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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Ice Maiden - Part 1

I. LITTLE RUDY

WE will pay a visit to Switzerland, and wander through
that country of mountains, whose steep and rocky sides are
overgrown with forest trees. Let us climb to the dazzling
snow-fields at their summits, and descend again to the green
meadows beneath, through which rivers and brooks rush along as
if they could not quickly enough reach the sea and vanish.
Fiercely shines the sun over those deep valleys, as well as
upon the heavy masses of snow which lie on the mountains.

During the year these accumulations thaw or fall in the
rolling avalance, or are piled up in shining glaciers. Two of
these glaciers lie in the broad, rocky cliffs, between the
Schreckhorn and the Wetterhorn, near the little town of
Grindelwald. They are wonderful to behold, and therefore in
the summer time strangers come here from all parts of the
world to see them. They cross snow-covered mountains, and
travel through the deep valleys, or ascend for hours, higher
and still higher, the valleys appearing to sink lower and
lower as they proceed, and become as small as if seen from an
air balloon. Over the lofty summits of these mountains the
clouds often hang like a dark veil; while beneath in the
valley, where many brown, wooden houses are scattered about,
the bright rays of the sun may be shining upon a little
brilliant patch of green, making it appear almost transparent.
The waters foam and dash along in the valleys beneath; the
streams from above trickle and murmur as they fall down the
rocky mountain's side, looking like glittering silver bands.

On both sides of the mountain-path stand these little
wooden houses; and, as within, there are many children and
many mouths to feed, each house has its own little potato
garden. These children rush out in swarms, and surround
travellers, whether on foot or in carriages. They are all
clever at making a bargain. They offer for sale the sweetest
little toy-houses, models of the mountain cottages in
Switzerland. Whether it be rain or sunshine, these crowds of
children are always to be seen with their wares.

About twenty years ago, there might be seen occasionally,
standing at a short distance from the other children, a little
boy, who was also anxious to sell his curious wares. He had an
earnest, expressive countenance, and held the box containing
his carved toys tightly with both hands, as if unwilling to
part with it. His earnest look, and being also a very little
boy, made him noticed by the strangers; so that he often sold
the most, without knowing why. An hour's walk farther up the
ascent lived his grandfather, who cut and carved the pretty
little toy-houses; and in the old man's room stood a large
press, full of all sorts of carved things- nut-crackers,
knives and forks, boxes with beautifully carved foliage,
leaping chamois. It contained everything that could delight
the eyes of a child. But the boy, who was named Rudy, looked
with still greater pleasure and longing at some old fire-arms
which hung upon the rafters, under the ceiling of the room.
His grandfather promised him that he should have them some
day, but that he must first grow big and strong, and learn how
to use them. Small as he was, the goats were placed in his
care, and a good goat-keeper should also be a good climber,
and such Rudy was; he sometimes, indeed, climbed higher than
the goats, for he was fond of seeking for birds'-nests at the
top of high trees; he was bold and daring, but was seldom seen
to smile, excepting when he stood by the roaring cataract, or
heard the descending roll of the avalanche. He never played
with the other children, and was not seen with them, unless
his grandfather sent him down to sell his curious workmanship.
Rudy did not much like trade; he loved to climb the mountains,
or to sit by his grandfather and listen to his tales of olden
times, or of the people in Meyringen, the place of his birth.

'In the early ages of the world,' said the old man, 'these
people could not be found in Switzerland. They are a colony
from the north, where their ancestors still dwell, and are
called Swedes.'

This was something for Rudy to know, but he learnt more
from other sources, particularly from the domestic animals who
belonged to the house. One was a large dog, called Ajola,
which had belonged to his father; and the other was a tom-cat.
This cat stood very high in Rudy's favor, for he had taught
him to climb.

'Come out on the roof with me,' said the cat; and Rudy
quite understood him, for the language of fowls, ducks, cats,
and dogs, is as easily understood by a young child as his own
native tongue. But it must be at the age when grandfather's
stick becomes a neighing horse, with head, legs, and tail.
Some children retain these ideas later than others, and they
are considered backwards and childish for their age. People
say so; but is it so?

