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Available on April 15, 2016

The Mists of Huron Court

Chapter 1

Laughter as clear and melodious as a ringing bell floated through the silent autumn-turning world. It was a jarring sound, for I assumed I was alone with my dogs on the narrow country road that led away from Sagramore Lake.

Never assume you’re alone in Foxglove Corners.

Misty, the youngest of the trio, a frisky white collie with a tricolor face, froze in her tracks, head tilted.  A moment later I heard another sound. A dog barking.

Another dog.

I slipped into alert mode. Was it friendly or aggressive? Leashed, I hoped, although this was the country, where dogs ran free, along with deer, coyotes, hares, and other wildlife forms.

Misty whimpered and pulled on the leash. I rejected my initial inclination to backtrack and   walked on. Rounding a curve in the road, I came to the source of the disturbance.

Through a light mist I saw a young girl playing ball with her collie in the front yard of a charming Victorian house. Nestled in a stand of maple trees, it was soft pink, fairly small but exquisite with three gables and twin turrets, all adorned with white gingerbread trim. The color had a magical rosy glow.

The scene reminded me of an illustration in a fairy tale book, only this picture was alive with activity. The girl’s long chestnut hair blew in the wind. The dog leaped into the air, a flash of reddish-gold fur, sending leaves flying in all directions. The girl laughed. She still held the ball.

“Ha!” she said. “Fooled you.”

I stood at the edge of the road, mesmerized by the enchanting interplay between girl and dog.

Neither one appeared to be aware of our presence. Laughter and joyous barking mixed with the rustle of fallen leaves stirred to life by the dog’s prancing motion.

Misty yelped her impatience to be acknowledged by one of her kind and the laughing human. Sky and Halley were oblivious, taking advantage of the opportunity to lie down in the leaves. I took a few steps forward. “Hello. What a pretty collie!”

The girl noticed me then, pushed back strands of shining chestnut hair, and moved the dog’s ball from one hand to the other. The bell inside the toy jingled faintly.

“Oh, hello,” she said. “Gosh, I didn’t know anyone was there. We don’t get too many walkers on this road.”

I was close enough for Misty to greet the other dog who pranced around Misty with unbridled exuberance. I could see the color of the girl’s eyes, gray with flecks of green and gold, and the sapphire earrings peering through strands of glossy hair.

“He looks like a puppy,” I said.

“She. Ginger’s two.”

“That’s about Misty’s age. I think.”

I wasn’t sure. With the exception of Halley, all of my collies were rescues. A heartless human had abandoned Misty on my porch one snowy Christmas Eve. She was my youngest and zaniest, still more or less a puppy.

“Your collies are beautiful, too,” the girl said. “You have one of each color. How cool.”

Halley was black, tan and white, known in collie circles as tricolor. Sky was a blue merle with dark marling in her silvery fur, and Misty had a lustrous white coat.

“I have a sable at home and a bi-black,” I said. “All together, I call them my rainbow.”

“Nice. My name is Violet, by the way.”

I would have shaken her hand if my hand had been free. She still held the ball.

“I’m Jennet Ferguson. We’re neighbors—sort of. My husband and I live on Jonquil Lane.”

“We’re pretty isolated here,” she said. “This is our little house in the big woods.”

I smiled at the allusion to Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a high school English teacher and ardent reader, I recognized a kindred spirit.

“I’ve never come this way,” I said. “We walked down to the lake and I decided to take a different route. When I came to that fork in the road, I turned right.”

“Most people turn left. It’s more populated that way.”

“Where does this road lead?” I asked.

“To more woods, another lake, and an old cemetery.”

Ginger nudged Violet’s hand, and the ball fell to the ground. Instead of pouncing on it, she waited for Violet to toss it, which she did. High in the air, over the carpet of leaves into a stand of fir trees. Ginger dashed after it.

Tail wagging madly, Misty tried to free herself from her restraint. In her mind, Violet had thrown the ball for her. I held on to the leash tightly.

“It’s good to know about your collies,” Violet said. “I thought Ginger was the only one around here.”

She couldn’t have been more mistaken. It seemed that all of my friends had collies, perhaps influenced by my amazing pack. There were twelve within walking distance of my house, not counting the rescues fostered by Sue Appleton, President of the Lakeville Collie Rescue League.

“Maybe we can go walking together sometime,” Violet added. “We can keep each other company.”

“I’d like that,” I said.

“Ginger!” she called. “Come! Bring the ball.”

Apparently Ginger wasn’t ready to obey.

“We’ll be on our way then,” I said, “and Misty…” I laid a restraining hand on her head. “You have a ball of your own at home, baby.”

