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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 5

XI. THE COUSIN

When Rudy went a few days after to pay a visit to the
mill, he found the young Englishman there. Babette was just
thinking of preparing some trout to set before him. She
understood well how to garnish the dish with parsley, and make
it look quite tempting. Rudy thought all this quite
unnecessary. What did the Englishman want there? What was he
about? Why should he be entertained, and waited upon by
Babette? Rudy was jealous, and that made Babette happy. It
amused her to discover all the feelings of his heart; the
strong points and weak ones. Love was to her as yet only a
pastime, and she played with Rudy's whole heart. At the same
time it must be acknowledged that her fortune, her whole life,
her inmost thoughts, her best and most noble feelings in this
world were all for him. Still the more gloomy he looked, the
more her eyes laughed. She could almost have kissed the fair
Englishman, with the golden whiskers, if by so doing she could
have put Rudy in a rage, and made him run out of the house.
That would have proved how much he loved her. All this was not
right in Babette, but she was only nineteen years of age, and
she did not reflect on what she did, neither did she think
that her conduct would appear to the young Englishman as
light, and not even becoming the modest and much-loved
daughter of the miller.

The mill at Bex stood in the highway, which passed under
the snow-clad mountains, and not far from a rapid
mountain-stream, whose waters seemed to have been lashed into
a foam like soap-suds. This stream, however, did not pass near
enough to the mill, and therefore the mill-wheel was turned by
a smaller stream which tumbled down the rocks on the opposite
side, where it was opposed by a stone mill-dam, and obtained
greater strength and speed, till it fell into a large basin,
and from thence through a channel to the mill-wheel. This
channel sometimes overflowed, and made the path so slippery
that any one passing that way might easily fall in, and be
carried towards the mill wheel with frightful rapidity. Such a
catastrophe nearly happened to the young Englishman. He had
dressed himself in white clothes, like a miller's man, and was
climbing the path to the miller's house, but he had never been
taught to climb, and therefore slipped, and nearly went in
head-foremost. He managed, however, to scramble out with wet
sleeves and bespattered trousers. Still, wet and splashed with
mud, he contrived to reach Babette's window, to which he had
been guided by the light that shone from it. Here he climbed
the old linden-tree that stood near it, and began to imitate
the voice of an owl, the only bird he could venture to mimic.
Babette heard the noise, and glanced through the thin window
curtain; but when she saw the man in white, and guessed who he
was, her little heart beat with terror as well as anger. She
quickly put out the light, felt if the fastening of the window
was secure, and then left him to howl as long as he liked. How
dreadful it would be, thought Babette, if Rudy were here in
the house. But Rudy was not in the house. No, it was much
worse, he was outside, standing just under the linden-tree. He
was speaking loud, angry words. He could fight, and there
might be murder! Babette opened the window in alarm, and
called Rudy's name; she told him to go away, she did not wish
him to remain there.

'You do not wish me to stay,' cried he; 'then this is an
appointment you expected- this good friend whom you prefer to
me. Shame on you, Babette!'

'You are detestable!' exclaimed Babette, bursting into
tears. 'Go away. I hate you.'

'I have not deserved this,' said Rudy, as he turned away,
his cheeks burning, and his heart like fire.

Babette threw herself on the bed, and wept bitterly. 'So
much as I loved thee, Rudy, and yet thou canst think ill of
me.'

Thus her anger broke forth; it relieved her, however:
otherwise she would have been more deeply grieved; but now she
could sleep soundly, as youth only can sleep.