'Come out on the roof with me, little Rudy,' was the first
thing he heard the cat say, and Rudy understood him. 'What
people say about falling down is all nonsense,' continued the
cat; 'you will not fall, unless you are afraid. Come, now, set
one foot here and another there, and feel your way with your
fore-feet. Keep your eyes wide open, and move softly, and if
you come to a hole jump over it, and cling fast as I do.' And
this was just what Rudy did. He was often on the sloping roof
with the cat, or on the tops of high trees. But, more
frequently, higher still on the ridges of the rocks where puss
never came.

'Higher, higher!' cried the trees and the bushes, 'see to
what height we have grown, and how fast we hold, even to the
narrow edges of the rocks.'

Rudy often reached the top of the mountain before the
sunrise, and there inhaled his morning draught of the fresh,
invigorating mountain air,- God's own gift, which men call the
sweet fragrance of plant and herb on the mountain-side, and
the mint and wild thyme in the valleys. The overhanging clouds
absorb all heaviness from the air, and the winds convey them
away over the pine-tree summits. The spirit of fragrance,
light and fresh, remained behind, and this was Rudy's morning
draught. The sunbeams- those blessing-bringing daughters of
the sun- kissed his cheeks. Vertigo might be lurking on the
watch, but he dared not approach him. The swallows, who had
not less than seven nests in his grandfather's house, flew up
to him and his goats, singing, 'We and you, you and we.' They
brought him greetings from his grandfather's house, even from
two hens, the only birds of the household; but Rudy was not
intimate with them.

Although so young and such a little fellow, Rudy had
travelled a great deal. He was born in the canton of Valais,
and brought to his grandfather over the mountains. He had
walked to Staubbach- a little town that seems to flutter in
the air like a silver veil- the glittering, snow-clad mountain
Jungfrau. He had also been to the great glaciers; but this is
connected with a sad story, for here his mother met her death,
and his grandfather used to say that all Rudy's childish
merriment was lost from that time. His mother had written in a
letter, that before he was a year old he had laughed more than
he cried; but after his fall into the snow-covered crevasse,
his disposition had completely changed. The grandfather seldom
spoke of this, but the fact was generally known. Rudy's father
had been a postilion, and the large dog which now lived in his
grandfather's cottage had always followed him on his journeys
over the Simplon to the lake of Geneva. Rudy's relations, on
his father's side, lived in the canton of Valais, in the
valley of the Rhone. His uncle was a chamois hunter, and a
well-known guide. Rudy was only a year old when his father
died, and his mother was anxious to return with her child to
her own relations, who lived in the Bernese Oberland. Her
father dwelt at a few hours' distance from Grindelwald; he was
a carver in wood, and gained so much by it that he had plenty
to live upon. She set out homewards in the month of June,
carrying her infant in her arms, and, accompanied by two
chamois hunters, crossed the Gemmi on her way to Grindelwald.
They had already left more than half the journey behind them.
They had crossed high ridges, and traversed snow-fields; they
could even see her native valley, with its familiar wooden
cottages. They had only one more glacier to climb. Some newly
fallen snow concealed a cleft which, though it did not extend
to the foaming waters in the depths beneath, was still much
deeper than the height of a man. The young woman, with the
child in her arms, slipped upon it, sank in, and disappeared.
Not a shriek, not a groan was heard; nothing but the whining
of a little child. More than an hour elapsed before her two
companions could obtain from the nearest house ropes and poles
to assist in raising them; and it was with much exertion that
they at last succeeded in raising from the crevasse what
appeared to be two dead bodies. Every means was used to
restore them to life. With the child they were successful, but
not with the mother; so the old grandfather received his
daughter's little son into his house an orphan,- a little boy
who laughed more than he cried; but it seemed as if laughter
had left him in the cold ice-world into which he had fallen,
where, as the Swiss peasants say, the souls of the lost are
confined till the judgment-day.

