The Wouldbegoods by Edith Nesbit
Chapter 7. Being Beavers; or, The Young Explorers (Arctic or Otherwise)
You read in books about the pleasures of London, and about how people who live in the country long for the gay whirl of fashion in town because the country is so dull. I do not agree with this at all. In London, or at any rate Lewisham, nothing happens unless you make it happen; or if it happens it doesn't happen to you, and you don't know the people it does happen to. But in the country the most interesting events occur quite freely, and they seem to happen to you as much as to anyone else. Very often quite without your doing anything to help.
The natural and right ways of earning your living in the country are much jollier than town ones, too; sowing and reaping, and doing things with animals, are much better sport than fishmongering or bakering or oil-shopping, and those sort of things, except, of course, a plumber's and gasfitter's, and he is the same in town or country--most interesting and like an engineer.
I remember what a nice man it was that came to cut the gas off once at our old house in Lewisham, when my father's business was feeling so poorly. He was a true gentleman, and gave Oswald and Dicky over two yards and a quarter of good lead piping, and a brass tap that only wanted a washer, and a whole handful of screws to do what we liked with. We screwed the back door up with the screws, I remember, one night when Eliza was out without leave. There was an awful row. We did not mean to get her into trouble. We only thought it would be amusing for her to find the door screwed up when she came down to take in the milk in the morning. But I must not say any more about the Lewisham house. It is only the pleasures of memory, and nothing to do with being beavers, or any sort of exploring.
I think Dora and Daisy are the kind of girls who will grow up very good, and perhaps marry missionaries. I am glad Oswald's destiny looks at present as if it might be different.
We made two expeditions to discover the source of the Nile (or the North Pole), and owing to their habit of sticking together and doing dull and praiseable things, like sewing, and helping with the cooking, and taking invalid delicacies to the poor and indignant, Daisy and Dora were wholly out of it both times, though Dora's foot was now quite well enough to have gone to the North Pole or the Equator either. They said they did not mind the first time, because they like to keep themselves clean; it is another of their queer ways. And they said they had had a better time than us. (It was only a clergyman and his wife who called, and hot cakes for tea.) The second time they said they were lucky not to have been in it. And perhaps they were right. But let me to my narrating. I hope you will like it. I am going to try to write it a different way, like the books they give you for a prize at a girls' school--I mean a 'young ladies' school', of course--not a high school. High schools are not nearly so silly as some other kinds. Here goes:
'"Ah, me!" sighed a slender maiden of twelve summers, removing her elegant hat and passing her tapery fingers lightly through her fair tresses, "how sad it is--is it not?--to see able-bodied youths and young ladies wasting the precious summer hours in idleness and luxury."
'The maiden frowned reproachingly, but yet with earnest gentleness, at the group of youths and maidens who sat beneath an umbragipeaous beech tree and ate black currants.
'"Dear brothers and sisters," the blushing girl went on, "could we not, even now, at the eleventh hour, turn to account these wasted lives of ours, and seek some occupation at once improving and agreeable?"
'"I do not quite follow your meaning, dear sister," replied the cleverest of her brothers, on whose brow--'
It's no use. I can't write like these books. I wonder how the books' authors can keep it up.
What really happened was that we were all eating black currants in the orchard, out of a cabbage leaf, and Alice said--
'I say, look here, let's do something. It's simply silly to waste a day like this. It's just on eleven. Come on!'
And Oswald said, 'Where to?'
This was the beginning of it.
The moat that is all round our house is fed by streams. One of them is a sort of open overflow pipe from a good-sized stream that flows at the other side of the orchard.
It was this stream that Alice meant when she said--
'Why not go and discover the source of the Nile?'
Of course Oswald knows quite well that the source of the real live Egyptian Nile is no longer buried in that mysteriousness where it lurked undisturbed for such a long time. But he was not going to say so. It is a great thing to know when not to say things.
'Why not have it an Arctic expedition?' said Dicky; 'then we could take an ice-axe, and live on blubber and things. Besides, it sounds cooler.'
'Vote! vote!' cried Oswald. So we did. Oswald, Alice, Noel, and Denny voted for the river of the ibis and the crocodile. Dicky, H. O., and the other girls for the region of perennial winter and rich blubber.
So Alice said, 'We can decide as we go. Let's start anyway.'
The question of supplies had now to be gone into. Everybody wanted to take something different, and nobody thought the other people's things would be the slightest use. It is sometimes thus even with grown-up expeditions. So then Oswald, who is equal to the hardest emergency that ever emerged yet, said--
'Let's each get what we like. The secret storehouse can be the shed in the corner of the stableyard where we got the door for the raft. Then the captain can decide who's to take what.'
