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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 4

VII. THE EAGLE'S NEST

From the mountain-path came a joyous sound of some person
whistling, and it betokened good humor and undaunted courage.
It was Rudy, going to meet his friend Vesinaud. 'You must come
and help,' said he. 'I want to carry off the young eaglet from
the top of the rock. We will take young Ragli with us.'

'Had you not better first try to take down the moon? That
would be quite as easy a task,' said Vesinaud. 'You seem to be
in good spirits.'

'Yes, indeed I am. I am thinking of my wedding. But to be
serious, I will tell you all about it, and how I am situated.'

Then he explained to Vesinaud and Ragli what he wished to
do, and why.

'You are a daring fellow,' said they; 'but it is no use;
you will break your neck.'

'No one falls, unless he is afraid,' said Rudy.

So at midnight they set out, carrying with them poles,
ladders, and ropes. The road lay amidst brushwood and
underwood, over rolling stones, always upwards higher and
higher in the dark night. Waters roared beneath them, or fell
in cascades from above. Humid clouds were driving through the
air as the hunters reached the precipitous ledge of the rock.
It was even darker here, for the sides of the rocks almost
met, and the light penetrated only through a small opening at
the top. At a little distance from the edge could be heard the
sound of the roaring, foaming waters in the yawning abyss
beneath them. The three seated themselves on a stone, to await
in stillness the dawn of day, when the parent eagle would fly
out, as it would be necessary to shoot the old bird before
they could think of gaining possession of the young one. Rudy
sat motionless, as if he had been part of the stone on which
he sat. He held his gun ready to fire, with his eyes fixed
steadily on the highest point of the cliff, where the eagle's
nest lay concealed beneath the overhanging rock.

The three hunters had a long time to wait. At last they
heard a rustling, whirring sound above them, and a large
hovering object darkened the air. Two guns were ready to aim
at the dark body of the eagle as it rose from the nest. Then a
shot was fired; for an instant the bird fluttered its
wide-spreading wings, and seemed as if it would fill up the
whole of the chasm, and drag down the hunters in its fall. But
it was not so; the eagle sunk gradually into the abyss
beneath, and the branches of trees and bushes were broken by
its weight. Then the hunters roused themselves: three of the
longest ladders were brought and bound together; the topmost
ring of these ladders would just reach the edge of the rock
which hung over the abyss, but no farther. The point beneath
which the eagle's nest lay sheltered was much higher, and the
sides of the rock were as smooth as a wall. After consulting
together, they determined to bind together two more ladders,
and to hoist them over the cavity, and so form a communication
with the three beneath them, by binding the upper ones to the
lower. With great difficulty they contrived to drag the two
ladders over the rock, and there they hung for some moments,
swaying over the abyss; but no sooner had they fastened them
together, than Rudy placed his foot on the lowest step.

It was a bitterly cold morning; clouds of mist were rising
from beneath, and Rudy stood on the lower step of the ladder
as a fly rests on a piece of swinging straw, which a bird may
have dropped from the edge of the nest it was building on some
tall factory chimney; but the fly could fly away if the straw
were shaken, Rudy could only break his neck. The wind whistled
around him, and beneath him the waters of the abyss, swelled
by the thawing of the glaciers, those palaces of the Ice
Maiden, foamed and roared in their rapid course. When Rudy
began to ascend, the ladder trembled like the web of the
spider, when it draws out the long, delicate threads; but as
soon as he reached the fourth of the ladders, which had been
bound together, he felt more confidence,- he knew that they
had been fastened securely by skilful hands. The fifth ladder,
that appeared to reach the nest, was supported by the sides of
the rock, yet it swung to and fro, and flapped about like a
slender reed, and as if it had been bound by fishing lines. It
seemed a most dangerous undertaking to ascend it, but Rudy
knew how to climb; he had learnt that from the cat, and he had
no fear. He did not observe Vertigo, who stood in the air
behind him, trying to lay hold of him with his outstretched
polypous arms.

