The Little Old Woman
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
'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.