Suddenly there appeared, close by Rudy’s side, a young maiden; he had not noticed her till she came quite near to him. She was also going to ascend the mountain. The maiden’s eyes shone with an unearthly power, which obliged you to look into them; they were strange eyes,—clear, deep, and unfathomable.
“Hast thou a lover?” asked Rudy; all his thoughts were naturally on love just then.
“I have none,” answered the maiden, with a laugh; it was as if she had not spoken the truth.
“Do not let us go such a long way round,” said she. “We must keep to the left; it is much shorter.”
“Ah, yes,” he replied; “and fall into some crevasse. Do you pretend to be a guide, and not know the road better than that?”
“I know every step of the way,” said she; “and my thoughts are collected, while yours are down in the valley yonder. We should think of the Ice Maiden while we are up here; men say she is not kind to their race.”
“I fear her not,” said Rudy. “She could not keep me when I was a child; I will not give myself up to her now I am a man.”
Darkness came on, the rain fell, and then it began to snow, and the whiteness dazzled the eyes.
“Give me your hand,” said the maiden; “I will help you to mount.” And he felt the touch of her icy fingers.
“You help me,” cried Rudy; “I do not yet require a woman to help me to climb.” And he stepped quickly forwards away from her.
The drifting snow-shower fell like a veil between them, the wind whistled, and behind him he could hear the maiden laughing and singing, and the sound was most strange to hear.
“It certainly must be a spectre or a servant of the Ice Maiden,” thought Rudy, who had heard such things talked about when he was a little boy, and had stayed all night on the mountain with the guides.