Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Snow-Storm
By Sylvester Judd (1813–1853)
From ‘Margaret’

IT is the middle of winter, and is snowing, and has been all night, with a strong northeast wind. Let us take a moment when the storm intermits, and look in at Margaret’s and see how they do. But we cannot approach the place by any ordinary locomotion: the roads, lanes, and by-paths are blocked up; no horse or ox could make his way through this great Sahara of snow. If we are disposed to adopt the means of conveyance formerly so much in vogue, whether snow-shoes or magic, we may possibly get there. The house or hut is half sunk in the general accumulation, as if it had foundered and was going to the bottom; the face of the pond is smooth, white, and stiff as death; the oxen and the cow in the barn-yard, in their storm fleeces, look like a new variety of sheep. All is silence and lifelessness, and if you please to say, desolation. Hens there are none, nor turkeys, nor ducks, nor birds, nor Bull, nor Margaret. If you see any signs of a human being, it is the dark form of Hash, mounted on snow-shoes, going from the house to the barn. Yet there are what by a kind of provincial misnomer is called the black growth,—pines and firs, green as in summer,—some flanking the hill behind, looking like the real snowballs, blossoming in midwinter and nodding with large white flowers. But there is one token of life,—the smoke of the stunt gray chimney, which, if you regard it as one, resembles a large, elongated, transparent balloon; or if you look at it by piecemeal, it is a beautiful current of bluish-white vapor, flowing upward unendingly: and prettily is it striped and particolored, as it passes successively the green trees, bare rocks, and white crown of Indian’s Head; nor does its interest cease even when it disappears among the clouds. Some would dwell a good while on that smoke, and see in it many outshows and denotements of spiritualities; others would say, the house is buried so deep it must come from the hot, mischief-hatching heart of the earth; others still would fancy the whole region to be in its winding-sheet, and that if they looked into the house they would behold the dead faces of their friends. Our own notion is that that smoke is a quiet, domestic affair; that it even has the flavor of some sociable cookery, and is legitimately issued from a grateful and pleasant fire; and that if we should go into the house we should find the family as usual there: a suggestion which, as the storm begins to renew itself, we shall do well to take the opportunity to verify.  1
  Flourishing in the midst of snowbanks, unmoved amid the fiercest onsets of the storm, comfortable in the extremity of winter, the family are all gathered in the kitchen, and occupied as may be. In the cavernous fireplace burns a great fire, composed of a huge green backlog and forestick, and a high cobwork of crooked and knotty refuse wood. The flame is as bright and golden as in Windsor Palace, or Fifth Avenue, New York. The smoke goes off out-doors with no more hesitancy than if it was summer-time. The wood sings, the sap drops on the hot coals, and explodes as if it was Independence Day. Great red coals roll out on the hearth, sparkle a semibrief, lose their grosser substance, indicate a more ethereal essence in prototypal forms of white down-like cinders, and then dissolve into brown ashes.  2
  To a stranger the room has a sombre aspect, rather heightened than relieved by the light of the fire burning so brightly at midday. The only connection with the external world is by a rude aperture through the sides of the building;—yet when the outer light is so obscured by a storm, the bright fire within must anywhere be pleasant. In one corner of the room is Pluck, in a red flannel shirt and leather apron, at work on his kit mending shoes; with long and patient vibration and equipoise he draws the threads, and interludes the strokes with snatches of songs, banter, and laughter. The apartment seems converted into a workshop, for next the shoemaker stands the shingle-maker, Hash, who with froe in one hand and mallet in the other, by dint of smart percussion is endeavoring to rive a three-cornered billet of hemlock. In the centre sits Brown Moll, with bristling and grizzly hair, and her inseparable pipe, winding yarn from a swift. Nearer the fire are Chilion and Margaret: the latter with the ‘Orbis Pictus,’ or World Displayed, a book of Latin and English, adorned with cuts, which the Master lent her; the former with his violin, endeavoring to describe the notes in Dr. Byles’s ‘Collection of Sacred Music,’ also a loan of the Master’s, and at intervals trailing on