THE FROST, THE SNOW, AND THE WINTRY WOODS.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
There is always some one ready to fearlessly scotch it, while in such a place if there be one thing less prevalent than another it is the whispered innuendo and the cowardly breaking of the 9th Commandment. I have not found this so true at professedly better places and among professedly better men.
Although I escape what might be termed a veritable witch's cauldron, the outside air is so sweet, so dear, and so pure that it purges me as with hyssop, and, if not whiter than snow, I soon feel as cool and as wholesome. I intended to drop into Bradley Wood, but on looking westward I note the wind has completely changed, and that the clouds are trailing over West Nab, while those overhead are hastening to warn the east that a grand snow storm is advancing. The opportunity is too good to be lost, so, rather than try to escape it, I walk on to the Roundabout again, determined from that height to fully enjoy whatever the oncoming darkness may develop. I have not long to wait. Now that our Cemetery Registrar measures his inches in snowfall and not in rain, on this occasion he will have to keep up his record, if he does not surpass it. All around me is as clear as it can be, and, therefore, the darkening west looks more gloomy in consequence. From Bill's o' Jack's valley, up Wessenden, and from Marsden come the thick clouds, and soon nought but the glittering bald head of West Nab is visible along the Appenines, looking in its singularity like a bare-headed giant swimming in a rolling inky ocean. Yea, as the clouds come on it also seems to advance, and as the sun is undimmed and plays upon it, it glistens and scintillates like a mirage setting in advance of the sun, or some monster orb reversing the planetary order of things by rising in the west. For 10 minutes it has no change, and for all the world looks in its frigid stateliness unmoved and immoveable. On comes the storm spreading to my left and right equally. The head of Colne Valley is enveloped, and everything in the west is being grandly obliterated as the darkness advances. Harden Moss has gone, Wilshaw is going, Golcar, except Scapegoat's Rockingstone Hill, is drowned. Crosland's spire now holds up its pinnacles as if appealing to heaven for help, but all in vain. The Holme Valley is blotted out and the two others are fast disappearing. Huddersfield is engulfed in a moment. Fixby is attacked and overcome. Almondbury is scaled and disappears at the moment that Clifton and Hartshead succumb. Like West Nab and Rockingstone Hill, dear old Castle Hill refuses to surrender, and the Castle glistens in the sunshine and smiles upon the confusion beneath it. Still on the storm comes. Kirkheaton is reached and the valley leading to Kirkburton is lost to sight, and it is glorious to see Bradley and the valley at my feet being hid from view by the white-winged snow. Roundabout is furiously attacked, but grandly keeps its head above the feathery rushing ocean. Several fluttering flakes are occasionally wafted on to me, and at times I am speckled o'er from head to foot by the fleecy rain. Mirfield and the valley beyond are now a seething chaos, but the sun still skims the surface of this white dancing sea. Then, though occasionally overwhelmed by its waves, I rise to the surface as it sinks from me, and like the strong sea-swimmer feel invigorated by the immersions. For a moment it sinks lower than usual, and it then is delightful to watch the drifting, whirling, swirling flakelets hurrying and scurrying hither and thither, while in their wild fun they care not whither. For a moment or two I gaze eastward, and on the outskirts of the storm see some marvellously fine evolutions performed by the combined forces of wind and snow. Meanwhile the storm increases, climbs up to the sun, overflows everything on earth, shuts off all western light, and, like a mighty boundless ocean river, comes rolling on and down towards me in awe-inspiring majesty and enthralling power. There is now no escaping it. The heavens are filled with it, and its vast flow seems inexhaustible. As the wind bears the myriad flakes along, and I face them, they seem like a'continuous stream of bullets, but no sooner do they strike me than they harmlessly glide off, or gently caress, or lovingly cling to my clothing, while those that pass on are transformed into white angels in miniature. Thicker and faster it falls, for a time in very large then in smaller flakes, until at times there seems nothing but snow to breathe in the blinding air. Unlike Lot's wife, I am turned into a pillar of snow, while all around me drifts are being sculptured into grotesque and fantastic shapes that would more than puzzle clever man to imitate. Unceasingly it comes, so heavily that I half begin to fear that the Biblical prediction that the world is to be destroyed by fire may be forestalled by a deluge of snow. Move where I will it is knee-deep, and when at last it slackens and the light of heaven presses through and among it, its beautiful white is particularly fine. Less and less, slower and still slower fall the flakes until a nebulous haze is seen to grow brighter and still more bright in the west, from dark grey to light, from light grey to crimson, from crimson to purple, and so on and up the scale of sun-rise colouring, until the sun appears in all his setting glory and magnificence. I never so advantageously witnessed such a storm before. It is now as interesting to watch it recede as it was enthralling to see it advance. What disappeared last now re-appears the first. The hills rise as the