This was done. You may think it but the work of a moment to fit out an expedition, but this is not so, especially when you know not whether your exploring party is speeding to Central Africa or merely to the world of icebergs and the Polar bear.
Dicky wished to take the wood-axe, the coal hammer, a blanket, and a mackintosh.
H. O. brought a large faggot in case we had to light fires, and a pair of old skates he had happened to notice in the box-room, in case the expedition turned out icy.
Noel had nicked a dozen boxes of matches, a spade, and a trowel, and had also obtained--I know not by what means--a jar of pickled onions.
Denny had a walking-stick--we can't break him of walking with it--a book to read in case he got tired of being a discoverer, a butterfly net and a box with a cork in it, a tennis ball, if we happened to want to play rounders in the pauses of exploring, two towels and an umbrella in the event of camping or if the river got big enough to bathe in or to be fallen into.
Alice had a comforter for Noel in case we got late, a pair of scissors and needle and cotton, two whole candles in case of caves.
And she had thoughtfully brought the tablecloth off the small table in the dining-room, so that we could make all the things up into one bundle and take it in turns to carry it.
Oswald had fastened his master mind entirely on grub. Nor had the others neglected this.
All the stores for the expedition were put down on the tablecloth and the corners tied up. Then it was more than even Oswald's muscley arms could raise from the ground, so we decided not to take it, but only the best-selected grub. The rest we hid in the straw loft, for there are many ups and downs in life, and grub is grub at any time, and so are stores of all kinds. The pickled onions we had to leave, but not for ever.
Then Dora and Daisy came along with their arms round each other's necks as usual, like a picture on a grocer's almanac, and said they weren't coming.
It was, as I have said, a blazing hot day, and there were differences of opinion among the explorers about what eatables we ought to have taken, and H. O. had lost one of his garters and wouldn't let Alice tie it up with her handkerchief, which the gentle sister was quite willing to do. So it was a rather gloomy expedition that set off that bright sunny day to seek the source of the river where Cleopatra sailed in Shakespeare (or the frozen plains Mr Nansen wrote that big book about).
But the balmy calm of peaceful Nature soon made the others less cross--Oswald had not been cross exactly but only disinclined to do anything the others wanted--and by the time we had followed the stream a little way, and had seen a water-rat and shied a stone or two at him, harmony was restored. We did not hit the rat.
You will understand that we were not the sort of people to have lived so long near a stream without plumbing its depths. Indeed it was the same stream the sheep took its daring jump into the day we had the circus. And of course we had often paddled in it--in the shallower parts. But now our hearts were set on exploring. At least they ought to have been, but when we got to the place where the stream goes under a wooden sheep-bridge, Dicky cried, 'A camp! a camp!' and we were all glad to sit down at once. Not at all like real explorers, who know no rest, day or night, till they have got there (whether it's the North Pole, or the central point of the part marked 'Desert of Sahara' on old-fashioned maps).
The food supplies obtained by various members were good and plenty of it. Cake, hard eggs, sausage-rolls, currants, lemon cheese-cakes, raisins, and cold apple dumplings. It was all very decent, but Oswald could not help feeling that the source of the Nile (or North Pole) was a long way off, and perhaps nothing much when you got there.
So he was not wholly displeased when Denny said, as he lay kicking into the bank when the things to eat were all gone--
'I believe this is clay: did you ever make huge platters and bowls out of clay and dry them in the sun? Some people did in a book called Foul Play, and I believe they baked turtles, or oysters, or something, at the same time.'
He took up a bit of clay and began to mess it about, like you do putty when you get hold of a bit. And at once the heavy gloom that had hung over the explorers became expelled, and we all got under the shadow of the bridge and messed about with clay.
'It will be jolly!' Alice said, 'and we can give the huge platters to poor cottagers who are short of the usual sorts of crockery. That would really be a very golden deed.'
It is harder than you would think when you read about it, to make huge platters with clay. It flops about as soon as you get it any size, unless you keep it much too thick, and then when you turn up the edges they crack. Yet we did not mind the trouble. And we had all got our shoes and stockings off. It is impossible to go on being cross when your feet are in cold water; and there is something in the smooth messiness of clay, and not minding how dirty you get, that would soothe the savagest breast that ever beat.
