A high wind blew out of the east, drifting
dead leaves over the flowers on Jonquil Lane and chilling
the spring air.
I knotted the ends of my scarf under
my chin and tightened my grip on Halley's leash. Turning away
from the gusts, I took a few steps toward the west, where
Camille Forester's yellow Victorian glowed against a backdrop
of dark woods. This was my favorite walk and the best way
to unwind after a hectic day of teaching at Marston High School.
The collies had their own ideas. My
raven-black Halley balked and started to nibble at the blades
of grass growing around the mailbox, while my blue merle,
Winter, who was off his leash, dashed across the lane and
ran into the wind. With their long fur blowing back, my dogs
were so beautiful and exuberant that I longed to indulge them.
"All right, we'll go that way," I
said. "Winter! Heel!"
Winter turned his head to glance at
me as if to gauge my mood. I repeated the command in a sharper
tone and waited. Suddenly he froze, ears held high at attention,
tail motionless. In the next instant, he raced up the lane
and disappeared around a curve, a blur of silver and black.
No one was listening to me today.
Not my students, not my dog. I wanted to scream in frustration,
but first, I had to catch my runaway collie.
Halley, chafing at my side, yelped
impatiently and lunged forward, as far as her leash would
allow. I let her drag me into a run, while disjointed thoughts
whirled through my mind.
Winter always obeyed me...Sooner or
later...He despised his leash...I should never have let him
run loose, even though traffic on Jonquil Lane was light...And
he always came when I called him...Eventually.
I had to run faster, or I might lose
There was a car in the lane, moving
from the east with the wind. I heard the humming motor and
quickly led Halley to the side minutes before a bright blue
convertible rounded the curve. My mind registered a vintage
Cadillac and a man and woman, both of them dark-haired. The
driver was traveling too fast for this country road where
an animal might be running free.
But no squeal of brakes, no ominous
thump of a heavy body, had shattered the afternoon silence.
The woman in the passenger's seat
wore a scarf as yellow as the daffodils that grew wild along
the lane. Its edges floated around her head in the wind, and
she was laughing. She waved to me as the convertible sped
I watched as it passed Camille's house
and disappeared from view. The woman was familiar, but I couldn't
recall where I'd seen her. I would never have forgotten that
flashy blue car, though.
As the hum of the motor faded, a high,
thin cry pierced through the deep afternoon silence. Borne
on the wind, faint and faraway, it sounded desperate. An image
of Winter lying by the side of the lane flashed into my mind
and set my heart racing.
What if the speeding driver had struck
him and driven on, his passenger laughing in the blowing wind,
waving to me?
I ordered this morbid scenario to
dissolve. The sound hadn't come from a canine throat, but
something needed help, maybe another pet in distress or a
wounded wild creature. Winter had sensed that, and, true to
his breed, turned into a collie on a rescue mission.
Of course. Otherwise, he would have
responded to my command.
I tried to run faster, to keep up
with Halley. By the time I caught sight of Winter, I was gasping
for breath. We had covered a mile, but our mad dash was over.
Ahead on a slight incline rose a sparkling
cream house built in Tudor style, with clean, classic lines,
a rolling expanse of lawn, and a pond. Winter was dragging
something that looked like a large stuffed toy from the edge
of the water onto the grass. His thick coat was sopping wet
and streaked with mud.
As I drew near, I saw that the toy
was a little girl in a pink dress. Her short yellow hair lay
against her head like seaweed, and her small body was drenched.
She was as limp as a doll that has been immersed in a tub
The child wasn't making a sound. Dear
God, she couldn't be dead.
Winter released his hold on the little
girl's sleeve, shook himself, and lay down beside her, panting
heavily, his dark eyes fixed on me. He had done his part.
The rest was in my hands.
You can do this, Jennet, I told myself,
as I dragged bits and pieces of my CPR and First Aid knowledge
out of the air. See if she's conscious, if she's breathing.
She needs to be warmed. Find a blanket and something hot for
her to drink. Call 911. Move!
I let Halley's leash fall to the ground
and told her to Stay in my sternest voice. Kneeling on the
grass, I touched the child's cheek. It was cold, but she was
alive, definitely breathing. "Honey, are you all right?" I
"No." She started to whimper. "I got
Impatiently I pushed the scarf off
my hair and let it rest against my shoulders. I felt as if
the ties were choking me. Halley began a high pitched yipping.
Not to be outdone, Winter joined in the clamor, while I tried
Except for the occupants of the convertible
who were long gone, Jonquil Lane was deserted. I glanced up
at the house. Built last fall, it had been vacant until recently.
I didn't know the owners. The little girl must live here,
though, and someone had to be home because the door was half-opened.
But no one had come rushing out to
investigate a disturbance in the front yard. A rush of anger
spiraled through me. Who would leave a small child unattended
with a pond in the front yard? Near a country lane where a
car might speed by and run her over?
