On the fifteenth day of December

The first few hours of the day brought the clock-tenderer, the treecreeper, and the elder, each traversing the forest, no closer. It was lunch time, and the little bearded fellow sat himself upon a rock by a thin, shallow brook, at the bottom of a long, steep hill down which it plummeted. The surface of the brook had frozen, but the winter was as yet young enough that the fast-flowing water underneath still ran with as much gusto as ever.

The little bearded fellow took out an open-top sandwich, nominally cheddar topped with lettuce, though the several layers of lettuce rather dominated the affair. Popping a couple of firm, whole cherry tomatoes into his mouth by way of a starter, their almost-sweet juice exploding gratifyingly as he bit into them. Settling himself back, his thoughts wandered like the gush of the under-brook below his dangling feet.

He munched contentedly for a few minutes... and then an idea struck him. The little girl! He leapt in one movement off the rock and over the brook into the heather on the other side. She wandered the forest over in play. Moreover, as he well knew, she was plucky, intelligent, observant — if anybody knew of anything of out-of-the-ordinary consequence unfolding in the forest, it was her. He felt sure of this, though he could not have explained exactly why.

He gobbled down the remainder of his lettuce-with-hint-of-cheese-and-bread, gathered some water in a wooden mug from a hole in the brook's ice and tossed it — vivifyingly cold! — back, before bounding off for the set-apart pine, where the three had agreed to reconvene.

Reaching it, he gathered a quantity of the frozen needle and cone detritus around it into a little mound, and with a magical flourish of the arm, like an opera conductor's impassioned lifting of his baton a few bars before the dénouement, sent it high into the air, above the trees, like an inverted ball gown.

This pre-arranged signal was spotted by the treecreeper, who duly flew back to the pine. The little bearded fellow asked it to try to recall the elder — and this too, with the boon of the elder's keen bird-sight, was soon accomplished.

All three together at the pine, the clock-tenderer, still gripped by the first enthusiasm of his idea and speaking excitedly, put it forward. The elder and the treecreeper were not yet acquainted with the little girl, but they put their trust in the little bearded fellow, and agreed to try the plan out.

In a strange, large calligraphy, ornate yet clear, the elder wrote a note to the little girl's mother to bid them to the house of the clock-tenderer not tomorrow, they agreed — for the day was well-advanced and the note might not be read until the morning — but the day after. And the treecreeper took off to deliver it, the clock-tenderer pointing out the way.

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

Last updated: 06:45 (GMT+1), 19th December 2022