After a bit, though, we gave up the idea of the huge platter and tried little things. We made some platters--they were like flower-pot saucers; and Alice made a bowl by doubling up her fists and getting Noel to slab the clay on outside. Then they smoothed the thing inside and out with wet fingers, and it was a bowl--at least they said it was. When we'd made a lot of things we set them in the sun to dry, and then it seemed a pity not to do the thing thoroughly. So we made a bonfire, and when it had burnt down we put our pots on the soft, white, hot ashes among the little red sparks, and kicked the ashes over them and heaped more fuel over the top. It was a fine fire.
Then tea-time seemed as if it ought to be near, and we decided to come back next day and get our pots.
As we went home across the fields Dicky looked back and said--
'The bonfire's going pretty strong.'
We looked. It was. Great flames were rising to heaven against the evening sky. And we had left it,a smouldering flat heap.
'The clay must have caught alight,' H. O. said. 'Perhaps it's the kind that burns. I know I've heard of fireclay. And there's another sort you can eat.'
'Oh, shut up!' Dicky said with anxious scorn.
With one accord we turned back. We all felt the feeling--the one that means something fatal being up and it being your fault.
'Perhaps, Alice said, 'a beautiful young lady in a muslin dress was passing by, and a spark flew on to her, and now she is rolling in agony enveloped in flames.'
We could not see the fire now, because of the corner of the wood, but we hoped Alice was mistaken.
But when we got in sight of the scene of our pottering industry we saw it was as bad nearly as Alice's wild dream. For the wooden fence leading up to the bridge had caught fire, and it was burning like billy oh.
Oswald started to run; so did the others. As he ran he said to himself, 'This is no time to think about your clothes. Oswald, be bold!'
And he was.
Arrived at the site of the conflagration, he saw that caps or straw hats full of water, however quickly and perseveringly given, would never put the bridge out, and his eventful past life made him know exactly the sort of wigging you get for an accident like this.
So he said, 'Dicky, soak your jacket and mine in the stream and chuck them along. Alice, stand clear, or your silly girl's clothes'll catch as sure as fate.'
Dicky and Oswald tore off their jackets, so did Denny, but we would not let him and H. O. wet theirs. Then the brave Oswald advanced warily to the end of the burning rails and put his wet jacket over the end bit, like a linseed poultice on the throat of a suffering invalid who has got bronchitis. The burning wood hissed and smouldered, and Oswald fell back, almost choked with the smoke. But at once he caught up the other wet jacket and put it on another place, and of course it did the trick as he had known it would do. But it was a long job, and the smoke in his eyes made the young hero obliged to let Dicky and Denny take a turn as they had bothered to do from the first. At last all was safe; the devouring element was conquered. We covered up the beastly bonfire with clay to keep it from getting into mischief again, and then Alice said--
'Now we must go and tell.'
'Of course,' Oswald said shortly. He had meant to tell all the time.
So we went to the farmer who has the Moat House Farm, and we went at once, because if you have any news like that to tell it only makes it worse if you wait about. When we had told him he said--
'You little ---.' I shall not say what he said besides that, because I am sure he must have been sorry for it next Sunday when he went to church, if not before.
We did not take any notice of what he said, but just kept on saying how sorry we were; and he did not take our apology like a man, but only said he daresayed, just like a woman does. Then he went to look at his bridge, and we went in to our tea. The jackets were never quite the same again.
Really great explorers would never be discouraged by the daresaying of a farmer, still less by his calling them names he ought not to. Albert's uncle was away so we got no double slating; and next day we started again to discover the source of the river of cataracts (or the region of mountain-like icebergs).
We set out, heavily provisioned with a large cake Daisy and Dora had made themselves, and six bottles of ginger-beer. I think real explorers most likely have their ginger-beer in something lighter to carry than stone bottles. Perhaps they have it by the cask, which would come cheaper; and you could make the girls carry it on their back, like in pictures of the daughters of regiments.
We passed the scene of the devouring conflagration, and the thought of the fire made us so thirsty we decided to drink the ginger-beer and leave the bottles in a place of concealment. Then we went on, determined to reach our destination, Tropic or Polar, that day.
Denny and H. O. wanted to stop and try to make a fashionable watering-place at that part where the stream spreads out like a small-sized sea, but Noel said, 'No.' We did not like fashionableness.
'You ought to, at any rate,' Denny said. 'A Mr Collins wrote an Ode to the Fashions, and he was a great poet.'
'The poet Milton wrote a long book about Satan,' Noel said, 'but I'm not bound to like him.' I think it was smart of Noel.
