By HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
Some large ships were sent up toward the North Pole, for the purpose of discovering the boundaries of land and sea, and of trying how far men could make their way.
A year and a day had elapsed; amid mist and ice had they, with great difficulty, steered further and further; the winter had now begun; the sun had set, one long night would continue during many, many weeks. One unbroken plain of ice spread around them; the ships were all fast moored to it; the snow lay about in heaps, and had even shaped itself into cubiform houses, some as big as our barrows, some only just large enough for two or three men to find shelter within. Darkness they could not complain of, for the Northern Lights -- Nature's fireworks -- now red, now blue, flashed unceasingly, and the snow glistened so brightly.
At times when it was brightest came troops of the natives, strange-looking figures, clad in hairy skins, and with sledges made out of hard fragments of ice; they brought skins to exchange, which the sailors were only too glad to use as warm carpets inside their snow houses, and as beds whereon they could rest under their snowy tents, while outside prevailed an intensity of cold such as we never experience during our severest winters. But the sailors remembered that at home it was still autumn; and they thought of the warm sunbeams and the leaves still clinging to the trees in varied glories of crimson and gold. Their watches told them it was evening, and time for rest, and in one of the snow houses two sailors had already lain down to sleep; the youngest of these two had with him his best home-treasure, the Bible that his grandmother had given him at parting. Every night it lay under his pillow; he had known its contents from childhood, and every day he read a portion; and often as he lay on his couch, he recalled to mind those holy words of comfort, |If I should take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there should Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand should hold me.|
These sublime words of faith were on his lips as he closed his eyes, when sleep came to him, and dreams with sleep -- busy, swift-winged dreams, proving that though the body may rest, the soul must ever be awake. First he seemed to hear the melodies of songs dear to him in his home; a mild summer breeze seemed to breathe upon him, and a light shone upon his couch, as though the snowy dome above him had become transparent; he lifted his head, and behold! the dazzling white light was not the white of a snow wall, it came from the large wings of an angel stooping over him, an angel with eyes beaming with love. The angel's form seemed to spring from the pages of the Bible, as from the pitcher of a lily-blossom; he extended his arms, and lo! the narrow walls of the snow-hut sank back like a mist melting before the daylight. Once again the green meadows and autumnal-tinted woods of the sailor's home lay around him, bathed in quiet sunshine; the stork's nest was empty, but the apples still clung to the wild apple-tree; though leaves had fallen, the red hips glistened, and the blackbird whistled in the little green cage that hung in the lowly window of his childhood's home; the blackbird whistled the tune he had taught him, and the old grandmother wound chickweed about the bars of the cage, as her grandson had been wont to do. And the smith's pretty young daughter stood drawing water from the well, and as she nodded to the grandmother, the latter beckoned to her, and held up a letter to show her, a letter that had come that morning from the cold northern lands, from the North Pole itself, where the old woman's grandson now was -- safe under God's protecting hand. And the two women, old and young, laughed and wept by turns -- and he the while, the young sailor whose body was sleeping amid ice and snow, his spirit roaming in the world of dreams, under the angel's wings, saw and heard it all, and laughed and wept with them. And from the letter these words were read aloud, |Even in the uttermost parts of the sea, His right hand shall hold me fast|: and a sweet, solemn music was wafted round him, and the angel drooped his wings; like a soft protecting veil they fell closer over the sleeper.
The dream was ended; all was darkness in the little snow-hut, but the Bible lay under the sailor's head, faith and hope abode in his heart. God was with him, and his home was with him, |even in the uttermost parts of the sea.|