Bertie's Escapade

by KENNETH GRAHAME

KENNETH GRAHAME, who died in 1932, was a “Sunday writer.” His career in the Bank of England absorbed the major part of his energies. A shy man who shunned London’s literary gatherings, he found his solace in the country and in the affectionate hours with his only son, Alastair. In his spare time “he thought his way deep into the mind of childhood,” and in his two books, The Golden Age and Dream Days, he wrote about childhood with a direct feeling for nature which soon established him as one of the master essayists of his time. Although they are about children, these books are for adults, a reflection of the “Golden Age” that disappeared in 1914.

With his young son, Mr. Grahame had an inviolate half hour at the day’s end. No one but the boy heard those stories as they were first related. “But once I remember,” wrote Mrs. Grahame, “on asking my maid to tell Kenneth that we were already very late in starting for some dinner-party, that she mentioned: ‘Oh, he is up in the night-nursery, telling Master Mouse some ditty or another about a toad.’” From those evening sessions emerged Mr. Grahame’s masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows, one of the best-beloved books for children in tire English language.

The story of Bertie the pig, which follows and which has not previously been published, was written in longhand by Mr. Grahame for a homemade magazine of which young Alastair was the editor. Mrs. Grahame tells us of its origin: “It all began by Albert King requesting Kenneth to have the fence round the sty of Bertie, our black pig, heightened, as he had taken a standing jump and cleared the existing one. Albert King, as Bertie’s guardian, felt bound to be reproachful as to this episode, but was evidently bursting with pride on such an achievement, which he said was unique in his experience, since the fence was of quite average dimensions and Bertie very fat. So, the nursery party being specially interested in Bertie’s adventure, Kenneth founded his story on that strange happening. As it was intended for a very youthful circle, he wrote of places and ‘characters’ well known to the children. All the animals in the story are given their actual names and characteristics, and are in a sense the forerunners of those in the book itself. The whole thing is really a sort of rehearsal for The Wind in the Wil-lows, though I think quite unintentional and therefore the more striking.”

“Bertie’s Escapade” is to be published in book form by J. B. Lippincott Company together with a delightful collection of letters entitled First Whisper of ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ — THE EDITOR

1

IT WAS eleven o’clock on a winter’s night. The fields, the hedges, the trees, were white with snow. From over Quarry Woods floated the sound of Marlow bells, practicing for Christmas. In the paddock the only black spot visible was Bertie’s sty, and the only thing blacker than the sty was Bertie himself, sitting in the front courtyard and yawning. In Mayfield windows the lights were out, and the whole house was sunk in slumber.

“This is very slow,” yawned Bertie. “Why shouldn’t I do something?”

Bertie was a pig of action. “Deeds, not grunts,” was his motto. Retreating as far back as he could, he took a sharp run, gave a mighty jump, and cleared his palings.

“The rabbits shall come too,” he said. “Do them good.”

He went to the rabbit hutch and unfastened the door.

“Peter! Benjie!” he called. “Wake up!”

“Whatever are you up to, Bertie?” said Peter sleepily.

“ Come on! ” said Bertie. “ We’re going carol singing. Bring Benjie too, and hurry up! ”

Peter hopped out at once, in great delight. But Benjie grumbled, and burrowed down in his straw. So they hauled him out by his cars.

Cautiously they crept down the paddock, past the house, and out at the front gate. Down the hill they went, took the turning by the pillar-box, and arrived at lhe foot of Chalkpit Hill. Then Benjie struck.

“Hang it all,” he said. “I’m not going to fag up that hill tonight for anyone!”

“Then I’ll bite you,” said Bertie. “Choose which you please.”

“It’s all right, Bertie,” said Peter. “We’re none of us going to fag up that hill. I know an easier way. You follow me.”

He led them into the chalk pit, till they stood at the very foot. Looking up, it was like the cliffs at Broadstairs, only there was no band at the top and no bathing-machines at the bottom.

