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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

ETHELINDA
OR,
THE ICE KING'S BRIDE.

ETHELINDA lived alone with her father, Count Constant, in a quiet country place, which had always been her home. Her mother was dead, and her father had long before fallen under the displeasure of his king, and was sentenced to exile for life in this lonely spot. Their castle was gray and venerable, half of it in ruins, and near by grew a grove of melancholy pine-trees; while only some stunted rose-bushes, and a black pool of water, in which swam a few antiquated carp, relieved the monotony of the grounds within the broken walls surrounding their dwelling.

One day a train of liveried servants on horseback, escorting a splendid carriage, stopped on the road near the castle.

Some accident had happened to the springs of the[131] vehicle, and the two passengers inside were forced to take refuge in the house of Ethelinda's father.

Count Constant himself, dressed in a faded court costume, but looking handsome and stately, came forth to receive his unexpected guests. He aided first a tall thin girl to descend from the broken carriage, and then, an elderly dame, richly dressed, who, throwing back her veil, revealed to him the face of his greatest enemy—the vindictive Duchess Amoretta. This person, whom he had not seen for years, had once been in love with Count Constant, and it was because he preferred to her the young lady who afterward became his wife, that the Duchess had poisoned the mind of his sovereign against him. To her he owed his banishment from court, and the loss of his estates. During his wife's lifetime he had heard nothing of the Duchess, and now to have to give her the shelter of his roof was a terrible ordeal.

The Duchess, however, was very kind and considerate in her manner to him. She made many apologies for the accident which had brought her there, and introduced to him her only child, the Lady Finella, who was, truth to tell, the most ill-tempered, pert minx ever seen, and a complete contrast to lovely Ethelinda.[132]

During supper, which the poor Count's servants tried to make presentable with a few eggs cooked in an omelette, a bottle of good wine, and a dish of stewed pigeons, the Duchess Amoretta was pleased with everything. She praised the cookery, she praised the tattered[133] tapestries on the wall, she praised the Count's youthful looks, and she praised Ethelinda, till that modest maiden was quite overwhelmed.

When the two young ladies had retired (Ethelinda giving up her own little tower bedroom to her visitor, and creeping off somewhere to lie on a threadbare couch), the Duchess became confidential. She implored the Count to believe that enemies had come between them. She said that slanderers had arisen to tell him the wicked stories he had heard. She told him that her one desire was to see him restored to rank and fortune. And at last she drew from her pocket a paper signed by the King, in which the Count Constant was promised a free pardon on condition of his immediate marriage with the Duchess Amoretta.

The wily Duchess had planned the whole affair to get possession of her old lover again, and at first the Count, seeing himself caught in a trap as it were, was very angry.

Then the Duchess told him to think of his lovely young daughter, wasting her youth in this desolate spot. She promised to Ethelinda a life of happiness and prosperity. She worked upon the poor father with[134] such artful words and lying promises, that, at last, Count Constant signed the contract, engaging to follow her in a few days to the capital, and there to give her his hand in marriage.

Ethelinda watched the fine chariot roll away with their unwelcome guests, next morning, and when it was out of sight, turned and threw herself upon her father's neck and kissed him fondly.

"How glad I am to get rid of them, papa!" she cried. "The daughter was so spoilt and haughty, and the mother was even worse; somehow I could only shudder when she kissed me, in spite of the beautiful bracelet she put upon my arm on taking leave."

"The Duchess means to be your best friend, my dear," her father said gravely, and went off to his study with a care-worn face. In a few days, he set out upon his journey to the capital, giving Ethelinda no idea of what he meant to do there.

Winter had set in, and a great snow fell. All the country-side was covered with a mantle of purest white. Ethelinda loved the frost and snow, and every day she put on her little brown hood and cloak with the scarlet lining, and set out for a walk in the forest, carrying a bagful of crumbs, which she would scatter for her[135] favorite little birds. One day, while thus employed, she met an old woodman gathering sticks.

"Good-morning, daddy," said the girl in a pleasant tone.

