Snow Baby

 








 

 


Snow Baby          

                                                        

It was Christmas Eve and the snow had been falling since early morning. Sitting round a log fire, it was comfortably reassuring to hear the flakes falling softly in the garden. The lights on the back porch shone softly on a lunar scene of white drifts banked against the dark hedges.  Every so often a soft cascade of snow fell from the heavily laden branches of a clump of birches. ‘Pity we have to go out to the field in a few minutes,’ my father only said aloud what we had all been thinking. ‘Better to get it finished before the weather gets any worse.’ With this, he walked off to find his boots and ancient rain coat.

 I knew there was no way of evading the summons, however inviting the armchair by the lowing fire and the occasional spray of sparks shooting up the chimney. We stood in the kitchen for a moment, surveying the wintry garden. Its picturesque charm had faded just a little, with the prospect of trudging through the drifts with cold, wet feet and frozen fingers. It had certainly not deterred the dogs who were barking in excitement and scratching impatiently at the door. ‘Let them come. They love the snow for some mysterious, canine reason.’ ‘Fine but take Twee to your mother. We don’t want to dig the dog out of a snow drift. ’‘I picked up an angry, struggling ball of black fur. She might be small but this pug resented being excluded from even the toughest of challenges!

We must have looked a strange cavalcade to any observer as we walked down the garden,

carrying our hurricane lamps which shone a couple of feet ahead, lighting rows of snow-

covered winter cabbages.

 

Dad, his coat tied up with orange twine, his Russian-style fur hat pulled down over his ears

 was admittedly part of the local landscape. I was wrapped up like one of those disastrous

parcels that break open en route and are patched up by the Post Office. Ahead of us ran an

odd pack of dogs: four very excited Basset Hounds and one black blob of a French Bull

Dog who rejoiced in the name Boo Boos, being the only sounds my sister could pronounce at the time.

We paused at the stable block at the bottom of the garden. The hayrick loomed ahead in the darkness looking like a lopsided cottage in mourning. The weight of the snow had shifted the black tarpaulin. My first task was to climb the ladder to the top and with Dad pulling at the side, move it back into place, otherwise the hay would be ruined. We then pulled out five bales for that night’s feed. From my viewpoint on the top of the stack, I could see the fifty-acre field spread out beneath. There is something wonderful about looking at an expanse of virgin snow with only a few marks breaking its white perfection. The snow had stopped and the scene was washed in a pale, silver moonlight.

‘Hey! Are you ok up there or away with the fairies?’

‘Both,’ I whispered, as I climbed down the ladder.

 

                                                          °          °          °

By the time we had struggled out into the field with the bales of hay, shadowy horses had

appeared out of the night. In the front, as usual, was Corky, an iron grey with a will of iron

which matched his coat. As Dad said he was useful in the field as a sort of equine policeman. If trespassers appeared, he would put his head down, bare his teeth and chase them. We had had to be wary of such ‘invasions’ after three branches of yew had been left in the field and two ponies had been fatally poisoned.  

Gradually the ‘herd’ emerged from the darkness. Their manes were hung with tiny icicles

which sparkled like diamond necklaces in the moonlight. They appeared to be walking on

stilts. The powdery snow had filled their hooves and impacted, forming ice. Every so often

 the ice broke beneath one foot and then they looked lop-sided.

We laid out the piles of hay in several large circles so there was no kicking or squabbling.

The Bassets were enjoying themselves. Their long bodies and short, stumpy legs meant they

had to jump through the snow, looking like animated croquet hoops in a bizarre version of

‘Alice in Snow Land’.  Boo Boos was shadowing Dad, as always.

‘I’ve counted them twice and I ‘ve still only got to thirteen.’

‘It’s hard in the snow, especially with the light greys. I’ll have a go.’ I tried three times and also counted to thirteen.

‘The point is, who’s missing. Those two chestnuts only arrived a couple of weeks ago but

they’re here all right.’

‘You know, I can’t see Muffin, the little bay mare belonging to the kids down the road.’ My

voice showed my growing anxiety.

‘We’ll have to start searching. My guess is she’s up in those woods.’ He pointed to the fringe

of woodland bordering the far side of the field.

We put out another three bales to keep the thirteen ponies happy and to deter them from

trailing after us. Then we began trudging towards the distant woods with the ‘croquet

hoops’ leaping ahead. It was a magical scene. The moonlight had changed the field into

a carpet of silver, a shimmering mirage disappearing into the dark trees along the horizon.

A bomb had been dropped in the War by German aircraft returning from raids on London to

the North. It had luckily, missed the village and landed harmlessly in our field, leaving a deep

crater, long grassed over. The problem was it ruined the natural sight lines. Once you were

 at the bottom of the crater, you felt imprisoned in a pit. The snow had collected in the

bottom and was very deep. The dogs at least had the sense to take the longer route round

the dip.

‘Thank God Muffin wasn’t stupid enough to get stuck in the drifts down here.’

 

I was too breathless to answer. At last, we emerged from the crater, like two amateur Arctic

explorers who’d forgotten their ice picks.

In front was the edge of the wood. I’d lost my hurricane lamp in the snowy climb. At least

the moonlight was bright in the white expanse all around.

‘Let’s listen for a minute. It’s so quiet we might hear her moving.’

I was only too glad to have a moment to catch my breath.

It wasn’t a pony which broke the deep silence but the barking of a dog.

‘That’s Boo Boos, not the Bassets.’ I was certain.

