The Ice Maiden Babette Andersen's fairy tale

"Who is the best hunter in Canton Valais?" The chamois knew well. "Beware of Rudy!" they might have said to each other. And, "Who is the handsomest hunter?" "Oh, it's Rudy!" the girls said. But they didn't add, "Beware of Rudy!" And their serious mothers didn't say so either, for he bowed as politely to them as to the young girls.

He was so brave and happy; his cheeks were so brown, his teeth so white, his dark eyes so sparkling! He was a handsome fellow, just twenty years old. The most icy water never seemed too cold for him to go swimming; in fact, he was like a fish in water. He could outclimb anyone else; he could cling as tightly as a snail to the cliffs. There were steel muscles and sinews in him; that was clear whenever he jumped. He had learned how to leap, first from the Cat, and later from the chamois. Rudy was considered the best mountain guide, and he could have made a great deal of money in that vocation. His uncle had also taught him the trade of a cooper, but he had no inclination for that. He was interested in nothing but chamois hunting; that was his greatest pleasure, and it also brought in good money. Everybody said Rudy would be an excellent match, if only he didn't set his sights too high. He was the kind of graceful dancer that the girls dreamed about; and more than one carried him in her thoughts while she was awake.

"He kissed me while we were dancing!" the schoolmaster's daughter, Annette, told her dearest friend; but she shouldn't have told it, even to her dearest friend. Such secrets are seldom kept; they ooze out, like sand from a bag that has holes in it. Consequently, however well behaved and good Rudy was, the rumor soon spread about that he kissed his dancing partners. And yet he had never kissed the one he really wanted to kiss.

"Watch him!" said an old hunter. "He has kissed Annette. He has begun with A, and he's going to kiss his way through the whole alphabet!"

A kiss in the dance was all the gossips so far could find to bring against Rudy; but he certainly had kissed Annette, and yet she wasn't the real flower of his heart.

Down at Bex, among the great walnut trees near a small rushing mountain stream, there lived a rich miller. His home was a large house, three stories high, with small turrets; it was made of wood, and covered with tin plates, which shone both in sunshine and moonlight. On the highest turret was a weather vane, a shining arrow piercing an apple - an allusion to Wilhelm Tell's famous arrow shot. The mill was prominent and prosperous looking and allowed itself to be sketched and written about, but the miller's daughter did not permit herself to be described in painting or writing, at least so Rudy would have said. Yet her image was engraved on his heart; her eyes sparkled in it so that it was quite on fire. This fire had, like most fires, begun suddenly. The strangest part of it was that the miller's daughter, the lovely Babette, had no suspicion of it, for she and Rudy had never spoken so much as two words to each other.

The miller was rich, and because of his wealth Babette was rather high to hope for. "But nothing is so high," Rudy told himself, "that one may not reach it. You must climb on, and if you have confidence you won't fall." This was how he had been taught as a child.

Now it so happened that Rudy had some business in Bex. It was quite a journey, for in those days there was no railroad. From the Rhone glaciers, at the very foot of the Simplon, the broad valley of Canton Valais stretches among many and often-shifting mountain peaks, with its mighty Rhone River, whose rising waters often overflow its banks, covering fields and roads, destroying everything. Between the towns of Sion and St. Maurice the valley bends sharply like an elbow, and below St. Maurice it narrows until there is room only for the bed of the river and the narrow carriage road. Canton Valais ends here, and an old tower stands on the side of the mountain like the guardian of the canton, commanding a view across the stone bridge to the customhouse on the other side, where Canton Vaud commences. And the closest of the near-by towns is Bex. Fruitfulness and abundance increase here with every step forward; one enters, so to speak, a grove of chestnut and walnut trees. Here and there cypresses and pomegranates peep out; it is as warm here as if one were in Italy.

Rudy reached Bex, and after finishing his business he took a walk about town; but he saw no one belonging to the mill, not even Babette. And that wasn't what he wanted.

Evening came on; the air was heavy with the fragrance of the wild thyme and the blossoming lime trees; a shining veil of skyblue seemed to lie over the wooded green hills; and a stillness was everywhere. It was not the stillness of sleep or of death - no, it was as if nature were holding here breath, as of posing, for her image to be photographed on the blue surface of the heavens above. Here and there among the trees in the green field stood poles that carried the telegraph wires through the silent valley. Against one of them there leaned an object, so motionless that it might have been the dead trunk of a tree; it was Rudy, standing there as still as the world around him at that moment. He wasn't sleeping, nor was he dead; but just as great events of the world, or matters of the highest importance to individuals often are transmitted through the telegraph wires without those wires betraying them by the slightest movement or the faintest sound, so there passed through Rudy's mind the one, mighty, overwhelming thought that now constantly occupied him - the thought of his life's happiness. His eyes were fixed on a single point before him - a light that glimmered through the foliage from the parlor of the miller's house, where Babette lived. Rudy stood as still as if he were taking aim at a chamois; but at that moment he was like the chamois itself, which could stand as if chiseled from rock, and in the next instant, if only a stone rolled past, would spring into life and leave the hunter far behind. And so it was with Rudy, for a thought passed through his mind.

