The illusion of weightlessness followed the sharp crack of wood failing, experienced for a split-second before gravity acquainted the failed branch climber with the stream below. The sleeping Newfoundland Landseer, parked streamside of the craggy old maple tree trunk, startled alert at the crack retort, springing up to protect her inseparable companion, earning a face full of water displaced spray.
Spring runoff sluiced into the stream and bloated the twelve-foot wide channel until it lapped at ground rimming its steep banks, eroding the sides and scouring out the streambed until it tripled its usual depth and doubled its girth. Threatening overspill along a meandering course that bifurcated the semi-groomed landscape of farm past, it flowed with renewed determination toward the larger river two miles distant.
Broken limb splashed down a nanosecond before the arboreal one, an unfortunate consequence of the law of physics. Head struck limb and dazed, leaving the victim at the mercy of the constant current and water unwarmed by the cooler temperatures and rainy weather persistent until today.
The natural rescue inclination of Townsend sent her into the water on a leap, the big dog displaying surprising agility and quickness. Peerless in water, Townsend reached her companion before she resurfaced. In rescue mode, the dog found clothing, latched on, and pulled toward shore as the child worked back to consciousness. Sliding a hand into the dog’s collar, she made use of dog power. Townsend pulled, while the child used her three free limbs in a hurried scramble, clawing at waterlogged and slippery ground toward safety.
Dates of tree mishaps marked Jocelyn Evers medical history like whole notes drawn on a music staff, leaving a trail of two broken arms, a broken leg, a fractured ankle, and an innumerable compilation of contusions and intrusions requiring medical intervention, setting, and occasional extraction.
Despite the plentiful record of trauma, Ellen Evers refused to ban or constrain her timber perching child. Jocie loved the perspective of height afforded by a tree; she would spend hours happily parked aloft, eating, reading, watching. If allowed nighttime access, the child would string a hammock across a tree and spend the overnight mingling with owls.
Their estate stretched across one hundred forty two acres of mixed field and forest, the centrepiece fourteen-room mansion smallish for such property by modern standards. Built during the textile days over a century past, when nearby Derryfield boomed from manufacture of exported products by the largest mill complex in the world, it no longer served as a destination residence for the well connected. A hundred years of separation stood between then and now, leaving the Evers family without the mills but with the farm property fifteen miles outside the city, and a faithful stream of quarterly dividends from old money investments, enough to provide a financially independent life for Ellen and Jocelyn.
The property went unused as a working farm, leaving the land uncultivated and its big barn for storage and garaging in winter weather. Jocelyn teased for a horse as her two older children had two decades earlier, but a horse was out of the question. Still, the home felt empty, what with Caldwell, age 24, and Missy, age 22, now living elsewhere chasing their rainbows, and their interests and accomplishments made Ellen proud. Ellen encouraged her children to nurture their dreams, and dream seeking involved risk, lots of trying, and an occasional fail, and so she encouraged Jocelyn, leaving her to adventure in the trees.
Jocelyn trudged homeward with Townsend, sneakers squeaking and squirting water over the first twenty metres. Her tawny mid-length hair began to curl as the wind drove away moisture, although the warm day kept the waterlogged clothing from imposing a chill. The prospect of dry encouraged Jocie forward, but she dreaded the inevitable comb out pulling through an endless collection of mother annoying snags and snarls.
Walking parallel to Carson Brook on one of its jogs toward home, Townsend stayed by her side, the two advancing with deliberateness. Jocelyn pondered her climb and its main error, placing full trust in too thin a branch too far out. She lamented loss of the hand-painted measuring dowel she hoped to use to get an official fathoming on water depth and with it potential bragging rights on Jocelyn’s next call to Caldwell and Missy, both not strangers to the brook.
Her thoughts broke as Townsend sprinted ahead, drawn to something undistinguishable but flickering perhaps a football field distant. “Townsend, come on, I need to get home and change!” Jocelyn stopped and waited on her friend, who always obeyed commands, until now.
