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Rubezahl

from The Brown Fairy Book





Over all the vast under-world the mountain Gnome Rubezahl was lord; and
busy enough the care of his dominions kept him. There were the endless
treasure chambers to be gone through, and the hosts of gnomes to be
kept to their tasks. Some built strong barriers to hold back the fiery
vapours to change dull stones to precious metal, or were hard at work
filling every cranny of the rocks with diamonds and rubies; for Rubezahl
loved all pretty things. Sometimes the fancy would take him to leave
those gloomy regions, and come out upon the green earth for a while, and
bask in the sunshine and hear the birds sing. And as gnomes live many
hundreds of years he saw strange things. For, the first time he came up,
the great hills were covered with thick forests, in which wild animals
roamed, and Rubezahl watched the fierce fights between bear and bison,
or chased the grey wolves, or amused himself by rolling great rocks down
into the desolate valleys, to hear the thunder of their fall echoing
among the hills. But the next time he ventured above ground, what was
his surprise to find everything changed! The dark woods were hewn down,
and in their place appeared blossoming orchards surrounding cosy-looking
thatched cottages; for every chimney the blue smoke curled peacefully
into the air, sheep and oxen fed in the flowery meadows, while from
the shade of the hedges came the music of the shepherd's pipe. The
strangeness and pleasantness of the sight so delighted the gnome that
he never thought of resenting the intrusion of these unexpected guests,
who, without saying 'by your leave' or 'with your leave,' had made
themselves so very much at home upon is hills; nor did he wish to
interfere with their doings, but left them in quiet possession of their
homes, as a good householder leaves in peace the swallows who have
built their nests under his eaves. He was indeed greatly minded to make
friends with this being called 'man,' so, taking the form of an old
field labourer, he entered the service of a farmer. Under his care all
the crops flourished exceedingly, but the master proved to be wasteful
and ungrateful, and Rubezahl soon left him, and went to be shepherd to
his next neighbour. He tended the flock so diligently, and knew so well
where to lead the sheep to the sweetest pastures, and where among the
hills to look for any who strayed away, that they too prospered under
his care, and not one was lost or torn by wolves; but this new master
was a hard man, and begrudged him his well-earned wages. So he ran away
and went to serve the judge. Here he upheld the law with might and main,
and was a terror to thieves and evildoers; but the judge was a bad man,
who took bribes, and despised the law. Rubezahl would not be the tool of
an unjust man, and so he told his master, who thereupon ordered him to
be thrown in prison. Of course that did not trouble the gnome at all,
he simply got out through the keyhole, and went away down to his
underground palace, very much disappointed by his first experience of
mankind. But, as time went on, he forgot the disagreeable things that
had happened to him, and thought he would take another look at the upper
world.

So he stole into the valley, keeping himself carefully hidden in copse
or hedgerow, and very soon met with an adventure; for, peeping through a
screen of leaves, he saw before him a green lawn where stood a charming
maiden, fresh as the spring, and beautiful to look upon. Around her upon
the grass lay her young companions, as if they had thrown themselves
down to rest after some merry game. Beyond them flowed a little brook,
into which a waterfall leapt from a high rock, filling the air with its
pleasant sound, and making a coolness even in the sultry noontide. The
sight of the maiden so pleased the gnome that, for the first time,
he wished himself a mortal; and, longing for a better view of the gay
company, he changed himself into a raven and perched upon an oaktree
which overhung the brook. But he soon found that this was not at all a
good plan. He could only see with a raven's eyes, and feel as a raven
feels; and a nest of field-mice at the foot of the tree interested him
far more than the sport of the maidens. When he understood this he flew
down again in a great hurry into the thicket, and took the form of a
handsome young man--that was the best way--and he fell in love with the
girl then and there. The fair maiden was the daughter of the king of
the country, and she often wandered in the forest with her play fellows
gathering the wild flowers and fruits, till the midday heat drove the
merry band to the shady lawn by the brook to rest, or to bathe in the
cool waters. On this particular morning the fancy took them to wander
off again into the wood. This was Master Rubezahl's opportunity.
Stepping out of his hiding-place he stood in the midst of the little
lawn, weaving his magic spells, till slowly all about him changed, and
when the maidens returned at noon to their favourite resting-place they
stood lost in amazement, and almost fancied that they must be dreaming.
The red rocks had become white marble and alabaster; the stream that
murmured and struggled before in its rocky bed, flowed in silence now in
its smooth channel, from which a clear fountain leapt, to fall again in
showers of diamond drops, now on this side now on that, as the wandering
breeze scattered it.

