“Never yet has
human foot trod either the
Jungfrau or the Finsteraarhorn.”
The summits of the Alps.... A whole chain of steep cliffs.... The very heart of the mountains.
Overhead a bright, mute, pale-green sky. A hard, cruel frost; firm, sparkling snow; from beneath the snow project grim blocks of ice-bound, wind-worn cliffs.
Two huge masses, two giants rise aloft, one on each side of the horizon: the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn.
And the Jungfrau says to its neighbour: “What news hast thou to tell? Thou canst see better.—What is going on there below?”
Several thousand years pass by like one minute. And the Finsteraarhorn rumbles in reply: “Dense clouds veil the earth.... Wait!”
More thousands of years elapse, as it were one minute.
“Well, what now?” inquires the Jungfrau.
“Now I can see; down yonder, below, everything is still the same: party-coloured, tiny. The waters gleam blue; the forests are black; heaps of stones piled up shine grey. Around them small beetles are still bustling,—thou knowest, those two-legged beetles who have as yet been unable to defile either thou or me.”
Thousands of years pass, as it were one minute.
“Well, and what now?” asks the Jungfrau.
“I seem to see fewer of the little beetles,” thunders the Finsteraarhorn. “Things have become clearer down below; the waters have contracted; the forests have grown thinner.”
More thousands of years pass, as it were one minute.
“What dost thou see?” says the Jungfrau.
“Things seem to have grown clearer round us, close at hand,” replies the Finsteraarhorn; “well, and yonder, far away, in the valleys there is still a spot, and something is moving.”
“And now?” inquires the Jungfrau, after other thousands of years, which are as one minute.
“Now it is well,” replies the Finsteraarhorn; “it is clean everywhere, quite white, wherever one looks.... Everywhere is our snow, level snow and ice. Everything is congealed. It is well now, and calm.”
“Good,” said the Jungfrau.—“But thou and I have chattered enough, old fellow. It is time to sleep.”
“It is time!”
The huge mountains slumber; the green, clear heaven slumbers over the earth which has grown dumb forever.
I was walking across a spacious field, alone.
And suddenly I thought I heard light, cautious footsteps behind my back.... Some one was following me.
I glanced round and beheld a tiny, bent old woman, all enveloped in grey rags. The old woman’s face was visible from beneath them: a yellow, wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.