It was a cold November evening, so cold the weak, autumnal sun made no inroad into the heavy frost that had descended the previous night. As I approached my friends’ house, I looked forward to the warmth of their fire, the congenial atmosphere, and a glass of warm Madeira wine. It was a custom, a family tradition to offer their visitors this warming imbibe, a custom that had survived the passage of time, including the family’s migration from the tiny outpost of the same name, far out in the Atlantic Ocean, to merry old England. Generations of guests had enjoyed this warming drink on such cold wintry nights.
Opening the gate, I walked along the path, admiring the garden that was always in such pristine condition, no matter what time of year or how bad the weather happened to be. Lifting the doorknocker, a facsimile of a lion’s head, I gave the door an assertive knock. I waited for my hosts to respond.
“Is that Jeremiah?” Christine asked, calling to her husband, upstairs.
“Yes, darling,” Charles replied, making his way downstairs, to the door. Opening it, he greeted me. Seeing how frosty and cold it was outside, he said, “Welcome, Jeremiah. You must be frozen – come in. Hand me your coat and hat, then get yourself to the sitting room.”
I made my way into the sitting room, where Charles offered me the armchair directly in front of their roaring log fire. Stretching out my hands, warming them, I thanked him for his hospitality.
Entering the room, Christine said, “Jeremiah, it’s so good to see you – and on such a cold night!”
“You know me,” I chuckled, “out in all weathers…”
“Out in all weathers is one thing – but this?” she replied, opening the curtains, gazing at the frost covered ground.
“How about a nice glass of Madeira, to warm you up?” Charles asked.
“Sounds good,” I replied.
Picking up the bottle of Madeira wine that had been resting in front of the fire, warming, he said, “Won’t be a tick.”
I smiled; I had no need to reply, because my two friends, whom I had known all my life, knew me inside out.
“Here you are,” said Charles, “a glass for the weary traveller.” He handed me a glass full to the brim with the fiery brown liquid. “And one for you, dear,” he added, offering his wife a glass, also.
As my two hosts joined me, relaxing in their wonderfully comfortable armchairs, sitting in front of the sparkling, crackling log fire, I thanked my God to have been blessed with such good friends.
As we caught up with all the gossip, talked about our plans for the future, and reminisced about the good, fun times we had enjoyed over the years, the evening passed quickly (time seems to have that effect, when you’re having a good time, doesn’t it?).
Glancing at my watch, I was shocked to see that was past eleven, so knocking back the last of my Madeira wine (my fourth glassful, I might add), I thanked my congenial hosts for their hospitality, then extricated myself from the comfortable chair.
“You’re welcome,” said Christine, giving me a little peck on the cheek.
Handing me my coat and hat, Charles said, “You’re always welcome in our home.”
Buttoning my coat, pulling the belt tightly closed, I shivered, thinking of the cold night facing me outside. After donning my hat, I was ready to go.
Charles gasped in shock when he opened the door. “Look,” he said, “I’ve never seen so bad a fog!”
While we had been cosy and warm inside, drinking our Madeira wine, having a good time, a heavy fog had descended. It was bad, really bad, a pea souper if ever I saw one.
“You will have to stay here for the night,” Charles insisted. “You’ll never find your way home in that!”
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