The Wind in the Willows

V. DULCE DOMUM

The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thinnostrils and stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown backand a light steam rising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty air,as the two animals hastened by in high spirits, with much chatter andlaughter. They were returning across country after a long day's outingwith Otter, hunting and exploring on the wide uplands where certainstreams tributary to their own River had their first small beginnings;and the shades of the short winter day were closing in on them, and theyhad still some distance to go. Plodding at random across the plough,they had heard the sheep and had made for them; and now, leading fromthe sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made walking a lighterbusiness, and responded, moreover, to that small inquiring somethingwhich all animals carry inside them, saying unmistakably, 'Yes, quiteright; THIS leads home!'

'It looks as if we were coming to a village,' said the Mole somewhatdubiously, slackening his pace, as the track, that had in time becomea path and then had developed into a lane, now handed them over to thecharge of a well-metalled road. The animals did not hold with villages,and their own highways, thickly frequented as they were, took anindependent course, regardless of church, post office, or public-house.

'Oh, never mind!' said the Rat. 'At this season of the year they'reall safe indoors by this time, sitting round the fire; men, women,and children, dogs and cats and all. We shall slip through all right,without any bother or unpleasantness, and we can have a look at themthrough their windows if you like, and see what they're doing.'

The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little villageas they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powderysnow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on eitherside of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottageoverflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most ofthe low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-infrom outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed inhandiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happygrace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture--thenatural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation.Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so farfrom home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as theywatched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled offto bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of asmouldering log.

But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mereblank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the littlecurtained world within walls--the larger stressful world of outsideNature shut out and forgotten--most pulsated. Close against the whiteblind hung a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, andappurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edgedlump of sugar. On the middle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked wellinto feathers, seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked, hadthey tried; even the delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage pencilledplainly on the illuminated screen. As they looked, the sleepy littlefellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised his head. Theycould see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way,looked round, and then settled his head into his back again, while theruffled feathers gradually subsided into perfect stillness. Then agust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting offrozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew theirtoes to be cold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a wearyway.

Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on eitherside of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendlyfields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, thehome stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, inthe rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight offamiliar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far over-sea.They plodded along steadily and silently, each of them thinking his ownthoughts. The Mole's ran a good deal on supper, as it was pitch-dark,and it was all a strange country for him as far as he knew, and hewas following obediently in the wake of the Rat, leaving the guidanceentirely to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, ashis habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight greyroad in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly thesummons reached him, and took him like an electric shock.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses,have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communicationswith his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word'smell,' for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrillswhich murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning,warning, inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy callsfrom out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making himtingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even whileyet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead inhis tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts torecapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had sostrongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with itthis time came recollection in fullest flood.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those softtouches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling andtugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment,his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, thatday when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scoutsand its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape onthat bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had hebeen in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh andcaptivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearlyit stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small andpoorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, thehome he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. And thehome had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, andwanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully,reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintivereminder that it was there, and wanted him.

The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly,and go. 'Ratty!' he called, full of joyful excitement, 'hold on! Comeback! I want you, quick!'

'Oh, COME along, Mole, do!' replied the Rat cheerfully, still ploddingalong.

'PLEASE stop, Ratty!' pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. 'Youdon't understand! It's my home, my old home! I've just come across thesmell of it, and it's close by here, really quite close. And I MUST goto it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!'

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly whatthe Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appealin his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he toocould smell something--something suspiciously like approaching snow.

'Mole, we mustn't stop now, really!' he called back. 'We'll come forit to-morrow, whatever it is you've found. But I daren't stop now--it'slate, and the snow's coming on again, and I'm not sure of the way! And Iwant your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there's a good fellow!' And theRat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sobgathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to thesurface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under sucha test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a momentdid he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old homepleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. Hedared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench thattore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followedsubmissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells,still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendshipand his callous forgetfulness.

With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who beganchattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, andhow jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper hemeant to eat; never noticing his companion's silence and distressfulstate of mind. At last, however, when they had gone some considerableway further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copsethat bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, 'Look here, Mole oldchap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet dragginglike lead. We'll sit down here for a minute and rest. The snow has heldoff so far, and the best part of our journey is over.'

