Read The Wind in the Willows Page 1

Produced by Mike Lough


By Kenneth Grahame

Author Of ”The Golden Age,” ”Dream Days,” Etc.




The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning hislittle home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders andsteps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dustin his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his blackfur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the airabove and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his darkand lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on thefloor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!'and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made forthe steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gavelledcarriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sunand air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged andthen he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, workingbusily with his little paws and muttering to himself, 'Up we go! Up wego!' till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and hefound himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

'This is fine!' he said to himself. 'This is better than whitewashing!'The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heatedbrow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so longthe carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout.Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and thedelight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across themeadow till he reached the hedge on the further side.

'Hold up!' said an elderly rabbit at the gap. 'Sixpence for theprivilege of passing by the private road!' He was bowled over in aninstant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along theside of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedlyfrom their holes to see what the row was about. 'Onion-sauce!Onion-sauce!' he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they couldthink of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all startedgrumbling at each other. 'How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tellhim----' 'Well, why didn't YOU say----' 'You might have remindedhim----' and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then muchtoo late, as is always the case.

It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through themeadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across thecopses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leavesthrusting--everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And insteadof having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering 'whitewash!'he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dogamong all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holidayis perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the otherfellows busy working.

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlesslyalong, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never inhis life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodiedanimal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle andleaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shookthemselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake anda-shiver--glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter andbubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side ofthe river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a manwho holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired atlast, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him,a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from theheart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

As he sat on the grass and looked across the river, a dark hole in thebank opposite, just above the water's edge, caught his eye, and dreamilyhe fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make foran animal with few wants and fond of a bijou riverside residence, aboveflood level and remote from noise and dust. As he gazed, somethingbright and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it, vanished,then twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it could hardly be a starin such an unlikely situation; and it was too glittering and small for aglow-worm. Then, as he looked, it winked at him, and so declared itselfto be an eye; and a small face began gradually to grow up round it, likea frame round a picture.

A brown little face, with whiskers.

A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had firstattracted his notice.

Small neat ears and thick silky hair.

It was the Water Rat!

Then the two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.

'Hullo, Mole!' said the Water Rat.

'Hullo, Rat!' said the Mole.

'Would you like to come over?' enquired the Rat presently.

'Oh, its all very well to TALK,' said the Mole, rather pettishly, hebeing new to a river and riverside life and its ways.

The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened a rope and hauledon it; then lightly stepped into a little boat which the Mole had notobserved. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just thesize for two animals; and the Mole's whole heart went out to it at once,even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.

The Rat sculled smartly across and made fast. Then he held up hisforepaw as the Mole stepped gingerly down. 'Lean on that!' he said.'Now then, step lively!' and the Mole to his surprise and rapture foundhimself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.

'This has been a wonderful day!' said he, as the Rat shoved off and tookto the sculls again. 'Do you know, I've never been in a boat before inall my life.'

'What?' cried the Rat, open-mouthed: 'Never been in a--you never--wellI--what have you been doing, then?'

'Is it so nice as all that?' asked the Mole shyly, though he was quiteprepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed thecushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, andfelt the boat sway lightly under him.

'Nice? It's the ONLY thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as heleant forward for his stroke. 'Believe me, my young friend, there isNOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simplymessing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily:'messing--about--in--boats; messing----'

'Look ahead, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, thejoyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels inthe air.

'--about in boats--or WITH boats,' the Rat went on composedly, pickinghimself up with a pleasant laugh. 'In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter.Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you getaway, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination orwhether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere atall, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; andwhen you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can doit if you like, but you'd much better not. Look here! If you've reallynothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the rivertogether, and have a long day of it?'

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest witha sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the softcushions. 'WHAT a day I'm having!' he said. 'Let us start at once!'

'Hold hard a minute, then!' said the Rat. He looped the painter througha ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and aftera short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wickerluncheon-basket.

'Shove that under your feet,' he observed to the Mole, as he passedit down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the scullsagain.

'What's inside it?' asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly;'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssan-dwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater----'

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'

'Do you really think so?' enquired the Rat seriously. 'It's only what Ialways take on these little excursions; and the other animals are alwaystelling me that I'm a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!'

