THE ICE MAIDEN 807
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 acquaintance 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 ;