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Edmund Selous

The Mole

"If we're only contented, some cause we shall find

To be thankful: the mole thought it nice to be blind."

T HE next walk that Tommy Smith took was over some fields where there were a great many mole-hills. Of course, Tommy Smith had often seen mole-hills before, but I am not sure if he had ever seen a mole; for a mole, as you know, lives underneath the ground, and does not often come up to the top of it. So, when he saw a little black thing scrambling about in the grass, he cried out, "Oh! whatever is that?" and ran to it and picked it up.

"You won't hurt  me, I know," said the mole (for it was one)—"and I don't mind your looking  at me." You see Tommy Smith was getting a much better boy to animals, now that they had told him something about themselves, and the animals were beginning to find this out, and were not so frightened of him as they used to be.

Tommy Smith looked at the mole, and stroked it as it lay in his hand, and then he said, "Why, what a funny little black thing you are."

"Little!" said the mole; "I don't know what you mean by that. I am much bigger than the mouse or the shrew-mouse. You don't expect me to be as big as the rat, do you?"

"I don't know," said Tommy Smith; "but, you know, the rat is not so very big."

"He is as big as he requires to be, I suppose," said the mole, "and so am I. I have never felt too small in all my life, and I wonder that you should think me so. Why, look at those great hills of earth which I have flung up all over the fields. I am big enough to have made those, anyhow, and strong enough too. And look, how large and high they are."

"But are they so very high?" said Tommy Smith. "Why, I step over them quite easily."

"Dear me, that seems very wonderful," said the mole. "But I advise you not to do it often, for it must be a great exertion, and you might hurt yourself. But you must not think that because you  are very big, I  am very small. That would be very conceited."

Tommy Smith saw that he had not said the right thing, so he tried to think of something to say that the mole would like better. "Oh," he said at last, "what a very pretty, soft coat you have! I like it very much indeed."

"Yes; feel it," said the mole. "It is a very handsome fur; and I can tell you something about it which is curious."

"What is that?" said Tommy Smith.

"Why, you may stroke it whichever way you like," answered the mole, "without hurting me. It is not every animal that has a coat like that. There is the cat, poor thing! If you stroke her fur one way, she is very pleased and begins to purr; but if you stroke it the other way, it hurts her, and she does not like it at all. That is because her hair is long and lies all one way. Now my hair is short, and it does not lie any way."

"I suppose you mean that it does not point either towards your head or your tail," said Tommy Smith.

"Yes, that is what I mean," said the mole. "Instead of that, it sticks straight up, and when you stroke it, it moves whichever way your hand moves, without making me feel at all uncomfortable."

"That is very nice fur to have," said Tommy Smith. "Then, I suppose that sometimes if you were burrowing, and you wanted to go backwards for a little way, it would not hurt you to do so."

"Not at all," said the mole. "Now the poor cat could not do that. She could not go backwards in a burrow, because it would rub all her hair up the wrong way."

"But cats don't burrow," said Tommy Smith.

"Of course not," said the mole. "They know that they would not be able to, so they don't try. They are poor things."

Tommy Smith could not see why cats should be poor things because they didn't burrow, but the mole seemed quite sure of it, and he did not like to contradict him. "I suppose, Mr. Mole," he said, "that you are made for burrowing."

"Yes, I am," said the mole, "and I can do it better than any other animal in the world. You see, I have a pair of spades to help me, and I dig with both of them at the same time."

"A pair of spades!" cried Tommy Smith in surprise. "Why, where are they? I don't see them."

"Where are they?" said the mole; "why, here they are, to be sure," and he stretched out his two little front feet, and moved them about.

"Ah, now I see what you mean," said Tommy Smith, and he bent down his head and began to look at them more closely.