'People aren't obliged to like everything they write about even, let alone read,' Alice said. 'Look at "Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!" and all the pieces of poetry about war, and tyrants, and slaughtered saints--and the one you made yourself about the black beetle, Noel.'
By this time we had got by the pondy place and the danger of delay was past; but the others went on talking about poetry for quite a field and a half, as we walked along by the banks of the stream. The stream was broad and shallow at this part, and you could see the stones and gravel at the bottom, and millions of baby fishes, and a sort of skating-spiders walking about on the top of the water. Denny said the water must be ice for them to be able to walk on it, and this showed we were getting near the North Pole. But Oswald had seen a kingfisher by the wood, and he said it was an ibis, so this was even.
When Oswald had had as much poetry as he could bear he said, 'Let's be beavers and make a dam.' And everybody was so hot they agreed joyously, and soon our clothes were tucked up as far as they could go and our legs looked green through the water, though they were pink out of it.
Making a dam is jolly good fun, though laborious, as books about beavers take care to let you know.
Dicky said it must be Canada if we were beavers, and so it was on the way to the Polar system, but Oswald pointed to his heated brow, and Dicky owned it was warm for Polar regions. He had brought the ice-axe (it is called the wood chopper sometimes), and Oswald, ever ready and able to command, set him and Denny to cut turfs from the bank while we heaped stones across the stream. It was clayey here, or of course dam making would have been vain, even for the best-trained beaver.
When we had made a ridge of stones we laid turfs against them--nearly across the stream, leaving about two feet for the water to go through--then more stones, and then lumps of clay stamped down as hard as we could. The industrious beavers spent hours over it, with only one easy to eat cake in. And at last the dam rose to the level of the bank. Then the beavers collected a great heap of clay, and four of them lifted it and dumped it down in the opening where the water was running. It did splash a little, but a true-hearted beaver knows better than to mind a bit of a wetting, as Oswald told Alice at the time. Then with more clay the work was completed. We must have used tons of clay; there was quite a big long hole in the bank above the dam where we had taken it out.
When our beaver task was performed we went on, and Dicky was so hot he had to take his jacket off and shut up about icebergs.
I cannot tell you about all the windings of the stream; it went through fields and woods and meadows, and at last the banks got steeper and higher, and the trees overhead darkly arched their mysterious branches, and we felt like the princes in a fairy tale who go out to seek their fortunes.
And then we saw a thing that was well worth coming all that way for; the stream suddenly disappeared under a dark stone archway, and however much you stood in the water and stuck your head down between your knees you could not see any light at the other end.
The stream was much smaller than where we had been beavers.
Gentle reader, you will guess in a moment who it was that said--
'Alice, you've got a candle. Let's explore.' This gallant proposal met but a cold response. The others said they didn't care much about it, and what about tea?
I often think the way people try to hide their cowardliness behind their teas is simply beastly.
Oswald took no notice. He just said, with that dignified manner, not at all like sulking, which he knows so well how to put on--
'All right. I'M going. If you funk it you'd better cut along home and ask your nurses to put you to bed.' So then, of course, they agreed to go. Oswald went first with the candle. It was not comfortable; the architect of that dark subterranean passage had not imagined anyone would ever be brave enough to lead a band of beavers into its inky recesses, or he would have built it high enough to stand upright in. As it was, we were bent almost at a right angle, and this is very awkward if for long.
But the leader pressed dauntlessly on, and paid no attention to the groans of his faithful followers, nor to what they said about their backs.
It really was a very long tunnel, though, and even Oswald was not sorry to say, 'I see daylight.' The followers cheered as well as they could as they splashed after him. The floor was stone as well as the roof, so it was easy to walk on. I think the followers would have turned back if it had been sharp stones or gravel.
And now the spot of daylight at the end of the tunnel grew larger and larger, and presently the intrepid leader found himself blinking in the full sun, and the candle he carried looked simply silly. He emerged, and the others too, and they stretched their backs and the word 'krikey' fell from more than one lip. It had indeed been a cramping adventure. Bushes grew close to the mouth of the tunnel, so we could not see much landscape, and when we had stretched our backs we went on upstream and nobody said they'd had jolly well enough of it, though in more than one young heart this was thought.
It was jolly to be in the sunshine again. I never knew before how cold it was underground. The stream was getting smaller and smaller.
Dicky said, 'This can't be the way. I expect there was a turning to the North Pole inside the tunnel, only we missed it. It was cold enough there.'
But here a twist in the stream brought us out from the bushes, and Oswald said--
'Here is strange, wild, tropical vegetation in the richest profusion. Such blossoms as these never opened in a frigid what's-its-name.'