The Mole never heard a word he was saying. Absorbed in the new life hewas entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scentsand the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water anddreamed long waking dreams. The Water Rat, like the good little fellowhe was, sculled steadily on and forebore to disturb him.

'I like your clothes awfully, old chap,' he remarked after some halfan hour or so had passed. 'I'm going to get a black velvet smoking-suitmyself some day, as soon as I can afford it.'

'I beg your pardon,' said the Mole, pulling himself together with aneffort. 'You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me.So--this--is--a--River!'

'THE River,' corrected the Rat.

'And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!'

'By it and with it and on it and in it,' said the Rat. 'It's brotherand sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and(naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What ithasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worthknowing. Lord! the times we've had together! Whether in winter orsummer, spring or autumn, it's always got its fun and its excitements.When the floods are on in February, and my cellars and basement arebrimming with drink that's no good to me, and the brown water runs by mybest bedroom window; or again when it all drops away and, shows patchesof mud that smells like plum-cake, and the rushes and weed clog thechannels, and I can potter about dry shod over most of the bed of it andfind fresh food to eat, and things careless people have dropped out ofboats!'

'But isn't it a bit dull at times?' the Mole ventured to ask. 'Just youand the river, and no one else to pass a word with?'

'No one else to--well, I mustn't be hard on you,' said the Rat withforbearance. 'You're new to it, and of course you don't know. The bankis so crowded nowadays that many people are moving away altogether: Ono, it isn't what it used to be, at all. Otters, kingfishers, dabchicks,moorhens, all of them about all day long and always wanting you to DOsomething--as if a fellow had no business of his own to attend to!'

'What lies over THERE' asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a backgroundof woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one side of theriver.

'That? O, that's just the Wild Wood,' said the Rat shortly. 'We don't gothere very much, we river-bankers.'

'Aren't they--aren't they very NICE people in there?' said the Mole, atrifle nervously.

'W-e-ll,' replied the Rat, 'let me see. The squirrels are all right. ANDthe rabbits--some of 'em, but rabbits are a mixed lot. And then there'sBadger, of course. He lives right in the heart of it; wouldn't liveanywhere else, either, if you paid him to do it. Dear old Badger! Nobodyinterferes with HIM. They'd better not,' he added significantly.

'Why, who SHOULD interfere with him?' asked the Mole.

'Well, of course--there--are others,' explained the Rat in a hesitatingsort of way.

'Weasels--and stoats--and foxes--and so on. They're all right in away--I'm very good friends with them--pass the time of day when we meet,and all that--but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, andthen--well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact.'

The Mole knew well that it is quite against animal-etiquette to dwellon possible trouble ahead, or even to allude to it; so he dropped thesubject.

'And beyond the Wild Wood again?' he asked: 'Where it's all blueand dim, and one sees what may be hills or perhaps they mayn't, andsomething like the smoke of towns, or is it only cloud-drift?'

'Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,' said the Rat. 'And that'ssomething that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never beenthere, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any senseat all. Don't ever refer to it again, please. Now then! Here's ourbackwater at last, where we're going to lunch.'

Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sightlike a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge,brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water,while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir,arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in itsturn a grey-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a soothing murmurof sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking upcheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that theMole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, 'O my! O my! O my!'

The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, made her fast, helped thestill awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the luncheon-basket. TheMole begged as a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself; andthe Rat was very pleased to indulge him, and to sprawl at full length onthe grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the table-clothand spread it, took out all the mysterious packets one by one andarranged their contents in due order, still gasping, 'O my! O my!' ateach fresh revelation. When all was ready, the Rat said, 'Now, pitchin, old fellow!' and the Mole was indeed very glad to obey, for he hadstarted his spring-cleaning at a very early hour that morning, as peopleWILL do, and had not paused for bite or sup; and he had been through avery great deal since that distant time which now seemed so many daysago.

'What are you looking at?' said the Rat presently, when the edge oftheir hunger was somewhat dulled, and the Mole's eyes were able towander off the table-cloth a little.