"It's not a good morning with me, girl," the old man answered, crossly. "I'm frozen and starving too, thanks to this accursed snow."

"Don't speak ill of my dear snow," said Ethelinda, helping him to make his fagot. "Isn't it keeping the ground warm, and sheltering our roots and seeds for the spring-time? Come to the castle, if you will, and you shall have hot soup and a corner of the kitchen-fire. But you won't be allowed to abuse the beautiful work of the frost, in my hearing, that I'll promise you."

"Bravely said, fair maiden!" the old man exclaimed, dropping his bundle of sticks, and vanishing behind a screen of closely woven fir-trees. A moment later Ethelinda saw a sleigh containing a solitary traveller, drawn by a fleet black horse, dash by her like the wind. The sleigh was shaped like a silver swan and the bridle of the horse glittered with gems. The traveller appeared to be a tall and stately youth, with long fair locks and glowing cheeks. He was half hidden[136] behind robes of snowy down, and as he shot swiftly by, leaving in his wake a breath of icy wind, Ethelinda fancied she heard him say, "We will meet again, dear lady, we will meet again!"

When, wondering over this incident, she reached the castle, it was to find there a letter from her father, commanding her immediate attendance at court, and announcing to her his marriage, which had already taken place.

Poor Ethelinda, full of astonishment, and fearing she knew not what, bade farewell to her dear home and journeyed to the castle of the Duchess Amoretta. Here she was received with tenderness by her father, who commended her in loving accents to the care of her new mother. Ethelinda could not help shuddering more than before when the dreadful, painted old Duchess stooped down to kiss her. She dared not look her father in the face, but it was easy to see that he was more unhappy in his new splendor than ever he had been in exile and in poverty. Ethelinda sighed deeply, and, looking around, encountered the snaky eyes of her new step-sister, fixed on her with wicked triumph.

And now, how changed was Ethelinda's life. Little by little, her father's companionship was withdrawn[137] from her; his time was spent away from home, and soon, a war breaking out, Count Constant made haste to draw his sword in his king's service. A great battle ensued, and one of the first to fall, while gallantly fighting, was Ethelinda's father. He murmured a blessing on his child, and saying he was glad to go, died upon the battle-field, in the arms of his attendant.

The Duchess Amoretta, who by this time was heartily tired of having Ethelinda on her hands, now treated the poor girl with positive cruelty. A few months after the Count's death, she made up her mind to marry again, and in order to rid herself of her troublesome step-daughter, consulted with her own child, who was skilled in all sorts of wicked devices.

They built a summer-house extending over the river, and made in the floor of it a trap-door covered with moss and flowers, while beautiful vines grew around the pillars, and a fountain played in the centre. Into this pretty spot they invited Ethelinda to wander when ever she wished to be alone.

One day the poor girl went inside the summer-house, and began to weep for her father. Suddenly, a hand was extended by some one concealed behind the trellis-work of vines, and she was rudely pushed, so[138] that she fell with all her weight upon the concealed trap-door, and instantly plunged into the rushing river below. One cry she uttered, and then to her astonishment, although it was the morning of a balmy summer's day, an icy breath blew over her, and above the surface of the river there arose a bridge of glittering ice, which she was enabled to cross in safety to the bank.

Making her way back to the house of her step-mother, Ethelinda was received with anger and astonishment. How she could have escaped, neither of her enemies could imagine. Ethelinda told nobody of the wonderful ice-bridge, which at the moment of her setting foot on shore had vanished like frost before the sun. A few days after, she desired to take her usual bath in the marble bath-room assigned to her use. No sooner had she entered the door than two strong women flew out from behind a curtain, and, seizing her by the shoulders, thrust her into a tank of boiling water they had prepared for the unfortunate girl.

Ethelinda saw that she was about to die a terrible death, and gave herself up for lost, when suddenly the icy wind she had twice felt before, blew over her. As[139] the two furies plunged her into the tank, and rushed away, leaving her to her fate, she felt, instead of the scalding heat she expected, the delicious warmth of a tepid bath close round her limbs.

