The beginning of the winter had been open and warm, and very little snow had fallen. This was much in Phemy's favor, and by the new year she was quite well. But, notwithstanding her heartlessness toward Steenie, she was no longer quite like her old self. She was quieter — and less foolish; she had had a lesson in folly, and a long ministration of love, and knew now a trifle about both. It is true she wrote nearly as much silly poetry, but it was not so silly as before, partly because her imagination had now something of fact to go upon, and poorest fact is better than mere fancy. So free was her heart, however, that she went of herself to see her aunt at the castle, to whom, having beheld the love between David and his daughter, and begun to feel injured by the little notice her father took of her, she bewailed his indifference.

At Mrs. Bremner's request she had made an appointment to go with her from the castle on a certain Saturday to visit a distant relative, living in a lonely cottage on the other side of the Horn — a woman too old ever to leave her home. When the day arrived, both saw that the weather gave signs of breaking, but the heavy clouds on the horizon seemed no worse than had often shown themselves that winter, and as 166 often passed away. The air was warm, the day bright, the earth dry, and Phemy and her aunt were in good spirits. They had purposed to return early to Weelset, but agreed as they went that Phemy, the days being so short, should take the nearer path to Tiltowie, over the Horn. By this arrangement, their visit ended, they had no great distance to walk together, Mrs. Bremner's way lying along the back of the hill, and Phemy's over the nearer shoulder of it.

As they took leave of each other, a little later than they had intended, Mrs. Bremner cast a glance at the gathering clouds, and said,

"I doobt, lassie, it's gaein to ding on afore the nicht! I wuss we war hame the twa o' 's! Gien it cam on to snaw and blaw baith, we micht hae ill winnin there!"

"Noucht's to fear, auntie," returned Phemy. It's a heap ower warm to snaw. It may rain — I wudna won'er, but there'll be nae snaw — no afore I win hame, onygait."

"Weel, min', gien there be ae drap o' weet, ye maun change ilka stic the minute ye 're i' the hoose. Ye're no that stoot yet!"

"I'll be sure, auntie!" answered Phemy, and they parted almost at a right angle.

Before Phemy got to the top of the hill-shoulder, which she had to cross by a path no better than a sheep-track, the wind had turned to the north, and was blowing keen, with gathering strength, from the regions of everlasting ice, bringing with it a cold terrible to be faced by such a slight creature as Phemy; and so rapidly did its force increase that in a few minutes she had to fight for every step she 167 took; so that, when at length she reached the top, which lay bare to the continuous torrent of fierce and fiercer rushes, her strength was already all but exhausted. The wind brought up heavier and heavier snow-clouds, and darkness with them, but before ever the snow began to fall, Phemy was in evil case — in worse case, indeed, than she could know. In a few minutes the tempest had blown all energy out of her, and she sat down where was not a stone to shelter her. When she rose, afraid to sit longer, she could no more see the track through the heather than she could tell without it in which direction to turn. She began to cry, but the wind did not heed her tears; it seemed determined to blow her away. Now came the snow, filling the wind faster and faster, until at length the frightful blasts had in them, perhaps, more bulk of blinding and dizzying snow-flakes than of the air which drove them. They threatened between them to fix her there in a pillar of snow. It would have been terrible indeed for Phemy on that waste hillside, but that the cold and the tempest speedily stupefied her.

Kirsty always enjoyed the winter heartily. For one thing, it roused her poetic faculty — oh, how different in its outcome from Phemy's! — far more than the summer. That very afternoon, leaving Steenie with his mother, she paid a visit to the weem, and there, in the heart of the earth, made the following little song, addressed to the sky-soaring lark: —

What gars ye sing sae, birdie,

As gien ye war lord o' the lift?

On breid ye're an unco sma' lairdie,

But in hicht ye've a kingly gift!


A' ye hae to coont yerst rich in,

'S a wee mawn o' gloxy-motes!

The whilk to the throne ye're aye hitchin

Wi' a lang tow o' sapphire notes!

Ay, yer sang's the sang o' an angel

For a sinfu' thrapple no meet.

Like the pipes til a heavenly braingel

Whaur they dance their herts intil their feet!

But though ye canna behaud, birdie.

Ye needna gar a'thing wheesht!

I'm noucht but a hirplin herdie.

But I hae a sang i' my breist!

Len' me yer throat to sing throuw,

Len' me yer wings to gang hie,

And I'll sing ye a sang a laverock to cow,

And for bliss to gar him dee!

Long before she had finished writing it, the world was dark outside. She had heard but little heeded the roaring of the wind over her: when at length she put her head up out of the earth, it seized her by the hair as if it would drag it off. It took her more than an hour to get home.