the lead of his father in some popular air. We shall also see that one of Chilion’s feet is raised on a stool, bandaged, and apparently disabled. Bull, the dog, lies rounded on the hearth, his nose between his paws, fast asleep. Dick, the gray squirrel, sits swinging listlessly in his wire wheel, like a duck on a wave. Robin, the bird, in its cage, shrugs and folds itself into its feathers, as if it were night. Over the fireplace, on the rough stones of the chimney, which day and night through all the long winter never cease to be warm, are Margaret’s flowers: a blood-root, in the marble pot Rufus Palmer gave her, and in wooden moss-covered boxes, pinks, violets, and buttercups, green and flowering. Here also, as a sort of mantel-tree ornament, sits the marble kitten that Rufus made, under a cedar twig. At one end of the crane, in the vacant side of the fireplace, hang rings of pumpkin-rinds drying for beer. On the walls, in addition to what was there last summer, are strings of dried apples. There is also a draw-horse, on which Hash smooths and squares his shingles; and a pile of fresh, sweet-scented white shavings and splinters. Through the yawns of the back door, and sundry rents in the logs of the house, filter in unweariedly fine particles of snow; and thus along the sides of the rooms rise little cone-shaped, marble-like pilasters.  3
  Within doors is a mixed noise of miscellaneous operations; without is the rushing of the storm. Pluck snip-snaps with his wife, cracks on Hash, shows his white teeth to Margaret; Chilion asks his sister to sing; Hash orders her to bring a coal to light his pipe; her mother gets her to pick a snarl out of the yarn. She climbs upon a stool and looks out of the window. The scene is obscured by the storm; the thick driving flakes throw a brownish mizzly shade over all things,—air, trees, hills, and every avenue the eye has been wont to traverse. The light tufts hiss like arrows as they shoot by. The leafless butternut, whereon the whippoorwill used to sing and the yellow warbler make its nest, sprawls its naked arms and moans pitifully in the blast; the snow that for a moment is amassed upon it falls to the ground like a harvest of alabaster fruit. The peach-tree that bears Margaret’s own name, and is of her own age, seems to be drowning in the snow. Water drops from the eaves, occasioned by the snow melting about the chimney.  4
  “I shouldn’t wonder if we had a snow-storm before it’s over, Molly,” said Pluck, strapping his knife on the edge of the kit.  5
  “And you are getting ready for it fast,” rejoined his wife. “I should be thankful for those shoes any time before next July. I can’t step out without wetting my feet.”  6
  “Wetting is not so bad after all,” answered Pluck. “For my part I keep too dry.—Who did the Master tell you was the god of shoemakers?” he asked, addressing Margaret.  7
  “St. Crispin,” replied the child.  8
  “Guess I’ll pay him a little attention,” said the man, going to the rum bottle that stood by the chimney. “I feel some interest in these things, and I think I have some reason to indulge a hope that I am among the elect.”  9
  “He wouldn’t own you,” said his wife, tartly.  10
  “Why, dear?”  11
  “Because you are not a man; you are not the thrum of one. Scrape you all up, and we shouldn’t get lint enough to put on Chilion’s foot.”  12
  “Look at that,” said her husband, exposing his bare arm, flabby and swollen; “what do you think now?”  13
  “Mutton fat! Try you out, run you into cakes, make a present of you to your divinity to grease his boots with.—The fire is getting low, Meg: can’t you bring in some wood?”  14
  “You are a woman really!” retorted Pluck, “to send the child out in such a storm, when it would take three men to hold one’s head on.”  15
  “Ha, ha!” laughed out his spouse. “You must have stitched your own on; I don’t wonder you are afraid. That is the way you lost your ear, trying to hold on your head in a storm, ha, ha!”  16
  “Well,” rejoined Pluck, “you think you are equal to three men in wit, learning, providing, don’t you?”  17
  “Mayhaps so.”  18
  “And weaving, spinning, coloring, reeling, twisting, cooking, clinching, henpecking, I guess you are. Can you tell, dearest Maria, what is Latin for the Widow’s Obed’s red hair?”  19
  “I can for the maggot that makes powder-post of our whole family, Didymus Hart.”  20
  Pluck laughed, and staggered towards his bench.  21
  “I knew we should have a storm,” said his wife, “after such a cold spell: I saw a Bull’s Eye towards night; my corns have been pricking more than usual; a flight of snow-birds went by day before yesterday. And it won’t hold up till after the full, and that’s to-night.”  22