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to controlhimself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with solong refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, andthen another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole atlast gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly,now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly besaid to have found.

The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm ofgrief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietlyand sympathetically, 'What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be thematter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.'

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavalsof his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held backspeech and choked it as it came. 'I know it's a--shabby, dingy littleplace,' he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: 'not like--your cosyquarters--or Toad's beautiful hall--or Badger's great house--but it wasmy own little home--and I was fond of it--and I went away and forgot allabout it--and then I smelt it suddenly--on the road, when I calledand you wouldn't listen, Rat--and everything came back to me with arush--and I WANTED it!--O dear, O dear!--and when you WOULDN'T turnback, Ratty--and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all thetime--I thought my heart would break.--We might have just gone and hadone look at it, Ratty--only one look--it was close by--but you wouldn'tturn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O dear, O dear!'

Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took fullcharge of him, preventing further speech.

The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only pattingMole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, 'I seeit all now! What a PIG I have been! A pig--that's me! Just a pig--aplain pig!'

He waited till Mole's sobs became gradually less stormy and morerhythmical; he waited till at last sniffs were frequent and sobs onlyintermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and, remarking carelessly,'Well, now we'd really better be getting on, old chap!' set off up theroad again, over the toilsome way they had come.

'Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?' cried the tearful Mole,looking up in alarm.

'We're going to find that home of yours, old fellow,' replied theRat pleasantly; 'so you had better come along, for it will take somefinding, and we shall want your nose.'

'Oh, come back, Ratty, do!' cried the Mole, getting up and hurryingafter him. 'It's no good, I tell you! It's too late, and too dark, andthe place is too far off, and the snow's coming! And--and I never meantto let you know I was feeling that way about it--it was all an accidentand a mistake! And think of River Bank, and your supper!'

'Hang River Bank, and supper too!' said the Rat heartily. 'I tell you,I'm going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. So cheer up,old chap, and take my arm, and we'll very soon be back there again.'

Still snuffling, pleading, and reluctant, Mole suffered himself to bedragged back along the road by his imperious companion, who by a flow ofcheerful talk and anecdote endeavoured to beguile his spirits back andmake the weary way seem shorter. When at last it seemed to the Rat thatthey must be nearing that part of the road where the Mole had been 'heldup,' he said, 'Now, no more talking. Business! Use your nose, and giveyour mind to it.'

They moved on in silence for some little way, when suddenly the Rat wasconscious, through his arm that was linked in Mole's, of a faint sort ofelectric thrill that was passing down that animal's body. Instantly hedisengaged himself, fell back a pace, and waited, all attention.

The signals were coming through!

Mole stood a moment rigid, while his uplifted nose, quivering slightly,felt the air.

Then a short, quick run forward--a fault--a check--a try back; and thena slow, steady, confident advance.

The Rat, much excited, kept close to his heels as the Mole, withsomething of the air of a sleep-walker, crossed a dry ditch, scrambledthrough a hedge, and nosed his way over a field open and trackless andbare in the faint starlight.

Suddenly, without giving warning, he dived; but the Rat was on thealert, and promptly followed him down the tunnel to which his unerringnose had faithfully led him.

It was close and airless, and the earthy smell was strong, and it seemeda long time to Rat ere the passage ended and he could stand erect andstretch and shake himself. The Mole struck a match, and by its lightthe Rat saw that they were standing in an open space, neatly swept andsanded underfoot, and directly facing them was Mole's little front door,with 'Mole End' painted, in Gothic lettering, over the bell-pull at theside.

Mole reached down a lantern from a nail on the wall and lit it... and theRat, looking round him, saw that they were in a sort of fore-court. Agarden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the other a roller;for the Mole, who was a tidy animal when at home, could not stand havinghis ground kicked up by other animals into little runs that endedin earth-heaps. On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them,alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary--Garibaldi, and theinfant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy.Down on one side of the forecourt ran a skittle-alley, with benchesalong it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted atbeer-mugs. In the middle was a small round pond containing gold-fish andsurrounded by a cockle-shell border. Out of the centre of the pond rosea fanciful erection clothed in more cockle-shells and topped by a largesilvered glass ball that reflected everything all wrong and had a verypleasing effect.