In the mean time Steenie had been growing restless. Coming wind often affected him so. He had been out with his father, who expected a storm, to see that all was snug about byres and stables, and feed the few sheep in an outhouse; now he had come in, and was wandering about the house, when his mother prevailed on him to sit down by the fireside with her. The clouds had gathered thick, and the afternoon was very dark, but all was as yet still. He called his dog, and Snootie lay down at his feet, ready for what might come. Steenie sat on a stool, with his 169 head on his mother's knee, and for a while seemed lost in thought. Then, without moving or looking up, he said, as if thinking aloud, —

"It maun be fine fun up there amang thae cloods afore the flauks begin to spread!'

"What mean ye by that, Steenie, my man?" asked his mother.

"They maun be packit sae close, sae unco close i' their muckle pocks, like the feathers in a feather-bed ! and syne, whan they lat them a' oot thegither, like haudin the bed i' their twa han's by the boddom corners, they maun be smorin thick till they begin to spread ! "

"And wha think ye shaks oot the muckle pocks, Steenie?"

"I dinna ken. I hae aften thoucht aboot it. I dinna think it's likly to be the angels. It's mair like wark for the bairnies up yoner at the muckle ferm at hame, whaur ilk ane, to the littlest littlin, kens what he's aboot, and no ane o' them's like some o' 's doon here, 'at gangs a' day in a dream, and canna get oorsels waukent oot o' 't. I wud be surer but that I hae thoucht whiles I saw the muckle angels themsels gaein aboot, throu and throu the ondingin flauchter o' the snaw — no mony o' them, ye ken, but jist whiles ane and whiles anither, throu amo' the cauld feathers, gaein aye straucht wi' their heids up, walkin comfortable, as gien they war at hame in't. I'm thinkin at sic a time they'll be efter helpin some puir body 'at the snaw's like to be ower muckle for. Eh me! gien I cud but get rid o' my feet, and win up to see!"

"What for yer feet, Steenie? What ails ye aye at 170 yer feet? Feet's gey useful kin o' things to craturs, whether gien them in fours or twas!"

"Ay, but mine's sic a weicht! It's them 'at's aye haudin me doon! I wad hae been up and awa lang syne gien it hadna been for them!"

"And what wud hae been comin o' hiz wantin ye, Steenie?"

"Ye wad be duin sae weel wantin me, 'at ye wud be aye wantin to be up and efter me! A body's feet's nae doobt usefu to hand a body steady, and ohn gane blawin aboot, but eh, they're unco cummarsum! But syne they're unco guid tu to baud a body ohn thoucht owre muckle o' himsel! They're fine heumblin things, a body's feet! But, eh, it'll be fine wantin them!"

"Whaur on earth gat ye sic notions aboot yer feet? Guid kens there's naething amiss wi' yer feet! Nouther o' ye hes ony rizzon to be ashamit o' yer feet. The fac is, your feet's by ordinar sma', Steenie, and can add but unco little to yer weicht!"

"It's a' 'at ye ken, mother!" answered Steenie with a smile. "But, 'deed, I got my information aboot the feet o' fowk frae naegate i' thiswarl'! The bonny man himsel sent word aboot them. He tellt the minister 'at tellt me, ance I was at the kirk wi' you, mother — lang, lang syne — twa or three hun'er years, I'm thinkin'. The bonny man tellt his ain fowk first that he was gaein awa in order that they michtna be able to do wantin him, and bude to stir themselves and come up efter him. And syne he slippit aff his feet, and gaed awa up intil the air whaur the snaw comes frae. And ever sin syne he comes and gangs as he likes. And efter that he 171 telled the minister to tell hiz 'at we was to lay aside the weicht that sae easy besets us, and rin. Noo by rin he maun hae meaned rin up for a body's no to rin frae the deevil but resist him; and what is't that bauds onybody frae rinnin up the air but his feet? There! — But he's promised to help me aff wi' my feet some day: think o' that! — Eh, gien I cud but get my feet aff! Eh, gien they wad but stick i' my shune, and gang wi' them whan I pu' them aff! They're naething efter a', ye ken, but the shune o' my sowl!"

A gust of wind drove against the house, and sank as suddenly.

"That'll be ane o' them!" said Steenie, rising hastily. "He'll be wantin me! It's no that aften thay want ony thing o' me ay out the fair words a' God's craturs luik for frae ane anither, but whiles they do want me, and I'm thinkin they want me the nicht. I maun be gaein!"

