The Ice Maiden – Illustration
By Hans Christian Andersen (1862)
Let us visit Switzerland, and wander through the glorious land of mountains, where the forests cling to the steep walls of rock ; let us mount up to the dazzling snowfields, and then descend into the green valleys through which rivers and brooks are rushing, hurrying on as if they could not reach the sea and disappear there quickly enough. The sun looks hotly down upon the deep valley, and it glares likewise upon the heavy masses of snow, so that they harden in the course of centuries into gleaming blocks of ice, or form themselves into falling avalanches, or become piled up into glaciers. Two such glaciers lie in the broad rocky gorges under the ‘ Schreckhorn ‘ and the Wetterhorn ‘, by the little mountain town of Grindelwald : they are wonderful to behold, and therefore in the summertime many strangers come from all parts of the world to see them. The strangers come across the lofty snowcovered mountains, they come through the deep valleys ; and in this latter case they must climb for several hours, and, as they climb, the valley seems to be descending behind them, deeper and deeper, and they look down upon it as out of a balloon. Above them the clouds often hang like thick heavy veils of smoke over the mountaintops, while a sunbeam still penetrates into the valley, through which the many brown wooden houses lie scattered, making one particular spot stand forth in shining transparent green. Down there the water hums and gushes, while above, it purls and ripples and looks like silver bands fluttering down the mountain.
On both sides of the road that leads uphill, stand wooden houses. Each has its potato patch ; and this is a necessity, for there are many little mouths in those cottages plenty of children are there, who can eat up their share right heartily. They peep forth everywhere, and gather round the traveller, whether he be on foot or in a carriage. All the children here carry on a trade : the little people offer carved houses for sale, models of those that are built here in the mountains. In rain or in sunshine, there are the children offering their wares.
About twenty years ago, a little boy might often be seen standing there, anxious to carry on his trade, but always standing a short distance away from the rest. He would stand there with a very grave face, holding his little box with the carved toys so firmly in both hands that it seemed as if he would not let it go on any account. This appearance of earnestness, together with the fact of his being such a little fellow, often attracted the notice of strangers ; so that he was very frequently beckoned forward, and relieved of a great part of his stock, without himself knowing why this preference was shown him. A couple of miles away, in the mountains, lived his grand- father, who carved the pretty little houses ; and in the old man’s room stood a wooden cupboard filled with things of that kind carved toys in abundance, nutcrackers, knives and forks, boxes adorned with carved leaves and with jumping chamois, all kinds of things that delight children’s eyes ; but the boy, Rudy was his name, looked with greater longing at an old rifle that hung from the beam under the ceiling, for his grandfather had promised him that it should be his one day, when he should have grown tall and strong enough to manage it properly.
Young as the boy was, he had to keep the goats ; and if ability to climb with his flock makes a good goat-herd, then Rudy was certainly an efficient one, for he even climbed a little higher than the goats could mount, and loved to take the birds’ nests from the high trees. A bold and courageous child he was, but he was never seen to smile, save when he stood by the foaming waterfall or heard an avalanche crashing down the mountain -side. He never played with the other children, and only came in contact with them when his grandfather sent him down the mountain to deal in carved toys ; and this was a busi- ness Rudy did not exactly like. He preferred clambering about alone among the mountains, or sitting beside his grandfather and hearing the old man tell stories of the old times, or of the people in the neighbouring town of Meir- ingen, his birthplace. The old man said that the people who dwelt in that place had not been there from the beginning : they had come into the land from the far north, where their ancestors dwelt, who were called Swedes. And Rudy was very proud of knowing this. But he had others who taught him something, and these others were companions of his belonging to the animal creation. There was a great dog, whose name was Ajola, and who had belonged to Rudy’s father ; and a Tom Cat was there too ; this Tom Cat had a special significance for Rudy, for it was Pussy who had taught him to climb.
‘ Come with me out on the roof,’ the Cat had said, quite distinctly and plainly, to Rudy ; for, you see, children who cannot talk yet, can understand the language of fowls and ducks right well, and cats and dogs speak to them quite as plainly as Father and Mother can do ; but that is only when the children are very little, and then, even Grandfather’s stick will become a perfect horse to them, and can neigh, and, in their eyes, is furnished with head and legs and tail. With some children this period ends later than with others, and of such we are accustomed to say that they are very backward, and that they have remained children a long time. People are in the habit of saying many strange things. ‘ Come out with me on to the roof,’ was perhaps the first thing the Cat had said and that Rudy had understood. ‘ What people say about falling down is all fancy : one does not fall down if one is not afraid. Just you come, and put one of your paws thus and the other thus. Feel your way with your fore -paws. You must have eyes in your head and nimble limbs ; and if an empty space comes, jump over, and then hold tight as I do.’
And Rudy did so too ; consequently he was often found seated on the top of the roof by the Cat ; and afterwards he sat with him in the tree -tops, and at last was even seen seated on the edge of the cliff, whither Puss did not go. ‘
Higher up ! ‘ said Tree and Bush. ‘ Don’t you see how we climb ? How high we reach, and how tight we cling, even to the narrowest, loftiest ridge of rock ! ‘
And Rudy climbed to the very summit of the mountain, frequently reaching the top before the sun touched it, and there he drank his morning draught of fresh mountain air, the draught that the bountiful Creator above can prepare, and the recipe for making which, according to the reading of men, consists in mingling the fragrant aroma of the mountain herbs with the scent of the wild thyme and mint of the valley. All that is heavy is absorbed by the brood- ing clouds, and then the wind drives them along, and rubs them against the tree-tops, and the spirit of fragrance is infused into the air to make it lighter and fresher, ever fresher. And this was Rudy’s morning draught.
The sunbeams, the blessing-laden daughters of the sun, kissed his cheeks, and Giddiness, who stood lurking by, never ventured to approach him ; but the swallows, who had no less than seven nests on his grandfather’s roof, flew round about him and his goats, and sang, ‘ We and ye ! we and ye ! ‘ They brought him a greeting from home, even from the two fowls, the only birds in the house, but with whom Rudy never became at all intimate.
Small as he was, he had been a traveller, and for such a little fellow he had made no mean journey. He had been born over in the Canton of Wallis, and had been carried across the high mountains to his present dwelling. Not long ago he had made a pilgrimage on foot to the ‘ Staub- bach ‘ or ‘ Dust Fountain ‘, which nutters through the air like a silver tissue before the snow-covered dazzling white mountain called the ‘ Jungfrau ‘ or ‘ Maiden ‘. He had also been in the Grindelwald, at the great glacier ; but that was a sad story. His mother had met her death there ; and there, said Grandfather, little Rudy had lost his childlike cheerfulness. When the boy was not a year old his mother had written concerning him that he laughed more than he cried, but from the time when he sat in the ice cleft, another spirit came upon him. His grandfather seldom talked of it, but the people through the whole mountain region knew the story.
Rudy’s father had been a postilion. The great dog that lay in grandfather’s room had always followed him in his journeys over the Simplon down to the Lake of Geneva. In the valley of the Rhone, in the Canton of Wallis, lived some relatives of Rudy on the father’s side. His uncle was a first-rate chamois hunter and a well-known guide. Rudy was only a year old when he lost his father, and the mother now longed to return with her child to her relatives in the Oberland of Berne. Her father lived a few miles from Grindelwald ; he was a wood-carver, and earned enough to live on. Thus, in the month of June, carrying her child, and accompanied by two chamois hunters, she set out on her journey home, across the Gemmi towards Grindelwald. They had already gone the greater part of the way, had crossed the high ridge as far as the snow -field, and already caught sight of the valley of home, with all the well-known wooden houses, and had only one great glacier to cross. The snow had fallen freshly, and concealed a cleft which did not indeed reach to the deep ground where the water gushed, but was still more than six feet deep. The young mother, with her child in her arms, stumbled, slipped over the edge, and vanished. No cry was heard, no sigh, but they could hear the crying of the little child. More than an hour elapsed before ropes and poles could be brought up from the nearest house for the purpose of giving help, and after much exertion what appeared to be two corpses were brought forth from the icy cleft. Every means was tried ; and the child, but not the mother, was recalled to life ; and thus the old grandfather had a daughter’s son brought into his house, an orphan, the boy who had laughed more than he cried ; but it seemed that a great change had taken place in him, and this change must have been wrought in the glacier cleft, in the cold wondrous ice world, in which, according to the Swiss peasants’ belief, the souls of the wicked are shut up until the last day.
The glacier lies stretched out, a foaming body of water stiffened into ice, and as it were pressed together into green blocks, one huge lump piled upon another ; from beneath it the rushing stream of melted ice and snow thunders down into the valley, and deep caverns and great clefts extend below. It is a wondrous glass palace, and within dwells the Ice Maiden, the Glacier Queen. She, the death-dealing, the crushing one, is partly a child of air, partly the mighty ruler of the river ; thus she is also able to raise herself to the summit of the snow mountain, where the bold climbers are obliged to hew steps in the ice before they can mount ; she sails on the slender fir twig down the rushing stream, and springs from one block to another, with her long snow-white hair and her blue-green garment fluttering around her and glittering like the water in the deep Swiss lakes.
To crush and to hold, mine is the power ! ‘ she says. ‘ They have stolen a beautiful boy from me, a boy whom I have kissed, but not kissed to death. He is again among men : he keeps the goats on the mountains, and climbs upward, ever higher, far away from the others, but not from me. He is mine, and I will have him ! ‘
And she bade Giddiness do her errand, for it was too hot for the Ice Maiden, in summer, in the green woods where the wild mint grows ; and Giddiness raised herself and came down ; and her sisters went with her, for she has many sisters, a whole troop of them ; and the Ice Maiden chose the strongest of the many who hover without and within. These spirits sit on the staircase railing and upon the railing at the summit of the tower ; they run like squirrels along the rocky ridge, they spring over railing and path, and tread the air as a swimmer treads the water, luring ^their victims forth, and hurling them down into the abyss. Giddiness and the Ice Maiden both grasp at a man as a polypus grasps at everything that comes near it. And now Giddiness was to seize upon Rudy.
‘ Yes, but to seize him,’ said Giddiness, ‘ is more than I can do. The cat, that wretched creature, has taught him her tricks. That child has a particular power which thrusts me away ; I am not able to seize him, this boy, when he hangs by a bough over the abyss. How gladly would I tickle the soles of his feet, or thrust him head over heels into the air ! But I am not able to do it.’
‘ We shall manage to do it,’ said the Ice Maiden.’ Thou or I I shall do it I !
No, no ! ‘ sounded a voice around her, like the echo of the church bells among the mountains ; but it was a song ; it was the melting chorus of other spirits of nature of good affectionate spirits the Daughters of the Sunshine. These hover every evening in a wreath about the summits of the mountains ; there they spread forth their roseate wings, which become more and more fiery as the sun sinks, and gleam above the high mountains people call this the ‘ Alpine glow ‘. And then, when the sun has set, they retire into the mountain summits, into the white snow, and slumber there until the sun rises again, when they appear once more. They are especially fond of flowers, butterflies, and human beings ; and among these latter they had chosen Rudy as an especial favourite.
You shall not catch him you shall not have him,’ they said.
‘ I have caught them larger and stronger than he, said the Ice Maiden.
