On the sixth day of December

After the little bearded fellow had mended the clock, the little girl had followed him for some distance along the way: ducking behind branch and bush; scuttling to the next. It was now morning, and she had made up her mind to find the clock-tenderer once more. Though awed by the clock-tenderer's magic, she was an intrepid, quick spirit, fearless of finding her way: as at home in the forest, in her own free way, as the treecreeper.

The father of the little girl lived far off, and in practice the little girl's mother brought her up alone. If there is saintliness in this world, it is in the sustaining of cheer and exercise of kindness under sacrifice and strain; and so it was for the little girl's mother. Time was taut, frugality was unceasing, sleep was scarce, but, playing with her daughter amongst the tree roots of the forest, she did so with the carefree liveliness of the little girl herself. A calling friend would be met with iridescent delight.

Bidding her mother a cheerful goodbye, the little girl retraced her steps of two evenings before. She then began to query her way forth.

"Do you know the home of a little bearded fellow, about so high?" she asked one of the same kin, opening her palm flat, and holding it up a little above her head.

"I... I believe it's that way," the kinsman replied, with a flustered embarrassment.

"We do not see him, but I suppose it is still that way," another responded haughtily, with a perfunctory flick of the forearm, a little while later.

Thus it continued. But the directions the little girl received were not erroneous, and after a time she arrived at a little cottage. "A cosy cottage," she considered — though this cosiness was of a most idiosyncratic kind, jumbled somehow with extraordinariness. Around the cottage was a preposterously poised fence-cum-clock: its posts stuck out at all angles, and along the top, in a circle, ran a track for a model train which shot around the cottage at a rate of exactly four times per minute — one post every half-second — and unleashed an ebullient blast of steam from its little boiler for each complete traversal.

In a prudently chosen one hundred and twentieth part of a minute, the little girl zipped (in lieu of a gate) under the track between two of the fence posts, and went up to the cottage door, giving it a lively knock. "Not used to visitors, hmm, hmm, no, not used to them, no, hmm," mumbled the clock-tenderer upon opening, but he showed her in, offering her an old-fashioned soft armchair, the kind that one rather submerges oneself in than sits upon; and soon the little girl was warming her hands around a cup of a swirling tea that was as delightful to the taste as it was heterodox, with a streak of licorice as silvery as the sparks that had flown from the innards of the longcase clock, as the little bearded fellow set them to rights.

Children have a way of understanding the cares of one they love without giving the least sign of it, only to suddenly seek a solution in the most brilliantly unexpected recourse. The logic of the little girl's visit to the little bearded fellow was as follows: a virtuosity which could tender a clock could certainly also repair, say, a toaster. For the toaster in the home of the little girl screeched in protest of its call to arms for each slice of bread with the temerity to place itself within it; and the little girl had seen how a grimace would momentarily cross her mother's eyes, a fleeting expression of strain that was not borne of that instant alone, but of the suppressed troubles of years.

"I cannot, you must excuse me, hmm, no, hmm, I tend only clocks," the little bearded fellow said, "we must be very careful in our use of magic; my kin do not indeed like my fixing of clocks, hmm, no indeed, no, I am very sorry, hmm, hmm, very sorry."

Children of the little girl's age also have a way of brushing off the agonies of an adult with obliviating good cheer, and she did not dwell further on the matter, returning to the beguilements of her tea and a large, hot English muffin with raisins that the little bearded fellow had too subsequently placed beside her.

When the time came for the little girl to take her leave, night was falling, and the clock-tenderer proposed to accompany her home. Holding out his lantern, they walked side by side. They came to the lake; their steps bristling in the frost as the little bearded fellow's own had done, five days ago.

There! A firy, instantaneous light... rising under the ice — and gone.

The little girl saw it too, with wonderment. There! There!

They reached the little girl's home, the little bearded fellow stopping a little distance off, but seeing her safely in. He then turned again for home; yet as he walked he felt a pang — this surprising him, he being used to his own company — for the loss of the little girl's sprightly chatter.

This is the sixth part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 03:08 (GMT+1), 7th December 2022