XII. EVIL POWERS

Rudy left Bex, and took his way home along the mountain
path. The air was fresh, but cold; for here amidst the deep
snow, the Ice Maiden reigned. He was so high up that the large
trees beneath him, with their thick foliage, appeared like
garden plants, and the pines and bushes even less. The Alpine
roses grew near the snow, which lay in detached stripes, and
looked like linen laid out to bleach. A blue gentian grew in
his path, and he crushed it with the butt end of his gun. A
little higher up, he espied two chamois. Rudy's eyes
glistened, and his thoughts flew at once in a different
direction; but he was not near enough to take a sure aim. He
ascended still higher, to a spot where a few rough blades of
grass grew between the blocks of stone and the chamois passed
quietly on over the snow-fields. Rudy walked hurriedly, while
the clouds of mist gathered round him. Suddenly he found
himself on the brink of a precipitous rock. The rain was
falling in torrents. He felt a burning thirst, his head was
hot, and his limbs trembled with cold. He seized his
hunting-flask, but it was empty; he had not thought of filling
it before ascending the mountain. He had never been ill in his
life, nor ever experienced such sensations as those he now
felt. He was so tired that he could scarcely resist lying down
at his full length to sleep, although the ground was flooded
with the rain. Yet when he tried to rouse himself a little,
every object around him danced and trembled before his eyes.

Suddenly he observed in the doorway of a hut newly built
under the rock, a young maiden. He did not remember having
seen this hut before, yet there it stood; and he thought, at
first, that the young maiden was Annette, the schoolmaster's
daughter, whom he had once kissed in the dance. The maiden was
not Annette; yet it seemed as if he had seen her somewhere
before, perhaps near Grindelwald, on the evening of his return
home from Interlachen, after the shooting-match.

'How did you come here?' he asked.

'I am at home,' she replied; 'I am watching my flocks.'

'Your flocks!' he exclaimed; 'where do they find pasture?
There is nothing here but snow and rocks.'

'Much you know of what grows here,' she replied, laughing.
'not far beneath us there is beautiful pasture-land. My goats
go there. I tend them carefully; I never miss one. What is
once mine remains mine.'

'You are bold,' said Rudy.

'And so are you,' she answered.

'Have you any milk in the house?' he asked; 'if so, give
me some to drink; my thirst is intolerable.'

'I have something better than milk,' she replied, 'which I
will give you. Some travellers who were here yesterday with
their guide left behind them a half a flask of wine, such as
you have never tasted. They will not come back to fetch it, I
know, and I shall not drink it; so you shall have it.'

Then the maiden went to fetch the wine, poured some into a
wooden cup, and offered it to Rudy.

'How good it is!' said he; 'I have never before tasted
such warm, invigorating wine.' And his eyes sparkled with new
life; a glow diffused itself over his frame; it seemed as if
every sorrow, every oppression were banished from his mind,
and a fresh, free nature were stirring within him. 'You are
surely Annette, the schoolmaster's daughter,' cried he; 'will
you give me a kiss?'

'Yes, if you will give me that beautiful ring which you
wear on your finger.'

'My betrothal ring?' he replied.

'Yes, just so,' said the maiden, as she poured out some
more wine, and held it to his lips. Again he drank, and a
living joy streamed through every vein.

'The whole world is mine, why therefore should I grieve?'
thought he. 'Everything is created for our enjoyment and
happiness. The stream of life is a stream of happiness; let us
flow on with it to joy and felicity.'

Rudy gazed on the young maiden; it was Annette, and yet it
was not Annette; still less did he suppose it was the spectral
phantom, whom he had met near Grindelwald. The maiden up here
on the mountain was fresh as the new fallen snow, blooming as
an Alpine rose, and as nimble-footed as a young kid. Still,
she was one of Adam's race, like Rudy. He flung his arms round
the beautiful being, and gazed into her wonderfully clear
eyes,- only for a moment; but in that moment words cannot
express the effect of his gaze. Was it the spirit of life or
of death that overpowered him? Was he rising higher, or
sinking lower and lower into the deep, deadly abyss? He knew
not; but the walls of ice shone like blue-green glass;
innumerable clefts yawned around him, and the water-drops
tinkled like the chiming of church bells, and shone clearly as
pearls in the light of a pale-blue flame. The Ice Maiden, for
she it was, kissed him, and her kiss sent a chill as of ice
through his whole frame. A cry of agony escaped from him; he
struggled to get free, and tottered from her. For a moment all
was dark before his eyes, but when he opened them again it was
light, and the Alpine maiden had vanished. The powers of evil
had played their game; the sheltering hut was no more to be
seen. The water trickled down the naked sides of the rocks,
and snow lay thickly all around. Rudy shivered with cold; he
was wet through to the skin; and his ring was gone,- the
betrothal ring that Babette had given him. His gun lay near
him in the snow; he took it up and tried to discharge it, but
it missed fire. Heavy clouds lay on the mountain clefts, like
firm masses of snow. Upon one of these Vertigo sat, lurking
after his powerless prey, and from beneath came a sound as if
a piece of rock had fallen from the cleft, and was crushing
everything that stood in its way or opposed its course.

