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Authors: William Horwood

Toad Triumphant

BOOK: Toad Triumphant
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Illustrated by Patrick Benson





By William Horwood


The Willows in Winter

Toad Triumphant


Duncton Wood

The Stonor Eagles



Duncton Quest

Duncton Found

Duncton Tales

Duncton Rising Duncton Stone

The Wolves of Time I


Title Page

Also by William Horwood

. . .

I  In Mr. Road's Garden

II  Mole in the Doldrums

III  A Last-Minute Delay

IV  The Madame

V  Summer Journey

VI  Cupid's Arrow

VII  At the Sign of the Hat and Boot

VIII  In Pursuit of Love

IX  The Lathbury Pike

X  In Loco Parentis

XI  Breach of Promise

XII  Toad Triumphant




· I ·

In Mr Toad’s Garden

It was a warm afternoon in early May and Toad lay propped up on the terrace overlooking his garden, gazing dreamily into the middle distance from the comfort of a wicker chaise longue. If he saw anything at all in this lazy mood it was the River, stately and magnificent, which formed the south-western boundary of his extensive estate.

Toad had been employed thus all day, doing what he liked best, which was basking in past glories, contemplating present delights, and planning future triumphs.

Having spent the morning dwelling on his glorious past (as he saw it), he had risen up for sufficient time to take lunch and enumerate his many present pleasures while he did so. Now, well fed and watered, and supine once more, he had arrived at that stage in the day’s work that required that he formulate plans for the coming months and years.

This was a moment Toad had been very much looking forward to, for he liked nothing better than thinking up schemes, preferably grand and clever ones that showed the world what a wonderful and extraordinary animal he was. He was by no means lacking in such ideas, and he was just getting into the swing of things with some preliminary thoughts of solo ascents of certain obscure Alpine peaks, when his peace was suddenly disturbed by the distant jangling of his front-door bell.

“I say,” he called to his butler; “be sure to remember that I am not at home to anyone for

Toad had no wish to rise again till it was time for tea and he hoped very much that his new butler, already well instructed in such matters, would send the unwelcome visitor packing. As his man set off purposefully towards the front door, Toad felt the warming sun upon his face and, putting the caller out of his mind, returned to the contemplation of the future.

He was not short of schemes to contemplate, though he had no intention whatsoever of putting any of these plans into effect immediately. For one thing he did not have the means just then, having spent a great deal of money in the past year and a half rebuilding Toad Hall, which had been ruined by fire two years previously.

Generous as Lloyd’s of London had been in its settlement of his insurance claims, for some reason it would not agree to provide Toad with funds to purchase all the medieval French tapestries, Mogul carpets, eighteenth-century English carved furniture and Wedgwood tea sets that a single gentleman such as he considered essential to the continuing comfort and entertainment of himself and his guests.

Not that Mr Toad was short of what people of less refinement than himself liked to call “a bob or two”. No, he still had wealth enough to live a life of idle luxury, and intended to continue to do so to the end of his days, right up to the very last second, when he hoped he might still have a glass of bubbling Moët & Chandon in his right hand and a good Havana in his left as he passed into happy oblivion. Live now and don’t pay later, that was Toad’s motto. Nevertheless, the destruction of Toad Hall and its re-creation on more modern lines had served to remind him that even his resources were limited, and it was as well that he had been insured, for which precaution he had his late father to thank and not himself.

But in all truth, even if unlimited means had been there to support Toad’s grandiose schemes and plans, the will and energy were not. He was not as young as he had been and was more cautious in taking risks with the outside world, which is to say the world beyond the River Bank.

Twice in recent times, once in consequence of unwittingly stealing a motor-car, and a second time as a result of an unfortunate accident in a flying machine that led to arraignments on dozens of charges, the most humiliating of which concerned a false allegation of dishonourable intentions regarding a chimney sweep’s wife, Mr Toad had found himself awaiting trial in the dour dungeons of the Town’s Castle.

If that was bad, the trials that followed, with their baffling procedures, mean—spirited cross-examinations, cold-hearted judges, and uncertain outcomes, were far worse, and Mr Toad wished never to suffer such trial and tribulation again. His generous and long-suffering friends, in particular the wise Badger, the practical Water Rat, and the inestimable Mole, had suggested that lest he forget — and they greatly feared that one day he might —it would be wise to have inscribed in stone the warning given to Toad by the High Judge at his last trial:

“Commit no more crimes, or all those sentences of execution eternal will be put back on the list from which they have not been fully expunged, and can never be, and we fear there will be no second chance.”

A master mason duly carved these words in stone not once but thrice, and the chastened Toad was persuaded to erect these panels at places about his home where he might daily see them, namely above his bed, above his front door, and opposite his chair in the dining room. All agreed that this was but a small price to pay for Toad’s continuing liberty.

After further thought the Badger had prudently seen to it that in addition to the three stone tablets, two large notices were painted, featuring the six key words of the High Judge’s warning in large, black, accusing letters:


These had been placed facing
at the main entrance to Toad Hall and at the gate near the River, so that should he be tempted to lapse into his bad old ways and set off on some impetuous scheme he would see again the grim warning, and be persuaded to turn back onto the straight and narrow path once more.

These precautions had indeed made a deep impression on Toad, so much so that he was happy enough to formulate his plans through the course of that afternoon and then reject them one by one, for he had no desire to tumble into the dark void of criminality once more. Not that he was even then quite free from fear that the long arm of the law, and its unwelcome appendages the rough hands of the constabulary, might reach out and grasp him by the collar and drag him back into custody.

For which reason, when the jangling of the front-door bell suddenly ceased and he heard footsteps that were clearly not his butler’s echoing towards him through the halls and chambers of Toad Hall, Toad sat up in alarm and began to wonder as the footsteps grew nearer still whether he should set in motion one of his escape plans.

He stood up and cast an eye down the length of his garden to the boat-house. Only two people knew what lay therein — he and his butler, one of whose first services had been to help Toad install by dead of night his secret means of escape: a powerful motor-launch, which lay under tarpaulins in the deeper recesses of the boat-house, primed and ready, its existence disguised by a punt and two skiffs.

Toad had hoped he might never have to use the hidden launch, and somewhat surprisingly had felt no thrill at all when he had first seen it.

BOOK: Toad Triumphant
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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