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The horrified princess fled to the door to escape from the sight of this
mournful company, and called loudly for the gnome, who appeared at once,
humbly anxious to do her bidding.
'Malicious Sprite,' she cried, 'why do you begrudge me my playmates
--the greatest delight of my lonely hours? Isn't this solitary life in
such a desert bad enough without your turning the castle into a hospital
for the aged? Give my maidens back their youth and health this very
minute, or I will never love you!'
'Sweetest and fairest of damsels,' cried the gnome, 'do not be angry;
everything that is in my power I will do--but do not ask the impossible.
So long as the sap was fresh in the roots the magic staff could keep
them in the forms you desired, but as the sap dried up they withered
away. But never trouble yourself about that, dearest one, a basket of
fresh turnips will soon set matters right, and you can speedily call up
again every form you wish to see. The great green patch in the garden
will prove you with a more lively company.'
So saying the gnome took himself off. And the princess with her magic
wand touched the wrinkled old women, and left them the withered roots
they really were, to be thrown upon the rubbish heap; and with light
feet skipped off across to the meadow to take possession of the freshly
filled basket. But to her surprise she could not find it anywhere. Up
and down the garden she searched, spying into every corner, but not a
sign of it was to be found. By the trellis of grape vines she met the
gnome, who was so much embarrassed at the sight of her that she became
aware of his confusion while he was still quite a long way off.
'You are trying to tease me,' she cried, as soon as she saw him. 'Where
have you hidden the basket? I have been looking for it at least an
'Dear queen of my heart,' answered he, 'I pray you to forgive my
carelessness. I promised more than I could perform. I have sought all
over the land for the roots you desire; but they are gathered in, and
lie drying in musty cellars, and the fields are bare and desolate, for
below in the valley winter reigns, only here in your presence spring
is held fast, and wherever your foot is set the gay flowers bloom. Have
patience for a little, and then without fail you shall have your puppets
to play with.'
Almost before the gnome had finished, the disappointed princess turned
away, and marched off to her own apartments, without deigning to answer
The gnome, however, set off above ground as speedily as possible,
and disguising himself as a farmer, bought an ass in the nearest
market-town, and brought it back loaded with sacks of turnip, carrot,
and radish seed. With this he sowed a great field, and sent a vast army
of his goblins to watch and tend it, and to bring up the fiery rivers
from the heart of the earth near enough to warm and encourage the
sprouting seeds. Thus fostered they grew and flourished marvellously,
and promised a goodly crop.
The princess wandered about the field day by day, no other plants or
fruits in all her wonderful garden pleased her as much as these roots;
but still her eyes were full of discontent. And, best of all, she loved
to while away the hours in a shady fir-wood, seated upon the bank of a
little stream, into which she would cast the flowers she had gathered
and watch them float away.
The gnome tried hard by every means in his power to please the princess
and win her love, but little did he guess the real reason of his lack
of success. He imagined that she was too young and inexperienced to care
for him; but that was a mistake, for the truth was that another image
already filled her heart. The young Prince Ratibor, whose lands joined
her father's, had won the heart of the princess; and the lovers had
been looking forward to the coming of their wedding-day when the
bride's mysterious disappearance took place. The sad news drove Ratibor
distracted, and as the days went on, and nothing could be heard of the
princess, he forsook his castle and the society of men, and spent his
days in the wild forests, roaming about and crying her name aloud to the
trees and rocks. Meanwhile, the maiden, in her gorgeous prison, sighed
in secret over her grief, not wishing to arouse the gnome's suspicions.
In her own mind she was wondering if by any means she might escape from
her captivity, and at last she hit upon a plan.
By this time spring once more reigned in the valley, and the gnome sent
the fires back to their places in the deeps of the earth, for the roots
which they had kept warm through all the cruel winter hand now come to
their full size. Day by day the princess pulled up some of them, and
made experiments with them, conjuring up now this longed-for person, and
now that, just for the pleasure of seeing them as they appeared; but she
really had another purpose in view.
One day she changed a tiny turnip into a bee, and sent him off to bring
her some news of her lover.
'Fly, dear little bee, towards the east,' said she, 'to my beloved
Ratibor, and softly hum into his ear that I love him only, but that I
am a captive in the gnome's palace under the mountains. Do not forget
a single word of my greeting, and bring me back a message from my
So the bee spread his shining wings and flew away to do as he was
bidden; but before he was out of sight a greedy swallow made a snatch at
him, and to the great grief of the princess her messenger was eaten up
then and there.
After that, by the power of the wonderful wand she summoned a cricket,
and taught him this greeting:
'Hop, little cricket, to Ratibor, and chirp in his ear that I love him
only, but that I am held captive by the gnome in his palace under the
So the cricket hopped off gaily, determined to do his best to deliver
his message; but, alas! a long-legged stork who was prancing along the
same road caught him in her cruel beak, and before he could say a word
he had disappeared down her throat.
These two unlucky ventures did not prevent the princess from trying once
This time she changed the turnip into a magpie.
'Flutter from tree to tree, chattering bird,' said she, 'till you come
to Ratibor, my love. Tell him that I am a captive, and bid him come with
horses and men, the third day from this, to the hill that rises from the
The magpie listened, hopped awhile from branch to branch, and then
darted away, the princess watching him anxiously as far as she could