywhere,
surely we shall find Him!"
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him,
an awe that turned his muscles to water,
bowed his head,
and rooted his feet to the ground.
It was no panic terror --indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy --but it was an awe that smote and held him and,
he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very,
With difficulty he turned to look for his friend,
and saw him at his side,
and trembling violently.
And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them;
and still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes,
though the piping was now hushed,
the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious.
He might not refuse,
were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly,
once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden.
Trembling he obeyed,
and raised his humble head;
in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn,
flushed with fulness of incredible colour,
seemed to hold her breath for the event,
he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper;
saw the backward sweep of the curved horns,
gleaming in the growing daylight;
saw the stern,
hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously,
while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners;
saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest,
the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips;
saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward;
last of all,
nestling between his very hooves,
sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment,
childish form of the baby otter.
All this he saw,
for one moment breathless and intense,
vivid on the morning sky;
as he looked,
as he lived,
he found breath to whisper,
"Are you afraid?"
murmured the Rat,
his eyes shining with unutterable love.
And yet --and yet --O,
I am afraid!"
Then the two animals,
crouching to the earth,
bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent,
the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them;
and the first rays,
shooting across the level water-meadows,
took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them.
When they were able to look once more,
the Vision had vanished,
and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
As they stared blankly,
in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost,
a capricious little breeze,
dancing up from the surface of the water,
tossed the aspens,
shook the dewy roses,
and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces;
and with its soft touch came instant oblivion.
For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness.
Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow,
and overshadow mirth and pleasure,
and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties,
in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.
Mole rubbed his eyes and stared at Rat,
who was looking about him in a puzzled sort of way.
"I beg your pardon;
what did you say,
"I think I was only remarking,"
said Rat slowly,
"that this was the right sort of place,
and that here,
we should find him.
there he is,
the little fellow!"
And with a cry of delight he ran towards the slumbering Portly.
But Mole stood still a moment,
held in thought.
As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream,
who struggles to recall it,
and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it,
fades away in its turn,
and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard,
cold waking and all its penalties;
after struggling with his memory for a brief space,
shook his head sadly and followed the Rat.
Portly woke up with a joyous squeak,
and wriggled with pleasure at the sight of his father's friends,
who had played with him so often in past days.
In a moment,
his face grew blank,
and he fell to hunting round in a circle with pleading whine.
As a child that has fallen happily asleep in its nurse's arms,
and wakes to find itself alone and laid in a strange place,
and searches corners and cupboards,
and runs from room to room,
despair growing silently in its heart,
even so Portly searched the island and searched,
dogged and unwearying,
till at last the black moment came for giving it up,
and sitting down and crying bitterly.
The Mole ran quickly to comfort the little animal;
looked long and doubtfully at certain hoof-marks deep in the sward.
"Some --great --animal --has been here,"
he murmured slowly and thoughtfully;
and stood musing,
his mind strangely stirred.
called the Mole.
"Think of poor Otter,
waiting up there by the ford!"
Portly had soon been comforted by the promise of a treat --a jaunt on the river in Mr. Rat's real boat;
and the two animals conducted him to the water's side,
placed him securely between them in the bottom of the boat,
and paddled off down the backwater.
The sun was fully up by now,
and hot on them,
birds sang lustily and without restraint,
and flowers smiled and nodded from either bank,
but somehow --so thought the animals --with less of richness and blaze of colour than they seemed to remember seeing quite recently somewhere --they wondered where.
The main river reached again,
they turned the boat's head upstream,
towards the point where they knew their friend was keeping his lonely vigil.
As they drew near the familiar ford,
the Mole took the boat in to the bank,
and they lifted Portly out and set him on his legs on the tow-path,
gave him his marching orders and a friendly farewell pat on the back,
and shoved out into mid-stream.
They watched the little animal as he waddled along the path contentedly and with importance;
watched him till they saw his muzzle suddenly lift and his waddle break into a clumsy amble as he quickened his pace with shrill whines and wriggles of recognition.
Looking up the river,
they could see Otter start up,
tense and rigid,
from out of the shallows where he crouched in dumb patience,
and could hear his amazed and joyous bark as he bounded up through the osiers on to the path.
Then the Mole,
with a strong pull on one oar,
swung the boat round and let the full stream bear them down again whither it would,
their quest now happily ended.
"I feel strangely tired,
said the Mole,
leaning wearily over his oars,
as the boat drifted.
"It's being up all night,
but that's nothing.
We do as much half the nights of the week,
at this time of the year.
I feel as if I had been through something very exciting and rather terrible,
and it was just over;
and yet nothing particular has happened."
"Or something very surprising and splendid and beautiful,"
murmured the Rat,
leaning back and closing his eyes.
"I feel just as you do,
simply dead tired,
though not body-tired.
It's lucky we've got the stream with us,
to take us home.
Isn't it jolly to feel the sun again,
soaking into one's bones!
And hark to the wind playing in the reeds!"
"It's like music --far-away music,"
said the Mole,
"So I was thinking,"
murmured the Rat,
dreamful and languid.
"Dance-music --the lilting sort that runs on without a stop --but with words in it,
too --it passes into words and out of them again --I catch them at intervals --then it is dance-music once more,
and then nothing but the reeds' soft thin whispering."
"You hear better than I,"
said the Mole sadly.
"I cannot catch the words."
"Let me try and give you them,"
said the Rat softly,
his eyes still closed.
"Now it is turning into words again --faint but clear ---Lest the awe should dwell --And turn your frolic to fret --You shall look on my power at the helping hour --But then you shall forget!- Now the reeds take it up ---forget,
and it dies away in a rustle and a whisper.
Then the voice returns --
"-Lest limbs be reddened and rent --I spring the trap that is set --As I loose the snare you may glimpse me there --For surely you shall forget!- Row nearer,
nearer to the reeds!
It is hard to catch,
and grows each minute fainter.
"-Helper and healer,
I cheer --Small waifs in the woodland wet --Strays I find in it,
wounds I bind in it --Bidding them all forget!- Nearer,
it is no good;
the song has died away into reed-talk."
"But what do the words mean?"
asked the wondering Mole.
"That I do not know,"
said the Rat simply.
"I passed them on to you as they reached me.
now they return again,
and this time full and clear!
it is the real,
the unmistakable thing,
simple --passionate --perfect --"
let's have it,
said the Mole,
after he had waited patiently for a few minutes,
half-dozing in the hot sun.
But no answer came.
and understood the silence.
With a smile of much happiness on his face,
and something of a listening look still lingering there,
the weary Rat was fast asleep.
When Toad found himself immured in a dank and noisome dungeon,
and knew that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him and the outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high roads where he had lately been so happy,
disporting himself as if he had bought up every road in England,
he flung himself at full length on the floor,
and shed bitter tears,
and abandoned himself to dark despair.
"This is the end of everything" (he said),
"at least it is the end of the career of Toad,
which is the same thing;
the popular and handsome Toad,
the rich and hospitable Toad,
the Toad so free and careless and debonair!
How can I hope to be ever set at large again" (he said),
"who have been imprisoned so justly for stealing so handsome a motor-car in such an audacious manner,
and for such lurid and imaginative cheek,
bestowed upon such a number of fat,
(Here his sobs choked him.)
"Stupid animal that I was" (he said),
"now I must languish in this dungeon,
till people who were proud to say they knew me,
have forgotten the very name of Toad!
O wise old Badger!"
intelligent Rat and sensible Mole!
What sound judgments,
what a knowledge of men and matters you possess!
O unhappy and forsaken Toad!"
With lamentations such as these he passed his days and nights for several weeks,
refusing his meals or intermediate light refreshments,
though the grim and ancient gaoler,
knowing that Toad's pockets were well lined,
frequently pointed out that many comforts,
and indeed luxuries,
could by arrangement be sent in --at a price --from outside.
Now the gaoler had a daughter,
a pleasant wench and good-hearted,
who assisted her father in the lighter duties of his post.
She was particularly fond of animals,
besides her canary,
whose cage hung on a nail in the massive wall of the keep by day,
to the great annoyance of prisoners who relished an after-dinner nap,
and was shrouded in an antimacassar on the parlour table at night,
she kept several piebald mice and a restless revolving squirrel.
This kind-hearted girl,
pitying the misery of Toad,
said to her father one day,
I can't bear to see that poor beast so unhappy,
and getting so thin!
You let me have the managing of him.
You know how fond of animals I am.
I'll make him eat from my hand,
and sit up,
and do all sorts of things."
Her father replied that she could do what she liked with him.
He was tired of Toad,
and his sulks and his airs and his meanness.
So that day she went on her errand of mercy,
and knocked at the door of Toad's cell.
"and sit up and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal.
And do try and eat a bit of dinner.
I've brought you some of mine,
hot from the oven!"
It was bubble-and-squeak,
between two plates,
and its fragrance filled the narrow cell.
The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor,
and gave him the idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he had imagined.
But still he wailed,
and kicked with his legs,
and refused to be comforted.
So the wise girl retired for the time,
a good deal of the smell of hot cabbage remained behind,
as it will do,
between his sobs,
sniffed and reflected,
and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry,
and deeds still to be done;
of broad meadows,
and cattle browsing in them,
raked by sun and wind;
and straight herb-borders,
and warm snap-dragon beset by bees;
and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table at Toad Hall,
and the scrape of chair-legs on the floor as every one pulled himself close up to his work.
The air of the narrow cell took a rosy tinge;
he began to think of his friends,
and how they would surely be able to do something;
and how they would have enjoyed his case,
and what an ass he had been not to get in a few;
he thought of his own great cleverness and resource,
and all that he was capable of if he only gave his great mind to it;
and the cure was almost complete.
[Illustration: -He lay prostrate in his misery on the floor-]
When the girl returned,
some hours later,
she carried a tray,
with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it;
and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast,
very brown on both sides,
with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops,
like honey from the honeycomb.
The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad,
and with no uncertain voice;
talked of warm kitchens,
of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings,
of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings,
when one's ramble was over,
and slippered feet were propped on the fender;
of the purring of contented cats,
and the twitter of sleepy canaries.
Toad sat up on end once more,
dried his eyes,
sipped his tea and munched his toast,
and soon began talking freely about himself,
and the house he lived in,
and his doings there,
and how important he was,
and what a lot his friends thought of him.
The gaoler's daughter saw that the topic was doing him as much good as the tea,
as indeed it was,
and encouraged him to go on.
"Tell me about Toad Hall,"
"It sounds beautiful."
said the Toad proudly,
"is an eligible,
self-contained gentleman's residence,
dating in part from the fourteenth century,
but replete with every modern convenience.
Five minutes from church,
Suitable for --"
"Bless the animal,"
said the girl,
"I don't want to -take- it.
Tell me something -real- about it.
But first wait till I fetch you some more tea and toast."
She tripped away,
and presently returned with a fresh trayful;
pitching into the toast with avidity,
his spirits quite restored to their usual level,
told her about the boat-house,
and the fish-pond,
and the old walled kitchen-garden;
and about the pig-styes and the stables,
and the pigeon-house and the hen-house;
and about the dairy,
and the wash-house,
and the china-cupboards,
and the linen-presses (she liked that bit especially);
and about the banqueting-hall,
and the fun they had there when the other animals were gathered round the table and Toad was at his best,
carrying on generally.
Then she wanted to know about his animal-friends,
and was very interested in all he had to tell her about them and how they lived,
and what they did to pass their time.
she did not say she was fond of animals as -pets-,
because she had the sense to see that Toad would be extremely offended.
When she said good-night,
having filled his water-jug and shaken up his straw for him,
Toad was very much the same sanguine,
self-satisfied animal that he had been of old.
He sang a little song or two,
of the sort he used to sing at his dinner-parties,
curled himself up in the straw,
and had an excellent night's rest and the pleasantest of dreams.
They had many interesting talks together,
as the dreary days went on;
and the gaoler's daughter grew very sorry for Toad,
and thought it a great shame that a poor little animal should be locked up in prison for what seemed to her a very trivial offence.
in his vanity,
thought that her interest in him proceeded from a growing tenderness;
and he could not help half-regretting that the social gulf between them was so very wide,
for she was a comely lass,
and evidently admired him very much.
One morning the girl was very thoughtful,
and answered at random,
and did not seem to Toad to be paying proper attention to his witty sayings and sparkling comments.
she said presently,
I have an aunt who is a washerwoman."
graciously and affably,
think no more about it.
-I- have several aunts who -ought- to be washerwomen."
"Do be quiet a minute,
said the girl.
"You talk too much,
that's your chief fault,
and I'm trying to think,
and you hurt my head.
As I said,
I have an aunt who is a washerwoman;
she does the washing for all the prisoners in this castle --we try to keep any paying business of that sort in the family,
She takes out the washing on Monday morning,
and brings it in on Friday evening.
This is a Thursday.
this is what occurs to me: you're very rich --at least you're always telling me so --and she's very poor.
A few pounds wouldn't make any difference to you,
and it would mean a lot to her.
I think if she were properly approached --squared,
I believe is the word you animals use --you could come to some arrangement by which she would let you have her dress and bonnet and so on,
and you could escape from the castle as the official washerwoman.
You're very alike in many respects --particularly about the figure."
said the Toad in a huff.
"I have a very elegant figure --for what I am."
"So has my aunt,"
replied the girl,
"for what -she- is.
But have it your own way.
when I'm sorry for you,
and trying to help you!"
that's all right;
thank you very much indeed,"
said the Toad hurriedly.
"But look here!
you wouldn't surely have Mr. Toad,
of Toad Hall,
going about the country disguised as a washerwoman!"
"Then you can stop here as a Toad,"
replied the girl with much spirit.
"I suppose you want to go off in a coach-and-four!"
Honest Toad was always ready to admit himself in the wrong.
"You are a good,
"and I am indeed a proud and a stupid toad.
Introduce me to your worthy aunt,
if you will be so kind,
and I have no doubt that the excellent lady and I will be able to arrange terms satisfactory to both parties."
Next evening the girl ushered her aunt into Toad's cell,
bearing his week's washing pinned up in a towel.
The old lady had been prepared beforehand for the interview,
and the sight of certain gold sovereigns that Toad had thoughtfully placed on the table in full view practically completed the matter and left little further to discuss.
In return for his cash,
Toad received a cotton print gown,
and a rusty black bonnet;
the only stipulation the old lady made being that she should be gagged and bound and dumped down in a corner.
By this not very convincing artifice,
aided by picturesque fiction which she could supply herself,
she hoped to retain her situation,
in spite of the suspicious appearance of things.
Toad was delighted with the suggestion.
It would enable him to leave the prison in some style,
and with his reputation for being a desperate and dangerous fellow untarnished;
and he readily helped the gaoler's daughter to make her aunt appear as much as possible the victim of circumstances over which she had no control.
"Now it's your turn,
said the girl.
"Take off that coat and waistcoat of yours;
you're fat enough as it is."
Shaking with laughter,
she proceeded to "hook-and-eye" him into the cotton print gown,
arranged the shawl with a professional fold,
and tied the strings of the rusty bonnet under his chin.
"You're the very image of her,"
"only I'm sure you never looked half so respectable in all your life before.
and good luck.
Go straight down the way you came up;
and if any one says anything to you,
as they probably will,
being but men,
you can chaff back a bit,
but remember you're a widow woman,
quite alone in the world,
with a character to lose."
With a quaking heart,
but as firm a footstep as he could command,
Toad set forth cautiously on what seemed to be a most hare-brained and hazardous undertaking;
but he was soon agreeably surprised to find how easy everything was made for him,
and a little humbled at the thought that both his popularity,
and the sex that seemed to inspire it,
were really another's.