When at length he stood on the topmost step of the ladder,
he found that he was still some distance below the nest, and
not even able to see into it. Only by using his hands and
climbing could he possibly reach it. He tried the strength of
the stunted trees, and the thick underwood upon which the nest
rested, and of which it was formed, and finding they would
support his weight, he grasped them firmly, and swung himself
up from the ladder till his head and breast were above the
nest, and then what an overpowering stench came from it, for
in it lay the putrid remains of lambs, chamois, and birds.
Vertigo, although he could not reach him, blew the poisonous
vapor in his face, to make him giddy and faint; and beneath,
in the dark, yawning deep, on the rushing waters, sat the Ice
Maiden, with her long, pale, green hair falling around her,
and her death-like eyes fixed upon him, like the two barrels
of a gun. 'I have thee now,' she cried.

In a corner of the eagle's nest sat the young eaglet, a
large and powerful bird, though still unable to fly. Rudy
fixed his eyes upon it, held on by one hand with all his
strength, and with the other threw a noose round the young
eagle. The string slipped to its legs. Rudy tightened it, and
thus secured the bird alive. Then flinging the sling over his
shoulder, so that the creature hung a good way down behind
him, he prepared to descend with the help of a rope, and his
foot soon touched safely the highest step of the ladder. Then
Rudy, remembering his early lesson in climbing, 'Hold fast,
and do not fear,' descended carefully down the ladders, and at
last stood safely on the ground with the young living eaglet,
where he was received with loud shouts of joy and
congratulations.


VIII. WHAT FRESH NEWS THE PARLOR-CAT HAD TO TELL

'There is what you asked for,' said Rudy, as he entered
the miller's house at Bex, and placed on the floor a large
basket. He removed the lid as he spoke, and a pair of yellow
eyes, encircled by a black ring, stared forth with a wild,
fiery glance, that seemed ready to burn and destroy all that
came in its way. Its short, strong beak was open, ready to
bite, and on its red throat were short feathers, like stubble.

'The young eaglet!' cried the miller.

Babette screamed, and started back, while her eyes
wandered from Rudy to the bird in astonishment.

'You are not to be discouraged by difficulties, I see,'
said the miller.

'And you will keep your word,' replied Rudy. 'Each has his
own characteristic, whether it is honor or courage.'

'But how is it you did not break your neck?' asked the
miller.

'Because I held fast,' answered Rudy; 'and I mean to hold
fast to Babette.'

'You must get her first,' said the miller, laughing; and
Babette thought this a very good sign.

'We must take the bird out of the basket,' said she. 'It
is getting into a rage; how its eyes glare. How did you manage
to conquer it?'

Then Rudy had to describe his adventure, and the miller's
eyes opened wide as he listened.

'With your courage and your good fortune you might win
three wives,' said the miller.

'Oh, thank you,' cried Rudy.

'But you have not won Babette yet,' said the miller,
slapping the young Alpine hunter on the shoulder playfully.

'Have you heard the fresh news at the mill?' asked the
parlor-cat of the kitchen-cat. 'Rudy has brought us the young
eagle, and he is to take Babette in exchange. They kissed each
other in the presence of the old man, which is as good as an
engagement. He was quite civil about it; drew in his claws,
and took his afternoon nap, so that the two were left to sit
and wag their tails as much as they pleased. They have so much
to talk about that it will not be finished till Christmas.'
Neither was it finished till Christmas.

The wind whirled the faded, fallen leaves; the snow
drifted in the valleys, as well as upon the mountains, and the
Ice Maiden sat in the stately palace which, in winter time,
she generally occupied. The perpendicular rocks were covered
with slippery ice, and where in summer the stream from the
rocks had left a watery veil, icicles large and heavy hung
from the trees, while the snow-powdered fir-trees were
decorated with fantastic garlands of crystal. The Ice Maiden
rode on the howling wind across the deep valleys, the country,
as far as Bex, was covered with a carpet of snow, so that the
Ice Maiden could follow Rudy, and see him, when he visited the
mill; and while in the room at the miller's house, where he
was accustomed to spend so much of his time with Babette. The
wedding was to take place in the following summer, and they
heard enough of it, for so many of their friends spoke of the
matter.