But, at the miller's, Babette sat alone and wept. Rudy had
not been to see her for six days. He who was in the wrong, and
who ought to ask her forgiveness; for did she not love him
with her whole heart?


XIII. AT THE MILL

'What strange creatures human beings are,' said the
parlor-cat to the kitchen-cat; 'Babette and Rudy have fallen
out with each other. She sits and cries, and he thinks no more
about her.'

'That does not please me to hear,' said the kitchen-cat.

'Nor me either,' replied the parlor-cat; 'but I do not
take it to heart. Babette may fall in love with the red
whiskers, if she likes, but he has not been here since he
tried to get on the roof.'

The powers of evil carry on their game both around us and
within us. Rudy knew this, and thought a great deal about it.
What was it that had happened to him on the mountain? Was it
really a ghostly apparition, or a fever dream? Rudy knew
nothing of fever, or any other ailment. But, while he judged
Babette, he began to examine his own conduct. He had allowed
wild thoughts to chase each other in his heart, and a fierce
tornado to break loose. Could he confess to Babette, indeed,
every thought which in the hour of temptation might have led
him to wrong doing? He had lost her ring, and that very loss
had won him back to her. Could she expect him to confess? He
felt as if his heart would break while he thought of it, and
while so many memories lingered on his mind. He saw her again,
as she once stood before him, a laughing, spirited child; many
loving words, which she had spoken to him out of the fulness
of her love, came like a ray of sunshine into his heart, and
soon it was all sunshine as he thought of Babette. But she
must also confess she was wrong; that she should do.

He went to the mill- he went to confession. It began with
a kiss, and ended with Rudy being considered the offender. It
was such a great fault to doubt Babette's truth- it was most
abominable of him. Such mistrust, such violence, would cause
them both great unhappiness. This certainly was very true, she
knew that; and therefore Babette preached him a little sermon,
with which she was herself much amused, and during the
preaching of which she looked quite lovely. She acknowledged,
however, that on one point Rudy was right. Her godmother's
nephew was a fop: she intended to burn the book which he had
given her, so that not the slightest thing should remain to
remind her of him.

'Well, that quarrel is all over,' said the kitchen-cat.
'Rudy is come back, and they are friends again, which they say
is the greatest of all pleasures.'

'I heard the rats say one night,' said the kitchen-cat,
'that the greatest pleasure in the world was to eat tallow
candles and to feast on rancid bacon. Which are we to believe,
the rats or the lovers?'

'Neither of them,' said the parlor-cat; 'it is always the
safest plan to believe nothing you hear.'

The greatest happiness was coming for Rudy and Babette.
The happy day, as it is called, that is, their wedding-day,
was near at hand. They were not to be married at the church at
Bex, nor at the miller's house; Babette's godmother wished the
nuptials to be solemnized at Montreux, in the pretty little
church in that town. The miller was very anxious that this
arrangement should be agreed to. He alone knew what the
newly-married couple would receive from Babette's godmother,
and he knew also that it was a wedding present well worth a
concession. The day was fixed, and they were to travel as far
as Villeneuve the evening before, to be in time for the
steamer which sailed in the morning for Montreux, and the
godmother's daughters were to dress and adorn the bride.

'Here in this house there ought to be a wedding-day kept,'
said the parlor-cat, 'or else I would not give a mew for the
whole affair.'

'There is going to be great feasting,' replied the
kitchen-cat. 'Ducks and pigeons have been killed, and a whole
roebuck hangs on the wall. It makes me lick my lips when I
think of it.'

'To-morrow morning they will begin the journey.'

Yes, to-morrow! And this evening, for the last time, Rudy
and Babette sat in the miller's house as an engaged couple.
Outside, the Alps glowed in the evening sunset, the evening
bells chimed, and the children of the sunbeam sang, 'Whatever
happens is best.'


