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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 2

Rudy had never been so far away before; he had never
trodden on the wide-spreading ocean of snow that lay here with
its immovable billows, from which the wind blows off the
snowflake now and then, as it cuts the foam from the waves of
the sea. The glaciers stand here so close together it might
almost be said they are hand-in-hand; and each is a crystal
palace for the Ice Maiden, whose power and will it is to seize
and imprison the unwary traveller.

The sun shone warmly, and the snow sparkled as if covered
with glittering diamonds. Numerous insects, especially
butterflies and bees, lay dead in heaps on the snow. They had
ventured too high, or the wind had carried them here and left
them to die of cold.

Around the Wetterhorn hung a feathery cloud, like a
woolbag, and a threatening cloud too, for as it sunk lower it
increased in size, and concealed within was a 'fohn,' fearful
in its violence should it break loose. This journey, with its
varied incidents,- the wild paths, the night passed on the
mountain, the steep rocky precipices, the hollow clefts, in
which the rustling waters from time immemorial had worn away
passages for themselves through blocks of stone,- all these
were firmly impressed on Rudy's memory.

In a forsaken stone building, which stood just beyond the
seas of snow, they one night took shelter. Here they found
some charcoal and pine branches, so that they soon made a
fire. They arranged couches to lie on as well as they could,
and then the men seated themselves by the fire, took out their
pipes, and began to smoke. They also prepared a warm, spiced
drink, of which they partook and Rudy was not forgotten- he
had his share. Then they began to talk of those mysterious
beings with which the land of the Alps abounds; the hosts of
apparitions which come in the night, and carry off the
sleepers through the air, to the wonderful floating town of
Venice; of the wild herds-man, who drives the black sheep
across the meadows. These flocks are never seen, yet the
tinkle of their little bells has often been heard, as well as
their unearthly bleating. Rudy listened eagerly, but without
fear, for he knew not what fear meant; and while he listened,
he fancied he could hear the roaring of the spectral herd. It
seemed to come nearer and roar louder, till the men heard it
also and listened in silence, till, at length, they told Rudy
that he must not dare to sleep. It was a 'fohn,' that violent
storm-wind which rushes from the mountain to the valley
beneath, and in its fury snaps asunder the trunks of large
trees as if they were but slender reeds, and carries the
wooden houses from one side of a river to the other as easily
as we could move the pieces on a chess-board. After an hour
had passed, they told Rudy that it was all over, and he might
go to sleep; and, fatigued with his long walk, he readily
slept at the word of command.

Very early the following morning they again set out. The
sun on this day lighted up for Rudy new mountains, new
glaciers, and new snow-fields. They had entered the Canton
Valais, and found themselves on the ridge of the hills which
can be seen from Grindelwald; but he was still far from his
new home. They pointed out to him other clefts, other meadows,
other woods and rocky paths, and other houses. Strange men
made their appearance before him, and what men! They were
misshapen, wretched-looking creatures, with yellow
complexions; and on their necks were dark, ugly lumps of
flesh, hanging down like bags. They were called cretins. They
dragged themselves along painfully, and stared at the
strangers with vacant eyes. The women looked more dreadful
than the men. Poor Rudy! were these the sort of people he
should see at his new home?


III. THE UNCLE

Rudy arrived at last at his uncle's house, and was
thankful to find the people like those he had been accustomed
to see. There was only one cretin amongst them, a poor idiot
boy, one of those unfortunate beings who, in their neglected
conditions, go from house to house, and are received and taken
care of in different families, for a month or two at a time.

Poor Saperli had just arrived at his uncle's house when
Rudy came. The uncle was an experienced hunter; he also
followed the trade of a cooper; his wife was a lively little
person, with a face like a bird, eyes like those of an eagle,
and a long, hairy throat. Everything was new to Rudy- the
fashion of the dress, the manners, the employments, and even
the language; but the latter his childish ear would soon
learn. He saw also that there was more wealth here, when
compared with his former home at his grandfather's. The rooms
were larger, the walls were adorned with the horns of the
chamois, and brightly polished guns. Over the door hung a
painting of the Virgin Mary, fresh alpine roses and a burning
lamp stood near it. Rudy's uncle was, as we have said, one of
the most noted chamois hunters in the whole district, and also
one of the best guides. Rudy soon became the pet of the house;
but there was another pet, an old hound, blind and lazy, who
would never more follow the hunt, well as he had once done so.
But his former good qualities were not forgotten, and
therefore the animal was kept in the family and treated with
every indulgence. Rudy stroked the old hound, but he did not
like strangers, and Rudy was as yet a stranger; he did not,
however, long remain so, he soon endeared himself to every
heart, and became like one of the family.

