Outside it is cold with a bitter wind and the rain is pattering against the windows. Time to snuggle into a deep comfortable chair by the fire and go on a literary visit. Who shall I call on tonight? Ah yes, the Dashwoods. I haven’t been to see them for quite a while. I’ll just take a seat in the sitting room of their little cottage and listen to Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor chatting about a likely visit from Edward. Marianne is playing the piano softly in the background and no doubt dreaming of that dastardly Willoughby. I expect Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, his garrulous mother-in-law, will call. Sir John with his naïve kindness has won my heart and unlike Marianne I don’t mind what she called his lack of culture and polished manners. I like Mrs. Jennings, even if she and Sir John can be annoying with their silly banter about beaux. When Marianne was so ill, she really came up trumps and almost supplied the place of a mother. I’d like to see Colonel Brandon pop in too, although all his attention will be on Marianne. His conversation is always interesting. I’ll sneak away before he tells Elinor his sad history.
Where shall I go next? Emma Woodhouse is always welcoming and Knightley is as entertaining as Colonel Brandon. I’ll have to resist taking a basin of that “thin but not too thin” gruel with Mr. Woodhouse while I’m listening to the preparations for the ball at The Crown. I hope to meet Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill and I mustn’t miss that happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Weston. It will be a fun evening and not even the presence of the vicar, Mr. Elton and his pushy wife can spoil it. I’ll just smile politely when Mrs. Elton goes on about her sister’s prospective visit in the barouche-landau.
When I’ve left Highbury and the oh-so-happy Miss Bates, I’ll pop in to see Elizabeth Bennett and her family. Her father will be in the library and will no doubt have some droll remark to make. He is one of my all time favourites! I’ll be at Rosings to hear Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth and her spirited refusal and then smile over her embarrassment at meeting him again unexpectedly at Pemberley. And I mustn’t miss the scene with Mr. Bennett when Elizabeth tells him she wishes to accept Darcy. I’ll stay in the library long enough to listen in to Elizabeth defending him against her father’s disapproval before sneaking upstairs to partake of her mother’s raptures at having a daughter well married. Maybe I’ll look in on Jane and Bingley but I doubt I’ll visit the Wickhams.
On another night, I’ll slip across the Atlantic and take a peek at Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy round their worktable and hope that Laurie Lawrence will drop by. I might even go with Meg to the ball where she is so admired but so unhappy, or perhaps I’ll attend Jo when she goes to have her beautiful hair cut. I’ll cry over all their trials and little heartaches until their father comes home from the war and then I can bid them a fond farewell as they sit round the fire, united in tenderness.
While I am on this side of the Atlantic I’ll take a trip out West and drop in on the Denmeades. The last part of the journey there has to be taken on horseback. I can almost taste the scent of pine and wild sumach as we ride through those deep woods. There will be a warm welcome at the homestead even if those hounds start barking. If all the family is at home it will be pretty crowded round the table for supper. Mrs. Denmeade and Ally will fix something wholesome for us all to eat and we might get some of Ed’s wild bee honey. I’d like to be able to stay in that tent the Denmeade boys fixed up for Lucy and her sister. It’s so cosy there in winter with the wood burning stove. Before we retire for the night I’ll stand beside Lucy at the cabin door as she pays her respects to the towering red Rimrock and the stars glistening in the frosty sky above it.
On very cold nights I’ll follow Mole, when bored with his sleepy companion, he heads off to the forbidden Wild Wood. I’ll keep a respectful distance as he gets deeper and deeper into danger. I can hear the scuttling of other frightened animals and then the Terror of the Wild Wood, the dreaded pattering and whistling. I’ll drop down beside Mole in the hollow of that old beech tree and hope they, whoever they are, do not find us. What a relief when Rat comes to the rescue and we discover the door to Badger’s dwelling. I’m a child again as I revel in the feeling of comfort and security in Badger’s underground home. I love those down-at-heel slippers of his and his cosy living room and the little hedgehogs having breakfast in the morning.
Yes, I’ve read these stories over and over again. Old books are like old friends, friends with whom you can slip off your shoes and stretch out by the fire. Friends who know you through and through and still like you! Friends to whom you’ve told your stories time and again but who still listen patiently. Friends who have told their stories to you over and over again. That is the lure of the literary journey, a journey to be taken at any time, but especially on cold nights in the winter when it brings back that feeling of warm security of childhood.
In order of appearance:
Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, all by Jane Austen,
Little Women by Lousia May Alcott,
Under the Tonto Rim by Zane Grey and
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham