“Now, the very next time this happens,” said a gruff and suspicious voice, “I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it this time, disturbing people on such a night? Speak up!”
Poor Rat! Poor Mole! To be freezing in the snow, having to encounter the grouchy, fearsome Badger. Would he give them a scold? Bar the door against their need?
“O Badger,” cried the Rat, “let us in, please. It’s me, Rat, and my friend Mole, and we’ve lost our way in the snow.”
“Why, Ratty, my dear little man!” exclaimed the Badger, in quite a different voice. “Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must be perished. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood, too, and at this time of night! But come in with you.”
As you probably have realized, this is from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I love Ratty and Mole and Badger, and the first five chapters are my favorites. (Mr. Toad does not deserve rescuing, but our three heroes are true friends to try.) How I’d love to “mess about in boats” as they do, and then hole up, warm and snug, during the stormy winter months.
A bookworm’s paradise, their gentle woodland world. To be sure, dangers are present, but their friendships are hearty and patient. Even Mr. Badger’s gruff manner conceals a warm and loyal heart.
And truly, is there anything better than a welcome, especially one that is unlooked-for? How wonderful is that friendly open door, offering shelter from the howling wilderness. Within is warmth and cheer and (of course) plenty of food.
Badger agrees. “This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out,” he said paternally. “I’m afraid you’ve been up to your pranks again, Ratty. But come along; come into the kitchen. There’s a first-rate fire there, and supper and everything.”
I love the theme of finding shelter among kindly folk, whether I’m turning pages to follow Bilbo, as he makes a hurried descent into Rivendell (that Last Homely House east of the sea), or I’m with Lucy Pevensie, taking tea with Mr. Tumnus in Narnia.
Maybe it’s because this is how I work out my struggles and conflicts. “Come and have coffee,” I say, “and let’s talk things over.” (Bonus points if there’s a fire on the hearth and if wind howls and dashes rain against the windows.)
A good beginning, but Badger is the true master. “He sat in his arm-chair at the head of the table, and nodded gravely as the animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, ‘I told you so,’ or ‘Just what I always said,’ or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or not to have done something else. The Mole began to feel very friendly towards him.”
It’s the quiet part of autumn now, the lull just before the Thanksgiving – Christmas rush. And you know what? We can pretend to be Mole! “Once well underground,” he said, “you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ’em, and don’t bother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.”