On the seventeenth day of December

The metal post box of the little girl and her mother was screwed to a fence at a little distance from their home, but its lid was a little too heavy for the treecreeper to lift; instead, it had placed the elder's note on a wooden stool outside their door, where it was sheltered from precipitation, and built up a little ridge of twigs around its border to hold it in place. Yesterday morning, the little girl and her mother had found the note thus, with more than a little bemusement.

As to how the little girl might be able to help, the note gave no particulars, whilst its mode of expression was as unorthodox as its mode of delivery — not only its extraordinary calligraphic form, but the long, flowing sentences of its linguistic construction. However, the little girl spoke so excitedly of the eccentricity of the clock-tenderer's abode that bemusement soon became curiosity; though the tipping of the scales may — it is not impossible — have been the little girl's description of how the raisins of the English muffin which the clock-tenderer had served melted into its between-roughness-and-smoothness!

Today's afternoon therefore found the little girl and her mother treading through the forest, coming now upon the welter of fence-posts that propped up the track of the little bearded fellow's clock-train; hurtling upon its rounds, it expulsed at that moment a column of steam, as if to greet them. Manoeuvring their way to the cottage door, they were admitted by the little bearded fellow with his customary bashfulness, the little girl beelining for the same armchair in which she had immersed herself eleven days ago.

The elder and the treecreeper had already arrived. The elder was seated upon a high-backed chair of a wood that was almost white in colour, with joints of great craftmanship — made without nails or glue; whilst the treecreeper was perched upon a shelf of herbs. The little girl's mother, at the clock-tenderer's suggestion, sat herself upon a small settee between her daughter and the elder. The clock-tenderer himself would not sit down for the entirety of the visit, flitting instead to and from the kitchen with cups of candescent tea and mince pies with exquisitely shaped pastry, which he appeared to prepare and bake one at a time.

For a time the guests engaged in the pleasant to-and-fro of a meeting for the first time of congenial souls, the clock-tenderer translating for the treecreeper when in the room. (The little girl and the clock-tenderer had an understanding, arrived at wordlessly in the first glances which they had today exchanged, that the clock-tenderer's magical errands to the house of the little girl and her mother should remain secret, and hence they were not referred to.) At length, though, after a little pause in the conversation, the elder slowly set his cup down, and asked the little girl, "From what our host has told us, there are few who know the forest as well as you! Can you think of anything that has happened recently, or which may happen very soon, which is a little special?"

The little girl thought for a while, trying to relate the question, in its rather obtuse generality, to her recent meanderings through the forest. But then the slice of sweet bread which she had received yesterday at the cottage of the husband and wife came to her mind! Though uncertain whether it was the kind of thing the elder had in mind, she told him of the young couple, of their kindness, of the imminent birth of their child; and of what she had understood from the young wife of the complications the doctor had confirmed.

"That's it! It fits! It must be," the elder exclaimed, and the treecreeper gave a little hop of combined relief and anticipation. As he had to the little bearded fellow and the treecreeper, the elder then told the little girl and her mother of the signs, the first of which — as the little bearded fellow had informed him — the little girl had herself already seen.

"I believe that the child, if she lives, will inherit the goodness of her parents; the kind of goodness that in the course of a life will touch, in little kind acts, in caring words timely spoken, that of many others — little deflections from one troubled path to a lighter one; little encouragements to a person towards their fuller realisation. These lives will in turn brush those of others still.

"At this moment, whether the child will live hangs in the balance. There is an ancient, mystical power in the signs, which we who discovered them may be able to bring to bear upon the side of the child's survival — though an as-ancient darkness will vie with us," he continued, turning then to the little girl and her mother to speak of the storm and the will-o'-the-wisps.

The elder reflected a while, the others waiting tensely — the clock-tenderer too, standing stock-still with his hands in his baking gloves. "I sense that it is our purpose to try to free the light that is trapped under the ice, trapped in the trunk of the pine tree, and trapped in the puffballs," he at last spoke anew; and turning to each of them in turn, instructed them as to how he divined they could play their part.

This completed, the conversation, opportunely assisted by a further mince pie or two each, returned to the colloquial; warm and lively as before. And when a while later the guests left, the redoubtable events of which they were a part were on their minds, but they took with them too a little of the amiability of the room; from it, they drew heart.

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

Last updated: 01:08 (GMT+1), 19th December 2022