THE RIVER BANK
Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning
his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then
on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of
whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes
of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and
weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the
earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and
lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and
longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung
down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!' and `O blow!'
and also `Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house
without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above
was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little
tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive
owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and
air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged
and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and
scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering
to himself, `Up we go! Up we go!' till at last, pop! his snout
came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in
the warm grass of a great meadow.
`This is fine!' he said to himself. `This is
better than whitewashing!' The sunshine struck hot on his
fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the
seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol
of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout.
Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living
and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued
his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the
`Hold up!' said an elderly rabbit at the gap.
`Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!'
He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous
Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the
other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to
see what the row was about. `Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!' he
remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of
a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling
at each other. `How stupid you are! Why didn't you tell him
-- -- ' `Well, why didn't you say -- -- ' `You might have
reminded him -- -- ' and so on, in the usual way; but, of
course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.
It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and
thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows,
across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers
budding, leaves thrusting -- everything happy, and progressive,
and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking
him and whispering `whitewash!' he somehow could only feel
how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy
citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps
not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other
fellows busy working.
He thought his happiness was complete when,
as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the
edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a
river before -- this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing
and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them
with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook
themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake
and a-shiver -- glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and
swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced,
fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots,
when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound
by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the
bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling
procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the
heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.
As he sat on the grass and looked across the
river, a dark hole in the bank opposite, just above the water's
edge, caught his eye, and dreamily he fell to considering
what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make for an animal
with few wants and fond of a bijo riverside residence, above
flood level and remote from noise and dust. As he gazed, something
bright and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it,
vanished, then twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it
could hardly be a star in such an unlikely situation; and
it was too glittering and small for a glow-worm. Then, as
he looked, it winked at him, and so declared itself to be
an eye; and a small face began gradually to grow up round
it, like a frame round a picture.
A brown little face, with whiskers.
A grave round face, with the same twinkle in
its eye that had first attracted his notice.
Small neat ears and thick silky hair.
It was the Water Rat!
Then the two animals stood and regarded each
`Hullo, Mole!' said the Water Rat.
`Hullo, Rat!' said the Mole.
`Would you like to come over?' enquired the
`Oh, its all very well to talk,' said the Mole,rather
pettishly, he being new to a river and riverside life and
The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened
a rope and hauled on it; then lightly stepped into a little
boat which the Mole had not observed. It was painted blue
outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals;
and the Mole's whole heart went out to it at once, even though
he did not yet fully understand its uses.
The Rat sculled smartly across and made fast.
Then he held up his forepaw as the Mole stepped gingerly down.
`Lean on that!' he said. `Now then, step lively!' and the
Mole to his surprise and rapture found himself actually seated
in the stern of a real boat.
`This has been a wonderful day!' said he, as
the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. `Do you know,
I`ve never been in a boat before in all my life.'
`What?' cried the Rat, open-mouthed: `Never
been in a -- you never -- well I -- what have you been doing,
`Is it so nice as all that?' asked the Mole
shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant
back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the
rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat
sway lightly under him.
`Nice? It's the only thing,' said the Water
Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe
me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolute nothing
-- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing -- about --
in -- boats; messing -- -- '
`Look ahead, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full
tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at
the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
` -- about in boats -- or with boats,' the
Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant
laugh. `In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems
really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get
away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination
or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never
get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do
anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always
something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd
much better not. Look here! If you've really nothing else
on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together,
and have a long day of it?'
The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness,
spread his chest with a sigh of full contentment, and leaned
back blissfully into the soft cushions. `What a day I'm having!'
he said. `Let us start at once!'
`Hold hard a minute, then!' said the Rat. He
looped the painter through a ring in his landing-stage, climbed
up into his hole above, and after a short interval reappeared
staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.
`Shove that under your feet,' he observed to
the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied
the painter and took the sculls again.
`What's inside it?' asked the Mole, wriggling
`There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the
Rat briefly; `coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrolls-
cresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater -- --
`O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies:
`This is too much!'
`Do you really think so?' enquired the Rat seriously.
`It's only what I always take on these little excursions;
and the other animals are always telling me that I'm a mean
beast and cut it very fine!'
The Mole never heard a word he was saying.
Absorbed in the new life he was entering upon, intoxicated
with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and the sounds and
the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed long
waking dreams. The Water Rat, like the good little fellow
he was, sculled steadily on and forebore to disturb him.
`I like your clothes awfully, old chap,' he
remarked after some half an hour or so had passed. `I'm going
to get a black velvet smoking-suit myself some day, as soon
as I can afford it.'
`I beg your pardon,' said the Mole, pulling
himself together with an effort. `You must think me very rude;
but all this is so new to me. So -- this -- is -- a -- River!'
`The River,' corrected the Rat.
`And you really live by the river? What a jolly
`By it and with it and on it and in it,' said
the Rat. `It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company,
and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world,
and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth
having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing. Lord!
the times we've had together! Whether in winter or summer,
spring or autumn, it's always got its fun and its excitements.
When the floods are on in February, and my cellars and basement
are brimming with drink that's no good to me, and the brown
water runs by my best bedroom window; or again when it all
drops away and, shows patches of mud that smells like plum-cake,
and the rushes and weed clog the channels, and I can potter
about dry shod over most of the bed of it and find fresh food
to eat, and things careless people have dropped out of boats!'
`But isn't it a bit dull at times?' the Mole
ventured to ask. `Just you and the river, and no one else
to pass a word with?'
`No one else to -- well, I mustn't be hard
on you,' said the Rat with forbearance. `You're new to it,
and of course you don't know. The bank is so crowded nowadays
that many people are moving away altogether: O no, it isn't
what it used to be, at all. Otters, kingfishers, dabchicks,
moorhens, all of them about all day long and always wanting
you to do something -- as if a fellow had no business of his
own to attend to!'
`What lies over there?' asked the Mole, waving
a paw towards a background of woodland that darkly framed
the water-meadows on one side of the river.
`That? O, that's just the Wild Wood,' said
the Rat shortly. `We don't go there very much, we river-bankers.'
`Aren't they -- aren't they very nice people
in there?' said the Mole, a trifle nervously.
`W-e-ll,' replied the Rat, `let me see. The
squirrels are all right. And the rabbits -- some of 'em, but
rabbits are a mixed lot. And then there's Badger, of course.
He lives right in the heart of it; wouldn't live anywhere
else, either, if you paid him to do it. Dear old Badger! Nobody
interferes with him. They'd better not,' he added significantly.
`Why, who should interfere with him?' asked
`Well, of course -- there -- are others,' explained
the Rat in a hesitating sort of way. `Weasels -- and stoats
-- and foxes -- and so on. They're all right in a way -- I'm
very good friends with them -- pass the time of day when we
meet, and all that -- but they break out sometimes, there's
no denying it, and then -- well, you can't really trust them,
and that's the fact.'
The Mole knew well that it is quite against
animal-etiquette to dwell on possible trouble ahead, or even
to allude to it; so he dropped the subject.
`And beyond the Wild Wood again?' he asked:
`Where it's all blue and dim, and one sees what may be hills
or perhaps they mayn't, and something like the smoke of towns,
or is it only cloud-drift?'
`Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,'
said the Rat. `And that's something that doesn't matter, either
to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going,
nor you either, if you've got any sense at all. Don't ever
refer to it again, please. Now then! Here's our backwater
at last, where we're going to lunch.'