Peter pulled out a large lump of chalk and disclosed the entrance to a long, dark little tunnel. “Come on!” he said, and dived in; and the others followed.

They groped along the tunnel for a considerable way in darkness and silence, till at last they saw a glimmer of light; and presently the tunnel ended suddenly in a neat little lift, lit up with electric light, with a scat running round three sides of it. A mole was standing by the door.

“Come along there, please, if you’re going up!” called the mole sharply.

They hurried in and sat down. “Just in time!” said Peter.

“Any more for the lift?” cried the mole, looking down the tunnel. Then he stepped inside smartly, slammed the door, pulled the rope, and they shot upwards.

“Well, I never!” gasped Bertie. “Peter, you do know a thing or two, you do! Where — what — how —”

The lift stopped with a jerk. The mole flung the door open, saying “Pass out quickly, please!” and slammed it behind them. They found themselves standing on the fresh snow, under the open starlit sky.

They turned round to ask the mole where they were, but the lift had vanished. Where it had been there was a square patch of grass free from snow, and in the middle of the patch was a but tony white mushroom.

“Why, we’re in Spring Lane!” cried Bertie. “There’s the well!”

“And here’s Mr. Stone’s lodge, just in front of us!” cried Peter.

“Splendid!” said Bertie. “Now, we’ll go right up to the house, and sing our bewitching carols under the drawing-room windows. And presently Mr. Stone will come out and praise us, and pat our heads, and say we’re dern clever animals, and ask us in. And that will mean supper in the dining room, and champagne with it, and grand times!”

They hurried up the drive and planted themselves under the windows. Then Bertie said, “First we’ll give ‘em ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ Now then, all together!”

“But I don’t know ‘Good King Wenceslas,’" said Peter.

“And I can’t sing!” said Benjie.

“Well, you must both do the best you can,” said Bertie. “Try to follow me. I’ll sing very slow.” And he struck up.

Peter followed him as best he could, about two bars behind; and Benjie, who could not sing, imitated various musical instruments, not very successfully.

Presently they hoard a voice inside the house. It was Mrs. Stone’s, and she was saying, “What — on — earth — is — that — horrible caterwauling?”

Then they heard another voice — Mr. Stone’s — replying: “It sounds like animals — horrid little animals — under the windows, squealing and grunting. I will go out with a big stick and drive them away.”

“Stick! Oh, my!” said Bertie.

“Stick! Ow, ow!” said Benjie.

Then they heard Mrs. Stone again, saying, “Oh, no, don’t trouble to go out, dear. Go through the stable yard to the kennels, and LET - LOOSE - ALL — THE — DOGS.”

“Dogs, oh, my!” said Bertie.

“Dogs, ow, ow!” said Benjie.

They turned tail and ran for their lives. Peter had already started, some ten seconds previously; they saw him sprinting down the carriage drive ahead of them, a streak of rabbitskin. Bertie ran and ran, and Benjie ran and ran; while behind them, and coming nearer and nearer, they could hear plainly

Wow — wow — wow — wow — wow — WOW!

2

PETER was the first to reach the mushroom. He flung himself on it and pressed it; and, click! the little lift was there. The door was flung open, and the mole, stepping out, said sharply: “Now then! Hurry up, please, if you’re going down! Any more for the lift?”

Hurry up, indeed! There was no need to say that. They flung themselves on the seat, breathless and exhausted; the mole slammed the door and pulled the rope, and they sank downwards.

Then the mole looked them over and grinned. “Had a pleasant evening?” he inquired.

Bertie would not answer, he was too sulky: but Peter replied sarcastically: “Oh, yes, first-rate. My friend here’s a popular carol singer. They make him welcome wherever he goes, and give him the best of everything.”

“Now don’t you start pulling my leg, Peter,” said Bertie, “for I won’t stand it. I’ve been a failure tonight, and I admit it; and I’ll tell you what I wilt do to make up for it. You two come back to my sty, and I’ll give you a first-rate supper, the best you ever had!”

