It was a mewling sound, so faint and fragile in the quiet of the snowing evening that at first I thought I’d imagined it.
Candy, my ever-vigilant tricolor collie, had no such fancy. She brushed past me and began to scratch imperviously at the front door. Like every dog I’d ever owned, she was accomplished at communicating without words:
Something is out there. Something wants to come in.
“Not so fast,” I said.
Living in the country on an isolated lane in Foxglove Corners, I was wary about opening a door after dark without knowing who or what was on the other side, especially when my husband, Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson, was away from home.
I peered through the bay window. There was little to see. A light Christmas Eve snow was falling. It made me think of powdered sugar drifting down from the Snow Queen’s magical sifter as she passed over the land.
Quickly I switched on the porch lamp. There was nothing out there, only a vista of fresh snow and the yellow Victorian house across the lane, every window aglow with candlelight.
Candy whimpered, turning it into a drawn-out howl. Beyond the door I heard the mewling sound again. Something was outside. It sounded young and almost desperate, like a lost soul seeking shelter. I might as well investigate.
“Candy, back,” I said. “All of you, stay!”
The other four collies had gathered behind Candy who raked her claws impatiently across the door’s mahogany finish. I opened it, and Candy leaped out onto the porch ahead of me, sliding on the slippery wood surface. With wagging tail, she launched herself at a small creature that huddled on the doormat.
It was a dog. Rather, it was a collie puppy about three months old with a white coat and tricolor markings on her head.
Candy nudged her. The puppy cried, and I sprang into action, scooping her up and stepping back inside the house. She licked my hand and settled contentedly in my arms while Candy danced joyously around us.
I brushed a dab of snow off the puppy’s soft head. “Look at you. Where did you come from, little collie?”
She was wet and cold and looked utterly exhausted as if she had trudged over miles of newly fallen snow on wobbly legs.
How unusual and wonderful to find a white collie on my porch on Christmas Eve. Maybe, I thought, the Snow Queen had left her behind with the whirling snowflakes.
Most likely the answer was simpler. I was a member of the Lakeville Collie Rescue League. Last week the Banner had printed a front page story about our organization, complete with names and pictures. Somebody must have thought the green Victorian farmhouse on Jonquil Lane was the perfect place to leave an unwanted pet. Which it was.
I never cared for logical explanations when a fanciful one would serve.
It was Christmas Eve, after all. Maybe magic had happened here tonight.
The house was clean and ready for company. It sparkled with festive decorations, and the sole illumination came from the multi-colored lights on the balsam fir tree. The dining room table was already set for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. Crane and I would eat in the kitchen tonight. And afterward…
I sighed, remembering all that I wanted to accomplish this evening. There is rarely a convenient time to rescue a collie. One simply does what needs to be done when a collie in distress appears on the doorstep, even if she makes her appearance on the night before a holiday.
The puppy began to squirm. I set her down on the rug in front of the fireplace and stepped back to look at her, while my collies stood in a semi-circle waiting for further developments. They were quiet except for the occasional tinkling of their jingle bell collar when they moved their heads. Still she eyed them warily. They were all so much larger than she was.
The newcomer in our midst was all cotton fluff and sweetness with tulip ears and impish dark eyes. A typical irresistible collie puppy, a not-often-seen white. I’d been correct about her age. She couldn’t be more than three months old, and she wasn’t wearing a collar, which didn’t necessarily tell me anything except that she must be one of the world’s lamentable throwaway pets. Only who, I wondered, could discard this little beauty?
She rose and took a few tentative steps toward me, favoring her right front leg. I frowned. This wasn’t good.
“Come, baby,” I said, and she came to me. She was definitely limping.
That could tell me something. What?
But I was woolgathering. I set about making her feel at home, fussing over her, telling her how pretty she was. I brought her a small bowl of water, and she lapped it noisily. Now what could I feed her? While I didn’t have any puppy kibble in the house, I could crush the older dogs’ food in a cupful of the vegetable soup I’d made for our dinner. She’d like that.
Unfortunately I’d donated the small crate to the League, but Crane saved large cardboard boxes for some unfathomable purpose. I could fill one of them with soft towels and tomorrow—no, the day after Christmas—I’d take her to Doctor Alice Foster at the Foxglove Corners Animal Hospital. Alice would examine her and perhaps find the cause of the limp.
Plans went spinning around in my head as I stroked the puppy’s soft fur, and my collies watched me, for once not competing for my attention. My two tricolors, Candy and Halley, Gemmy, the sable, and Sky… I didn’t see Sky, but the shy blue merle who had been abused, often hid herself under a table or behind a chair when an element in her environment changed.
Not tonight though. Before long she trotted up to the puppy with one of her own toys in her mouth, a well-chewed gray goat, and dropped it at the side of the infant.