Again was she saved from evil by some unseen power; but now she knew what a terrible enemy was in pursuit of her, and determined to fly from the castle that very night. She hid in a little closet on the staircase, and, when night came, glided past the sleepy servants on guard, and escaped through the great gate into the open country.

Swift as her feet could carry her, Ethelinda fled. Out of the city, into the deep woods, under the cold glitter of the watching stars, the poor girl ran, every moment fancying that she heard the messengers of the cruel Duchess behind her. At last she fell down exhausted, saying to herself, "Better to die here from cold and starvation, than to be foully murdered by that wicked woman." She lay for a moment resting upon a bank of soft moss, and felt a sudden blast of icy wind.

Then was heard the cracking of a whip, and out of the woods came a sleigh driven by a solitary traveller.

Ethelinda had a vague idea that she had seen him[140] once before, but fainted away, and knew nothing more until she awoke to find herself in the sleigh, gliding swiftly along, wrapped in warmest robes of snowy fur.

"Save me, save me from the Duchess!" she murmured in a terrified voice.

"Sleep, poor child, you are safe now," a kind voice sounded in her ear. "Are you warm? Are you comfortable?"

"Very warm, very comfortable," Ethelinda answered, a strange drowsiness coming over her.

She slept again, and the black horse harnessed to the sleigh bounded forward like the wind. And now they passed through vast forests of pine and fir, into the regions of perpetual snow. For Ethelinda's guide was the young monarch of the frozen zone, and ruler of all ice and frost. Long had he loved the young girl secretly, and long had he vowed to make her his bride.

They stopped once, and now the sleigh was drawn by a span of magnificent reindeer, pure white, with collars of jewels, having their great antlers tipped with sparkling gems. Over snowy mountain peaks they glided, past chains of icebergs, with many a frozen sea shining far below like a sapphire. It was piercingly cold, and yet Ethelinda did not suffer. The only thing[141] she could not control was her power of speech. Not a word could she utter, and the stranger, too, spoke no more, but smiled on her kindly, from time to time, as he drove ahead.

At last they reached a superb palace, built of ice, the roof fringed with icicles. An arch of many-colored lights spanned the roof, and from every door and window streamed forth a brilliant illumination.

"Welcome home!" said the stranger. "This is my palace, and you shall be my queen, fair maiden; for I am the King of the North Pole, and never, till now, have I seen one worthy to share my throne."

A train of milk-white bears with golden chains around their necks came out to receive the king and Ethelinda. They entered the palace, which blazed with splendid jewels on roof and walls. The throne was made of a single opal, and the queen's crown, which was immediately placed on Ethelinda's head, was composed of a circlet of diamonds, each one as large as a robin's egg.

The marriage took place at once; and Ethelinda's husband proved so kind and loving, that she soon forgot her early sorrows, and became as happy as all queens are supposed to be. Her fame spread into[142] many countries; and after a time, some celebrated traveller, who visited her court, went back to the city where Ethelinda's wicked step-mother still lived and flourished, and gave the Duchess a message from the beautiful Queen of the North Pole.

"Tell her that I forgive her all her unkindness to me," Ethelinda had charged him to say, "since it was the means of securing to me my present joy, and the love of my dearest husband."

Ethelinda even sent gifts to her step-mother and sister; to each a jewelled necklace of immense value, and a robe woven from the down of the King's own eider-ducks, which only sovereigns might wear. The Duchess and Finella eagerly seized the presents, but they almost died of spite to hear of Ethelinda's good luck. Night and day they wondered how they, too, might have similar fortune; and at length the Duchess determined to dress her daughter in coarse clothes like those Ethelinda had worn when found by the King of the North Pole, and to make her sally forth to the border of the forest.

