The Court on the Brockenberg
MEANWHILE, Ilsee's graceful dance had not been witnessed with equal pleasure, by every eye in the Demon's court.
There was among the assemblage, more than one youthful and vain sorceress, who beheld the fetes given in honour of the new-corner, with feelings of spite.
Two of the most indiscreet of these young witches approached the golden basin, in order to make fun of little Ilsee.
"Look here," said one, "what a dancer! she certainly moves elegantly and looks pretty, but she is so small and fragile that a breath of wind would blow her away.
I should like to see how the pale beauty would look, if she were led into the ring by the Hurricane, to dance with him as we do."
"I am sorry for her," said the other, shrugging her shoulders with an air of contempt; "she'll never be able to ride through the air on a broomstick.
But hark! I already hear the sound of drums and symbols below; let us go and join the merry circle, and we will crumble the earth beneath our feet, and hollow out a deep pit, in which the brilliant Ilsee shall disappear; then adieu to all her grandeur.
We will make a slave of this beautiful boastful Princess."
Little Ilsee, who had overheard the wicked words of the two young witches, had no longer any desire to dance.
Greatly mortified, she hid herself within the boat; but shortly after, on peeping out, she saw the fearful group pass over to the other side of the mountain, and take their places for dancing.
She then began to reflect on what the wicked sorceresses had meant by their conversation she had overheard, What they had said respecting the Hurricane had deeply wounded her, but what troubled her most, was about the pit they had threatened to prepare for her.
Was it possible that she could ever become the slave of such vile creatures?
She already thought of demanding an explanation from the Lord of the Brocken, who was just then coming to her side; but before she had time to prepare her little speech, the dark man stood before her, and dipped the end of his finger in the middle of the golden basin.
Ilsee started for it seemed to her that the water boiled at his touch; but the Demon laughingly withdrew his finger, and said, "The night is fresh, gracious Princess; you are already very cold, and if I had not warmed the water, you would have frozen in this basin.
I have prepared a comfortable bed for you down there, close to the fire, where you may repose at your ease.
If you will look in the direction to which I point, you will see the old head cook belonging to my court, busy stirring the fire, and putting pretty toys into your bed, to help beguile the time for you.
Come, let me carry you to her."
Little Ilsee looked in the direction indicated by the dark man, and she saw a huge brass cauldron hanging over a brisk and sparkling fire; but the old woman standing over it was so ugly, so hideous, and the playthings which she threw into the cauldron had so strange an appearance, that little Ilsee, who had become very suspicious, would not allow herself to be led away, and said, "I prefer watching the dance on the mountain-top.
I am not cold, and when I stand up in my golden basin, I can see it all, and it amuses me very much."
"We will wait then," said the Demon; "it will be time enough to fetch you in another hour;" and he rejoined the dancers.
But Ilsee's pleasure was over, when she found herself quite alone, with no other amusement than that of watching, by turns, the groups of disorderly dancers, the fire, and the cauldron, into which the old woman was throwing, as she could now distinctly see, all kinds of unclean animals, such as spiders, toads, serpents, lizards (of all which she had an ample store), and bats, which she caught as they flew around the fire, attracted by the light.
By degrees, little Ilsee was seized with a perfect horror when she saw into what society she had fallen; and thinking of the menace uttered by the witches, of making her their slave, it flashed across her all at once, that one of them had even dared to call her "Princess Cooking-water."
Alas! cried she, where am I?
Clasping her delicate little hands in mortal agony, she pressed her veil against her pale face, to stifle the cry that was escaping from her oppressed heart.
said she, weeping and sighing heavily, "why did I not go with the Angel?
He wished to do me good."
And as she looked around her, in despair, a good thought came into her mind.
"I am alone," she murmured; "all the witches are dancing on the other side of the mountain; I will escape, I will escape, no matter where."
In a moment she was seated on the edge of the basin, with her little feet hanging outside, and holding on by her hands; she glanced hurriedly around to see whether she was observed, but happily, no one was paying attention to the little Princess.
No one, save the good old moon, who looked down at her, from the calm sky overhead, with a bright smile.
The poor child raised her eyes bedewed with tears towards her, with a supplicating air, whilst her tiny finger, placed before her mouth, implored secrecy, and the moon, too good-natured to betray her, kindly hid herself behind a dark cloud.
"Thanks," cried Ilsee, "thanks, gentle moon;" and letting go her hold, she glided noiselessly to the ground.
But the basin was high, and the block of granite on which it was placed was higher still, so that, notwithstanding all her care, the little streamlet reached the ground in a very perturbed condition; so, fearing to be heard, she hid herself in haste, beneath the large stones within reach.
We ought to notice that, having already become more humble-minded, she had wisely left the starry crown behind her in the basin.
The court and its grandeur had bestowed little pleasure upon her; she no longer thought, of being a princess, but only of how she could best steal away, without attracting the attention of those who wished to do her harm.
The little stream clung fast to the rocks, trembling from fright, and asked them kindly to protect her, in so sweet a voice, that the old.
stones, which had never felt anything so fresh or tremulous on their rude breast, were quite affected.
They bent so completely over the little Princess, that no eye, not even that of her friend the moon, could discover her.
Afterwards, they showed her a small hole in the soil through which she could pass, provided she made herself very tiny; and in the bosom of the earth she found a narrow passage like a canal (probably formerly hollowed out by some field-mice) which led to the other side of the rugged mountain.
Little Ilsee continued her journey in the dark, gliding downwards silently by a gentle declivity.
She had, already happily accomplished a considerable part of the journey, ‘when the canal became wider and rougher; she passed amongst the debris of crumbling old rocks, some pieces of which gave way under her, and, to her great alarm, rolled before her into the abyss.
She continued to advance in, perfect darkness, but from time to time she felt a cold wind blow round her, which seemed to come from above, through the fissures of the rocks.
All at once the path, which was gradually growing more steep, became less dark, for the rock above her was cleft, and she could see the clear bright sky above, and the pale light of some little stars enabled her to distinguish a great quantity of large and small stones, massed, together in such confusion, that it was impossible to make out her route.
To add to her discomfort, she again heard the sharp and discordant sound of the music of the witches who were dancing on the Brocken.
Little Ilsee, who had hesitated a moment, not knowing which way to direct her course, was so frightened at hearing this noise, that she began to bound along the stones, leaping with a fearful rapidity, without minding the blocks of roots, which at every moment impeded her progress, knocking her poor little head against their hard corners and tearing her delicate robe.
She ran, and.
ran, and ran.
"Let me escape," she cried; "let me fly far, far away, so that the Prince of the Brocken and his dreadful band may never he able to find.