‘O, Ratty!’ he cried. ‘I’ve been through such times since I saw you last, you can’t think! Such trials, such sufferings, and all so nobly borne! Then such escapes, such disguises such subterfuges, and all so cleverly planned and carried out! Been in prison—got out of it, of course! Been thrown into a canal—swam ashore! Stole a horse—sold him for a large sum of money! Humbugged everybody—made ‘em all do exactly what I wanted! Oh, I AM a smart Toad, and no mistake! What do you think my last exploit was? Just hold on till I tell you----‘
‘Toad,’ said the Water Rat, gravely and firmly, ‘you go off upstairs at once, and take off that old cotton rag that looks as if it might formerly have belonged to some washerwoman, and clean yourself thoroughly, and put on some of my clothes, and try and come down looking like a gentleman if you CAN; for a more shabby, bedraggled, disreputable-looking object than you are I never set eyes on in my whole life! Now, stop swaggering and arguing, and be off! I’ll have something to say to you later!’
Toad was at first inclined to stop and do some talking back at him. He had had enough of being ordered about when he was in prison, and here was the thing being begun all over again, apparently; and by a Rat, too! However, he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass over the hat-stand, with the rusty black bonnet perched rakishly over one eye, and he changed his mind and went very quickly and humbly upstairs to the Rat’s dressing-room. There he had a thorough wash and brush-up, changed his clothes, and stood for a long time before the glass, contemplating himself with pride and pleasure, and thinking what utter idiots all the people must have been to have ever mistaken him for one moment for a washerwoman.
By the time he came down again luncheon was on the table, and very glad Toad was to see it, for he had been through some trying experiences and had taken much hard exercise since the excellent breakfast provided for him by the gipsy. While they ate Toad told the Rat all his adventures, dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness, and presence of mind in emergencies, and cunning in tight places; and rather making out that he had been having a gay and highly-coloured experience. But the more he talked and boasted, the more grave and silent the Rat became.
When at last Toad had talked himself to a standstill, there was silence for a while; and then the Rat said, ‘Now, Toady, I don’t want to give you pain, after all you’ve been through already; but, seriously, don’t you see what an awful ass you’ve been making of yourself? On your own admission you have been handcuffed, imprisoned, starved, chased, terrified out of your life, insulted, jeered at, and ignominiously flung into the water—by a woman, too! Where’s the amusement in that? Where does the fun come in? And all because you must needs go and steal a motor-car. You know that you’ve never had anything but trouble from motor-cars from the moment you first set eyes on one. But if you WILL be mixed up with them—as you generally are, five minutes after you’ve started—why STEAL them? Be a cripple, if you think it’s exciting; be a bankrupt, for a change, if you’ve set your mind on it: but why choose to be a convict? When are you going to be sensible, and think of your friends, and try and be a credit to them? Do you suppose it’s any pleasure to me, for instance, to hear animals saying, as I go about, that I’m the chap that keeps company with gaol-birds?’
Now, it was a very comforting point in Toad’s character that he was a thoroughly good-hearted animal and never minded being jawed by those who were his real friends. And even when most set upon a thing, he was always able to see the other side of the question. So although, while the Rat was talking so seriously, he kept saying to himself mutinously, ‘But it WAS fun, though! Awful fun!’ and making strange suppressed noises inside him, k-i-ck-ck-ck, and poop-p-p, and other sounds resembling stifled snorts, or the opening of soda-water bottles, yet when the Rat had quite finished, he heaved a deep sigh and said, very nicely and humbly, ‘Quite right, Ratty! How SOUND you always are! Yes, I’ve been a conceited old ass, I can quite see that; but now I’m going to be a good Toad, and not do it any more. As for motor-cars, I’ve not been at all so keen about them since my last ducking in that river of yours. The fact is, while I was hanging on to the edge of your hole and getting my breath, I had a sudden idea—a really brilliant idea—connected with motor-boats—there, there! don’t take on so, old chap, and stamp, and upset things; it was only an idea, and we won’t talk any more about it now. We’ll have our coffee, AND a smoke, and a quiet chat, and then I’m going to stroll quietly down to Toad Hall, and get into clothes of my own, and set things going again on the old lines. I’ve had enough of adventures. I shall lead a quiet, steady, respectable life, pottering about my property, and improving it, and doing a little landscape gardening at times. There will always be a bit of dinner for my friends when they come to see me; and I shall keep a pony-chaise to jog about the country in, just as I used to in the good old days, before I got restless, and wanted to DO things.’