'We are not very badly off, here in the canton Valais,'
said his uncle one day; 'we have the chamois, they do not die
so fast as the wild goats, and it is certainly much better
here now than in former times. How highly the old times have
been spoken of, but ours is better. The bag has been opened,
and a current of air now blows through our once confined
valley. Something better always makes its appearance when old,
worn-out things fail.'

When his uncle became communicative, he would relate
stories of his youthful days, and farther back still of the
warlike times in which his father had lived. Valais was then,
as he expressed it, only a closed-up bag, quite full of sick
people, miserable cretins; but the French soldiers came, and
they were capital doctors, they soon killed the disease and
the sick people, too. The French people knew how to fight in
more ways than one, and the girls knew how to conquer too; and
when he said this the uncle nodded at his wife, who was a
French woman by birth, and laughed. The French could also do
battle on the stones. 'It was they who cut a road out of the
solid rock over the Simplon- such a road, that I need only say
to a child of three years old, 'Go down to Italy, you have
only to keep in the high road,' and the child will soon arrive
in Italy, if he followed my directions.'

Then the uncle sang a French song, and cried, 'Hurrah!
long live Napoleon Buonaparte.' This was the first time Rudy
had ever heard of France, or of Lyons, that great city on the
Rhone where his uncle had once lived. His uncle said that
Rudy, in a very few years, would become a clever hunter, he
had quite a talent for it; he taught the boy to hold a gun
properly, and to load and fire it. In the hunting season he
took him to the hills, and made him drink the warm blood of
the chamois, which is said to prevent the hunter from becoming
giddy; he taught him to know the time when, from the different
mountains, the avalanche is likely to fall, namely, at
noontide or in the evening, from the effects of the sun's
rays; he made him observe the movements of the chamois when he
gave a leap, so that he might fall firmly and lightly on his
feet. He told him that when on the fissures of the rocks he
could find no place for his feet, he must support himself on
his elbows, and cling with his legs, and even lean firmly with
his back, for this could be done when necessary. He told him
also that the chamois are very cunning, they place lookers-out
on the watch; but the hunter must be more cunning than they
are, and find them out by the scent.

One day, when Rudy went out hunting with his uncle, he
hung a coat and hat on an alpine staff, and the chamois
mistook it for a man, as they generally do. The mountain path
was narrow here; indeed it was scarcely a path at all, only a
kind of shelf, close to the yawning abyss. The snow that lay
upon it was partially thawed, and the stones crumbled beneath
the feet. Every fragment of stone broken off struck the sides
of the rock in its fall, till it rolled into the depths
beneath, and sunk to rest. Upon this shelf Rudy's uncle laid
himself down, and crept forward. At about a hundred paces
behind him stood Rudy, upon the highest point of the rock,
watching a great vulture hovering in the air; with a single
stroke of his wing the bird might easily cast the creeping
hunter into the abyss beneath, and make him his prey. Rudy's
uncle had eyes for nothing but the chamois, who, with its
young kid, had just appeared round the edge of the rock. So
Rudy kept his eyes fixed on the bird, he knew well what the
great creature wanted; therefore he stood in readiness to
discharge his gun at the proper moment. Suddenly the chamois
made a spring, and his uncle fired and struck the animal with
the deadly bullet; while the young kid rushed away, as if for
a long life he had been accustomed to danger and practised
flight. The large bird, alarmed at the report of the gun,
wheeled off in another direction, and Rudy's uncle was saved
from danger, of which he knew nothing till he was told of it
by the boy.

While they were both in pleasant mood, wending their way
homewards, and the uncle whistling the tune of a song he had
learnt in his young days, they suddenly heard a peculiar sound
which seemed to come from the top of the mountain. They looked
up, and saw above them, on the over-hanging rock, the
snow-covering heave and lift itself as a piece of linen
stretched on the ground to dry raises itself when the wind
creeps under it. Smooth as polished marble slabs, the waves of
snow cracked and loosened themselves, and then suddenly, with
the rumbling noise of distant thunder, fell like a foaming
cataract into the abyss. An avalanche had fallen, not upon
Rudy and his uncle, but very near them. Alas, a great deal too
near!

'Hold fast, Rudy!' cried his uncle; 'hold fast, with all
your might.'