The glaciers appear as if a rushing stream had been frozen
in its course, and pressed into blocks of green crystal,
which, balanced one upon another, form a wondrous palace of
crystal for the Ice Maiden- the queen of the glaciers. It is
she whose mighty power can crush the traveller to death, and
arrest the flowing river in its course. She is also a child of
the air, and with the swiftness of the chamois she can reach
the snow-covered mountain tops, where the boldest mountaineer
has to cut footsteps in the ice to ascend. She will sail on a
frail pine-twig over the raging torrents beneath, and spring
lightly from one iceberg to another, with her long, snow-white
hair flowing around her, and her dark-green robe glittering
like the waters of the deep Swiss lakes. 'Mine is the power to
seize and crush,' she cried. 'Once a beautiful boy was stolen
from me by man,- a boy whom I had kissed, but had not kissed
to death. He is again among mankind, and tends the goats on
the mountains. He is always climbing higher and higher, far
away from all others, but not from me. He is mine; I will send
for him.' And she gave Vertigo the commission.

It was summer, and the Ice Maiden was melting amidst the
green verdure, when Vertigo swung himself up and down. Vertigo
has many brothers, quite a troop of them, and the Ice Maiden
chose the strongest among them. They exercise their power in
different ways, and everywhere. Some sit on the banisters of
steep stairs, others on the outer rails of lofty towers, or
spring like squirrels along the ridges of the mountains.
Others tread the air as a swimmer treads the water, and lure
their victims here and there till they fall into the deep
abyss. Vertigo and the Ice Maiden clutch at human beings, as
the polypus seizes upon all that comes within its reach. And
now Vertigo was to seize Rudy.

'Seize him, indeed,' cried Vertigo; 'I cannot do it. That
monster of a cat has taught him her tricks. That child of the
human race has a power within him which keeps me at a
distance; I cannot possibly reach the boy when he hangs from
the branches of trees, over the precipice; or I would gladly
tickle his feet, and send him heels over head through the air;
but I cannot accomplish it.'

'We must accomplish it,' said the Ice Maiden; 'either you
or I must; and I will- I will!'

'No, no!' sounded through the air, like an echo on the
mountain church bells chime. It was an answer in song, in the
melting tones of a chorus from others of nature's spirits-
good and loving spirits, the daughters of the sunbeam. They
who place themselves in a circle every evening on the mountain
peaks; there they spread out their rose-colored wings, which,
as the sun sinks, become more flaming red, until the lofty
Alps seem to burn with fire. Men call this the Alpine glow.
After the sun has set, they disappear within the white snow on
the mountain-tops, and slumber there till sunrise, when they
again come forth. They have great love for flowers, for
butterflies, and for mankind; and from among the latter they
had chosen little Rudy. 'You shall not catch him; you shall
not seize him!' they sang.

'Greater and stronger than he have I seized!' said the Ice
Maiden.

Then the daughters of the sun sang a song of the
traveller, whose cloak had been carried away by the wind. 'The
wind took the covering, but not the man; it could even seize
upon him, but not hold him fast. The children of strength are
more powerful, more ethereal, even than we are. They can rise
higher than our parent, the sun. They have the magic words
that rule the wind and the waves, and compel them to serve and
obey; and they can, at last, cast off the heavy, oppressive
weight of mortality, and soar upwards.' Thus sweetly sounded
the bell-like tones of the chorus.

And each morning the sun's rays shone through the one
little window of the grandfather's house upon the quiet child.
The daughters of the sunbeam kissed him; they wished to thaw,
and melt, and obliterate the ice kiss which the queenly maiden
of the glaciers had given him as he lay in the lap of his dead
mother, in the deep crevasse of ice from which he had been so
wonderfully rescued.


II. THE JOURNEY TO THE NEW HOME

Rudy was just eight years old, when his uncle, who lived
on the other side of the mountain, wished to have the boy, as
he thought he might obtain a better education with him, and
learn something more. His grandfather thought the same, so he
consented to let him go. Rudy had many to say farewell to, as
well as his grandfather. First, there was Ajola, the old dog.