The washerwoman's squat figure in its familiar cotton print seemed a passport for every barred door and grim gateway;
even when he hesitated,
uncertain as to the right turning to take,
he found himself helped out of his difficulty by the warder at the next gate,
anxious to be off to his tea,
summoning him to come along sharp and not keep him waiting there all night.
The chaff and the humourous sallies to which he was subjected,
and to which,
he had to provide prompt and effective reply,
his chief danger;
for Toad was an animal with a strong sense of his own dignity,
and the chaff was mostly (he thought) poor and clumsy,
and the humour of the sallies entirely lacking.
he kept his temper,
though with great difficulty,
suited his retorts to his company and his supposed character,
and did his best not to overstep the limits of good taste.
It seemed hours before he crossed the last courtyard,
rejected the pressing invitations from the last guardroom,
and dodged the outspread arms of the last warder,
pleading with simulated passion for just one farewell embrace.
But at last he heard the wicket-gate in the great outer door click behind him,
felt the fresh air of the outer world upon his anxious brow,
and knew that he was free!
Dizzy with the easy success of his daring exploit,
he walked quickly towards the lights of the town,
not knowing in the least what he should do next,
only quite certain of one thing,
that he must remove himself as quickly as possible from the neighbourhood where the lady he was forced to represent was so well-known and so popular a character.
As he walked along,
his attention was caught by some red and green lights a little way off,
to one side of the town,
and the sound of the puffing and snorting of engines and the banging of shunted trucks fell on his ear.
"this is a piece of luck!
A railway station is the thing I want most in the whole world at this moment;
and what's more,
I needn't go through the town to get it,
and shan't have to support this humiliating character by repartees which,
though thoroughly effective,
do not assist one's sense of self-respect."
He made his way to the station accordingly,
consulted a time-table,
and found that a train,
bound more or less in the direction of his home,
was due to start in half-an-hour.
his spirits rising rapidly,
and went off to the booking-office to buy his ticket.
He gave the name of the station that he knew to be nearest to the village of which Toad Hall was the principal feature,
and mechanically put his fingers,
in search of the necessary money,
where his waistcoat pocket should have been.
But here the cotton gown,
which had nobly stood by him so far,
and which he had basely forgotten,
and frustrated his efforts.
In a sort of nightmare he struggled with the strange uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands,
turn all muscular strivings to water,
and laugh at him all the time;
while other travellers,
forming up in a line behind,
waited with impatience,
making suggestions of more or less value and comments of more or less stringency and point.
At last --somehow --he never rightly understood how --he burst the barriers,
attained the goal,
arrived at where all waistcoat pockets are eternally situated,
and found --not only no money,
but no pocket to hold it,
and no waistcoat to hold the pocket!
To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat behind him in his cell,
and with them his pocket-book,
pencil-case --all that makes life worth living,
all that distinguishes the many-pocketed animal,
the lord of creation,
from the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or trip about permissively,
unequipped for the real contest.
In his misery he made one desperate effort to carry the thing off,
with a return to his fine old manner --a blend of the Squire and the College Don --he said,
I find I've left my purse behind.
Just give me that ticket,
and I'll send the money on to-morrow?
I'm well-known in these parts."
The clerk stared at him and the rusty black bonnet a moment,
and then laughed.
"I should think you were pretty well known in these parts,"
"if you've tried this game on often.
stand away from the window,
you're obstructing the other passengers!"
An old gentleman who had been prodding him in the back for some moments here thrust him away,
what was worse,
addressed him as his good woman,
which angered Toad more than anything that had occurred that evening.
Baffled and full of despair,
he wandered blindly down the platform where the train was standing,
and tears trickled down each side of his nose.
It was hard,
to be within sight of safety and almost of home,
and to be baulked by the want of a few wretched shillings and by the pettifogging mistrustfulness of paid officials.
Very soon his escape would be discovered,
the hunt would be up,
he would be caught,
loaded with chains,
dragged back again to prison and bread-and-water and straw;
his guards and penalties would be doubled;
what sarcastic remarks the girl would make!
What was to be done?
He was not swift of foot;
his figure was unfortunately recognisable.
Could he not squeeze under the seat of a carriage?
He had seen this method adopted by schoolboys,
when the journey-money provided by thoughtful parents had been diverted to other and better ends.
As he pondered,
he found himself opposite the engine,
which was being oiled,
and generally caressed by its affectionate driver,
a burly man with an oil-can in one hand and a lump of cotton-waste in the other.
said the engine-driver,
"what's the trouble?
You don't look particularly cheerful."
"I am a poor unhappy washerwoman,
and I've lost all my money,
and can't pay for a ticket,
and I -must- get home to-night somehow,
and whatever I am to do I don't know.
"That's a bad business,
said the engine-driver reflectively.
"Lost your money --and can't get home --and got some kids,
waiting for you,
I dare say?"
"Any amount of
"And they'll be hungry --and playing with matches --and upsetting lamps,
the little innocents!
and going on generally.
I'll tell you what I'll do,"
said the good engine-driver.
"You're a washerwoman to your trade,
And I'm an engine-driver,
as you well may see,
and there's no denying it's terribly dirty work.
Uses up a power of shirts,
till my missus is fair tired of washing of
If you'll wash a few shirts for me when you get home,
I'll give you a ride on my engine.
It's against the Company's regulations,
but we're not so very particular in these out-of-the-way parts."
The Toad's misery turned into rapture as he eagerly scrambled up into the cab of the engine.
he had never washed a shirt in his life,
and couldn't if he tried and,
he wasn't going to begin;
but he thought:
"When I get safely home to Toad Hall,
and have money again,
and pockets to put it in,
I will send the engine-driver enough to pay for quite a quantity of washing,
and that will be the same thing,
The guard waved his welcome flag,
the engine-driver whistled in cheerful response,
and the train moved out of the station.
As the speed increased,
and the Toad could see on either side of him real fields,
all flying past him,
and as he thought how every minute was bringing him nearer to Toad Hall,
and sympathetic friends,
and money to chink in his pocket,
and a soft bed to sleep in,
and good things to eat,
and praise and admiration at the recital of his adventures and his surpassing cleverness,
he began to skip up and down and shout and sing snatches of song,
to the great astonishment of the engine-driver,
who had come across washerwomen before,
at long intervals,
but never one at all like this.
They had covered many and many a mile,
and Toad was already considering what he would have for supper as soon as he got home,
when he noticed that the engine-driver,
with a puzzled expression on his face,
was leaning over the side of the engine and listening hard.
Then he saw him climb on to the coals and gaze out over the top of the train;
then he returned and said to Toad:
"It's very strange;
we're the last train running in this direction to-night,
yet I could be sworn that I heard another following us!"
Toad ceased his frivolous antics at once.
He became grave and depressed,
and a dull pain in the lower part of his spine,
communicating itself to his legs,
made him want to sit down and try desperately not to think of all the possibilities.
By this time the moon was shining brightly,
and the engine-driver,
steadying himself on the coal,
could command a view of the line behind them for a long distance.
Presently he called out,
"I can see it clearly now!
It is an engine,
on our rails,
coming along at a great pace!
It looks as if we were being pursued!"
The miserable Toad,
crouching in the coal-dust,
tried hard to think of something to do,
with dismal want of success.
"They are gaining on us fast!"
cried the engine-driver.
"And the engine is crowded with the queerest lot of people!
Men like ancient warders,
policemen in their helmets,
and shabbily dressed men in pot-hats,
obvious and unmistakable plain-clothes detectives even at this distance,
waving revolvers and walking-sticks;
and all shouting the same thing --'Stop,
Then Toad fell on his knees among the coals,
raising his clasped paws in supplication,
only save me,
dear kind Mr. Engine-driver,
and I will confess everything!
I am not the simple washerwoman I seem to be!
I have no children waiting for me,
innocent or otherwise!
I am a toad --the well-known and popular Mr. Toad,
a landed proprietor;
I have just escaped,
by my great daring and cleverness,
from a loathsome dungeon into which my enemies had flung me;
and if those fellows on that engine recapture me,
it will be chains and bread-and-water and straw and misery once more for poor,
The engine-driver looked down upon him very sternly,
"Now tell the truth;
what were you put in prison for?"
"It was nothing very much,"
said poor Toad,
"I only borrowed a motor-car while the owners were at lunch;
they had no need of it at the time.
I didn't mean to steal it,
but people --especially magistrates --take such harsh views of thoughtless and high-spirited actions."
The engine-driver looked very grave and said,
"I fear that you have been indeed a wicked toad,
and by rights I ought to give you up to offended justice.
But you are evidently in sore trouble and distress,
so I will not desert you.
I don't hold with motor-cars,
for one thing;
and I don't hold with being ordered about by policemen when I'm on my own engine,
And the sight of an animal in tears always makes me feel queer and soft-hearted.
So cheer up,
I'll do my best,
and we may beat them yet!"
They piled on more coals,
the furnace roared,
the sparks flew,
the engine leapt and swung,
but still their pursuers slowly gained.
with a sigh,
wiped his brow with a handful of cotton-waste,
"I'm afraid it's no good,
they are running light,
and they have the better engine.
There's just one thing left for us to do,
and it's your only chance,
so attend very carefully to what I tell you.
A short way ahead of us is a long tunnel,
and on the other side of that the line passes through a thick wood.
I will put on all the speed I can while we are running through the tunnel,
but the other fellows will slow down a bit,
for fear of an accident.
When we are through,
I will shut off steam and put on brakes as hard as I can,
and the moment it's safe to do so you must jump and hide in the wood,
before they get through the tunnel and see you.
Then I will go full speed ahead again,
and they can chase me if they like,
for as long as they like,
and as far as they like.
Now mind and be ready to jump when I tell you!"
They piled on more coals,
and the train shot into the tunnel,
and the engine rushed and roared and rattled,
till at last they shot out at the other end into fresh air and the peaceful moonlight,
and saw the wood lying dark and helpful upon either side of the line.
The driver shut off steam and put on brakes,
the Toad got down on the step,
and as the train slowed down to almost a walking pace he heard the driver call out,
rolled down a short embankment,
picked himself up unhurt,
scrambled into the wood and hid.
he saw his train get up speed again and disappear at a great pace.
Then out of the tunnel burst the pursuing engine,
roaring and whistling,
her motley crew waving their various weapons and shouting,
When they were past,
the Toad had a hearty laugh --for the first time since he was thrown into prison.
But he soon stopped laughing when he came to consider that it was now very late and dark and cold,
and he was in an unknown wood,
with no money and no chance of supper,
and still far from friends and home;
and the dead silence of everything,
after the roar and rattle of the train,
was something of a shock.
He dared not leave the shelter of the trees,
so he struck into the wood,
with the idea of leaving the railway as far as possible behind him.
After so many weeks within walls,
he found the wood strange and unfriendly and inclined,
to make fun of him.
sounding their mechanical rattle,
made him think that the wood was full of searching warders,
closing in on him.
swooping noiselessly towards him,
brushed his shoulder with its wing,
making him jump with the horrid certainty that it was a hand;
then flitted off,
laughing its low ho!
which Toad thought in very poor taste.
Once he met a fox,
looked him up and down in a sarcastic sort of way,
Half a pair of socks and a pillow-case short this week!
Mind it doesn't occur again!"
and swaggered off,
Toad looked about for a stone to throw at him,
but could not succeed in finding one,
which vexed him more than anything.
and tired out,
he sought the shelter of a hollow tree,
where with branches and dead leaves he made himself as comfortable a bed as he could,
and slept soundly till the morning.
The Water Rat was restless,
and he did not exactly know why.
To all appearance the summer's pomp was still at fullest height,
and although in the tilled acres green had given way to gold,
though rowans were reddening,
and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny fierceness,
yet light and warmth and colour were still present in undiminished measure,
clean of any chilly premonitions of the passing year.
But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers;
the robin was beginning to assert himself once more;
and there was a feeling in the air of change and departure.
had long been silent;
but many another feathered friend,
for months a part of the familiar landscape and its small society,
was missing too,
and it seemed that the ranks thinned steadily day by day.
ever observant of all winged movement,
saw that it was taking daily a southing tendency;
and even as he lay in bed at night he thought he could make out,
passing in the darkness overhead,
the beat and quiver of impatient pinions,
obedient to the peremptory call.
Nature's Grand Hotel has its Season,
like the others.
As the guests one by one pack,
and the seats at the -table-d'hôte- shrink pitifully at each succeeding meal;
as suites of rooms are closed,
carpets taken up,
and waiters sent away;
those boarders who are staying on,
until the next year's full re-opening,
cannot help being somewhat affected by all these flittings and farewells,
this eager discussion of plans,
and fresh quarters,
this daily shrinkage in the stream of comradeship.
One gets unsettled,
and inclined to be querulous.
Why this craving for change?
Why not stay on quietly here,
and be jolly?
You don't know this hotel out of the season,
and what fun we have among ourselves,
we fellows who remain and see the whole interesting year out.
All very true,
the others always reply;
we quite envy you --and some other year perhaps --but just now we have engagements --and there's the bus at the door --our time is up!
So they depart,
with a smile and a nod,
and we miss them,
and feel resentful.
The Rat was a self-sufficing sort of animal,
rooted to the land,
he could not help noticing what was in the air,
and feeling some of its influence in his bones.
It was difficult to settle down to anything seriously,
with all this flitting going on.
Leaving the water-side,
where rushes stood thick and tall in a stream that was becoming sluggish and low,
he wandered country-wards,
crossed a field or two of pasturage already looking dusty and parched,
and thrust into the great sea of wheat,
full of quiet motion and small whisperings.
Here he often loved to wander,
through the forest of stiff strong stalks that carried their own golden sky away over his head --a sky that was always dancing,
or swaying strongly to the passing wind and recovering itself with a toss and a merry laugh.
he had many small friends,
a society complete in itself,
leading full and busy lives,
but always with a spare moment to gossip,
and exchange news with a visitor.
though they were civil enough,
the field-mice and harvest mice seemed pre-occupied.
Many were digging and tunnelling busily;
gathered together in small groups,
examined plans and drawings of small flats,
stated to be desirable and compact,
and situated conveniently near the Stores.
Some were hauling out dusty trunks and dress-baskets,
others were already elbow-deep packing their belongings;
while everywhere piles and bundles of wheat,
beech-mast and nuts,
lay about ready for transport.
"Here's old Ratty!"
they cried as soon as they saw him.
"Come and bear a hand,
and don't stand about idle!"
"What sort of games are you up to?"
said the Water Rat severely.
"You know it isn't time to be thinking of winter quarters yet,
by a long way!"
we know that,"
explained a field-mouse rather shamefacedly;
"but it's always as well to be in good time,
We really -must- get all the furniture and baggage and stores moved out of this before those horrid machines begin clicking round the fields;
the best flats get picked up so quickly nowadays,
and if you're late you have to put up with -anything-;
and they want such a lot of doing up,
before they're fit to move into.
we know that;
but we're only just making a start."
said the Rat.
"It's a splendid day.
Come for a row,
or a stroll along the hedges,
or a picnic in the woods,
I -think- not -to-day-,
replied the field-mouse hurriedly.
"Perhaps some -other- day --when we've more -time ---"
with a snort of contempt,
swung round to go,
tripped over a hat-box,
with undignified remarks.
"If people would be more careful,"
said a field-mouse rather stiffly,
"and look where they're going,
people wouldn't hurt themselves --and forget themselves.
Mind that hold-all,
You'd better sit down somewhere.
In an hour or two we may be more free to attend to you."
"You won't be
'free' as you call it,
much this side of Christmas,
I can see that,"
retorted the Rat grumpily,
as he picked his way out of the field.