Ahead lay another stretch of woods and more water—and a cemetery. For some reason I was suddenly tired, and Misty seemed restless. She probably wanted to play a game of her own with her own ball.

Saying goodbye to Violet, I coaxed Halley and Sky to their feet and turned around. For me, the brief meeting had been a highlight of our walk, as I always loved to meet fellow collie fanciers, to say nothing of their dogs. But it was time to move on.

~*~

The dogs were drooping as we trudged up Jonquil Lane to the green Victorian style farmhouse we called home. It had grown warmer and the wind blew leaves in our faces. Misty amused herself trying to catch one.

The sight of my front porch filled with white wicker furniture and stained glass windows bracketed by twin gables always filled me with quiet happiness whether I’d been away for a day or an hour.

We owned ten acres, but only the section surrounding the house was planted. Long lean coneflowers losing their faded petals and clumps of black-eyed Susans, still bright and cheery.  Dark woods on the right gave way to the magnificent yellow Victorian across the lane.

Collie faces appeared in the window. Candy and Gemmy, today’s left behind ones, were barking behind the glass.

All familiar and so well loved.

Raven, the rare black and white collie who lived in a custom-built Victorian dog house, had chosen not to accompany us on our walk, but she bounded out to the lane to welcome us with a spate of high-pitched barking.

It’s time you were getting home, she might have said.

Time. I never had enough of it, even on a lazy Sunday afternoon. After dinner I had lesson plans to write, a short story to read, and papers to correct. Speaking of dinner… I peeled potatoes and carrots to accompany the roast and shoved the roaster in the oven.

In about two hours my husband, Crane, Foxglove Corners’ favorite deputy sheriff, would be home from his seemingly endless patrol of the roads and byroads. Which gave me a brief respite from household duties.

I called my collie family and passed out biscuits. Halley and Sky were recuperating from their excursion under the dining room table, but Misty and the wild child, Candy, were engaged in a pseudo vicious game of tug-of-war. Gemmy looked on with tolerant boredom. Raven, who had stayed outside, had scant interest in the house or treats, only dinner served to her on her own doorstep.

While the collies broke for refreshments, I drank a cup of tea and thought about the afternoon’s encounter.

Strange how Violet claimed never to have seen another collie in the neighborhood. Besides my six, there was Holly, another tricolor who belonged to Camille, my neighbor and aunt by marriage. On Squill Lane, Sue Appleton’s had three rescued River Rose collies and an ever-changing brood of fosters. Closer to Violet, on Sagramore Lake Road, young Jennifer Marlington had a new collie puppy also named Ginger.

Well, Violet would soon see collies galore. In the past Candy had proved too rambunctious for me to walk her alone, but there were Gemmy and Raven who often trotted along with us. Sometimes we took Holly along.

It would be fun to have an occasional walking companion.

~ * ~

“I made a new friend today,” I told Crane over dinner.

He looked up from the salad bowl, an amused glint in his frosty gray eyes. “Do we have a new neighbor?”

“Not quite. She lives near the lake in the prettiest pink Victorian house I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of a child’s playhouse. Well, a large one.”

“Where is this?” he asked.

“I forget the name of the road. You head south from Sagramore Lake, walk about a quarter of a mile, and come to a fork. I took the road less traveled by,” I added with a smile. “The right one.”

“I know the area,” he said, “but I don’t remember seeing a pink house there. Just woods.”

“You can’t know every house in Foxglove Corners,” I said.

“Maybe not. You said it looked like a playhouse. Most of the houses around here are large.”

I drizzled dressing over my salad, thinking. He was right. Whether they were vintage Victorians, built before or around the nineteen hundreds, or newly-constructed in Victorian style, ours was a town of mansions. Or at least two-story structures, which, when compared to my previous home, was a mansion.

In retrospect, my comparison might have been an exaggeration. The pink house communicated smallness, inspired fancies of strawberry cream cupcakes. Maybe it had once been an oversized playhouse, intended for a privileged child who lived in a mansion on the property.

One I hadn’t seen from my vantage point.

“Tell me about Violet,” Crane said. “Was she young, our age, old…?”

“It’s hard to tell. I’d say she was in her late teens.”

I tried to call Violet’s image to mind “She was very pretty with long chestnut hair. Let’s see. She was wearing blue pants and a white top and earrings. She didn’t mention her family, but then we only talked for a few minutes. She’s going to take Ginger walking with us sometime.”

“That’s good, “Crane said. “I’ll look for the house tomorrow.”

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

 
   
   
   
 

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