Toad was getting nearer and nearer to home, and still had on his washerwomen's disguise. (By now it was looking the worse for wear.) Presently he came to a tow-path, running alongside a canal. An old horse was plodding along it, pulling a gaily painted barge. A big stout woman sat in it, her brawny arm along the tiller.
Toad saw the chance of a lift, so he told his tale of losing a purse and having to get back to the children. "I'll give you a lift as far as Toad Hall," the barge-woman bargained, "if you'll do my dirty washing for me." Toad had been boasting what a good washerwoman he was!
The barge-woman gave him a great pile of washing, some soap and clean water in a big tub. Toad had no idea how to set about it. Soon he was puffing and blowing and rubbing and dubbing, but the clothes were no cleaner.
The barge-woman took a closer look at him.
"You're no washerwoman!" she shrieked. "You're a dirty ugly toad - get off my nice clean barge!"
Toad was so annoyed he jumped off the barge, undid the tow-rope, and rode off on the horse, leaving the barge-woman shaking her fist at him.
He galloped along, thinking how clever he was. By now he was feeling hungry, and as he passed a hedge, the most delicious smell came floating over it. A gipsy was cooking a stew of rabbit, pheasant and onions, in an iron pot on a fire. Quickly Toad struck a bargain. He sold the horse, in exchange for a few pence and a plate of stew.
He was feeling his old self again and began to make up a boastful song about his adventures. White he was singing,
#"The world has held great heroes,
As history books have showed,
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared to Mr Toad - "#
a familiar noise was heard.
Along the highway came a motor-car, and it was the very one Toad had stolen!
Toad pretended to faint and the car stopped. The passengers took him to be a poor washerwoman and put him in the font seat, where the fresh air would revive him. It was not long before Toad perked up enough to ask a favour.
"I've always wanted to see if I could drive a motor-car," he said longingly. "Please let me try!"
The passengers were very amused to think of a humble washerwoman wanting to drive. "Let her have a go!" they said to the chauffeur.
Toad drove off, slowly at first, then faster and faster!
"Be careful, washerwoman!" they cried.
"I'm not a washerwoman!" said he. "I'm the great, the famous Toad!" and he drove faster than ever, terrifying the passengers, until he took a corner too fast and drove straight into a pond.
He jumped out and hopped off across the fields, singing another verse of his boastful song, leaving the passengers standing up to their waists in muddy water.
#"The clever men at Oxford
Know all that is to be knowed
But none of them knows half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad!"#
But when he looked back he saw the chauffeur and two policemen running after him.
Poor Toad puffed along. He was a very fat animal and they were gaining on him. What a fool he had been, showing of like that! Suddenly he tripped up. He had come to the River Bank, and - splash! - he fell into the water.
He swam along, gasping, till he came to a hole in the bank. He clutched the edge and looked in.
A small, bright thing shone and moved towards him. A face grew up around it.
Brown and small, with whiskers.
Grave and round, with neat ears.
It was the Water Rat!