From a tulip poplar at the northeast corner to the steel stake at the southwest, all hundred and thirty acres of Meadowgate Farm lay under a powdery blanket of March snow.
Cynthia Kavanagh stood in the warmth of the farmhouse kitchen in a chenille robe, and gazed out on the hushed landscape.
"It makes everything innocent again," she said. "A winter Eden."
At the pine table, Father Timothy Kavanagh leafed through his quote journal until he found the record he'd jotted down. "Unbelievable! We've had snow one, two, three, four . . . this is the fifth time since Christmas Eve."
"Snow, snow, and more snow!"
"Not to mention dogs, dogs, and more dogs! It looks like somebody backed up to the door and dumped a truckload of canines in here."
Following his customary daylight romp, Barnabas, a Bouvier-wolfhound mix and his boon companion of ten years, was drowned in slumber on the hearth rug; Buckwheat, an English foxhound grown long in the tooth, had draped herself over the arm of the sofa; the Welsh corgi, aptly named Bodacious, snored in a wing chair she had long ago claimed as her own; and Luther, a recent, mixed-breed addition to the Meadowgate pack, had slung himself onto his bed in the corner, belly up. There was a collective odor of steam rising from sodden dog hair.
"Ugh!" said his wife, who was accustomed to steam rising off only one wet dog.
Father Tim looked up from the journal in which he was transcribing notes collected hither and yon. "So what are you doing today, Kavanagh?"
Cynthia mashed the plunger of the French coffee press. "I'm doing the sketch of Violet looking out the kitchen window to the barn, and I'm calling Puny to find out about the twins-they're days late, you know."
"Good idea. Expected around March fourth or fifth, and here it is the fourteenth. They'll be ready for kindergarten."
"And you must run to Mitford with the shopping list for Dooley's homecoming dinner tomorrow."
"Consider it done."
His heart beat faster at the thought of having their boy home for spring break, but the further thought of having nothing more to accomplish than a run to The Local was definitely discouraging. Heaven knows, there was hardly anything to do on the farm but rest, read, and walk four dogs; he'd scarcely struck a lick at a snake since arriving in mid-January. Willie Mullis, a full-timer who'd replaced the part-time Bo Davis, lived on the place and did all the odd jobs, feeding up and looking after livestock; Joyce Havner did the laundry and cleaning, as she'd done at Meadowgate for years; Blake Eddistoe ran the vet clinic, only a few yards from the farmhouse door, with consummate efficiency; there was even someone to bush hog and cut hay when the season rolled around.In truth, it seemed his main occupation since coming to farm-sit for the Owens was waiting to hear from his bishop, Stuart Cullen, who had e-mailed him before Christmas.
-I will almost certainly have something for you early next year. As you might expect, it isn't anything fancy, and God knows, it will be a challenge. Yet I admit I'm patently envious.
-Can't say more at this time, but will be in touch after the holy days, and we shall see what's what (I do recall, by the way, that you're spending next year at the Owens' farm, and this would not be a conflict).
He had scratched his head throughout the month of January, trying to reckon what the challenge might be. In February, he'd called Stuart, attempting to gouge it out of him, but Stuart had asked for another couple of weeks to get the plan together before he spilled the beans.
Now, here they were in the middle of March, and not a word.
"Wondering when Stuart will get off the pot."
"He's retiring in June and consecrating the cathedral--altogether, a great deal to say grace over. You'll hear soon, dearest."