Mole's face-beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him, andhe hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took oneglance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on everything,saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and itsnarrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby contents--and collapsedagain on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws. 'O Ratty!' he crieddismally, 'why ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, coldlittle place, on a night like this, when you might have been at RiverBank by this time, toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with allyour own nice things about you!'

The Rat paid no heed to his doleful self-reproaches. He was running hereand there, opening doors, inspecting rooms and cupboards, and lightinglamps and candles and sticking them, up everywhere. 'What a capitallittle house this is!' he called out cheerily. 'So compact! So wellplanned! Everything here and everything in its place! We'll make a jollynight of it. The first thing we want is a good fire; I'll see to that--Ialways know where to find things. So this is the parlour? Splendid! Yourown idea, those little sleeping-bunks in the wall? Capital! Now, I'llfetch the wood and the coals, and you get a duster, Mole--you'll findone in the drawer of the kitchen table--and try and smarten things up abit. Bustle about, old chap!'

Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself anddusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, runningto and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaringup the chimney. He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Molepromptly had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in darkdespair and burying his face in his duster. 'Rat,' he moaned, 'how aboutyour supper, you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I've nothing to giveyou--nothing--not a crumb!'

'What a fellow you are for giving in!' said the Rat reproachfully.'Why, only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quitedistinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines aboutsomewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! pull yourself together,and come with me and forage.'

They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard andturning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing afterall, though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines--abox of captain's biscuits, nearly full--and a German sausage encased insilver paper.

'There's a banquet for you!' observed the Rat, as he arranged the table.'I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting down tosupper with us to-night!'

'No bread!' groaned the Mole dolorously; 'no butter, no----'

'No pate de foie gras, no champagne!' continued the Rat, grinning. 'Andthat reminds me--what's that little door at the end of the passage? Yourcellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just you wait a minute.'

He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared, somewhatdusty, with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm,'Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole,' he observed. 'Denyyourself nothing. This is really the jolliest little place I ever wasin. Now, wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look sohome-like, they do. No wonder you're so fond of it, Mole. Tell us allabout it, and how you came to make it what it is.'

Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives andforks, and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosomstill heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related--somewhatshyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject--howthis was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was gotthrough a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and abargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and acertain amount of 'going without.' His spirits finally quite restored,he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and showoff their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetfulof the supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was desperately hungrybut strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckeredbrow, and saying, 'wonderful,' and 'most remarkable,' at intervals, whenthe chance for an observation was given him.

At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just gotseriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard fromthe fore-court without--sounds like the scuffling of small feet in thegravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentencesreached them--'Now, all in a line--hold the lantern up a bit,Tommy--clear your throats first--no coughing after I say one, two,three.--Where's young Bill?--Here, come on, do, we're all a-waiting----'

'What's up?' inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

'I think it must be the field-mice,' replied the Mole, with a touch ofpride in his manner. 'They go round carol-singing regularly at this timeof the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they neverpass me over--they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give themhot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will belike old times to hear them again.'

'Let's have a look at them!' cried the Rat, jumping up and running tothe door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes whenthey flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of ahorn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle,red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deepinto their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beadyeyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing andapplying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elderones that carried the lantern was just saying, 'Now then, one, two,three!' and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air,singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed infields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimneycorners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-litwindows at Yule-time.

CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide, Let your doors swing open wide, Though wind may follow, and snow beside, Yet draw us in by your fire to bide; Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet, Blowing fingers and stamping feet, Come from far away you to greet-- You by the fire and we in the street-- Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone, Sudden a star has led us on, Raining bliss and benison-- Bliss to-morrow and more anon, Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow-- Saw the star o'er a stable low; Mary she might not further go-- Welcome thatch, and litter below! Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell 'Who were the first to cry NOWELL? Animals all, as it befell, In the stable where they did dwell! Joy shall be theirs in the morning!'

