WINTER, which was its usual nuisance here in Maine, hasn't permitted the cuckoo's throaty croak yet, but the maple sap has trickled and a robin shivered briefly in the schoolhouse yard before returning to Dade County. We did have, after several easy winters, a couple of hefty northeasters that reminded of more severe winters agone - storms that in my boyhood were known locally as Jimmie-finders. Jack London and O. Henry could have collaborated on this one.
Jim Ransom was not a young man, but he still held his job as handyman for the widow True. She lived in a whopping great sea-captain's house in the village, comfortable with her husband's seafaring fortune, and assured that should she need further assistance, the charities of the Marine Society would solace her. She had gardens, berries, and apple trees, kept a cow and hens, pig and driving horse, and Jim was her hired man. Jim lived, with his family, just two miles from the True home, and came every morning and went home every evening by his own horse and buggy. He would already be on the job when we youngsters passed to school, and he would still be there in the afternoon when we came home. In the winter, he used a sleigh or pung as soon as snow fell. Jim was friendly with us and liked to hand us apples from the True cellar to help with our recesses.
One fall the first snowfall held off. We didn't have a speck right up to Christmas, and on the morning of the crucial day Jim drove his buggy to the village. Soon after noon, the leaden sky of a down-east Nova Scotian blizzard settled in, and by 2 o'clock snow was a foot deep and drifting. Now, Jim should have had his pung that day. His choice was to leave his horse and buggy in the True stable and strike out for home on foot earlier than usual, ahead of the storm. He didn't make it.
Best he could guess, as he told about this later, he was maybe halfway home when he was completely snow-blind, had wandered off the road into the woods, and had no notion whatever where he was or which direction was which. In the manner of a good woodsman, which Jim was, he didn't panic, but kept his cool and made his instincts counsel him.
It was pitch-dark, and he admitted at length that he had lost the road altogether, and that if he got to it again it would be so snowblown he wouldn't recognize it. So at length he despaired, and in absolute resignation accepted his sorry fate. Then he bumped into a big tree, and he knew instantly by the feel of it that it was not a tree he knew. Poor Jim abandoned hope and sat down in the snow with his back against this strange tree trunk, and since he was exhausted from struggling in the snow, he realized as in a dream that he was falling asleep. He wasn't cold now, and he felt completely content. He did remember his supposition that a search would ensue and it was likely he would be found.
This is a splendid place to send Jack London back to the Yukon and bring on the more cheerful talents of O. Henry. Jim, in his numerous versions of this experience, wouldn't say how long he stayed there under the snow, but he was able to convey the misery of it, and as time ran along, his artful additions to the awesome details would have given us apple-seeking youngsters the squirms except that we could see Jim hearty and hale and realized that the story could never end the way it seemed to be going.
However much time it was, with the wind in the limbs and the snow piling up, a big hooty owl up in the tree, not more than 10 feet above Jim's head, shifted his hold on his perch, shook the snow from his feathers, turned to settle down again and spoke thus: ``WHO? WHO?''
This brief and unexpected conversation had an intense impact on Jim, who roused at once from the Jack London situation into which he had lapsed, to make reply: ``NOT ME!''
Then Jim, startled into new action, stood up and went home. He came in, not knowing how he got there, and his wife said, ``What kept you? I've had your supper on the back stove for two hours!''
And that's how they found Jimmie the night of the blizzard, or how Jimmie found himself. When I was a lad,our town would experience one of those old baisters of an easterly storm, and chuckle as Jim Ransom's fearful experience was recalled. ``NOT ME!'' somebody would say, and no matter how severe the storm, we could always laugh at it.