Then the Daughters of the Sun sang a song of the wanderer whose mantle the storm carried away.
‘ The wind took the covering, but not the man. Ye can seize him, but not hold him, ye children of strength. He is stronger, he is more spiritual than even we are. He will mount higher than the sun, our parent. He possesses the magic word that binds wind and water, so that they must serve him and obey him. You will but loosen the heavy oppressive weight that holds him down, and he will rise all the higher.’
Gloriously swelled the chorus that sounded like the ringing of the church bells.
And every morning the sunbeams pierced through the one little window into the grandfather’s house, and shone upon the quiet child. The Daughters of the Sunbeams kissed the boy ; they wanted to thaw and remove the icy kisses which the royal maiden of the glaciers had given him when he lay in the lap of his dead mother in the deep ice cleft, from whence he had been saved as if by a miracle.
THE JOURNEY TO THE NEW HOME
Rudy was now eight years old. His uncle, who dwelt beyond the mountains in the Rhone valley, wished that the boy should come to him to learn something and get on in the world ; the grandfather saw the justice of this, and let the lad go.
Accordingly Rudy said good-bye. There were others besides his grandfather to whom he had to say farewell ; and foremost came Ajola, the old dog.
‘Your father was the postilion and I was the post dog/ said Ajola ; ‘ we went to and fro together ; and I know some dogs from beyond the mountains, and some people too. I was never much of a talker ; but now that we most likely shall not be able to talk much longer together, I will tell you a little more than usual. I will tell you a story that I have kept to myself and ruminated on for a long while. I don’t understand it, and you won’t under- stand it, but that does not signify : this much at least I have made out, that things are not quite equally divided in the world, either for dogs or for men. Not all are destined to sit on a lady’s lap and to drink milk : I’ve not been accustomed to it, but I’ve seen one of those little lap dogs, driving in the coach, and taking up a passenger’s place in it ; the lady, who was its mistress, or whose master it was, had a little bottle of milk with her, out of which she gave the dog a drink ; and she offered him sweetmeats, but he only sniffed at them, and would not even accept them, and then she ate them up herself. I was running along in the mud beside the carriage, as hungry as a dog can be, chewing my own thoughts, that this could not be quite right ; but they say a good many things are going on that are not quite right. Should you like to sit in a lady’s lap and ride in a coach ? I should be glad if you did. But one can’t manage that for oneself. I never could manage it, either by barking or howling.’
These were Ajola’s words ; and Rudy embraced him and kissed him heartily on his wet nose ; then the lad took the Cat in his arms, but Puss struggled, saying,
You ‘re too strong for me, and I don’t like to use my claws against you ! Clamber away over the mountains, for I have taught you how to climb. Don’t think that you can fall, and then you will be sure to maintain your hold.’
And so saying the Cat ran away, not wishing Rudy to see that the tears were in his eyes.
The Fowls were strutting about in the room. One of them had lost its tail. A traveller who wanted to be a sportsman had shot the Fowl’s tail away, looking upon the bird as a bird of prey.
‘ Rudy wants to go across the mountains,’ said one of the Fowls.
‘ He ’s always in a hurry ,’ said the other, ‘ and I don’t like saying good-bye.’
And with this they both tripped away.
To the Goats he also said farewell; and they bleated ‘ Meek ! meek ! ‘ which made him feel very sorrowful. Two brave guides from the neighbourhood, who wanted to go across the mountains to the other side of the Gemmi, took him with them, and he followed them on foot. It was a tough march for such a little fellow, but Rudy was a strong boy, and his courage never gave way.
The Swallows flew with them for a little distance. We and ye ! we and ye ! ‘ sang they. The road led across the foaming Lutschine, which pours forth in many little streams from the black cleft of the Grindelwald glacier and fallen trunks of trees and blocks of stone serve for a bridge. When they had reached the forest opposite, they began to ascend the slope where the glacier had slipped away from the mountain, and now they strode across and around ice blocks over the glacier. Rudy some- times had alternately to crawl and to walk for some dis- tance : his eyes gleamed with delight, and he trod so firmly in his spiked climbing-shoes that it seemed as if he wished to leave a trace behind him at every footstep. The black earth which the mountain stream had strewn over the glacier gave the great mass a swarthy look, but the bluish-green glassy ice nevertheless peered through. They had to make circuits round the numerous little lakes which had formed among the great blocks of ice, and now and then they passed close to a great stone that lay totter- ing on the edge of a crack in the ice, and sometimes the stone would overbalance, and roll crashing down, and a hollow echo sounded forth from the deep dark fissures in the glacier.
Thus they continued climbing. The glacier itself ex- tended upwards like a mighty river of piled-up ice masses, shut in by steep rocks. Rudy thought for a moment of the tale they had told him, how he and his mother had lain in one of these deep, cold -breathing fissures ; but soon all such thoughts vanished from him, and the tale seemed to him only like many others of the same kind which he had heard. Now and then, when the men thought the way too toilsome for the little lad, they would reach him a hand ; but he did not grow tired, and stood on the smooth ice as safely as a chamois. Now they stepped on the face of the rock, and strode on among the rugged stones ; sometimes, again, they marched among the pine trees, and then over the pasture grounds, ever seeing new and changing landscapes. Around them rose snow-clad mountains, whose names the ‘ Jungfrau ‘, the ‘ Monch ‘, the ‘ Eiger ‘, were known to every child, and consequently to Rudy too. Rudy had never yet been so high ; he had never yet stepped on the outspread sea of snow : here it lay with its motionless snowy billows, from which the wind every now and then blew off a flake, as it blows the foam from the waves of the sea. The glaciers stand here, so to speak hand in hand ; each one is a glass palace for the Ice Maiden, whose might and whose desire it is to catch and to bury. The sun shone warm, the snow was dazzlingly white and seemed strewn with bluish sparkling diamonds. Numberless insects, especially butterflies and bees, lay dead upon the snow ; they had ventured too high, or the wind had carried them up until they perished in the frosty air. Above the Wetterhorn hung, like a bundle of fine black wool, a threatening cloud ; it bowed down, teeming with the weight it bore, the weight of a whirlwind, irresistible when once it bursts forth. The impressions of this whole journey the night encampment in these lofty regions, the further walk, the deep rocky chasms, where the water has pierced through the blocks of stone by a labour, at the thought of whose duration the mind stands still all this was indelibly impressed upon Rudy’s recollection.
A deserted stone building beyond the snow sea offered them a shelter for the night. Here they found fuel and pine branches, and soon a fire was kindled, and the bed arranged for the night as comfortably as possible. Then the men seated themselves round the fire, smoked their pipes, and drank the warm refreshing drink they had prepared for themselves. Rudy received his share of the supper ; and then the men began telling stories of the mysterious beings of the Alpine land : of the strange gigantic serpents that lay coiled in the deep lakes ; of the marvellous company of spirits that had been known to carry sleeping men by night through the air to the wonderful floating city, Venice ; of the wild shepherd who drove his black sheep across the mountain pastures, and how, though no man had seen him, the sound of the bell and the ghostly bleating of the flock had been heard by many. Rudy listened attentively, but without any feeling of fear, for he knew not what fear meant ; and while he listened he seemed to hear the hollow, unearthly bleating and lowing ; and it became more and more audible, so that presently the men heard it too, and stopped in their talk to listen, and told Rudy he must not go to sleep.
It was a ‘ Föhn ‘, the mighty whirlwind that hurls itself from the mountains into the valley, cracking the trees in its strength as if they were feeble reeds, and carrying the wooden houses from one bank of a river to the other as we move the figures on a chessboard.
After the lapse of about an hour, they told Rudy it was all over, and he might go to sleep ; and tired out with his long march, he went to sleep as at the word of command.
Very early next morning they resumed their journey. This day the sun shone on new mountains for Rudy, on fresh glaciers and new fields of snow : they had entered the Canton of Wallis, and had proceeded beyond the ridge which could be seen from the Grindelwald ; but they were still far from the new home. Other chasms came in view, new valleys, forests, and mountain paths, and new houses also came into view, and other people. But what strange- looking people were these ! They were deformed, and had fat, sallow faces ; and from their necks hung heavy, ugly lumps of flesh, like bags : they were cretins, dragging themselves languidly along, and looking at the strangers with stupid eyes ; the women especially were hideous in appearance. Were the people in his new home like these ?
Thank Heaven ! the people in the house of Rudy’s uncle, where the boy was now to live, looked like those he had been accustomed to see ; only one of them was a cretin, a poor idiotic lad, one of those pitiable creatures who wander in their loneliness from house to house in the Canton of Wallis, staying a couple of months with each family. Poor Saperli happened to be at Rudy’s uncle’s when the boy arrived.
Uncle was still a stalwart huntsman, and, moreover, understood the craft of tub-making ; his wife was a little lively woman with a face like a bird’s. She had eyes like an eagle, and her neck was covered with a fluffy down.
Everything here was new to Rudy costume, manners, and habits, and even the language ; but to the latter the child’s ear would soon adapt itself. There was an appearance of wealth here, compared with grandfather’s dwelling. The room was larger, the walls were ornamented with chamois horns, among which hung polished rifles, and over the door was a picture of the Madonna, with fresh Alpine roses and a lamp burning in jront of it.
As already stated, uncle was one of the best chamois hunters in the whole country, and one of the most trusted guides. In this household Rudy was now to become the pet child. There was one pet here already in the person of an old blind and deaf hound, who no longer went out hunting as he had been used to do ; but his good qualities of former days had not been forgotten, and therefore he was looked upon as one of the family and carefully tended. Rudy stroked the dog, who, however, was not willing to make acquaintance with a stranger ; but Rudy did not long remain a stranger in that house.
‘ It is not bad living, here in the Canton of Wallis,’ said Uncle ; ‘ and we have chamois here, who don’t die out so quickly as the steinbock ; and it is much better here now than in former days. They may say what they like in honour of the old times, but ours are better, after all : the bag has been opened, and a fresh wind blows through our sequestered valley. Something better always comes up when the old is worn out,’ he continued. And when uncle was in a very communicative mood, he would tell of his youthful years, and of still earlier timers, the strong times of his father, when Wallis was, as he expressed it, a closed bag, full of sick people and miserable cretins. ‘ But the French soldiers came in,’ he said, ‘ and they were the proper doctors, for they killed the disease at once, and they killed the people who had it too. They knew all about fighting, did the French, and they could fight in more than one way. Their girls could make conquests too,’ and then uncle would laugh and nod to his wife, who was a Frenchwoman by birth. ‘ The French hammered away at our stones in famous style ! They hammered the Simplon road through the rocks such a road that I can now say to a child of three years, ” Go to Italy, only keep to the high road,” and the child will arrive safely in Italy if it does not stray from the road.’
And then uncle would sing a French song, and cry ‘ Hurrah for Napoleon Bonaparte ! ‘
Here Rudy for the first time heard them tell of France and Lyons, the great town on the Rhone, where his uncle had been.