He returned somewhat despondently to his river again --his faithful,
steady-going old river,
which never packed up,
or went into winter quarters.
In the osiers which fringed the bank he spied a swallow sitting.
Presently it was joined by another,
and then by a third;
and the birds,
fidgeting restlessly on their bough,
talked together earnestly and low.
said the Rat,
strolling up to them.
"What's the hurry?
I call it simply ridiculous."
we're not off yet,
if that's what you mean,"
replied the first swallow.
"We're only making plans and arranging things.
Talking it over,
you know --what route we're taking this year,
and where we'll stop,
and so on.
That's half the fun!"
said the Rat;
"now that's just what I don't understand.
If you've -got- to leave this pleasant place,
and your friends who will miss you,
and your snug homes that you've just settled into,
when the hour strikes I've no doubt you'll go bravely,
and face all the trouble and discomfort and change and newness,
and make believe that you're not very unhappy.
But to want to talk about it,
or even think about it,
till you really need --"
you don't understand,
said the second swallow.
we feel it stirring within us,
a sweet unrest;
then back come the recollections one by one,
like homing pigeons.
They flutter through our dreams at night,
they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day.
We hunger to inquire of each other,
to compare notes and assure ourselves that it was all really true,
as one by one the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us."
"Couldn't you stop on for just this year?"
suggested the Water Rat,
"We'll all do our best to make you feel at home.
You've no idea what good times we have here,
while you are far away."
'stopping on' one year,"
said the third swallow.
"I had grown so fond of the place that when the time came I hung back and let the others go on without me.
For a few weeks it was all well enough,
O the weary length of the nights!
The air so clammy and chill,
and not an insect in an acre of it!
it was no good;
my courage broke down,
and one cold,
stormy night I took wing,
flying well inland on account of the strong easterly gales.
It was snowing hard as I beat through the passes of the great mountains,
and I had a stiff fight to win through;
but never shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun again on my back as I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid below me,
and the taste of my first fat insect!
The past was like a bad dream;
the future was all happy holiday as I moved southwards week by week,
lingering as long as I dared,
but always heeding the call!
I had had my warning;
never again did I think of disobedience."
the call of the South,
of the South!"
twittered the other two dreamily.
its radiant air!
do you remember --" and,
forgetting the Rat,
they slid into passionate reminiscence,
while he listened fascinated,
and his heart burned within him.
he knew that it was vibrating at last,
that chord hitherto dormant and unsuspected.
The mere chatter of these southern-bound birds,
their pale and second-hand reports,
had yet power to awaken this wild new sensation and thrill him through and through with it;
what would one moment of the real thing work in him --one passionate touch of the real southern sun,
one waft of the authentic odour?
With closed eyes he dared to dream a moment in full abandonment,
and when he looked again the river seemed steely and chill,
the green fields grey and lightless.
Then his loyal heart seemed to cry out on his weaker self for its treachery.
"Why do you ever come back,
he demanded of the swallows jealously.
"What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little country?"
"And do you think,"
said the first swallow,
"that the other call is not for us too,
in its due season?
The call of lush meadow-grass,
of browsing cattle,
and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves?"
"Do you suppose,"
asked the second one,
"that you are the only living thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo's note again?"
"In due time,"
said the third,
"we shall be home-sick once more for quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream.
But to-day all that seems pale and thin and very far away.
Just now our blood dances to other music."
They fell a-twittering among themselves once more,
and this time their intoxicating babble was of violet seas,
and lizard-haunted walls.
Restlessly the Rat wandered off once more,
climbed the slope that rose gently from the north bank of the river,
and lay looking out towards the great ring of Downs that barred his vision further southwards --his simple horizon hitherto,
his Mountains of the Moon,
his limit behind which lay nothing he had cared to see or to know.
to him gazing South with a new-born need stirring in his heart,
the clear sky over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise;
the unseen was everything,
the unknown the only real fact of life.
On this side of the hills was now the real blank,
on the other lay the crowded and coloured panorama that his inner eye was seeing so clearly.
What seas lay beyond,
What sun-bathed coasts,
along which the white villas glittered against the olive woods!
What quiet harbours,
thronged with gallant shipping bound for purple islands of wine and spice,
islands set low in languorous waters!
He rose and descended river-wards once more;
then changed his mind and sought the side of the dusty lane.
lying half-buried in the thick,
cool under-hedge tangle that bordered it,
he could muse on the metalled road and all the wondrous world that it led to;
on all the wayfarers,
that might have trodden it,
and the fortunes and adventures they had gone to seek or found unseeking --out there,
Footsteps fell on his ear,
and the figure of one that walked somewhat wearily came into view;
and he saw that it was a Rat,
and a very dusty one.
as he reached him,
saluted with a gesture of courtesy that had something foreign about it --hesitated a moment --then with a pleasant smile turned from the track and sat down by his side in the cool herbage.
He seemed tired,
and the Rat let him rest unquestioned,
understanding something of what was in his thoughts;
the value all animals attach at times to mere silent companionship,
when the weary muscles slacken and the mind marks time.
The wayfarer was lean and keen-featured,
and somewhat bowed at the shoulders;
his paws were thin and long,
his eyes much wrinkled at the corners,
and he wore small gold ear rings in his neatly-set well-shaped ears.
His knitted jersey was of a faded blue,
patched and stained,
were based on a blue foundation,
and his small belongings that he carried were tied up in a blue cotton handkerchief.
When he had rested awhile the stranger sighed,
snuffed the air,
and looked about him.
"That was clover,
that warm whiff on the breeze,"
"and those are cows we hear cropping the grass behind us and blowing softly between mouthfuls.
There is a sound of distant reapers,
and yonder rises a blue line of cottage smoke against the woodland.
The river runs somewhere close by,
for I hear the call of a moorhen,
and I see by your build that you're a freshwater mariner.
Everything seems asleep,
and yet going on all the time.
It is a goodly life that you lead,
no doubt the best in the world,
if only you are strong enough to lead it!"
it's -the- life,
the only life,
responded the Water Rat dreamily,
and without his usual whole-hearted conviction.
"I did not say exactly that,"
replied the stranger cautiously;
"but no doubt it's the best.
I've tried it,
and I know.
And because I've just tried it --six months of it --and know it's the best,
here am I,
footsore and hungry,
tramping away from it,
following the old call,
back to the old life,
-the- life which is mine and which will not let me go."
yet another of them?"
mused the Rat.
"And where have you just come from?"
He hardly dared to ask where he was bound for;
he seemed to know the answer only too well.
"Nice little farm,"
replied the wayfarer,
"Upalong in that direction --" he nodded northwards.
"Never mind about it.
I had everything I could want --everything I had any right to expect of life,
and here I am!
Glad to be here all the same,
glad to be here!
So many miles further on the road,
so many hours nearer to my heart's desire!"
His shining eyes held fast to the horizon,
and he seemed to be listening for some sound that was wanting from that inland acreage,
vocal as it was with the cheerful music of pasturage and farmyard.
"You are not one of -us-,"
said the Water Rat,
"nor yet a farmer;
I should judge,
of this country."
replied the stranger.
"I'm a seafaring rat,
and the port I originally hail from is Constantinople,
though I'm a sort of a foreigner there too,
in a manner of speaking.
You will have heard of Constantinople,
A fair city and an ancient and glorious one.
And you may have heard too,
King of Norway,
and how he sailed thither with sixty ships,
and how he and his men rode up through streets all canopied in their honour with purple and gold;
and how the Emperor and Empress came down and banqueted with him on board his ship.
When Sigurd returned home,
many of his Northmen remained behind and entered the Emperor's body-guard,
and my ancestor,
a Norwegian born,
stayed behind too,
with the ships that Sigurd gave the Emperor.
Seafarers we have ever been,
and no wonder;
as for me,
the city of my birth is no more my home than any pleasant port between there and the London River.
I know them all,
and they know me.
Set me down on any of their quays or foreshores,
and I am home again."
"I suppose you go great voyages,"
said the Water Rat with growing interest.
"Months and months out of sight of land,
and provisions running short,
and allowanced as to water,
and your mind communing with the mighty ocean,
and all that sort of thing?"
"By no means,"
said the Sea Rat frankly.
"Such a life as you describe would not suit me at all.
I'm in the coasting trade,
and rarely out of sight of land.
It's the jolly times on shore that appeal to me,
as much as any seafaring.
those southern seaports!
The smell of them,
the riding-lights at night,
perhaps you have chosen the better way,"
said the Water Rat,
but rather doubtfully.
"Tell me something of your coasting,
if you have a mind to,
and what sort of harvest an animal of spirit might hope to bring home from it to warm his latter days with gallant memories by the fireside;
for my life,
I confess to you,
feels to me to-day somewhat narrow and circumscribed."
"My last voyage,"
began the Sea Rat,
"that landed me eventually in this country,
bound with high hopes for my inland farm,
will serve as a good example of any of them,
as an epitome of my highly-coloured life.
The domestic storm-cone was hoisted,
and I shipped myself on board a small trading vessel bound from Constantinople,
by classic seas whose every wave throbs with a deathless memory,
to the Grecian Islands and the Levant.
Those were golden days and balmy nights!
In and out of harbour all the time --old friends everywhere --sleeping in some cool temple or ruined cistern during the heat of the day --feasting and song after sundown,
under great stars set in a velvet sky!
Thence we turned and coasted up the Adriatic,
its shores swimming in an atmosphere of amber,
we lay in wide landlocked harbours,
we roamed through ancient and noble cities,
until at last one morning,
as the sun rose royally behind us,
we rode into Venice down a path of gold.
Venice is a fine city,
wherein a rat can wander at his ease and take his pleasure!
when weary of wandering,
can sit at the edge of the Grand Canal at night,
feasting with his friends,
when the air is full of music and the sky full of stars,
and the lights flash and shimmer on the polished steel prows of the swaying gondolas,
packed so that you could walk across the canal on them from side to side!
And then the food --do you like shell-fish?
we won't linger over that now."
He was silent for a time;
and the Water Rat,
silent too and enthralled,
floated on dream-canals and heard a phantom song pealing high between vaporous grey wave-lapped walls.
"Southwards we sailed again at last,"
continued the Sea Rat,
"coasting down the Italian shore,
till finally we made Palermo,
and there I quitted for a long,
happy spell on shore.
I never stick too long to one ship;
one gets narrow-minded and prejudiced.
Sicily is one of my happy hunting-grounds.
I know everybody there,
and their ways just suit me.
I spent many jolly weeks in the island,
staying with friends upcountry.
When I grew restless again I took advantage of a ship that was trading to Sardinia and Corsica;
and very glad I was to feel the fresh breeze and the sea-spray in my face once more."
"But isn't it very hot and stuffy,
down in the --hold,
I think you call it?"
asked the Water Rat.
The seafarer looked at him with the suspicion of a wink.
"I'm an old hand,"
he remarked with much simplicity.
"The captain's cabin's good enough for me."
"It's a hard life,
by all accounts,"
murmured the Rat,
sunk in deep thought.
"For the crew it is,"
replied the seafarer gravely,
again with the ghost of a wink.
he went on,
"I made use of a ship that was taking wine to the mainland.
We made Alassio in the evening,
hauled up our wine-casks,
and hove them overboard,
tied one to the other by a long line.
Then the crew took to the boats and rowed shorewards,
singing as they went,
and drawing after them the long bobbing procession of casks,
like a mile of porpoises.
On the sands they had horses waiting,
which dragged the casks up the steep street of the little town with a fine rush and clatter and scramble.
When the last cask was in,
we went and refreshed and rested,
and sat late into the night,
drinking with our friends,
and next morning I took to the great olive-woods for a spell and a rest.
For now I had done with islands for the time,
and ports and shipping were plentiful;
so I led a lazy life among the peasants,
lying and watching them work,
or stretched high on the hillside with the blue Mediterranean far below me.
And so at length,
by easy stages,
and partly on foot,
partly by sea,
and the meeting of old shipmates,
and the visiting of great ocean-bound vessels,
and feasting once more.
Talk of shell-fish!
sometimes I dream of the shell-fish of Marseilles,
and wake up crying!"
[Illustration: -"It's a hard life,
by all accounts,"
murmured the Rat-]
"That reminds me,"
said the polite Water Rat;
"you happened to mention that you were hungry,
and I ought to have spoken earlier.
you will stop and take your mid-day meal with me?
My hole is close by;
it is some time past noon,
and you are very welcome to whatever there is."
"Now I call that kind and brotherly of you,"
said the Sea Rat.
"I was indeed hungry when I sat down,
and ever since I inadvertently happened to mention shell-fish,
my pangs have been extreme.
But couldn't you fetch it along out here?
I am none too fond of going under hatches,
unless I'm obliged to;
while we eat,
I could tell you more concerning my voyages and the pleasant life I lead --at least,
it is very pleasant to me,
and by your attention I judge it commends itself to you;
whereas if we go indoors it is a hundred to one that I shall presently fall asleep."
"That is indeed an excellent suggestion,"
said the Water Rat,
and hurried off home.
There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal,
remembering the stranger's origin and preferences,
he took care to include a yard of long French bread,
a sausage out of which the garlic sang,
some cheese which lay down and cried,
and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.
he returned with all speed,
and blushed for pleasure at the old seaman's commendations of his taste and judgment,
as together they unpacked the basket and laid out the contents on the grass by the roadside.
The Sea Rat,
as soon as his hunger was somewhat assuaged,
continued the history of his latest voyage,
conducting his simple hearer from port to port of Spain,
landing him at Lisbon,
introducing him to the pleasant harbours of Cornwall and Devon,
and so up the Channel to that final quayside,
landing after winds long contrary,
storm-driven and weather-beaten,
he had caught the first magical hints and heraldings of another Spring,
fired by these,
had sped on a long tramp inland,
hungry for the experiment of life on some quiet farmstead,
very far from the weary beating of any sea.
Spellbound and quivering with excitement,
the Water Rat followed the Adventurer league by league,
over stormy bays,
through crowded roadsteads,
across harbour bars on a racing tide,
up winding rivers that hid their busy little towns round a sudden turn;
and left him with a regretful sigh planted at his dull inland farm,
about which he desired to hear nothing.
By this time their meal was over,
and the Seafarer,
refreshed and strengthened,
his voice more vibrant,
his eye lit with a brightness that seemed caught from some far-away sea-beacon,
filled his glass with the red and glowing vintage of the South,
leaning towards the Water Rat,
compelled his gaze and held him,
body and soul,
while he talked.
Those eyes were of the changing foam-streaked grey-green of leaping Northern seas;
in the glass shone a hot ruby that seemed the very heart of the South,
beating for him who had courage to respond to its pulsation.
The twin lights,
the shifting grey and the steadfast red,
mastered the Water Rat and held him bound,
The quiet world outside their rays receded far away and ceased to be.
And the talk,
the wonderful talk flowed on --or was it speech entirely,
or did it pass at times into song --chanty of the sailors weighing the dripping anchor,
sonorous hum of the shrouds in a tearing North-Easter,
ballad of the fisherman hauling his nets at sundown against an apricot sky,
chords of guitar and mandoline from gondola or caique?
Did it change into the cry of the wind,
plaintive at first,
angrily shrill as it freshened,
rising to a tearing whistle,
sinking to a musical trickle of air from the leech of the bellying sail?
All these sounds the spellbound listener seemed to hear,
and with them the hungry complaint of the gulls and the sea-mews,
the soft thunder of the breaking wave,
the cry of the protesting shingle.
Back into speech again it passed,
and with beating heart he was following the adventures of a dozen seaports,
the gallant undertakings;
or he searched islands for treasure,
fished in still lagoons and dozed day-long on warm white sand.
Of deep-sea fishings he heard tell,
and mighty silver gatherings of the mile-long net;
of sudden perils,
noise of breakers on a moonless night,
or the tall bows of the great liner taking shape overhead through the fog;
of the merry home-coming,
the headland rounded,
the harbour lights opened out;
the groups seen dimly on the quay,
the cheery hail,
the splash of the hawser;
the trudge up the steep little street towards the comforting glow of red-curtained windows.
in his waking dream it seemed to him that the Adventurer had risen to his feet,
but was still speaking,
still holding him fast with his sea-grey eyes.
he was softly saying,
"I take to the road again,
holding on southwestwards for many a long and dusty day;
till at last I reach the little grey sea town I know so well,
that clings along one steep side of the harbour.
There through dark doorways you look down flights of stone steps,
overhung by great pink tufts of valerian and ending in a patch of sparkling blue water.
The little boats that lie tethered to the rings and stanchions of the old sea-wall are gaily painted as those I clambered in and out of in my own childhood;
the salmon leap on the flood tide,
schools of mackerel flash and play past quay-sides and foreshores,
and by the windows the great vessels glide,
night and day,
up to their moorings or forth to the open sea.
sooner or later,
the ships of all seafaring nations arrive;
at its destined hour,
the ship of my choice will let go its anchor.
I shall take my time,
I shall tarry and bide,
till at last the right one lies waiting for me,
warped out into mid-stream,
her bowsprit pointing down harbour.
I shall slip on board,
by boat or along hawser;
and then one morning I shall wake to the song and tramp of the sailors,
the clink of the capstan,
and the rattle of the anchor-chain coming merrily in.
We shall break out the jib and the foresail,
the white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us as she gathers steering-way,
and the voyage will have begun!
As she forges towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas;
the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to the wind,
you will come too,
for the days pass,
and never return,
and the South still waits for you.
Take the adventure,
heed the call,
now ere the irrevocable moment passes!
'Tis but a banging of the door behind you,
a blithesome step forward,
and you are out of the old life and into the new!
Then some day,
some day long hence,
jog home here if you will,
when the cup has been drained and the play has been played,
and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company.
You can easily overtake me on the road,
for you are young,
and I am ageing and go softly.
I will linger,
and look back;
and at last I will surely see you coming,
eager and light-hearted,
with all the South in your face!"
The voice died away and ceased as an insect's tiny trumpet dwindles swiftly into silence;
and the Water Rat,
paralysed and staring,
saw at last but a distant speck on the white surface of the road.
Mechanically he rose and proceeded to repack the luncheon-basket,
carefully and without haste.
Mechanically he returned home,
gathered together a few small necessaries and special treasures he was fond of,
and put them in a satchel;
acting with slow deliberation,
moving about the room like a sleep-walker;
listening ever with parted lips.
He swung the satchel over his shoulder,
carefully selected a stout stick for his wayfaring,
and with no haste,
but with no hesitation at all,
he stepped across the threshold just as the Mole appeared at the door.
where are you off to,
asked the Mole in great surprise,
grasping him by the arm.
with the rest of them,"
murmured the Rat in a dreamy monotone,
never looking at him.
"Seawards first and then on shipboard,
and so to the shores that are calling me!"
He pressed resolutely forward,
still without haste,
but with dogged fixity of purpose;
but the Mole,
now thoroughly alarmed,
placed himself in front of him,
and looking into his eyes saw that they were glazed and set and turned a streaked and shifting grey --not his friend's eyes,
but the eyes of some other animal!
Grappling with him strongly he dragged him inside,
threw him down,
and held him.
The Rat struggled desperately for a few moments,
and then his strength seemed suddenly to leave him,
and he lay still and exhausted,
with closed eyes,
Presently the Mole assisted him to rise and placed him in a chair,
where he sat collapsed and shrunken into himself,
his body shaken by a violent shivering,
passing in time into an hysterical fit of dry sobbing.
Mole made the door fast,
threw the satchel into a drawer and locked it,
and sat down quietly on the table by his friend,
waiting for the strange seizure to pass.
Gradually the Rat sank into a troubled doze,
broken by starts and confused murmurings of things strange and wild and foreign to the unenlightened Mole;
and from that he passed into a deep slumber.
Very anxious in mind,
the Mole left him for a time and busied himself with household matters;
and it was getting dark when he returned to the parlour and found the Rat where he had left him,
wide awake indeed,
He took one hasty glance at his eyes;
to his great gratification,
clear and dark and brown again as before;
and then sat down and tried to cheer him up and help him to relate what had happened to him.
Poor Ratty did his best,
to explain things;
but how could he put into cold words what had mostly been suggestion?
for another's benefit,
the haunting sea voices that had sung to him,
how reproduce at second-hand the magic of the Seafarer's hundred reminiscences?
Even to himself,
now the spell was broken and the glamour gone,
he found it difficult to account for what had seemed,
some hours ago,
the inevitable and only thing.
It is not surprising,
that he failed to convey to the Mole any clear idea of what he had been through that day.
To the Mole this much was plain: the fit,
had passed away,
and had left him sane again,
though shaken and cast down by the reaction.
But he seemed to have lost all interest for the time in the things that went to make up his daily life,
as well as in all pleasant forecastings of the altered days and doings that the changing season was surely bringing.
and with seeming indifference,
the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in,
the towering wagons and their straining teams,
the growing ricks,
and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves.
He talked of the reddening apples around,
of the browning nuts,
of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials;
till by easy stages such as these he reached midwinter,
its hearty joys and its snug home life,
and then he became simply lyrical.
By degrees the Rat began to sit up and to join in.
His dull eye brightened,
and he lost some of his listening air.
Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and a few half-sheets of paper,
which he placed on the table at his friend's elbow.
"It's quite a long time since you did any poetry,"
"You might have a try at it this evening,
instead of --well,
brooding over things so much.
I've an idea that you'll feel a lot better when you've got something jotted down --if it's only just the rhymes."
The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily,
but the discreet Mole took occasion to leave the room,
and when he peeped in again some time later,
the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world;
alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil.
It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled;
but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOAD
The front door of the hollow tree faced eastwards,
so Toad was called at an early hour;
partly by the bright sunlight streaming in on him,
partly by the exceeding coldness of his toes,
which made him dream that he was at home in bed in his own handsome room with the Tudor window,
on a cold winter's night,
and his bed-clothes had got up,
grumbling and protesting they couldn't stand the cold any longer,
and had run downstairs to the kitchen fire to warm themselves;
and he had followed,
on bare feet,
along miles and miles of icy stone-paved passages,
arguing and beseeching them to be reasonable.
He would probably have been aroused much earlier,
had he not slept for some weeks on straw over stone flags,
and almost forgotten the friendly feeling of thick blankets pulled well up round the chin.
he rubbed his eyes first and his complaining toes next,
wondered for a moment where he was,
looking round for familiar stone wall and little barred window;
with a leap of the heart,
remembered everything --his escape,
first and best thing of all,
that he was free!
The word and the thought alone were worth fifty blankets.
He was warm from end to end as he thought of the jolly world outside,
waiting eagerly for him to make his triumphal entrance,
ready to serve him and play up to him,
anxious to help him and to keep him company,
as it always had been in days of old before misfortune fell upon him.
He shook himself and combed the dry leaves out of his hair with his fingers;
his toilet complete,
marched forth into the comfortable morning sun,
cold but confident,
hungry but hopeful,
all nervous terrors of yesterday dispelled by rest and sleep and frank and heartening sunshine.
He had the world all to himself,
that early summer morning.
The dewy woodland,
as he threaded it,
was solitary and still: the green fields that succeeded the trees were his own to do as he liked with;
the road itself,
when he reached it,
in that loneliness that was everywhere,
like a stray dog,
to be looking anxiously for company.
was looking for something that could talk,
and tell him clearly which way he ought to go.
It is all very well,
when you have a light heart,
and a clear conscience,
and money in your pocket,
and nobody scouring the country for you to drag you off to prison again,
to follow where the road beckons and points,
not caring whither.
The practical Toad cared very much indeed,
and he could have kicked the road for its helpless silence when every minute was of importance to him.
The reserved rustic road was presently joined by a shy little brother in the shape of a canal,
which took its hand and ambled along by its side in perfect confidence,
but with the same tongue-tied,
uncommunicative attitude towards strangers.
said Toad to himself.
one thing's clear.
They must both be coming -from- somewhere,
and going -to- somewhere.
You can't get over that,
So he marched on patiently by the water's edge.
Round a bend in the canal came plodding a solitary horse,
stooping forward as if in anxious thought.
From rope traces attached to his collar stretched a long line,
but dipping with his stride,
the further part of it dripping pearly drops.
Toad let the horse pass,
and stood waiting for what the fates were sending him.
With a pleasant swirl of quiet water at its blunt bow the barge slid up alongside of him,
its gaily painted gunwale level with the towing-path,
its sole occupant a big stout woman wearing a linen sun-bonnet,
one brawny arm laid along the tiller.
"A nice morning,
she remarked to Toad,
as she drew up level with him.
"I dare say it is,
responded Toad politely,
as he walked along the tow-path abreast of her.
"I dare say it is a nice morning to them that's not in sore trouble,
like what I am.
Here's my married daughter,
she sends off to me post-haste to come to her at once;
so off I comes,
not knowing what may be happening or going to happen,
but fearing the worst,
as you will understand,
if you're a mother,
And I've left my business to look after itself --I'm in the washing and laundering line,
you must know,
ma'am --and I've left my young children to look after themselves,
and a more mischievous and troublesome set of young imps doesn't exist,
and I've lost all my money,
and lost my way,
and as for what may be happening to my married daughter,
I don't like to think of it,
"Where might your married daughter be living,
asked the barge-woman.
"She lives near to the river,
"Close to a fine house called Toad Hall,
that's somewheres hereabouts in these parts.
Perhaps you may have heard of it."
I'm going that way myself,"
replied the barge-woman.
"This canal joins the river some miles further on,
a little above Toad Hall;
and then it's an easy walk.
You come along in the barge with me,
and I'll give you a lift."
She steered the barge close to the bank,
with many humble and grateful acknowledgments,
stepped lightly on board and sat down with great satisfaction.
"Toad's luck again!"
"I always come out on top!"
"So you're in the washing business,
said the barge-woman politely,
as they glided along.
"And a very good business you've got too,
I dare say,
if I'm not making too free in saying so."
"Finest business in the whole country,"
said Toad airily.
"All the gentry come to me --wouldn't go to any one else if they were paid,
they know me so well.
I understand my work thoroughly,
and attend to it all myself.
making up gents' fine shirts for evening wear --everything's done under my own eye!"
"But surely you don't -do- all that work yourself,
asked the barge-woman respectfully.
I have girls,"
said Toad lightly:
"twenty girls or thereabouts,
always at work.
But you know what -girls- are,
Nasty little hussies,
that's what -I- call
"So do I,
said the barge-woman with great heartiness.
"But I dare say you set yours to rights,
the idle trollops!
And are you -very- fond of washing?"
"I love it,"
"I simply dote on it.
Never so happy as when I've got both arms in the wash-tub.
it comes so easy to me!
No trouble at all!
A real pleasure,
I assure you,
"What a bit of luck,
observed the barge-woman,
"A regular piece of good fortune for both of us!"
what do you mean?"
look at me,
replied the barge-woman.
"-I- like washing,
just the same as you do;
and for that matter,
whether I like it or not I have got to do all my own,
moving about as I do.
Now my husband,
he's such a fellow for shirking his work and leaving the barge to me,
that never a moment do I get for seeing to my own affairs.
By rights he ought to be here now,
either steering or attending to the horse,
though luckily the horse has sense enough to attend to himself.
Instead of which,
he's gone off with the dog,
to see if they can't pick up a rabbit for dinner somewhere.
Says he'll catch me up at the next lock.
that's as may be --I don't trust him,
once he gets off with that dog,
who's worse than he is.
how am I to get on with my washing?"
never mind about the washing,"
not liking the subject.
"Try and fix your mind on that rabbit.
A nice fat young rabbit,
I'll be bound.
Got any onions?"
"I can't fix my mind on anything but my washing,"
said the barge-woman,
"and I wonder you can be talking of rabbits,
with such a joyful prospect before you.
There's a heap of things of mine that you'll find in a corner of the cabin.
If you'll just take one or two of the most necessary sort --I won't venture to describe them to a lady like you,
but you'll recognise them at a glance --and put them through the wash-tub as we go along,
it'll be a pleasure to you,
as you rightly say,
and a real help to me.
You'll find a tub handy,
and a kettle on the stove,
and a bucket to haul up water from the canal with.
Then I shall know you're enjoying yourself,
instead of sitting here idle,
looking at the scenery and yawning your head off."
you let me steer!"
now thoroughly frightened,
"and then you can get on with your washing your own way.
I might spoil your things,
or not do
'em as you like.
I'm more used to gentleman's things myself.
It's my special line."
"Let you steer?"
replied the barge-woman,
"It takes some practice to steer a barge properly.
it's dull work,
and I want you to be happy.
you shall do the washing you are so fond of,
and I'll stick to the steering that I understand.
Don't try and deprive me of the pleasure of giving you a treat!"
Toad was fairly cornered.
He looked for escape this way and that,
saw that he was too far from the bank for a flying leap,
and sullenly resigned himself to his fate.
"If it comes to that,"
he thought in desperation,
"I suppose any fool can -wash-!"
He fetched tub,
and other necessaries from the cabin,
selected a few garments at random,
tried to recollect what he had seen in casual glances through laundry windows,
and set to.
A long half-hour passed,
and every minute of it saw Toad getting crosser and crosser.
Nothing that he could do to the things seemed to please them or do them good.
He tried coaxing,
he tried slapping,
he tried punching;
they smiled back at him out of the tub unconverted,
happy in their original sin.
Once or twice he looked nervously over his shoulder at the barge-woman,
but she appeared to be gazing out in front of her,
absorbed in her steering.
His back ached badly,
and he noticed with dismay that his paws were beginning to get all crinkly.
Now Toad was very proud of his paws.
He muttered under his breath words that should never pass the lips of either washerwomen or Toads;
and lost the soap,
for the fiftieth time.
A burst of laughter made him straighten himself and look round.
The barge-woman was leaning back and laughing unrestrainedly,
till the tears ran down her cheeks.
"I've been watching you all the time,"
"I thought you must be a humbug all along,
from the conceited way you talked.
Pretty washerwoman you are!
Never washed so much as a dish-clout in your life,
which had been simmering viciously for some time,
now fairly boiled over,
and he lost all control of himself.
"don't you dare to talk to your betters like that!
I would have you to know that I am a Toad,
a very well-known,
I may be under a bit of a cloud at present,
but I will -not- be laughed at by a barge-woman!"
The woman moved nearer to him and peered under his bonnet keenly and closely.
so you are!"
And in my nice clean barge,
Now that is a thing that I will -not- have."
She relinquished the tiller for a moment.
mottled arm shot out and caught Toad by a fore-leg,
while the other gripped him fast by a hind-leg.
Then the world turned suddenly upside down,
the barge seemed to flit lightly across the sky,
the wind whistled in his ears,
and Toad found himself flying through the air,
revolving rapidly as he went.
when he eventually reached it with a loud splash,
proved quite cold enough for his taste,
though its chill was not sufficient to quell his proud spirit,
or slake the heat of his furious temper.
He rose to the surface spluttering,
and when he had wiped the duck-weed out of his eyes the first thing he saw was the fat barge-woman looking back at him over the stern of the retreating barge and laughing;
and he vowed,
as he coughed and choked,
to be even with her.