'Your father was the postilion, and I was the postilion's
dog,' said Ajola. 'We have often travelled the same journey
together; I knew all the dogs and men on this side of the
mountain. It is not my habit to talk much; but now that we
have so little time to converse together, I will say something
more than usual. I will relate to you a story, which I have
reflected upon for a long time. I do not understand it, and
very likely you will not, but that is of no consequence. I
have, however, learnt from it that in this world things are
not equally divided, neither for dogs nor for men. All are not
born to lie on the lap and to drink milk: I have never been
petted in this way, but I have seen a little dog seated in the
place of a gentleman or lady, and travelling inside a
post-chaise. The lady, who was his mistress, or of whom he was
master, carried a bottle of milk, of which the little dog now
and then drank; she also offered him pieces of sugar to
crunch. He sniffed at them proudly, but would not eat one, so
she ate them herself. I was running along the dirty road by
the side of the carriage as hungry as a dog could be, chewing
the cud of my own thoughts, which were rather in confusion.
But many other things seemed in confusion also. Why was not I
lying on a lap and travelling in a coach? I could not tell;
yet I knew I could not alter my own condition, either by
barking or growling.

This was Ajola's farewell speech, and Rudy threw his arms
round the dog's neck and kissed his cold nose. Then he took
the cat in his arms, but he struggled to get free.

'You are getting too strong for me,' he said; 'but I will
not use my claws against you. Clamber away over the mountains;
it was I who taught you to climb. Do not fancy you are going
to fall, and you will be quite safe.' Then the cat jumped down
and ran away; he did not wish Rudy to see that there were
tears in his eyes.

The hens were hopping about the floor; one of them had no
tail; a traveller, who fancied himself a sportsman, had shot
off her tail, he had mistaken her for a bird of prey.

'Rudy is going away over the mountains,' said one of the
hens.

'He is always in such a hurry,' said the other; 'and I
don't like taking leave,' so they both hopped out.

But the goats said farewell; they bleated and wanted to go
with him, they were so very sorry.

Just at this time two clever guides were going to cross
the mountains to the other side of the Gemmi, and Rudy was to
go with them on foot. It was a long walk for such a little
boy, but he had plenty of strength and invincible courage. The
swallows flew with him a little way, singing, 'We and you- you
and we.' The way led across the rushing Lutschine, which falls
in numerous streams from the dark clefts of the Grindelwald
glaciers. Trunks of fallen trees and blocks of stone form
bridges over these streams. After passing a forest of alders,
they began to ascend, passing by some blocks of ice that had
loosened themselves from the side of the mountain and lay
across their path; they had to step over these ice-blocks or
walk round them. Rudy crept here and ran there, his eyes
sparkling with joy, and he stepped so firmly with his
iron-tipped mountain shoe, that he left a mark behind him
wherever he placed his foot.

The earth was black where the mountain torrents or the
melted ice had poured upon it, but the bluish green, glassy
ice sparkled and glittered. They had to go round little pools,
like lakes, enclosed between large masses of ice; and, while
thus wandering out of their path, they came near an immense
stone, which lay balanced on the edge of an icy peak. The
stone lost its balance just as they reached it, and rolled
over into the abyss beneath, while the noise of its fall was
echoed back from every hollow cliff of the glaciers.

They were always going upwards. The glaciers seemed to
spread above them like a continued chain of masses of ice,
piled up in wild confusion between bare and rugged rocks. Rudy
thought for a moment of what had been told him, that he and
his mother had once lain buried in one of these cold,
heart-chilling fissures; but he soon banished such thoughts,
and looked upon the story as fabulous, like many other stories
which had been told him. Once or twice, when the men thought
the way was rather difficult for such a little boy, they held
out their hands to assist him; but he would not accept their
assistance, for he stood on the slippery ice as firmly as if
he had been a chamois. They came at length to rocky ground;
sometimes stepping upon moss-covered stones, sometimes passing
beneath stunted fir-trees, and again through green meadows.
The landscape was always changing, but ever above them towered
the lofty snow-clad mountains, whose names not only Rudy but
every other child knew- 'The Jungfrau,' 'The Monk and the
Eiger.'



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