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The Wind in The Willows. 4: Mr Badger

Mr Badger - synopsis

Following Mole's adventure in the Wild Wood he and Ratty spend time with the reclusive Mr Badger in his underground home.

Text: The Wind in The Willows, Episode 4 - Mr Badger

The Mole and The Rat waited patiently for what seemed a very long time, stamping in the snow to keep their feet warm. At last they heard the sound of slow shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the inside.

There was the noise of a bolt shot back, and the door opened a few inches, enough to show a long snout and a pair of sleepy blinking eyes.

‘Now, the VERY next time this happens,’ said a gruff and suspicious voice, ‘I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it THIS time, disturbing people on such a night? Speak up!’

‘Oh, Badger,’ cried the Rat, ‘let us in, please. It’s me, Rat, and my friend Mole, and we’ve lost our way in the snow.’

‘What, Ratty, my dear little man!’ exclaimed the Badger, in quite a different voice. ‘Come along in, both of you, at once. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood too, and at this time of night! But come in with you.’

The two animals tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get inside, and heard the door shut behind them with great joy and relief.

The Badger, who wore a long dressing- gown, and whose slippers were very down at heel, carried a fl at candlestick in his paw and had probably been on his way to bed. He looked kindly down on them and patted both their heads. ‘This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out, I’m afraid you’ve been up to some of your pranks again, Ratty. But come along; come into the kitchen. There’s a first-rate fi re there, and supper and everything.’

He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed him, down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of central hall; out of which they could dimly see other long tunnel-like passages branching, passages mysterious and without apparent end. But there were doors in the hall as well - stout oaken comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fi re-lit kitchen.

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs in the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves at the far end of the room and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs.

The kindly Badger thrust them down on a settee to toast themselves at the fi re, and bade them remove their wet coats and boots. Then he fetched them dressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the Mole’s shin with warm water and mended the cut with sticking-plaster till the whole thing was just as good as new, if not better.

When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to the table. He nodded gravely at intervals as the animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, ‘I told you so,’ or, ‘Just what I always said,’ or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else. The Mole began to feel very friendly towards him.

When supper was really finished at last, they gathered round the glowing embers of the great wood fire, and thought how jolly it was to be sitting up SO late, and SO full; and after they had chatted for a time about things in general, the Badger said ‘Now then! tell us the news from your part of the world. How’s old Toad going on?’

‘Oh, from bad to worse,’ said the Rat gravely, ‘Another smash-up only last week, and a bad one.’

‘How many has he had?’ inquired the Badger gloomily.

‘Smashes, or machines?’ asked the Rat. ‘Oh, well, after all, it’s the same thing - with Toad. This is the seventh’.

‘He’s been in hospital three times,’ put in the Mole; ‘and as for the fines he’s had to pay, it’s simply awful to think of.’

‘Yes, and that’s part of the trouble,’ continued the Rat. ‘Toad’s rich, we all know; but he’s not a millionaire. Badger! we’re his friends - oughtn’t we to do something?’

The Badger went through a bit of hard thinking. ‘Now look here!’ he said at last, rather severely; ‘of course you know I can’t do anything NOW. BUT, when the year has really turned, and the nights are shorter, we’ll take Toad seriously in hand. We’ll bring him back to reason, by force if need be. We’ll MAKE him be a sensible Toad. Well, it’s time we were all in bed,’ said the Badger, getting up and fetching fl at candlesticks. ‘Come along, you two, and I’ll show you your quarters. And take your time tomorrow morning - breakfast at any hour you please!’

He conducted the two animals to a long room that seemed half bedchamber and half loft. The Badger’s winter stores, which indeed were visible everywhere, took up half the room--piles of apples, turnips, and potatoes, baskets full of nuts, and jars of honey; but the two little white beds on the remainder of the floor looked soft and inviting, and the linen on them, though coarse, was clean and smelt beautifully of lavender; and the Mole and the Water Rat, shaking off their garments in some thirty seconds, tumbled in between the sheets in great joy and contentment.

The two tired animals came down to breakfast very late next morning, and found a bright fi re burning in the kitchen, and two young hedgehogs sitting on a bench at the table, eating oatmeal porridge out of wooden bowls. The hedgehogs dropped their spoons, rose to their feet, and ducked their heads respectfully as the two entered.

