CHAPTER XXX. AN ARCTIC AURORA - ORDERS FROM THE MAJOR - ADVENTURES OF MACRAE AND ARNOLD WITH THE CHUKCHIS - RETURN TO GIZHIGA - REVIEW OF WINTER'S WORK

Among the few pleasures which reward the traveller for the hardships and dangers of life in the Far North, there are none which are brighter or longer remembered than the magnificent auroral displays which occasionally illumine the darkness of the long polar night, and light up with a celestial glory the whole blue vault of heaven. No other natural phenomenon is so grand, so mysterious, so terrible in its unearthly splendour as this. The veil which conceals from mortal eyes the glory of the eternal throne seems drawn aside, and the awed beholder is lifted out of the atmosphere of his daily life into the immediate presence of God.

On the 20th of February, while we were all yet living together at Anadyrsk, there occurred one of the grandest displays of the arctic aurora which had been observed there for more than fifty years, and which exhibited such unusual and extraordinary brilliancy as to astonish and frighten even the natives. It was a cold, dark, but clear winter's night, and the sky in the earlier part of the evening showed no signs of the magnificent illumination which was already being prepared. A few streamers wavered now and then in the north, and a faint radiance like that of the rising moon shone above the dark belt of shrubbery which bordered the river; but these were common occurrences, and excited no notice or remark. Late in the evening, just as we were preparing to go to bed, Dodd happened to go outside for a moment to look after his dogs; but no sooner had he reached the outer door of the entry than he came rushing back, his face ablaze with excitement, shouting: "Kennan! Robinson! Come out, quick!" With a vague impression that the village must be on fire, I sprang up, and without stopping to put on my furs, fan hastily out, followed closely by Robinson, Harder, and Smith. As we emerged into the open air there burst suddenly upon our startled eyes the grandest exhibition of vivid dazzling light and colour of which the mind can conceive. The whole universe seemed to be on fire. A broad arch of brilliant prismatic colours spanned the heavens from east to west like a gigantic rainbow, with a long fringe of crimson and yellow streamers stretching up from its convex edge to the very zenith. At intervals of one or two seconds, wide, luminous bands, parallel with the arch, rose suddenly out of the northern horizon and swept with a swift, steady majesty across the whole heavens, like long breakers of phosphorescent light rolling in from some limitless ocean of space.