Not many years were to elapse before Rudy should become an expert chamois hunter ; his uncle said he had the stuff for it in him, and accordingly taught him to handle a rifle, to take aim, and shoot ; and in the hunting season he took the lad with him into the mountains and let him drink the warm blood of the chamois, which cures the huntsman of giddiness ; he also taught him to judge of the various times when the avalanches would roll down the mountains, at noon or at evening, according as the sunbeams had shone upon the place ; he taught him to notice the way the chamois sprang, that Rudy might learn to come down firmly on his feet ; and told him that where the rocky cleft gave no support for the foot, a man must cling by his elbows, hips, and legs, and that even the neck could be used as a support in case of need. The chamois were clever, he said they posted sentinels ; but the hunter should be more clever still keep out of the line of scent, and lead them astray ; and one day when Rudy was out hunting with uncle, the latter hung his coat and that on the alpenstock, and the chamois took the coat for a man.
The rocky path was narrow ; it was, properly speaking, not a path at all, but merely a narrow shelf beside the yawning abyss. The snow that lay here was half thawed, the stone crumbled beneath the tread, and therefore uncle laid himself down and crept forward. Every fragment that crumbled away from the rock fell down, jumping and rolling from one ledge of rock to another until it was lost to sight in the darkness below. About a hundred paces behind his uncle, stood Rudy, on a firm projecting point of rock ; and from this station he saw a great vulture circling in the air and hovering over uncle, whom it evidently intended to hurl into the abyss with a blow of its wings, that it might make a prey of him. Uncle’s whole attention was absorbed by the chamois, which was to be seen, with its young one, on the other side of the cleft. Rudy kept his eyes on the bird. He knew what the vulture intended to do, and accordingly stood with his rifle ready to fire ; when suddenly the chamois leaped up : uncle fired, and the creature fell pierced by the deadly bullet ; but the young one sprang away as if it had been accustomed all its life to flee from danger. Startled by the sound of the rifle, the great bird soared away in another direction, and uncle knew nothing of the danger in which he had stood until Rudy informed him of it.
As they were returning homeward, in the best spirits, uncle whistling one of the songs of his youth, they suddenly heard a peculiar noise not far from them ; they looked around, and there on the declivity of the mountain, the snowy covering suddenly rose, and began to heave up and down, like a piece of linen stretched on a field when the wind passes beneath it. The snow waves, which had been smooth and hard as marble slabs, now broke to pieces, and the roar of waters sounded like rumbling thunder. An avalanche was falling, not over Rudy and uncle, but near where they stood, not at all far from them.
‘ Hold fast, Rudy ! ‘ cried uncle, ‘ hold fast with all your strength.’
And Rudy clung to the trunk of the nearest tree. Uncle clambered up above him, and the avalanche rolled past, many feet from them ; but the concussion of the air, the stormy wings of the avalanche, broke trees and shrubs all around as if they had been frail reeds, and scattered the fragments headlong down. Rudy lay crouched upon the earth, the trunk of the tree to which he clung was split through, and the crown hurled far away ; and there among the broken branches lay uncle, with his head shattered : his hand was still warm, but his face could no longer be recognized. Rudy stood by him pale and trembling ; it was the first fright of his life the first time he felt a shudder run through him.
Late at night he brought the sorrowful news into his home, which was now a house of mourning. The wife could find no words, no tears for her grief ; at last, when the corpse was brought home, her sorrow found utterance. The poor cretin crept into his bed, and was not seen during the whole of the next day ; but at last, towards evening, he stole up to Rudy.
‘ Write a letter for me,’ he said. ‘ Saperli can’t write, but Saperli can carry the letter to the post.’
‘ A letter from you ? ‘ asked Rudy. ‘ And to whom ? ‘
‘ To the Lord.’
‘ To whom do you say ? ‘
And the simpleton, as they called the cretin, looked at Rudy with a moving glance, folded his hands, and said solemnly and slowly,
‘ To the Saviour ! Saperli will send Him a letter, and beg that Saperli may lie dead, and not the man in the house here.’
Rudy pressed his hand, and said,
‘ The letter would not arrive, and it cannot restore him to us.’
But it was very difficult to make poor Saperli believe that this was impossible.
‘ Now thou art the prop of this house,’ said the widow ; and Rudy became that.
Who is the best marksman in the Canton of Wallis ? The chamois knew well enough, and said to each other, ‘ Beware of Rudy.’ Who is the handsomest marksman ? ‘ Why, Rudy,’ said the girls ; but they did not add, ‘ Beware of Rudy.’ Nor did even the grave mothers pronounce such a warning, for Rudy nodded at them just as kindly as at the young maidens. How quick and merry he was ! His cheeks were browned, his teeth regular and white, and his eyes black and shining ; he was a handsome lad, and only twenty years old. The icy water could not harm him when he swam ; he could turn and twist in the water like a fish, and climb better than any man in the moun- tains ; he could cling like a snail to the rocky ledge, for he had good sinews and muscles of his own ; and he showed that in his power of jumping, an art he had learned first from the Cat and afterwards from the goats. Rudy was the safest guide to whom any man could trust himself, and might have amassed a fortune in that calling ; his uncle had also taught him the craft of tub-making ; but he did not take to that occupation, preferring chamois hunting, which also brought in money. Rudy was what might be called a good match, if he did not look higher than his station. And he was such a dancer that the girls dreamed of him, and indeed more than one of them carried the thought of him into her waking hours.
‘ He kissed me once at the dance ! ‘ said the school- master’s daughter Annette to her dearest girl-friend ; but she should not have said that, even to her dearest friend. A secret of that kind is hard to keep it is like sand in a sieve, sure to run out ; and soon it was known that Rudy, honest lad though he was, kissed his partner in the dance ; and yet he had not kissed the one whom he would have liked best of all to kiss.
‘ Yes,’ said an old hunter, ‘ he has kissed Annette. He has begun with A, and will kiss his way through the whole alphabet.’
A kiss at the dance was all that the busy tongues could say against him until now : he had certainly kissed Annette, but she was not the beloved one of his heart.
Down in the valley near Bex, among the great walnut trees, by a little brawling mountain stream, lived the rich miller. The dwelling-house was a great building, three stories high, with little towers, roofed with planks and covered with plates of metal that shone in the sunlight and in the moonlight ; the principal tower was surmounted by a weather-vane, a flashing arrow that had pierced an apple an emblem of Tell’s famous feat. The mill looked pleasant and comfortable, and could be easily drawn and described ; but the miller’s daughter could neither be drawn nor described so, at least, Rudy would have said ; and yet she was portrayed in his heart, where her eyes gleamed so brightly that they had lighted up a fire. This had burst out quite suddenly, as other fires break forth ; and the strangest thing of all was, that the miller’s daughter, pretty Babette, had no idea of the conquest she had made, for she and Rudy had never exchanged a word together.
The miller was rich, and this wealth of his made Babette very difficult to get at. But nothing is so high that it may not be reached if a man will but climb ; and he will not fall, if he is not afraid of falling. That was a lesson Rudy had brought from his first home.
Now it happened that on one occasion Rudy had some business to do in Bex. It was quite a journey thither, for in those days the railway had not yet been completed. From the Rhone glacier, along the foot of the Simplon, away among many changing mountain heights, the proud valley of Wallis extends, with its mighty river the Rhone, which often overflows its banks and rushes across the fields and high roads, carrying destruction with it. Between the little towns of Sion and St. Maurice the valley makes a bend, like an elbow, and becomes so narrow below St. Maurice that it only affords room for the bed of the river and a narrow road. An old tower here stands as a sentinel at the boundary of the Canton of Wallis, which ends here. The tower looks across over the stone bridge at the toll-house on the opposite side. There commences the Canton of Waud, and at a little distance is the first town of that Canton, Bex. At every step the signs of fertility and plenty increase, and the traveller seems to be journeying through a garden of walnut- trees and chest- nuts ; here and there cypresses appear, and blooming pome- granates ; and the climate has the southern warmth of Italy.
Rudy duly arrived in Bex, and concluded his business there ; then he took a turn in the town ; but not even a miller’s lad, much less Babette, did he see there. That was not as it should be.
Evening came on ; the air was full of the fragrance of the wild thyme and of the blooming lime trees ; a gleaming bluish veil seemed to hang over the green mountains ; far around reigned a silence not the silence of sleep or of death, but a stillness as if all nature held its breath, as if it were waiting to have its picture photographed upon the blue sky. Here and there among the trees on the green meadows stood long poles, supporting the telegraph wires that had been drawn through the quiet valley ; against one of these leaned an object, so motionless that it might have been taken for the trunk of a tree ; but it was Rudy, who stood as quiet and motionless as all nature around him. He did not sleep, nor was he dead by any means ; but just as the records of great events sometimes fly along the telegraph messages of vital importance to those whom they concern, while the wire gives no sign, by sound or movement, of what is passing over it so there was passing through the mind of Rudy a thought which was to be the happiness of his whole life and his one absorbing idea from that moment. His eyes were fixed on one point on a light that gleamed out among the trees from the chamber of the miller where Babette dwelt. So motionless did Rudy stand here, one might have thought he was taking aim at a chamois, a creature which sometimes stands as if carved out of the rock, till suddenly, if a stone should roll down, it springs away in a headlong career. And some- thing of this kind happened to Rudy suddenly a thought rolled into his mind.
‘ Never falter ! ‘ he cried. ‘ Pay a visit to the mill, say good evening to the miller and good evening to Babette. He does not fall who is not afraid of falling. Babette must see me, sooner or later, if I am to be her husband.’
And Rudy laughed, for he was of good courage, and he strode away towards the mill. He knew what he wanted ; he wanted to have Babette.
The river, with its yellowish bed, foamed along, and the willows and lime trees hung over the hurrying waters ; Rudy strode along the path. But, as the children’s song has it :
Nobody was at home to greet him,
Only the house cat came to meet him.
The house cat stood on the step and said ‘Miaou ‘, and arched her back ; but Rudy paid no attention to this address. He knocked, but no one heard him, no one opened the door to him. ‘ Miaou ! ‘ said the cat. If Rudy had been still a child, he would have understood her lan- guage, and have known that the cat was saying, ‘ There ’s nobody at home here ! ‘ but now he must fain go over to the mill to make inquiries, and there he heard the news that the miller had gone far away to Interlaken, and Babette with him : a great shooting match was to come off there ; it would begin to-morrow, and last a full week, and people from all the German Cantons were to be present at it.
Poor Rudy ! he might be said to have chosen an unlucky day for his visit to Bex, and now he might go home. He turned about accordingly, and marched over St. Maurice and Sion towards his own valley and the mountains of his home ; but he was not discouraged. When the sun rose next morning his good humour already stood high, for it had never set.
‘ Babette is at Interlaken, many days’ journey from here/ he said to himself. ‘ It is a long way thither if a man travels along the broad high road, but it is not so far if one takes the short cut across the mountains, and the chamois hunter’s path is straight forward. I’ve been that way already : yonder is my early home, where I lived as a child in grandfather’s house, and there ’s a shooting match at Interlaken. I’ll be there too, and be the best shot ; and I’ll be with Babette too, when once I have made her acquaintance.’
With a light knapsack containing his Sunday clothes on his back, and his gun and hunting bag across his shoulder, Rudy mounted the hill by the short out, which was, never- theless, tolerably long ; but the shooting match had only begun that day, and was to last a week or more ; and they had told him that the miller and Babette would pass the whole time with their friends at Interlaken. Rudy marched across the Gemmi, intending to descend at Grindelwald.
