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Now Prince Ratibor was still spending his life in wandering about the
woods, and not even the beauty of the spring could soothe his grief.
One day, as he sat in the shade of an oak tree, dreaming of his lost
princess, and sometimes crying her name aloud, he seemed to hear another
voice reply to his, and, starting up, he gazed around him, but he could
see no one, and he had just made up his mind that he must be mistaken,
when the same voice called again, and, looking up sharply, he saw a
magpie which hopped to and fro among the twigs. Then Ratibor heard with
surprise that the bird was indeed calling him by name.
'Poor chatterpie,' said he; 'who taught you to say that name, which
belongs to an unlucky mortal who wishes the earth would open and swallow
up him and his memory for ever?'
Thereupon he caught up a great stone, and would have hurled it at the
magpie, if it had not at that moment uttered the name of the princess.
This was so unexpected that the prince's arm fell helplessly to his side
at the sound, and he stood motionless.
But the magpie in the tree, who, like all the rest of his family, was
not happy unless he could be for ever chattering, began to repeat the
message the princess had taught him; and as soon as he understood it,
Prince Ratibor's heart was filed with joy. All his gloom and misery
vanished in a moment, and he anxiously questioned the welcome messenger
as to the fate of the princess.
But the magpie knew no more than the lesson he had learnt, so he soon
fluttered away; while the prince hurried back to his castle to gather
together a troop of horsemen, full of courage for whatever might befall.
The princess meanwhile was craftily pursuing her plan of escape. She
left off treating the gnome with coldness and indifference; indeed,
there was a look in her eyes which encouraged him to hope that she might
some day return his love, and the idea pleased him mightily. The next
day, as soon as the sun rose, she made her appearance decked as a bride,
in the wonderful robes and jewels which the fond gnome had prepared for
her. Her golden hair was braided and crowned with myrtle blossoms, and
her flowing veil sparkled with gems. In these magnificent garments she
went to meet the gnome upon the great terrace.
'Loveliest of maidens,' he stammered, bowing low before her, 'let me
gaze into your dear eyes, and read in them that you will no longer
refuse my love, but will make me the happiest being the sun shines
So saying he would have drawn aside her veil; but the princess only held
it more closely about her.
'Your constancy has overcome me,' she said; 'I can no longer oppose
your wishes. But believe my words, and suffer this veil still to hide my
blushes and tears.'
'Why tears, beloved one?' cried the gnome anxiously; 'every tear of
yours falls upon my heart like a drop of molten gold. Greatly as I
desire your love, I do not ask a sacrifice.'
'Ah!' cried the false princess, 'why do you misunderstand my tears? My
heart answers to your tenderness, and yet I am fearful. A wife cannot
always charm, and though YOU will never alter, the beauty of mortals
is as a flower that fades. How can I be sure that you will always be as
loving and charming as you are now?'
'Ask some proof, sweetheart,' said he. 'Put my obedience and my patience
to some test by which you can judge of my unalterable love.'
'Be it so,' answered the crafty maiden. 'Then give me just one proof of
your goodness. Go! count the turnips in yonder meadow. My wedding feast
must not lack guests. They shall provide me with bride-maidens too. But
beware lest you deceive me, and do not miss a single one. That shall be
the test of your truth towards me.'
Unwilling as the gnome was to lose sight of his beautiful bride for a
moment, he obeyed her commands without delay, and hurried off to begin
his task. He skipped along among the turnips as nimble as a grasshopper,
and had soon counted them all; but, to be quite certain that he had made
no mistake, he thought he would just run over them again. This time, to
his great annoyance, the number was different; so he reckoned them for
the third time, but now the number was not the same as either of the
previous ones! And this was hardly to be wondered at, as his mind was
full of the princess's pretty looks and words.
As for the maiden, no sooner was her deluded lover fairly out of sight
than she began to prepare for flight. She had a fine fresh turnip hidden
close at hand, which she changed into a spirited horse, all saddled and
bridled, and, springing upon its back, she galloped away over hill and
dale till she reached the Thorny Valley, and flung herself into the arms
of her beloved Prince Ratibor.
Meanwhile the toiling gnome went through his task over and over again
till his back ached and his head swam, and he could no longer put two
and two together; but as he felt tolerably certain of the exact number
of turnips in the field, big and little together, he hurried back eager
to prove to his beloved one what a delightful and submissive husband
he would be. He felt very well satisfied with himself as he crossed the
mossy lawn to the place where he had left her; but, alas! she was no
He searched every thicket and path, he looked behind every tree, and
gazed into every pond, but without success; then he hastened into the
palace and rushed from room to room, peering into every hole and
corner and calling her by name; but only echo answered in the marble
halls--there was neither voice nor footstep.
Then he began to perceive that something was amiss, and, throwing off
the mortal form that encumbered him, he flew out of the palace, and
soared high into the air, and saw the fugitive princess in the far
distance just as the swift horse carried her across the boundary of his
Furiously did the enraged gnome fling two great clouds together, and
hurl a thunderbolt after the flying maiden, splintering the rocky
barriers which had stood a thousand years. But his fury was vain, the
thunderclouds melted away into a soft mist, and the gnome, after flying
about for a while in despair, bewailing to the four winds his unhappy
fate, went sorrowfully back to the palace, and stole once more through
every room, with many sighs and lamentations. He passed through the
gardens which for him had lost their charm, and the sight of the
princess's footprints on the golden sand of the pathway renewed his
grief. All was lonely, empty, sorrowful; and the forsaken gnome resolved
that he would have no more dealings with such false creatures as he had
found men to be.
Thereupon he stamped three times upon the earth, and the magic palace,
with all its treasures, vanished away into the nothingness out of which
he had called it; and the gnome fled once more to the depths of his
While all this was happening, Prince Ratibor was hurrying away with his
prize to a place of safety. With great pomp and triumph he restored the
lovely princess to her father, and was then and there married to her,
and took her back with him to his own castle.
But long after she was dead, and her children too, the villagers would
tell the tale of her imprisonment underground, as they sat carving wood
in the winter nights.