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A Conversation by Ivan Turgenev

 

'Neither the Jungfrau nor the Finsteraarhorn has yet been trodden by the foot of man!'

The topmost peaks of the Alps ... A whole chain of rugged precipices ... The very heart of the mountains.

Over the mountain, a pale green, clear, dumb sky. Bitter, cruel frost; hard, sparkling snow; sticking out of the snow, the sullen peaks of the ice-covered, wind-swept mountains.

Two massive forms, two giants on the sides of the horizon, the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn.

And the Jungfrau speaks to its neighbour: 'What canst thou tell that is new? thou canst see more. What is there down below?'

A few thousand years go by: one minute. And the Finsteraarhorn roars back in answer: 'Thick clouds cover the earth.... Wait a little!'

Thousands more years go by: one minute.

'Well, and now?' asks the Jungfrau.

'Now I see, there below all is the same. There are blue waters, black forests, grey heaps of piled-up stones. Among them are still fussing to and fro the insects, thou knowest, the bipeds that have never yet once defiled thee nor me.'

'Men?'

'Yes, men.'

Thousands of years go by: one minute.

'Well, and now?' asks the Jungfrau.

'There seem fewer insects to be seen,' thunders the Finsteraarhorn, 'it is clearer down below; the waters have shrunk, the forests are thinner.' Again thousands of years go by: one minute.

'What seeest thou?' says the Jungfrau.

'Close about us it seems purer,' answers the Finsteraarhorn, 'but there in the distance in the valleys are still spots, and something is moving.' 'And now?' asks the Jungfrau, after more thousands of years: one minute.

'Now it is well,' answers the Finsteraarhorn, 'it is clean everywhere, quite white, wherever you look ... Everywhere is our snow, unbroken snow and ice. Everything is frozen. It is well now, it is quiet.'

'Good,' said the Jungfrau. 'But we have gossipped enough, old fellow. It's time to slumber.'

'It is time, indeed.'

The huge mountains sleep; the green, clear sky sleeps over the region of eternal silence.

February 1878.