It was almost Christmas. Mole and Rat had been out exploring the countryside. It was getting dark when they passed through a country village. Firelight and lamplight shone through the square windowpanes on the dark world outside. They could see children being put to bed, a man knocking out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log, and, in one window, the shadow of a bird-cage, with a sleepy bird ruffled up in its feathers. They felt cold and lonely, with tired legs, and far from home.
The two animals plodded on across the fields. Mole was following Rat, his nose to the ground. As he sniffed, he felt a tingle, like an electric shock. Animals can pick up signals from smells that humans never notice. This particular smell meant HOME to Mole.
He had forgotten his own little home in the excitement of his new life. But now it all came back to him, and he called to Ratty to stop.
But Ratty did not hear, and cried, "Oh, Come on, Mole, old chap! Do not hang behind! We've a long way to go."
Poor Mole stood alone in the road. He wanted so badly to follow the scent, but he could not desert his friend. He struggled on, slowly.
Presently Ratty noticed how quiet his friend was and how he was dragging his feet. Then he heard a sniff and a stifled sob, and it all came out.
"I know it's only a shabby little place," sobbed Mole, his paw to his eyes, "not like your cosy home, or Toad Hall. But it was my own, and I was fond of it."
Ratty patted his shoulder. "What a selfish pig I've been," he thought. And he turned Mole round and they set off back the way they had come, to pick up the scent.
At last, after several false starts, Mole crossed a ditch, scrambled through a hedge and dived down a tunnel. At the end of it was a little front door with "MOLE END" painted on it. Mole lit a lantern and they could see a neat forecourt, with a garden seat, some hanging baskets with ferns, and a plaster bust of Queen Victoria.
There was a skittle alley, too, with benches and tables, and a goldfish pond with a cockleshell border.
Inside everything was dusty and rather shabby. Mole started to sniff again, ashamed at having brought his friend there. But Ratty ran to and fro, lighting lamps and candles, exploring rooms and cupboards. He started to light a fire, while Mole got busy with a duster.
"What a capital little house this is!" Rat called out cheerfully. "So compact and well planned!"
"But I have not got anything for supper!" Mole wailed.
"Rubbish!" said the Rat. "I spy a sardinetin opener, so there must be some sardines." They found some biscuits and were just about to open the sardines, when there was a scuffling noise in the forecourt, a lot of coughing, and a murmur of tiny voices.
"What's that?" asked Rat.
"It must be the fieldmice," answered Mole. "They go round at this time of year, carol-singing."
They opened the door, and there, in the light of a lantern, eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semi-circle.
They wore red knitted scarves round their necks, and they jigged up and down to keep their feet warm.
"One, two, three!" cried the eldest one, and their shrill tiny voices rose in an old-time carol, about the animals in the stable at Bethlehem.
"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! "
Just as they finished, the sound of distant church bells came floating down the tunnel.
Mole and Rat welcomed the little carol-singers in, and Ratty sent one of them off with a basket, and some money, to buy food. The rest of the mice sat on a bench by the fire and warmed their chilblains, drinking mugs of hot punch. When the messenger returned, they had a splendid supper.
They finally clattered off home, with presents for their families. Mole and Rat tucked themselves into bed in handy sleeping bunks. Before he closed his eyes, Mole looked happily about his old room in the glow of the firelight.
Thanks to the kindness of his friend, Mole's pleasure in his old home had returned. "Everyone needs a place of their own to come back to," he thought drowsily, before he dropped off to sleep.