He struck out for the shore,
but the cotton gown greatly impeded his efforts,
and when at length he touched land he found it hard to climb up the steep bank unassisted.
He had to take a minute or two's rest to recover his breath;
gathering his wet skirts well over his arms,
he started to run after the barge as fast as his legs would carry him,
wild with indignation,
thirsting for revenge.
The barge-woman was still laughing when he drew up level with her.
"Put yourself through your mangle,
she called out,
"and iron your face and crimp it,
and you'll pass for quite a decent-looking Toad!"
Toad never paused to reply.
Solid revenge was what he wanted,
though he had a thing or two in his mind that he would have liked to say.
He saw what he wanted ahead of him.
Running swiftly on he overtook the horse,
unfastened the tow-rope and cast off,
jumped lightly on the horse's back,
and urged it to a gallop by kicking it vigorously in the sides.
He steered for the open country,
abandoning the tow-path,
and swinging his steed down a rutty lane.
Once he looked back,
and saw that the barge had run aground on the other side of the canal,
and the barge-woman was gesticulating wildly and shouting,
"I've heard that song before,"
as he continued to spur his steed onward in its wild career.
The barge-horse was not capable of any very sustained effort,
and its gallop soon subsided into a trot,
and its trot into an easy walk;
but Toad was quite contented with this,
knowing that he,
at any rate,
and the barge was not.
He had quite recovered his temper,
now that he had done something he thought really clever;
and he was satisfied to jog along quietly in the sun,
steering his horse along by-ways and bridle-paths,
and trying to forget how very long it was since he had had a square meal,
till the canal had been left very far behind him.
He had travelled some miles,
his horse and he,
and he was feeling drowsy in the hot sunshine,
when the horse stopped,
lowered his head,
and began to nibble the grass;
just saved himself from falling off by an effort.
He looked about him and found he was on a wide common,
dotted with patches of gorse and bramble as far as he could see.
Near him stood a dingy gipsy caravan,
and beside it a man was sitting on a bucket turned upside down,
very busy smoking and staring into the wide world.
A fire of sticks was burning near by,
and over the fire hung an iron pot,
and out of that pot came forth bubblings and gurglings,
and a vague suggestive steaminess.
Also smells --warm,
and varied smells --that twined and twisted and wreathed themselves at last into one complete,
perfect smell that seemed like the very soul of Nature taking form and appearing to her children,
a true Goddess,
a mother of solace and comfort.
Toad now knew well that he had not been really hungry before.
What he had felt earlier in the day had been a mere trifling qualm.
This was the real thing at last,
and no mistake;
and it would have to be dealt with speedily,
or there would be trouble for somebody or something.
He looked the gipsy over carefully,
wondering vaguely whether it would be easier to fight him or cajole him.
So there he sat,
and sniffed and sniffed,
and looked at the gipsy;
and the gipsy sat and smoked,
and looked at him.
Presently the gipsy took his pipe out of his mouth and remarked in a careless way,
"Want to sell that there horse of yours?"
Toad was completely taken aback.
He did not know that gipsies were very fond of horse-dealing,
and never missed an opportunity,
and he had not reflected that caravans were always on the move and took a deal of drawing.
It had not occurred to him to turn the horse into cash,
but the gipsy's suggestion seemed to smooth the way towards the two things he wanted so badly --ready money,
and a solid breakfast.
"me sell this beautiful young horse of mine?
it's out of the question.
Who's going to take the washing home to my customers every week?
I'm too fond of him,
and he simply dotes on me."
"Try and love a donkey,"
suggested the gipsy.
"Some people do."
"You don't seem to see,"
"that this fine horse of mine is a cut above you altogether.
He's a blood horse,
not the part you see,
of course --another part.
And he's been a Prize Hackney,
in his time --that was the time before you knew him,
but you can still tell it on him at a glance,
if you understand anything about horses.
it's not to be thought of for a moment.
All the same,
how much might you be disposed to offer me for this beautiful young horse of mine?"
The gipsy looked the horse over,
and then he looked Toad over with equal care,
and looked at the horse again.
"Shillin' a leg,"
he said briefly,
and turned away,
continuing to smoke and try to stare the wide world out of countenance.
"A shilling a leg?"
"If you please,
I must take a little time to work that out,
and see just what it comes to."
He climbed down off his horse,
and left it to graze,
and sat down by the gipsy,
and did sums on his fingers,
and at last he said,
"A shilling a leg?
that comes to exactly four shillings,
and no more.
I could not think of accepting four shillings for this beautiful young horse of mine."
said the gipsy,
"I'll tell you what I will do.
I'll make it five shillings,
and that's three-and-sixpence more than the animal's worth.
And that's my last word."
Then Toad sat and pondered long and deeply.
For he was hungry and quite penniless,
and still some way --he knew not how far --from home,
and enemies might still be looking for him.
To one in such a situation,
five shillings may very well appear a large sum of money.
On the other hand,
it did not seem very much to get for a horse.
the horse hadn't cost him anything;
so whatever he got was all clear profit.
At last he said firmly,
I tell you what we will do;
and this is -my- last word.
You shall hand me over six shillings and sixpence,
in addition thereto,
you shall give me as much breakfast as I can possibly eat,
at one sitting of course,
out of that iron pot of yours that keeps sending forth such delicious and exciting smells.
I will make over to you my spirited young horse,
with all the beautiful harness and trappings that are on him,
freely thrown in.
If that's not good enough for you,
and I'll be getting on.
I know a man near here who's wanted this horse of mine for years."
The gipsy grumbled frightfully,
and declared if he did a few more deals of that sort he'd be ruined.
But in the end he lugged a dirty canvas bag out of the depths of his trouser pocket,
and counted out six shillings and sixpence into Toad's paw.
Then he disappeared into the caravan for an instant,
and returned with a large iron plate and a knife,
He tilted up the pot,
and a glorious stream of hot,
rich stew gurgled into the plate.
the most beautiful stew in the world,
being made of partridges,
and one or two other things.
Toad took the plate on his lap,
and kept asking for more,
and the gipsy never grudged it him.
He thought that he had never eaten so good a breakfast in all his life.
When Toad had taken as much stew on board as he thought he could possibly hold,
he got up and said good-bye to the gipsy,
and took an affectionate farewell of the horse;
and the gipsy,
who knew the riverside well,
gave him directions which way to go,
and he set forth on his travels again in the best possible spirits.
a very different Toad from the animal of an hour ago.
The sun was shining brightly,
his wet clothes were quite dry again,
he had money in his pocket once more,
he was nearing home and friends and safety,
most and best of all,
he had had a substantial meal,
hot and nourishing,
and felt big,
As he tramped along gaily,
he thought of his adventures and escapes,
and how when things seemed at their worst he had always managed to find a way out;
and his pride and conceit began to swell within him.
he said to himself,
as he marched along with his chin in the air,
"what a clever Toad I am!
There is surely no animal equal to me for cleverness in the whole world!
My enemies shut me up in prison,
encircled by sentries,
watched night and day by warders;
I walk out through them all,
by sheer ability coupled with courage.
They pursue me with engines,
I snap my fingers at them,
thrown into a canal by a woman fat of body and very evil-minded.
What of it?
I swim ashore,
I seize her horse,
I ride off in triumph,
and I sell the horse for a whole pocketful of money and an excellent breakfast!
I am The Toad,
the successful Toad!"
He got so puffed up with conceit that he made up a song as he walked in praise of himself,
and sang it at the top of his voice,
though there was no one to hear it but him.
the most conceited song that any animal ever composed.
"The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame Compared with that of Toad!
"The clever men at Oxford Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much As intelligent Mr. Toad!
"The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said,
'There's land ahead?'
Encouraging Mr. Toad!
"The army all saluted As they marched along the road.
Was it the King?
No. It was Mr. Toad.
"The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting Sat at the window and sewed.
who's that -handsome- man?'
There was a great deal more of the same sort,
but too dreadfully conceited to be written down.
These are some of the milder verses.
He sang as he walked,
and he walked as he sang,
and got more inflated every minute.
But his pride was shortly to have a severe fall.
After some miles of country lanes he reached the high road,
and as he turned into it and glanced along its white length,
he saw approaching him a speck that turned into a dot and then into a blob,
and then into something very familiar;
and a double note of warning,
only too well known,
fell on his delighted ear.
"This is something like!"
said the excited Toad.
"This is real life again,
this is once more the great world from which I have been missed so long!
I will hail them,
my brothers of the wheel,
and pitch them a yarn,
of the sort that has been so successful hitherto;
and they will give me a lift,
and then I will talk to them some more;
it may even end in my driving up to Toad Hall in a motor-car!
That will be one in the eye for Badger!"
He stepped confidently out into the road to hail the motor-car,
which came along at an easy pace,
slowing down as it neared the lane;
when suddenly he became very pale,
his heart turned to water,
his knees shook and yielded under him,
and he doubled up and collapsed with a sickening pain in his interior.
And well he might,
the unhappy animal;
for the approaching car was the very one he had stolen out of the yard of the Red Lion Hotel on that fatal day when all his troubles began!
And the people in it were the very same people he had sat and watched at luncheon in the coffee-room!
He sank down in a shabby,
miserable heap in the road,
murmuring to himself in his despair,
"It's all up!
It's all over now!
Chains and policemen again!
Dry bread and water again!
what a fool I have been!
What did I want to go strutting about the country for,
singing conceited songs,
and hailing people in broad day on the high road,
instead of hiding till nightfall and slipping home quietly by back ways!
O hapless Toad!
O ill-fated animal!"
The terrible motor-car drew slowly nearer and nearer,
till at last he heard it stop just short of him.
Two gentlemen got out and walked round the trembling heap of crumpled misery lying in the road,
and one of them said,
this is very sad!
Here is a poor old thing --a washerwoman apparently --who has fainted in the road!
Perhaps she is overcome by the heat,
or possibly she has not had any food to-day.
Let us lift her into the car and take her to the nearest village,
where doubtless she has friends."
They tenderly lifted Toad into the motor-car and propped him up with soft cushions,
and proceeded on their way.
When Toad heard them talk in so kind and sympathetic a way,
and knew that he was not recognised,
his courage began to revive,
and he cautiously opened first one eye and then the other.
said one of the gentlemen,
"she is better already.
The fresh air is doing her good.
How do you feel now,
"Thank you kindly,
said Toad in a feeble voice,
"I'm feeling a great deal better!"
said the gentleman.
"Now keep quite still,
don't try to talk."
"I was only thinking,
if I might sit on the front seat there,
beside the driver,
where I could get the fresh air full in my face,
I should soon be all right again."
"What a very sensible woman!"
said the gentleman.
"Of course you shall."
So they carefully helped Toad into the front seat beside the driver,
and on they went again.
Toad was almost himself again by now.
He sat up,
looked about him,
and tried to beat down the tremors,
the old cravings that rose up and beset him and took possession of him entirely.
"It is fate!"
he said to himself.
and he turned to the driver at his side.
"I wish you would kindly let me try and drive the car for a little.
I've been watching you carefully,
and it looks so easy and so interesting,
and I should like to be able to tell my friends that once I had driven a motor-car!"
The driver laughed at the proposal,
so heartily that the gentleman inquired what the matter was.
When he heard,
to Toad's delight,
I like your spirit.
Let her have a try,
and look after her.
She won't do any harm."
Toad eagerly scrambled into the seat vacated by the driver,
took the steering-wheel in his hands,
listened with affected humility to the instructions given him,
and set the car in motion,
but very slowly and carefully at first,
for he was determined to be prudent.
The gentlemen behind clapped their hands and applauded,
and Toad heard them saying,
"How well she does it!
Fancy a washerwoman driving a car as well as that,
the first time!"
Toad went a little faster;
then faster still,
He heard the gentlemen call out warningly,
And this annoyed him,
and he began to lose his head.
The driver tried to interfere,
but he pinned him down in his seat with one elbow,
and put on full speed.
The rush of air in his face,
the hum of the engines,
and the light jump of the car beneath him intoxicated his weak brain.
he shouted recklessly.
I am the Toad,
the motor-car snatcher,
the Toad who always escapes!
and you shall know what driving really is,
for you are in the hands of the famous,
the entirely fearless Toad!"
With a cry of horror the whole party rose and flung themselves on him.
"seize the Toad,
the wicked animal who stole our motor-car!
drag him to the nearest police station!
Down with the desperate and dangerous Toad!"
they should have thought,
they ought to have been more prudent,
they should have remembered to stop the motor-car somehow before playing any pranks of that sort.
With a half-turn of the wheel the Toad sent the car crashing through the low hedge that ran along the roadside.
One mighty bound,
a violent shock,
and the wheels of the car were churning up the thick mud of a horse-pond.
Toad found himself flying through the air with the strong upward rush and delicate curve of a swallow.
He liked the motion,
and was just beginning to wonder whether it would go on until he developed wings and turned into a Toad-bird,
when he landed on his back with a thump,
in the soft,
rich grass of a meadow.
he could just see the motor-car in the pond,
the gentlemen and the driver,
encumbered by their long coats,
were floundering helplessly in the water.
He picked himself up rapidly,
and set off running across country as hard as he could,
scrambling through hedges,
pounding across fields,
till he was breathless and weary,
and had to settle down into an easy walk.
When he had recovered his breath somewhat,
and was able to think calmly,
he began to giggle,
and from giggling he took to laughing,
and he laughed till he had to sit down under a hedge.
in ecstasies of self-admiration.
comes out on the top!
Who was it got them to give him a lift?
Who managed to get on the front seat for the sake of fresh air?
Who persuaded them into letting him see if he could drive?
Who landed them all in a horse-pond?
flying gaily and unscathed through the air,
leaving the narrow-minded,
timid excursionists in the mud where they should rightly be?
Then he burst into song again,
and chanted with uplifted voice --
"The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop,
As it raced along the road.
Who was it steered it into a pond?
Ingenious Mr. Toad!
how clever I am!
how very clev --"
A slight noise at a distance behind him made him turn his head and look.
About two fields off,
a chauffeur in his leather gaiters and two large rural policemen were visible,
running towards him as hard as they could go!
Poor Toad sprang to his feet and pelted away again,
his heart in his mouth.
as he panted along,
"what an -ass- I am!
What a -conceited- and heedless ass!
Shouting and singing songs again!
Sitting still and gassing again!
He glanced back,
and saw to his dismay that they were gaining on him.
On he ran desperately,
but kept looking back,
and saw that they still gained steadily.
He did his best,
but he was a fat animal,
and his legs were short,
and still they gained.
He could hear them close behind him now.
Ceasing to heed where he was going,
he struggled on blindly and wildly,
looking back over his shoulder at the now triumphant enemy,
when suddenly the earth failed under his feet,
he grasped at the air,
he found himself head over ears in deep water,
water that bore him along with a force he could not contend with;
and he knew that in his blind panic he had run straight into the river!
He rose to the surface and tried to grasp the reeds and the rushes that grew along the water's edge close under the bank,
but the stream was so strong that it tore them out of his hands.
gasped poor Toad,
"if ever I steal a motor-car again!
If ever I sing another conceited song" --then down he went,
and came up breathless and spluttering.
Presently he saw that he was approaching a big dark hole in the bank,
just above his head,
and as the stream bore him past he reached up with a paw and caught hold of the edge and held on.
Then slowly and with difficulty he drew himself up out of the water,
till at last he was able to rest his elbows on the edge of the hole.
There he remained for some minutes,
puffing and panting,
for he was quite exhausted.
As he sighed and blew and stared before him into the dark hole,
some bright small thing shone and twinkled in its depths,
moving towards him.
As it approached,
a face grew up gradually around it,
and it was a familiar face!
