In the mean time the mother of the family, not herself at the moment in danger, began to suffer the most. It dismayed her to find, when she came down, that Steenie had, as she thought, insisted on accompanying Kirsty, but it was without any great anxiety that she set about preparing food with which to follow them.

She was bending over her fire, busy with her cooking, when all at once the wind came rushing straight down the chimney, blew sleet into the kitchen, blew soot into the pot, and nearly put out the fire. It was but a small whirlwind, however, and presently passed.

She went to the door, opened it a little way, and peeped out: the morning was a chaos of blackness and snow and wind. She had been born and brought up in a yet wilder region, but the storm threatened to be such as in her experience was unparalleled.

"God preserve 's!" cried the poor woman, "can this be the en' o' a'thing? Is the earth turnin intil a muckle snaw-wreath, 'at whan a' are deid, there may be nae miss o' fowk to beery them? Eh, sic a sepulchrin! Mortal wuman cudna carry a basket in sic a leevin snaw-drift! Losh, she wudna carry hersel far! I maun bide a bit gien I wad be ony succor til 195 them! It's my basket they'll be wantin', no me, and i' this drift, basket may flee but it winna float!"

She turned to her cooking as if it were the one thing to save the world. Let her be prepared for the best as well as for the worst! Kirsty might find Phemy past helping, and bring Steenie home! Then there was David, at that moment fighting for his life, perhaps! — if he came home now, or any of the three, she must be ready to save their lives! they must not perish on her hands! So she prepared for the possible future, not by brooding on it, but by doing the work of the present. She cooked and cooked, until there was nothing more to be done in that way, and then having thus cleared the way for it, sat down and cried. There was a time for tears: the Bible said there was! and when Marion's hands fell into her lap, their hour — and not till then, was come. To go out after Kirsty would have been the bare foolishness of suicide, would have been to abandon her husband and children against the hour of their coming need: one of the hardest demands on the obedience of faith is to do nothing; it is often so much easier to do foolishly!

But she did not weep long. A moment more and she was up and at work again, hanging the great kettle of water on the crook, and blowing up the fire, that she might have hot bottles to lay in every bed. Then she assailed the peat-stack in spite of the wind, making to it journey after journey, until she had heaped a great pile of peats in the corner nearest the hearth.

The morning wore on; the storm continued raging; no news came from the white world; mankind had 196 vanished in the whirling snow. It was well the men had gone home, she thought: there would only have been the more in danger, the more to be fearful about, for all would have been abroad in the drift, hopelessly looking for one another! But oh Steenie, Steenie! and her ain Kirsty!

About half-past ten o'clock, the wind began to abate its violence, and speedily sank to a calm, wherewith the snow lost its main terror. She looked out: it was falling in straight, silent lines, flickering slowly down, but very thick. She could find her way now! Hideous fears assailed her, but she banished them imperiously: they should not sap the energy whose every jot would be wanted! She caught up the bottle of hot milk she had kept ready, wrapped it in flannel, tied it, with a loaf of bread, in a shawl about her waist, made up the fire, closed the door, and set out for Steenie 's house on the Horn.

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