Fresh and merry, he walked on in the strengthening light mountain air. The valley sank deeper and deeper behind him, and his horizon became more and more extended ; here a snowy peak appeared, and there another, and presently the whole gleaming white chain of the Alps could be seen. Rudy knew every peak, and he made straight towards the Schreckhorn, that raised its white- powdered, stony finger up into the blue air.
At last he had crossed the ridge. The grassy pastures sloped down towards the valley of his old home. The air was light and his spirits were light. Mountain and valley bloomed fair with verdure and with flowers, and his heart was filled with the feeling of youth, that recks not of coming age or of death. To live, to conquer, to enjoy, free as a bird ! and light as a bird he felt. And the swallows flew past him, and sang, as they had sang in his childhood, ‘ We and ye ! we and ye ! ‘ and all seemed joy and rapid motion.
Below lay the summer-green meadow, studded with brown wooden houses, with the Lütschine rushing and humming among them. He saw the glacier with the grass- green borders and the clouded snow ; he looked into the deep crevasses, and beheld the upper and the lower glacier. The church bells sounded across to him, as if they were ringing to welcome him into the valley of home ; and his heart beat stronger, and swelled so, that for a moment Babette entirely disappeared, so large did his heart become, and so full of recollections.
He went along again, up on the mountain where he had stood as a child with other little children, offering carved houses for sale. There among the pine trees stood the house of his grandfather ; but strangers inhabited it now. Children came running along the road towards him to sell their wares, and one of them offered him an Alpine rose, which Rudy looked upon as a good omen, and thought of Babette. Soon he had crossed the bridge where the two branches of the Lütschine join ; the woods became thicker here and the walnut trees gave a friendly shade. Now he saw the waving flags, the flags with the white cross in a red field, the national emblem of the Switzer and the Dane, and Interlaken lay before him.
This was certainly a town without equal, according to Rudy’s estimate. It was a little Swiss town in its Sunday dress. It did not look like other places, a heavy mass of stone houses, dismal and pretentious ; no, here the wooden houses looked as if they had run down into the valley from the hills, and placed themselves in a row beside the clear river that ran so gaily by ; they were a little out of order, but nevertheless they formed a kind of street; and the prettiest of all the streets was one that had grown up since Rudy had been here in his boyish days ; and it looked to him as if it had been built of all the natty little houses his grandfather had carved, and which used to be kept in the cupboard of the old house. A whole row of such houses seemed to have grown up here like strong chestnut trees ; each of them was called an hotel, and had carved work on the windows and doors, and a pro- jecting roof, prettily and tastefully built, and in front of each was a garden separating it from the broad mac- adamized road. The houses only stood on one side of the road, so that they did not hide the fresh green pastures, in which the cows were walking about with bells round their necks like those which sound upon the lofty Alps. The pasture was surrounded by high mountains, which seemed to have stepped aside in the middle, so that the sparkling snow-covered mountain, the ‘ Jungfrau ‘, the most beautiful of all the Swiss peaks, could be plainly seen.
What a number of richly dressed ladies and gentlemen from foreign lands ! what a crowd of people from the various Cantons ! Every marksman wore his number displayed in a wreath round his hat. There was music and singing, barrel organs and trumpets, bustle and noise. Houses and bridges were adorned with verses and emblems ; flags and banners were waving ; the rifles cracked merrily now and again ; and in Rudy’s ears the sound of the shots was the sweetest music ; and in the bustle and tumult he had quite forgotten Babette, for whose sake he had come.
And now the marksmen went crowding to shoot at the target. Rudy soon took up his station among them, and proved to be the most skilful and the most fortunate of all each time his bullet struck the black spot in the centre of the target.
‘ Who may that stranger, that young marksman be ? ‘ asked many of the bystanders. ‘ He speaks the French they talk in the Canton of Wallis.’
‘ He can also make himself well understood in our German,’ said others.
‘ They say he lived as a child in the neighbourhood of Grindelwald,’ observed one of the marksmen.
And he was full of life, this stranger youth. His eyes gleamed, and his glance and his arm were sure, and that is why he hit the mark so well. Fortune gives courage, but Rudy had courage enough of his own. He had soon assembled a circle of friends round him, who paid him honour, and showed respect for him ; and Babette was almost forgotten for the moment. Then suddenly a heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder,and a deep voice addressed him in the French tongue:
‘ You’re from the Canton of Wallis ?
‘ Rudy turned round, and saw a red good-humoured face, belonging to a portly person. The speaker was the rich miller of Bex ; and his broad body almost eclipsed the pretty delicate Babette, who, however, soon peeped forth from behind him with her bright dark eyes. It pleased the rich miller that a marksman from his Canton should have shot best, and have won respect from all present. Well, Rudy was certainly a fortunate youth, for the person for whose sake he had come, but whom he had forgotten after his arrival, now came to seek him out.
When fellow countrymen meet at a long distance from home, they are certain to converse and to make acquain- tance with one another. By virtue of his good shooting, Rudy had become the first at the marksmen’s meeting, just as the miller was the first at home in Bex on the strength of his money and his good mill ; and so the two men shook hands, a thing they had never done before ; Babette also held out her hand frankly to Rudy, who pressed it so warmly and gave her such an earnest look that she blushed crimson to the roots of her hair.
The miller talked of the long distance they had come, and of the many huge towns they had seen ; according to his idea, they had made quite a long journey of it, having travelled by railway, steamboat, and diligence.
‘ I came the shortest way,’ observed Rudy. ‘ I walked across the mountains. No road is so high but a man may get over it.’
‘ And break his neck,’ quoth the miller. ‘ You look just the fellow to break your neck one of these days, so bold as you are, too.’
‘ Oh, a man does not fall unless he is afraid of falling,’ observed Rudy.
The relatives of the miller in Interlaken, at whose house he and Babette were staying, invited Rudy to visit them, since he belonged to the same Canton as the rich miller. That was a good offer for Rudy. Fortune was favourable to him, as she always is to any one who seeks to win by his own energy, and remembers that ‘ Providence provides us with nuts, but leaves us to crack them ‘.
Rudy sat among the miller’s relatives like one of the family. A glass was emptied to the health of the best marksman, and Babette clinked her glass with the rest, and Rudy returned thanks for the toast.
Towards evening they all took a walk on the pretty road by the prosperous hotels under the old walnut trees, and so many people were there, and there was so much pushing, that Rudy was obliged to offer his arm to Babette. He declared he was very glad to have met people from Waud, for Waud and Wallis were good neighbour Cantons. He expressed his joy so heartily, that Babette could not help giving him a grateful pressure of the hand. They walked on together as if they had been old friends, and she talked and chattered away ; and Rudy thought how charmingly she pointed out the ridiculous and absurd points in the costumes and manners of the foreign ladies ; not that she did it to make game of them, for they might be very good honourable people, as Babette well knew, for was not her own godmother one of these grand English ladies ? Eighteen years ago, when Babette was christened, this lady had been residing in Bex, and had given Babette the costly brooch the girl now wore on her neck. Twice the lady had written, and this year Babette had expected to meet her and her two daughters at Interlaken. ‘ The daughters were old maids, nearly thirty years old,’ added Babette ; but then she herself was only eighteen.
The sweet little mouth never rested for a moment ; and everything that Babette said, sounded in Rudy’s ears like a matter of the utmost importance ; and he, on his part, told all he had to tell how often he had been at Bex, how well he knew the mill, and how often he had seen Babette, though she had probably never noticed him ; and how, when he had lately called at the mill, full of thoughts that he could not express, she and her father had been absent had gone far away, but not so far that a man might not climb over the wall that made the way so long.
He said all that and a great deal more. He said how fond he was of her, and that he had come hither on her account, and not for the sake of the marksmen’s meeting.
Babette was quite still while he said all this ; it almost seemed to her as if he entrusted her with too great a secret.
And as they wandered on, the sun sank down behind the high rocky wall. The ‘ Jungfrau ‘ stood there in full beauty and splendour, surrounded by the green wreath of the forest-clad hills. Every one stood still to enjoy the glorious sight, and Rudy and Babette rejoiced in it too.
‘ It is nowhere more beautiful than here ! ‘ said Babette.
‘ Nowhere ! ‘ cried Rudy, and he looked at Babette.
‘ To-morrow I must return home,’ he said, after a silence of a few moments.
‘ Como and see us at Bex,’ whispered Babette ; ‘ it will please my father.’
ON THE WAY HOME
Oh, what a load Rudy had to carry when he went home- ward across the mountains on the following day ! Yes, he had three silver goblets, two handsome rifles, and a silver coffee-pot. The coffee-pot would be useful when he set up housekeeping. But that was not all he had to carry : he bore something mightier and weightier, or rather it bore him, carrying him homewards across the high moun- tains. The weather was rough, grey, rainy, and heavy; the clouds floated down upon the mountain heights like funereal crape, concealing the sparkling summits. From the woodland valleys the last strokes of the axe sounded upward, and down the declivities of the mountains rolled trunks of trees, which looked like thin sticks from above, but were in reality thick enough to serve as masts for the largest ships. The Lütschine foamed along with its monotonous song, the wind whistled, the clouds sailed onward. Then suddenly a young girl appeared, walking beside Rudy : he had not noticed her till now that she was quite close to him. She wanted, like himself, to cross the mountain. The maiden’s eyes had a peculiar power : you were obliged to look at them, and they were strange to behold, clear as glass, and deep, unfathomable.
‘ Have you a sweetheart ? ‘ asked Rudy, for his thoughts all ran on that subject.
‘ I have none,’ replied the girl, with a laugh ; but she did not seem to be speaking a true word. ‘ Don’t let us make a circuit,’ she said. ‘ We must keep more to the left, then the way will be shorter.’
‘ Yes, and we shall fall into an ice cleft,’ said Rudy. ‘ You want to be a guide, and you don’t know the way better than that ! ‘
‘ I know the way well,’ the girl replied, ‘ and my thoughts are not wandering. Yours are down in the valley, but up here one ought to think of the Ice Maiden : she does not love the human race so people say.’
‘ I’m not afraid of her,’ cried Rudy. – She was obliged to give me up when I was still a child, and I shall not give myself up to her now that I am older.’
And the darkness increased, the rain fell, and the snow came, and dazzled and blinded. ‘ Reach me your hand,’ said the girl to Rudy ; ‘ I will help you to climb.’
And he felt the touch of her fingers icy cold upon him. ‘ You help me ! ‘ cried Rudy. ‘ I don’t want a woman’s help to show me how to climb.
‘ And he went on faster, away from her. The driving snow closed round him like a mantle, tjhe wind whistled, and behind him he heard the girl laughing and singing in a strange way. He felt sure she was a phantom in the service of the Ice Maiden. Rudy had heard tell of such apparitions when he passed the night on the mountains in his boyish days, during his journey from his grandfather’s house.
The snow-fall abated, and the cloud was now below him. He looked back, but nobody was to be seen ; but he could hear laughter and whooping that did not seem to proceed from a human voice.
When Rudy at last reached the highest mountain plateau, whence the path led downward into the Rhone valley, he saw in the direction of Chamonix, in a strip of pure blue sky, two bright stars which glittered and twinkled ; and he thought of Babette, of himself, and of his good fortune, and the thought made him quite warm.