Brown and small,
Grave and round,
with neat ears and silky hair.
It was the Water Rat!
"LIKE SUMMER TEMPESTS CAME HIS TEARS"
The Rat put out a neat little brown paw,
gripped Toad firmly by the scruff of the neck,
and gave a great hoist and a pull;
and the water-logged Toad came up slowly but surely over the edge of the hole,
till at last he stood safe and sound in the hall,
streaked with mud and weed,
to be sure,
and with the water streaming off him,
but happy and high-spirited as of old,
now that he found himself once more in the house of a friend,
and dodgings and evasions were over,
and he could lay aside a disguise that was unworthy of his position and wanted such a lot of living up to.
"I've been through such times since I saw you last,
you can't think!
and all so nobly borne!
Then such escapes,
and all so cleverly planned and carried out!
Been in prison --got out of it,
Been thrown into a canal --swam ashore!
Stole a horse --sold him for a large sum of money!
Humbugged everybody --made
'em all do exactly what I wanted!
I -am- a smart Toad,
and no mistake!
What do you think my last exploit was?
Just hold on till I tell you --"
said the Water Rat,
gravely and firmly,
"you go off upstairs at once,
and take off that old cotton rag that looks as if it might formerly have belonged to some washerwoman,
and clean yourself thoroughly,
and put on some of my clothes,
and try and come down looking like a gentleman if you -can-;
for a more shabby,
disreputable-looking object than you are I never set eyes on in my whole life!
stop swaggering and arguing,
and be off!
I'll have something to say to you later!"
Toad was at first inclined to stop and do some talking back at him.
He had had enough of being ordered about when he was in prison,
and here was the thing being begun all over again,
and by a Rat,
he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass over the hat-stand,
with the rusty black bonnet perched rakishly over one eye,
and he changed his mind and went very quickly and humbly upstairs to the Rat's dressing-room.
There he had a thorough wash and brush-up,
changed his clothes,
and stood for a long time before the glass,
contemplating himself with pride and pleasure,
and thinking what utter idiots all the people must have been to have ever mistaken him for one moment for a washerwoman.
By the time he came down again luncheon was on the table,
and very glad Toad was to see it,
for he had been through some trying experiences and had taken much hard exercise since the excellent breakfast provided for him by the gipsy.
While they ate Toad told the Rat all his adventures,
dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness,
and presence of mind in emergencies,
and cunning in tight places;
and rather making out that he had been having a gay and highly-coloured experience.
But the more he talked and boasted,
the more grave and silent the Rat became.
When at last Toad had talked himself to a standstill,
there was silence for a while;
and then the Rat said,
I don't want to give you pain,
after all you've been through already;
don't you see what an awful ass you've been making of yourself?
On your own admission you have been hand-cuffed,
terrified out of your life,
and ignominiously flung into the water --by a woman,
Where's the amusement in that?
Where does the fun come in?
And all because you must needs go and steal a motor-car.
You know that you've never had anything but trouble from motor-cars from the moment you first set eyes on one.
But if you -will- be mixed up with them --as you generally are,
five minutes after you've started --why -steal- them?
Be a cripple,
if you think it's exciting;
be a bankrupt,
for a change,
if you've set your mind on it: but why choose to be a convict?
When are you going to be sensible and think of your friends,
and try and be a credit to them?
Do you suppose it's any pleasure to me,
to hear animals saying,
as I go about,
that I'm the chap that keeps company with gaol-birds?"
[Illustration: -Dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness,
and presence of mind in emergencies-]
it was a very comforting point in Toad's character that he was a thoroughly good-hearted animal,
and never minded being jawed by those who were his real friends.
And even when most set upon a thing,
he was always able to see the other side of the question.
while the Rat was talking so seriously,
he kept saying to himself mutinously,
"But it -was- fun,
and making strange suppressed noises inside him,
and other sounds resembling stifled snorts,
or the opening of soda-water bottles,
yet when the Rat had quite finished,
he heaved a deep sigh and said,
very nicely and humbly,
How -sound- you always are!
I've been a conceited old ass,
I can quite see that;
but now I'm going to be a good Toad,
and not do it any more.
As for motor-cars,
I've not been at all so keen about them since my last ducking in that river of yours.
The fact is,
while I was hanging on to the edge of your hole and getting my breath,
I had a sudden idea --a really brilliant idea --connected with motor-boats --there,
don't take on so,
and upset things;
it was only an idea,
and we won't talk any more about it now.
We'll have our coffee,
-and- a smoke,
and a quiet chat,
and then I'm going to stroll quietly down to Toad Hall,
and get into clothes of my own,
and set things going again on the old lines.
I've had enough of adventures.
I shall lead a quiet,
pottering about my property,
and improving it,
and doing a little landscape gardening at times.
There will always be a bit of dinner for my friends when they come to see me;
and I shall keep a pony-chaise to jog about the country in,
just as I used to in the good old days,
before I got restless,
and wanted to -do- things."
"Stroll quietly down to Toad Hall?"
cried the Rat,
"What are you talking about?
Do you mean to say you haven't -heard-?"
turning rather pale.
Don't spare me!
What haven't I heard?"
"Do you mean to tell me,"
shouted the Rat,
thumping with his little fist upon the table,
"that you've heard nothing about the Stoats and Weasels?"
the Wild Wooders?"
trembling in every limb.
not a word!
What have they been doing?"
" --And how they've been and taken Toad Hall?"
continued the Rat.
Toad leaned his elbows on the table,
and his chin on his paws;
and a large tear welled up in each of his eyes,
overflowed and splashed on the table,
he murmured presently;
"tell me all.
The worst is over.
I am an animal again.
I can bear it."
"When you --got --into that --that --trouble of yours,"
said the Rat,
slowly and impressively;
when you --disappeared from society for a time,
over that misunderstanding about a --a machine,
you know --"
Toad merely nodded.
it was a good deal talked about down here,
continued the Rat,
"not only along the riverside,
but even in the Wild Wood.
Animals took sides,
as always happens.
The River-bankers stuck up for you,
and said you had been infamously treated,
and there was no justice to be had in the land nowadays.
But the Wild Wood animals said hard things,
and served you right,
and it was time this sort of thing was stopped.
And they got very cocky,
and went about saying you were done for this time!
You would never come back again,
Toad nodded once more,
"That's the sort of little beasts they are,"
the Rat went on.
"But Mole and Badger,
they stuck out,
through thick and thin,
that you would come back again soon,
They didn't know exactly how,
Toad began to sit up in his chair again,
and to smirk a little.
"They argued from history,"
continued the Rat.
"They said that no criminal laws had ever been known to prevail against cheek and plausibility such as yours,
combined with the power of a long purse.
So they arranged to move their things in to Toad Hall,
and sleep there,
and keep it aired,
and have it all ready for you when you turned up.
They didn't guess what was going to happen,
they had their suspicions of the Wild Wood animals.
Now I come to the most painful and tragic part of my story.
One dark night --it was a -very- dark night,
and blowing hard,
and raining simply cats and dogs --a band of weasels,
armed to the teeth,
crept silently up the carriage-drive to the front entrance.
a body of desperate ferrets,
advancing through the kitchen-garden,
possessed themselves of the backyard and offices;
while a company of skirmishing stoats who stuck at nothing occupied the conservatory and the billiard-room,
and held the French windows opening on to the lawn.
"The Mole and the Badger were sitting by the fire in the smoking-room,
telling stories and suspecting nothing,
for it wasn't a night for any animals to be out in,
when those bloodthirsty villains broke down the doors and rushed in upon them from every side.
They made the best fight they could,
but what was the good?
They were unarmed,
and taken by surprise,
and what can two animals do against hundreds?
They took and beat them severely with sticks,
those two poor faithful creatures,
and turned them out into the cold and the wet,
with many insulting and uncalled-for remarks!"
Here the unfeeling Toad broke into a snigger,
and then pulled himself together and tried to look particularly solemn.
"And the Wild Wooders have been living in Toad Hall ever since,"
continued the Rat;
"and going on simply anyhow!
Lying in bed half the day,
and breakfast at all hours,
and the place in such a mess (I'm told) it's not fit to be seen!
Eating your grub,
and drinking your drink,
and making bad jokes about you,
and singing vulgar songs,
about prisons and magistrates,
horrid personal songs,
with no humour in them.
And they're telling the tradespeople and everybody that they've come to stay for good."
getting up and seizing a stick.
"I'll jolly soon see about that!"
"It's no good,
called the Rat after him.
"You'd better come back and sit down;
you'll only get into trouble."
But the Toad was off,
and there was no holding him.
He marched rapidly down the road,
his stick over his shoulder,
fuming and muttering to himself in his anger,
till he got near his front gate,
when suddenly there popped up from behind the palings a long yellow ferret with a gun.
"Who comes there?"
said the ferret sharply.
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"What do you mean by talking like that to me?
Come out of that at once or I'll --"
The ferret said never a word,
but he brought his gun up to his shoulder.
Toad prudently dropped flat in the road,
a bullet whistled over his head.
The startled Toad scrambled to his feet and scampered off down the road as hard as he could;
and as he ran he heard the ferret laughing and other horrid thin little laughs taking it up and carrying on the sound.
He went back,
and told the Water Rat.
"What did I tell you?"
said the Rat.
"It's no good.
They've got sentries posted,
and they are all armed.
You must just wait."
Toad was not inclined to give in all at once.
So he got out the boat,
and set off rowing up the river to where the garden front of Toad Hall came down to the water-side.
Arriving within sight of his old home,
he rested on his oars and surveyed the land cautiously.
All seemed very peaceful and deserted and quiet.
He could see the whole front of Toad Hall,
glowing in the evening sunshine,
the pigeons settling by twos and threes along the straight line of the roof;
a blaze of flowers;
the creek that led up to the boat-house,
the little wooden bridge that crossed it;
apparently waiting for his return.
He would try the boat-house first,
Very warily he paddled up to the mouth of the creek,
and was just passing under the bridge,
A great stone,
dropped from above,
smashed through the bottom of the boat.
It filled and sank,
and Toad found himself struggling in deep water.
he saw two stoats leaning over the parapet of the bridge and watching him with great glee.
"It will be your head next time,
they called out to him.
The indignant Toad swam to shore,
while the stoats laughed and laughed,
supporting each other,
and laughed again,
till they nearly had two fits --that is,
one fit each,
The Toad retraced his weary way on foot,
and related his disappointing experiences to the Water Rat once more.
-what- did I tell you?"
said the Rat very crossly.
See what you've been and done!
Lost me my boat that I was so fond of,
that's what you've done!
And simply ruined that nice suit of clothes that I lent you!
of all the trying animals --I wonder you manage to keep any friends at all!"
The Toad saw at once how wrongly and foolishly he had acted.
He admitted his errors and wrong-headedness and made a full apology to Rat for losing his boat and spoiling his clothes.
And he wound up by saying,
with that frank self-surrender which always disarmed his friends' criticism and won them back to his side,
I see that I have been a headstrong and a wilful Toad!
I will be humble and submissive,
and will take no action without your kind advice and full approval!"
"If that is really so,"
said the good-natured Rat,
"then my advice to you is,
considering the lateness of the hour,
to sit down and have your supper,
which will be on the table in a minute,
and be very patient.
For I am convinced that we can do nothing until we have seen the Mole and the Badger,
and heard their latest news,
and held conference and taken their advice in this difficult matter."
the Mole and the Badger,"
"What's become of them,
the dear fellows?
I had forgotten all about them."
"Well may you ask!"
said the Rat reproachfully.
"While you were riding about the country in expensive motor-cars,
and galloping proudly on blood-horses,
and breakfasting on the fat of the land,
those two poor devoted animals have been camping out in the open,
in every sort of weather,
living very rough by day and lying very hard by night;
watching over your house,
patrolling your boundaries,
keeping a constant eye on the stoats and the weasels,
scheming and planning and contriving how to get your property back for you.
You don't deserve to have such true and loyal friends,
when it's too late,
you'll be sorry you didn't value them more while you had them!"
"I'm an ungrateful beast,
shedding bitter tears.
"Let me go out and find them,
out into the cold,
and share their hardships,
and try and prove by --Hold on a bit!
Surely I heard the chink of dishes on a tray!
Supper's here at last,
The Rat remembered that poor Toad had been on prison fare for a considerable time,
and that large allowances had therefore to be made.
He followed him to the table accordingly,
and hospitably encouraged him in his gallant efforts to make up for past privations.
They had just finished their meal and resumed their arm-chairs,
when there came a heavy knock at the door.
Toad was nervous,
but the Rat,
nodding mysteriously at him,
went straight up to the door and opened it,
and in walked Mr. Badger.
He had all the appearance of one who for some nights had been kept away from home and all its little comforts and conveniences.
His shoes were covered with mud,
and he was looking very rough and touzled;
but then he had never been a very smart man,
at the best of times.
He came solemnly up to Toad,
shook him by the paw,
what am I saying?
This is a poor home-coming.
Then he turned his back on him,
sat down to the table,
drew his chair up,
and helped himself to a large slice of cold pie.
Toad was quite alarmed at this very serious and portentous style of greeting;
but the Rat whispered to him,
don't take any notice;
and don't say anything to him just yet.
He's always rather low and despondent when he's wanting his victuals.
In half an hour's time he'll be quite a different animal."
So they waited in silence,
and presently there came another and a lighter knock.
with a nod to Toad,
went to the door and ushered in the Mole,
very shabby and unwashed,
with bits of hay and straw sticking in his fur.
Here's old Toad!"
cried the Mole,
his face beaming.
"Fancy having you back again!"
And he began to dance round him.
"We never dreamt you would turn up so soon!
you must have managed to escape,
pulled him by the elbow;
but it was too late.
Toad was puffing and swelling already.
"I'm not really clever,
according to my friends.
I've only broken out of the strongest prison in England,
And captured a railway train and escaped on it,
And disguised myself and gone about the country humbugging everybody,
I'm a stupid ass,
I'll tell you one or two of my little adventures,
and you shall judge for yourself!"
said the Mole,
moving towards the supper-table;
"supposing you talk while I eat.
Not a bite since breakfast!
And he sat down and helped himself liberally to cold beef and pickles.
Toad straddled on the hearth-rug,
thrust his paw into his trouser-pocket and pulled out a handful of silver.
"Look at that!"
"That's not so bad,
for a few minutes' work?
And how do you think I done it,
That's how I done it!"
said the Mole,
do be quiet,
said the Rat.
"And don't you egg him on,
when you know what he is;
but please tell us as soon as possible what the position is,
and what's best to be done,
now that Toad is back at last."
"The position's about as bad as it can be,"
replied the Mole grumpily;
"and as for what's to be done,
blest if I know!
The Badger and I have been round and round the place,
by night and by day;
always the same thing.
Sentries posted everywhere,
guns poked out at us,
stones thrown at us;
always an animal on the look-out,
and when they see us,
how they do laugh!
That's what annoys me most!"
"It's a very difficult situation,"
said the Rat,
"But I think I see now,
in the depths of my mind,
what Toad really ought to do.
I will tell you.
He ought to --"
shouted the Mole,
with his mouth full.
"Nothing of the sort!
You don't understand.
What he ought to do is,
he ought to --"
I shan't do it,
"I'm not going to be ordered about by you fellows!
It's my house we're talking about,
and I know exactly what to do,
and I'll tell you.
I'm going to --"
By this time they were all three talking at once,
at the top of their voices,
and the noise was simply deafening,
when a thin,
dry voice made itself heard,
"Be quiet at once,
all of you!"
and instantly every one was silent.
It was the Badger,
having finished his pie,
had turned round in his chair and was looking at them severely.
