The Little Old Woman

by Unknown

It was a bitter evening in mid-winter, the fire burned cheerily on the hearth, the great logs crackling and flaring up the wide chimney of a comfortable cottage home in one of the wildest parts of the Inverness-shire highlands. It was a shepherd's hut, and, as the storm continued the owner of the cottage rose and looked out of the window over the desolate expanse of moorland.

'Is it snowing still?' asked his wife, from her snug corner by the fire.

'Thick and fast,' replied he. 'Heaven help any poor creature on the moor to-night. Many a one has been frozen to death hereabouts before now.'

Presently, however, it ceased snowing, and, through a rift in the clouds, a star appeared, while at the same moment a whining and scratching noise was heard at the door. The shepherd opened it and whistled to his dog, but, inviting as the ruddy glow must have been to her doggish heart, 'Lassie' would not enter. Standing just on the threshold she whined once more, looking up in her master's face with dumb entreaty, then running off a few steps and looking back as though inviting him to follow.

The shepherd watched her curiously. 'All the sheep are in their folds,' he said, 'and Lassie knows that as well as I do, but something is amiss with the creature to-night. What is it, Lassie?'

But the intelligent creature only whined again and moved still further away from the door.

'Give me my plaid, good wife,' said the shepherd, now fully persuaded that serious work lay before him. 'Give me my plaid, and warm your blankets, and you may as well brew a kettle of tea. Some one is lost in the snow, and Lassie knows it.'

As soon as the dog saw that her master was really following, she sprang forward with a joyous bark, then, settling down into a swinging trot, she led the way straight across the loneliest part of the bleak moor. It was a walk both difficult and dangerous, but the experienced shepherd followed steadily after his guide until, having come to a certain spot by no means differing in appearance from the rest of the dismal landscape, she suddenly stopped and began to dig wildly in the snow with her paws. The shepherd stooped down and pushed aside the dog, who was now quite contented to stand aside and watch, while her master took the case in hand. Very soon he extricated from the snow what seemed to be a mere bundle of clothing, but which, on closer inspection, proved to be the rigid form of a little old woman, poorly clad and quite insensible. It was only the work of a few minutes for the stalwart shepherd to lift her into his arms as gently and tenderly as though she had been an infant, and to carry her away to his warm and sheltered cottage, where his kindly wife had everything in readiness for the succour of the half-frozen old woman.

But long hours passed ere complete consciousness returned, and the poor wayfarer was able to tell her simple story. She was an Englishwoman from Liverpool—a widow with one only son, the dearest and best of sons. He was a soldier stationed at Fort George, but he had been ordered out to India, and she had felt that she could not let him go without once more looking on the dear face. Accordingly she had gathered together all her available means and had reached Glasgow by train. But in that city her difficulties began, her money was all spent, but the mother's love still burned brightly in her heart. She resolved to proceed on foot, and had actually accomplished her design so far, when, being overtaken by the sudden snowstorm, and having wandered from the road, she would certainly have perished but for the sagacity of the shepherd's dog.

How great was the delight of the poor old woman we may easily imagine, when she was told that she was actually within three miles of Fort George, and when the shepherd promised to go there in the morning and beg leave for her son to visit her at the cottage. But, alas! when morning dawned it became very evident that her strength had been too severely taxed; she was quite prostrate, and only half conscious of her surroundings. In these circumstances her kind host lost no time in starting on his humane errand, and, in the afternoon, mother and son met once more, but for the last time. The old woman had barely strength to whisper his name, but the look in her eyes was enough to show that she had her heart's desire, and that she could die in peace. A few days afterwards the little old woman was quietly laid to rest in the churchyard of the Highland village, and the good son was on his way to the Far East, carrying with him the memory of a mother's love.