Snow was falling fast when the young woman reached the wood. She was dreadfully cold, and began complaining and quarrelling, as usual. She did[143] not hear the approach of a sleigh until it was close beside her. There sat a handsome youth, driving a fleet coal-black steed. He politely invited her to take a drive, and, with many groans over her stiff limbs, she got in. They flew over the ground, and for not a single minute did Finella cease finding fault with everything. She abused her mother for exposing her to this dreadful cold, and vowed she should have rheumatism and lumbago and pleurisy and influenza, all together, next day. Her feet had chilblains already, and her hands were so chapped they would never be fit to be seen. In this agreeable strain, she went on till her companion, growing impatient of her whining tones, blew a sudden breath upon her—when, behold! all the girl's conversation was frozen on her tongue, a few cross words, like icicles, clinging to the tip of it!

When they stopped at the palace door, the King of the North Pole (for he it was who had picked up Ethelinda's step-sister), instead of having her conducted in state to her apartments by a train of snow-white bears with golden chains about their necks, gave the cross girl in charge to an old brown bear of a housekeeper, with instructions to keep her locked up until the Queen should choose to set her free.[144]

Ethelinda's kind heart softened toward her step-sister; and, begging the King to forgive her, the Queen hastened to set the prisoner at liberty. Finella, dressed in the Queen's own robes, was taken into the royal nurseries to see two splendid rosy babies, rolling upon soft furs, and romping with a gentle little bear-cub, who was their playmate.

The princes & their playmate.

When the step-sister saw these treasures, she conceived a wicked scheme of punishing Ethelinda through her love for them. So, pretending to repent of her past follies and unkindness, Finella was allowed by the King and Queen to live in comfort in their home.

On the night of some festivity (I believe it was a[145] special illumination by the Northern Lights), the King and Queen went off sleighing in style, through their dominions, leaving the babies in charge of their deceitful step-aunt, who always kissed them and caressed them, before folks, as though she loved them fondly.

As soon as the parents had disappeared, Finella ordered another sleigh to be harnessed, and taking the babies in her arms set forth. She attempted to guide the reindeer, but, in an instant, the great creatures were off like the wind, and soared up into the air, as the King himself had trained them to do. And now, how terrified was the wicked Finella! She knew no words with which to stop her fiery steeds, and presently sank, breathless and giddy, into the bottom of the sleigh. Higher, faster they went; the babies, like true sons of the frozen North, crowing with delight in the piercing atmosphere.

The sleigh stopped upon an iceberg, and there in the centre of the glittering blue pyramid sat the imprisoned older brother of the King of the North Pole. This wretch had been sentenced to be shut up there, because he had tried to kill his father, the late King. All of his body was changed to ice, excepting his heart, which burnt like fire. The reindeer Finella had taken[146] were those accustomed to be driven by the King whenever he went to visit his wicked brother, whose eyes sparkled as he saw the little princes within his power. At last, he thought, he had a chance to be even with his enemies. He gnashed his teeth, shook his chains, and stretched out his long arms, inviting the travellers to come into his castle.

"I have golden apples and many pretty things for boys in here," he said deceitfully; but just as Finella, seeing her opportunity, was pushing the children out of the sleigh into the grasp of their cruel uncle, the reindeer set up a peculiar cry which could be heard half round the globe.

Instantly a chill wind blew, and riding on the wings[147] of a mighty sea-gull came the King of the North Pole. Fire flashed from his angry eyes, and his face was so terrible that the wicked sister and brother cowered and cringed before it. Snatching his babies in his arms, he replaced them unharmed in the sleigh. For a moment, he seemed about to crush both culprits to fragments in his wrath; but, relenting, he pronounced their sentence—and Finella was condemned to be the bride of the imprisoned brother. "Your fate is just," said the King of the North Pole, to the wretch within the iceberg; "I could not, if I tried, think of any worse punishment than to give you a complaining woman to share your exile."

And so Ethelinda was rid of her false step-sister, and from that day forth nothing occurred to disturb the serenity of the King's household.

As for the old Duchess (whose daughter had got a bridegroom she had not reckoned on in the northern country), she, like her hopeful child, lived and scolded forever and a day.[148]

Emma Carried Off by the Sea-King.


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