National Friendship Day was originally founded by Hallmark as a promotional campaign to encourage people to send cards, but is now celebrated in countries across the world on the first Sunday in August. This extract celebrates the friendship of two of our favourite characters from classic literature, Rat and Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Their friendship begins after a chance meeting and is strengthened throughout their adventures together.
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 bijou 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 other cautiously.
‘Hullo, Mole!’ said the Water Rat.
‘Hullo, Rat!’ said the Mole.
‘Would you like to come over?’ inquired the Rat presently.
‘Oh, it’s all very well to talk,’ said the Mole, rather pettishly, he being new to a river and riverside life and its ways. 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 fore-paw 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, then?’
‘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 — absolutely 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 with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater— ’
‘O stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired 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 forbore 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.
Feature Image: Boat rowing swimming by Unsplash. Public domain via Pixabay.