The mole might well have called his feet spades, for they were shaped something like them, and he used them to dig with,—which is what spades are used for. They were short and broad, with five little toes, and each toe had a very strong claw at the end of it. These funny little feet stuck out on each side of the mole's body, and they were so very close to the body that they looked as if they had been sewn on to it. There did not seem to be any leg belonging to them at all. Of course there were  legs, and very strong ones too, but they were so short, and so hidden under the skin, that Tommy Smith could not see them, although he felt them directly. The hind legs and feet were much smaller, and not nearly so strong, which, the mole said, was because they had not so much work to do. Between them there was a very short tail, just long enough, Tommy Smith thought, to take hold of and lift the mole up by. But he did not do this, in case he should be offended. "Well," said the mole, after Tommy Smith had looked at him for a little while, "what do you think of me? I hope you think me handsome."

"Yes, I think you are," Tommy Smith answered, though he did not feel quite sure of this. "At any rate, your fur is handsome, for it is like velvet."

"Yes," said the mole; "and, do you know, I am sometimes called the little gentleman in the black velvet coat."

"It is not quite black," said Tommy Smith. "There is a grayish colour in it too. I think it would look very pretty if it was made into something. Oh, Mr. Mole," he cried all of a sudden, "now I remember that I have heard people talk about moleskin waistcoats!"

At this the mole gave a little squeak, and jumped quite out of Tommy Smith's hand, and then he began to burrow into the ground as fast as he could, and this was very fast indeed, so that before Tommy Smith had got over his surprise, he was almost out of sight. "Oh, Mr. Mole," he cried, "do come back!" but the mole was very angry, and would not consent to for some time.

"If I do," he said at last, "you must promise me never to talk in that way again."

"Oh, I never will," said Tommy Smith. "I quite forgot who I was talking to."

"Moleskin waistcoats, indeed!" said the mole. "I think the people who wear them are very wicked people. They never think how many poor little moles must be killed only to make one. I hope you  have never worn a waistcoat like that?"

"Oh no," answered Tommy Smith, "I never have. Nobody has ever given me one."

"I hope you never will," said the mole; "for if you do, you will be almost as wicked a man as a mole-catcher, and he is the wickedest person I know of."

"A mole-catcher!" cried Tommy Smith; "then are there men who catch moles?"

"Oh yes, indeed there are," said the mole. "There are men who do that and nothing else."

"How do they do it?" asked Tommy Smith.

"They have traps," answered the mole, "which they put in the passages and corridors of our great underground palaces."

"Your houses, I suppose, you mean," said Tommy Smith.

"I mean what I say," said the mole. "You may live in a house, I daresay, but I think the place that I live in is quite large and fine enough to be called a palace, so I call it one."

"Oh! but it cannot be so big as the house that I live in," said Tommy Smith.

"Well," said the mole, "I should just like to know how long the longest corridor in your house is."

Tommy Smith thought to himself a little. The house he lived in was not a very large one, for his father was not a very  rich man. There were not many passages in it, and he did not think the longest of them was long enough to be called a corridor. Still, he thought that they must be longer than the passages of a mole's house, and he couldn't help feeling rather proud as he said, "Oh! I don't know exactly, because I have never measured it, but perhaps it is six yards long."

"Six yards?" cried the mole. "Do you call that  a corridor? Why, some of mine are more than twenty times as long as that. You might walk over a whole field without coming to the end of them. And how many corridors has your house got, then?"

"Oh, I think there are three," said Tommy Smith; but this time he didn't feel nearly so proud.

"Good gracious!" cried the mole. "Why, yours must be a very poor place to live in. I wish I could show you over my palace, but you are such an awkward size that you would never be able to get into it. My corridors are longer than yours, but they are not nearly so high. However, perhaps it is just as well that you can't get into it, for if you were once there, I am sure you would never want to go back again."

"Perhaps, Mr. Mole," said Tommy Smith, "as you can't show me over it, you will tell me what it is like."

"Well," said the mole, "I will; and perhaps, if you are always a good boy, and never  think of wearing a moleskin waistcoat, I will show it you some day from the outside; but that can only be when I have done with it, and am going to build a new one, for I should have to break open the roof for you to see into it. Well, then, the principal part of my palace is called the keep, or fortress,—I  call it the fortress. It is very large, and the roof goes up into a beautiful, high dome. You know what a dome is, I suppose?"