  “I thought as much too,” answered Pluck. “Bottle has emptied fast, glums been growing darker in the face, windle spun faster, cold potatoes for dinner, hot tongue for supper.”  23
  “You shall fetch the wood, Meg, or I’ll warm your back with a shingle,” said her mother, flinging out a threat which she had no intention of executing. “Hash is good for something, that he is.”  24
  “Yes, Maharshalalhashbaz, my second born,” interjected Pluck, “sell your shingles to the women: they’ll give you more than Deacon Penrose; it is such a nice thing for heating a family with. We shan’t need any more roofs to our houses—always excepting, of course, your dear and much-honored mother, who is a warming-pan in herself, good as a Bath stove.”  25
  Hash, spurred on by this double shot, plied his mallet the harder, and declared with an oath that he would not get the wood,—they might freeze first; adding that he hauled and cut it, and that was his part.  26
  Chilion whispered to his sister, and she went out for the purpose in question. It was not excessively cold, since the weather moderated as the storm increased; and she might have taken some interest in that tempestuous outer world. The wind blazed and racketed through the narrow space between the house and the hill. The flakes shaded and mottled the sky, and fell twirling, pitching, skimble-scamble, and anon slowly and more regularly, as in a minuet; and as they came nearer the ground, they were caught up by the current and borne in a horizontal line, like long, quick-spun silver threads, afar across the landscape. There was but little snow in the shed, although entirely open on the south side; the storm seeming to devote itself to building up a drift in front. This drift had now reached a height of seven or eight feet. It sloped up like the roof of a pyramid, and on the top was an appendage like a horn, or a plume, or a marble jet d’eau, or a frozen flame of fire; and the elements in all their violence, the eddies that veered about the corner of the house, the occasional side blasts, still dallied, and stopped to mold it and finish it; and it became thinner, and more tapering and spiral, each singular flake adjusting itself to the very tip with instinctive nicety, till at last it broke off by its own weight,—then a new one went on to be formed. Under this drift lay the wood Margaret was after, and she hesitated to demolish the pretty structure. The cistern was overrun with ice; the water fell from the spout in an ice tube; the half-barrel was rimmed about with a broad round molding of similar stuff, and where the water flowed off it had formed a solid wavy cascade, and under the cold snows the clear cold water could be heard babbling and singing as if it no whit cared for the weather. From the corner of the house the snow fretted and spurted in continuous shower. A flock of snow-birds suddenly flashed before the eyes of the child, borne on by the wind; they endeavored to tack about and run in under the lee of the shed, but the remorseless elements drifted them on, and they were apparently dashed against the woods beyond. Seeing one of the little creatures drop, Margaret darted out through the snow, caught the luckless or lucky wanderer, and amid the butting winds, sharp rack, and smothering sheets of spray, carried it into the house. In her ‘Book of Birds’ she found it to be a snow-bunting; that it was hatched in a nest of reindeer’s hair near the North Pole; that it had sported among eternal solitudes of rocks and ice, and come thousands of miles. It was purely white, while others of the species are rendered in darker shades. She put it in the cage with Robin, who received the traveled stranger with due respect.  27
  Night came on, and Margaret went to bed. The wind puffed, hissed, whistled, shrieked, thundered, sighed, howled, by turns. The house jarred and creaked, her bed rocked under her, loose boards on the roof clappered and rattled, snow pelted the window shutter. In such a din and tussle of the elements lay the child. She had no sister to nestle with her and snug her up; no gentle mother to fold the sheets about her neck and tuck in the bed; no watchful father to come with a light and see that all was safe.  28
  In the fearfulness of that night she sung or said to herself some words of the Master’s, which he however must have given her for a different purpose;—for of needs must a stark child’s nature in such a crisis appeal to something above and superior to itself, and she had taken a floating impression that the Higher Agencies, whatever they might be, existed in Latin:—
  “O sanctissima, O purissima,
    Dulcis Virgo Maria,
Mater amata, intemerata!
    Ora, ora, pro nobis!”