storm sinks, and the grand western mounds climb up to the sky, and in a whiter semicircle than before seem to move in procession to right and left and towards me. There can be no finer sight on earth than this is as the light increases and the trailing storm ebbs away, illumined in the one case to greater brilliance, and leaving in its rear in the other whiter hills and vales, woodlands, extensive moorlands, and sparsely-wooded parks. At last, when there is nothing but a white earth and blue dome, and the winds sway at ease, I involuntarily think it must have been on a mound like this, and after a storm like the present, that the Psalmist was inspired to imploringly sing — "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean ; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." What can be whiter than the newly fallen snow ? The figure of speech is too beautiful to be criticised and too pure in its suggestiveness to be marred by undue curiosity. Still, though the mind of man fails to imagine anything that can be whiter than snow, this unsurpassable phrase suggests the possibility, if not visible to the eye of the mind, of the eye of the spirit being able to perceive something purer and whiter than soft-eyed snow. Whiter than snow is a text for all time, and arrests the attention of all classes of men. It is better unexpounded than when expatiated upon. It is its own interpreter, and though it has its mystery, its mysteriousness is so pleasing that one is content with admiring its effects, rather than being too anxious to find out its cause and the far-reaching necessity of it. Look where I will the land is studded with marble cottages and white granite mansions, while the holy fanes look like temples that have been let down from heaven, or the earth transformed into the supernally undulating plains of Paradise. Yes, the house-tops have been re-thatched as far as the eye can see, their imperfections hidden, their shades relieved, and the hearths within them made more cosy by this heat-preserving marvel of winter. How it stills everything by its essence of silence! That which a few moments ago was dancing over and around me, was kissing my lips, having dalliance with my cheeks, and melting to joy in my eyes; that which was winsomely fluttering overhead, then eyeing me with platonic affection; then frollicking and whirling in giddy frowardness ; then, like a returning child of love, rushing to be caressed ; yea, those myriad things of beauty are now couching the hill sides and blanketing the plains in such peacefulness as nought else can. How they did laugh in the light, and equally pleasant is their combined smiling quietude now. Their glistening glee as they gathered and wobbled in. swirling, mazy fun, have increased rather than lost their charms, as they now reflect the pure light of heaven all around me. Now that they have ceased to chase each other, and have left off eluding each other in their dazzling myriads, how sweetly calm they lie together! They have indeed ceased to toil and spin on their crystal wings of light; they do not now flash by like scattered feathers, yet neither Solomon in all his glory, nor his successors on the thrones of earth, were half arrayed in such spotless purity or in such surpassing beauty as that which now robes the land. It would do most people good to come out of the smoky town and see what I now see, after being enveloped in and refreshed by such snowstorms as the one just ended. As the sun sinks nearer to the hilltops and throws his warm slanting rays athwart the landscape to the east and from thence receives reflected recognition, and as the north and south gaze steadfastly and smile in each other's blue and white eyes, what a happy change it would be from the smutty, smoky, smudgy air of the streets in and around the town. They would see the hills glitteringly kissed by bright and warm sunshine, instead of being blinded by their own and the smoke of others. Instead of being forced to stew in their own emanations and the filth of others, they would here, for a time at least, forget that there is such a thing as impurity in the world. Again, instead of their pathways being of inky stickiness, smoke and smudge would, out here, have their places taken by the crystal snow, the springy grass, or the gravelly pathways and roadways. Even now, in a few moments, the sun's rays have turned the hill tops into glistening ice and snowy solidity, while West Nab is silvered o'er with crystal softness inexpressibly fine and translucently brilliant. Unlike the storms and commotions and wars of mankind, it is far more delightful to see the rearguard of this storm than its imposing vanguard. The transformation is as complete as any magician's wand in fabulous story could make it. The cloudy and demon-looking battalions and the majestic hosts of archangels as they in imposing warfare came on, and impetuously swept past me, left nothing in their wake but spotless purity and calm peace. The outlines of the distant ravines and the steep valley sides look both brighter and fairer in their new suit of snow. On the wind's wings the snow came, and on its drooping pinions it fell to sleep on the earth. When at its darkest the Cimmerian groom was so intense, and the Stygian darkness so pronounced, that I doubted whether the Erubusian chaos and the impenetrable sableness would ever give place to this cerulean glory. As I now face the east the trees around the Pinnaole and Whitley Beaumont are limned in fair filigree and stencilled in white tracery, which if one were near them the muffled feathery down might be shook from them in shower baths of bliss.