The Snow Storm

by H. S. Caswell

The event I am about to relate happened many years ago, but I have often heard it mentioned by those to whom all the circumstances were well known; and, when listening to this story, I have often thought that there is enough of interest attached to many events which took place during the period of the early settlement of that portion of Eastern Canada which borders on the River St. Francis, to fill volumes, were they recorded.

The morning had been clear and pleasant, but early in the afternoon the sky became overcast with dark clouds, and for several hours the snow fell unceasingly, and now the darkness of night was added to the gloomy scene. As the night set in, the snow continued to fall in a thick shower, and a strong easterly wind arose, which filled the air with one blinding cloud of drifting snow; and the lights in the scattered habitations in the then primitive settlement of D. could scarcely be distinguished amid the thick darkness. It was a fearful night to be abroad upon that lonely and almost impassable road; and Mrs. W. fully realized the peril to which her husband was exposed on that inclement night. He had set out that morning, on foot, to visit a friend, who resided at a distance of several miles, intending to return to his home at an early hour in the evening. It was a lonely road over which he had to pass; the habitations were few and far between, and, as the storm increased with the approach of night, Mrs. W. strongly hoped that her husband had been persuaded to pass the night with his friend; for she feared that, had he been overtaken by the darkness of night, he would perish in the storm; and the poor woman was in a state of painful anxiety and suspense. The supper-table was spread, but Mrs. W. was unable to taste food; and, giving the children their suppers, she awaited with intense anxiety the return of her husband. The storm increased till it was evident that it was one of unusual severity, even for the rigorous climate of Canada, and, as the wind shook the windows of their dwelling, the children often exclaimed in tones of terror: "O! what will become of poor father if he is out in this storm." Bye-and-bye the tired children fell asleep, and Mrs. W. was left alone by her fireside. She endeavoured to quiet her fears by thinking him safe in the house of his friend, but she could not drive away the thought that he had set out upon his return home, and she feared, if such was the case, he had met his death in that pitiless storm. She was two miles from any neighbour, surrounded by her family of young children; so all she could do was to wait and watch as the hours wore on. Sleep was out of the question, and the dawn of day found her still keeping her lonely vigil. As the sun rose the wind calmed, but the thick drifts of snow rendered it impossible for her to leave the house, and she watched anxiously if any one might chance to pass, to whom she could apply for assistance in gaining tidings of her husband. Alas! her fears of the previous night were but too well founded. He had perished in the storm. His friend tried his utmost to persuade him to remain for the night when the storm began, but he was anxious to return to his home, fearing the anxiety of his family: and he left his friend's house about four o'clock in the afternoon. The weather was intensely cold, as well as stormy, and, owing to the depth of snow which had already fallen, he could make but slow progress, and, when overtaken by darkness and the increasing tempest, benumbed with cold, and blinded by the whirling drifts of snow, he sank down by the roadside to die, and the suspense of his wife was at length relieved by the painful certainty of his fate.

About noon on the day succeeding the storm, as Dr. S. was slowly urging his horse onward, in order to visit a patient who resided in the vicinity, he observed some object lying almost concealed in the snow. Stopping his horse, he left his sleigh to examine it, and was horror-struck to find it the body of a man. Thinking that, possibly, life was not extinct, he took the body into his sleigh and made all possible haste to the nearest dwelling, where every means was used for the recovery of Mr. W.; but all was of no avail, he was frozen to death. It was the kind physician himself who first bore the sad tidings to Mrs. W. When the lifeless body of the husband and father was borne to his own dwelling, I have heard the scene described by those who witnessed it, as most heart-rending. On the day of his burial the settlers in the vicinity came from a long distance to pay their last tribute of respect to one who had been much esteemed as a friend and neighbour. The widow of Mr. W. is still living, but she now is of a very advanced age. His children grew up and settled in various places, and the elder ones among them retained a distinct recollection of the sad death of their father.