'I am looking,' said the Mole, 'at a streak of bubbles that I seetravelling along the surface of the water. That is a thing that strikesme as funny.'

'Bubbles? Oho!' said the Rat, and chirruped cheerily in an inviting sortof way.

A broad glistening muzzle showed itself above the edge of the bank, andthe Otter hauled himself out and shook the water from his coat.

'Greedy beggars!' he observed, making for the provender. 'Why didn't youinvite me, Ratty?'

'This was an impromptu affair,' explained the Rat. 'By the way--myfriend Mr. Mole.'

'Proud, I'm sure,' said the Otter, and the two animals were friendsforthwith.

'Such a rumpus everywhere!' continued the Otter. 'All the world seemsout on the river to-day. I came up this backwater to try and get amoment's peace, and then stumble upon you fellows!--At least--I begpardon--I don't exactly mean that, you know.'

There was a rustle behind them, proceeding from a hedge wherein lastyear's leaves still clung thick, and a stripy head, with high shouldersbehind it, peered forth on them.

'Come on, old Badger!' shouted the Rat.

The Badger trotted forward a pace or two; then grunted, 'H'm! Company,'and turned his back and disappeared from view.

'That's JUST the sort of fellow he is!' observed the disappointed Rat.'Simply hates Society! Now we shan't see any more of him to-day. Well,tell us, WHO'S out on the river?'

'Toad's out, for one,' replied the Otter. 'In his brand-new wager-boat;new togs, new everything!'

The two animals looked at each other and laughed.

'Once, it was nothing but sailing,' said the Rat, 'Then he tired of thatand took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all dayand every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it washouse-boating, and we all had to go and stay with him in his house-boat,and pretend we liked it. He was going to spend the rest of his life ina house-boat. It's all the same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired ofit, and starts on something fresh.'

'Such a good fellow, too,' remarked the Otter reflectively: 'But nostability--especially in a boat!'

From where they sat they could get a glimpse of the main stream acrossthe island that separated them; and just then a wager-boat flashed intoview, the rower--a short, stout figure--splashing badly and rolling agood deal, but working his hardest. The Rat stood up and hailed him, butToad--for it was he--shook his head and settled sternly to his work.

'He'll be out of the boat in a minute if he rolls like that,' said theRat, sitting down again.

'Of course he will,' chuckled the Otter. 'Did I ever tell you that goodstory about Toad and the lock-keeper? It happened this way. Toad....'

An errant May-fly swerved unsteadily athwart the current in theintoxicated fashion affected by young bloods of May-flies seeing life. Aswirl of water and a 'cloop!' and the May-fly was visible no more.

Neither was the Otter.

The Mole looked down. The voice was still in his ears, but the turfwhereon he had sprawled was clearly vacant. Not an Otter to be seen, asfar as the distant horizon.

But again there was a streak of bubbles on the surface of the river.

The Rat hummed a tune, and the Mole recollected that animal-etiquetteforbade any sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one's friendsat any moment, for any reason or no reason whatever.

'Well, well,' said the Rat, 'I suppose we ought to be moving. I wonderwhich of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?' He did not speak as ifhe was frightfully eager for the treat.

'O, please let me,' said the Mole. So, of course, the Rat let him.

Packing the basket was not quite such pleasant work as unpacking' thebasket. It never is. But the Mole was bent on enjoying everything, andalthough just when he had got the basket packed and strapped up tightlyhe saw a plate staring up at him from the grass, and when the job hadbeen done again the Rat pointed out a fork which anybody ought tohave seen, and last of all, behold! the mustard pot, which he had beensitting on without knowing it--still, somehow, the thing got finished atlast, without much loss of temper.

The afternoon sun was getting low as the Rat sculled gently homewards ina dreamy mood, murmuring poetry-things over to himself, and not payingmuch attention to Mole. But the Mole was very full of lunch, andself-satisfaction, and pride, and already quite at home in a boat (so hethought) and was getting a bit restless besides: and presently he said,'Ratty! Please, _I_ want to row, now!'

The Rat shook his head with a smile. 'Not yet, my young friend,' hesaid--'wait till you've had a few lessons. It's not so easy as itlooks.'