"Can you tell me your name?" I asked.
"Cinny. She grabbed for Winter's fur,
an indignity he permitted. He licked her face.
"Here, Cinny, come to me."
I took off my cardigan, wrapped it
snugly around her shivering body, and gathered her in my arms.
Calling for help and finding the child's
mother were the next crucial steps.
Telling Halley and Winter to Stay,
I carried her to the porch, pounded on the door, and waited,
all the while trying to formulate an alternate plan. If no
one was home, I was wasting valuable time. I might have to
backtrack with the child in my arms and call for help from
my own house. Or, better still, let myself into the Tudor
and look for a telephone.
I pressed the doorbell, hoping the
sound of its ringing would carry farther than my knocking.
A series of musical chimes floated
out through the opening, but no one appeared. With visions
of another looming tragedy playing through my mind, perhaps
an adult lying unconscious inside, I rang the bell again.
At last footsteps echoed on a hardwood
floor. A young woman in a low-cut black sweater opened the
door all the way. For a moment she stared. Her color seemed
to fade to a shade lighter than her platinum blonde hair.
"Oh, my God, Cindy!"
She made no move to take the child
from my arms but stood like a statue, disbelief and horror
etched on her face.
Uninvited, I stepped over the threshold.
"There's been an accident at the pond. Is this your little
"No . . ." Slowly the statue came
to life. "Here, let me have her. What happened?"
I relinquished the small bundle and
glanced behind me to see if Halley and Winter had obeyed my
Stay order. They lay close together on the grass, observing
the proceedings with grave expressions.
"One of my dogs pulled her out of
the pond," I said. "You'd better call her parents and 911.
She seems to be all right, but you'll want to make sure."
"Poor baby." The woman pushed back
a strand of Cindy's wet hair and let her hand rest on the
child's forehead. The long, tapered nails on her right hand
were covered with black polish. Those on her left hand were
She carried Cindy over to a sofa upholstered
in rich green velvet and deposited her on the cushions.
"There's no need to get EMS involved,"
she said. "I'll just dry her off and change her clothes. She'll
be fine. I know. I have nurse's training."
Ignoring this outrageous speech, I
said, "Who knows how long she was in the water?"
While I waited for the woman to answer,
I studied my surroundings. The furniture in the living room
was dark and heavy. Everything looked new and expensive, except
for the ragged toy dog lying on its side in the middle of
the floor. It was a brown and white spaniel, the kind that
walks and barks with the help of a battery. I'd bought one
for Halley when she was a puppy, but she'd been afraid of
I suspected that the woman wasn't
going to reply. Toward the back of the house, a television
piped laughter, clapping, and loud, annoying music through
the rooms. Otherwise, the house was as quiet as the lane.
I tried again. "Is Cindy's mother
"The mother's passed on. I'm the housekeeper,
Addie brought a throw down from the
closet shelf and covered the child. "I can't imagine how Cindy
got herself out through the door and all the way to the pond,"
"You have to watch children every
minute, I guess."
"You'll be okay, my darling." Addie
reached across a side table for a stuffed doll and plopped
it down at Cindy's side. "Here's Raggedy Ann."
I didn't have any children, but if
Cindy were my daughter, I would never be so careless with
"Those ponds are beautiful but they're
dangerous for children," I said. "Cindy might have drowned
if my dog hadn't pulled her out."
"Not in that little bit of water."
"A child can drown in a bathtub."
This rescue had taken a strange turn.
In a dark corner of the room, a Grandfather's clock ticked
away the minutes. Cindy was still in her wet clothes, while
Addie and I exchanged obvious observations. "I think you should
have someone look at her," I said.
I was being pushy, but Addie Everett's
cavalier attitude grated on my nerves, and my concern for
the child's welfare tugged at me. Thank heavens Winter had
heard Cindy's cry. Fortunately, he had super keen hearing
and the heart and stamina of a rescue dog.
"Like I told you, I went to nursing
school," Addie said. "If I think Cindy needs medical attention,
I'll take care of it."
Cindy's sobs had diminished. She'd
thrown her arm around her rag doll and buried her face in
the throw. Against the blue and green plaid, her hair shone
like golden silk.
I said, "If you're a nurse, I suppose
it's all right, but I still think..."
"There's no need to worry Mr. Ross
about this." Addie's brisk dismissive tone was like a slap
in the face. "The poor man has enough on his mind, what with
working and trying to keep his household afloat."
I stared at her, hearing the second
message embedded in her words, the real one. Addie Everett
didn't want anyone to know what had almost happened, least
of all Cindy's father. If he learned the truth, he would be
upset, and she might lose her position. That was why she didn't
want to call 911. I didn't believe for a second that she was
going to tell Mr. Ross about the accident.
"So everything's under control," she
I planned to introduce myself to Mr.