Then came sunshine to the mill. The beautiful Alpine roses
bloomed, and joyous, laughing Babette, was like the early
spring, which makes all the birds sing of summer time and
bridal days.

'How those two do sit and chatter together,' said the
parlor-cat; 'I have had enough of their mewing.'


IX. THE ICE MAIDEN

The walnut and chestnut trees, which extend from the
bridge of St. Maurice, by the river Rhone, to the shores of
the lake of Geneva, were already covered with the delicate
green garlands of early spring, just bursting into bloom,
while the Rhone rushed wildly from its source among the green
glaciers which form the ice palace of the Ice Maiden. She
sometimes allows herself to be carried by the keen wind to the
lofty snow-fields, where she stretches herself in the sunshine
on the soft snowy-cushions. From thence she throws her
far-seeing glance into the deep valley beneath, where human
beings are busily moving about like ants on a stone in the
sun. 'Spirits of strength, as the children of the sun call
you,' cried the Ice Maiden, 'ye are but worms! Let but a
snow-ball roll, and you and your houses and your towns are
crushed and swept away.' And she raised her proud head, and
looked around her with eyes that flashed death from their
glance. From the valley came a rumbling sound; men were busily
at work blasting the rocks to form tunnels, and laying down
roads for the railway. 'They are playing at work underground,
like moles,' said she. 'They are digging passages beneath the
earth, and the noise is like the reports of cannons. I shall
throw down my palaces, for the clamor is louder than the roar
of thunder.' Then there ascended from the valley a thick
vapor, which waved itself in the air like a fluttering veil.
It rose, as a plume of feathers, from a steam engine, to
which, on the lately-opened railway, a string of carriages was
linked, carriage to carriage, looking like a winding serpent.
The train shot past with the speed of an arrow. 'They play at
being masters down there, those spirits of strength!'
exclaimed the Ice Maiden; 'but the powers of nature are still
the rulers.' And she laughed and sang till her voice sounded
through the valley, and people said it was the rolling of an
avalanche. But the children of the sun sang in louder strains
in praise of the mind of man, which can span the sea as with a
yoke, can level mountains, and fill up valleys. It is the
power of thought which gives man the mastery over nature.

Just at this moment there came across the snow-field,
where the Ice Maiden sat, a party of travellers. They had
bound themselves fast to each other, so that they looked like
one large body on the slippery plains of ice encircling the
deep abyss.

'Worms!' exclaimed the Ice Maiden. 'You, the lords of the
powers of nature!' And she turned away and looked maliciously
at the deep valley where the railway train was rushing by.
'There they sit, these thoughts!' she exclaimed. 'There they
sit in their power over nature's strength. I see them all. One
sits proudly apart, like a king; others sit together in a
group; yonder, half of them are asleep; and when the steam
dragon stops, they will get out and go their way. The thoughts
go forth into the world,' and she laughed.

'There goes another avalanche,' said those in the valley
beneath.

'It will not reach us,' said two who sat together behind
the steam dragon. 'Two hearts and one beat,' as people say.
They were Rudy and Babette, and the miller was with them. 'I
am like the luggage,' said he; 'I am here as a necessary
appendage.'

'There sit those two,' said the Ice Maiden. 'Many a
chamois have I crushed. Millions of Alpine roses have I
snapped and broken off; not a root have I spared. I know them
all, and their thoughts, those spirits of strength!' and again
she laughed.

'There rolls another avalanche,' said those in the valley.


