Jamie had found Willie quickly, the boy had been missing for little over half an hour and though the fog was thick, he had left a trail that was easy enough for Jamie to follow.
The wee imp had slipped away from his grandmother whilst she stopped to straighten her shawl and as so often happened, the fog had rolled in quickly, a thick grey blanket that across the valley and Willie had clearly blundered further and further away in confused panic.
Now as they made their way back to the house, Willie quiet and subdued atop Jamie’s shoulders after a fairly substantial scolding, Jamie remembered a misadventure of a similar nature.
He had been woken by his dog, Jos, whining to go out and relieve himself and his father had already told him that any disturbance and Jos would be in the barn with the rest of the animals, blizzard or not. So Jamie had decided to take him out himself. With the first blast of icy air Jos had taken off and Jamie had followed him instinctively only to realise once he caught up to his dog that he had no idea which direction home was in. He had been able to see no more than a foot in front of him and the wind was loud enough to drown out any sounds that might have helped him navigate.
He had wandered for what felt like hours until a large hand shot out of the swirling white and caught his arm, making Jamie shriek like a banshee.
“Easy lad, it’s only me.”
Were the only word’s he remembered John Murray saying, for his heart was hammering in his ears and he had clutched Jos to his chest, conscious only of his fear of the storm and his relief at being found.
Jamie had been clutched to his mother’s chest, kissed and then smacked on the seat of his sodden breeks before being ordered to strip, wrap himself in a blanket and sit in front of the fire. Which was exactly where he had been, watching steam rise from his clothes draped over the wrack, when he heard the door bang open. His legs had been numb with cold when he had arrived home and now his skin was prickling uncomfortably but he managed to leap up at the sound of his parent’s voices.
“… John said he found him and brought him home. Is he alright?”
“Aye, he was a wee bit shaken but he’ll be fine. He was looking for Jos…”
“Aye, he ran off and Jamie went looking for him.”
“The wee dolt! Has he no more sense than the swiving dog? Did I no’ tell him to train it?”
“Mi dubh, seas.”
Ellen’s voice was gentle in comparison to Brian’s, who was clearly building himself to a fury.
“Infrinn! Where is the wee bastard?”
“He’s in the kitchen but … Och! dinna make a fuss … Brian!”
Jamie considered making a run for it, he knew it would likely only exacerbate his Da’s ire but it seemed a better idea than staying to face him in a temper! Before he could make up his mind, his father had appeared in the doorway, soaked to the bone, snow dusting his black hair and his cheeks pinched with cold.
Jamie’s voice had sounded small, even to his own ears and he’d clutched the blanket draped around his shoulders a little tighter.
“Halò Da? Is that all ye have to say?”
Brian glared at him, blue eyes narrowed to slits and Jamie had shrugged helplessly, squirming with the pins and needles feeling in his feet and the look on his father’s face, one he knew all too well.
“I’m sorry Da.”
“Do ye have any idea how stupid it is to wander into a blizzard by yeself?”
“I ken but …”
“But what? I dinna care if yon wee cù was out there; I told ye to stay inside!”
Brian blazed, his voice had risen to a shout that likely woke Jenny and Jamie had felt his face flush with embarrassment.
“But Jos is my dog. He is my responsibility.”
Jamie persisted stubbornly even as his knees threatened to buckle beneath him. Brian looked over his bedraggled little lad, dark smudges of tiredness beneath his blue eyes and his red hair flicking out in all directions and ran a hand tersely through his hair sighing as his anger faded as quickly as it had bloomed.
“Ah Dhià. James. What am I to do wi’ ye? Any father worth a penny would thrash ye for nearly killin’ yeself.”
Brian stepped towards him and Jamie had flinched, dropping his gaze.
“Ciamar a tha thu mo mhic?”
“Tha gu math, tapadh leibh Athair.”
He’d mumbled, looking down at his father’s boots. He could see them in his mind’s eye still, crusted with melting snow, small puddles forming around them.
“Are ye sure ye are alright Bhalaich?”
Switching back into English, Brian had dropped to a crouch in front of his son, tipping Jamie’s chin gently upward with his finger to look at him.
Neither of them had heard Ellen enter the room, but at his mother’s word, his father had let go of him and stood, looking down at Jamie with concern. His mother had held out a blanket and his father took it, leaving the warmth of the kitchen to shed his wet clothes in the hall-way for the sake of modesty. Ellen had watched him go and then folded her arms around Jamie.
“Wait here a moment a leannan.”
Jamie remembered how brightly she’d smiled at him as she pressed a quick kiss to the top of his head, before slipping out behind Brian and pulling the door closed behind her. Jamie had crept over and pressed his ear to the wood and the audacity of it made him smile even now.
“Somethin’ doesna seem right wi’ the lad.”
He heard his Da say quietly.
“He’s tired, cold and was scairt out o’ his wits bein’ lost in the snow and now he’s worrit about gettin’ a hiding too.”
Ellen whispered; the implied accusation clear in her voice.