"Never give up!" he said. "Visit the mill; say good evening to the miller, and good day to Babette. You won't fall unless you're afraid of falling. If I'm going to be Babette's husband, she'll have to see me sooner or later!"

Then Rudy laughed, and in good spirits, he went to the mill. He knew what he wanted; he wanted Babette!

The river with its yellowish-white water was rolling along, overhung with willows and lime trees. Rudy went along the path, and, as the old nursery rhyme says,

Found to the miller's house his way;

But no one was at home

Except a pussycat at play!

The cat, which was standing on the steps, arched its back and mewed, but Rudy was not inclined to pay my attention to it. He knocked at the door, but no one heard him; no one opened the door. "Meow!" said the cat. If Rudy had still been a little boy, he would have understood the cat's language, and known that it said, "No one is home!" But now he had to go over to the mill to find out; and there he was told that the miller had gone on a long journey to Interlaken - "Inter Lacus, among the lakes," as the highly learned schoolmaster, Annette's father, had explained the name. There was going to be a great shooting match held there, to begin the next morning and last for eight days. The Swiss from all the German cantons were assembling there, and the miller and Babette had gone too.

"Poor Rudy" we may well say. It wasn't a lucky time for him to have come to Bex. He could only go home again, which he did, taking the road over St. Maurice and Sion to his own valley, his own mountains. But he wasn't disheartened. The next morning when the sun rose he was in good spirits, for they had never been really depressed.

"Babette is in Interlaken, a good many days' journey from here," he said to himself. "It's a long way if you follow the highway, but not so far if you cut across the mountain, and that's the best way for a chamois hunter. I've traveled that route before; over there is my first home, where I lived with my grandfather when I was a little boy. And there are shooting matches at Interlaken; I'll show I'm the best one there, and I'll be with Babette there too, after I've made her acquaintance."

With his musket and gamebag, and his light knapsack packed with his Sunday best, Rudy went up the mountain; it was the shortest way, though still fairly long. But the shooting matches would only begin that day, and were to last more than a week. During all that time, he had been told, the miller and Babette would be staying with their relatives at Interlaken. So Rudy crossed the Gemmi; he planned to descend near Grindelwald.

Happily and in good health he walked along, enjoying the fresh, pure, invigorating mountain air. The valley sank below him; the horizon widened, showing here one snow-capped summit, there another, until the whole of the bright shining Alpine range was visible. Rudy well knew every snow-covered mountain peak. He was now approaching the Schreckhorn, which pointed its white, powdered stone finger high toward the blue vault above.

At last he had crossed the highest mountain ridge. Now the pasture lands sloped down to the valley that was his old home. The air was light, and his thoughts were light; mountain and valley were blooming with flowers and foliage, and his heart was blooming with the bright dreams of youth. He felt as if old age and death would never approach him; life, power, and enjoyment would be before him always. Free as a bird, light as a bird, was Rudy; and as the swallows flew past him they sang as in the days of his childhood, "We and you, and you and we!" Everything was light and happy.

Down below lay the green-velvet meadows, dotted with brown wooden houses; and the river Lütschine murmured and rolled along. He could see the glacier, with its edges like green glass bordering the dirty snow, and looking down into the deep crevasses, he saw both the upper and lower glacier. The pealing of the church bells came to his ears, as if they were welcoming him to his old home. His heart beat faster, and so many old memories filled his mind that for a moment he almost forgot Babette.

He was again passing along the same road where, as a little boy, he had stood with the other children to sell the carved wooden toy houses. His grandfather's house still stood over above the pine trees, but strangers lived there now. As in the olden days, the children came running to sell their wares. One of them offered him an Alpine rose, and Rudy took it as a good omen, thinking of Babette. Soon he came to the bridge where the two Lütschines unite; here the foliage was heavier and the walnut trees gave grateful shade. Then he could make out waving flags, the white cross on the red ground - the standard of Switzerland as of Denmark - and before him lay Interlaken.

To Rudy it certainly seemed like a wonderful town - a Swiss town in its Sunday dress. Unlike other market towns, it was not a heap of heavy stone buildings, stiff, cold, foreign looking. No, it looked as if the wooden chalets from the hills above had moved down into the green valley below, with its clear stream rushing swiftly as an arrow, and had ranged themselves in rows, somewhat unevenly, to be sure, to form a street. And most beautiful of all, the streets, which had been built since Rudy had last been there as a child, seemed to be made up of all the prettiest wooden houses his Grandfather had carved and that had filled the cupboard at home. They seemed to have transplanted themselves down here and to have grown very much in size, as the old chestnut trees had done.

Every house was a so-called hotel, with carved wooden grillwork around the windows and balconies, and with projecting roofs; they were very meat and dainty. Between each house and the wide, hard-surfaced highway was a flower garden. Near these houses, though on only one side of the road, there stood other houses; if they had formed a double row they would have cut off from view the fresh green meadows where cattle grazed, their bells jingling as in the high Alpine pastures. The valley was surrounded by high mountains, with a little break on one side that revealed the glittering, snow-white Jungfrau, in form the most beautiful of all the Swiss mountains.