It was indeed true. We had come out into a sort of marshy, swampy place like I think, a jungle is, that the stream ran through, and it was simply crammed with queer plants, and flowers we never saw before or since. And the stream was quite thin. It was torridly hot, and softish to walk on. There were rushes and reeds and small willows, and it was all tangled over with different sorts of grasses--and pools here and there. We saw no wild beasts, but there were more different kinds of wild flies and beetles than you could believe anybody could bear, and dragon-flies and gnats. The girls picked a lot of flowers. I know the names of some of them, but I will not tell you them because this is not meant to be instructing. So I will only name meadow-sweet, yarrow, loose-strife, lady's bed-straw and willow herb--both the larger and the lesser.
Everyone now wished to go home. It was much hotter there than in natural fields. It made you want to tear all your clothes off and play at savages, instead of keeping respectable in your boots.
But we had to bear the boots because it was so brambly.
It was Oswald who showed the others how flat it would be to go home the same way we came; and he pointed out the telegraph wires in the distance and said--
'There must be a road there, let's make for it,' which was quite a simple and ordinary thing to say, and he does not ask for any credit for it. So we sloshed along, scratching our legs with the brambles, and the water squelched in our boots, and Alice's blue muslin frock was torn all over in those crisscross tears which are considered so hard to darn.
We did not follow the stream any more. It was only a trickle now, so we knew we had tracked it to its source. And we got hotter and hotter and hotter, and the dews of agony stood in beads on our brows and rolled down our noses and off our chins. And the flies buzzed, and the gnats stung, and Oswald bravely sought to keep up Dicky's courage, when he tripped on a snag and came down on a bramble bush, by saying--
'You see it is the source of the Nile we've discovered. What price North Poles now?'
Alice said, 'Ah, but think of ices! I expect Oswald wishes it had been the Pole, anyway.'
Oswald is naturally the leader, especially when following up what is his own idea, but he knows that leaders have other duties besides just leading. One is to assist weak or wounded members of the expedition, whether Polar or Equatorish.
So the others had got a bit ahead through Oswald lending the tottering Denny a hand over the rough places. Denny's feet hurt him, because when he was a beaver his stockings had dropped out of his pocket, and boots without stockings are not a bed of luxuriousness. And he is often unlucky with his feet.
Presently we came to a pond, and Denny said--
Oswald likes Denny to have ideas; he knows it is healthy for the boy, and generally he backs him up, but just now it was getting late and the others were ahead, so he said--
'Oh, rot! come on.'
Generally the Dentist would have; but even worms will turn if they are hot enough, and if their feet are hurting them. 'I don't care, I shall!' he said.
Oswald overlooked the mutiny and did not say who was leader. He just said--
'Well don't be all day about it,' for he is a kind-hearted boy and can make allowances. So Denny took off his boots and went into the pool. 'Oh, it's ripping!' he said. 'You ought to come in.'
'It looks beastly muddy,' said his tolerating leader.
'It is a bit,' Denny said, 'but the mud's just as cool as the water, and so soft, it squeezes between your toes quite different to boots.'
And so he splashed about, and kept asking Oswald to come along in.
But some unseen influence prevented Oswald doing this; or it may have been because both his bootlaces were in hard knots.
Oswald had cause to bless the unseen influence, or the bootlaces, or whatever it was.
Denny had got to the middle of the pool, and he was splashing about, and getting his clothes very wet indeed, and altogether you would have thought his was a most envious and happy state. But alas! the brightest cloud had a waterproof lining. He was just saying--
'You are a silly, Oswald. You'd much better--' when he gave a blood-piercing scream, and began to kick about.
'What's up?' cried the ready Oswald; he feared the worst from the way Denny screamed, but he knew it could not be an old meat tin in this quiet and jungular spot, like it was in the moat when the shark bit Dora.
'I don't know, it's biting me. Oh, it's biting me all over my legs! Oh, what shall I do? Oh, it does hurt! Oh! oh! oh!' remarked Denny, among his screams, and he splashed towards the bank. Oswald went into the water and caught hold of him and helped him out. It is true that Oswald had his boots on, but I trust he would not have funked the unknown terrors of the deep, even without his boots, I am almost sure he would not have.
