by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Doc Kelly was well-known for his magnanimity. It was not uncommon, for example, for him to accept potatoes or corn in payment of his medical services, especially from those who would, as fate would have it, oblige him to travel by sleigh on a blustery wintry night from town to the nearby Village of Barnhart Mills where several of his more elderly and struggling patients lived. They relied upon him and his good advice, always given cheerfully and without restraint. They would have given more to him in compensation of his professional services, but they hadn’t any more to give and Doc Kelly knew that. It is no accident that if one is good at something in particular, one is often so in general. While it may be considered an odd extrapolation, the beneficence of Doc Kelly was so widely disseminated as to include not only human kind but also animals, particularly the small ones which are so often ignored on the theory that their diminutive size somehow accounts for a greater likelihood of survival in the harsh winter months, an observation which Doc Kelly understood to be patently erroneous.
In addition to scattering bird seed about the back veranda of his house throughout the winter months, Doc Kelly cultivated the harmonious society of two tiny chipmunks which he knew from the previous summer months had made their home under the tall three-storey red brick building where Doc Kelly and his wife, Samantha, and their daughter, Elizabeth, had lived in quiet repose for the past many years. Doc Kelly had on more than one occasion seen the bold chipmunks, whom he had decided – without really knowing – were a "couple" and whom he recognized distinctly enough to call Fred and Alice, scurrying between a small crack in the fieldstone foundation of the house into the rocky crawl space below. It didn’t disturb Doc Kelly in the slightest that these teensy creatures had taken up residence beneath the large house since he knew that apart from a drain in the basement there was nothing else of consequence there and one was barely able to stand up in it, so it was hardly what could be called part of the house. Doc Kelly saw no problem sharing his personal digs with these bantam characters. He knew they relied upon an assured exit for both food and drink so there was no threat of them overtaking the house.
From the point of view of Fred and Alice,yes, they were as surmised indeed a couple, Doc Kelly was to them as charitable looking as Santa Claus is to a five year-old, inspiring at first some degree of fright by virtue of his comparative size, but latterly ample reason for warmth and friendliness. Doc Kelly, when launching the various nuts and other bits of food at the fissure in the rock where the chipmunks came and went, kept his respectful distance on the veranda adjacent, and with the elapse of time and the continued cultivation of trust, Fred and Alice came to accept Doc Kelly as their guardian and provider. It was nothing for them to sit like duplicates upon their haunches at the front doorstep of their cavernous dwelling, blankly staring at Doc Kelly as he muttered consoling though incomprehensible words to them from the veranda. They quickly learned to recognize his voice and to anticipate the routine of his appearances upon the veranda.
One day, however – in fact it was Christmas Eve – Doc Kelly didn’t materialize upon the veranda at the customary hour. Fred and Alice, who had been busily fortifying their subterranean nest with scraps of dried grass and shredded paper collected outside, halted their proceedings more than once to look for him, poking their heads, one on top of the other, through the narrow opening towards the veranda, disappointed on each of several occasions. As the sun began to dip rapidly in the southwest, removing the last glow of midday warmth upon the building, a light snow began to fall. It wasn’t long in fact before a modest drift of snow had accumulated at Fred and Alice’s doorway. Because it was soon completely dark, they decided not to venture out again, having abandoned for the day the hope of seeing Doc Kelly and his usual treats.
Meanwhile, beneath the wooden floorboards of the house, Fred and Alice succeeded in completing the moderations to their cosy and secluded retreat. By now the snow drift at their door had entirely blanketed the entrance and they resolved to leave well enough alone until the morning. Besides it was judicious to block the rising wind from the cavity. Fred and Alice would simply stay home for the night. Of course Christmas Eve meant nothing to Fred and Alice, but they were mysteriously moved by the sound of carollers who around eight o’clock that evening chanced to knock upon the oaken door of Doc Kelly and his family. Muffled by the increasingly heavy snowfall, the sonorous voices of the wassailers, mixed with the laughter of the children present and the jingle of bells, provided a soothing and almost magical backdrop to the dark night. Fred and Alice knew instinctively that something special was afoot, though they never imagined in the wildest dreams of their tiny furry heads how special it was to become.
While there was distinctly some heat which echoed through the floorboards from the wood-burning kitchen stove above, Fred and Alice nonetheless determined to wrap themselves about one another to ward off the occasional gust of cold air which managed to seep through the rocky foundation of the old house into their little burrow. Nestled together they resembled a conglomeration of indecipherable black stripes and orange fur. Before long they were sound asleep, breathing slowly and silently. And then they began to dream.
No doubt their dreams were the product of not having had their dinner that night, and having fallen asleep so soon after the arrival of the Christmas carollers. Their little heads were full of the delight and magic inspired by the sound of such unaccustomed cheerfulness. In addition, approaching midnight, the snow had stopped and the sky cleared, revealing a brilliantly clear sky in which hung a silvery full moon whose gleaming rays penetrated even the lair where Fred and Alice slept so profoundly.
In their dreams, they fashioned the arrival of an unheralded guest, a vision never seen before, something which uplifted them from the rudeness of their present environment to a rich and bountiful cache of grains, nuts, fruits and berries, a veritable stockpile of goodies. In their stupour, and owing to their obvious pleasure in relishing and extending such imaginary events, they were unable to discern anything but the vaguest outline of the provider of these stores, but the impression which was left upon them when they later awoke in the morning to the sound of movement above was that the circumstances had involved more than one agency and even a corporate act of several figures or more. There was, in addition, the oddest similarity to the deer they had once seen afar in a nearby field, though it was clearly an apparition as one of the fauna appeared to be sporting a glowing red nose, something Fred knew to be utterly preposterous!
As Fred and Alice regained their full consciousness upon awakening, shaking their wee forms in hurried movements, the reality of their condition returned to them and they slowly began to discard what had obviously been a delusion, as pleasant as it had been at the time. The humans above had not yet stoked the wood-burning stove so there was a chill in the air. By now, however, their hunger had overtaken them and unabashedly they proceeded to scratch away at the snowy door which covered their crack in the wall to the outside. It was fluffy snow and therefore easily collapsed beneath the imperceptible motions of their petite feet. Amazingly, once the snowy cover was dispersed, there remained an impenetrable wall. Fred and Alice stopped in their tracks, looking first at one another, then in unison at the wall. Something was highly unusual. There, piled before their flickering black eyes, was a mass of peanuts! There was no mistaking it, a veritable mountain of peanuts lay immediately beyond the threshold of their modest retreat. "What fortune!", thought Fred and Alice to themselves.
For the next hour or so Fred and Alice busied themselves carrying their trove from the doorstep to an antechamber where they had already gathered some provisions, but nothing by comparison to what now lay before them. Naturally they permitted themselves the luxury of gnawing at one or two peanuts during the process, and as a result it was with a full belly that eventually they each paused in their labours to rest and savour the blessing which had miraculously been bestowed upon them on Christmas Eve. Their treasure of food was more than enough to last them for many months to come, and it was with a light heart that Fred and Alice contemplated their future. Above them the wood-burning stove was producing its snug heat, penetrating to the den below.
Satisfied with themselves and their good luck, Fred and Alice never once queried the source of such favour. Already the dream they had had seemed relegated to the distant past. Yet its memory lingered ever so slightly, and it never occurred to them to question how or why the peanuts came to find their way to them on Christmas Eve. There are of course theories, but sometimes it is just better to allow things to happen without having to explain them, even assuming there is an explanation.
Holly photo courtesy of flowersociety.org