THE VISIT TO THE MILL
‘ What magnificent things, you have brought home ! ‘ exclaimed the old aunt ; and her strange eagle’s eyes flashed, and her thin neck waved to and fro faster than ever in strange contortions. ‘ You have luck, Rudy ! I must kiss you, my darling boy !
‘ And Rudy allowed himself to be kissed, but with an expression in his face which told that he submitted to it as a necessary evil, a little domestic infliction.
‘ How handsome you are, Rudy ! ‘ said the old woman.
‘ Don’t put nonsense into my head,’ replied Rudy, with a laugh ; but still he was pleased to hear her say it.
‘ I repeat it,’ she cried. ‘ Good luck attends upon you ! ‘
‘ Perhaps you are right,’ he observed ; and he thought of Babette.
Never had he felt such a longing to go down into the deep valley.
‘ They must have returned,’ he said to himself. ‘ It is two days beyond the time when they were to have been back. I must go to Bex.’
Accordingly Rudy journeyed to Bex, and the people of the mill were at home. He was well received, and the people at Interlaken had sent a kind message of remem- brance to him. Babette did not say much : she had grown very silent, but her eyes spoke, and that was quite enough for Rudy. It seemed as if the miller, who was accustomed to lead the conversation, and who always expected his hearers to laugh at his ideas and jokes because he was the rich miller it seemed as if he would never tire of hearing Rudy’s hunting adventures ; and Rudy spoke of the dangers and difficulties the chamois hunters have to encounter on the high mountains, how they have to cling, how they have to clamber over the frail ledges of snow, that are, as it were, glued to the mountain-side by frost and cold, and to clamber across the bridges of snow that stretch across rocky chasms. And the eyes of the brave Rudy flashed while he told of the hunter’s life, of the cunning of the chamois and its perilous leaps, of the mighty whirlwind and the rushing avalanches. He noticed clearly enough, that with every fresh narrative he enlisted the miller more and more in his favour ; and the old man felt especially interested in what the young hunter told about the vultures and the royal eagles.
Not far off, in the Canton of Wallis, there was an eagle’s nest built very cleverly under a steep overhanging rock, and in the nest was an eaglet which could not be captured. An Englishman had a few days before offered Rudy a hand- ful of gold pieces if he could procure him the eaglet alive.
‘ But there is a limit in all things,’ said Rudy : ‘ that eaglet is not to be taken ; it would be folly to make the attempt.’
And the wine flowed and conversation flowed ; but the evening appeared far too short for Rudy, although it was past midnight when he set out to go home after his first visit to the mill.
The lights still gleamed for a short time through the windows of the mill among the green trees, and the Parlour Cat came forth from the open loophole in the roof, and met the Kitchen Cat walking along the rain-spout. ‘ Do you know the news in the mill ? ‘ asked the Parlour Cat. ‘ There ’s a silent engagement going on in the house. Father knows nothing about it. Rudy and Babette were treading on each other’s paws under the table all the evening. They trod upon me twice, but I would not mew for fear of exciting attention.’
I should have mewed,’ said the- Kitchen Cat.
‘ What will pass in the kitchen would never do for the parlour,’ retorted the other Cat ; ‘ but I ‘m curious to know what the miller will think about it when he hears of the affair.’
Yes, indeed, what would the miller say ? That is what Rudy would have liked to know too ; and, moreover, he could not bear to remain long in suspense without knowing it. Accordingly, a few days afterwards, when the omnibus rattled across the Rhone bridge between Wallis and Waud, Rudy sat in the vehicle, in good spirits as usual, and already basking in the sunny prospect of the consent he hoped to gain that very evening. And when the evening came, and the omnibus was making its way back, Rudy once more sat in it as a pas- senger ; but in the mill the Parlour Cat had some important news to tell.
‘ Do you know it, you there out of the kitchen ? The miller has been told all about it. There was a fine end to it all. Rudy came here towards evening, and he and Babette had much to whisper and to tell each other, standing in the passage outside the miller’s room. I was lying at their feet, but they had neither eyes nor thoughts for me. ” I shall go to your father without more ado,” said Rudy ; ” that ’s the honest way to do it.” ” Shall I go with you ? ” asked Babette ; “it will give you courage.” ” I’ve courage enough,” replied Rudy ; ” but if you are present he must be kind, whether he likes it or not.” And they went in together. Rudy trod upon my tail most horribly. He ’s a very awkward fellow, is Rudy. I called out, but neither he nor Babette had ears to hear me. They opened the door, and both went in, and I went on before them ; but I sprang up on the back of a chair, for I could not know where Rudy would kick. But it was the miller who kicked this time, and it was a good kick too ! out at the door and up to the mountain among the chamois ; and he may take aim at them now, may Rudy, and not at our Babette.’
‘ But what did they say ? ‘ asked the Kitchen Cat.
‘ What did they say ? Why, they said everything that people are accustomed to say when they come a-wooing. ” I love her and she loves me, and if there ’s milk enough in the pail for one, there ’s enough for two.” ” But she ’s perched too high for you,” said the miller. ” She ’s perched on grist, on golden grist, as you very well know, and you can’t reach up to her.” ” Nothing is so high that a man can’t reach it, if he has the will,” said Rudy, for he is a bold fellow. ” But you can’t reach the eaglet, you said so yourself the other day, and Babette is higher than that.” ” I shall take both of them,” exclaimed Rudy. ” I’ll give you Babette when you give me the young eaglet alive,” said the miller, and he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. ” But now I must thank you for your visit. Call again to-morrow, and you’ll find nobody at home. Good-bye to you, Rudy.” And Babette said good-bye too, as pitifully as a little kitten that can’t see its mother yet. ” Your word is your bond,” cried Rudy. ” Don’t cry, Babette : I’ll bring you the eaglet ! ” ” You’ll break your neck first, I hope,” said the miller, ” and then we shall be rid of your dangling here ! ” That ’s what I call a capital kick !
‘ And now Rudy is gone, and Babette sits and weeps, but the miller sings German songs that he has learned on his late journey. I don’t like to be downhearted about it, for that can do no good ! ‘
‘ Well, after all, there ’s some prospect for him still,’ observed the Kitchen Cat.
THE EAGLE’S NEST
Down from the rocky path sounded a fresh song, merry and strong, indicating courage and good spirits ; and the singer was Rudy, who came to seek his friend Vesinand.
‘ You must help me ! We will have Ragli with us. I want to take the eaglet out of the nest on the rock.’
‘ Would you not like to take the black spots out of the moon first ? ‘ replied Vesinand. ‘ That -would be just as easy. You seem to be in a merry mood.’
‘ Certainly I am, for I hope to be married soon. But let us speak seriously, and I will tell you what it is all about.’
And soon Vesinand and Ragli knew what Rudy wanted. ‘ You’re a headstrong fellow,’ they said. ‘ It can’t be done : you will break your neck over it.’
‘ A man does not fall who ’s not afraid of falling,’ Rudy persisted.
At midnight they set out with poles, ladders, and ropes ; their way led through forest and thicket, over loose rolling stones, ever upward, upward, through the dark night. The water rushed beneath them, water dripped down from above, and heavy clouds careered through the air. The hunters reached the steep wall of rock. Here it was darker than ever. The opposite sides of the chasm almost touched, and the sky could only be seen through a small cleft above them, and around them and beneath them was the great abyss with its foaming waters. The three sat on the rock waiting for the dawn, when the eagle should fly forth, for the old bird must be shot before they could think of capturing the young one. Rudy sat on the ground, as silent as if he were a piece of the stone on which he crouched ; his rifle he held before him ready cocked ; his eyes were fixed on the upper cleft beneath which the eagle’s nest lay concealed against the rock. And a long time those three hunters had to wait !
Now there was a rushing, whirring sound above them, and a great soaring object darkened the air. Two guns were pointed, as the black form of the eagle arose from the nest. A shot rang sharply out, for a moment the out- stretched wings continued to move, and then the bird sank slowly down, and it seemed with its outstretched wings to fill up the chasm, and threatened to bear down the hunters in its fall. Then the eagle sank down into the abyss, breaking off twigs of trees and bushes in its descent.
And now the hunters began operations. Three of the longest ladders were bound together those would reach high enough ; they were reared on end on the last firm foothold on the margin of the abyss ; but they did not reach far enough ; and higher up, where the nest lay concealed under the shelter of the projecting crag, the rock was as smooth as a wall. After a short council the men determined that two ladders should be tied together and let down from above into the cleft, and that these should be attached to the three that had been fastened together below. With great labour the two ladders were dragged up and the rope made fast above ; then.the ladders were passed over the margin of the projecting rock, so that they hung dangling above the abyss. Rudy had already taken his place on the lowest step. It was an icy-cold morning ; misty clouds were rising from the dark chasm. Rudy sat as a fly sits on a waving wheat-straw which some nest- building bird has deposited on the edge of a factory chim- ney ; only the fly can spread its wings and escape if the wheat -straw gives way, while Rudy had nothing for it, in such a case, but to break his neck. The wind whistled about him, and below in the abyss thundered the waters from the melting glacier, the palace of the Ice Maiden.
Now he imparted a swaying motion to the ladders, just as a spider sways itself to and fro, when, hanging at the end of its thread, it wishes to seize upon an object ; and when Rudy for the fourth time touched the top of the ladder, the highest of the three that had been bound together, he seized it and held it firmly. Then he bound the other two ladders with a strong hand to the first three, but they still rattled and swayed as if they had loose hinges.
The five long ladders thus bound together, and standing perpendicularly against the rocky wall, looked like a long swaying reed ; and now came the most dangerous part of the business. There was climbing to be done as the cat climbs ; but Rudy had learned to climb, and it was the Cat who had taught him. He knew nothing of the Spirit of Giddiness who stood treading the air behind him, and stretching out long arms towards him like the feelers of a polypus. Now he stood upon the highest step of the topmost ladder, and perceived that after all it was not high enough to let him look into the nest : he could only reach up into it with his hand. He felt about to test the firmness of the thick plaited branches that formed the lower part of the nest, and when he had secured a thick steady piece he swung himself up by it from the ladder, and leaned against the branch, so that his head and shoulders were above the level of the nest. A stifling stench of carrion streamed towards him, for in the nest lay chamois, birds, and lambs, in a putrid state. The Spirit of Giddiness, that had no power over him, blew the poisonous vapour into his face, to make him sick and trouble his senses ; and below, in the black yawning gulf, on the rushing waters, sat the Ice Maiden herself, with her long whitish-green hair, and stared at him with cold deathlike eyes.
‘ Now I shall catch you I ‘ she thought.
In a corner of the nest he saw the young one, which was not yet fledged, sitting large and stately. Rudy fixed his eyes upon it, held himself fast with all the strength of one hand, while with the other he threw the noose over the young eagle. It was caught caught alive ! Its legs were entangled in the tough noose, and Rudy threw the cord and the bird across his shoulder, so that the creature hung some distance beneath him, while he held fast by a rope they had lowered down to assist him, till his feet touched the topmost round of the ladder.