‘There, sit down, sit down,’ said the Rat pleasantly, ‘and go on with your porridge. Where have you youngsters come from? Lost your way in the snow, I suppose?’

‘Yes sir, please, sir,’ said the elder of the two hedgehogs respectfully. ‘Me and little Billy here, we was trying to fi nd our way to school - and of course we lost ourselves, sir, and Billy he got frightened and cried, being young. And at last we happened up against Mr. Badger’s back door, and made so bold as to knock, sir, for Mr. Badger he’s a kindhearted gentleman, as everyone knows - ’

‘I understand,’ said the Rat, cutting himself some rashers from a side of bacon, while the Mole dropped some eggs into a saucepan. ‘And what’s the weather like outside? You needn’t “sir” me quite so much?’ he added.

‘O, terrible bad, sir, terrible deep the snow is,’ said the hedgehog. ‘No getting out for the likes of you gentlemen to-day.’

‘Where’s Mr. Badger?’ inquired the Mole, as he warmed the coffee-pot before the fi re. ‘The master’s gone into his study, sir,’ replied the hedgehog, ‘and he said as how he was going to be particular busy this morning, and on no account was he to be disturbed.’

This explanation, of course, was thoroughly understood by every one present. The animals knew well that Badger, having eaten a hearty breakfast, had retired to his study and settled himself in an arm-chair with his legs up on another and a red cotton handkerchief over his face, and was being ‘busy’ in the usual way at this time of the year.

A plate of fried ham had just been cleared and sent back for more, when the Badger entered, yawning and rubbing his eyes, and greeted them all in his quiet, simple way.

The hedgehogs looked timidly up at Mr. Badger, but were too shy to say anything.

‘Here, you two youngsters be off home to your mother,’ said the Badger kindly. ‘I’ll send some one with you to show you the way. You won’t want any dinner to-day, I’ll be bound.’

He gave them sixpence apiece and a pat on the head, and they went off.

Presently they all sat down to lunch together. The Mole found himself placed next to Mr. Badger. Once well underground he said, ‘you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ‘em, and don’t bother about ‘em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.’

The Badger simply beamed on him. ‘That’s exactly what I say,’ he replied. ‘There’s no security, or peace except underground. No, up and out of doors is good enough to roam about and get one’s living in; but underground to come back to at last--that’s my idea of HOME’.

The Mole assented heartily; and the Badger got very friendly with him. ‘When lunch is over,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you all round this little place of mine.

After lunch, accordingly, the Badger lighted a lantern and bade the Mole follow him. Crossing the hall, they passed down one of the tunnels, and the wavering light of the lantern gave glimpses on either side of rooms both large and small, some mere cupboards, others nearly as broad and imposing as Toad’s dining-hall.

A narrow passage at right angles led them into another corridor, and here the same thing was repeated. The Mole was staggered at the size, the length of the dim passages and the solid vaultings of the crammed store-chambers.

When they got back to the kitchen again, they found the Rat walking up and down, very restless. The underground atmosphere was getting on his nerves, and he seemed really to be afraid that the river would run away if he wasn’t there to look after it. So he had his overcoat on, and his pistols thrust into his belt again. ‘Come along, Mole,’ he said ‘We must get off while it’s daylight.

Don’t want to spend another night in the Wild Wood.’

‘You really needn’t fret, Ratty,’ added the Badger. ‘My passages run further than you think. When you really have to go, you shall leave by one of my short cuts. Meantime, make yourself easy, and sit down again.’

The Rat was still anxious to be off and attend to his river, so the Badger, taking up his lantern again, led the way along a damp and airless tunnel that wound and dipped, for a weary distance that seemed to be miles. At last daylight began to show itself through tangled growth overhanging the mouth of the passage; and the Badger, bidding them a hasty good-bye, pushed them hurriedly through the opening, made everything look as natural as possible again, with creepers, brushwood, and dead leaves, and retreated.

They found themselves standing on the very edge of the Wild Wood. Rocks and brambles and tree-roots behind them, in front, a great space of quiet fi elds, hemmed by lines of hedges black on the snow, and, far ahead, a glint of the familiar old river, while the wintry sun hung red and low on the horizon. Pausing there a moment and looking back, they saw the whole mass of the Wild Wood, dense, menacing, compact, grimly set in vast white surroundings; they turned and made swiftly for home.

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