“As well he may be considerin’ the trouble his foolishness caused…”
“The mistake he made was innocent enough and ye ken it.”
Ellen spoke mildly, but her voice held a note of steel and Jamie heard the sharp intake of his father’s breath.
“He deliberately disobeyed me Ellen.”
“Well that may be true but I dinna think he should be punished for havin’ a kind feelin’ toward his dog.”
“Or do ye intend to hand him ye belt when ye are finished wi’ it and have him beat the animal? Or maybe ye’ll hand it to me to use on ye for all the times ye have acted rashly in defence of what ye love!”
“Dinna be daft!”
There was a silence then and Jamie could picture his father’s scowl and his mother’s resolutely folded arms as she returned his look and he’d had to smother a laugh with his hands.
“It’s no’ daft. Ye told him that dog was his to care for, that’s what he tried to do! It isna fair Brian, it’s cruel. He’s only eight years old!”
“I ken how old he is!”
“Then dinna expect him to have more sense than ye do!”
“Ach! Ye’re like a wild cat protectin’ her kits from a wolf!”
“I dinna want him skelped for this. I clouted him once and that’s enough.”
“I ne’er said I was goin’ to skelp him for it. But he needs to understand consequences. He could ha’ frozen to death out there.”
The memory of William hung heavily in the air and Jamie heard the smooth scratch of wool against wool as his parents wordlessly moved into each other.
“He’s fine lass, Jamie is a braw lad. Dinna greet, my wee Wild Cat.”
“Will ye just talk to him then?”
Ellen asked, kissing his collar bone and sliding her hands under the blanket to stroke his back.
“Aye, but let me get some breeks first and recover from the ear bashin’ ye just gave me.”
When Brian entered the kitchen again, Jamie had been presented to him dressed in a clean nightshirt and thick woollen socks, his hair brushed into some semblance of order.
Ellen gave him a small glance to ensure all was well before releasing her hold on Jamie’s small shoulders
“Ye’ll listen carefully to ye father, aye?”
She chided gently and Jamie had nodded.
Jamie glanced up at her but bravely stepped toward Brian; he would handle whatever came his way with as much dignity as he could and certainly would not hide behind his mother’s skirts, no matter how much he wanted to.
Brian’s lip quirked as he sat himself at the kitchen table and crooked a finger at Jamie, beckoning him.
His voice had been gruff as he pulled Jamie into his arms, holding him tightly, kissing his cheek brusquely.
“I dinna say it often but I love ye verra much. I dinna ken what I would do if somethin’ happened to ye.”
Jamie had gripped him tightly back and buried his head in his father’s shirt.
“I didna mean to cause such a stramash, but Jos is my responsibility Da, ye told me so.”
Jamie sniffed, pulling away and wiping his nose on the back of his hand.
“He is, but ye are my responsibility James and ye are far more important than a wee pup.”
Brian said, levelling a finger at his son.
“Will I go to the gate tomorrow Da? It’s still snowing now ...”
“No James, I’ll no’ beat ye for a thing that was kindly meant. It wouldna be fair.”
Brian smiled, his eyes flicking towards Ellen
“But ye can stay in tomorrow and help ye mother and Mrs Crook wi’ chores to make up for the worry ye caused.”
“Thank ye Da.”
“Aye, weel, ye’ll no’ do such a foolish thing again will ye?”
“No Da… ah … that is, I’ll try not to at least.”
Jamie amended and Brian couldn’t help but laugh.
“The brain of a fly but at least ye’re honest! Come,”
Brian slid off the chair and crouched in front of the boy, patting his shoulder
“Hop on and I’ll get ye to bed, where ye will stay until morning, aye?”
Jamie trilled happily, clambering up. As Brian trudged up the stairs he had smiled over his shoulder at Jamie.
“Tomorrow ye are busy but the day after that I will show ye how to find ye way home in such a situation, alright?”
“Aye Da. Thank ye Da.”
“Ye’re welcome son.”
Jamie was startled from his reverie by Willie stirring and tugging on his hair.
“I’m sorry I got lost in the fog.”
The boy sniffed and Jamie smiled
“I ken, dinna worry laddie, I did the same thing when I was but a few years older than ye are now.”
“Aye, and I’ve lost myself a few times since too.”
Jamie smiled ruefully
“Am I in trouble?”
“No lad, accidents happen. I’m sorry if I was a wee bit stern wi’ ye.”
Willie patted his head in forgiveness
Jamie felt Willie sway and lifted him from his shoulders, settling the lad against his chest.
“Tomorrow I will teach ye how to find ye way home, like my Da did for me.”
Jamie did not normally speak so boldly to the boy but there was something about the fog that sealed them off from the rest of the world and made such words possible.
“Thank you Papa.”
Willie’s voice was thick with sleep and he had almost certainly not realised what he had said, but Jamie’s heart leapt into his throat and as Willie’s body grew heavier and slipped into sleep, it was with a strangled voice that Jamie replied
“Ye’re welcome son.”