XIV. NIGHT VISIONS

The sun had gone down, and the clouds lay low on the
valley of the Rhone. The wind blew from the south across the
mountains; it was an African wind, a wind which scattered the
clouds for a moment, and then suddenly fell. The broken clouds
hung in fantastic forms upon the wood-covered hills by the
rapid Rhone. They assumed the shapes of antediluvian animals,
of eagles hovering in the air, of frogs leaping over a marsh,
and then sunk down upon the rushing stream and appeared to
sail upon it, although floating in the air. An uprooted
fir-tree was being carried away by the current, and marking
out its path by eddying circles on the water. Vertigo and his
sisters were dancing upon it, and raising these circles on the
foaming river. The moon lighted up the snow on the
mountain-tops, shone on the dark woods, and on the drifting
clouds those fantastic forms which at night might be taken for
spirits of the powers of nature. The mountain-dweller saw them
through the panes of his little window. They sailed in hosts
before the Ice Maiden as she came out of her palace of ice.
Then she seated herself on the trunk of the fir-tree as on a
broken skiff, and the water from the glaciers carried her down
the river to the open lake.

'The wedding guests are coming,' sounded from air and sea.
These were the sights and sounds without; within there were
visions, for Babette had a wonderful dream. She dreamt that
she had been married to Rudy for many years, and that, one day
when he was out chamois hunting, and she alone in their
dwelling at home, the young Englishman with the golden
whiskers sat with her. His eyes were quite eloquent, and his
words possessed a magic power; he offered her his hand, and
she was obliged to follow him. They went out of the house and
stepped downwards, always downwards, and it seemed to Babette
as if she had a weight on her heart which continually grew
heavier. She felt she was committing a sin against Rudy, a sin
against God. Suddenly she found herself forsaken, her clothes
torn by the thorns, and her hair gray; she looked upwards in
her agony, and there, on the edge of the rock, she espied
Rudy. She stretched out her arms to him, but she did not
venture to call him or to pray; and had she called him, it
would have been useless, for it was not Rudy, only his hunting
coat and hat hanging on an alpenstock, as the hunters
sometimes arrange them to deceive the chamois. 'Oh!' she
exclaimed in her agony; 'oh, that I had died on the happiest
day of my life, my wedding-day. O my God, it would have been a
mercy and a blessing had Rudy travelled far away from me, and
I had never known him. None know what will happen in the
future.' And then, in ungodly despair, she cast herself down
into the deep rocky gulf. The spell was broken; a cry of
terror escaped her, and she awoke.

The dream was over; it had vanished. But she knew she had
dreamt something frightful about the young Englishman, yet
months had passed since she had seen him or even thought of
him. Was he still at Montreux, and should she meet him there
on her wedding day? A slight shadow passed over her pretty
mouth as she thought of this, and she knit her brows; but the
smile soon returned to her lip, and joy sparkled in her eyes,
for this was the morning of the day on which she and Rudy were
to be married, and the sun was shining brightly. Rudy was
already in the parlor when she entered it, and they very soon
started for Villeneuve. Both of them were overflowing with
happiness, and the miller was in the best of tempers, laughing
and merry; he was a good, honest soul, and a kind father.

'Now we are masters of the house,' said the parlor-cat.


XV. THE CONCLUSION

It was early in the afternoon, and just at dinner-time,
when the three joyous travellers reached Villeneuve. After
dinner, the miller placed himself in the arm-chair, smoked his
pipe, and had a little nap. The bridal pair went arm-in-arm
out through the town and along the high road, at the foot of
the wood-covered rocks, and by the deep, blue lake.

