Ethelinda Or The Ice King's Bride

: The Old-fashioned Fairy Book

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

ool of water, in which swam a few antiquated carp, relieved the

monotony of the grounds within the broken walls surrounding their


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 vehicle, and the two

passengers inside were forced to take refuge in the house of Ethelinda's


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.

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 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 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 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 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


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 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


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 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 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


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 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


"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 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 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 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.

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.

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 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 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


Instantly a chill wind blew, and riding on the wings 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.