‘Stroll quietly down to Toad Hall?’ cried the Rat, greatly excited. ‘What are you talking about? Do you mean to say you haven’t HEARD?’
‘Heard what?’ said Toad, turning rather pale. ‘Go on, Ratty! Quick! Don’t spare me! What haven’t I heard?’
‘Do you mean to tell me,’ shouted the Rat, thumping with his little fist upon the table, ‘that you’ve heard nothing about the Stoats and Weasels?’
What, the Wild Wooders?’ cried Toad, trembling in every limb. ‘No, not a word! What have they been doing?’
‘—And how they’ve been and taken Toad Hall?’ continued the Rat.
Toad leaned his elbows on the table, and his chin on his paws; and a large tear welled up in each of his eyes, overflowed and splashed on the table, plop! plop!
‘Go on, Ratty,’ he murmured presently; ‘tell me all. The worst is over. I am an animal again. I can bear it.’
‘When you—got—into that—that—trouble of yours,’ said the Rat, slowly and impressively; ‘I mean, when you—disappeared from society for a time, over that misunderstanding about a—a machine, you know—‘
Toad merely nodded.
‘Well, it was a good deal talked about down here, naturally,’ continued the Rat, ‘not only along the river-side, but even in the Wild Wood. Animals took sides, as always happens. The River-bankers stuck up for you, and said you had been infamously treated, and there was no justice to be had in the land nowadays. But the Wild Wood animals said hard things, and served you right, and it was time this sort of thing was stopped. And they got very cocky, and went about saying you were done for this time! You would never come back again, never, never!’
Toad nodded once more, keeping silence.
‘That’s the sort of little beasts they are,’ the Rat went on. ‘But Mole and Badger, they stuck out, through thick and thin, that you would come back again soon, somehow. They didn’t know exactly how, but somehow!’
Toad began to sit up in his chair again, and to smirk a little.
‘They argued from history,’ continued the Rat. ‘They said that no criminal laws had ever been known to prevail against cheek and plausibility such as yours, combined with the power of a long purse. So they arranged to move their things in to Toad Hall, and sleep there, and keep it aired, and have it all ready for you when you turned up. They didn’t guess what was going to happen, of course; still, they had their suspicions of the Wild Wood animals. Now I come to the most painful and tragic part of my story. One dark night—it was a VERY dark night, and blowing hard, too, and raining simply cats and dogs—a band of weasels, armed to the teeth, crept silently up the carriage-drive to the front entrance. Simultaneously, a body of desperate ferrets, advancing through the kitchen-garden, possessed themselves of the backyard and offices; while a company of skirmishing stoats who stuck at nothing occupied the conservatory and the billiard-room, and held the French windows opening on to the lawn.
‘The Mole and the Badger were sitting by the fire in the smoking-room, telling stories and suspecting nothing, for it wasn’t a night for any animals to be out in, when those bloodthirsty villains broke down the doors and rushed in upon them from every side. They made the best fight they could, but what was the good? They were unarmed, and taken by surprise, and what can two animals do against hundreds? They took and beat them severely with sticks, those two poor faithful creatures, and turned them out into the cold and the wet, with many insulting and 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—well, about prisons and magistrates, and policemen; horrid personal songs, with no humour in them. And they’re telling the tradespeople and everybody that they’ve come to stay for good.’
