THE PROVINCE MAN’S STORY
“Yes, I’ve no doubt that blizzards are fearful to encounter, but I do not think they can be much worse than a downright north-easter of the Province,” said a gray-bearded New Brunswicker to a Western man, who had been relating to the few passengers of the steamer plying on the river between Tobique and St. John his experience of one of those terrible winter storms which so frequently sweep down upon the exposed people of the Northwest.
“I remember one in particular,” he said, “for it gave me a lameness that’s going to stay by me as long as I live.”
After listening to the Western man’s adventure, we were all anxious to hear that of the Province man’s, and urged him to favor us. He at last assented.
“I was eighteen,” he said, “that winter, and tough as a young buffalo. I had never been sick, and scarcely knew what it was to be tired. My father was a lumberman. He went into the logging-swamp that winter, towards the head of the Miramichi River, and left me to take care of the family, –a pretty large one, counting in all the children. I was the oldest.
“The winters are long in that part of New Brunswick, and a good deal of snow falls. At that time there were but few settlements, the one nearest to where we lived being about forty miles away; so you may know there wasn’t much going back and forth for the women-folks.
“But for that matter, there were five or six families living in our settlement, and I will say we used to have some pretty good times together. We seemed almost like one family, and when one was in need of help the others were sure to give it.
“One of our neighbors was a Mr. Moore. He married a girl who lived in the settlement next to ours, and all her folks lived there. In the winter he worked in the woods with the rest of the men, and as his children were small, he used to hire me to look after the chores that were necessary about his house.
“Well, about the middle of that winter, it was in February, I think, Matildy, that was Mrs. Moore, got word that her mother was sick, and that, if she wanted to see her alive, she must go to her at once.
“The poor woman was nearly frantic with anxiety. Her husband was in the woods, and she had no way of getting to her father’s house. I think she had not seen her mother for two years.
“‘William,’ said my mother, coming home from the Moore cabin, where she had been to spin flax and comfort the sorrowing woman, ‘I think you’ll have to go.” “‘I’m going at once, mother,’ I said, for I thought she meant that I must go to Mrs. Moore’s and attend to the chores.
“‘Not that,” she replied, surmising what I was thinking about. ‘You must go to the settlement with Matildy. How should I feel if my mother was dying, and I could not see her? Now, get your chores all done up to-night, so you can start in the morning by daylight. I’ll see to things while you’re gone.”
“But what’s to be done with the children?’ I asked.
“’They’re coming to stay with me until Matildy gets back.”
“So it was settled that I should go with Mrs. Moore, and if she did not stay more than a day or two, I was to bring her home. The sky had threatened a storm for a number of days, and I expected to get up the next morning and see a snow-storm. But it was a bitter cold morning—too cold to snow then, though the sky was still gray and heavy, showing plainly enough that there’d be a heavy fall of snow as soon as the weather was warmer.
“It didn’t take long to get the horse and sled ready, and putting on father’s moose-skin coat, we started, Matildy carrying her baby, that was not more than six months old, in her arms, swathed in a blanket of lynx-skins.
“It was scarcely light when we set off, and it was very slow travelling through the narrow, rough road. We had not got more than three miles from the settlement when it begun to sprinkle snow, and in an hour more the flakes were coming down thick and fast. A cutting wind swept through the woods, driving the snow into our faces, and it looked doubtful to me whether we should ever get to the next settlement in such a storm.
“I wanted to turn back, but Matildy would not consent to this. So I had nothing to do but whip up old Bob and get on as fast as we could.
“But the storm grew worse and worse. The wind kept rising, and the air was so thick, with the driving snow that I could scarcely see a rod beyond the horse’s head. Noon came, and we were not over ten or twelve miles from the settlement. The snow was now so deep that the horse could make but little headway through it and against the heavy wind.
“We had food with us, but we could not stop for luncheon with the storm piling the big drifts all about us. Part of the time I walked behind the sled to lighten the load, and when it got so deep that Bob–the horse—couldn’t pull through, I tramped a path; and so, tramping and wallowing, we managed to get on a few miles further.
“But towards night the horse showed signs of giving out, and we had not gone over two-thirds of the way. I can assure you, it made me feel about sick to think of being out in that storm all night. Not that I feared so much for myself, for, as I said, I was tough as a buffalo and could have found some snug corner to stow myself away in, and in the big moose-skin coat could have been quite comfortable; but there was Matildy, and the baby, poor thing, was beginning to cry. I feared they both would perish before morning.
“By jerking and encouraging, Bob was made to start again. But his strength and courage did not last, and after another half-mile of plunging and tramping he lurched over the thills into the snow and gave out entirely. All my urging couldn’t get him on his legs again.
“Suddenly I got an idea, and untackling Bob from the sled, I tied his legs together with the straps of the harness, so that he could neither get up nor thrash about. Then, drawing the sled alongside of him, I canted it up sideways, setting the stakes to keep it from turning over fully, and thus made a sort of shelter to break off the wind.
“Going into the edge of the woods, I cut a lot of fir-boughs with my big knife and made a sort of bed for Matildy and the child, snug up against Bob’s back, covering them over with the quilts and skin, tucked in warm about them; and then I covered all with another thick coat of boughs.
“Then I went on towards the settlement, fifteen miles distant, for help. It soon became dark, and I never can tell you half what I suffered stumbling along through the drifts, half blinded by the whirling snow and nearly breathless; sometimes laying down and feeling that I never could go another rod; but the thought of Matildy and the baby in the snow drove me on—and I’ve no doubt saved my life.
“When within two miles of the settlement the road came out near the river, and for the rest of the way it was mostly cleared land. But it troubled me to keep the road. I was afraid I should wander off and never find the settlement.
“But there was a Hand leading me through that night and storm that I had never known before— and it led me safe; for, after wandering around till I was so exhausted that I was about to lay down in despair, I caught the glimmer of a light ahead.
“Ah, never was a half-drowned sailor more thankful for the sight of a life-boat than I was for that little spark of light! I crawled towards it shouting with all my strength.
“It came from a little log-hut on the outskirts of the settlement, where a logger’s wife was nursing a sick child. Hearing my cries she roused her husband, who came out to my assistance.
“As soon as it began to grow light the man got one of his neighbors—for I was too badly frozen to go back with him—and taking a horse and sled, started after Matildy and the baby.”
“And did they find them alive?” asked a listener, furtively brushing away the tears. “Yes, ma’am, they did. The snow had drifted over them, and so kept out a good deal of the cold, though Matildy was considerably frost-bitten. The baby was asleep, as comfortable as though it had been at home. But old Bob was dead. The journey and the cold had been too much for him.
“That spring the people at the settlements contributed money and bought my father another horse, so we wa’n’t much the worse off,” concluded the old man, seeming to be quite unconscious of his own heroism. Youth’s Companion.
Junean County Argus [New Lisbon WI] 23 August 1883: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A breathless moment there at the end. But poor, poor Bob….
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.