The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelongglances, and silence succeeded--but for a moment only. Then, from upabove and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled wasborne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bellsringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

'Very well sung, boys!' cried the Rat heartily. 'And now come along in,all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!'

'Yes, come along, field-mice,' cried the Mole eagerly. 'This is quitelike old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle to thefire. Now, you just wait a minute, while we--O, Ratty!' he cried indespair, plumping down on a seat, with tears impending. 'Whatever are wedoing? We've nothing to give them!'

'You leave all that to me,' said the masterful Rat. 'Here, you with thelantern! Come over this way. I want to talk to you. Now, tell me, arethere any shops open at this hour of the night?'

'Why, certainly, sir,' replied the field-mouse respectfully. 'At thistime of the year our shops keep open to all sorts of hours.'

'Then look here!' said the Rat. 'You go off at once, you and yourlantern, and you get me----'

Here much muttered conversation ensued, and the Mole only heard bitsof it, such as--'Fresh, mind!--no, a pound of that will do--see you getBuggins's, for I won't have any other--no, only the best--if you can'tget it there, try somewhere else--yes, of course, home-made, no tinnedstuff--well then, do the best you can!' Finally, there was a chink ofcoin passing from paw to paw, the field-mouse was provided with an amplebasket for his purchases, and off he hurried, he and his lantern.

The rest of the field-mice, perched in a row on the settle, their smalllegs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toastedtheir chilblains till they tingled; while the Mole, failing to draw theminto easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each ofthem recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too young,it appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but lookedforward very shortly to winning the parental consent.

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of thebeer-bottles. 'I perceive this to be Old Burton,' he remarkedapprovingly. 'SENSIBLE Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able tomull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.'

It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater wellinto the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was sippingand coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long way) andwiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in allhis life.

'They act plays too, these fellows,' the Mole explained to the Rat.'Make them up all by themselves, and act them afterwards. And verywell they do it, too! They gave us a capital one last year, about afield-mouse who was captured at sea by a Barbary corsair, and made torow in a galley; and when he escaped and got home again, his lady-lovehad gone into a convent. Here, YOU! You were in it, I remember. Get upand recite a bit.'

The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, lookedround the room, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comradescheered him on, Mole coaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went sofar as to take him by the shoulders and shake him; but nothing couldovercome his stage-fright. They were all busily engaged on him likewatermen applying the Royal Humane Society's regulations to a caseof long submersion, when the latch clicked, the door opened, and thefield-mouse with the lantern reappeared, staggering under the weight ofhis basket.

There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solidcontents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table. Under thegeneralship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetchsomething. In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he tookthe head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren boardset thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends' faces brightenand beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself loose--forhe was famished indeed--on the provender so magically provided, thinkingwhat a happy home-coming this had turned out, after all. As they ate,they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave him the local gossipup to date, and answered as well as they could the hundred questions hehad to ask them. The Rat said little or nothing, only taking care thateach guest had what he wanted, and plenty of it, and that Mole had notrouble or anxiety about anything.

They clattered off at last, very grateful and showering wishes of theseason, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for thesmall brothers and sisters at home. When the door had closed on the lastof them and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kickedthe fire up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last nightcap ofmulled ale, and discussed the events of the long day. At last the Rat,with a tremendous yawn, said, 'Mole, old chap, I'm ready to drop. Sleepyis simply not the word. That your own bunk over on that side? Very well,then, I'll take this. What a ripping little house this is! Everything sohandy!'

He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets,and slumber gathered him forthwith, as a swathe of barley is folded intothe arms of the reaping machine.

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had hishead on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed hiseyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of thefirelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things whichhad long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly receivedhim back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that thetactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly howplain and simple--how narrow, even--it all was; but clearly, too, howmuch it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchoragein one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new lifeand its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all theyoffered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all toostrong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he mustreturn to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to comeback to; this place which was all his own, these things which were soglad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the samesimple welcome.


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