"Hoots, laddie!" returned his mother, "what can they be wantin, thae gran' offishers, o' siclike as you? Sit ye doon, and bide till they cry ye plain. I wud fain hae ye safe i' the hoose the nicht!"

"It's a' his hoose, mother! A' theroot's therein to him. He's in's ain hoose a' the time, and I'm jist as safe atween his wa's as atween yours. Didna naebody ever tell ye that, mother ? Weel, I ken it to be true! And for wantin sic like as me, gien God never has need o' a midge what for dis he mak sic a lot o' them?"

"'Deed it's true eneuch ye say!" returned his mother. " But I div won'er ye're no fleyt!"

"Fleyt!" rejoined Steenie; "what for wud I be 172 fleyt? What is there to be fleyt at? I never was fleyt at face o' man or wuman — na, nor o' beast naither! — I was ance, and never but that ance, fleyt at the face o' a bairn!"

"And what for that, Steenie?"

"He was rinnin efter his wee sister to lick her, and his face was the face o' a deevil. He nearhan' garred me hate him, and that wud hae been a terrible sin. But, eh, puir laddie, he hed a richt fearsome wife to the mither o' him! I'm thinkin the bonny man maun hae a heap o' tribble wi' siclike, be they bairns or mithers!"

"Eh, but ye're i' the richt there, laddie! — Noo hearken to me: ye maunna gang the nicht!" said his mother anxiously. Gien yer father and Kirsty wad but come in to persuaud ye! I'm clean lost wi'oot them!"

"For the puir idiot hasna the sense to ken what's wantit o' him!" supplemented Steenie, with a laugh almost merry.

"Daur ye," cried his mother, indignantly, "mint at sic a word and my bairn thegither? He's my bonny man!"

"Na, mother, na! he's the bonny man at wha's feet I sall ae day sit, clothed and i' my richt min'. He is the bonny man!"

"Thank the Lord," continued his mother, still harping on the outrage of such as called her child an idiot, "'at ye're no an orphan — 'at there's three o' 's to tak yer part!"

"Naebody can be an orphan," said Steenie, "sae lang's God's nae deid."

"Lord, and they ca' ye an idiot, div they!" 173 exclaimed Marion Barclay. "— Weel, be ye or no, ye' re ane o' the babes in wha's mooth he perfecteth praise!"

"He'll du that some day, maybe!" answered Steenie.

"But! eh, Steenie," pursued his mother, "ye winna gang the nicht!"

"Mother," he answered, "ye dinna ken, nor yet do I, what to mak o' me — what wits I hae, and what wits I haena; but this ye' alloo, that, for onything ye ken, the bonny man may be cryin upon me to gang efter some puir little yowie o' his, oot her lane i' the storm and the nicht!"

With these words he walked gently from the kitchen, his dog following him.

A terrible blast rushed right into the fire when he opened the door. But he shut it behind him easily, and his mother comforted herself that she had known him out in worse weather. Kirsty entered a moment after, and her father came in from the loft he called his workshop, they had their tea, and sat round the fire after it, peacefully talking, a little troubled, but nowise uneasy that their Steenie, the darling of them all, was away on the Horn: he knew every foot of its sides better than the collie who, a moment ago asleep before the fire, was now following at his master's heel.

The wind, which had fallen immediately after the second gust as after the first, now began to blow with gathering force, and it took Steenie much longer than usual to make his way over height and hollow from his father's house to his own. But he was in no hurry, not knowing where he was wanted. I do not 174 think he met any angels as he went, but it was a pleasure to think they might be about somewhere, for they were sorry for his heavy feet, and always greeted him kindly. Not that they ever spoke to him, he said, but they always made a friendly gesture — nodding a stately head, waving a strong hand, or sending him a waft of cool air as they went by, a waft that would come to him through the fiercest hurricane as well as through the stillest calm.

Before, strong toiling against the wind, man and dog reached their refuge among the rocks, the snow had begun to fall, and the night seemed solid with blackness. The very flakes might have been black as the snow of hell for any gleam they gave. But they arrived at last, and Steenie, making Snootie go in before him, entered the low door with bent head, and closed it behind them. The dog lay down weary, but Steenie set about lighting the peats ready piled between the great stones of the hearth. The wind howled over the waste hill in multitudinous whirls, and swept like a level cataract over the ghastly bog at its foot, but scarce a puff blew against the door of their burrow.