One twenty hundred metres ahead, the bundle of black and white fur moved in a tight circle, focused on centre, barking. Jocelyn could see something, but not clear enough to discern its nature. “Townsend, come on!”
Tired of waiting, Jocie decided to walk on toward home, figuring the Newfie would chase after her once she exhibited disinterest in her find. Instead, Townsend changed her bark, one Jocelyn knew as a page. Trusting her dog as much as Townsend trusted her, with a tepid grumble, Jocelyn veered off toward her fixated, attention-seeking pooch.
The bark thrummed out a steady rhythm, a consistent call witnessed only once before, when Townsend cornered a well-armed skunk, the memory of tomato juice and one hundred fifty pounds of putrid dog stopping Jocelyn in place. She had no desire to add skunked to her day’s misadventure. “Townsend, come. Now!”
This time the Newfie responded, trotting with deliberateness toward Jocelyn, carrying what looked to be a stick in her maw. Jocie focused beyond her dog, back to where the dog raised a fuss. Something moved, rising to human height.
Townsend closed the distance with sample evidence of her worry, watching Jocelyn with intent. The young child’s eyes looked beyond Townsend and identified, recognition stretching her mouth to its opening limit and matching expanding eyes, hands rising while legs buckled at the knees. The young woman shut down before the scream forming in her throat found its depowered and withering escape.
Shocked by the faint, Townsend hurried to Jocelyn, discarding the carry to nudge at Jocie, upset her side exploration produced this unfortunate result. Dog lay beside fallen friend, bulk of her body between child and the now approaching curious shaped vapour, one the Newfoundland’s keen senses identified as something more than windblown evaporating moisture. Townsend sensed the worry, the wish to help, the pain of years, the calluses of overwork bestrewn across her ethereal hands, easing her away from defence and aggression.
Vapour transformed as if an alchemist’s dream, vapour to liquid to solid, accomplished in less than the blink of an eye. The hem of a steel blue shirtwaist dress reached to front laced, low-heeled boots, well worn. Coffee hair pinned up kept it free of the influence of wind. Fawn colouring left behind the expectation of alabaster. Comfortable with this curious mysterian, Townsend lay still, allowing access to the benumbed child. A touch to Jocie’s centre forehead stirred her to full awake, and to the surprise of Townsend, the child panicked not.
“You must be Grandmamma Evers,” the child guessed, referring not to her own two grandmothers, but one to her Grandmother Donna.
The thirty-something woman smiled over what she perceived as a compliment. “Heaven’s no. I worked for her in the mills from when I was your age. At age twenty, she brought me out to the farm to work for her. She loved my cooking. Whenever she came in the mill, your Grandmamma Evers knew I brought something good in to eat for lunch, and she just had to try a sample. She finally convinced the Major – Grandpapa Evers – to hire me out here.”
“If you aren’t Grandmamma Evers, what is your name?”
“Hattie Marie Bonnay. You may call me Hattie. Now child, you’ve had a start, after a serious fall. Let’s get you back home.”
When she first confronted Hattie in the field, Townsend’s snout went right on through, untouched. Now, the shirtwaist brushed against her fur as the woman rose, helping the child to stand.
“Nice dog you have, a real beauty,” Hattie remarked. “I saw her chase into the water when the limb broke. She’s a true friend to you, and trust you take splendid care of her.”
“I do. She sleeps on my bed every night.”
“Oh heavens, Grandmamma Evers would disapprove, yes she would. I on the other hand think it’s great!”
“What was she like, Grandmamma?”
“Like many of her station then, she could be generous and she could be demanding. I will leave it to the past, child. May I call you Jocelyn?”
“All right, Jocie. I’ve watched you as I watched your brother and sister, the three of you all full of vim and vigour. You’re a special one, and you need to take special care. That’s why I’m here.”
The remark confused Jocie. “Special care? Why are you here, I don’t understand. There are billions of people to help. Why me?”
Hattie smiled, an infectious action ending further probing by Jocie. She need not explain, but she pushed toward the line of acceptability, adding, “Because of what you just said, because of what you will do.
“Now come on, let’s get you to the house, and comb out your tangles.”