‘O, have they!’ said Toad getting up and seizing a stick. ‘I’ll jolly soon see about that!’
‘It’s no good, Toad!’ called the Rat after him. ‘You’d better come back and sit down; you’ll only get into trouble.’
But the Toad was off, and there was no holding him. He marched rapidly down the road, his stick over his shoulder, fuming and muttering to himself in his anger, till he got near his front gate, when suddenly there popped up from behind the palings a long yellow ferret with a gun.
‘Who comes there?’ said the ferret sharply.
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Toad, very angrily. ‘What do you mean by talking like that to me? Come out of that at once, or I’ll----‘
The ferret said never a word, but he brought his gun up to his shoulder. Toad prudently dropped flat in the road, and BANG! a bullet whistled over his head.
The startled Toad scrambled to his feet and scampered off down the road as hard as he could; and as he ran he heard the ferret laughing and other horrid thin little laughs taking it up and carrying on the sound.
He went back, very crestfallen, and told the Water Rat.
‘What did I tell you?’ said the Rat. ‘It’s no good. They’ve got sentries posted, and they are all armed. You must just wait.’
Still, Toad was not inclined to give in all at once. So he got out the boat, and set off rowing up the river to where the garden front of Toad Hall came down to the waterside.
Arriving within sight of his old home, he rested on his oars and surveyed the land cautiously. All seemed very peaceful and deserted and quiet. He could see the whole front of Toad Hall, glowing in the evening sunshine, the pigeons settling by twos and threes along the straight line of the roof; the garden, a blaze of flowers; the creek that led up to the boat-house, the little wooden bridge that crossed it; all tranquil, uninhabited, apparently waiting for his return. He would try the boat-house first, he thought. Very warily he paddled up to the mouth of the creek, and was just passing under the bridge, when . . . CRASH!
A great stone, dropped from above, smashed through the bottom of the boat. It filled and sank, and Toad found himself struggling in deep water. Looking up, he saw two stoats leaning over the parapet of the bridge and watching him with great glee. ‘It will be your head next time, Toady!’ they called out to him. The indignant Toad swam to shore, while the stoats laughed and laughed, supporting each other, and laughed again, till they nearly had two fits—that is, one fit each, of course.
The Toad retraced his weary way on foot, and related his disappointing experiences to the Water Rat once more.
‘Well, WHAT did I tell you?’ said the Rat very crossly. ‘And, now, look here! See what you’ve been and done! Lost me my boat that I was so fond of, that’s what you’ve done! And simply ruined that nice suit of clothes that I lent you! Really, Toad, of all the trying animals—I wonder you manage to keep any friends at all!’
The Toad saw at once how wrongly and foolishly he had acted. He admitted his errors and wrong-headedness and made a full apology to Rat for losing his boat and spoiling his clothes. And he wound up by saying, with that frank self-surrender which always disarmed his friend’s criticism and won them back to his side, ‘Ratty! I see that I have been a headstrong and a wilful Toad! Henceforth, believe me, I will be humble and submissive, and will take no action without your kind advice and full approval!’
‘If that is really so,’ said the good-natured Rat, already appeased, ‘then my advice to you is, considering the lateness of the hour, to sit down and have your supper, which will be on the table in a minute, and be very patient. For I am convinced that we can do nothing until we have seen the Mole and the Badger, and heard their latest news, and held conference and taken their advice in this difficult matter.’
‘Oh, ah, yes, of course, the Mole and the Badger,’ said Toad, lightly. ‘What’s become of them, the dear fellows? I had forgotten all about 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, Toad, you don’t, really. Some day, when it’s too late, you’ll be sorry you didn’t value them more while you had them!’
‘I’m an ungrateful beast, I know,’ sobbed Toad, shedding bitter tears. ‘Let me go out and find them, out into the cold, dark night, and share their hardships, and try and prove by----Hold on a bit! Surely I heard the chink of dishes on a tray! Supper’s here at last, hooray! Come on, Ratty!’
