The Toad in the Hole by Amy Walton

"When is she coming?"

"To-morrow."

"Are you glad?"

"No. Are you?"

"I don't care. I wonder how long she will stay. I know Mother said a week, but I dare say she'll ask her to stay longer as she did last year."

"Well, I know she'll be tiresome, and I shall be glad when she goes away."

"I'm going to sleep now."

"Oh, Martha, how soon you always do go to sleep! I'm not a bit sleepy yet."

A snore from the other little bed soon showed Betty that further talk was hopeless. She would have liked to chatter longer, but Martha had a way of falling asleep at the most interesting points, and Betty knew it would be useless to try and rouse her now.

So she resigned herself to her own thoughts with a sigh. Kitty was coming to-morrow! Coming before Martha and she had had any enjoyment of their country life together, for the children had only just left London. Coming to spoil all their plans and games with her tiresome ways, just as she had done last year. Of course she would insist on being first in everything, on ruling everyone, and would be as pushing and disagreeable as possible. It was all very well to say that she was a visitor and must do as she wished, but that did not make it any the less provoking.

And then Martha took it all so quietly. It was almost impossible to rouse her to be angry, and that was annoying too in its way. "I suppose," thought Betty, very sleepily now, "that I ought to try to be patient too, but sometimes I really can't." She fell asleep here, and dreamed that Kitty was an immense "daddy-long-legs" flapping and buzzing about in her hair.

The next afternoon Kitty arrived, full of excitement, and ready to be more than delighted with everything.

She was eleven years old, just Martha's age, and Betty was two years younger. Fresh from her life in London, where there always were so many lessons to be learned and so little "fun" of any kind, this beautiful country home was a sort of paradise to her. To have no one to scold her, no lessons to learn, no tiresome straight walks with her governess, and above all, to have two playfellows always ready to join in pleasures and games! Kitty was an only child, and her life was often dull for want of companionship. Everything went on very well at first, for there was so much to do and see that there was no time for disputes. True, Kitty commanded as much as ever, and had a way of setting people to rights which was distinctly trying; but she and Betty did not come to any open disagreement until she had been at Holmwood for nearly a week. Nevertheless there had been many small occasions on which Betty had felt fretted and irritated; for Kitty, without the least intending it, seemed often to choose just the wrong thing to say and do.

And then she always wished to do exactly the same as Martha and herself, and that was so tiresome.

For instance, all the children were very fond of dear Miss Grey. But now it was always Kitty who must sit next to her, Kitty who rushed to supply her with roses to wear and strawberries to eat, Kitty who kissed her repeatedly at the most awkward moments. Martha and Betty, who naturally felt that Miss Grey was their own dear Miss Grey, could hardly get near her at all, and Betty resented this very much. In fact, she gradually got to dwell so entirely on these annoyances that she could not think of Kitty's good qualities at all, and was quite unable to remember that she was generous and affectionate, and that her faults, though tiresome, were partly the result of a longing to be loved.

At last, the clouds having gathered, the storm came.

One morning, almost as soon as she got up, Betty felt that every single thing Kitty did or said was silly. It did not occur to her that perhaps she was a little bit cross herself, which was the real explanation.

After breakfast they all three went down to the pond, and, dividing the water into shares, began to fish for frogs and newts.

"In a minute," said Betty to herself as she watched Kitty, "she'll say Martha and I have the best places."

It happened just so.

"I say," said Kitty, throwing down her net and coming close up to Betty, "I've got the worst place of all, there's nothing to catch in this part!"

"You haven't tried long enough," said Martha.

"Let's change," was Kitty's next suggestion as she stood looking eagerly over Betty's shoulder.

"All right," said Betty moodily, and she went round to the part of the pond Kitty had left, where she almost immediately caught two tadpoles and a newt.

"Look there!" she cried, holding up her net triumphantly.

"Oh!" screamed Kitty, "you are lucky. Do let me try," and she rushed up to Betty's side and seized hold of the net. But this was too much. Betty let go of the handle and said indignantly, "I shan't fish any more. You're so unfair; you always are!" And she walked away in a rage. "Kitty is more tiresome than ever," she said to herself. "She spoils everything. I wish she would go away!"

All that day she preserved an attitude of dignified sulkiness in spite of Kitty's frequent attempts to make it up. When she came and threw her arm round her, Betty shook it off impatiently.

That evening the three little girls were in the woods with dear Miss Grey and baby Susie, who was just three years old. Betty was walking a little behind the others with her eyes fixed on the ground. It was damp and mossy, and there was a thick growth of ferns and underwood at the side of the path. Suddenly she saw something move quickly through this, and disappear down a hole. She stopped and moved aside the ferns and moss. What do you think she saw sitting comfortably in the hole and staring at her with its moist bright eyes?

A large speckled toad!

"Look, look, Miss Grey!" she cried, and everyone gathered round to see what she had found. Even Susie peered into the hole, and poked a bit of fern gently at the toad, which sat there gazing quietly at them.

"What a jolly little home he's made for himself!" said Martha. "All soft and moist, and just exactly to fit him."

"He can't see out much," said Betty as she put back the moss gently over the top.

"I don't think he wants to," said Miss Grey. "He is quite satisfied, like many other people who live in holes."

The children ran on through the wood, except Betty, who kept back and took hold of Miss Grey's hand.

"What do you mean about living in holes?" she asked presently.

"Well, you know, we all live in holes of one kind or another. Some are rough and some smooth, some fit us exactly, and some don't fit us at all. Some are softly lined with all sorts of comforts, and some are full of pricks and troubles. And it is always very difficult to see out of them."

"Why?" asked Betty.

"Because, like the toad's hole we saw just now, our own lives are so near us and surround us so closely, that it is only by making an effort that we can get out of them and understand other people's lives at all. The only thing that can really make us do that is sympathy."

"What does that mean?"

"It is that which makes us able to put ourselves in thought into other people's holes, and feel what it is like to live there. When we do that it makes us remember to be patient and gentle with our friends and companions, for if they live in uncomfortable holes it must be difficult for them to be unselfish and amiable. If we had their troubles and vexations we might not be half so pleasant as they are."

Betty was silent.

"Do you think Martha's hole and mine is nicer than Kitty's?" she said at last.

"Well, I think in some ways it may be. At any rate you know Kitty has no sisters to play with, and very little of this country life you all enjoy so much. While her holiday lasts I should try to make it as pleasant as possible for her, if I were you."

"I do," said Betty, "generally. Only sometimes she makes me feel so cross."

At this moment up rushed Kitty, and elbowed Betty away from Miss Grey's side.

"You've had her long enough!" she shouted. "It's my turn now!"

And Betty was thinking so much about the toad in the hole, that she did not even frown.