The Mole was quiet for a minute or two. But he began to feel more andmore jealous of Rat, sculling so strongly and so easily along, and hispride began to whisper that he could do it every bit as well. He jumpedup and seized the sculls, so suddenly, that the Rat, who was gazing outover the water and saying more poetry-things to himself, was taken bysurprise and fell backwards off his seat with his legs in the air forthe second time, while the triumphant Mole took his place and grabbedthe sculls with entire confidence.

'Stop it, you SILLY ass!' cried the Rat, from the bottom of the boat.'You can't do it! You'll have us over!'

The Mole flung his sculls back with a flourish, and made a great dig atthe water. He missed the surface altogether, his legs flew up abovehis head, and he found himself lying on the top of the prostrate Rat.Greatly alarmed, he made a grab at the side of the boat, and the nextmoment--Sploosh!

Over went the boat, and he found himself struggling in the river.

O my, how cold the water was, and O, how VERY wet it felt. How it sangin his ears as he went down, down, down! How bright and welcome the sunlooked as he rose to the surface coughing and spluttering! How black washis despair when he felt himself sinking again! Then a firm paw grippedhim by the back of his neck. It was the Rat, and he was evidentlylaughing--the Mole could FEEL him laughing, right down his arm andthrough his paw, and so into his--the Mole's--neck.

The Rat got hold of a scull and shoved it under the Mole's arm; then hedid the same by the other side of him and, swimming behind, propelledthe helpless animal to shore, hauled him out, and set him down on thebank, a squashy, pulpy lump of misery.

When the Rat had rubbed him down a bit, and wrung some of the wet out ofhim, he said, 'Now, then, old fellow! Trot up and down the towing-pathas hard as you can, till you're warm and dry again, while I dive for theluncheon-basket.'

So the dismal Mole, wet without and ashamed within, trotted about tillhe was fairly dry, while the Rat plunged into the water again, recoveredthe boat, righted her and made her fast, fetched his floatingproperty to shore by degrees, and finally dived successfully for theluncheon-basket and struggled to land with it.

When all was ready for a start once more, the Mole, limp and dejected,took his seat in the stern of the boat; and as they set off, he said ina low voice, broken with emotion, 'Ratty, my generous friend! I am verysorry indeed for my foolish and ungrateful conduct. My heart quite failsme when I think how I might have lost that beautiful luncheon-basket.Indeed, I have been a complete ass, and I know it. Will you overlook itthis once and forgive me, and let things go on as before?'

'That's all right, bless you!' responded the Rat cheerily. 'What's alittle wet to a Water Rat? I'm more in the water than out of it mostdays. Don't you think any more about it; and, look here! I really thinkyou had better come and stop with me for a little time. It's very plainand rough, you know--not like Toad's house at all--but you haven't seenthat yet; still, I can make you comfortable. And I'll teach you to row,and to swim, and you'll soon be as handy on the water as any of us.'

The Mole was so touched by his kind manner of speaking that he couldfind no voice to answer him; and he had to brush away a tear or two withthe back of his paw. But the Rat kindly looked in another direction, andpresently the Mole's spirits revived again, and he was even able to givesome straight back-talk to a couple of moorhens who were sniggering toeach other about his bedraggled appearance.

When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, andplanted the Mole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched downa dressing-gown and slippers for him, and told him river stories tillsupper-time. Very thrilling stories they were, too, to an earth-dwellinganimal like Mole. Stories about weirs, and sudden floods, and leapingpike, and steamers that flung hard bottles--at least bottles werecertainly flung, and FROM steamers, so presumably BY them; and aboutherons, and how particular they were whom they spoke to; and aboutadventures down drains, and night-fishings with Otter, or excursions fara-field with Badger. Supper was a most cheerful meal; but very shortlyafterwards a terribly sleepy Mole had to be escorted upstairs by hisconsiderate host, to the best bedroom, where he soon laid his head onhis pillow in great peace and contentment, knowing that his new-foundfriend the River was lapping the sill of his window.

This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipatedMole, each of them longer and full of interest as the ripening summermoved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joyof running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, atintervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantlyamong them.