Huddersfield Chronicle (30/Mar/1895) - The Frost, the Snow, and the Wintry Woods
THE FROST, THE SNOW, AND THE WINTRY WOODS.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
Suddenly the sounds increase, and as the skaters approach with a mighty, whirling rush, they seem to come on like the bursting of a river or a water-main. Swish, swish, swish, and then a combined swush, swush, swush blend well with the laughter of both sexes, old and young, if anybody can be old when on the ice, while all with equal zest disport themselves untiringly. From morn till night and on through moonlight hours they glide in mazy motion interminably. It is also particularly delightful to see boy-men and girl-women equalling, and oft surpassing, their elders. Several of such now win my appreciation as they, with open-mouthed laughter, break from their teachers, brothers, sisters, fathers, and their more than usually solicitous mothers. Two perform very tine ornamental skating, following each other's curling figures on the ice with almost unerring accuracy several times round the rink, now backward and then forward, or in evoluting swirls. With what marvellous precision they can cut intricate figure-curves as they go round and round ! The steel flashings of the states in the sunlight as their wearers race, or in fancy ornament the ice, almost turn the onlooker's head unless he join them, and as the numbers increase the wonder is that they avoid dashing against or upsetting each other. The frost is now much keener, and the snow is crystallised into myriad gemmy dust pearls of rich radiance. There is music in the joy of all which joins in unison with the time-marking, soft ringing of the skates, and which at times sounds like the buzzing of a bee in the grass or in one's bonnet, or the dying sounds of a distant bell. Now smooth as glass, the bright sky is doubled by the reflecting ice, and the eye is almost surfeited with brilliance. Men race, and the boys and girls swim after or cling to them, while the ladies waltz and pirouette in graceful undulations, their flowing robes and swaying skirts reminding one of the accomplished skirt-dancers before the footlights, rather than of the icy stage, as their maiden fancy prompts them, or love of appreciation gives them, happy inducement. Two now before me win my rapt appreciation as they fascinatingly display their beauty without unduly obtruding their charms, and are most comely and pleasing when least conscious that they are the centre of attraction. The pleasure is almost too much for me. See, two more come through the entrance. He as firm and as strong and as fair and as manly as the human form can well be ; she, far more fair, and as lissom in her gait and as winsome in her demeanour as nascent woman can be. See with what zest he steels his feet, and when skate-shod note how solicitous he is about seeing that she is daintily shod also. He is on his knees before the fair damsel, and who but she can tell what his heart is asking, while, regardless of the cold, he lingeringly adjusts the strappings of her skates. She does not bid him haste, but maybe enjoys the happy suspense much more than he. When all excuse for longer dalliance is gone, how tenderly he leads her to the ice, and then with equally tender chivalry and with his strong arm her waist encircling, the sweet-eyed charmer, and the no less clear-eyed charmed, elope like mated swallows, heedless of prying eyes or chaperone's cries. Her assumed diffidence soon vanishes, while his gallantry increases, and who dare say that his affectionate anxiety for her welfare is not initiatory to, or complementary of, the union of hearts which ends in linked love and ringed fealty that immediately precedes the marriage feast, and does not end till life keeps their hearts warm. Yes, hand in hand they go, and step by step advance in whirling, swirling, circling motion both intuitively graceful, and as tireless as their beating hearts. As they glide between me and the sun, and their shadows sweep past me, the real and the unreal are nearly equally noiseless. He is a noble son of a worthy sire, and she the the daughter of parents that any town might well be proud of, and it does me good to see the superb picture they present. The biting wind and searching frost give me more rather than less exhilaration, and it is with difficulty that I tear myself from the convoluting, complex, spiral circles of the skimming throng.