"Oh yes," said Tommy Smith; for once he had been in London, and he remembered the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.

"I wish you could see how high and stately it is," said the mole. "It goes right up into the bush and ever so high."

"You mean 'into the air,' I think," said Tommy Smith.

"I mean what I say," said the mole; "into the bush. That is why you can't see it."

"Oh, but I can see it," said Tommy Smith. "I can always find your fortresses, Mr. Mole. I see lots of them every time I go out walking. They are not hidden at all. Why, there they are all over the field, and you know you told me to look at them yourself."

The mole gave a little choky laugh. "Oh dear!" he cried, "and do you really  think that those  are my fortresses? You are very much mistaken if you do. Why, they are only the hills that I throw up when I am making my tunnels and corridors. All you will find if you open them is a hole going down into one of those. Oh no; my fortress is not built there. It is carefully hidden under a bush or the root of a tree, so that you can't see it, however high it is. Only the wicked mole-catcher is able to find it, and I am very sorry he can."

This was a great surprise to Tommy Smith, for he had always thought that the mole lived under those little brown heaps of earth. But he had only thought so because he had never taken any trouble to find out about it. "I see you are cleverer than I thought, Mr. Mole," he said; "but I should like you to tell me something more about your palace and fortress."

"I told you that it was very large," said the mole, "and that it went up into a high dome outside. Inside, it is not nearly so high, but it is very nice and comfortable; and the floor and the sides and ceiling are always quite smooth and polished, for I polish them myself, and never leave it to the servants."

"But how do you polish them?" said Tommy Smith.

"Why, with my fur to be sure," said the mole. "I prefer that to a piece of wash-leather." (He laughed again as he said this, but Tommy Smith didn't know what for.) "My fur, as you see, is smooth too. If you were to walk down one of my corridors, you would be surprised to find how hard and smooth the sides of it are. That is because I am always running up and down them, and rubbing them with my fur."

"But doesn't that make you very dirty?" said Tommy Smith. "Surely the earth must get into your fur and stay there."

"It never  stays there," said the mole with great pride. "I have a very strong muscle which runs all along my back just under the skin, and when I twitch that, every little piece of mould or earth that is in my fur flies out of it again. There now I have twitched it. Look at me and see how clean I am, although I have only just come out of the ground. Oh no; there is never anything in my  coat! It is a saying in our family that a mole may  live in the dirt, but he is never dirty." 

"That seems very funny," said Tommy Smith. "But tell me some more about the fortress that you live in."

"That is just what I was going to do," said the mole, "but you ask so many questions, that I am not able to get on. Now I will begin again, and perhaps it would be better if you were to say nothing till I have done."

So Tommy Smith sat down on the ground to listen, and the mole went on in these words:

"Inside my fortress there is a large room which is quite round. I call it my bedroom or dormitory, because sometimes I go to sleep there. There are two different ways of getting into it. One of them is by the floor, and that is easy. But the second way is by the ceiling, and that is much more difficult."

"By the floor and the ceiling?" cried Tommy Smith, quite forgetting what the mole had said. "How very funny! I get into my  room through a door in one of the sides."

"Dear me!" said the mole. "Well, I should not like to enter a room in that way."

"Why not?" asked Tommy Smith.

"The idea of such a thing!" said the mole. "As for doors, they are things I don't understand. Galleries and tunnels are what I use, and I think them much grander."

"But"—Tommy Smith was beginning.

"Let me get on," said the mole. "I have two galleries inside my fortress, an upper one and a lower one. The lower one is the largest. It runs all round the ceiling of my bedroom. From it there are five little passages which run up into the upper one. That goes round in a circle too, but it is high up inside the dome of my fortress, and a long way above the ceiling of my bedroom. So what do you think I have done? I have made three little tunnels, which go from my upper gallery right into the top of my bedroom. I just run down one of them, and tumble into it through the ceiling."

"But can't you get into your bedroom from the lower gallery too?" asked Tommy Smith.