The gray walls, and the heavy clumsy-looking towers of the
gloomy castle of Chillon, were reflected in the clear flood.
The little island, on which grew the three acacias, lay at a
short distance, looking like a bouquet rising from the lake.
'How delightful it must be to live there,' said Babette, who
again felt the greatest wish to visit the island; and an
opportunity offered to gratify her wish at once, for on the
shore lay a boat, and the rope by which it was moored could be
very easily loosened. They saw no one near, so they took
possession of it without asking permission of any one, and
Rudy could row very well. The oars divided the pliant water
like the fins of a fish- that water which, with all its
yielding softness, is so strong to bear and to carry, so mild
and smiling when at rest, and yet so terrible in its
destroying power. A white streak of foam followed in the wake
of the boat, which, in a few minutes, carried them both to the
little island, where they went on shore; but there was only
just room enough for two to dance. Rudy swung Babette round
two or three times; and then, hand-in-hand, they sat down on a
little bench under the drooping acacia-tree, and looked into
each other's eyes, while everything around them glowed in the
rays of the setting sun.

The fir-tree forests on the mountains were covered with a
purple hue like the heather bloom; and where the woods
terminated, and the rocks became prominent, they looked almost
transparent in the rich crimson glow of the evening sky. The
surface of the lake was like a bed of pink rose-leaves.

As the evening advanced, the shadows fell upon the
snow-capped mountains of Savoy painting them in colors of deep
blue, while their topmost peaks glowed like red lava; and for
a moment this light was reflected on the cultivated parts of
the mountains, making them appear as if newly risen from the
lap of earth, and giving to the snow-crested peak of the Dent
du Midi the appearance of the full moon as it rises above the
horizon.

Rudy and Babette felt that they had never seen the Alpine
glow in such perfection before. 'How very beautiful it is, and
what happiness to be here!' exclaimed Babette.

'Earth has nothing more to bestow upon me,' said Rudy; 'an
evening like this is worth a whole life. Often have I realized
my good fortune, but never more than in this moment. I feel
that if my existence were to end now, I should still have
lived a happy life. What a glorious world this is; one day
ends, and another begins even more beautiful than the last.
How infinitely good God is, Babette!'

'I have such complete happiness in my heart,' said she.

'Earth has no more to bestow,' answered Rudy. And then
came the sound of the evening bells, borne upon the breeze
over the mountains of Switzerland and Savoy, while still, in
the golden splendor of the west, stood the dark blue mountains
of Jura.

'God grant you all that is brightest and best!' exclaimed
Babette.

'He will,' said Rudy. 'He will to-morrow. To-morrow you
will be wholly mine, my own sweet wife.'

'The boat!' cried Babette, suddenly. The boat in which
they were to return had broken loose, and was floating away
from the island.

'I will fetch it back,' said Rudy; throwing off his coat
and boots, he sprang into the lake, and swam with strong
efforts towards it.

The dark-blue water, from the glaciers of the mountains,
was icy cold and very deep. Rudy gave but one glance into the
water beneath; but in that one glance he saw a gold ring
rolling, glittering, and sparkling before him. His engaged
ring came into his mind; but this was larger, and spread into
a glittering circle, in which appeared a clear glacier. Deep
chasms yawned around it, the water-drops glittered as if
lighted with blue flame, and tinkled like the chiming of
church bells. In one moment he saw what would require many
words to describe. Young hunters, and young maidens- men and
women who had sunk in the deep chasms of the glaciers- stood
before him here in lifelike forms, with eyes open and smiles
on their lips; and far beneath them could be heard the chiming
of the church bells of buried villages, where the villagers
knelt beneath the vaulted arches of churches in which
ice-blocks formed the organ pipes, and the mountain stream the
music.

On the clear, transparent ground sat the Ice Maiden. She
raised herself towards Rudy, and kissed his feet; and
instantly a cold, deathly chill, like an electric shock,
passed through his limbs. Ice or fire! It was impossible to
tell, the shock was so instantaneous.

'Mine! mine!' sounded around him, and within him; 'I
kissed thee when thou wert a little child. I once kissed thee
on the mouth, and now I have kissed thee from heel to toe;
thou art wholly mine.' And then he disappeared in the clear,
blue water.

All was still. The church bells were silent; the last tone
floated away with the last red glimmer on the evening clouds.
'Thou art mine,' sounded from the depths below: but from the
heights above, from the eternal world, also sounded the words,
'Thou art mine!' Happy was he thus to pass from life to life,
from earth to heaven. A chord was loosened, and tones of
sorrow burst forth. The icy kiss of death had overcome the
perishable body; it was but the prelude before life's real
drama could begin, the discord which was quickly lost in
harmony. Do you think this a sad story? Poor Babette! for her
it was unspeakable anguish.

