The Wind in the Willows
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| 1 The river
The Mole worked very hard all morning, cleaning his little home. He brushed, and he washed; he cleaned the floors and the walls, he stood on chairs to wash the tops of cup boards, he got under the beds, he took up the carpets. He cleaned and he cleaned, until his arms and his back ached with tiredness.
It was springtime, and the smell and the sound of spring were everywhere, even in the Mole's dark little house under the ground. And with the spring comes the promise of change, of sunshine, of new green leaves. So it was not surprising that the Mole suddenly put down his brushes and said, 'Oh bother! 'and then, 'I'm tired of cleaning! 'Something up above the ground was calling to him, and he ran out of his house and began to dig his way upwards to the sun.
He dug and he pushed, and he pushed and he dug. 'Up we go! Up we go! 'he said to himself, until at last his nose came out into the sunlight, and he found himself in the warm grass of a field.
'This is fine! 'said the Mole. 'This is better than cleaning! 'The sunshine was warm on his back and the air was filled with the songs of birds. He gave a little jump for happiness, shook himself, and then began to cross the field towards some trees. Here and there he went, through the fields and the woods, looking and smelling and listening. Everywhere animals and birds were busy, talking and laughing, looking for food, making new homes for the spring. The Mole enjoyed it all.
Then, suddenly, he came to a river. He had never seen a river before in his life-this wonderful bright shining thing, which danced its way in and out of the shadows under the trees. It was never still for a minute, hurrying and laughing and talking to itself.
And at once, the Mole was in love with it. He walked along the river bank, listening and watching all the time. At last he sat down on the grass and looked across the river to the bank opposite. There was a dark hole in the bank, and the Mole watched it dreamily, thinking that it would be very pleasant to have a little house by the river. As he watched, he saw some thing shining in the hole. Soon he saw that it was an eye, and then a face appeared as well.
A brown little face, with whiskers.
With bright eyes, and small ears, and thick shiny hair.
It was the Water Rat!
Then the two animals stood up and looked at each other.
'Hello, Mole! 'said the Water Rat.
'Hello, Rat! 'said the Mole.
'Would you like to come over?' asked the Rat.
'Oh, it's easy to talk, 'said the Mole, a little crossly. The river was new to him and he did not know how to get to the other side.
The Rat said nothing, and disappeared. Then he appeared again, in a little blue and white boat, which came quickly across the river towards the Mole. It stopped by the bank, and a moment later the Mole, to his great surprise and excitement, found himself actually sitting in a real boat.
'Do you know, 'he said, as the Rat began to row away from the bank, 'I've never been in a boat before in all my life. '
'What?' cried the Rat. 'My dear fellow, you haven't lived! Believe me, 'he went on seriously, 'there is nothing-really nothing-nicer than just messing about in boats. You can go up river, down river, stay where you are, it really doesn't matter. There's always something to do, but you don't have to do it if you don't want to. You can do what you like. Look here! If you're not busy today, why don't we spend the day on the river together?'
The Mole had listened to all this with great interest. Now he sat back in the comfortable seat and said, 'What a wonderful day this is! Let's start at once! '
But first the Rat went into his hole, and after a while came out carrying a very large and heavy lunch basket. This went in to the boat, under the Mole's feet, and then the Rat began to row down river. The two friends talked from time to time, but mostly the Mole just watched the river dreamily, enjoying the sounds and the smells and the sunlight. At last they turned off the big river into a little side river that came down to join it. The Rat stopped the boat and they got out on to a bank of soft green grass under tall willow trees. It was very quiet and very peaceful.
The Mole sat down and looked around him. 'What a beautiful place! 'he said happily.
'Time for lunch, 'said the Rat, opening the basket. 'Come on, Mole! Let's get to work. '
The Mole was happy to obey, because he was very hungry indeed after all his cleaning earlier in the day. And what a lunch it was! There were cold meats and egg sandwiches, cooked chicken and tomatoes, apples and bananas and a large cake.
When at last they could eat no more, the Mole lay back and watched the river lazily. After a while he sat up.'I can see a long line of bubbles in the water, 'he said. 'I wonder what it is. '
'Bubbles? Oho! 'said the Rat, and he called out across the river in a friendly kind of way.
The bubbles stopped and turned. Soon a wet whiskery nose appeared above the edge of the bank, and the Otter pulled him self out and shook the water from his coat.
