Merry Christmas to all! I may be posting a couple or three stories today–we’re snowed in here in Knobite Corner (our first white Christmas since 1969!) and there’s very little going on–
This one comes from turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century St. Louis, Missouri. The source text (in Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s Haunted Heartland (1985) doesn’t say it happened at Christmas, but I like to think it might have. It begins with an old-time country doctor named John J. O’Brien, an Irishman big of body and bigger of heart, about to sit down with his brand-new bride for a Christmas dinner, and the heaviest snow Missouri had seen in many a year.
Dr. O’Brien was methodically buttering a biscuit when he said to his wife, Elizabeth, “I’ve had Mrs. Kilpatrick on my mind all day.”
Elizabeth knew the Kilpatricks: an elderly farm couple who lived in the country several miles outside town. Mr. Kilpatrick was healthy as a horse, but worried a good deal about his wife, who suffered from a weak heart. “Perhaps the snow will stop later, and you can go out to her,” she said comfortingly.
They laughed and talked and had a joyous time over this, their first Christmas dinner together, but when they were finished, and the kitchen cleaned up, and wood for the stove brought in to do till morning, Dr. O’Brien said, “I’m going to Mrs. Kilpatrick, snow or no snow. I have a feeling she needs me.”
And Elizabeth, who had fallen in love with this big Irishman as much for his love of his patients as his love for her, said only, “Be careful, love. I’ll wait up.”
Dr. O’Brien dressed warmly, grabbed his medical bag, hitched his horse (fresh and warm after a good feed in his stall) to his buggy, and set out on the road to the Kilpatricks’ home.
The main road led to a crossroads, where he would turn off and go through a labyrinth of side roads and tracks to their house. But the snow suddenly came in again, almost in whiteout conditions. His buggy lamps couldn’t penetrate the sheets of snow blowing toward him.
And just when he though he was hopelessly lost, he heard dogs barking.
By the sound of them, there were two, and big ones, with big, loud, deep voices.
He tried to look through the curtain of snow, and suddenly saw them–one on either side and just in front of his horse, who oddly didn’t shy away from them. And they were indeed big–huge. They were mastiffs.
He tried to puzzle out where they had come from, but that train of thought was lost as it became apparent they were purposefully guiding him. Knowing that otherwise he would be lost, he followed them, and determined to ask Mr. Kilpatrick about them. He’d never seen any dogs when he visited the farm, but that wasn’t to say they owned none.
The dogs led him right to the Kilpatricks’ front door, where a worried Mr. Kilpatrick let him in. “The missus”, he explained, was in a bad way, hardly able to breathe.
Dr. O’Brien administered something for her heart, and a mild sedative to help her sleep, while Mr. Kilpatrick put the doctor’s coat by the kitchen fire to dry out and made coffee and a warm meal. Only when they were talking over the food did the doctor remember the dogs.
Mr. Kilpatrick had no idea whose they were. They certainly weren’t his, though.
By the time Dr. O’Brien left, after checking on “the missus” one last time and leaving some medicine for her, the storm had passed; the snow had stopped and the moon was out, and the doctor could see the way back without difficulty. He watched for his canine guides all the way, but didn’t see or hear them again.
When he got home, he told Elizabeth the story. Over the next weeks and months, he made inquiries, but learned that no one for many miles around owned a pair of mastiffs.
And no matter what weather he traveled in, from then until he retired from practice, did he see them again.
He finally decided, Irishman that he was, that they must have been ghosts or angels–that pair of giant dogs who guided him to a desperately sick woman’s bedside that Christmas.