THE ICE MAIDEN 799
hat 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,