'A lunch party! 'he said, going straight towards the food. 'Why didn't you invite me, Ratty?'
'We didn't plan it, 'explained the Rat. 'We only decided to come this morning. Oh, and this is my friend, Mr Mole. '
'Happy to meet you, 'said the Otter, and the two animals were friends at once.
'All the world seems to be out on the river today, 'said the Otter while he ate. 'I came up this side river to try and get a moment's peace, and then I find you fellows having a lunch party! '
Suddenly there was a noise in the thick bushes behind them, and a big black and white head looked out at them.
'Come on, old Badger! 'shouted the Rat.
The Badger came forward a few steps, then stopped. 'Hmm! A crowd! 'he said crossly, and turned his back and disappeared again into the bushes.
'What a pity! 'said the Rat. 'Dear old Badger! He's a good fellow, but he does hate a crowd. We won't see him again today. But tell us, who's out on the river?'
'Toad's out, for one, 'replied the Otter. 'In his shiny new boat. He's got new boating clothes, and everything! '
The Rat and the Otter looked at each other and laughed.
'Toad's always trying something new, 'the Rat explained to the Mole. 'But he always gets bored so quickly. Last year it was a house-boat, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life living on the river. This year it's rowing-boats. '
'He's a nice fellow, of course, 'said the Otter. 'But he never learns from his mistakes! '
From where they sat they could see a bit of the big river. And just then they saw a rowing-boat going past, and in it a short fat animal, rowing very hard and very badly.
'There's Toad going past now, 'said the Rat. 'Look at him! He'll turn that boat over in a minute. '
'Of course he will, 'laughed the Otter. Toad had now disappeared up river, and the Otter went on, 'Did I ever tell you that story about Toad and the…'
There was a sudden movement in the water near the bank. Something silvery shone for a second, then it was gone. And so was the Otter. The Mole looked down. The Otter's voice was still in his ears, but the Otter had disappeared.
There was just a long line of bubbles in the river.
The Rat sang a little song to himself, and the Mole remembered that it was not at all polite, in the animal world, to say anything if your friends disappeared at any moment, for any reason.
'Well, well, 'said the Rat. 'I suppose we should think about getting home. '
The Mole packed the things away in the lunch basket, and soon the Rat began to row gently homewards while the after noon sun went down behind the trees. The Rat was dreaming quietly to himself, but the Mole was very full of lunch and the excitements of the day. He began to think that he knew every thing about boats now.
And in a while he said, 'Ratty! Pleas, I want to row! '
The Rat shook his head with a smile. 'Not yet, my young friend, 'he said. 'Wait until you've had a few lessons. It's not as easy as it looks. '
The Mole was quiet for a minute or two. But he wanted to row very much indeed. He was sure that he could row as well as Rat. Then, before the Rat could stop him, he jumped up, and pulled the oars out of the surprised Rat's hands. The Rat fell backwards off his seat, calling out, 'Stop it, you silly fellow! You'll have us in the river! '
The Mole made a great dig at the water with the oars, but the oars never touched the water at all. The Mole's legs flew up above his head, and he found himself lying on top of the Rat in the bottom of the boat. Frightened, he tried to get up, got hold of the side of the boat, and the next moment-splash!
Over went the boat, and the Mole and the Rat and the lunch basket were all in the water.
It was the Rat, of course, who pulled the Mole out of the water, who turned the boat right way up, who found the oars, who got the lunch basket from the bottom of the river. And he laughed and laughed.
When all was ready again, the unhappy Mole sat in the boat very wet and very miserable. As they left, he said in a low voice, 'Ratty, my dear friend! I have been so silly and so ungrateful. I really am very sorry indeed. '
'That's all right! 'replied the Rat kindly. 'I'm always in and out of the water myself, so don't worry about it. But I re ally think you should come and stay with me for a while. You'll be very comfortable, and I'll teach you to row and to swim. Soon you'll be as good a boatman as any of us. '
The Mole was almost too happy to speak and could find no words to thank his friend.
When they got home, they had a good hot supper in front of a bright fire while the Rat told exciting stories of life on the river. Then he took the Mole upstairs to the best bedroom, and soon the Mole was lying warm and comfortable, listening to the sound of his new friend the River running past his bedroom window.
That was the first of many wonderful days for the Mole, as the spring turned slowly into a golden summer. He learnt to swim and to row, and he learnt to love the sound of the wind when it went whispering its secrets through the trees and the plants by the river.
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