’Yes, you’re right. Let’s try and get our bearings.’

Again, a rather high, yappy bark was coming from the woods behind the local primary

school.

‘Come on let’s look in the school woods.’ Dad ploughed ahead with the light shining on the

trunks of the trees. The snow here was pitted with tiny holes where snow had dripped from

the trees. We could hear Boo Boos barking. The noise seemed to be coming from the right as

we listened to the steady sound of water dropping from snowy branches.

The Bassets too were sniffing and wandering off in the same direction.

Suddenly the hurricane lit up the path ahead. Between the trees we could just distinguish

the shadowy outline of a pony standing quietly under the firs.

‘That’s Muffin all right. She’s by far the smallest pony in the field.’

‘Yes, and she’s got that thin white mark, a sort of star that dribbles down her forehead.’ I

laughed, partly out of relief.

Sitting in the snow in front of Muffin was a black blob which suddenly leapt up at Dad, nearly

knocking the lamp out of his hands.

‘She’s so intelligent. She was barking to get our attention.’

‘Yes, you can be pretty sure there will never be another Boo-Boos.’

 I thought I could hear the slightest crack in his voice. Maybe it was the cold.

As I walked up to Muffin, she nickered very softly. She seemed perfectly sound as I ran my

hand over her. But she obstinately refused to move.

I walked round to her off side.  Then I understood why she was determined to stay in that

freezing wood.

Lying in the snow was the smallest foal I had ever seen. Its coat was very dark brown, almost

 black. But its downy, fluffy baby hair was much lighter, almost chestnut. It made an effort to

stand but its feet slid away from under it.

‘Dad, look at this.’

He held the hurricane lamp higher. The mare moved nervously but there were no signs

panic. The foal made one more feeble effort to stand, only to fall back into the snowy

undergrowth.

‘We’ve got a problem. How are we going to move them out of the wood? The foal can’t walk

 through the snow and I don’t think we could carry it safely. You might manage if you had

another man to help you. I don’t think I could carry it that far.’

‘The answer’s the tractor. I’ll go and bring it with the trailer. You wait here with the dogs.

The mare won’t move as long as her foal’s here. The old Fordson is fine in snow. I used it last

winter. By the way it’s a filly foal. The kids will have fun thinking of pretty names.’

With mixed feelings I watched Dad disappear into the darkness. I could follow his progress

for a while as he climbed back up the hill, the light becoming no more than a pin prick,

before it was swallowed up in the darkness.

The moon had disappeared behind a bank of clouds. The Bassets had gone off looking for

rabbits. I could feel a friendly wet nose beside me and a lick on my face as I bent down. At

least Boo Boos would never desert her post and I could feel Muffin nuzzling my pockets.

 

                                                          °          °          °

It seemed hours before I heard the sound of the old Fordson, long before it appeared. Then

at last, headlights shining across the snow, the rusty blue and orange crusader came 

chugging, if not galloping, to our rescue.

 

 Muffin pricked her ears as the sound of the engine became louder and I could feel the

tension as I stroke Boo Boos. Even the Bassets were coming back from their night’s hunting.

‘I’m going to turn first before we try to load the foal. I think that’ll make it easier.’

I nodded, realising my feet were blocks of ice and I wasn’t sure whether I still had fingers.

The tractor was facing up the hill steam blasting from its rusty funnel. I suddenly wondered

whether anyone had noticed the lights of the tractor on a mid-winter night!

 ‘I told your mother what’s happening. She said, “rather you than me.’’ ‘

‘Well, fair comment, I guess.’

‘Now comes the hard part. You’ll have to help me move the baby.’

Dad put his arms under the front legs of the foal and lifted her off the ground. ‘You get your

arms like this round the back half. I’ll take most of the weight.’

She was lighter than I had feared and remarkably calm, as if she knew we were doing our

best for her. The trailer floor was covered in clean straw. As we lifted the tiny foal, the

moon sailed out from the clouds. The straw shone golden in the shaft of light as in those old

Nativity scenes. I thought of Thomas Hardy’s description of cattle kneeling on Christmas Eve.

I don’t think I would have been that surprised to have seen angels, even in the Surrey skies.

                                                                °          °          °

Progress was slow moving uphill through deep snow. I sat at the side of the foal who

amazingly took it all in her stride. The dogs were in a wet, steaming pile of long ears and

short legs in the front of the trailer. Boo Boos was as usual sitting in the driver’s seat with

Dad. As soon as we moved her foal, Muffin leant over the side of the trailer, sniffing her

 progeny reassuringly and keeping pace as we slowly climbed the hill. Halfway home, the

procession was joined by the other horses who, surprisingly, kept a respectful distance. The

impressive cavalcade stopped at the field gate. The tractor drove on into the yard where my

mother was waiting with a warm bran mash and a rack of hay for Muffin. All three of us

lifted the foal into the stable where she lay on a thick bed of sawdust and straw.

A few minutes later, Dad beckoned us over to the stable, before he shut the top door.

The foal was standing up and suckling, while Muffin kept her head firmly in the manger of

bran.

 

From the house the notes of ‘Silent Night’ drifted over the white garden.

 

 Sarah Das Gupta

Sarah Das Gupta is an 81-year old retired teacher from Cambridge, UK, who has also taught in Kolkata and Tanzania. She started writing last year while in hospital recovering from an accident. Her work has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including 'The American Review', 'The New English Review', 'Paddler', 'Bar Bar', 'Pure Haiku', The Berlin Review' and others.

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