"Oh no," said the mole; "that would never do. It would be so easy; and a mole likes to do things that are difficult. I go into my lower gallery first, and then I go from that into my upper gallery. I can go by five different passages, and choose which I like."

"Five different passages! That is a lot," cried Tommy Smith.

"Yes; and there are three more from the upper gallery into the bedroom!" said the mole. "How many doors are there into your  rooms?"

"Oh, one," said Tommy Smith.

"Only one!" said the mole. "That is very sad. Why, if I had only one tunnel into my room I should be almost ashamed to go through it. But then you have only a house to live in, and not a palace, as I have."

Tommy Smith thought that this was rather a grand way of talking, and he was just beginning, "Perhaps, if you were to see my house"—when the mole went on with, "Of course, such a fine palace as mine ought to have a good many fine roads leading up to it."

"Ought it?" said Tommy Smith; "and how many has it?"

"Seven," said the mole.

"Seven!" exclaimed Tommy Smith.

"Yes," said the mole, "and I make them all myself. Why, how many has yours?"

"It has only one," said Tommy Smith, "but I think that is quite enough."

"For a house, perhaps, it may be," said the mole; "but I  should be sorry to have to put up with it. My palace  has seven, and I know some very rich moles who have eight. These are the great corridors which some people call the high roads. Some of them run through fine avenues of tree-roots, and, you know, a fine avenue of tree-roots has a splendid appearance. They wind all about, and go for ever such a way, and there are smaller corridors which run out of them on each side, and spread all over the fields."

"You mean under  the fields, Mr. Mole," said Tommy Smith; "for, you know, the grass grows over your corridors, and nobody can see them."

"I am very glad they can't," said the mole, "or my bedroom, or my nursery either."

"What, have you a nursery too?" said Tommy Smith. "Why, that is just as if you were a person."

"Of course I have a nursery," said the mole. "What should I do with my children if I had not? I could not have them always in the fortress, or playing about in the corridors. They would be quite out of place there, and very much in the way. So I have a nursery for them, and they lie there upon a nice warm bed, which I make myself, of young grass and other soft things."

"Oh, then I suppose that you are the mother mole," said Tommy Smith.

"Yes, I am," said the mole; "and you should call me Mrs. Mole, and not Mr. as you have been doing; and as for my being like a person, why, I am one, of course, and an important person too, I  think. Why, do you know that I drain the land?"

"Do you really, Mrs. Mole?" said Tommy Smith; "but is not that very difficult?"

"You would find it so, I daresay," answered the mole, "but to me it is quite easy."

"How do you do it?" asked Tommy Smith.

"Why, by digging to be sure," the mole said. "I just make my tunnels, and my trenches, and my corridors, and then when the rain comes it runs off into them, and doesn't lie on the ground so long as it would if they were not there."

"Oh, but if the water runs into your tunnels," said Tommy Smith, "how is it that you are not drowned?"

"Oh, it does not stay there long enough for that," said the mole; "and, besides, I am a very good swimmer. Just take me up again and put me into that little pond there, and I will show you,"—for there was a pond not far off where some ducks and geese were swimming about. "Drive those rude things away first," said the mother mole, as Tommy Smith stood with her in his hand, at the edge of the pond, just ready to drop her in. "If they see me, they will be sure to make some rude remark, and, indeed, there is no saying what liberties they might take."

So Tommy Smith drove away the ducks and geese, and then dropped the mother mole into the water, and,—would you believe it?—she swam almost as well as if she had been a duck or a goose herself, moving all her four little feet at a great rate, and going along very quickly. She did  look so funny. She went across the pond, and then turned round and came back again, and, as she scuttled out on to the bank, she said, "So now you see that a mole can swim. Can you?" 

"No," answered Tommy Smith; for he had not learnt to, yet.

"Dear me," said the mother mole, "you cannot swim, or dig, or drain the ground, and I am so much smaller and can do all three, besides a great many other things. But then I  am a mole."