‘ Hold fast ! Don’t fancy you’re going to fall, and you won’t fall ! ‘ It was the old maxim, and he followed it ; he held fast and climbed, was convinced that he should not fall, and accordingly he did not fall. And now a whoop resounded, strong and jubilant, and Rudy stood safe and sound on the firm rock with the captured eaglet.
WHAT NEWS THE PARLOUR CAT HAD TO TELL
‘ Here is what you wished for ! ‘ said Rudy, as he entered the house of the miller at Bex.
He set down a great basket on the ground, and lifted the cloth that covered it. Two yellow eyes bordered with black stared forth ; they seemed to shoot forth sparks, and gleamed burning and savage, as if they would burn and bite all they looked at. The short strong beak was open, ready to snap, and the neck was red and downy.
‘ The young eagle ! ‘ cried the miller.
Babette screamed aloud and started back, but she could not turn her eyes from Rudy or from the eagle.
‘ You’re not to be frightened off observed the miller.
‘ And you always keep your word,’ answered Rudy. ‘ Every man has his own character.’
‘ But why did you not break your neck ? ‘ asked the miller.
‘ Because I held fast,’ replied Rudy ; ‘ and I do that still. I hold Babette fast ! ‘
‘ First see that you get her,’ said the miller ; and he laughed. But his laughter was a good sign, and Babette knew it.
‘ We must have him out of the basket ; his staring is enough to drive one mad. But how did you contrive to get at him ? ‘
And Rudy had to relate the adventure, at which the miller opened his eyes wider and wider.
‘ With your courage and good fortune you may gain a living for three wives,’ cried the miller at last.
‘ Thank you ! ‘ said Rudy.
‘ Still, you have not Babette yet,’ continued the miller ; and he slapped the young huntsman playfully on the shoulder.
‘ Do you know the latest news from the mill ? ‘ the Parlour Cat inquired of the Kitchen Cat. ‘ Rudy has brought us the eaglet, and is going to take Babette away in exchange. They have kissed each other, and let the old man see it. That ’s as good as a betrothal. The old man didn’t kick ; he drew in his claws, and took his nap, and let the two young ones sit together and purr. They’ve so much to tell each other that they won’t have done till Christmas.’ And they had not done till Christmas.
The wind tossed up the brown leaves ; the snow whirled through the valley and over the high mountains ; the Ice Maiden sat in her proud castle, which increases in size during the winter ; the rocky walls were covered with a coating of ice, and icicles thick as pine trunks and heavy as elephants hung down, where in the summer the mountain stream spread its misty veil ; garlands of ice of whimsical forms hung sparkling on the snow-powdered fir trees. The Ice Maiden rode on the rushing wind over the deepest valleys. The snowy covering reached almost down to Bex, and the Ice Maiden came thither also, and saw Rudy sitting in the mill : this winter he sat much more indoors than was his custom he sat by Babette. The wedding was to be next summer ; their ears often buzzed, their friends spoke so much about it. In the mill there was sunshine the loveliest Alpine rose bloomed there, the cheerful smiling Babette, beautiful as the spring, the spring that makes all the birds sing of summer and of marriage feasts.
‘ How those two are always sitting together close together I ‘ said the Parlour Cat. I’ve heard enough of their mewing.’
THE ICE MAIDEN
Spring had unfolded its fresh green garland on the walnut and chestnut trees extending from the bridge at St. Maurice to the shore of the Lake of Geneva, along the Rhone that rushes along with headlong speed from its source beneath the green glacier, the ice palace where the Ice Maiden dwells, and whence she soars on the sharp wind up to the loftiest snow-field, there to rest upon her snowy couch : there she sat, and gazed with far-seeing glance into the deep valleys, where the men ran busily to and fro, like ants on the stone that glitters in the sun.
‘ Ye spirit powers, as the Children of the Sun call yousaid the Ice Maiden, ‘ ye are but worms. Let a snowball roll from the mountain, and you and your houses and towns are crushed and swept away ! ‘
And higher she lifted her haughty head, and gazed out far and wide with deadly flashing eyes.
But from the valley there arose a rumbling sound. They were blasting the rocks. Human work was going on. Roads and tunnels for railways were being constructed.
‘ They’re playing like moles ! ‘ she said. ‘ They’re digging passages under the earth, and thence come these sounds like the firing of guns. When I remove one of my castles, it sounds louder than the thunders roar.’
Out of the valley rose a smoke which moved forward like a fluttering veil : it was the waving steam plume of the engine, which on the lately opened road dragged the train, the curling snake, each of whose joints is a carriage. Away it shot, swift as an arrow.
‘They’re playing at being masters down yonder, the spirit powers/ said the Ice Maiden, ‘ but the power of the forces of nature is greater than theirs.’
And she laughed and sang till the valley echoed.
‘ Yonder rolls an avalanche ! ‘ said the people.
But the Children of the Sun sang louder still of HUMAN THOUGHT, the powerful agent that places barriers against the sea, and levels mountains, and fills up valleys of human thought, that is master of the powers of nature. And at this time there marched across the snow-field where the Ice Maiden rules, a company of travellers. The men had bound themselves to one another with ropes, that they might, as it were, form a heavier body here on the slippery surface of ice on the margin of the deep chasms.
‘ Insects that you are ! ‘ cried the Ice Maiden. ‘ You the rulers of the powers of nature !
‘ And she turned away from the company, and looked contemptuously down into the deep valley, where the long train of carriages was rushing along.
‘ There they sit, those thoughts there they sit, in the power of the forces of nature ! I see them, each and all of them ! One of them sits alone, proud as a King, and yonder they sit in a crowd. Half of them are asleep. And when the steam dragon stops, they alight and go their ways. The thoughts go abroad into the world.’
And she laughed again.
‘ There rolls another avalanche ! ‘ said the people in the valley.
‘ It will not reach us,’ said two who sat behind the steam dragon. ‘ Two hearts that beat like one/ as the song has it. These two were Babette and Rudy ; and the miller was with them too.
‘ I go as baggage ! ‘ he said. ‘ I am here as a necessary appendage
‘ There those two sit,’ said the Ice Maiden. e Many a chamois have I crushed, millions of Alpine roses have I broken to pieces, not even sparing the roots. I’ll wipe them out, these thoughts these spirit powers.’
And she laughed again.
‘ There rolls another avalanche ! ‘ said the people in the valley below.
At Montreux, the first of the towns which with Clarens, Vernex, and Grin form a garland round the north-eastern portion of the Lake of Geneva, lived Babette’s godmother, a high-born English lady, with her daughters and a young male relative. They had only lately arrived, but the miller had already waited upon them to tell them of Babette’s betrothal, and the story of Rudy and the eaglet, and of his visit to Interlaken in short, the whole story. And the visitors were much pleased to hear it, and showed themselves very friendly towards Rudy, Babette, and the miller, who were all three urgently invited to come and see them, and came accordingly. Babette was to see her god- mother, and the lady to make acquaintance with Babette.
By the little town of Villeneuve, at the extremity of the Lake of Geneva, lay the steamship which in a half -hour’s trip goes from there to Vernex just below Montreux. The coast here has been sung by poets ; here, under the walnut trees, by the deep bluish-green lake, sat Byron, and wrote his melodious verses of the prisoner in the gloomy rocky fortress of Chillon. Yonder, where the weeping willows of Clarens are clearly mirrored in the water > Rousseau wandered, dreaming of Heloi’se. The Rhone rolls onward among the lofty snow-clad mountains of Savoy : here, not far from its mouth, lies in the lake a little island, so small that seen from the coast it appears like a ship upon the waters. It is a rock which, about a century ago, a lady caused to be walled round with stone and coated with earth, wherein three acacia trees were planted, which now overshadow the whole island. Babette was quite delighted with this spot, which seemed to her the prettiest point of all their journey, and she declared that they must land, for it must be charming there. But the steamer glided past, and was moored according to custom, at Vernex.
The little party wandered from here among the white sunny walls which surround the vineyards of Montreux, where the fig tree casts its shadow over the peasants’ huts, and laurels and cypresses grow in the gardens. Half-way up the hill was situated the hotel in which the English lady was staying.
The reception was very hearty. The English lady was very friendly, with a round smiling face : in her childhood her head must have been like one of Raphael’s angels ; but she had an old angel’s head now, surrounded by curls of silvery white. The daughters were tall, slender, good-looking, lady-like girls. The young cousin whom they had brought with them was dressed in white from head to foot. He had yellow hair, and enough of yellow whisker to have been shared among three or four gentlemen. He immediately showed the very greatest attention to Babette.
Richly bound volumes, music-books, and drawings lay strewn about upon the large table ; the balcony door stood open, and they could look out upon the beauti- ful far-spreading lake, which lay so shining and still that the mountains of Savoy, with their towns, forests, and snowy peaks, were most accurately reproduced on its surface.
Rudy, who was generally frank, cheerful, and ready, felt very uncomfortable here, and he moved as if he were walking on peas spread over a smooth surface. How long and wearisome the time seemed to him ! He could have fancied himself on a treadmill ! And now they even went out to walk together ; that was just as slow and wearisome as the rest. Rudy might have taken one step backward to every two he made forward, and yet have kept up with the others. They went down to Chillon, the old gloomy castle on the rocky island, to see the instruments of torture, the deadly dungeons, the rusty chains fastened to the walls, the stone benches on which men condemned to death had sat, the trap-door through which the unhappy wretches were hurled down to be impaled below upon tipped iron stakes in the water. They called it a pleasure to see all this. It was a place of execution that had been lifted by Byron’s song into the domain of poetry. Rudy only associated the prison feeling with it. He leaned against one of the great stone window-frames, and looked out into the deep bluish-green water and over at the little island with the three acacias ; thither he wished him- self transported, to be free from the whole chattering company. But Babette was in unusually good spirits. She declared she had enjoyed herself immensely, and told Rudy she considered the young cousin a complete gentleman.
‘ A complete booby ! ‘ cried Rudy.
And it was the first time he had said anything she did not like. The Englishman had given her a little book in remembrance of Chillon. It was Byron’s poem, ‘ The Prisoner of Chillon/ translated into French, so that Babette could read it.
‘ The book may be good,’ said Rudy, ‘ but I don’t like the combed and curled fellow who gave it you.’
‘ He looked to me like a flour-sack without any flour,’ said the miller ; and he laughed at his own joke.
Rudy laughed too, and said that was just his own opinion.
A few days after these events, when Rudy went to pay a visit at the mill, he found the young Englishman there, and Babette was just about to offer her visitor some boiled trout which she certainly must have decorated with parsley with her own hands, so tempting did they look, a thing that was not at all necessary. What did the Englishman want here ? And what business had Babette to treat him and pet him ? Rudy was jealous ; and that pleased Babette, for she liked to become acquainted with all the points of his character, the weak as well as the strong. Love was still only a game to her. and she played with Rudy’s whole heart ; yet he was, we must confess, her happiness, her whole life, her constant thought, the best and most precious possession she had on earth ; but, for all that, the darker his glance became, the more did her eyes laugh, and she would have liked to kiss the fair Englishman with the yellow beard, if her doing this would have made Rudy wild and sent him raging away ; for that would show how much he loved her. Now, this was not right of Babette ; but she was only nineteen years old. She did not think much, and least of all did she think that her conduct might be misinterpreted by the young English- man into something very unworthy of the respectable affianced miller’s daughter.
