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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Land’s End of Two Worlds
By Eugène Sue (1804–1857)
 
From ‘The Wandering Jew’

THE ARCTIC OCEAN encircles with a belt of eternal ice the desert confines of Siberia and North America—the uttermost limits of the Old and New Worlds, separated by the narrow channel known as Bering’s Straits.  1
  The last days of September have arrived.  2
  The equinox has brought with it darkness and northern storms, and night will quickly close the short and dismal polar day. The sky, of a dull and leaden blue, is faintly lighted by a sun without warmth, whose white disk, scarcely seen above the horizon, pales before the dazzling brilliancy of the snow that covers, as far as the eyes can reach, the boundless steppes.  3
  To the north, this desert is bounded by a ragged coast, bristling with huge black rocks.  4
  At the base of this Titanic mass lies enchained the petrified ocean, whose spell-bound waves appear fixed as vast ranges of ice mountains; their blue peaks fading away in the far-off frost smoke, or snow vapor.  5
  Between the twin peaks of Cape East, the termination of Siberia, the sullen sea is seen to drive tall icebergs across a streak of dead green. There lies Bering’s Straits.  6
  Opposite, and towering over the channel, rise the granite masses of Cape Prince of Wales, the headland of North America.  7
  These lonely latitudes do not belong to the habitable world: for the piercing cold shivers the stones, splits the trees, and causes the earth to burst asunder; which, throwing forth showers of icy spangles, seems capable of enduring this solitude of frost and tempest, of famine and death.  8
  And yet, strange to say, footprints may be traced on the snow covering these headlands on either side of Bering’s Straits.  9
  On the American shore the footprints are small and light, thus betraying the passage of a woman.  10
  She has been hastening up the rocky peak, whence the drifts of Siberia are visible.  11
  On the latter ground, footprints larger and deeper betoken the passing of a man. He also was on his way to the Straits.  12
  It would seem that this man and woman had arrived here from opposite directions, in hope of catching a glimpse of one another across the arm of the sea dividing the two worlds—the Old and the New.  13
  More strange still! the man and the woman have crossed the solitudes during a terrific storm. Black pines, the growth of centuries, pointing their bent heads in different parts of the solitude like crosses in a church-yard, have been uprooted, rent, and hurled aside by the blasts!  14
  Yet the two travelers face this furious tempest, which has plucked up trees, and pounded the frozen masses into splinters, with the roar of thunder.  15
  They face it, without for one single instant deviating from the straight line hitherto followed by them.  16
  Who then are these two beings, who advance thus calmly amidst the storms and convulsions of nature?  17
  Is it by chance, or design, or destiny, that the seven nails in the sole of the man’s shoe form a cross—thus:

  
*
*  *  *
*
*
*
  18
 
  Everywhere he leaves this impress behind him.  19
  On the smooth and polished snow, these footmarks seem imprinted by a foot of brass on a marble floor.  20
  Night without twilight has soon succeeded day—a night of foreboding gloom.  21
  The brilliant reflection of the snow renders the white steppes still visible beneath the azure darkness of the sky; and the pale stars glimmer on the obscure and frozen dome.  22
  Solemn silence reigns.  23
  But towards the Straits a faint light appears.  24
  At first, a gentle, bluish light, such as precedes moonrise; it increases in brightness, and assumes a ruddy hue.  25
  Darkness thickens in every other direction: the white wilds of the desert are now scarcely visible under the black vault of the firmament.  26
  Strange and confused noises are heard amidst this obscurity.  27
  They sound like the flight of large night birds: now flapping—now heavily skimming over the steppes—now descending.  28
  But no cry is heard.  29
  The silent terror heralds the approach of one of those imposing phenomena that awe alike the most ferocious and the most harmless of animated beings. An Aurora Borealis, (magnificent sight!) common in the polar regions, suddenly beams forth.  30
  A half-circle of dazzling whiteness becomes visible in the horizon. Immense columns of light stream forth from this dazzling centre, rising to a great height, illuminating earth, sea, and sky. Then a brilliant reflection, like the blaze of a conflagration, steals over the snow of the desert, purples the summits of the mountains of ice, and imparts a dark-red hue to the black rocks of both continents.  31
  After attaining this magnificent brilliancy, the Aurora faded away gradually, and its vivid glow was lost in a luminous fog.  32
  Just then, by a wondrous mirage,—an effect very common in high latitudes,—the American coast, though separated from Siberia by a broad arm of the sea, loomed so close that a bridge might seemingly be thrown from one world to the other.  33
  Then human forms appeared in the transparent azure haze overspreading both forelands.  34
  On the Siberian cape, a man on his knees stretched his arms towards America, with an expression of inconceivable despair.  35
  On the American promontory, a young and handsome woman replied to the man’s despairing gesture by pointing to heaven.  36
  For some seconds, these two tall figures stood out, pale and shadowy, in the farewell gleams of the Aurora.  37
  But the fog thickens, and all is lost in darkness.  38
  Whence came the two beings, who met thus amidst polar glaciers at the extremities of the Old and New Worlds?  39
  Who were the two creatures, brought near for a moment by a deceitful mirage, but who seemed eternally separated?  40
 
 
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