"I didn't say that I couldn't dig," Tommy Smith said. "I can, a little, only I  do it with a spade. I mean a real spade," he added. "Of course, I can't do it with my hands."

"What stupid hands!" said the mole. "Why, what can  they be good for? But are you sure you could dig properly, even if you had a spade? Do you think you could do anything useful now? For instance, could you dig a well?"

"I shouldn't like to do it all by myself," said Tommy Smith; "it would take me a very long time. But I don't suppose you  dig wells either."

"Oh, don't you!" said the mole; "then how do you think we get our water to drink when the weather is dry? Of course, if we have a pond or a ditch near us we can easily make a tunnel to the edge of it, but it is not every mole who is so fortunate as to live by the waterside. Those who do not, have to dig deep pits for the water to run into; for I must tell you that there is always water to be found in the earth, if only you dig deep enough for it. If you make a hole which goes right down into the ground, very soon the water will begin to trickle into it through the sides and the bottom, and then, of course, it is a well. I wish you could see some of our wells. They are so nicely made, and sometimes they are brim full."

"So you have real wells with water in them!" cried Tommy Smith; for it seemed to him so very funny that moles should have wells as well as men.

"To be sure, we have," said the mole; "and I think it is very clever of us to have thought of it."

"Yes, it is indeed," said Tommy Smith; "and I begin to think that all the animals are clever."

"I don't know about that,"  said the mole; "but we  are."

"Oh yes; and so is the rat, and the frog, and the peewit, and"—

"I am glad to hear it," said the mole. "I  should not have thought so."

"Oh! but they are really," Tommy Smith went on eagerly. "Do let me tell you how the peewit"—

"I have nothing to learn from him, I hope," said the mole; "a poor foolish bird who wastes all his time in the air."

"Oh, but if you only knew how the mother peewit"—Tommy Smith was beginning again.

"I should be sorry to take her  as an example," said the mole sharply; "she is a flighty thing, without solid qualities. Other animals may be all very well in their way," she went on, after a pause, "but they are not moles, and they none of them know how to dig."

"Oh, but the rabbit"—

"The rabbit, indeed!" cried the mole very indignantly. "Why, what can he do? He can just make a clumsy hole, and that is all. He is a mere labourer; and I hope you do not compare him with a real artist like myself."

"Oh no," said Tommy Smith; but he thought the mole was very conceited.

"Not that it is his fault," the mole continued. "Of course, he cannot be expected to make such wonderful places as I do. After all, what has he got to dig with? His feet are only paws, they are not spades, as mine are; and then he has two great big eyes for the dirt to get into, which must be a great inconvenience to him."

"But haven't you eyes, too, Mrs. Mole?" asked Tommy Smith.

"Would you like to try and find them?" answered the mole. "You may, if you like."

So Tommy Smith knelt down on the ground and began to look all about where he thought the mole's eyes were likely to be, and to feel with his fingers in the fur. But look and feel as he might, it was no use, he couldn't find the eyes anywhere. But, just as he was going to give up trying, all at once he thought he saw two little black things hardly so big as the head of a small black pin. Could those be eyes? Tommy Smith hardly believed that they could be, for some time; they were so very  small. "Are those your eyes, Mrs. Mole?" he asked at last.

"Yes, indeed they are," the mother mole answered; "and are they not a beautiful pair? How difficult they are to find, and how well my fur hides them! It would not be easy for the mould to get into them; they  are not like those great staring things of the rabbit."

"They are very small," said Tommy Smith.

"I should think so!" said the mole; "and what an advantage it is to have small eyes."

"But can you see with them?" said Tommy Smith.

"Oh no," said the mole; "and what an advantage it is not to be able to see."

Tommy Smith did not understand this at all. "The rabbit can see," he said, "and so can all the other animals."

"They  are obliged to," answered the mole, "and so they have to put up with it; but a mole lives in the dark, and therefore it does not require to see."

"But what are eyes for, if they are not to see with?" Tommy Smith asked. He felt sure it was a sensible question, and it seemed to him that the mole was talking nonsense.

