When it began to grow dark, the Rat, with an air of excitement and mystery, summoned them back into the parlour, and proceeded to dress them up for the coming expedition. First, there was a belt to go rouund each animal, and then a sword to be stuck into each belt, and then a cutlass on the other side to balance it. Then a pair of pistols, a policeman’s truncheon, several sets of handcuffs, some bandages andsticking-plaster, and a ﬂ ask and a sandwich-case.
When all was quite ready, the Badger took a dark lantern in one paw, grasped his great stick with the other, and said, ‘Now then, follow me! Mole ﬁrst, ‘cos I’m very pleased with him; Rat next; Toad last. And look here, Toady! Don’t you chatter so much as usual, or you’ll be sent back.’
The Badger led them along by the river for a little way, and then suddenly swung himself over the edge into a hole in the river-bank, a little above the water. The Mole and the Rat followed silently, swinging themselves successfully into the hole as they had seen the Badger do; but when it came to Toad’s turn, of course he managed to slip and fall into the water with a loud splash and a squeal of alarm. He was hauled out by his friends, rubbed down and wrung out hastily, comforted, and set on his legs; but the Badger was seriously angry, and told him that the very next time he made a fool of himself he would most certainly be left behind.
So at last they were in the secret passage. It was cold, and dark, and damp, and low, and narrow, and poor Toad began to shiver, partly from dread of what might be before him, partly because he was wet through.
The lantern was far ahead, and he could not help lagging behind a little in the darkness. Then he heard the Rat call out warningly, ‘COME on, Toad!’ and a terror seized him of being left behind, alone in the darkness, and he ‘came on’ with such a rush that he upset the Rat into the Mole and the Mole into the Badger, and for a moment all was confusion.
So they groped and shufﬂed along, with their ears pricked up and their paws on their pistols, till at last the Badger said, ‘We ought by now to be pretty nearly under the Hall.’
Then suddenly they heard, far away, and yet apparently nearly over their heads, a confused murmur of sound, as if people were shouting and cheering and stamping on the ﬂoor and hammering on tables. The Toad’s nervous terrors all returned, but the Badger only remarked, ‘They ARE going it, the Weasels!’
The passage now began to slope upwards; they groped onward a little further, and then the noise broke out again, quite distinct this time, and very close above them. 'Ooo-ray-ooray-oo-ray-ooray!' they heard, and the stamping of little feet on the floor, and the clinking of glasses as little fists pounded on the table. 'WHAT a time they're
having!' said the Badger. 'Come on!' They hurried along the passage till it came to a full stop, and they found themselves standing under the trap-door that led up into the butler's pantry.
Such a tremendous noise was going on in the banqueting-hall that there was little danger of their being overheard. The Badger said, 'Now, boys, all together!' and the four of them put their shoulders to the trap-door and heaved it back.
The noise, as they emerged from the passage, was simply deafening. At last, as the cheering and hammering slowly subsided, a voice could be made out saying, 'Well, I do not propose to detain you much longer' - (great applause) - 'but before I resume my seat' - (renewed cheering) - 'I should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr. Toad. We all
know Toad!' - great laughter) - 'GOOD Toad, MODEST Toad, HONEST Toad!' (shrieks of merriment).
'Only just let me get at him!' muttered Toad, grinding his teeth.
'Hold hard a minute!' said the Badger, restraining him with difficulty. 'Get ready, all of you!'
The Badger drew himself up, took a firm grip of his stick with both paws, glanced round at his comrades, and cried -
'The hour is come! Follow me!'
And flung the door open wide.
My! What a squealing and a squeaking and a screeching filled the air!
Well might the terrified weasels dive under the tables and spring madly up at the windows! Well might the ferrets rush wildly for the fireplace and get hopelessly jammed in the chimney! Well might tables and chairs be upset, and glass and china be sent crashing on the floor, in the panic of that terrible moment when the four Heroes strode into the room!
The mighty Badger, his whiskers bristling, his great cudgel whistling through the air; Mole, black and grim, brandishing his stick; Rat; desperate and determined, his belt bulging with weapons of every age and every variety; Toad, frenzied with excitement and injured pride, swollen to twice his ordinary size, leaping into the air and emitting Toad-whoops.
They were but four in all, but to the panic-stricken weasels the hall seemed full of monstrous animals, grey, black, brown and yellow, whooping and flourishing enormous cudgels; and they broke and fled with squeals of terror and dismay, this way and that, through the windows, up the chimney, anywhere to get out of reach.
