Janet Macleod was not much afraid of the weather at any time, but she said to him at breakfast, in a laughing way,
“And if you are lost in a snowdrift in Glen Finichen, Keith, what are we to do for you?”
“What are you to do for me?—why, Donald will make a fine Lament; and what more than that?”
“Cannot you send one of the Camerons with a message, Keith?” his mother said.
“Well, mother,” said he, “I think I will go on to Fhion-fort and cross over to Iona myself, if Mr. Mackinnon will go with me. For it is very bad the cottages are there, I know; and if I must write to the duke, it is better that I should have made the inquiries myself.”
And, indeed, when Macleod set out on his stout young pony Jack, paying but little heed to the cold driftings of sleet that the sharp east wind was sending across, it seemed as though he were destined to perform several charitable deeds all on the one errand. For, firstly, about a mile from the house, he met Duncan the policeman, who was making his weekly round in the interests of morality and law and order, and who had to have his book signed by the heritor of Castle Dare as sure witness that his peregrinations had extended so far. And Duncan was not at all sorry to be saved that trudge of a mile in the face of those bitter blasts of sleet; and he was greatly obliged to Sir Keith Macleod for stopping his pony, and getting out his pencil with his benumbed fingers, and putting his initials to the sheet. And then, again, when he had got into Glen Finichen, he was talking to the pony and saying,—“Well, Jack, I don’t wonder you want to stop, for the way this sleet gets down one’s throat is rather choking. Or are you afraid of the sheep loosening the rocks away up there, and sending two or three hundred-weight on our head?”
Then he happened to look up the steep sides of the great ravine, and there, quite brown against the snow, he saw a sheep that had toppled over some rock, and was now lying with her legs in the air. He jumped off his pony, and left Jack standing in the middle of the road. It was a stiff climb up that steep precipice, with the loose stones slippery with the sleet and snow; but at last he got a good grip of the sheep by the back of her neck, and hauled her out of the hole into which she had fallen, and put her, somewhat dazed but apparently unhurt, on her legs again. Then he half slid and half ran down the slope again, and got into the saddle.
But what was this now? The sky in the east had grown quite black; and suddenly this blackness began to fall as if torn down by invisible hands. It came nearer and nearer, until it resembled the dishevelled hair of a woman. And then there was a rattle and roar of wind and snow and hail combined; so that the pony was nearly thrown from its feet, and Macleod was so blinded that at first he knew not what to do. Then he saw some rocks ahead, and he urged the bewildered and staggering beast forward through the darkness of the storm. Night seemed to have returned. There was a flash of lightning overhead, and a crackle of thunder rolled down the valley, heard louder than all the howling of the hurricane across the mountain sides. And then, when they had reached this place of shelter, Macleod dismounted, and crept as close as he could into the lea of the rocks.