The Rat remembered that poor Toad had been on prison fare for a considerable time, and that large allowances had therefore to be made. He followed him to the table accordingly, and hospitably encouraged him in his gallant efforts to make up for past privations.
They had just finished their meal and resumed their arm-chairs, when there came a heavy knock at the door.
Toad was nervous, but the Rat, nodding mysteriously at him, went straight up to the door and opened it, and in walked Mr. Badger.
He had all the appearance of one who for some nights had been kept away from home and all its little comforts and conveniences. His shoes were covered with mud, and he was looking very rough and touzled; but then he had never been a very smart man, the Badger, at the best of times. He came solemnly up to Toad, shook him by the paw, and said, ‘Welcome home, Toad! Alas! what am I saying? Home, indeed! This is a poor home-coming. Unhappy Toad!’ Then he turned his back on him, sat down to the table, drew his chair up, and helped himself to a large slice of cold pie.
Toad was quite alarmed at this very serious and portentous style of greeting; but the Rat whispered to him, ‘Never mind; don’t take any notice; and don’t say anything to him just yet. He’s always rather low and despondent when he’s wanting his victuals. In half an hour’s time he’ll be quite a different animal.’
So they waited in silence, and presently there came another and a lighter knock. The Rat, with a nod to Toad, went to the door and ushered in the Mole, very shabby and unwashed, with bits of hay and straw sticking in his fur.
‘Hooray! Here’s old Toad!’ cried the Mole, his face beaming. ‘Fancy having you back again!’ And he began to dance round him. ‘We never dreamt you would turn up so soon! Why, you must have managed to escape, you clever, ingenious, intelligent Toad!’
The Rat, alarmed, pulled him by the elbow; but it was too late. Toad was puffing and swelling already.
‘Clever? O, no!’ he said. ‘I’m not really clever, according to my friends. I’ve only broken out of the strongest prison in England, that’s all! And captured a railway train and escaped on it, that’s all! And disguised myself and gone about the country humbugging everybody, that’s all! O, no! I’m a stupid ass, I am! I’ll tell you one or two of my little adventures, Mole, and you shall judge for yourself!’
‘Well, well,’ said the Mole, moving towards the supper-table; ‘supposing you talk while I eat. Not a bite since breakfast! O my! O my!’ And he sat down and helped himself liberally to cold beef and pickles.
Toad straddled on the hearth-rug, thrust his paw into his trouser-pocket and pulled out a handful of silver. ‘Look at that!’ he cried, displaying it. ‘That’s not so bad, is it, for a few minutes’ work? And how do you think I done it, Mole? Horse-dealing! That’s how I done it!’
‘Go on, Toad,’ said the Mole, immensely interested.
‘Toad, do be quiet, please!’ said the Rat. ‘And don’t you egg him on, Mole, when you know what he is; but please tell us as soon as possible what the position is, and what’s best to be done, now that Toad is back at last.’
‘The position’s about as bad as it can be,’ replied the Mole grumpily; ‘and as for what’s to be done, why, blest if I know! The Badger and I have been round and round the place, by night and by day; always the same thing. Sentries posted everywhere, guns poked out at us, stones thrown at us; always an animal on the look-out, and when they see us, my! how they do laugh! That’s what annoys me most!’
‘It’s a very difficult situation,’ said the Rat, reflecting deeply. ‘But I think I see now, in the depths of my mind, what Toad really ought to do. I will tell you. He ought to----‘
‘No, he oughtn’t!’ shouted the Mole, with his mouth full. ‘Nothing of the sort! You don’t understand. What he ought to do is, he ought to----‘
‘Well, I shan’t do it, anyway!’ cried Toad, getting excited. ‘I’m not going to be ordered about by you fellows! It’s 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, saying, ‘Be quiet at once, all of you!’ and instantly every one was silent.