X. THE GODMOTHER

At Montreux, one of the towns which encircle the northeast
part of the lake of Geneva, lived Babette's godmother, the
noble English lady, with her daughters and a young relative.
They had only lately arrived, yet the miller had paid them a
visit, and informed them of Babette's engagement to Rudy. The
whole story of their meeting at Interlachen, and his brave
adventure with the eaglet, were related to them, and they were
all very much interested, and as pleased about Rudy and
Babette as the miller himself. The three were invited to come
to Montreux; it was but right for Babette to become acquainted
with her godmother, who wished to see her very much. A
steam-boat started from the town of Villeneuve, at one end of
the lake of Geneva, and arrived at Bernex, a little town
beyond Montreux, in about half an hour. And in this boat, the
miller, with his daughter and Rudy, set out to visit her
godmother. They passed the coast which has been so celebrated
in song. Here, under the walnut-trees, by the deep blue lake,
sat Byron, and wrote his melodious verses about the prisoner
confined in the gloomy castle of Chillon. Here, where Clarens,
with its weeping-willows, is reflected in the clear water,
wandered Rousseau, dreaming of Heloise. The river Rhone glides
gently by beneath the lofty snow-capped hills of Savoy, and
not far from its mouth lies a little island in the lake, so
small that, seen from the shore, it looks like a ship. The
surface of the island is rocky; and about a hundred years ago,
a lady caused the ground to be covered with earth, in which
three acacia-trees were planted, and the whole enclosed with
stone walls. The acacia-trees now overshadow every part of the
island. Babette was enchanted with the spot; it seemed to her
the most beautiful object in the whole voyage, and she thought
how much she should like to land there. But the steam-ship
passed it by, and did not stop till it reached Bernex. The
little party walked slowly from this place to Montreux,
passing the sun-lit walls with which the vineyards of the
little mountain town of Montreux are surrounded, and peasants'
houses, overshadowed by fig-trees, with gardens in which grow
the laurel and the cypress.

Halfway up the hill stood the boarding-house in which
Babette's godmother resided. She was received most cordially;
her godmother was a very friendly woman, with a round, smiling
countenance. When a child, her head must have resembled one of
Raphael's cherubs; it was still an angelic face, with its
white locks of silvery hair. The daughters were tall, elegant,
slender maidens.

The young cousin, whom they had brought with them, was
dressed in white from head to foot; he had golden hair and
golden whiskers, large enough to be divided amongst three
gentlemen; and he began immediately to pay the greatest
attention to Babette.

Richly bound books, note-paper, and drawings, lay on the
large table. The balcony window stood open, and from it could
be seen the beautiful wide extended lake, the water so clear
and still, that the mountains of Savoy, with their villages,
woods, and snow-crowned peaks, were clearly reflected in it.

Rudy, who was usually so lively and brave, did not in the
least feel himself at home; he acted as if he were walking on
peas, over a slippery floor. How long and wearisome the time
appeared; it was like being in a treadmill. And then they went
out for a walk, which was very slow and tedious. Two steps
forward and one backwards had Rudy to take to keep pace with
the others. They walked down to Chillon, and went over the old
castle on the rocky island. They saw the implements of
torture, the deadly dungeons, the rusty fetters in the rocky
walls, the stone benches for those condemned to death, the
trap-doors through which the unhappy creatures were hurled
upon iron spikes, and impaled alive. They called looking at
all these a pleasure. It certainly was the right place to
visit. Byron's poetry had made it celebrated in the world.
Rudy could only feel that it was a place of execution. He
leaned against the stone framework of the window, and gazed
down into the deep, blue water, and over to the little island
with the three acacias, and wished himself there, away and
free from the whole chattering party. But Babette was most
unusually lively and good-tempered.

'I have been so amused,' she said.

The cousin had found her quite perfect.

'He is a perfect fop,' said Rudy; and this was the first
time Rudy had said anything that did not please Babette.

The Englishman had made her a present of a little book, in
remembrance of their visit to Chillon. It was Byron's poem,
'The Prisoner of Chillon,' translated into French, so that
Babette could read it.

'The book may be very good,' said Rudy; 'but that finely
combed fellow who gave it to you is not worth much.'

'He looks something like a flour-sack without any flour,'
said the miller, laughing at his own wit. Rudy laughed, too,
for so had he appeared to him.



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