Then Rudy clung with his arms to the trunk of the nearest
tree, while his uncle climbed above him, and held fast by the
branches. The avalanche rolled past them at some distance; but
the gust of wind that followed, like the storm-wings of the
avalanche, snapped asunder the trees and bushes over which it
swept, as if they had been but dry rushes, and threw them
about in every direction. The tree to which Rudy clung was
thus overthrown, and Rudy dashed to the ground. The higher
branches were snapped off, and carried away to a great
distance; and among these shattered branches lay Rudy's uncle,
with his skull fractured. When they found him, his hand was
still warm; but it would have been impossible to recognize his
face. Rudy stood by, pale and trembling; it was the first
shock of his life, the first time he had ever felt fear. Late
in the evening he returned home with the fatal news,- to that
home which was now to be so full of sorrow. His uncle's wife
uttered not a word, nor shed a tear, till the corpse was
brought in; then her agony burst forth. The poor cretin crept
away to his bed, and nothing was seen of him during the whole
of the following day. Towards evening, however, he came to
Rudy, and said, 'Will you write a letter for me? Saperli
cannot write; Saperli can only take the letters to the post.'

'A letter for you!' said Rudy; 'who do you wish to write
to?'

'To the Lord Christ,' he replied.

'What do you mean?' asked Rudy.

Then the poor idiot, as the cretin was often called,
looked at Rudy with a most touching expression in his eyes,
clasped his hands, and said, solemnly and devoutly, 'Saperli
wants to send a letter to Jesus Christ, to pray Him to let
Saperli die, and not the master of the house here.'

Rudy pressed his hand, and replied, 'A letter would not
reach Him up above; it would not give him back whom we have
lost.'

It was not, however, easy for Rudy to convince Saperli of
the impossibility of doing what he wished.

'Now you must work for us,' said his foster-mother; and
Rudy very soon became the entire support of the house. BABETTE


IV. BABETTE

Who was the best marksman in the canton Valais? The
chamois knew well. 'Save yourselves from Rudy,' they might
well say. And who is the handsomest marksman? 'Oh, it is
Rudy,' said the maidens; but they did not say, 'Save
yourselves from Rudy.' Neither did anxious mothers say so; for
he bowed to them as pleasantly as to the young girls. He was
so brave and cheerful. His cheeks were brown, his teeth white,
and his eyes dark and sparkling. He was now a handsome young
man of twenty years. The most icy water could not deter him
from swimming; he could twist and turn like a fish. None could
climb like he, and he clung as firmly to the edges of the
rocks as a limpet. He had strong muscular power, as could be
seen when he leapt from rock to rock. He had learnt this first
from the cat, and more lately from the chamois. Rudy was
considered the best guide over the mountains; every one had
great confidence in him. He might have made a great deal of
money as guide. His uncle had also taught him the trade of a
cooper; but he had no inclination for either; his delight was
in chamois-hunting, which also brought him plenty of money.
Rudy would be a very good match, as people said, if he would
not look above his own station. He was also such a famous
partner in dancing, that the girls often dreamt about him, and
one and another thought of him even when awake.

'He kissed me in the dance,' said Annette, the
schoolmaster's daughter, to her dearest friend; but she ought
not to have told this, even to her dearest friend. It is not
easy to keep such secrets; they are like sand in a sieve; they
slip out. It was therefore soon known that Rudy, so brave and
so good as he was, had kissed some one while dancing, and yet
he had never kissed her who was dearest to him.

'Ah, ah,' said an old hunter, 'he has kissed Annette, has
he? he has begun with A, and I suppose he will kiss through
the whole alphabet.'

But a kiss in the dance was all the busy tongues could
accuse him of. He certainly had kissed Annette, but she was
not the flower of his heart.

Down in the valley, near Bex, among the great
walnut-trees, by the side of a little rushing mountain-stream,
lived a rich miller. His dwelling-house was a large building,
three storeys high, with little turrets. The roof was covered
with chips, bound together with tin plates, that glittered in
sunshine and in the moonlight. The largest of the turrets had
a weather-cock, representing an apple pierced by a glittering
arrow, in memory of William Tell. The mill was a neat and
well-ordered place, that allowed itself to be sketched and
written about; but the miller's daughter did not permit any to
sketch or write about her. So, at least, Rudy would have said,
for her image was pictured in his heart; her eyes shone in it
so brightly, that quite a flame had been kindled there; and,
like all other fires, it had burst forth so suddenly, that the
miller's daughter, the beautiful Babette, was quite unaware of
it. Rudy had never spoken a word to her on the subject. The
miller was rich, and, on that account, Babette stood very
high, and was rather difficult to aspire to. But said Rudy to
himself, 'Nothing is too high for a man to reach: he must
climb with confidence in himself, and he will not fail.' He
had learnt this lesson in his youthful home.