The boat drifted farther and farther away. No one on the
opposite shore knew that the betrothed pair had gone over to
the little island. The clouds sunk as the evening drew on, and
it became dark. Alone, in despair, she waited and trembled.
The weather became fearful; flash after flash lighted up the
mountains of Jura, Savoy, and Switzerland, while peals of
thunder, that lasted for many minutes, rolled over her head.
The lightning was so vivid that every single vine stem could
be seen for a moment as distinctly as in the sunlight at
noon-day; and then all was veiled in darkness. It flashed
across the lake in winding, zigzag lines, lighting it up on
all sides; while the echoes of the thunder grew louder and
stronger. On land, the boats were all carefully drawn up on
the beach, every living thing sought shelter, and at length
the rain poured down in torrents.

'Where can Rudy and Babette be in this awful weather?'
said the miller.

Poor Babette sat with her hands clasped, and her head
bowed down, dumb with grief; she had ceased to weep and cry
for help.

'In the deep water!' she said to herself; 'far down he
lies, as if beneath a glacier.'

Deep in her heart rested the memory of what Rudy had told
her of the death of his mother, and of his own recovery, even
after he had been taken up as dead from the cleft in the
glacier.

'Ah,' she thought, 'the Ice Maiden has him at last.'

Suddenly there came a flash of lightning, as dazzling as
the rays of the sun on the white snow. The lake rose for a
moment like a shining glacier; and before Babette stood the
pallid, glittering, majestic form of the Ice Maiden, and at
her feet lay Rudy's corpse.

'Mine!' she cried, and again all was darkness around the
heaving water.

'How cruel,' murmured Babette; 'why should he die just as
the day of happiness drew near? Merciful God, enlighten my
understanding, shed light upon my heart; for I cannot
comprehend the arrangements of Thy providence, even while I
bow to the decree of Thy almighty wisdom and power.' And God
did enlighten her heart.

A sudden flash of thought, like a ray of mercy, recalled
her dream of the preceding night; all was vividly represented
before her. She remembered the words and wishes she had then
expressed, that what was best for her and for Rudy she might
piously submit to.

'Woe is me,' she said; 'was the germ of sin really in my
heart? was my dream a glimpse into the course of my future
life, whose thread must be violently broken to rescue me from
sin? Oh, miserable creature that I am!'

Thus she sat lamenting in the dark night, while through
the deep stillness the last words of Rudy seemed to ring in
her ears. 'This earth has nothing more to bestow.' Words,
uttered in the fulness of joy, were again heard amid the
depths of sorrow.

Years have passed since this sad event happened. The
shores of the peaceful lake still smile in beauty. The vines
are full of luscious grapes. Steamboats, with waving flags,
pass swiftly by. Pleasure-boats, with their swelling sails,
skim lightly over the watery mirror, like white butterflies.
The railway is opened beyond Chillon, and goes far into the
deep valley of the Rhone. At every station strangers alight
with red-bound guide-books in their hands, in which they read
of every place worth seeing. They visit Chillon, and observe
on the lake the little island with the three acacias, and then
read in their guide-book the story of the bridal pair who, in
the year 1856, rowed over to it. They read that the two were
missing till the next morning, when some people on the shore
heard the despairing cries of the bride, and went to her
assistance, and by her were told of the bridegroom's fate.

But the guide-book does not speak of Babette's quiet life
afterwards with her father, not at the mill- strangers dwell
there now- but in a pretty house in a row near the station. On
many an evening she sits at her window, and looks out over the
chestnut-trees to the snow-capped mountains on which Rudy once
roamed. She looks at the Alpine glow in the evening sky, which
is caused by the children of the sun retiring to rest on the
mountain-tops; and again they breathe their song of the
traveller whom the whirlwind could deprive of his cloak but
not of his life. There is a rosy tint on the mountain snow,
and there are rosy gleams in each heart in which
dwells the thought, 'God permits nothing to happen, which is
not the best for us.' But this is not often revealed to all,
as it was revealed to Babette in her wonderful dream.


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