"They are for not getting in the way when you make tunnels in the ground," said the mole. "Mine never get in the way, so I know that they are the best eyes that anyone can have."

That was quite a new idea to Tommy Smith, and he tried to think what it would be like to live in the ground, and to have eyes that you couldn't see with, and that didn't get in the way. At last he said, "It seems to me, Mrs. Mole, that it would be much better if you had not any eyes at all."

"That is a strange idea, to be sure!" said the mole. "Not have eyes, indeed! That would be a fine thing."

"But if you can't see with them," said Tommy Smith.

"What of that?" said the mole; "we have them, and so we are proud of them. It is a saying in our family that a mole may  be blind, but he has eyes  for all that."

"Poor little mole," said Tommy Smith, for though the animal seemed to be quite happy itself, he couldn't help feeling very sorry for it. "But are you quite  blind?"

"If I am not quite, I am very nearly," the mole answered, "and I am thankful for that. I just know when it is light and when it isn't, which is all a mole requires to know."

"But can't you see me?" Tommy Smith asked.

"You, indeed!" answered the mole. "And why should I want to see you?"

"I'm afraid you are  blind," Tommy Smith said quite sadly.

"At any rate," said the mole, "I have less seeing to do than almost any other animal, and, when I think of that, I can't help  feeling proud, though I know I oughtn't to be. But I think you have talked enough about my eyes," the mole continued. "Perhaps you would like to know something about my teeth now. Look! there they are," and she opened her mouth as wide as she could, which was not very wide, for her mouth was so small. What funny little white teeth they were, and how sharp,—as sharp and as pointed as needles.

"Why are they so pointed?" asked Tommy Smith. "The rabbit's teeth are not at all like that, and the rat's are not either."

"It is because we eat different things," said the mole. "Different kinds of animals have different food, and so they have different kinds of teeth to eat it with. Mine are nice and sharp, because they have to bite and kill whatever they catch hold of."

"But what is it that they have to bite and kill?" said Tommy Smith.

"Ah, you would never guess," answered the mole. "You must know that we moles are very brave animals, and we fight a great deal; sometimes with each other, but mostly with great serpents which live in the ground, although it really belongs to us."

"Serpents?" said Tommy Smith. "Why, do you mean snakes?"

"Of course I do," said the mole.

"Snakes that live in the ground!" Tommy Smith cried. "Why, I don't know of any that do. The grass-snake doesn't, or the adder either. What are these snakes like, Mrs. Mole?"

"They are smooth and slimy," said the mole. "They have no head, or, if they have, it looks like another tail, and they are always crawling through the ground, which is ours, of course, and trying to break into our palaces."

"Oh, but I call those worms!" said Tommy Smith.

"You may call them so if you like," said the mole, "but I  call them snakes. You should see the way I fight with them! How they writhe and twist about when I seize them between my sharp teeth. They try hard to get away, and they would kill me if only they could. But I am too brave and too strong for them, so I kill them  instead, and eat them as well. We moles are very heroic."

"Do you eat anything else?" asked Tommy Smith.

"Caterpillars sometimes, and a beetle or two," answered the mole. "But I like snakes best of all."

"Worms," said Tommy Smith. "Snakes," said the mole. But Tommy Smith was right, the mole's snakes were harmless worms; but it is nice to think oneself a hero.

"Good-bye," said the mole rather suddenly. "I am tired of talking, and I want to have a little sleep."

"Oh, but it is the middle of the day," said Tommy Smith.

"What of that?" said the mole. "I feel tired, so I shall go to sleep."

"Then do you always sleep in the daytime?" asked Tommy Smith.

"I know nothing about daytime or nighttime," the mole answered, "and perhaps if you lived under the ground, as I do, you would not either. I feel tired now, so I shall go to sleep now. Good-bye"; and the mother mole began to sink into the earth, and all at once she was gone,—just as Tommy Smith was going to ask her what was the use of having such a grand palace to live in if she was blind and couldn't see it.

One sometimes thinks of a good question just too late to ask it.