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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 3

'Who may that young stranger be?' was the inquiry on all
sides. 'He speaks French as it is spoken in the Swiss
cantons.'

'And makes himself understood very well when he speaks
German,' said some.

'He lived here, when a child, with his grandfather, in a
house on the road to Grindelwald,' remarked one of the
sportsmen.

And full of life was this young stranger; his eyes
sparkled, his glance was steady, and his arm sure, therefore
he always hit the mark. Good fortune gives courage, and Rudy
was always courageous. He soon had a circle of friends
gathered round him. Every one noticed him, and did him homage.
Babette had quite vanished from his thoughts, when he was
struck on the shoulder by a heavy hand, and a deep voice said
to him in French, 'You are from the canton Valais.'

Rudy turned round, and beheld a man with a ruddy, pleasant
face, and a stout figure. It was the rich miller from Bex. His
broad, portly person, hid the slender, lovely Babette; but she
came forward and glanced at him with her bright, dark eyes.
The rich miller was very much flattered at the thought that
the young man, who was acknowledged to be the best shot, and
was so praised by every one, should be from his own canton.
Now was Rudy really fortunate: he had travelled all this way
to this place, and those he had forgotten were now come to
seek him. When country people go far from home, they often
meet with those they know, and improve their acquaintance.
Rudy, by his shooting, had gained the first place in the
shooting-match, just as the miller at home at Bex stood first,
because of his money and his mill. So the two men shook hands,
which they had never done before. Babette, too, held out her
hand to Rudy frankly, and he pressed it in his, and looked at
her so earnestly, that she blushed deeply. The miller talked
of the long journey they had travelled, and of the many towns
they had seen. It was his opinion that he had really made as
great a journey as if he had travelled in a steamship, a
railway carriage, or a post-chaise.

'I came by a much shorter way,' said Rudy; 'I came over
the mountains. There is no road so high that a man may not
venture upon it.'

'Ah, yes; and break your neck,' said the miller; 'and you
look like one who will break his neck some day, you are so
daring.'

'Oh, nothing ever happens to a man if he has confidence in
himself,' replied Rudy.

The miller's relations at Interlachen, with whom the
miller and Babette were staying, invited Rudy to visit them,
when they found he came from the same canton as the miller. It
was a most pleasant visit. Good fortune seemed to follow him,
as it does those who think and act for themselves, and who
remember the proverb, 'Nuts are given to us, but they are not
cracked for us.' And Rudy was treated by the miller's
relations almost like one of the family, and glasses of wine
were poured out to drink to the welfare of the best shooter.
Babette clinked glasses with Rudy, and he returned thanks for
the toast. In the evening they all took a delightful walk
under the walnut-trees, in front of the stately hotels; there
were so many people, and such crowding, that Rudy was obliged
to offer his arm to Babette. Then he told her how happy it
made him to meet people from the canton Vaud,- for Vaud and
Valais were neighboring cantons. He spoke of this pleasure so
heartily that Babette could not resist giving his arm a slight
squeeze; and so they walked on together, and talked and
chatted like old acquaintances. Rudy felt inclined to laugh
sometimes at the absurd dress and walk of the foreign ladies;
but Babette did not wish to make fun of them, for she knew
there must be some good, excellent people amongst them; she,
herself, had a godmother, who was a high-born English lady.
Eighteen years before, when Babette was christened, this lady
was staying at Bex, and she stood godmother for her, and gave
her the valuable brooch she now wore in her bosom.

Her godmother had twice written to her, and this year she
was expected to visit Interlachen with her two daughters; 'but
they are old-maids,' added Babette, who was only eighteen:
'they are nearly thirty.' Her sweet little mouth was never
still a moment, and all that she said sounded in Rudy's ears
as matters of the greatest importance, and at last he told her
what he was longing to tell. How often he had been at Bex, how
well he knew the mill, and how often he had seen Babette, when
most likely she had not noticed him; and lastly, that full of
many thoughts which he could not tell her, he had been to the
mill on the evening when she and her father has started on
their long journey, but not too far for him to find a way to
overtake them. He told her all this, and a great deal more; he
told her how much he could endure for her; and that it was to
see her, and not the shooting-match, which had brought him to
Interlachen. Babette became quite silent after hearing all
this; it was almost too much, and it troubled her.

And while they thus wandered on, the sun sunk behind the
lofty mountains. The Jungfrau stood out in brightness and
splendor, as a back-ground to the green woods of the
surrounding hills. Every one stood still to look at the
beautiful sight, Rudy and Babette among them.

'Nothing can be more beautiful than this,' said Babette.