It was the Badger, who, having finished his pie, had turned round in his chair and was looking at them severely. When he saw that he had secured their attention, and that they were evidently waiting for him to address them, he turned back to the table again and reached out for the cheese. And so great was the respect commanded by the solid qualities of that admirable animal, that not another word was uttered until he had quite finished his repast and brushed the crumbs from his knees. The Toad fidgeted a good deal, but the Rat held him firmly down.
When the Badger had quite done, he got up from his seat and stood before the fireplace, reflecting deeply. At last he spoke.
‘Toad!’ he said severely. ‘You bad, troublesome little animal! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? What do you think your father, my old friend, would have said if he had been here to-night, and had known of all your goings on?’
Toad, who was on the sofa by this time, with his legs up, rolled over on his face, shaken by sobs of contrition.
‘There, there!’ went on the Badger, more kindly. ‘Never mind. Stop crying. We’re going to let bygones be bygones, and try and turn over a new leaf. But what the Mole says is quite true. The stoats are on guard, at every point, and they make the best sentinels in the world. It’s quite useless to think of attacking the place. They’re too strong for us.’
‘Then it’s all over,’ sobbed the Toad, crying into the sofa cushions. ‘I shall go and enlist for a soldier, and never see my dear Toad Hall any more!’
‘Come, cheer up, Toady!’ said the Badger. ‘There are more ways of getting back a place than taking it by storm. I haven’t said my last word yet. Now I’m going to tell you a great secret.’
Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.
‘There—is—an—underground—passage,’ said the Badger, impressively, ‘that leads from the river-bank, quite near here, right up into the middle of Toad Hall.’
‘O, nonsense! Badger,’ said Toad, rather airily. ‘You’ve been listening to some of the yarns they spin in the public-houses about here. I know every inch of Toad Hall, inside and out. Nothing of the sort, I do assure you!’
‘My young friend,’ said the Badger, with great severity, ‘your father, who was a worthy animal—a lot worthier than some others I know—was a particular friend of mine, and told me a great deal he wouldn’t have dreamt of telling you. He discovered that passage—he didn’t make it, of course; that was done hundreds of years before he ever came to live there—and he repaired it and cleaned it out, because he thought it might come in useful some day, in case of trouble or danger; and he showed it to me. “Don’t let my son know about it,” he said. “He’s a good boy, but very light and volatile in character, and simply cannot hold his tongue. If he’s ever in a real fix, and it would be of use to him, you may tell him about the secret passage; but not before.”’
The other animals looked hard at Toad to see how he would take it. Toad was inclined to be sulky at first; but he brightened up immediately, like the good fellow he was.
‘Well, well,’ he said; ‘perhaps I am a bit of a talker. A popular fellow such as I am—my friends get round me—we chaff, we sparkle, we tell witty stories—and somehow my tongue gets wagging. I have the gift of conversation. I’ve been told I ought to have a salon, whatever that may be. Never mind. Go on, Badger. How’s this passage of yours going to help us?’
‘I’ve found out a thing or two lately,’ continued the Badger. ‘I got Otter to disguise himself as a sweep and call at the back-door with brushes over his shoulder, asking for a job. There’s going to be a big banquet to-morrow night. It’s somebody’s birthday—the Chief Weasel’s, I believe—and all the weasels will be gathered together in the dining-hall, eating and drinking and laughing and carrying on, suspecting nothing. No guns, no swords, no sticks, no arms of any sort whatever!’
‘But the sentinels will be posted as usual,’ remarked the Rat.
‘Exactly,’ said the Badger; ‘that is my point. The weasels will trust entirely to their excellent sentinels. And that is where the passage comes in. That very useful tunnel leads right up under the butler’s pantry, next to the dining-hall!’
‘Aha! that squeaky board in the butler’s pantry!’ said Toad. ‘Now I 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 ‘em, and whack ‘em, and whack ‘em!’ cried the Toad in ecstasy, running round and round the room, and jumping over the chairs.