  As she slept amid the passion of the storm, softly did the snow from the roof distill upon her feet, and sweetly did dreams from heaven descend into her soul. In her dream she was walking in a large, high, self-illuminated hall, with flowers, statues, and columns on either side. Above, it seemed to vanish into a sort of opaline-colored invisibility. The statues of clear white marble, large as life, and the flowers in marble vases, alternated with each other between the columns, whose ornamented capitals merged in the shadows above. There was no distinct articulate voice, but a low murmuring of the air, or sort of musical pulsation, that filled the place. The statues seemed to be for the most part marble embodiments of pictures she had seen in the Master’s books. There were the Venus de’ Medici; Diana, with her golden bow; Ceres, with poppies and ears of corn; Humanity, “with sweet and lovely countenance”; Temperance, pouring water from a pitcher; Diligence, with a sickle and sheaf; Peace, and her crown of olives; Truth, with “her looks serene, pleasant, courteous, cheerful, and yet modest.” The flowers were such as she had sometimes seen about houses in the village, but of rare size and beauty: cactuses, dahlias, carnations, large pink hydrangeas, white japonicas, calla lilies, and others. Their shadows waved on the white walls, and it seemed to her as if the music she heard issued from their cups.  30
  Sauntering along, she came to a marble arch or doorway, handsomely sculptured, and supported on caryatides. This opened to a large rotunda, where she saw nine beautiful female figures swimming in a circle in the air. These strewed on her as she passed, leaves and flowers of amaranth, angelica, myrtle, white jasmin, white poppy, and eglantine; and spun round and round silently as swallows. By a similar arch, she went into another rotunda, where was a marble monument or sarcophagus, from which two marble children with wings were represented as rising, and above them fluttered two iris-colored butterflies. Through another doorway she entered a larger space opening to the heavens. In this she saw a woman, the same woman she had before seen in her dreams, with long black hair, and a pale, beautiful face, who stood silently pointing to a figure far off on the rose-colored clouds. This figure was Christ, whom she recognized. Near him, on the round top of a purple cloud, having the blue distant sky for a background, was the milk-white Cross, twined with evergreens; about it, hand in hand, she saw moving as in a distance four beautiful female figures, clothed in white robes. These she remembered as the ones she saw in her dream at the Still, and she now knew them to be Faith, Hope, Love, and their sister—who was yet of their own creation—Beauty. Then in her dream she returned, and at the door where she entered this mysterious place she found a large green bullfrog, with great goggle eyes, having a pond-lily saddled to his back. Seating herself in the cup, she held on by the golden pistils as the pommel of a saddle, and the frog leaped with her clear into the next morning, in her own little dark chamber.  31
  When she awoke, the wind and noise without had ceased. A perfect cone of pure white snow lay piled up over her feet, and she attributed her dream partly to that. She opened the window shutter; it was even then snowing in large, quiet, moist flakes, which showed that the storm was nearly at an end; and in the east, near the sun-rising, she saw the clouds bundling up, ready to go away. She descended to the kitchen, where a dim, dreary light entered from the window. Chilion, who, unable to go up the ladder to his chamber, had a bunk of pelts of wild beasts near the fire, still lay there. Under a bank of ashes and cinders smoked and sweltered the remains of the great backlog.  32
  Pluck opened the ashes and drew forward the charred stick, which cracked and crumbled into large, deep-crimson, fine-grained, glowing coals, throwing a ruddy glare over the room. He dug a trench for the new log, deep as if he were laying a cellar wall.  33
  After breakfast Margaret opened the front door to look out. Here rose a straight and sheer breastwork of snow, five feet or more in height, nicely scarfing the door and lintels. Pluck could just see over it, but for this purpose Margaret was obliged to use a chair. The old gentleman, in a fit of—we shall not say uncommon good feeling, declared he would dig through it. So, seizing a shovel, he went by the back door to the front of the house, at a spot where the whiffling winds had left the earth nearly bare, and commenced his subnivean work. Margaret, standing in the chair, saw him disappear under the snow, which he threw behind him like a rabbit. She awaited in great excitement his reappearance under the drift, hallooed to him, and threatened to set the dog on him as a thief. Pluck made some gruff unusual sound, beat the earth with his shovel; the dog bow-wowed at the snow; Margaret laughed. Soon this mole of a man poked his shovel through, and straightway followed with himself, all in a sweat, and the snow melting like wax from his hot, red face. Thus was opened a snow tunnel, as good to Margaret as the Thames, two or three rods long and three or four feet high; and through it she went.  34
