(a Scottish tale)
Once upon a time a Scottish piper named Rory traveled everywhere — through the spring and the summer and the fall. He played his bagpipes for anyone who wished to listen. He played in Scotland and Ireland and England and Wales, in cities and villages, on farms and in markets. People welcomed him everywhere he went. Many offered a meal and a comfortable bed for the night.
But when winter struck, people were not so welcoming, and as the cold and dark continued, Rory grew skinny and ragged and tired. By late winter, he was trudging through Yorkshire, from Newcastle up north and down to York, out to the sea at Bridlington and up to Redcar. But the cold weather did not let up as Rory traveled inland, toward the Dales.
One cold night, Rory, lugging his bag and pipes, was walking along the road not far from Hawes when he came to a farm that looked so inviting he decided he must stop and ask for a bed for the night. He knocked, but when the farmer answered the door, he shooed the poor piper away.
“Be gone with you now,” the farmer said, and poor Rory slinked away, into the icy wind, across the snowy fields.
Rory was more miserable than ever when suddenly he tripped over something. He looked down at a lump beneath his feet and brushed away the snow. To his amazement and delight, he saw a brand-new boot. And not far from that, he saw another. He hooted with joy and played a little tune on his pipes, for there was nothing Rory longed for more than some nice new boots. His soles had worn right through.
He tried to pull those boots out of the snow, but he couldn’t. When he brushed away more snow, he saw there was a pair of feet inside those boots, and attached to those feet were two legs, and then a body, and a head. It seemed a poor old man had collapsed in the snow and died there.
Rory looked around and saw nothing but trees and fields and ditches and those old stone walls.
“Well,” he said softly to himself, “who’ll know?”
So he reached into his bag and pulled out an old saw. Quick as a wink, he sawed those feet right off that body and tossed the frozen boots and feet into his sack.
He returned to that farmhouse, where the farmer had turned him away. He planned to ask if they knew if anyone was lost. This time when he knocked, the farmer’s wife answered, and seeing the shivering piper, she quickly said, “Poor man. My husband isn’t generous, but you may sleep in our barn. A bed of hay will keep you warm. But watch out for the Highland cow. She bites.”
Before he could ask about the old man, the farmer’s wife closed the door, so Rory ran to the barn and made a wee bed of hay. He put those boots and feet in a stall with the cows, beneath a bed of hay, so the heat would thaw them.
After a warm night’s sleep, Rory woke before dawn and found the boots and feet were thawed, so he pulled off one boot and then the other and put them on his feet. Then he put the feet into his old boots and set those near the Highland cow.
Rory practically danced away, happier than he had been in a long time.
Soon after, the farmer’s wife came to the barn to milk the cows. When she walked in and saw those boots near her cow, she screamed and ran to her husband, crying, “Our cow ate the piper, now we’re in trouble!”
The farmer shook his head and said, “No one will miss the piper. We’ll just bury those boots and feet.”
They walked back to the barn and just behind it they brushed away snow and dug a shallow hole. They placed the boots and feet in there, covered them with snow and walked back to the house to warm up with a cup of tea.
They were just about to drink that tea when they heard a sound that sent a shiver up their spines. It was pipes they heard, pipes playing from nearby. The wife ran to the window, and sure enough, there stood Rory, right in that spot where they had buried what they thought were his feet.
“It’s the ghost of the piper!” she screamed.
The farmer ran to the window and looked out, and Rory glared at him and wagged a finger.
The farmer and his wife were so afraid that they ran out the front door and raced down the road.
But Rory chased them, playing his pipes all the while. They picked up speed and disappeared.
So Rory thought he’d go back and sit by the fire and enjoy a little warmth and comfort. And that’s what he did. And while he was at it, he cooked up an egg and sausage and a big pot of tea.
Just as he was sitting down to eat, he heard a knock at the door. When he opened it, he saw a poor old man shivering with cold.
“Come in, poor man,” Rory said. “Come warm your feet by my fire.”
But the old man just stared. And then he said in a ghostly voice, “I would, but I have no feet to warm, I’m afraid. You stole them from me!”