The Ice Maiden The visit to the mill Andersen's fairy tale

"What grand prizes you have brought home," said his old foster mother. And her strange, birdlike eyes sparkled, as she twisted her thin, wrinkled neck even more strangely and faster than usual. "You carry good luck with you, Rudy. I must kiss you, my dear boy!"

Rudy allowed himself to be kissed, but one could read in his face that he did not enjoy this affectionate greeting.

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

"Oh, stop your flattery," Rudy laughed; but still the compliment pleased him.

"I repeat it," said the old woman. " And fortune smiles on you."

"Yes, I think you're right there," he said, thinking of Babette. Never before had he longed so for the deep valley.

"They must have come home by now," he told himself. "It's more than two days past the day they intended to return. I must go to Bex!"

So to Bex he went, and the miller and his daughter were home. He was received in friendly fashion, and many messages of remembrance were given him from the family at Interlaken. Babette spoke very little; she had become quite silent, but her eyes spoke, and that was enough for Rudy. The miller, who usually had plenty to say, and was accustomed to making jokes and having them laughed at, for he was "the rich miller," seemed to prefer listening to Rudy's adventures - hearing him tell of the hardships and risks that the chamois hunters had to undergo on the mountain heights, how they had to crawl along the treacherous snowy cornices on the edges of cliffs, attached to the rocks only by the force of wind and weather, and cross the frail bridges cast by the snowstorms over deep ravines.

Rudy looked very handsome, and his eyes flashed as he described the life of a hunter, the cunning of the chamois and the wonderful leaps they made, the powerful foehn, and the rolling avalanche. He noticed that every new description held the miller's interest more and more, and that he was particularly fascinated by the youth's account of the vulture and the great royal eagle.

Not far from there, in Canton Valais, there was an eagle's nest, built cleverly under a projecting platform of rock, in the face of a cliff; and in it there was an eaglet, but it was impossible to get at it.

A few days before an Englishman had offered Rudy a whole handful of gold if he would bring him the eaglet alive.

"But there is a limit to everything," said Rudy. "You can't get at that eaglet up there; it would be madness to try."

As the wine flowed freely, and the conversation flowed just as freely, Rudy thought the evening was much too short, although it was past midnight when he left the miller's house after this, his first visit.

For a little while the lights shone through the windows, and through the green branches of the trees, while out from the open skylight on the roof crept the Parlor Cat, and along the drainpipe the Kitchen Cat came to meet her.

"Is there any news at the mill?" said the Parlor Cat. "There's some secret love-making in this house! The father doesn't know anything about it yet. Rudy and Babette have been stepping on each other's paws under the table all evening. They trod on me twice, but I didn't mew; that would have aroused suspicion.

"Well, I would have mewed," said the Kitchen Cat.

"What would go in the kitchen wouldn't do in the parlor," said the Parlor Cat. "I certainly would like to know what the miller will say when he hears about this engagement."

Yes, what would the miller say? That Rudy also was most anxious to know; and he couldn't make himself wait very long. Before many days had passed, when the omnibus crossed the bridge between Cantons Valais and Vaud, Rudy sat in it, with his usual self- confidence and happy thoughts of the favorable answer he would hear that evening.

And later that evening, when the omnibus was driving back along the same road, Rudy was sitting in it again, going home, while the Parlor Cat was running over to the mill with the news.

"Look here, you kitchen fellow, the miller knows everything now. The affair has come to a fine end. Rudy came here towards evening, and he and Babette found a great deal to whisper about, as they stood in the hallway outside the miller's room. I lay at their feet, but they had neither eyes nor thoughts for me.

" 'I'll go straight to your father,' said Rudy. 'My proposal is perfectly honorable.'

" 'Do you want me to go with you?' said Babette, 'to give you courage?'

" 'I have enough courage,' said Rudy, 'but if you're with me he'll have to be friendly, whether he likes it or not.'

"So they went in. Rudy stepped hard on my tail - he's awfully clumsy. I mewed, but neither he nor Babette had any ears for me. They opened the door, and went in together, and I too. I jumped up on the back of a chair, for I didn't know if Rudy would kick me. But it was the miller who kicked - and what a kick! Out of the door and back up to the mountains and the chamois! Rudy could take care of them, but not of our little Babette!"

"But what was said?" asked the Kitchen Cat.

"Said? Oh, they said everything that people say when they're wooing! 'I love her, and she loves me; and if there's milk in the can for one, there's milk in the can for two.'

" 'But she's much above you,' said the miller. 'She sits on heaps of grain, golden grain - as you know. You can't reach up to her!'

" 'There's nothing so high that one can't reach it, if one has the will to do it!' said Rudy, for he is a determined fellow.

" 'But you said a little while ago that you couldn't reach the eaglet in its nest! Babette is still higher than that.'

" 'I'll take them both,' said Rudy.

" 'Yes,' said the miller. 'I'll give her to you when you bring me the eaglet alive!"' Then he laughed until the tears stood in his eyes. 'But now, thank you for your visit, Rudy. Come again tomorrow; then you'll find nobody home! Good-by, Rudy!'

"Then Babette said farewell too, as meekly as a little kitten that can't see its mother.

" 'A promise is a promise, and a man's a man!' said Rudy. 'Don't cry, Babette. I'll bring the eaglet.'

" 'I hope you break your neck!' said the miller. 'And then we'll be spared your visits here!' That's what I call kicking him out! Now Rudy's gone, and Babette just sits and cries; but the miller sings German songs he learned in his travels. I'm not going to worry myself about the matter; it wouldn't do any good."

" But it would look better if you pretended," said the Kitchen Cat.

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