‘Very well, then,’ said the Badger, resuming his usual dry manner, ‘our plan is settled, and there’s nothing more for you to argue and squabble about. So, as it’s getting very late, all of you go right off to bed at once. We will make all the necessary arrangements in the course of the morning to-morrow.’
Toad, of course, went off to bed dutifully with the rest—he knew better than to refuse—though he was feeling much too excited to sleep. But he had had a long day, with many events crowded into it; and sheets and blankets were very friendly and comforting things, after plain straw, and not too much of it, spread on the stone floor of a draughty cell; and his head had not been many seconds on his pillow before he was snoring happily. Naturally, he dreamt a good deal; about roads that ran away from him just when he wanted them, and canals that chased him and caught him, and a barge that sailed into the banqueting-hall with his week’s washing, just as he was giving a dinner-party; and he was alone in the secret passage, pushing onwards, but it twisted and turned round and shook itself, and sat up on its end; yet somehow, at the last, he found himself back in Toad Hall, safe and triumphant, with all his friends gathered round about him, earnestly assuring him that he really was a clever Toad.
He slept till a late hour next morning, and by the time he got down he found that the other animals had finished their breakfast some time before. The Mole had slipped off somewhere by himself, without telling any one where he was going to. The Badger sat in the arm-chair, reading the paper, and not concerning himself in the slightest about what was going to happen that very evening. The Rat, on the other hand, was running round the room busily, with his arms full of weapons of every kind, distributing them in four little heaps on the floor, and saying excitedly under his breath, as he ran, ‘Here’s-a-sword-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-sword-for-the Mole, here’s-a-sword-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-sword-for-the-Badger!Here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Mole, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-pistol-for-the-Badger!’ And so on, in a regular, rhythmical way, while the four little heaps gradually grew and grew.
‘That’s all very well, Rat,’ said the Badger presently, looking at the busy little animal over the edge of his newspaper; ‘I’m not blaming you. But just let us once get past the stoats, with those detestable guns of theirs, and I assure you we shan’t want any swords or pistols. We four, with our sticks, once we’re inside the dining-hall, why, we shall clear the floor of all the lot of them in five minutes. I’d have done the whole thing by myself, only I didn’t want to deprive you fellows of the fun!’
‘It’s as well to be on the safe side,’ said the Rat reflectively, polishing a pistol-barrel on his sleeve and looking along it.
The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and swung it vigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. ‘I’ll learn ‘em to steal my house!’ he cried. ‘I’ll learn ‘em, I’ll learn ‘em!’
‘Don’t say “learn ‘em,” Toad,’ said the Rat, greatly shocked. ‘It’s not good English.’
‘What are you always nagging at Toad for?’ inquired the Badger, rather peevishly. ‘What’s the matter with his English? It’s the same what I use myself, and if it’s good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for you!’
‘I’m very sorry,’ said the Rat humbly. ‘Only I THINK it ought to be “teach ‘em,” not “learn ‘em.”’
‘But we don’t WANT to teach ‘em,’ replied the Badger. ‘We want to LEARN ‘em—learn ‘em, learn ‘em! And what’s more, we’re going to DO it, too!’
‘Oh, very well, have it your own way,’ said the Rat. He was getting rather muddled about it himself, and presently he retired into a corner, where he could be heard muttering, ‘Learn ‘em, teach ‘em, teach ‘em, learn ‘em!’ till the Badger told him rather sharply to 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, Mole?’ said the Rat anxiously.
‘I should hope so, too,’ said the Mole confidently. ‘I got the idea when I went into the kitchen, to see about Toad’s breakfast being kept hot for him. I found that old washerwoman-dress that he came home in yesterday, hanging on a towel-horse before the fire. So I put it on, and the bonnet as well, and the shawl, and off I went to Toad Hall, as bold as you please. The sentries were on the look-out, of course, with their guns and their “Who comes there?” and all the rest of their nonsense. “Good morning, gentlemen!” says I, very respectful. “Want any washing done to-day?”