When he saw that he had secured their attention,
and that they were evidently waiting for him to address them,
he turned back to the table again and reached out for the cheese.
And so great was the respect commanded by the solid qualities of that admirable animal,
that not another word was uttered,
until he had quite finished his repast and brushed the crumbs from his knees.
The Toad fidgeted a good deal,
but the Rat held him firmly down.
When the Badger had quite done,
he got up from his seat and stood before the fireplace,
At last he spoke.
he said severely.
troublesome little animal!
Aren't you ashamed of yourself?
What do you think your father,
my old friend,
would have said if he had been here to-night,
and had known of all your goings on?"
who was on the sofa by this time,
with his legs up,
rolled over on his face,
shaken by sobs of contrition.
went on the Badger,
We're going to let bygones be bygones,
and try and turn over a new leaf.
But what the Mole says is quite true.
The stoats are on guard,
at every point,
and they make the best sentinels in the world.
It's quite useless to think of attacking the place.
They're too strong for us."
"Then it's all over,"
sobbed the Toad,
crying into the sofa cushions.
"I shall go and enlist for a soldier,
and never see my dear Toad Hall any more!"
said the Badger.
"There are more ways of getting back a place than taking it by storm.
I haven't said my last word yet.
Now I'm going to tell you a great secret."
Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes.
Secrets had an immense attraction for him,
because he never could keep one,
and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal,
after having faithfully promised not to.
"There --is --an --underground --passage,"
said the Badger,
"that leads from the river-bank,
quite near here,
right up into the middle of Toad Hall."
"You've been listening to some of the yarns they spin in the public-houses about here.
I know every inch of Toad Hall,
inside and out.
Nothing of the sort,
I do assure you!"
"My young friend,"
said the Badger,
with great severity,
who was a worthy animal --a lot worthier than some others I know --was a particular friend of mine,
and told me a great deal he wouldn't have dreamt of telling you.
He discovered that passage --he didn't make it,
that was done hundreds of years before he ever came to live there --and he repaired it and cleaned it out,
because he thought it might come in useful some day,
in case of trouble or danger;
and he showed it to me.
'Don't let my son know about it,'
'He's a good boy,
but very light and volatile in character,
and simply cannot hold his tongue.
If he's ever in a real fix,
and it would be of use to him,
you may tell him about the secret passage;
but not before.'"
The other animals looked hard at Toad to see how he would take it.
Toad was inclined to be sulky at first;
but he brightened up immediately,
like the good fellow he was.
"perhaps I am a bit of a talker.
A popular fellow such as I am --my friends get round me --we chaff,
we tell witty stories --and somehow my tongue gets wagging.
I have the gift of conversation.
I've been told I ought to have a -salon-,
whatever that may be.
How's this passage of yours going to help us?"
"I've found out a thing or two lately,"
continued the Badger.
"I got Otter to disguise himself as a sweep and call at the back-door with brushes over his shoulder,
asking for a job.
There's going to be a big banquet to-morrow night.
It's somebody's birthday --the Chief Weasel's,
I believe --and all the weasels will be gathered together in the dining-hall,
eating and drinking and laughing and carrying on,
no arms of any sort whatever!"
"But the sentinels will be posted as usual,"
remarked the Rat.
said the Badger;
"that is my point.
The weasels will trust entirely to their excellent sentinels.
And that is where the passage comes in.
That very useful tunnel leads right up under the butler's pantry,
next to the dining-hall!"
that squeaky board in the butler's pantry!"
"Now I understand it!"
"We shall creep out quietly into the butler's pantry --" cried the Mole.
" --with our pistols and swords and sticks --" shouted the Rat.
" --and rush in upon them,"
said the Badger.
" --and whack
cried the Toad in ecstasy,
running round and round the room,
and jumping over the chairs.
said the Badger,
resuming his usual dry manner,
"our plan is settled,
and there's nothing more for you to argue and squabble about.
as it's getting very late,
all of you go right off to bed at once.
We will make all the necessary arrangements in the course of the morning to-morrow."
went off to bed dutifully with the rest --he knew better than to refuse --though he was feeling much too excited to sleep.
But he had had a long day,
with many events crowded into it;
and sheets and blankets were very friendly and comforting things,
after plain straw,
and not too much of it,
spread on the stone floor of a draughty cell;
and his head had not been many seconds on his pillow before he was snoring happily.
he dreamt a good deal;
about roads that ran away from him just when he wanted them,
and canals that chased him and caught him,
and a barge that sailed into the banqueting-hall with his week's washing,
just as he was giving a dinner-party;
and he was alone in the secret passage,
but it twisted and turned round and shook itself,
and sat up on its end;
at the last,
he found himself back in Toad Hall,
safe and triumphant,
with all his friends gathered round about him,
earnestly assuring him that he really was a clever Toad.
He slept till a late hour next morning,
and by the time he got down he found that the other animals had finished their breakfast some time before.
The Mole had slipped off somewhere by himself,
without telling any one where he was going to.
The Badger sat in the arm-chair,
reading the paper,
and not concerning himself in the slightest about what was going to happen that very evening.
on the other hand,
was running round the room busily,
with his arms full of weapons of every kind,
distributing them in four little heaps on the floor,
and saying excitedly under his breath,
as he ran,
And so on,
in a regular,
while the four little heaps gradually grew and grew.
"That's all very well,
said the Badger presently,
looking at the busy little animal over the edge of his newspaper;
"I'm not blaming you.
But just let us once get past the stoats,
with those detestable guns of theirs,
and I assure you we shan't want any swords or pistols.
with our sticks,
once we're inside the dining-hall,
we shall clear the floor of all the lot of them in five minutes.
I'd have done the whole thing by myself,
only I didn't want to deprive you fellows of the fun!"
"It's as well to be on the safe side,"
said the Rat reflectively,
polishing a pistol-barrel on his sleeve and looking along it.
having finished his breakfast,
picked up a stout stick and swung it vigorously,
belabouring imaginary animals.
'em to steal my house!"
said the Rat,
"It's not good English."
"What are you always nagging at Toad for?"
inquired the Badger,
"What's the matter with his English?
It's the same what I use myself,
and if it's good enough for me,
it ought to be good enough for you!"
"I'm very sorry,"
said the Rat humbly.
"Only I -think- it ought to be
"But we don't -want- to teach
replied the Badger.
"We want to -learn-
And what's more,
we're going to -do- it,
have it your own way,"
said the Rat.
He was getting rather muddled about it himself,
and presently he retired into a corner,
where he could be heard muttering,
till the Badger told him rather sharply to leave off.
Presently the Mole came tumbling into the room,
evidently very pleased with himself.
"I've been having such fun!"
he began at once;
"I've been getting a rise out of the stoats!"
"I hope you've been very careful,
said the Rat anxiously.
"I should hope so,
said the Mole confidently.
"I got the idea when I went into the kitchen,
to see about Toad's breakfast being kept hot for him.
I found that old washerwoman-dress that he came home in yesterday,
hanging on a towel-horse before the fire.
So I put it on,
and the bonnet as well,
and the shawl,
and off I went to Toad Hall,
as bold as you please.
The sentries were on the look-out,
with their guns and their
'Who comes there?'
and all the rest of their nonsense.
'Want any washing done to-day?'
They looked at me very proud and stiff and haughty,
We don't do any washing on duty.'
'Or any other time?'
Wasn't I -funny-,
The fact is,
he felt exceedingly jealous of Mole for what he had just done.
It was exactly what he would have liked to have done himself,
if only he had thought of it first,
and hadn't gone and overslept himself.
"Some of the stoats turned quite pink,"
continued the Mole,
"and the Sergeant in charge,
he said to me,
'Now run away,
my good woman,
Don't keep my men idling and talking on their posts.'
'it won't be me that'll be running away,
in a very short time from now!'"
how could you?"
said the Rat,
The Badger laid down his paper.
"I could see them pricking up their ears and looking at each other,"
went on the Mole;
"and the Sergeant said to them,
'Never mind -her-;
she doesn't know what she's talking about.'"
let me tell you this.
she washes for Mr. Badger,
and that'll show you whether I know what I'm talking about;
and -you'll- know pretty soon,
A hundred bloodthirsty badgers,
armed with rifles,
are going to attack Toad Hall this very night,
by way of the paddock.
Six boatloads of Rats,
with pistols and cutlasses,
will come up the river and effect a landing in the garden;
while a picked body of Toads,
known as the Die-hards,
or the Death-or-Glory Toads,
will storm the orchard and carry everything before them,
yelling for vengeance.
There won't be much left of you to wash,
by the time they've done with you,
unless you clear out while you have the chance!'
Then I ran away,
and when I was out of sight I hid;
and presently I came creeping back along the ditch and took a peep at them through the hedge.
They were all as nervous and flustered as could be,
running all ways at once,
and falling over each other,
and every one giving orders to everybody else and not listening;
and the Sergeant kept sending off parties of stoats to distant parts of the grounds,
and then sending other fellows to fetch
'em back again;
and I heard them saying to each other,
'That's just like the weasels;
they're to stop comfortably in the banqueting-hall,
and have feasting and toasts and songs and all sorts of fun,
while we must stay on guard in the cold and the dark,
and in the end be cut to pieces by bloodthirsty Badgers!'"
you silly ass,
"You've been and spoilt everything!"
said the Badger,
in his dry,
"I perceive you have more sense in your little finger than some other animals have in the whole of their fat bodies.
You have managed excellently,
and I begin to have great hopes of you.
The Toad was simply wild with jealousy,
more especially as he couldn't make out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so particularly clever;
fortunately for him,
before he could show temper or expose himself to the Badger's sarcasm,
the bell rang for luncheon.
It was a simple but sustaining meal --bacon and broad beans,
and a macaroni pudding;
and when they had quite done,
the Badger settled himself into an arm-chair,
we've got our work cut out for us to-night,
and it will probably be pretty late before we're quite through with it;
so I'm just going to take forty winks,
while I can."
And he drew a handkerchief over his face and was soon snoring.
The anxious and laborious Rat at once resumed his preparations,
and started running between his four little heaps,
and so on,
with every fresh accoutrement he produced,
to which there seemed really no end;
so the Mole drew his arm through Toad's,
led him out into the open air,
shoved him into a wicker chair,
and made him tell him all his adventures from beginning to end,
which Toad was only too willing to do.
The Mole was a good listener,
with no one to check his statements or to criticise in an unfriendly spirit,
rather let himself go.
much that he related belonged more properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in- time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards.
Those are always the best and the raciest adventures;
and why should they not be truly ours,
as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come off?
THE RETURN OF ULYSSES
When it began to grow dark,
with an air of excitement and mystery,
summoned them back into the parlour,
stood each of them up alongside of his little heap,
and proceeded to dress them up for the coming expedition.
He was very earnest and thorough-going about it,
and the affair took quite a long time.
there was a belt to go round each animal,
and then a sword to be stuck into each belt,
and then a cutlass on the other side to balance it.
Then a pair of pistols,
a policeman's truncheon,
several sets of handcuffs,
some bandages and sticking-plaster,
and a flask and a sandwich-case.
The Badger laughed good-humouredly and said,
It amuses you and it doesn't hurt me.
I'm going to do all I've got to do with this here stick."
But the Rat only said,
You know I shouldn't like you to blame me afterwards and say I had forgotten -anything-!"
When all was quite ready,
the Badger took a dark lantern in one paw,
grasped his great stick with the other,
'cos I'm very pleased with him;
And look here,
Don't you chatter so much as usual,
or you'll be sent back,
as sure as fate!"
The Toad was so anxious not to be left out that he took up the inferior position assigned to him without a murmur,
and the animals set off.
The Badger led them along by the river for a little way,
and then suddenly swung himself over the edge into a hole in the river bank,
a little above the water.
The Mole and the Rat followed silently,
swinging themselves successfully into the hole as they had seen the Badger do;
but when it came to Toad's turn,
of course he managed to slip and fall into the water with a loud splash and a squeal of alarm.
He was hauled out by his friends,
rubbed down and wrung out hastily,
and set on his legs;
but the Badger was seriously angry,
and told him that the very next time he made a fool of himself he would most certainly be left behind.
[Illustration: -The Badger said,
So at last they were in the secret passage,
and the cutting-out expedition had really begun!
It was cold,
and poor Toad began to shiver,
partly from dread of what might be before him,
partly because he was wet through.
The lantern was far ahead,
and he could not help lagging behind a little in the darkness.
Then he heard the Rat call out warningly,
and a terror seized him of being left behind,
alone in the darkness,
and he "came on" with such a rush that he upset the Rat into the Mole,
and the Mole into the Badger,
and for a moment all was confusion.
The Badger thought they were being attacked from behind,
as there was no room to use a stick or a cutlass,
drew a pistol,
and was on the point of putting a bullet into Toad.
When he found out what had really happened he was very angry indeed,
"Now this time that tiresome Toad -shall- be left behind!"
But Toad whimpered,
and the other two promised that they would be answerable for his good conduct,
and at last the Badger was pacified,
and the procession moved on;
only this time the Rat brought up the rear,
with a firm grip on the shoulder of Toad.
So they groped and shuffled along,
with their ears pricked up and their paws on their pistols,
till at last the Badger said,
"We ought by now to be pretty nearly under the Hall."
Then suddenly they heard,
far away as it might be,
and yet apparently nearly over their heads,
a confused murmur of sound,
as if people were shouting and cheering and stamping on the floor and hammering on tables.
The Toad's nervous terrors all returned,
but the Badger only remarked placidly,
"They -are- going it,
The passage now began to slope upwards;
they groped onward a little further,
and then the noise broke out again,
quite distinct this time,
and very close above them.
and the stamping of little feet on the floor,
and the clinking of glasses as little fists pounded on the table.
"-What- a time they're having!"
said the Badger.
They hurried along the passage till it came to a full stop,
and they found themselves standing under the trap-door that led up into the butler's pantry.
Such a tremendous noise was going on in the banqueting-hall that there was little danger of their being overheard.
The Badger said,
and the four of them put their shoulders to the trap-door and heaved it back.
Hoisting each other up,
they found themselves standing in the pantry,
with only a door between them and the banqueting-hall,
where their unconscious enemies were carousing.
as they emerged from the passage,
was simply deafening.
as the cheering and hammering slowly subsided,
a voice could be made out saying,
I do not propose to detain you much longer" --(great applause) --"but before I resume my seat" --(renewed cheering) --"I should like to say one word about our kind host,
We all know Toad!"
--(great laughter) --"-Good- Toad,
(shrieks of merriment).
"Only just let me get at him!"
grinding his teeth.
"Hold hard a minute!"
said the Badger,
restraining him with difficulty.
all of you!"
" --Let me sing you a little song,"
went on the voice,
"which I have composed on the subject of Toad" --(prolonged applause).
Then the Chief Weasel --for it was he --began in a high,
squeaky voice --
"Toad he went a-pleasuring Gaily down the street --"
The Badger drew himself up,
took a firm grip of his stick with both paws,
glanced round at his comrades,
and cried --
"The hour is come!
And flung the door open wide.
What a squealing and a squeaking and a screeching filled the air!
Well might the terrified weasels dive under the tables and spring madly up at the windows!
Well might the ferrets rush wildly for the fireplace and get hopelessly jammed in the chimney!
Well might tables and chairs be upset,
and glass and china be sent crashing on the floor,
in the panic of that terrible moment when the four Heroes strode wrathfully into the room!
The mighty Badger,
his whiskers bristling,
his great cudgel whistling through the air;
black and grim,
brandishing his stick and shouting his awful war-cry,
desperate and determined,
his belt bulging with weapons of every age and every variety;
frenzied with excitement and injured pride,
swollen to twice his ordinary size,
leaping into the air and emitting Toad-whoops that chilled them to the marrow!