Ah! what is that? Surely enough the curlers are here, and if you have never seen curlers at play you can form no idea how interesting the game is, or how interested are those who engage in it. The game is similar to that of bowls, handled-stones being used instead of balls, while a swept circle, 7ft. radius, is aimed at from each end, the length of the rink being from 30 to 40 yards, and its width eight or nine feet. Like golf, curling is common in Scotland, where all classes play it, but latterly both games have come South, and have come to stay, I each becoming more popular as it becomes better known. The pleasing peculiarity of curling is, that it produces for the time a thorough mingling of ranks — peers, peasants, clergymen, farmers, country gentlemen, and tradesmen. Sides are made up, usually consisting of four against four, with a skip or director for each. A certain number is game, generally 31, and the rival sides often display much keenness in the struggle for victory. As the game is now being played at this rink it is most interesting. Wisk in hand each player excitedly sweeps a path for the advancing stone of the thrower who happens to be on his side, and it is grotesquely ludicrous to see the players sway their bodies, move their hands, shout to the inanimate stones, and industriously sweep, apparently thinking and acting as if the sliding stones could at all be influenced by such wild antics. One pressman is so absorbed that he is oblivious to everything but tees, sweeping circles, foot circles, hog scores, and the chronicling of results. Business men and professional gentlemen are equally fascinated, and each seems to think as much of beating his opponent as if success or failure in this life and the next depended upon the result. Curling is truly a winter game, and it is surprising to see how patiently apparently delicate men will stand or walk on the ice, sloppy or dry, for hours, without a thought as to the cold or their health. Yes, they will linger for half a day, and run the risk of cold and wet feet when on the rinks, whereas if a crossing in the street over which they had to pass were half as sloppy, one and all would savagely go home, secure some foolscap, and write the most scathing and deploring complaints to the papers about it. Ah, well! there is no accounting for tastes and idiosyncrasies. Apart from that, however, now that the snow somewhat interferes with golf, those who have more time than necessity must do something in order to induce digestion, that their very tender constitutions may be kept at par, so when frost gives them assistance the golfers with their caddies, clubs, spoons, cleeks, and niblicks must leave "teeing" on the links, and go in for "teeing" the stones on the rinks.
Leaving the ice I pass on, cross the wooden bridge, glance over the wall at the residence of the wizard of Kirkheaton, join some boys in sliding, pass into the dear old churchyard, and bend over the mounds of my ancestors, and wonder how soon I shall be hid from sight as they are, experience a sacred influence that is agreeably mysterious, for a wonder find the church doors refuse me admittance, pass from the holy ground to what some people would call unholy, enter the ever-welcome portals of Kirk Stile, order sensibly-suitable refreshments, read the old summonses again, admire the big two-handled mugs, and am soon happy and thankful that the inn offers me shelter and rest when all other doors coldly shut me out into the heartlessly cold world. When I have drunk wisely and well, and renewed a thousand memories of Beaumont Arms and its close neighbourhood, I pass into the clear and refreshing air. The tall trees of the Rectory are frosted o'er and form a brilliant trelliswork which Nature's artist designs and paints and sculptures with such accuracy. The old clerk is stood in the doorway of his one-storey cottage, grey and venerable looking. During his clerkship at the mother church at Kirkheaton he has assisted at the christening, wedding, and the burial of many thousands, and he can recount stories of the bright and dark side of the past interminably. What is always to me agreeable about this locality is the number of grey, or rather white, haired and bearded men that are ever out and about. They keep up the record for old age both manfully and womanfully here, and apparently intend to do. I meet one now, and he greets me some distance away with the remark, "A nice day for a walk, lad," with a gusto that is refreshing. I have an old age question which I, on every opportunity, ask all the old men I come across, viz., What would you do if you had your time to live over ? the replies to which would fill columns of the most remarkable expressions, pathetic and laughable. I ask this cheery veteran the question now, when he replies : "As I have done and as I intend to do if I live twice as long as I have done." This is too good to be spoiled by further questioning, so with hearty laughter and as hearty good wishes we pass on and add another happy memory to the past. I am soon through the village and on my way to the Roundabout. Ah ! you should come out here when the land is robed with snow if you want to fully appreciate the beauty of a wintry scene. You will always find one here that will rival any in the land. It is indescribably beautiful. Just now the west is one dazzling vision of light, the glistening snow and the radiant sunshine being too bright for the eyes to gaze at long. The clouds are, if possible, whiter than snow. They move in grand procession towards the west, there to be divided, scattered, or melted by the warm sun into invisibility. The vault beyond them is exceptionally fine, the light and deeper blue being very restful to the admiring eye. Though the wind is still keen it slackens somewhat, and the throbbing, pulsing warmth from the west prevails immediately and suggest the return of spring and the balmy summer time. I have been fortunate in the choice of day. The encircling horizon is so clear that along its rim the white hills and snowy rising grounds seem lifted to the sky, while the undulating, ridgy land presents decreasing circles from as far as the eye can radius, nearer and nearer to the foot of the Roundabout. So distinct do some of them seem that even I am deceived by their apparent nearness, and it is only by an effort that I convince myself that I am not mistaken by their outlines, particularly is this the case with Castle Hill, West Nab, and Scapegoat Hill, while most of them seem but just over the way. The atmosphere is so clear that I can distinctly count 23 spires, indicating as many parishes in the grand expanse. As I count the churches I think of the thousands of hearts that surround them and make them the shrines of their attraction, and though a chapel here and there may be picked out there are so few distinguishing features about them that they mingle with the cottages and factories. Huddersfield is capped, as usual, with the haze of unconsumed smoke, but the snow reflects and increases the light so much that even her multifarious chimneys, spires, public buildings, and streets may be largely counted and appear so distinct as to seem all but within hailing distance. The earth is carpeted with purity, and the silence of it all is ineffable.