For a little while the train seemed to stumble along amongst the snowdrifts. Every now and again there would be a sudden access of speed as a drift was cleared, just as in a saw-mill the ‘buzz’ saw rushes rou…nd at accelerated speed as the log is cleaved, or as a screw ‘races’ when the wave falls away. Then would follow an ominous slowing down as the next snowdrift was encountered. The Manager, pulling up the blind and peering out on the waste of snow, remarked:
‘Nice cheerful night this; special nice place to be snowed up. So far as I can see, there isn’t a house between the North Sea and the Grampians. There! we’ve done it at last! Stuck for good this time!’ – for the slow movement of the train stopped altogether. The rest of the Company waited in anxious expectancy, and it was with a general sigh of relief that they saw the door on the sheltered side of the saloon open under the vigorous jerk of the Guard: anything was better than the state of uncertainty to which they had been reduced by the slow, spasmodic process of the last two hours. The Guard shook the rough mass of snow from him as he came in and closed the door.
‘Very sorry to tell you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we’ve come to a stop at last. We’ve been fighting the snow ever since we left Aberdeen, and the driver had hopes we might win on as far as Perth. But these drifts are one too many for us. Here we are till daylight unless we can get some place nigh at hand for ye to shelter.’ The practical mind of the Manager at once grasped a possibility.
‘Why not go back to Aberdeen? We have cleared the road so far, and we should be able to run back over it now.’ The Guard shook his head.
‘That mecht do by ordinar’; but with a wind like this and such a snowfall as I’ve never seen the like of, we wouldn’t be able to run a mile. But, anyhow, the Stoker has gone out to prospect; and we’ll soon know what to expect.’
‘Tell the Driver to come here,’ said the Manager. ‘I should like to know exactly how we stand as to possibilities.’ As the door opened for his passing out, the keen blast of icy air which rushed in sent a shiver through the whole Company. They were all too miserable and too anxious to say anything, so the silence was unbroken till the Guard returned with the Engine-Driver, the latter muffled, his black, oily clothes additionally shiny with the running of the melted snow.
‘Where are we?’ asked the Manager.
‘Just about ten miles from anywhere, so far as I can make out. The snow falls so fast that you cannot see ten feet ahead, and the Stoker has come back, unable to get twenty yards away from the train.’
‘Then I suppose there is no help for us till the storm ceases?’
‘And we have to pass the night on the train without any sort of comfort that you can give us?’
‘That’s so.’ A groan from all followed the words. The Manager went on:
‘Then we must do what we can to keep warm at least. We must make a fire here.’ The Guard struck in sharply:
‘Mak’ a fire in the Company’s carriage, and burn the whole timing up to a cender? Ye’ll no mak’ a fire here!’ He spoke decisively. The Manager answered with equal decision:
‘Who will prevent us?’
‘Indeed! How will you do it?’
‘By the authority of the Great North line which I represent. So tak’ ye formal notice that I forbid any fire in the carriage.’ He paused, self-satisfied.
The Manager, taking his writing-pad from his pocket, wrote a few words. Then he said suavely:
‘You understand I call on you as the representative of the Company to fulfil the Company’s contract and leave us in London.’
‘Ye know verra weel that I canna’ do it.’
‘So you admit that, relying, I presume, on the common law of force majeure to relieve you?’
‘Then read this paper; you see it is a formal notice. Now if you rely on force majeure, so do we; and we have a good deal more force majeure than you have! So here we’ll make a fire, and, if need be, we’ll fight your crowd in the doing of it. Brooke, you go to the workmen’s carriage and tell them to come here.’
To read the rest of this story visit:
“The Occasion” at bramstoker.org