It happened once that Rudy had some business to settle at
Bex. It was a long journey at that time, for the railway had
not been opened. From the glaciers of the Rhone, at the foot
of the Simplon, between its ever-changing mountain summits,
stretches the valley of the canton Valais. Through it runs the
noble river of the Rhone, which often overflows its banks,
covering fields and highways, and destroying everything in its
course. Near the towns of Sion and St. Maurice, the valley
takes a turn, and bends like an elbow, and behind St. Maurice
becomes so narrow that there is only space enough for the bed
of the river and a narrow carriage-road. An old tower stands
here, as if it were guardian to the canton Valais, which ends
at this point; and from it we can look across the stone bridge
to the toll-house on the other side, where the canton Vaud
commences. Not far from this spot stands the town of Bex, and
at every step can be seen an increase of fruitfulness and
verdure. It is like entering a grove of chestnut and
walnut-trees. Here and there the cypress and pomegranate
blossoms peep forth; and it is almost as warm as an Italian
climate. Rudy arrived at Bex, and soon finished the business
which had brought him there, and then walked about the town;
but not even the miller's boy could be seen, nor any one
belonging to the mill, not to mention Babette. This did not
please him at all. Evening came on. The air was filled with
the perfume of the wild thyme and the blossoms of the
lime-trees, and the green woods on the mountains seemed to be
covered with a shining veil, blue as the sky. Over everything
reigned a stillness, not of sleep or of death, but as if
Nature were holding her breath, that her image might be
photographed on the blue vault of heaven. Here and there,
amidst the trees of the silent valley, stood poles which
supported the wires of the electric telegraph. Against one of
these poles leaned an object so motionless that it might have
been mistaken for the trunk of a tree; but it was Rudy,
standing there as still as at that moment was everything
around him. He was not asleep, neither was he dead; but just
as the various events in the world- matters of momentous
importance to individuals- were flying through the telegraph
wires, without the quiver of a wire or the slightest tone, so,
through the mind of Rudy, thoughts of overwhelming importance
were passing, without an outward sign of emotion. The
happiness of his future life depended upon the decision of his
present reflections. His eyes were fixed on one spot in the
distance- a light that twinkled through the foliage from the
parlor of the miller's house, where Babette dwelt. Rudy stood
so still, that it might have been supposed he was watching for
a chamois; but he was in reality like a chamois, who will
stand for a moment, looking as if it were chiselled out of the
rock, and then, if only a stone rolled by, would suddenly
bound forward with a spring, far away from the hunter. And so
with Rudy: a sudden roll of his thoughts roused him from his
stillness, and made him bound forward with determination to
act.

'Never despair!' cried he. 'A visit to the mill, to say
good evening to the miller, and good evening to little
Babette, can do no harm. No one ever fails who has confidence
in himself. If I am to be Babette's husband, I must see her
some time or other.'

Then Rudy laughed joyously, and took courage to go to the
mill. He knew what he wanted; he wanted to marry Babette. The
clear water of the river rolled over its yellow bed, and
willows and lime-trees were reflected in it, as Rudy stepped
along the path to the miller's house. But, as the children
sing-


'There was no one at home in the house,

Only a kitten at play.'


The cat standing on the steps put up its back and cried
'mew.' But Rudy had no inclination for this sort of
conversation; he passed on, and knocked at the door. No one
heard him, no one opened the door. 'Mew,' said the cat again;
and had Rudy been still a child, he would have understood this
language, and known that the cat wished to tell him there was
no one at home. So he was obliged to go to the mill and make
inquiries, and there he heard that the miller had gone on a
journey to Interlachen, and taken Babette with him, to the
great shooting festival, which began that morning, and would
continue for eight days, and that people from all the German
settlements would be there.

Poor Rudy! we may well say. It was not a fortunate day for
his visit to Bex. He had just to return the way he came,
through St. Maurice and Sion, to his home in the valley. But
he did not despair. When the sun rose the next morning, his
good spirits had returned; indeed he had never really lost
them. 'Babette is at Interlachen,' said Rudy to himself, 'many
days' journey from here. It is certainly a long way for any
one who takes the high-road, but not so far if he takes a
short cut across the mountain, and that just suits a
chamois-hunter. I have been that way before, for it leads to
the home of my childhood, where, as a little boy, I lived with
my grandfather. And there are shooting matches at Interlachen.
I will go, and try to stand first in the match. Babette will
be there, and I shall be able to make her acquaintance.'

