Dulce Domum is one of my favourite chapters from The Wind in the Willows. The Mole and the Rat have been out all day with Otter and are returning home through the early dusk of midwinter. Passing through a village they see squares of a dusky orange red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture … the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed …
So Grahame sets up, at the beginning of the chapter, the ideal of the cosy home, all fire and warmth and happy companionship.
Next comes the Mole’s sudden desperation, as he realises he is near his own old home, the one he abandoned on that day when he said, ‘Hang spring cleaning!’, and began his adventures with the Rat. Kindly Ratty, at first mystified, follows the trail until they arrive at ‘Mole End’. Mole thrills to see his old possessions, then he’s down in the dumps again because the place is bleak and dusty. ‘Oh Ratty!’, he cried dismally, … ‘Why did I bring you to this poor, cold little place on a night like this …’ etc.etc. Rat is having none of it. ‘What a capital little house this is!’ he says, and bustles around organising a fire and finding a tin of sardines, a box of ‘captain’s biscuits’ and a ‘German sausage encased in silver paper.’ ‘There’s a banquet for you!’ observed the Rat. He even finds some beer, and brings Mole out of his fit of depression.
Then comes the best part, when the field mice call carolling. It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, … in the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field mice stood in a semi-circle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth … As the door opened, one of the elder ones 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… and handed down to be sung in miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
Here’s the first verse:
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning.
Mole despairs again, because there’s nothing to give the singers. Rat organises a shopping party and soon the Rat, the Mole and the field mice enjoy ‘savoury comforts’ and mulled ale. The chapter concludes with bedtime and Mole happy at last, ‘in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him.’ He doesn’t want to ‘abandon his new life’ but is happy to know that home will always be waiting for him, ‘this place which was all his own.’
Sentimental? Yes, but it’s Christmas.
Illustrations by Beverley Gooding