When Denny had scrambled and been hauled ashore, we saw with horror and amaze that his legs were stuck all over with large black, slug-looking things. Denny turned green in the face--and even Oswald felt a bit queer, for he knew in a moment what the black dreadfulnesses were. He had read about them in a book called Magnet Stories, where there was a girl called Theodosia, and she could play brilliant trebles on the piano in duets, but the other girl knew all about leeches which is much more useful and golden deedy. Oswald tried to pull the leeches off, but they wouldn't, and Denny howled so he had to stop trying. He remembered from the Magnet Stories how to make the leeches begin biting--the girl did it with cream--but he could not remember how to stop them, and they had not wanted any showing how to begin.
'Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do? Oh, it does hurt! Oh, oh!' Denny observed, and Oswald said--
'Be a man! Buck up! If you won't let me take them off you'll just have to walk home in them.'
At this thought the unfortunate youth's tears fell fast. But Oswald gave him an arm, and carried his boots for him, and he consented to buck up, and the two struggled on towards the others, who were coming back, attracted by Denny's yells. He did not stop howling for a moment, except to breathe. No one ought to blame him till they have had eleven leeches on their right leg and six on their left, making seventeen in all, as Dicky said, at once.
It was lucky he did yell, as it turned out, because a man on the road--where the telegraph wires were--was interested by his howls, and came across the marsh to us as hard as he could. When he saw Denny's legs he said--
'Blest if I didn't think so,' and he picked Denny up and carried him under one arm, where Denny went on saying 'Oh!' and 'It does hurt' as hard as ever.
Our rescuer, who proved to be a fine big young man in the bloom of youth, and a farm-labourer by trade, in corduroys, carried the wretched sufferer to the cottage where he lived with his aged mother; and then Oswald found that what he had forgotten about the leeches was salt. The young man in the bloom of youth's mother put salt on the leeches, and they squirmed off, and fell with sickening, slug-like flops on the brick floor.
Then the young man in corduroys and the bloom, etc., carried Denny home on his back, after his legs had been bandaged up, so that he looked like 'wounded warriors returning'.
It was not far by the road, though such a long distance by the way the young explorers had come.
He was a good young man, and though, of course, acts of goodness are their own reward, still I was glad he had the two half-crowns Albert's uncle gave him, as well as his own good act. But I am not sure Alice ought to have put him in the Golden Deed book which was supposed to be reserved for Us.
Perhaps you will think this was the end of the source of the Nile (or North Pole). If you do, it only shows how mistaken the gentlest reader may be.
The wounded explorer was lying with his wounds and bandages on the sofa, and we were all having our tea, with raspberries and white currants, which we richly needed after our torrid adventures, when Mrs Pettigrew, the housekeeper, put her head in at the door and said--
'Please could I speak to you half a moment, sir?' to Albert's uncle. And her voice was the kind that makes you look at each other when the grown-up has gone out, and you are silent, with your bread-and-butter halfway to the next bite, or your teacup in mid flight to your lips.
It was as we suppose. Albert's uncle did not come back for a long while. We did not keep the bread-and-butter on the wing all that time, of course, and we thought we might as well finish the raspberries and white currants. We kept some for Albert's uncle, of course, and they were the best ones too but when he came back he did not notice our thoughtful unselfishness.
He came in, and his face wore the look that means bed, and very likely no supper.
He spoke, and it was the calmness of white-hot iron, which is something like the calmness of despair. He said--
'You have done it again. What on earth possessed you to make a dam?'
'We were being beavers,' said H. O., in proud tones. He did not see as we did where Albert's uncle's tone pointed to.
'No doubt,' said Albert's uncle, rubbing his hands through his hair. 'No doubt! no doubt! Well, my beavers, you may go and build dams with your bolsters. Your dam stopped the stream; the clay you took for it left a channel through which it has run down and ruined about seven pounds' worth of freshly-reaped barley. Luckily the farmer found it out in time or you might have spoiled seventy pounds' worth. And you burned a bridge yesterday.'
We said we were sorry. There was nothing else to say, only Alice added, 'We didn't mean to be naughty.'
'Of course not,' said Albert's uncle, 'you never do. Oh, yes, I'll kiss you--but it's bed and it's two hundred lines to-morrow, and the line is--"Beware of Being Beavers and Burning Bridges. Dread Dams." It will be a capital exercise in capital B's and D's.'
We knew by that that, though annoyed, he was not furious; we went to bed.
I got jolly sick of capital B's and D's before sunset on the morrow. That night, just as the others were falling asleep, Oswald said--
'Well,' retorted his brother.
'There is one thing about it,' Oswald went on, 'it does show it was a rattling good dam anyhow.'
And filled with this agreeable thought, the weary beavers (or explorers, Polar or otherwise) fell asleep.