The mill stood just where the high road from Bex leads down under the snow-covered mountain height, which in the language of the country is called ‘ Diablerets ‘. It was not far from a rushing mountain stream, whose waters were whitish-grey, like foaming soapsuds : it was not this stream that worked the mill ; a smaller stream drove round the great wheel one which fell from the rock some way beyond the main river, and whose power- and fall were increased by a stone dam, and by a long wooden trough, which carried it over the level of the great stream. This trough was so full that the water poured over its margin ; this wooden margin offered a narrow slippery path for those who chose to walk along it, that they might get to the mill by the shortest cut ; and to whom, of all people, should the idea of reaching the mill by this road occur, but to the young Englishman ! Dressed in white, like a miller’s man, he climbed over at night, guided by the light that shone from Babette ’s chamber window ; but he had not learned how to climb like Rudy, and consequently was near upon falling headlong into the stream below, but he escaped with a pair of wet coat-sleeves and soiled trousers ; and thus, wet and bespattered with mud, he came below Babette ’s window. Here he climbed into the old elm tree, and began to imitate the voice of the owl, the only bird whose cry he could manage. Babette heard the noise, and looked out of her window through the thin curtain; but when she saw the white form, and conjectured who it was, her heart beat with fear and with anger also. She put out the light in a hurry, saw that all the bolts of the windows were well secured, and then let him whoop and tu-whoo to his heart’s content.
It would be dreadful if Rudy were in the mill just now ! But Rudy was not in the mill ; no what was worse still, he stood just under the elm tree. Presently there were loud and angry voices, and there might be a fight there, and even murder. Babette opened the window in a fright, and called Rudy by name, begging him to go, and declaring that she would not allow him to remain.
‘ You won’t allow me to remain ? ‘ he shouted. ‘ Then it ’s a planned thing ! You expect good friends, better men than I ! For shame, Babette ! ‘
‘ You are odious ! ‘ cried Babette. ‘ I hate you ! Go, go!’
‘ I have not deserved this,’ he said, and went away, his face burning like fire, and his heart burning as fiercely.
Babette threw herself on her bed and wept.
‘ So dearly as I love you, Rudy ! And that you should think evil of me !
‘ Then she broke out in anger ; and that was good for her, for otherwise she would have suffered too much from her grief ; and now she could sleep could sleep the strengthen- ing sleep of health and youth.
Rudy quitted Bex and took the way towards his home ; he went up the mountain, into the fresh cool air, where the snow lay on the ground, where the Ice Maiden ruled. The leafy trees stood far below him and looked like field plants ; the ‘pines and bushes all looked tiny from here ; the Alpine roses grew beside the snow, that lay in long patches like linen lying to bleach. A blue gentian that stood by his path he crushed with a blow of his riflestock.
Higher up still two chamois came in view. Rudy’s eyes brightened and his thoughts took a new direction ; but he was not near enough to be sure of his aim, so he mounted higher, where nothing but scanty grass grew among the blocks of stone. The chamois were straying quietly along on the snow-field. He hastened his steps till the veil of clouds began to encompass him, and suddenly he found himself in front of a steep wall of rock ; and now the rain began to pour down.
He felt a burning thirst, his head was hot, his limbs were cold. He took his hunting flask, but it was empty he had not thought of filling it when he rushed out upon the mountains. He had never been ill in his life, but now he had warnings of such a condition, for he was weary, and had an inclination to lie down, a longing to go to sleep, though the rain was pouring all around. He tried to collect his faculties, but all objects danced and trembled strangely before his eyes. Then suddenly he beheld what he had never seen in that spot before a new low-browed house, that leaned against the rock. At the door stood a young girl, and she almost appeared to him like the schoolmaster’s daughter Annette, whom he had once kissed at the dance ; but it was not Annette, though he felt certain he had seen this girl before ; perhaps at Grindelwald on that evening when he returned from the marksmen’s feast at Interlaken.
‘ Whence do you come ? ‘ he asked.
‘ I am at home here. I am keeping my flock,’ was the reply.
‘ Your flock ! Where does it graze ? Here there is only snow and rocks.’
‘ Much you know about what is here,’ retorted the girl, with a laugh. ‘ Behind us, lower down, is a glorious pasture : my goats graze there. I tend them carefully. Not one of them do I lose, and what is once mine remains mine.’
‘ You are bold,’ said Rudy.
‘ And you too,’ replied the girl.
‘ If you have any milk in the house, pray give me some to drink ; I am insufferably thirsty.’
‘ I’ve something better than milk,’ said the girl, ‘ and I will give you that. Yesterday some travellers were here with their guide, who forgot a bottle of wine of a kind you have probably never tasted. They will not come back to take it away, and I do not drink it, therefore you must drink it.’
And the girl brought the wine, and poured it into a wooden cup, which she gave to Rudy.
‘ That is good wine,’ said he. ‘ I’ve never tasted any so strong or so fiery ! ‘
And his eyes glistened, and a glowing, lifelike feeling streamed through him, as if every care, every pressure, had melted into air, and the fresh bubbling human nature stirred within him.
‘ Why, this must be Annette ! ‘ he cried. ‘ Give me a kiss.’
‘ Then give me the beautiful ring that you wear on your finger.’
‘ My betrothal ring ? ‘
‘ Yes, that very one,’ said the girl.
And again she poured wine in the cup, and she put it to his lips, and he drank. The joy of life streamed into his blood : the whole world seemed to be his, and why should he mourn ? Everything is made for us to enjoy, that it may make us happy. The stream of life is the stream of enjoyment, and to be carried along by it is happiness. He looked at the young girl it was Annette, and yet not Annette ; still less did it seem like the phantom, the goblin as he called it, which had met him at Grindelwald. The girl here on the mountain looked fresh as the white snow, blooming as an Alpine rose, and swift -footed as a kid ; but still she looked as much a mortal as Rudy himself. And he looked in her wonderfully clear eyes, only for a moment he looked into them, and who shall describe it ? in that moment, whether it was the life of the spirit or death that filled him, he was borne upward, or else he sank into the deep and deadly ice cleft, lower and lower. He saw the icy walls gleaming like blue-green glass, fathomless abysses yawned around, and the water dropped tinkling down like shining bells, clear as pearls, glowing with pale blue flames. The Ice Maiden kissed him a kiss which sent a shudder from neck to brow ; a cry of pain escaped from him ; he tore himself away, staggered, and it was night before his eyes ; but soon he opened them again. Evil powers had been playing their sport with him.
Vanished was the Alpine girl, vanished the sheltering hut ; the water poured down the naked- .rocky wall, and snow lay all around. Rudy trembled with cold : he was wet to the skin, and his ring was gone the betrothal ring which Babette had given him. His rifle lay near him in the snow : he took it up and tried to fire it, but it missed. Damp clouds hovered like masses of snow over the abyss, and Giddiness was there, lying in wait for the powerless prey ; and below, in the deep abyss, there was a sound as if a block of stone were falling, crushing in its descent everything that tried to arrest its progress.
But Babette sat in the mill and wept. Rudy had not been there for six days he who was in the wrong, and who ought to come and beg her pardon, and whom she loved with her whole heart.
IN THE MILL
‘ What a strange thing it is with those people ! ‘ said the Parlour Cat to the Kitchen Cat. ‘ They’re parted now, Babette and Rudy. She ’s weeping ; and he, I suppose, does not think any more about her.’
‘ I don’t like that, said the Kitchen Cat.
‘ Nor do I,’ observed the Parlour Cat ; ‘ but I won’t take it to heart. Babette may betroth herself to the red-beard. But he has not been here either since that night when he wanted to climb on the roof.’
Evil powers sport with us and in us : Rudy had experi- enced that, and had thought much of it. What was all that which had happened to him and around him on the summit of the mountain ? Were they spirits he had seen, or had he had a feverish vision ? Never until now had he suffered from fever or any other illness. But in judging Babette, he had looked into his own heart also. He traced the wild whirlwind, the hot wind that had raged there. Would he be able to confess to Babette every thought he had had thoughts that might become actions in the hour of temptation ? He had lost her ring, and through this loss she had won him again. Would she be able to confess to him ? He felt as if his heart would burst when he thought of her. What a number of recol- lections arose within him ! He saw her, as if she were standing bodily before him, laughing like a wayward child. Many a sweet word she had spoken out of the fullness of her heart now crept into his breast like a sunbeam, and soon there was nothing but sunshine within him when he thought of Babette.
Yes, she would be able to confess to him, and she should do so. Accordingly he went to the mill, and the con- fession began with a kiss, and ended in the fact that Rudy was declared to be the sinner. His great fault had been that he had doubted Babette ’s fidelity it was quite wicked of him. Such distrust, such headlong anger, might bring sorrow upon them both. Yes, certainly they could ; and accordingly Babette read him a short lecture, to her own great contentment, and with charming grace. But in one point she agreed with Rudy : the nephew of her godmother was a booby, and she would burn the book he had given her, for she would not keep the slightest thing that reminded her of him.
‘ That ’s all past and gone,’ said the Parlour Cat. ‘ Rudy is here again, and they understand one another, and that ’s the greatest happiness, they say.’
‘ I heard from the rats last night,’ observed the Kitchen Cat, ‘ that the greatest happiness was to eat tallow candles and to have plenty of rancid bacon. Now, whom is one to believe, the rats or the lovers ?
‘ I Neither,’ said the Parlour Cat ; ‘ that ’s always the safest way.’
The greatest happiness of Rudy and Babette the fairest day, as they called it the wedding day, now approached rapidly. But the wedding was not to be celebrated at the church at Bex and in the mill. Babette ’s godmother wished her godchild to be married from her house, and the service was to be read in the beautiful little church at Montreux. The miller insisted upon having his way in this matter. He alone knew what were the English lady’s intentions with respect to her godchild, and declared that the lady intended making such a wedding present that they were bound to show some sense of obligation. The day was fixed. On the evening before it, they were to travel to Villeneuve, so that they might drive over early to Montreux, that the young English ladies might dress the bride.
‘ I suppose there will be a wedding feast here in the house ? ‘ said the Parlour Cat : ‘ if not, I wouldn’t give a mew for the whole affair.’
‘ Of course there will be a feast here,’ replied the Kitchen Cat. ‘ Ducks and pigeons have been killed, and a whole buck is hanging against the wall. My mouth waters when I think of it. To-morrow the journey will begin.’
Yes, to-morrow. And on this evening Rudy and Babette sat for the last time together in the mill as a betrothed pair.
Without, the Alps were glowing, the evening bells sounded, and the Daughters of the Sunbeams sang, ‘ Let that happen which is best.’
VISIONS OF THE NIGHT
The sun had gone down and the clouds lowered among the high mountains in the Rhone valley ; the wind blew from the south a wind from Africa was passing over the lofty Alps, a whirlwind that tore the clouds asunder ; and when it had passed by, all was still for a moment ; the rent clouds hung in fantastic forms among the forest-clad mountains and over the hurrying Rhone ; they hung in shapes like those of the sea monsters of the primaeval world, like the soaring eagles of the air, like the leaping frogs of the marshes ; they came down towards the rushing stream, sailing upon it, and yet suspended in air. The river carried down with it an uprooted pine tree, and bubbling eddies rushed on in front of the mass ; they were Spirits of Giddiness, more than one of them, that whirled along over the foaming stream. The moon lit up the snow on the mountain-tops, the dark woods, and the wonderful white clouds the nightly visions, the spirits of the powers of nature. The dwellers in the mountains saw them through the window-panes sailing on in troops in front of the Ice Maiden, who came out of her glacier palace, and sat on the frail ship, the uprooted pine tree : she was carried by the glacier water down the river into the open sea.