'Nothing!' replied Rudy, looking at Babette.

'To-morrow I must return home,' remarked Rudy a few
minutes afterwards.

'Come and visit us at Bex,' whispered Babette; 'my father
will be pleased to see you.'


V. ON THE WAY HOME

Oh, what a number of things Rudy had to carry over the
mountains, when he set out to return home! He had three silver
cups, two handsome pistols, and a silver coffee-pot. This
latter would be useful when he began housekeeping. But all
these were not the heaviest weight he had to bear; something
mightier and more important he carried with him in his heart,
over the high mountains, as he journeyed homeward.

The weather was dismally dark, and inclined to rain; the
clouds hung low, like a mourning veil on the tops of the
mountains, and shrouded their glittering peaks. In the woods
could be heard the sound of the axe and the heavy fall of the
trunks of the trees, as they rolled down the slopes of the
mountains. When seen from the heights, the trunks of these
trees looked like slender stems; but on a nearer inspection
they were found to be large and strong enough for the masts of
a ship. The river murmured monotonously, the wind whistled,
and the clouds sailed along hurriedly.

Suddenly there appeared, close by Rudy's side, a young
maiden; he had not noticed her till she came quite near to
him. She was also going to ascend the mountain. The maiden's
eyes shone with an unearthly power, which obliged you to look
into them; they were strange eyes,- clear, deep, and
unfathomable.

'Hast thou a lover?' asked Rudy; all his thoughts were
naturally on love just then.

'I have none,' answered the maiden, with a laugh; it was
as if she had not spoken the truth.

'Do not let us go such a long way round,' said she. 'We
must keep to the left; it is much shorter.'

'Ah, yes,' he replied; 'and fall into some crevasse. Do
you pretend to be a guide, and not know the road better than
that?'

'I know every step of the way,' said she; 'and my thoughts
are collected, while yours are down in the valley yonder. We
should think of the Ice Maiden while we are up here; men say
she is not kind to their race.'

'I fear her not,' said Rudy. 'She could not keep me when I
was a child; I will not give myself up to her now I am a man.'

Darkness came on, the rain fell, and then it began to
snow, and the whiteness dazzled the eyes.

'Give me your hand,' said the maiden; 'I will help you to
mount.' And he felt the touch of her icy fingers.

'You help me,' cried Rudy; 'I do not yet require a woman
to help me to climb.' And he stepped quickly forwards away
from her.

The drifting snow-shower fell like a veil between them,
the wind whistled, and behind him he could hear the maiden
laughing and singing, and the sound was most strange to hear.

'It certainly must be a spectre or a servant of the Ice
Maiden,' thought Rudy, who had heard such things talked about
when he was a little boy, and had stayed all night on the
mountain with the guides.

The snow fell thicker than ever, the clouds lay beneath
him; he looked back, there was no one to be seen, but he heard
sounds of mocking laughter, which were not those of a human
voice.

When Rudy at length reached the highest part of the
mountain, where the path led down to the valley of the Rhone,
the snow had ceased, and in the clear heavens he saw two
bright stars twinkling. They reminded him of Babette and of
himself, and of his future happiness, and his heart glowed at
the thought.


VI. THE VISIT TO THE MILL

'What beautiful things you have brought home!' said his
old foster-mother; and her strange-looking eagle-eyes
sparkled, while she wriggled and twisted her skinny neck more
quickly and strangely than ever. 'You have brought good luck
with you, Rudy. I must give you a kiss, my dear boy.'

Rudy allowed himself to be kissed; but it could be seen by
his countenance that he only endured the infliction as a
homely duty.

'How handsome you are, Rudy!' said the old woman.

'Don't flatter,' said Rudy, with a laugh; but still he was
pleased.

'I must say once more,' said the old woman, 'that you are
very lucky.'

'Well, in that I believe you are right,' said he, as he
thought of Babette. Never had he felt such a longing for that
deep valley as he now had. 'They must have returned home by
this time,' said he to himself, 'it is already two days over
the time which they fixed upon. I must go to Bex.'