I felt like crying; in a moment, I probably would. It was Christmas Eve, and even the most vulnerable of my dogs understood the spirit of giving.
Announced by Candy who welcomed him with wild, enthusiastic barking, Crane came home later than usual. He brought with him an impressive dusting of snow and an abundance of Christmas cheer.
As always, I’d made sure that our house was a quiet haven for a man who’d been patrolling the roads and byroads of Foxglove Corners, a place warmed by fireplace flames and lit by candles and, because it was Christmas Eve, tree lights. No electricity until later. No serious or distressing conversation until after a hot and hearty dinner.
In my mind the new puppy had gone from distressful to happy.
“Merry Christmas Eve, honey,” he said with a holiday twinkle in his frosty gray eyes. He shed his snowy jacket and pulled me close for a kiss. His badge pressed against my chest as he transferred some of the snow to my red sweater. I noticed a small green package in his hand, but neither one of us commented on it.
“Mmm. You smell like pine needles,” I whispered.
“I’ve been tramping through the woods.”
“Was there trouble?”
“Just a routine complication.”
From the living room the puppy yelped her curiosity at this unseen intrusion.
“What’s that?” Crane asked.
“Our new collie,” I said. “Come see her. She’s very young. A puppy.”
Used to my bringing home collie strays, Crane remained unfazed by the news. He followed me into the living room, set the present surreptitiously under the tree, and gazed down on the puppy who had climbed out of the box and was wagging her tail. It was the first time she’d done that since I’d brought her inside. Her pudgy white paw rested possessively on Sky’s gray goat.
“She looks like a snowball,” he said as he locked his gun in its cabinet. “Do you realize that now we have a collie in every color?”
“So we do.”
Sable, tricolor, blue merle, and our bi-black Raven who lived outside in all weather, preferring the custom dog house Crane had built for her to the comfort of our home.
“She was limping a while ago… Oh, she still is,” I said as the puppy made her unsteady way to the tip of Crane’s boot.
“Did Brent Fowler bring her?” he asked.
Brent was our good friend and one of tomorrow’s guests. A blustery charmer with dark red hair the shade of a maple leaf in autumn, he lived for his horses and dogs, his girlfriends who were legion, and my baking.
“I doubt it,” I said. “Why would you think that?”
“I passed his sleigh on the way home,” Crane said. “He was all dressed up in his Santa suit with a load of presents. I’ll bet he fooled a few people. Not that there are many riding around tonight.”
“Ah, yes. Brent also lived to play Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, delivering toys to needy children in Foxglove Corners.
“He wouldn’t give me a lame puppy who was thirsty and hungry,” I said. “But someone did. Darn!” I glanced at the bay window, although it would be impossible to see anything but snow. “I forgot to look for footprints. Now it’s too late.”
“It wouldn’t make any difference. Are you going to name her Snowball? Snowgirl?”
“No, Misty, I think.”
Because like Sky she had come to me in a mysterious way. Because like my gentle blue merle, she was more than a little mystical.
“But we’re not going to keep her,” I said. “She’s a rescue. We’ll foster her until we find her a new home.”
He gave me a knowing smile. Rescue collies had a way of joining our household. Halley, my tricolor, was the only dog I’d bought.
“We’re having a simple dinner,” I said. “Soup and hot roast beef sandwiches and mashed potatoes.” With a start, I remembered the gravy I’d left unattended on the stove.
Crane freed his boot from Misty’s puppy teeth and, accompanied by Candy, went upstairs to shower and change, and I set Misty back in her box. I wished I hadn’t been so quick to give the puppy crate away. Our new addition would never stay in a box that still smelled faintly of grapefruit.
But I was wrong. The next time I looked, after making our sandwiches, she was fast asleep with her head on the goat. Sky lay alongside the box, serene and alert, her gaze fixed on the sleeping baby.
Of scenes like this are Christmas cards made.
I woke in the early hours of a frosty Christmas morning and tiptoed quietly to the window. The sun was shining on the snow. It was a glistening, white Christmas day, like the one wished for in the old song.
Crane lay still, breathing softly, his arm flung over the comforter.
Let him sleep in for once, I thought.
I had a turkey to prepare for roasting, giblets to boil, stuffing to make, and a new puppy in the house to take care of. Odd that she hadn’t whined once during the night.
Halley and Candy were sleeping in the hall. Halley opened her eyes and wagged her tail. Candy, instantly awake, followed me downstairs, treading on the hem of my long flannel nightgown.
The stairs seemed to go on forever. They wavered and blurred. Instinctively I reached for the railing. It wasn’t there.
Suddenly I was in the living room where the tree lights were still burning and the fireplace flames crackled.
The box by the fireplace was empty. Misty was gone, and I didn’t see Sky. The toy goat lay in a spreading puppy-sized pool of snowmelt.
What kind of creature had I brought into our house?