Ross soon, maybe tonight, and give him a full account of Cindy's
brush with tragedy. I tried never to meddle in other people's
affairs, but in this instance, not to act would be criminal.
The world was filled with hazards waiting to lure an unattended
child to her death, and Cindy couldn't take care of herself.
Addie swept the throw off Cindy and
tossed it onto a stool. She handed the dripping cardigan to
me. "If you'll leave now, I want to take Cindy upstairs and
get her out of these wet clothes."
I had no intention of lingering. My
role in this harrowing incident was finished.
"Goodbye, honey. I'll see you again."
With a light farewell pat on Cindy's arm, I walked to the
porch. Addie Everett followed close behind. Without a word
of thanks or farewell, she pushed the door shut.
My dogs lay together at the foot of
the stairs, panting and watching the antics of a flying leaf.
I picked up Halley's leash and called to Winter. When they
were both at my side, prancing around at my feet and wagging
their tails, I gave them each an enthusiastic round of praise
"You are such a brave dog, Winter,"
I said. "The smartest, finest collie in the world. You too,
Halley. My good dogs."
We were only at the beginning of our
walk, but it felt as if hours had elapsed since I'd left my
house. The mile's run to the pond would suffice for today's
exercise. I craved a cup of tea and a short recovery time
from the tension. For today, we'd head just back home, moving
at a brisk pace. My sweater was wet, and the nip in the air
reminded me that spring was only a few days old.
This was a season of warmth and beginnings,
and disaster had passed by. Still, in the deepening darkness,
I shivered and walked a little faster. The temperature was
* * * *
In the fading daylight, I drove back
up the lane to the Ross house. A lamp burned in a window on
the first story. Hoping that Cindy's father was home and the
housekeeper gone, I pressed the doorbell and listened to the
first chime notes.
The man who flung open the door held
a cup of coffee in one hand. He hastened to hide his impatient
frown with a welcome smile. The sleeves of his blue-striped
dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and his thick blond
hair was mussed. I'd interrupted him at work. Apparently he
was going to pretend that he didn't mind.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I'm Jennet Greenway from the Victorian
farmhouse down the lane," I said. "You must be Mr. Ross."
That was enough formality. "I stopped by to find out how your
daughter is doing."
"I'm Will. Nice to meet you, Jennet.
Come in." The frown returned, and his dark eyes narrowed.
"Cindy is fine. How do you know my little girl?"
Obviously Addie Everett hadn't told
him about the pond incident. Nor had she called EMS. I never
thought she would. As I enlightened Will, his eyes flashed
in anger. He banged his coffee cup down on the side table.
"Addie knew she wasn't supposed to
let Cindy out of her sight. Jennet, would you wait here? Make
He ran up the stairs, disappearing
into the darkness. A moment later, soft light flooded the
second story. I sat down in a Queen Anne chair and once again
surveyed Will's living room. In spite of the fire in the wood
stove, it had all the warmth of a museum or department store
window display. Not even the scent of fresh coffee that lingered
in the air or the scattering of papers on the coffee table
could make the room inviting.
The Grandfather's clock and the toy
dog in the middle of the floor provided the only cozy touches.
I sat back, resting my hands on the arms of the chair and
listened to the ticking. Overhead, footsteps sounded on a
hardwood floor, and a child wailed.
In exactly ten minutes, Will bounded
down the stairs with Cindy in his arms. He had wrapped her
in a soft yellow blanket and held her as if she were the most
precious thing in his world, which, of course she must be.
Here, finally, was the reaction I'd been looking for.
"I think she's okay, but I'm taking
her to Emergency. Just in case." With a quick glance around
the room, he added, "Thanks, Jennet. Switch on the porch light,
and lock the door behind us, will you?"
Ah, that was my role. Well, I was
happy to fill it.
"My wife wanted that pond," he said,
as he crossed the lawn to the black Saturn parked in the driveway.
Will backed out to the lane at a high
speed and headed east. As I walked to my car, I paused to
look at the pond. By the light of the porch lamp, the water
shimmered. It was beautiful and deadly, like the platinum-haired
woman with the black fingernails who had let her little charge
wander into danger.
Almost certainly, Will's next act
would be to hire a new housekeeper. A child could never be
replaced, and Winter wouldn't always be nearby to rush to
I couldn't wait to leave this place
and sit in front of my own fire with another cup of tea. Still,
I knew I'd return soon, walking my dogs this way and stopping
at the Tudor to make certain that Cindy Ross was all right.
Shortcut earned four stars in the Romantic Times Book Club!
Ms. Bodoin's writing is clever and intriguing. This is a book
that you can't put down--I'll admit freely that I read it
all in one sitting! The characters (Jennet, Winter, Halley,
Crane, Lucie, etc.) are as engrossing and witty as ever. Every
word of A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE SHADOWS is a joy to read." ~ Beverly Forehand, Rountable