The affair was soon over. Up and down, the whole length of the hall, strode the four Friends and in five minutes the room was cleared. Through the broken windows the shrieks of terrified weasels escaping across the lawn were borne faintly to their ears; on the floor lay some dozen or so of the enemy, on whom the Mole was busily engaged in fitting handcuffs. The Badger, resting from his labours, leant on his stick and wiped his brow.
'Mole,' he said, 'you're the best of fellows! Just cut along outside and look after those stoat-sentries of yours, and see what they're doing. I've an idea that, thanks to you, we shan't have much trouble from them to-night!'. The Mole vanished promptly through a window.
Toad felt rather hurt that the Badger didn't say pleasant things to him, as he had to the Mole, and tell him what a fine fellow he was, and how splendidly he had fought. They were just about to sit down when the Mole clambered in through the window, chuckling, with an armful of rifles.
'It's all over,' he reported. 'From what I can make out, as soon as the stoats, who were very nervous and jumpy already, heard the shrieks and the yells and the uproar inside the hall, some of them threw down their rifles and fled. They've all disappeared by now, one way or another; and I've got their rifles. So that's all right!'
'Excellent and deserving animal!' said the Badger ‘I'm very pleased with you, Mole!'
Then the Mole pulled his chair up to the table and Toad, like the gentleman he was, put all his jealousy from him, and said heartily, 'Thank you kindly, dear Mole, for all your pains and trouble tonight, and especially for your cleverness this morning!' The Badger was pleased at that, and said, 'There spoke my brave Toad!'.
The following morning, Toad, who had overslept as usual, came down to breakfast disgracefully late. Through the French windows of the breakfast-room he could see the Mole and the Water Rat sitting in wicker-chairs out on the lawn, evidently telling each other stories; roaring with laughter and kicking their short legs up in the air. The Badger, who was in an arm-chair and deep in the morning paper, merely looked up and remarked rather shortly: 'I'm sorry, Toad, but I'm afraid there's a heavy morning's work in front of you. You see, we really ought to have a Banquet at once, to celebrate this affair. It's expected of you--in fact, it's the rule.'
'O, all right!' said the Toad, readily. 'Anything to oblige. But you know I do not live to please myself, but merely to find out what my friends want, and then try and arrange it for 'em, you dear old Badger!'
'Now, look here, Toad,' said the Rat. 'It's about this Banquet, and very sorry I am to have to speak to you like this. But we want you to understand clearly, once and for all, that there are going to be no speeches and no songs.
'Mayn't I sing them just one LITTLE song?' he pleaded piteously.
'No, not ONE little song,' replied the Rat firmly, 'It's no good, Toady; you know well that your songs are all boasting and vanity; and your speeches are all self-praise and-- and--well, and gross exaggeration and--and----'
'And gas,' put in the Badger, in his common way.
'It's for your own good, Toady,' went on the Rat. 'You know you MUST turn over a new leaf sooner or later, and now seems a splendid time to begin.
* * * * *
At last the hour for the banquet began to draw near, and Toad, who on leaving the others had retired to his bedroom, was still sitting there, melancholy and thoughtful.
Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug, parted his hair in the middle, and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face; and, unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests, who he knew must be assembling in the drawing-room.
All the animals cheered when he entered, and crowded round to congratulate him and say nice things about his courage, and his cleverness, and his fighting qualities; but Toad only smiled faintly, and murmured, 'Not at all!' The animals were evidently puzzled and taken aback by this unexpected attitude of his; and Toad felt, as he moved from one guest to the other, making his modest responses, that he was an object of absorbing interest to every one.
The Badger had ordered everything of the best, and the banquet was a great success.
Some of the younger and livelier animals, as the evening wore on, got whispering to each other that things were not so amusing as they used to be in the good old days; and there were some knockings on the table and cries of 'Toad! Speech! Speech from Toad! Song! Mr. Toad's song!' But Toad only shook his head gently and raised one paw in mild
He was indeed an altered Toad!
* * * * *
After this climax, the four animals continued to lead their lives, in great joy and contentment, undisturbed by further risings or invasions. Toad, after due consultation with his friends, selected a handsome gold chain and locket set with pearls, which he dispatched to the gaoler's daughter with a letter that even the Badger admitted to be modest, grateful, and appreciative; and the engine-driver, in his turn, was properly thanked and compensated for all his pains and trouble. Under severe compulsion from the Badger, even the barge-woman was, with some trouble, sought out and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her.
Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed so far as they were concerned; and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by the inhabitants, and how the mother-weasels would bring their young ones to the mouths of their holes, and say, 'Look, baby! There goes the great Mr. Toad! And that's the gallant Water Rat, a terrible fighter! And yonder comes the famous Mr. Mole, of whom you so often have heard your father tell!'
But when their infants were quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, if they didn't hush, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them. This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.