810 THE ICE MAIDEN
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 mountains. 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 Lutschine 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.'
I Yes, and we shall fall into an ice cleft,' said Rudy. 1 You want to be a guide, and you don't know the way better than that ! '
II 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.'