What a multitude of gayly dressed ladies and gentlemen from foreign countries! What crowds of country people from the near-by cantons! The marksmen carried the number of their posts in a garland round their hats. There were shouting and racket and music of all kinds, from singing to hand organs and wind instruments. The houses and bridges were decorated with flags and verses. Banners waved, and shot after shot was being fired; to Rudy's ears that was the best music. In all this excitement he almost forgot Babette, though it was for her sake alone that he had gone there.

The marksmen were crowding around the targets. Rudy quickly joined them, and he was the best shot of them all, for he always made a bull's-eye.

"Who's that strange fellow, that very young marksman?" people asked. "He speaks the French of Canton Valais; but he can also express himself fluently in our German," said some.

"He is supposed to have lived in the valley, near Grindelwald, when he was a child," someone explained.

The lad was full of life; his eyes sparkled; his aim and his arm were steady, so his shots were always perfect. Good luck brings courage, and Rudy always had courage. Soon a whole circle of admirers was around him; they showed him their esteem and honored him. Babette had almost disappeared from his thoughts. But suddenly a heavy hand was laid on his shoulder, and a deep voice spoke to him in French.

"You're from Canton Valais?"

Rudy turned and saw a fat man with a jolly face. It was the rich miller from Bex, his broad body hiding the slender, lovely Babette; however, she soon came forward, her dark eyes sparkling brightly. The rich miller was very proud that it was a marksman from his own canton who proved to be the best shot, and was so much admired and praised. Rudy was truly the child of good fortune; that which he had traveled so far to find, but had nearly forgotten since his arrival, now sought him out.

When in a far land one meets people from his own part of the country, it is easy to make friends, and people speak as if they were well acquainted. Rudy was the foremost at the shooting matches, as the miller was foremost at Bex, because of his money and his fine mill. So, though they had never met before, the two men shook hands warmly. Babette, too, gave the young man her hand frankly, and he pressed it and gazed at her in such a way that it made her blush.

The miller spoke of the long trip they had made and of the many large towns they had seen; it had been quite a journey, for they had traveled partly by railroad and partly by post.

"I came the shorter way," said Rudy. "I came over the mountains. There's no road so high that you can't try it."

"But you can also break your neck," said the miller. "And you look as if you probably will break your neck some day; you're so daring."

"One never falls so long as one doesn't think of it," said Rudy.

The miller's relatives at Interlaken, with whom he and Babette were staying, invited Rudy to visit them, since he came from the same canton as their kinfolk. It was a wonderful invitation for Rudy. Luck was running with him, as it always does with those who are self-reliant and remember that "Our Lord gives nuts to us, but He does not crack them for us!"

And Rudy sat with the miller's relatives, almost like one of the family. They drank a toast in honor of the best marksman; Babette clinked glasses with Rudy too, and he in return thanked them for the toast.

In the evening the whole party walked on the lovely avenue, past the gay-looking hotels under the walnut trees, and there was such a large crowd that Rudy had to give Babette his arm. He explained to her how happy he was to have met people from Canton Vaud, for Vaud and Valais were good neighbors. He expressed himself so cordially about this that Babette could not keep from squeezing his hand. As they walked there, they seemed almost like old friends, and she was such a lively, pretty little person. Rudy was greatly amused at her remarks about the absurd affectations in the dress of some of the foreign ladies, and the airs they put on; but she really didn't mean to make fun of them, because there must be some nice people among them - yes, some sweet and lovely people, she was sure, for her godmother was a very superior English lady. Eighteen years before, when Babette was christened, that lady had lived in Bex, and had given Babette the valuable brooch she was wearing. Her godmother had written her twice, and this year they were to have met her here at Interlaken, where she was bringing her daughters; they were old maids, almost thirty, said Babette - she herself was just eighteen.

Her pretty little mouth was not still for an instant, and everything she said appeared to Rudy to be of the greatest importance, and he in turn told her all he had to tell, how he had been to Bex, and how well he knew the mill, and how often he had seen her, though, of course, she had never noticed him. He told her he had been too disappointed for words when he found she and her father were far away; but still it wasn't far enough to keep him from climbing the wall that made the road so long.

Yes, he said all this, and a great deal more, too. He told her how fond he was of her, and how it was for her sake, and not because of the shooting matches, that he had come to Interlaken.

Babette became very silent now; all this that he confided to her was almost too much to listen to.

As they walked on, the sun set behind the mighty peaks, and the Jungfrau stood in all her glory, encircled by the dark green woods of the surrounding mountains. The big crowd stopped to gaze at it; even Rudy and Babette enjoyed the magnificent scene.

"Nowhere is it more beautiful than it is here!" said Babette.

"Nowhere!" agreed Rudy, with his eyes fixed on Babette.

"Tomorrow I must leave," he said a little later.

"Come and visit us at Bex," Babette whispered. "My father will be very pleased!"

the next part