So Rudy set out to go to Bex; and when he arrived there,
he found the miller and his daughter at home. They received
him kindly, and brought him many greetings from their friends
at Interlachen. Babette did not say much. She seemed to have
become quite silent; but her eyes spoke, and that was quite
enough for Rudy. The miller had generally a great deal to talk
about, and seemed to expect that every one should listen to
his jokes, and laugh at them; for was not he the rich miller?
But now he was more inclined to hear Rudy's adventures while
hunting and travelling, and to listen to his descriptions of
the difficulties the chamois-hunter has to overcome on the
mountain-tops, or of the dangerous snow-drifts which the wind
and weather cause to cling to the edges of the rocks, or to
lie in the form of a frail bridge over the abyss beneath. The
eyes of the brave Rudy sparkled as he described the life of a
hunter, or spoke of the cunning of the chamois and their
wonderful leaps; also of the powerful fohn and the rolling
avalanche. He noticed that the more he described, the more
interested the miller became, especially when he spoke of the
fierce vulture and of the royal eagle. Not far from Bex, in
the canton Valais, was an eagle's nest, more curiously built
under a high, over-hanging rock. In this nest was a young
eagle; but who would venture to take it? A young Englishman
had offered Rudy a whole handful of gold, if he would bring
him the young eagle alive.

'There is a limit to everything,' was Rudy's reply. 'The
eagle could not be taken; it would be folly to attempt it.'

The wine was passed round freely, and the conversation
kept up pleasantly; but the evening seemed too short for Rudy,
although it was midnight when he left the miller's house,
after this his first visit.

While the lights in the windows of the miller's house
still twinkled through the green foliage, out through the open
skylight came the parlor-cat on to the roof, and along the
water-pipe walked the kitchen-cat to meet her.

'What is the news at the mill?' asked the parlor-cat.
'Here in the house there is secret love-making going on, which
the father knows nothing about. Rudy and Babette have been
treading on each other's paws, under the table, all the
evening. They trod on my tail twice, but I did not mew; that
would have attracted notice.'

'Well, I should have mewed,' said the kitchen-cat.

'What might suit the kitchen would not suit the parlor,'
said the other. 'I am quite curious to know what the miller
will say when he finds out this engagement.'

Yes, indeed; what would the miller say? Rudy himself was
anxious to know that; but to wait till the miller heard of it
from others was out of the question. Therefore, not many days
after this visit, he was riding in the omnibus that runs
between the two cantons, Valais and Vaud. These cantons are
separated by the Rhone, over which is a bridge that unites
them. Rudy, as usual, had plenty of courage, and indulged in
pleasant thoughts of the favorable answer he should receive
that evening. And when the omnibus returned, Rudy was again
seated in it, going homewards; and at the same time the
parlor-cat at the miller's house ran out quickly, crying,-

'Here, you from the kitchen, what do you think? The miller
knows all now. Everything has come to a delightful end. Rudy
came here this evening, and he and Babette had much whispering
and secret conversation together. They stood in the path near
the miller's room. I lay at their feet; but they had no eyes
or thoughts for me.

''I will go to your father at once,' said he; 'it is the
most honorable way.'

''Shall I go with you?' asked Babette; 'it will give you
courage.'

''I have plenty of courage,' said Rudy; 'but if you are
with me, he must be friendly, whether he says Yes or No.'

'So they turned to go in, and Rudy trod heavily on my
tail; he certainly is very clumsy. I mewed; but neither he nor
Babette had any ears for me. They opened the door, and entered
together. I was before them, and jumped on the back of a
chair. I hardly know what Rudy said; but the miller flew into
a rage, and threatened to kick him out of the house. He told
him he might go to the mountains, and look after the chamois,
but not after our little Babette.'

'And what did they say? Did they speak?' asked the
kitchen-cat.

'What did they say! why, all that people generally do say
when they go a-wooing- 'I love her, and she loves me; and when
there is milk in the can for one, there is milk in the can for
two.'

''But she is so far above you,' said the miller; 'she has
heaps of gold, as you know. You should not attempt to reach
her.'

''There is nothing so high that a man cannot reach, if he
will,' answered Rudy; for he is a brave youth.

''Yet you could not reach the young eagle,' said the
miller, laughing. 'Babette is higher than the eagle's nest.'

''I will have them both,' said Rudy.

''Very well; I will give her to you when you bring me the
young eaglet alive,' said the miller; and he laughed till the
tears stood in his eyes. 'But now I thank you for this visit,
Rudy; and if you come to-morrow, you will find nobody at home.
Good-bye, Rudy.'

'Babette also wished him farewell; but her voice sounded
as mournful as the mew of a little kitten that has lost its
mother.

''A promise is a promise between man and man,' said Rudy.
'Do not weep, Babette; I shall bring the young eagle.'

''You will break your neck, I hope,' said the miller, 'and
we shall be relieved from your company.'

'I call that kicking him out of the house,' said the
parlor-cat. 'And now Rudy is gone, and Babette sits and weeps,
while the miller sings German songs that he learnt on his
journey; but I do not trouble myself on the matter,- it would
be of no use.'

'Yet, for all that, it is a very strange affair,' said the
kitchen-cat.



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