Carrying his light knapsack, which contained his Sunday
clothes, on his back, and with his musket and his game-bag
over his shoulder, Rudy started to take the shortest way
across the mountain. Still it was a great distance. The
shooting matches were to commence on that day, and to continue
for a whole week. He had been told also that the miller and
Babette would remain that time with some relatives at
Interlachen. So over the Gemmi Rudy climbed bravely, and
determined to descend the side of the Grindelwald. Bright and
joyous were his feelings as he stepped lightly onwards,
inhaling the invigorating mountain air. The valley sunk as he
ascended, the circle of the horizon expanded. One snow-capped
peak after another rose before him, till the whole of the
glittering Alpine range became visible. Rudy knew each
ice-clad peak, and he continued his course towards the
Schreckhorn, with its white powdered stone finger raised high
in the air. At length he had crossed the highest ridges, and
before him lay the green pasture lands sloping down towards
the valley, which was once his home. The buoyancy of the air
made his heart light. Hill and valley were blooming in
luxuriant beauty, and his thoughts were youthful dreams, in
which old age or death were out of the question. Life, power,
and enjoyment were in the future, and he felt free and light
as a bird. And the swallows flew round him, as in the days of
his childhood, singing 'We and you- you and we.' All was
overflowing with joy. Beneath him lay the meadows, covered
with velvety green, with the murmuring river flowing through
them, and dotted here and there were small wooden houses. He
could see the edges of the glaciers, looking like green glass
against the soiled snow, and the deep chasms beneath the
loftiest glacier. The church bells were ringing, as if to
welcome him to his home with their sweet tones. His heart beat
quickly, and for a moment he seemed to have foregotten
Babette, so full were his thoughts of old recollections. He
was, in imagination, once more wandering on the road where,
when a little boy, he, with other children, came to sell their
curiously carved toy houses. Yonder, behind the fir-trees,
still stood his grandfather's house, his mother's father, but
strangers dwelt in it now. Children came running to him, as he
had once done, and wished to sell their wares. One of them
offered him an Alpine rose. Rudy took the rose as a good omen,
and thought of Babette. He quickly crossed the bridge where
the two rivers flow into each other. Here he found a walk
over-shadowed with large walnut-trees, and their thick foliage
formed a pleasant shade. Very soon he perceived in the
distance, waving flags, on which glittered a white cross on a
red ground- the standard of the Danes as well as of the Swiss-
and before him lay Interlachen.

'It is really a splendid town, like none other that I have
ever seen,' said Rudy to himself. It was indeed a Swiss town
in its holiday dress. Not like the many other towns, crowded
with heavy stone houses, stiff and foreign looking. No; here
it seemed as if the wooden houses on the hills had run into
the valley, and placed themselves in rows and ranks by the
side of the clear river, which rushes like an arrow in its
course. The streets were rather irregular, it is true, but
still this added to their picturesque appearance. There was
one street which Rudy thought the prettiest of them all; it
had been built since he had visited the town when a little
boy. It seemed to him as if all the neatest and most curiously
carved toy houses which his grandfather once kept in the large
cupboard at home, had been brought out and placed in this
spot, and that they had increased in size since then, as the
old chestnut trees had done. The houses were called hotels;
the woodwork on the windows and balconies was curiously
carved. The roofs were gayly painted, and before each house
was a flower garden, which separated it from the macadamized
high-road. These houses all stood on the same side of the
road, so that the fresh, green meadows, in which were cows
grazing, with bells on their necks, were not hidden. The sound
of these bells is often heard amidst Alpine scenery. These
meadows were encircled by lofty hills, which receded a little
in the centre, so that the most beautifully formed of Swiss
mountains- the snow-crowned Jungfrau- could be distinctly seen
glittering in the distance. A number of elegantly dressed
gentlemen and ladies from foreign lands, and crowds of country
people from the neighboring cantons, were assembled in the
town. Each marksman wore the number of hits he had made
twisted in a garland round his hat. Here were music and
singing of all descriptions: hand-organs, trumpets, shouting,
and noise. The houses and bridges were adorned with verses and
inscriptions. Flags and banners were waving. Shot after shot
was fired, which was the best music to Rudy's ears. And amidst
all this excitement he quite forgot Babette, on whose account
only he had come. The shooters were thronging round the
target, and Rudy was soon amongst them. But when he took his
turn to fire, he proved himself the best shot, for he always
struck the bull's-eye.


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