When his fire was well alight, Steenie seated himself by it on the sheepskin settle, and fell into a reverie. How long he had sat thus he did not know, when suddenly the wind fell, and with the lull master and dog started together to their feet : was it indeed a cry they had heard, or but a moan between wind and mountain? The dog flew to the door with a whine, and began to sniff and scratch at the crack of the threshold; Steenie, thinking it was still dark, went to get a lantern Kirsty had provided him with, 175 but which he had never yet had occasion to use. The dog ran back to him, and began jumping upon him, indicating thus in the recess where he found him that he wanted him to open the door. A moment more and they were in the open universe, in a night all of snow, lighted by the wide swooning gleam of a hidden moon, whose radiance, almost absorbed, came filtering through miles of snow-cloud to reach the world. Nothing but snow was to be seen in heaven or earth, but for the present no more was falling. Steenie set the lighted lantern by the door, and followed Snootie, who went sniffing and snuffing about.

Steenie always regarded inferior animals, and especially dogs, as a lower sort of angels, with ways of their own, into which it would be time to inquire by and by, when either they could talk or he could bark intelligently and intelligibly — in which it used to annoy him that he had not yet succeeded. It was in part his intense desire to enter into the thoughts of his dog, that used to make him imitate him the most of the day. I think he put his body as nearly into the shape of the dog's as he could, in order thus to aid his mind in feeling as the dog was feeling.

As the dog seemed to have no scent of anything, Steenie, after considering for a moment what he must do, began to walk in a spiral, beginning from the door, with the house for the centre. He had thus got out of the little valley on to the open hill, and the wind had begun to threaten reawaking, when Snootie, who was a little way to one side of him, stopped short, and began scratching like a fury in the snow. Steenie ran to him, and dropped on his knees to help him: he had already got a part of 176 something clear! It was the arm of a woman. So deep was the snow over her, that the cry he and the dog had heard, could not surely have been uttered by her! He was gently clearing the snow from the head, and the snow-like features were vaguely emerging, when the wind gave a wild howl, the night grew dark again, and in bellowing blackness the deathsilent snow was upon them. But in a moment or two more, with Snootie's vigorous aid, he had drawn the body of a slight, delicately formed woman out of its cold, white mould. Somehow, with difficulty, he got it on his back, the only way he could carry it, and staggered away with it toward his house. Thus laden, he might never have found it, near as it was, for he was not very strong, and the ground was very rough as well as a little deep in snow, but they had left such a recent track that the guidance of the dog was sure. The wise creature did not, however, follow the long track, but led pretty straight across the spiral for the hut.

The body grew heavy on poor Steenie's back, and the cold of it came through to his spine. It was so cold that it must be a dead thing, he thought. His breathing grew very short, compelling him, several times, to stop and rest. His legs became insensible under him, and his feet got heavier and heavier in the snow-filled entangling, impeding heather.

"What if it were Phemy!" he thought as he struggled on. Then he would have the beautiful thing all to himself! But this was a dead thing, he feared — only a thing; and no woman at all! Of course it couldn't be Phemy! She was at home, asleep in her father's house! He had always shrunk from death; even a 177 dead mouse he could not touch without a shudder; but this was a woman, and might come alive! It belonged to the bonny man, anyhow, and he would stay out with it all night rather than have it lie there , alone in the snow! He would not be afraid of her: he was nearly dead himself, and the dead were not afraid of the dead! She had only put off her shoes! But she might be alive, and he must get her into the house! He would like to put off his feet, but most people would rather keep them on, and he must try to keep hers on for her!

With fast-failing energy he reached the door, staggered in, dropped his burden gently on his own soft heather-bed, and fell exhausted.

He lay but a moment, came to himself, rose, and looked at the lovely thing he had labored to redeem from "cold obstruction." It lay just as it had fallen from his back, its face uppermost: it was Phemy!

For a moment his blood seemed to stand still; then all the divine senses of the half-witted returned to him. There was no time to be sorrowful over her: he must serve the life that might yet be in that frozen form! He had nothing in the house except warmth, but warmth more than aught else was what the cold thing needed! With trembling hands he took off her half-thawed clothes, laid her in the thick blankets of his bed, and covered her with every woollen thing in the hut. Then he made up a large fire, in the hope that some of its heat might find her.

She showed no sign of life. Her eyes were fast shut: those who die of cold only sleep into a deeper sleep. Not a trace of suffering was to be seen on her countenance. Death alone, pure, calm, cold, 178 and sweet was there. But Steenie had never seen Death, and there was room for him to doubt and hope. He laid one fold of a blanket over the lovely white face, as he had seen a mother do with a sleeping infant, called his dog, made him lie down on her feet, and told him to watch; then turned away, and went to the door. As he passed the fire, he coughed and grew faint, but recovering himself, picked up his fallen stick, and set out for Corbyknowe and Kirsty. Once more the wind had ceased, but the snow was yet falling.

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