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
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.