‘ The wedding guests are coming ! ‘ she said ; and she sang the news to the air and to the water.
Visions without, visions within. Babette was dreaming a wonderful dream.
It seemed to her as if she were married to Rudy, and. had been his wife for many years. He was absent, chamois hunting, but she was sitting at home in her dwelling, and the young Englishman, he with the yellow beard, was sitting by her. His eyes were so eloquent, his words had such magic power, that when he stretched out his hand to her, she was forced to follow him. They went away together from her home. On they went, ever downwards ; and it seemed to Babette as though there lay on her heart a weight that grew heavier and heavier, and this weight was a sin against Heaven and a sin against Rudy. And suddenly she stood forsaken, and her dress was torn by the thorns, and her head had turned grey : she looked upwards in her misery, and on the edge of the rock she caught sight of Rudy : she stretched out her arms to him, but did not dare to call or to beseech him to help her ; and, indeed, that would have availed her nothing, for soon she saw that it was not he, but only his hunting coat and his hat, hanging up on the alpenstock in the fashion adopted by the hunters to deceive the chamois. And in her boundless agony Babette moaned out.
‘ Oh that I had died on my wedding day, the happiest day of my life ! That would have been a mercy, a great happiness ! Then all would have happened for the best ! the best that could happen to me and to Rudy ; for no one knows what the future will bring !
‘ And in her God-forsaken despair she threw herself into the abyss, and a string seemed to burst, and a sorrowful note resounded through the mountains !
Babette awoke: the dream was past and effaced from her mind, but she knew that she had dreamed something terrible, and that it was about the young Englishman, whom she had not seen, whom she had not even thought of, for months past. Could he be in Montreux ? Should she see him at her wedding ? A light shade passed over her delicate mouth and her eyebrows contracted to a frown, but soon there was a smile on her lips and beams of gladness shot from her eyes ; for, without, the sun was shining brightly, and it was morning, and she was to be married to Rudy.
Rudy was already in the sitting-room when she entered it, and now they started for Villeneuve. They were both supremely happy, and so was the miller likewise. He laughed, and his face beamed with good humour. A kind father he was, and an honest man.
‘ Now we are the masters of the house ! ‘ said the Parlour Cat.
It was not yet evening when the three happy people entered Villeneuve, where they dined. Thereupon the miller sat in the arm-chair, smoked his pipe, and took a short nap. The betrothed pair went arm in arm out of the town : they walked along the road, under the green-clad rocks, beside the deep blue -green lake ; the grey walls and heavy towers of gloomy Chillon were mirrored in the clear flood ; the little island of the three acacias lay still nearer to them, looking like a nosegay in the lake.
‘ It must be charming there ! ‘ said Babette.
She felt the greatest desire to go there ; and this wish might be immediately fulfilled, for by the shore lay a boat, and it was an easy matter to loosen the rope by which it was fastened. No one was to be seen of whom permission could be asked, and so they borrowed the boat without ceremony, for Rudy was an expert rower.
The oars cut like fins into the yielding water the water that is so pliant and yet so strong that has a back to bear burdens and a mouth to devour that can smile, the very picture of mildness, and yet can terrify and crush. The water glistened in the wake of the boat, which in a few minutes had carried the two over to the island, where they stepped ashore. There was not more room on the spot than two persons would require for a dance.
Rudy danced round it twice or thrice with Babette ; then they sat down, hand in hand, upon the bench under the drooping acacias, looked into each other’s eyes ; and everything glowed in the radiance of the setting sun. The pine woods on the mountains were bathed in a lilac tint, like that of the blooming heather ; and where the trees ended and the naked rock was shown, it glowed as if the stone had been transparent ; the clouds in the sky were like red fire, and the whole lake lay like a fresh blushing rose leaf. Gradually the shadows crept up the snow-covered mountains of Savoy, painting -them blue- black ; but the highest summit gleamed like red lava, and seemed to give a picture from the early history of the mountains’ formation, when these masses rose glowing from the depths of the earth and had not yet cooled. Rudy and Babette declared they ‘had never yet beheld such a sunset in the Alps. The snow-covered Dent du Midi was tipped with a radiance like that of the full moon when she first rises above the horizon.
‘ So much beauty ! So much happiness ! ‘ they both exclaimed.
‘ This earth has nothing more to give,’ said Rudy. ‘ An evening like this seems to comprise a whole life ! How often have I felt my happiness as I feel it now, and have thought, ” If everything were to end this moment, how happily I should have lived ! How glorious is this world ! ” And then the day would end, and another began, and the new day seemed more beautiful to me than the last ! How immeasurably good is God, Babette I ‘
‘ I am happy from the very depth of my heart ! ‘ she said.
‘ This earth can offer me nothing more,’ said Rudy. And the evening bells began to sound from the moun- tains of Savoy and from the Swiss hills, and in the west rose the black Jura range, crowned with a wreath of gold.
‘ May Heaven grant to thee what is happiest and best ! ‘ murmured Babette.
‘ It will,’ replied Rudy. ‘ To-morrow I shall have it. To-morrow you will be mine entirely. My own sweet wife ! ‘
‘ The boat ! ‘ exclaimed Babette, suddenly.
The little skiff in which they were to return had broken loose and was drifting away from the island.
‘ I will bring it back,’ said Rudy.
And he threw aside his coat, pulled off his boots, jumped into the lake, and swam with powerful, strokes towards the boat.
Cold and deep was the clear blue -green ice water from the glacier of the mountain. Rudy looked down into its depths one glance and it seemed to him that he saw a golden ring, rolling, shining, sparkling : he thought of his ring of betrothal and the ring grew larger, and widened into a sparkling circle into which the gleaming glacier shone : deep abysses yawned around, and the water-drops rang like the chiming of bells, and glittered with white flames. In a moment he beheld all this that it has taken many words to describe. Young hunters and young girls, men and women who had at different times sunk down into the crevasses among the glaciers, stood here living, with smiling mouths, and deep below them sounded the church bells of sunken cities. The congregation knelt beneath the church roof, the organ pipes were formed of great icicles, and beneath all the Ice Maiden sat on the clear transparent ground. She raised herself towards Rudy and kissed his feet ; then a cold death-like numbness poured through his limbs, and an electric shock ice and fire mingled ! There is no difference to be felt between a sudden touch of these two.
‘ Mine ! mine ! ‘ sounded around him and within him.
‘ I kissed thee when thou wert little, kissed thee on thy mouth. Now I kiss thy feet, and thou art mine altogether !
‘ And he disappeared beneath the clear blue water.
All was silent ; the chime of the church bells ceased, the last echoes died away with the last ruddy tints of the evening clouds.
‘ Thou art mine ! ‘ sounded from the depths. ‘ Thou art mine ! ‘ sounded from the heights, from the regions of the Infinite.
Glorious ! from love to love to fly from earth to heaven !
A chord broke, a sound of mourning was heard ; the icy kiss of Death conquered that which was to pass away ; the prologue ended that the true drama of life might begin, and discord was blended into harmony.
Do you call that a sorrowful story ?
But poor Babette. Her anguish was unspeakable. The boat drifted farther and farther away. No one on the mainland knew that the betrothed pair had gone over to the little island. The sun went down and it became dark. She stood alone, weeping despairing. A storm came on : flash after flash lit up the Jura mountains, Switzerland and Savoy ; flash upon flash on all sides, the rolling thunder- clap mingling with clap for minutes together. The gleams of lightning were sometimes bright as the sun, showing every separate vine as at noonday, and the next moment all would be shrouded in darkness. The flashes were forked, ring-shaped, wavy ; they darted into the lake and glittered on every side, while the rolling of the thunder was redoubled by the echo. On the mainland, people drew the boats high up on the shore ; everything that had life hastened to get under shelter ; and now the rain came pouring down.
‘ Where can Rudy and Babette be in this tempest ? ‘ said the miller.
Babette sat with folded hands, her head on her knees, speechless with grief ; she no longer moaned or wept.
‘ In the deep waters ! ‘ was the one thought in her mind. ‘ He is far down in the lakes as if under the glacier.’
And then arose in her the remembrance of what Rudy had told concerning the death of his mother and his own rescue ; how he had been borne forth, like a corpse, from the depths of the glacier.
‘ The Ice Maiden has got him again !
‘ And a flash of lightning glared like sunshine over the white snow. Babette started up. The whole lake was at this moment like a shining glacier ; and there stood the Ice Maiden, majestic, with a bluish-white light upon her, and at her feet lay Rudy’s corpse.
‘ Mine I ‘ she said.
And again there was darkness all around, and the crash of falling waters.
‘ How cruel ! ‘ groaned Babette. ‘ Why must he die when the day of our happiness was about to dawn ? Lord, enlighten my understanding ! Send Thy light into my heart ! I understand not Thy ways. I grope in darkness, amid the behests of Thy power and Thy wisdom !
‘ And the light for which she prayed was given to her. A gleam of thought, a ray of light, her dream of the past night in its living reality, flashed through her. She remembered the words, the wish she had uttered, con- cerning what would be ‘ THE BEST ‘ for her and for Rudy. ‘ Woe is me ! Was it the germ of sin within my heart ? Was my dream a vision of a future life, whose strings must be snapped asunder that I might be saved ? Wretched that I am ! ‘
And she sat there in the dark night, lamenting. Through the thick darkness Rudy’s words seemed to sound, the last words he had spoken on earth, ‘ The earth has nothing more to give me ! ‘ They had sounded in the fullness of joy ; they echoed now through the depths of distress.
And years have flown by since that time. The lake smiles and its shores smile ; the grape-vine is covered with swelling branches ; steamboats with waving flags glide along ; pleasure-boats with full sails flit across the mirror of waters like white butterflies ; the railway has been opened past Chillon, and leads deep into the valley of the Rhone. At every station strangers alight, with red-bound guide-books in their hands, and they read of the sights they have come to see. They visit Chillon, and in the lake they behold the little island with three acacias, and in the book they read about the betrothed pair who, on an evening of the year I856, sailed across thither, and of the death of the bridegroom, and how the despairing cries of the bride were not heard on the shore till the next morning. But the guide-book has nothing to tell concerning the quiet life of Babette in her father’s house not in the mill, for other people live there now, but in the beautiful house near the station, from whose windows she looks on many an evening across over the chestnut trees towards the snowy mountains on which Rudy once wandered ; in the evening she marks the Alpine glow the Children of the Sun recline on the lofty mountains, and renew the song of the wanderer whose cloak the whirlwind once tore away, taking the garment but not the man.
There is a rosy gleam on the snow of the mountains, a rosy gleam in every heart in which dwells the thought, ‘ God lets that happen which is best for us ! ‘ But the cause is not always revealed to us, as it was revealed to Babette in her dream.