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          A search for four collie puppies abandoned in the woods leads Jennet to a lovely little 'Valentine' house and an old story of love, betrayal, and murder.

In the Greenwood He Was Slain

Chapter 1

          Snow lay heavily on the ground, and the silence of early morning held the land in a death grip.  If I listened carefully, I could hear the proverbial pin drop.
          Balancing the heavy pot of stew in both hands, I followed the cleared walkway out to Jonquil Lane, my destination the yellow Victorian house where Camille, my aunt by marriage, lived.  Camille, usually so vibrant and energetic, had been felled by a bout of influenza.  I was doing all I could to help her, including taking care of her two dogs along with my eight collies.
          In the first week of February, winter showed no signs of moving on.  It was difficult to believe in the fragrant yellow jonquils and daffodils that would spring up from the thawed ground on either side of the lane in a few more months.
          But believe I must if I were to survive the endless winter.
          In any event, in any season, I couldn't be living in a better place.  The yellow Victorian and my green Victorian farmhouse were the last houses on the lane.  In imaginative moments I fancied that I lived at World's End, happily isolated from the rest of Foxglove Corners, blessed with the peace and quiet of country living.
          Suddenly it wasn't so quiet.  The approaching hum of an engine insinuated itself into the stillness.  I waited and watched as a silver car came into view, swerved on an isle of ice, then righting itself.
          The windows were partially covered with snow and ice, obscuring the driver's vision.  He must have figured that he'd be unlikely to encounter another vehicle on this lonely stretch of roadway. 
          That might be true, but what of the animals?
          Wishing my deputy sheriff husband, Crane, were with me to see the condition of the driver's car and take note of his speed, I stepped onto the lane and looked northward.
          The car had stopped alongside one of the most sinister places in the county.  Here a man's vision of elegant French chateau style houses had died when he went bankrupt and fled from Michigan, leaving the unfinished houses to deteriorate.  A ghastly, ghostly place, it attracted vagrants and ne'er-do-wells and had been the scene of more than one dangerous encounter in the past.
          The driver lifted a large box out of his car and dropped it on the ground.  He was tall and burly and dressed in black with a hood over his head.  Dressed for stealth, I'd say, and up to no good.
          Out of the box tumbled four bundles of golden and white fluff.  They stood still, stunned for a moment.  Dogs.  Puppies.  They looked like collie pups.  One tried to climb back into the box; one roused itself and padded into the woods; one...
          "No," I cried.  "Don't do this."
          The driver didn't turn or give any indication that he'd heard me.
          Sadly, it wasn't unheard of for an unscrupulous, heartless person to dump unwanted dogs in the country, either thinking someone else would give them a home or not sparing them another thought.  But it was unusual to catch such a despicable person in the act.
          Not that I'd caught him.
          A little one tried to crawl back into the box.  The man lifted him by the scruff of his neck and flung him into the air.  Into the woods.  The puppy landed in a nest of snow-covered branches.
          The next instant, the man was in his car, driving away. 
          I set the pot of stew down on the snow.  The puppy had made its way back to the box, no doubt searching for his lost security.  Winding my scarf around my mouth and nose, I set out hurriedly up the lane, unmindful of the cold, thinking only of the puppies, hoping they wouldn't wander too far from the scene of their abandonment.
          The lane was unplowed, its surface marred with ruts and ice which made walking hazardous.  I should have taken the time to drive the short distance, but I was almost there, at the box.
          The puppy cowered inside, trembling on a soiled blanket.  It was a sable collie baby, as I'd thought, perhaps ten or twelve weeks old, with nicely tipped ears and a wide white ruff.  I spoke softly to her and reached inside to gather her in my arms before she could bite me.
          "Come," I said. "I'm Jennet, rescuer of collies.  You're in good hands"
          The little mite bared her teeth and burrowed further into the blanket, regarding me in defiance.  Such a pretty new set of teeth.  Such spirit for a baby.
          I reached for her again and scooped her into my arms.
          I had one, but I had seen four.  Where were the others?
          The lane stretched out before me, with dark, uncompromising woods on either side.  The puppy lay in my arms, her resistance melted away, her body as hard as stone.
          Little pawprints led into the tangle of dead vegetation and grasping branches that formed the edge of the unfinished development.  The close-growing trees and falling structures stared back at me coldly, issuing a challenge and a warning.
          I would return, of course, but first I had to take my small rescue to Sue Appleton, the President of the Lakeville Collie Rescue League.  Her horse ranch was too far for walking in this weather, so I headed back home, down the lane.  I'd take the car and maybe see the other puppies on the way.

 

~*~

          Jonquil Lane ends at Squill Lane where Sue's horse farm was located.  The man had to have turned right here as the other direction would have taken him to a cornfield and a currently untenanted cottage.  In other words, no outlet.
          After that, he could have gone anywhere.  All I could tell anyone was that he'd been dressed all in black with a hood and had neglected to clear the windows of his car which looked like a Honda.  Possibly an older model, an Accord?
          This wasn't much to go on, but as I glanced at the puppy shivering in the passenger's seat, I resolved to find the others.  Resolved, not for the first time, to do the impossible.


~*~


          Sue's horse farm drowsed in the cold morning sunlight, like the rest of Foxglove Corners steeped in snow.  If it weren't for three horses idling under their blankets in the corral, I might have come to a place that lay under a spell of enchantment.
          A spiral of gray smoke coiled up to the sky.  Sue opened the door before I could knock.  She wore a long white bathrobe, and her strawberry blonde hair tumbled over its Mandarin collar.
          Had I arrived on her doorstep too early?
          Her collies, all of them rescues, kept their distance at her command but not their silence.  They were used to canine newcomers and visitors, accustomed to barking their welcome.
          Sue smiled as she spied the puppy in my arms and extended her palm for her to sniff.
          "Who is this little one?"
          "Our newest rescue," I said.  "She was dumped on Jonquil Lane."
          "Did you take a day off from school?"
          "We're on winter break.  I need a week off.  My classes this semester are wild."
          "It's fortunate you were there to find her."  Sue took the puppy from me.  "How pretty. She's just a baby.  Little Goldilocks."
          I told Sue about the man who had driven away, leaving four puppies to fend for themselves, likely four littermates.
          "Diabolical," she said.  "Where are the others?"
          "They could be anywhere.  They scattered.  This one went back to the box he brought them in."
          I ran my finger gently over her soft head.  She was so good.  So quiet.  So unlike wriggling, adventurous puppies I'd seen in the past.  As she trained her eyes on me, I frowned.
          "What's wrong, Jennet?"
          "Look at her little eyes.  I don't think she feels well."
          "You're right.  After I give her a drink and a little food, I'll call Doctor Alice."
          Alice Foster took care of all our dogs.  A trip to the animal hospital was at the top of Rescue League's list for new arrivals.
          "Diane will take her," Sue said, referring to one of the high school girls who helped her on the ranch.  "They're on winter break, too.  I'm glad for the help.  I went to bed early, but I feel like something drained all my energy during the night."
          The vampire flu.
          "Don't get sick," I told her.  "You have animals who need you."
          "What are we going to do about the other three puppies?" she asked.  "They can't stay out there in this weather."
          We?  Sue wasn't going anywhere today.  What was I going to do about them?
          "Find them, of course," I said. "They ran into the woods.  How far can they go on those little legs?"
          Foolish question.  By now they could be long gone.
          "I'll do my best," I said.

 

Take a walk through Foxglove Corners and look at my cozy mystery series featuring Jennet Greenway and her collie, Halley.

 
   
 

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