“Oh, ah, first-rate cabbage stalks,” said Benjie. “We know your suppers!”

“Not at all,” said Bertie earnestly. “On the contrary. There’s a window in Mayfield that I can get into the house by, at any time. And I know where Mr. Grahame keeps his keys — very careless man, Mr. Grahame. Put your trust in me, and you shall have cold chicken, tongue, pressed beef, jellies, trifle, and champagne — at least; perhaps more, but that’s the least you’ll have!”

Here the lift stopped with a jerk. “Tumble out, all of you,” said the mole, flinging the door open. “And look sharp, for it’s closing time, and I’m going home.”

“No you’re not, old man,” said Bertie affectionately. “You’re coming along to have supper with us.”

The mole protested it was much too late; but in the end they persuaded him.

When they got back to Mayfield, the rabbits took the mole off to wash his hands and brush his hair, while Bertie disappeared cautiously round a corner of the house. In about ten minutes he appeared at the pigsty, staggering under the weight of two large baskets. One of them contained all the eatables he had already mentioned, as well as apples, oranges, chocolates, ginger, and crackers. The other contained ginger beer, soda water, and champagne.

The supper was laid in the inner pigsty. They were all very hungry, naturally; and when everything was ready they sat down, and stuffed, and drank, and told stories, and all talked at once; and when they had stuffed enough, they proposed toasts, and drank healths: “The King” — “Our host Bertie” — “Mr. Grahame” — “The Visitors, coupled with the name of Mole” — “Absent friends, coupled with the name of Mr. Stone” — and many others.

Then there were speeches, and songs, and then more speeches, and more songs; and it was three o’clock in the morning before the mole slipped through the palings and made his way back to his own home, where Mrs. Mole was sitting up for him, in some uneasiness of mind.

Mr. Grahame’s night was a very disturbed one, owing to agitating dreams. He dreamed that the house was broken into by burglars, and he wanted to get up and go down and catch them, but he could not move hand or foot. He heard them ransacking his pantry, stealing his cold chicken and things, and plundering his wine cellar, and still he could not move a muscle.

Then he dreamed that he was at one of the great City Banquets that he used to go to, and he heard the Chairman propose the health of the King and there was great cheering. And he thought of a most excellent speech to make in reply — a really clever speech. And he tried to make it, but they held him down in his chair and wouldn’t let him.

And then he dreamed that the Chairman actually proposed his own health — the health of Mr. Grahame! — and he got up to reply, and he couldn’t think of anything to say! And so he stood there, for hours and hours it seemed, in a dead silence, the glittering eyes of the guests — there were hundreds and hundreds of guests — all fixed on him, and still he couldn’t think of anything to say! Till at last the Chairman rose and said, “He can’t think of anything to say! Turn him out!” Then the waiters fell upon him, and dragged him from the room, and threw him into the street, and filing his hat and coat after him; and as he was shot out he heard the whole company singing wildly, “For he’s a jolly good fellow —!”

He woke up in a cold perspiration. And then a strange thing happened. Although he was awake he knew he was awake — he could distinctly hear shrill little voices still singing, “For he’s a jolly good fe-e-llow, and so say all of us!” He puzzled over it for a few minutes, and then, fortunately, he fell asleep.

Next morning, when Miss S. and Alastair went to call on the rabbits, they found a disgraceful state of things — the hutch in a most untidy mess, clot hes flung about anyhow, and Peter and Benjie sprawling on the floor, fast asleep and snoring frightfully. They tried to wake them, hut the rabbits only murmured something about “jolly good fellows, and fell asleep again.

“Well, we never!” said Miss S. and A. G.

When Albert King went to take Bertie his dinner, you cannot imagine the state he found the pigsty in. Such a litter of things of every sort, and Bertie in the midst of it all, fast asleep. King poked him with a stick, and said, “Dinner, Bertie!” But even then he didn’t wake. He only grunted something that sounded like “ — God — save — King — Wenceslas! ”

“Well!” said King. “Of all the animals!”