  The storm had died away; the sun was struggling through the clouds as if itself in search of warmth from what looked like the hot, glowing face of the earth; there were blue breaks in the sky overhead; and far off, above the frigid western hills, lay violet-fringed cloud drifts. A bank of snow, reaching in some places quite to the eaves of the house, buried many feet deep the mallows, dandelions, rose-bushes, and hencoops.  35
  The chestnuts shone in the new radiance with their polished, shivering, cragged limbs, a spectacle both to pity and admire. The evergreens drooped under their burdens like full-blown sunflowers. The dark, leafless spray of the beeches looked like bold delicate netting or linear embroidery on the blue sky; or as if the trees, interrupted in their usual method of growth, were taking root in midwinter up among the warm transparent heavens.  36
  Pluck sported with Margaret, throwing great armfuls of snow that burst and scattered over her like rocks of down, then suffering himself to be fired at in turn. He set her astride the dog, who romped and flounced, and pitched her into a drift, whence her father drew her by her ankles. As he was going in through the tunnel, a pile of snow that lay on the roof of the house fell and broke the frail arch, burying the old man in chilly ruins. He gasped, floundered, and thrust up his arms through the superincumbent mass, like a drowning man. Margaret leaped with laughter; and Brown Moll herself, coming to the door, was so moved by the drollery of the scene as to be obliged to withdraw her pipe to laugh also. Bull was ordered to the rescue; who doing the best he could under the circumstances, wallowing belly-deep in the snow, seized the woolen shirt-sleeve of his master, and tugged at it till he raised its owner’s head to the surface. Pluck, unmoved in humor by the coolness of the drench, stood sunk to his chin in the snow, and laughed as heartily as any of them, his shining bald pate and whelky red face streaming with moisture and shaking with merriment. At length both father and child got into the house and dried themselves by the fire.  37
  Chilion demanded attention; his foot pained him; it grew swollen and inflamed. Margaret bathed and poulticed it; she held it in her lap and soothed it with her hand. A preparation of the Widow’s was suggested. Hash would not go for it, Pluck and his wife could not, and Margaret must go. Bull could not go with her, and she must go alone. She was equipped with a warm hood, marten-skin tippet, and a pair of snow-shoes. She mounted the high, white, fuffy plain and went on with a soft, yielding, yet light step, almost as noiseless as if she were walking the clouds. There was no guide but the trees; ditches by the wayside, knolls, stones, were all a uniform level. She saw a slightly raised mound, indicating a large rock she clambered over in summer. Black spikes and seed-heads of dead goldenrods and mulleins dotted the way. Here was a grape-vine that seemed to have had a skirmish with the storm, and both to have conquered, for the vine was crushed, and the snow lay in tatters upon it. About the trunk of some of the large trees was a hollow pit reaching quite to the ground, where the snow had waltzed round and round till it grew tired, and left. Wherever there was a fence, thither had the storm betaken itself, and planted alongside mountain-like embankments, impenetrable dikes, and inaccessible bluffs.  38
  Entering thicker woods, Margaret saw the deep, unalloyed beauty of the season: the large moist flakes that fell in the morning had furred and mossed every limb and twig, each minute process and filament, each aglet and thread, as if the pure spirits of the air had undertaken to frost the trees for the marriage festival of their Prince. The slender white birches, with silver bark and ebon boughs, that grew along the path, were bent over; their arms met intertwiningly; and thus was formed a perfect arch, voluptuous, dream-like, glittering, under which she went. All was silent as the moon; there was no sound of birds or cows, sheep, dinner-horns, axes, or wind. There was no life, but only this white, shining still-life wrought in boreal ivory. No life? From the dusky woods darted out those birds that bide a New England winter: dove-colored nut-hatches quank-quanked among the hemlocks; a whole troop of titmice and woodpeckers came bustling and whirring across the way, shaking a shower of fine tiny raylets of snow on the child’s head; she saw the graceful snow-birds, our common bird, with ivory bill, slate-colored back and white breast, perched on the top of the mulleins and picking out the seeds. Above all, far above the forest and the snow-capped hills, caw-cawed the great black crow. All at once, too, darted up from the middle of a snow-drift by the side of the road a little red squirrel, who sat bolt upright on his hind legs, gravely folded his paws and surveyed her for a moment, as much as to say, “How do you do?” then in a trice, with a squeak, he dove back into his hole.  39

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