‘They looked at me very proud and stiff and haughty, and said, “Go away, washerwoman! We don’t do any washing on duty.” “Or any other time?” says I. Ho, ho, ho! Wasn’t I FUNNY, Toad?’
‘Poor, frivolous animal!’ said Toad, very loftily. The fact is, he felt exceedingly jealous of Mole for what he had just done. It was exactly what he would have liked to have done himself, if only he had thought of it first, and hadn’t gone and overslept himself.
‘Some of the stoats turned quite pink,’ continued the Mole, ‘and the Sergeant in charge, he said to me, very short, he said, “Now run away, my good woman, run away! Don’t keep my men idling and talking on their posts.” “Run away?” says I; “it won’t be me that’ll be running away, in a very short time from now!”’
‘O MOLY, how could you?’ said the Rat, dismayed.
The Badger laid down his paper.
‘I could see them pricking up their ears and looking at each other,’ went on the Mole; ‘and the Sergeant said to them, “Never mind HER; she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”’
‘”O! don’t I?”’ said I. ‘”Well, let me tell you this. My daughter, she washes for Mr. Badger, and that’ll show you whether I know what I’m talking about; and YOU’LL know pretty soon, too! A hundred bloodthirsty badgers, armed with rifles, are going to attack Toad Hall this very night, by way of the paddock. Six boatloads of Rats, with pistols and cutlasses, will come up the river and effect a landing in the garden; while a picked body of Toads, known at the Die-hards, or the Death-or-Glory Toads, will storm the orchard and carry everything before them, yelling for vengeance. There won’t be much left of you to wash, by the time they’ve done with you, unless you clear out while you have the chance!” Then I ran away, and when I was out of sight I hid; and presently I came creeping back along the ditch and took a peep at them through the hedge. They were all as nervous and flustered as could be, running all ways at once, and falling over each other, and every one giving orders to everybody else and not listening; and the Sergeant kept sending off parties of stoats to distant parts of the grounds, and then sending other fellows to fetch ‘em back again; and I heard them saying to each other, “That’s just like the weasels; they’re to stop comfortably in the banqueting-hall, and have feasting and toasts and songs and all sorts of fun, while we must stay on guard in the cold and the dark, and in the end be cut to pieces by bloodthirsty Badgers!’”
‘Oh, you silly ass, Mole!’ cried Toad, ‘You’ve been and spoilt everything!’
‘Mole,’ said the Badger, in his dry, quiet way, ‘I perceive you have more sense in your little finger than some other animals have in the whole of their fat bodies. You have managed excellently, and I begin to have great hopes of you. Good Mole! Clever Mole!’
The Toad was simply wild with jealousy, more especially as he couldn’t make out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so particularly clever; but, fortunately for him, before he could show temper or expose himself to the Badger’s sarcasm, the bell rang for 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, and said, ‘Well, we’ve got our work cut out for us to-night, and it will probably be pretty late before we’re quite through with it; so I’m just going to take forty winks, while I can.’ And he drew a handkerchief over his face and was soon snoring.
The anxious and laborious Rat at once resumed his preparations, and started running between his four little heaps, muttering, ‘Here’s-a-belt-for-the-Rat, here’s-a-belt-for-the Mole, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Toad, here’s-a-belt-for-the-Badger!’ and so on, with every fresh accoutrement he produced, to which there seemed really no end; so the Mole drew his arm through Toad’s, led him out into the open air, shoved him into a wicker chair, and made him tell him all his adventures from beginning to end, which Toad was only too willing to do. The Mole was a good listener, and Toad, with no one to check his statements or to criticise in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go. Indeed, much that he related belonged more properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and the raciest adventures; and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come off?