"Toad he went a-pleasuring!"
and he went straight for the Chief Weasel.
They were but four in all,
but to the panic-stricken weasels the hall seemed full of monstrous animals,
brown and yellow,
whooping and flourishing enormous cudgels;
and they broke and fled with squeals of terror and dismay,
this way and that,
through the windows,
up the chimney,
anywhere to get out of reach of those terrible sticks.
The affair was soon over.
Up and down,
the whole length of the hall,
strode the four Friends,
whacking with their sticks at every head that showed itself;
and in five minutes the room was cleared.
Through the broken windows the shrieks of terrified weasels escaping across the lawn were borne faintly to their ears;
on the floor lay prostrate some dozen or so of the enemy,
on whom the Mole was busily engaged in fitting handcuffs.
resting from his labours,
leant on his stick and wiped his honest brow.
"you're the best of fellows!
Just cut along outside and look after those stoat-sentries of yours,
and see what they're doing.
I've an idea that,
thanks to you,
we shan't have much trouble from -them- to-night!"
The Mole vanished promptly through a window;
and the Badger bade the other two set a table on its legs again,
pick up knives and forks and plates and glasses from the -débris- on the floor,
and see if they could find materials for a supper.
"I want some grub,
in that rather common way he had of speaking.
"Stir your stumps,
and look lively!
We've got your house back for you,
and you don't offer us so much as a sandwich."
Toad felt rather hurt that the Badger didn't say pleasant things to him,
as he had to the Mole,
and tell him what a fine fellow he was,
and how splendidly he had fought;
for he was rather particularly pleased with himself and the way he had gone for the Chief Weasel and sent him flying across the table with one blow of his stick.
But he bustled about,
and so did the Rat,
and soon they found some guava jelly in a glass dish,
and a cold chicken,
a tongue that had hardly been touched,
and quite a lot of lobster salad;
and in the pantry they came upon a basketful of French rolls and any quantity of cheese,
They were just about to sit down when the Mole clambered in through the window,
with an armful of rifles.
"It's all over,"
"From what I can make out,
as soon as the stoats,
who were very nervous and jumpy already,
heard the shrieks and the yells and the uproar inside the hall,
some of them threw down their rifles and fled.
The others stood fast for a bit,
but when the weasels came rushing out upon them they thought they were betrayed;
and the stoats grappled with the weasels,
and the weasels fought to get away,
and they wrestled and wriggled and punched each other,
and rolled over and over,
till most of
'em rolled into the river!
They've all disappeared by now,
one way or another;
and I've got their rifles.
So -that's- all right!"
"Excellent and deserving animal!"
said the Badger,
his mouth full of chicken and trifle.
there's just one more thing I want you to do,
before you sit down to your supper along of us;
and I wouldn't trouble you only I know I can trust you to see a thing done,
and I wish I could say the same of every one I know.
I'd send Rat,
if he wasn't a poet.
I want you to take those fellows on the floor there upstairs with you,
and have some bedrooms cleaned out and tidied up and made really comfortable.
See that they sweep -under- the beds,
and put clean sheets and pillow-cases on,
and turn down one corner of the bed-clothes,
just as you know it ought to be done;
and have a can of hot water,
and clean towels,
and fresh cakes of soap,
put in each room.
And then you can give them a licking a-piece,
if it's any satisfaction to you,
and put them out by the back-door,
and we shan't see any more of -them-,
And then come along and have some of this cold tongue.
It's first rate.
I'm very pleased with you,
The good-natured Mole picked up a stick,
formed his prisoners up in a line on the floor,
gave them the order "Quick march!"
and led his squad off to the upper floor.
After a time,
he appeared again,
and said that every room was ready and as clean as a new pin.
"And I didn't have to lick them,
on the whole,
they had had licking enough for one night,
and the weasels,
when I put the point to them,
quite agreed with me,
and said they wouldn't think of troubling me.
They were very penitent,
and said they were extremely sorry for what they had done,
but it was all the fault of the Chief Weasel and the stoats,
and if ever they could do anything for us at any time to make up,
we had only got to mention it.
So I gave them a roll a-piece,
and let them out at the back,
and off they ran,
as hard as they could!"
Then the Mole pulled his chair up to the table,
and pitched into the cold tongue;
like the gentleman he was,
put all his jealousy from him,
and said heartily,
"Thank you kindly,
for all your pains and trouble to-night,
and especially for your cleverness this morning!"
The Badger was pleased at that,
"There spoke my brave Toad!"
So they finished their supper in great joy and contentment,
and presently retired to rest between clean sheets,
safe in Toad's ancestral home,
won back by matchless valour,
and a proper handling of sticks.
The following morning,
who had overslept himself as usual,
came down to breakfast disgracefully late,
and found on the table a certain quantity of egg-shells,
some fragments of cold and leathery toast,
a coffee-pot three-fourths empty,
and really very little else;
which did not tend to improve his temper,
it was his own house.
Through the French windows of the breakfast-room he could see the Mole and the Water Rat sitting in wicker chairs out on the lawn,
evidently telling each other stories;
roaring with laughter and kicking their short legs up in the air.
who was in an arm-chair and deep in the morning paper,
merely looked up and nodded when Toad entered the room.
But Toad knew his man,
so he sat down and made the best breakfast he could,
merely observing to himself that he would get square with the others sooner or later.
When he had nearly finished,
the Badger looked up and remarked rather shortly:
but I'm afraid there's a heavy morning's work in front of you.
we really ought to have a Banquet at once,
to celebrate this affair.
It's expected of you --in fact,
it's the rule."
said the Toad,
"Anything to oblige.
Though why on earth you should want to have a Banquet in the morning I cannot understand.
But you know I do not live to please myself,
but merely to find out what my friends want,
and then try and arrange it for
you dear old Badger!"
"Don't pretend to be stupider than you really are,"
replied the Badger,
"and don't chuckle and splutter in your coffee while you're talking;
it's not manners.
What I mean is,
the Banquet will be at night,
but the invitations will have to be written and got off at once,
and you've got to write
Now sit down at that table --there's stacks of letter-paper on it,
'Toad Hall' at the top in blue and gold --and write invitations to all our friends,
and if you stick to it we shall get them out before luncheon.
And -I'll- bear a hand,
and take my share of the burden.
-I'll- order the Banquet."
"Me stop indoors and write a lot of rotten letters on a jolly morning like this,
when I want to go around my property and set everything and everybody to rights,
and swagger about and enjoy myself!
I'll be --I'll see you --Stop a minute,
What is my pleasure or convenience compared with that of others!
You wish it done,
and it shall be done.
order the Banquet,
order what you like;
then join our young friends outside in their innocent mirth,
oblivious of me and my cares and toils.
I sacrifice this fair morning on the altar of duty and friendship!"
The Badger looked at him very suspiciously,
but Toad's frank,
open countenance made it difficult to suggest any unworthy motive in this change of attitude.
He quitted the room,
in the direction of the kitchen,
and as soon as the door had closed behind him,
Toad hurried to the writing-table.
A fine idea had occurred to him while he was talking.
He -would- write the invitations;
and he would take care to mention the leading part he had taken in the fight,
and how he had laid the Chief Weasel flat;
and he would hint at his adventures,
and what a career of triumph he had to tell about;
and on the fly-leaf he would set out a sort of a programme of entertainment for the evening --something like this,
as he sketched it out in his head: --
SPEECH BY TOAD.
(There will be other speeches by TOAD during the evening.)
ADDRESS BY TOAD.
SYNOPSIS --Our Prison System --the Waterways of Old England --Horse-dealing,
and how to deal --Property,
its rights and its duties --Back to the Land --A Typical English Squire.
SONG BY TOAD.
(-Composed by himself.-)
OTHER COMPOSITIONS BY TOAD will be sung in the course of the evening by the COMPOSER.
The idea pleased him mightily,
and he worked very hard and got all the letters finished by noon,
at which hour it was reported to him that there was a small and rather bedraggled weasel at the door,
inquiring timidly whether he could be of any service to the gentleman.
Toad swaggered out and found it was one of the prisoners of the previous evening,
very respectful and anxious to please.
He patted him on the head,
shoved the bundle of invitations into his paw,
and told him to cut along quick and deliver them as fast as he could,
and if he liked to come back again in the evening,
perhaps there might be a shilling for him,
perhaps there mightn't;
and the poor weasel seemed really quite grateful,
and hurried off eagerly to do his mission.
When the other animals came back to luncheon,
very boisterous and breezy after a morning on the river,
whose conscience had been pricking him,
looked doubtfully at Toad,
expecting to find him sulky or depressed.
he was so uppish and inflated that the Mole began to suspect something;
while the Rat and the Badger exchanged significant glances.
As soon as the meal was over,
Toad thrust his paws deep into his trouser-pockets,
look after yourselves,
Ask for anything you want!"
and was swaggering off in the direction of the garden,
where he wanted to think out an idea or two for his coming speeches,
when the Rat caught him by the arm.
Toad rather suspected what he was after,
and did his best to get away;
but when the Badger took him firmly by the other arm he began to see that the game was up.
The two animals conducted him between them into the small smoking-room that opened out of the entrance-hall,
shut the door,
and put him into a chair.
Then they both stood in front of him,
while Toad sat silent and regarded them with much suspicion and ill-humour.
said the Rat.
"It's about this Banquet,
and very sorry I am to have to speak to you like this.
But we want you to understand clearly,
once and for all,
that there are going to be no speeches and no songs.
Try and grasp the fact that on this occasion we're not arguing with you;
we're just telling you."
Toad saw that he was trapped.
They understood him,
they saw through him,
they had got ahead of him.
His pleasant dream was shattered.
"Mayn't I sing them just one -little- song?"
he pleaded piteously.
not -one- little song,"
replied the Rat firmly,
though his heart bled as he noticed the trembling lip of the poor disappointed Toad.
"It's no good,
you know well that your songs are all conceit and boasting and vanity;
and your speeches are all self-praise and --and --well,
and gross exaggeration and --and --"
put in the Badger,
in his common way.
"It's for your own good,
went on the Rat.
"You know you -must- turn over a new leaf sooner or later,
and now seems a splendid time to begin;
a sort of turning-point in your career.
Please don't think that saying all this doesn't hurt me more than it hurts you."
Toad remained a long while plunged in thought.
At last he raised his head,
and the traces of strong emotion were visible on his features.
"You have conquered,
he said in broken accents.
to be sure,
but a small thing that I asked --merely leave to blossom and expand for yet one more evening,
to let myself go and hear the tumultuous applause that always seems to me --somehow --to bring out my best qualities.
you are right,
and I am wrong.
Henceforth I will be a very different Toad.
you shall never have occasion to blush for me again.
this is a hard world!"
pressing his handkerchief to his face,
he left the room,
with faltering footsteps.
said the Rat,
"I feel like a brute;
I wonder what -you- feel like?"
said the Badger gloomily.
"But the thing had to be done.
This good fellow has got to live here,
and hold his own,
and be respected.
Would you have him a common laughing-stock,
mocked and jeered at by stoats and weasels?"
"Of course not,"
said the Rat.
talking of weasels,
it's lucky we came upon that little weasel,
just as he was setting out with Toad's invitations.
I suspected something from what you told me,
and had a look at one or two;
they were simply disgraceful.
I confiscated the lot,
and the good Mole is now sitting in the blue -boudoir-,
filling up plain,
simple invitation cards."
* * * * *
At last the hour for the banquet began to draw near,
who on leaving the others had retired to his bedroom,
was still sitting there,
melancholy and thoughtful.
His brow resting on his paw,
he pondered long and deeply.
Gradually his countenance cleared,
and he began to smile long,
Then he took to giggling in a shy,
At last he got up,
locked the door,
drew the curtains across the windows,
collected all the chairs in the room and arranged them in a semicircle,
and took up his position in front of them,
Then he bowed,
letting himself go,
with uplifted voice he sang,
to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw:
TOAD'S LAST LITTLE SONG
The Toad --came --home!
There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls,
There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
When the Toad --came --home!
When the Toad --came --home!
There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
There was chivvying of weasels that fainted on the floor,
When the Toad --came --home!
go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
As the --Hero --comes!
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animal of whom you're justly proud,
For it's Toad's --great --day!
He sang this very loud,
with great unction and expression;
and when he had done,
he sang it all over again.
Then he heaved a deep sigh;
Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug,
parted his hair in the middle,
and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face;
unlocking the door,
went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests,
who he knew must be assembling in the drawing-room.
All the animals cheered when he entered,
and crowded round to congratulate him and say nice things about his courage,
and his cleverness,
and his fighting qualities;
but Toad only smiled faintly,
"Not at all!"
for a change,
"On the contrary!"
who was standing on the hearthrug,
describing to an admiring circle of friends exactly how he would have managed things had he been there,
came forward with a shout,
threw his arm round Toad's neck,
and tried to take him round the room in triumphal progress;
in a mild way,
was rather snubby to him,
as he disengaged himself,
"Badger's was the master mind;
the Mole and the Water Rat bore the brunt of the fighting;
I merely served in the ranks and did little or nothing."
The animals were evidently puzzled and taken aback by this unexpected attitude of his;
and Toad felt,
as he moved from one guest to the other,
making his modest responses,
that he was an object of absorbing interest to every one.
The Badger had ordered everything of the best,
and the banquet was a great success.
There was much talking and laughter and chaff among the animals,
but through it all Toad,
who of course was in the chair,
looked down his nose and murmured pleasant nothings to the animals on either side of him.
At intervals he stole a glance at the Badger and the Rat,
and always when he looked they were staring at each other with their mouths open;
and this gave him the greatest satisfaction.
Some of the younger and livelier animals,
as the evening wore on,
got whispering to each other that things were not so amusing as they used to be in the good old days;
and there were some knockings on the table and cries of "Toad!
Speech from Toad!
Mr. Toad's song!"
But Toad only shook his head gently,
raised one paw in mild protest,
by pressing delicacies on his guests,
by topical small-talk,
and by earnest inquiries after members of their families not yet old enough to appear at social functions,
managed to convey to them that this dinner was being run on strictly conventional lines.
He was indeed an altered Toad!
* * * * *
After this climax,
the four animals continued to lead their lives,
so rudely broken in upon by civil war,
in great joy and contentment,
undisturbed by further risings or invasions.
after due consultation with his friends,
selected a handsome gold chain and locket set with pearls,
which he dispatched to the gaoler's daughter,
with a letter that even the Badger admitted to be modest,
and the engine-driver,
in his turn,
was properly thanked and compensated for all his pains and trouble.
Under severe compulsion from the Badger,
even the barge-woman was,
with some trouble,
sought out and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her;
though Toad kicked terribly at this,
holding himself to be an instrument of Fate,
sent to punish fat women with mottled arms who couldn't tell a real gentleman when they saw one.
The amount involved,
it was true,
was not very burdensome,
the gipsy's valuation being admitted by local assessors to be approximately correct.
in the course of long summer evenings,
the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood,
now successfully tamed so far as they were concerned;
and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by the inhabitants,
and how the mother-weasels would bring their young ones to the mouths of their holes,
There goes the great Mr. Toad!
And that's the gallant Water Rat,
a terrible fighter,
walking along o' him!
And yonder comes the famous Mr. Mole,
of whom you so often have heard your father tell!"
But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control,
they would quiet them by telling how,
if they didn't hush them and not fret them,
the terrible grey Badger would up and get them.
This was a base libel on Badger,
though he cared little about Society,
was rather fond of children;
but it never failed to have its full effect.
-The Wind in the Willows-