Daisies and forget-me-nots fringed its brink, while tall hedges of roses
and jasmine ringed it round, making the sweetest and daintiest bower
imaginable. To the right and left of the waterfall opened out a
wonderful grotto, its walls and arches glittering with many-coloured
rock-crystals, while in every niche were spread out strange fruits and
sweetmeats, the very sight of which made the princess long to taste
them. She hesitated a while, however, scarcely able to believe her eyes,
and not knowing if she should enter the enchanted spot or fly from it.
But at length curiosity prevailed, and she and her companions explored
to their heart's content, and tasted and examined everything, running
hither and thither in high glee, and calling merrily to each other.

At last, when they were quite weary, the princess cried out suddenly
that nothing would content her but to bathe in the marble pool, which
certainly did look very inviting; and they all went gaily to this new
amusement. The princess was ready first, but scarcely had she slipped
over the rim of the pool when down--down--down she sank, and vanished in
its depths before her frightened playmates could seize her by so much as
a lock of her floating golden hair!

Loudly did they weep and wail, running about the brink of the pool,
which looked so shallow and so clear, but which had swallowed up their
princess before their eyes. They even sprang into the water and tried
to dive after her, but in vain; they only floated like corks in the
enchanted pool, and could not keep under water for a second.

They saw at last that there was nothing for it but to carry to the king
the sad tidings of his beloved daughter's disappearance. And what great
weeping and lamentation there was in the palace when the dreadful news
was told! The king tore his robes, dashed his golden crown from his
head, and hid his face in his purple mantle for grief and anguish at the
loss of the princess. After the first outburst of wailing, however, he
took heart and hurried off to see for himself the scene of this strange
adventure, thinking, as people will in sorrow, that there might be some
mistake after all. But when he reached the spot, behold, all was
changed again! The glittering grotto described to him by the maidens had
completely vanished, and so had the marble bath, the bower of jasmine;
instead, all was a tangle of flowers, as it had been of old. The king
was so much perplexed that he threatened the princess's playfellows with
all sorts of punishments if they would not confess something about her
disappearance; but as they only repeated the same story he presently put
down the whole affair to the work of some sprite or goblin, and tried to
console himself for his loss by ordering a grand hunt; for kings cannot
bear to be troubled about anything long.

Meanwhile the princess was not at all unhappy in the palace of her
elfish lover.

When the water-nymphs, who were hiding in readiness, had caught her and
dragged her out of the sight of her terrified maidens, she herself had
not had time to be frightened. They swam with her quickly by strange
underground ways to a palace so splendid that her father's seemed but
a poor cottage in comparison with it, and when she recovered from
her astonishment she found herself seated upon a couch, wrapped in a
wonderful robe of satin fastened with a silken girdle, while beside her
knelt a young man who whispered the sweetest speeches imaginable in her
ear. The gnome, for he it was, told her all about himself and his great
underground kingdom, and presently led her through the many rooms
and halls of the palace, and showed her the rare and wonderful things
displayed in them till she was fairly dazzled at the sight of so much
splendour. On three sides of the castle lay a lovely garden with masses
of gay, sweet flowers, and velvet lawns all cool and shady, which
pleased the eye of the princess. The fruit trees were hung with golden
and rosy apples, and nightingales sang in every bush, as the gnome and
the princess wandered in the leafy alleys, sometimes gazing at the moon,
sometimes pausing to gather the rarest flowers for her adornment. And
all the time he was thinking to himself that never, during the hundreds
of years he had lived, had he seen so charming a maiden. But the
princess felt no such happiness; in spite of all the magic delights
around her she was sad, though she tried to seem content for fear of
displeasing the gnome. However, he soon perceived her melancholy, and in
a thousand ways strove to dispel the cloud, but in vain. At last he said
to himself: 'Men are sociable creatures, like bees or ants. Doubtless
this lovely mortal is pining for company. Who is there I can find for
her to talk to?'

Thereupon he hastened into the nearest filed and dug up a dozen or so
of different roots--carrots, turnips, and radishes--and laying them
carefully in an elegant basket brought them to the princess, who sat
pensive in the shade of the rose-bower.

'Loveliest daughter of earth,' said the gnome, 'banish all sorrow; no
more shall you be lonely in my dwelling. In this basket is all you need
to make this spot delightful to you. Take this little many-coloured
wand, and with a touch give to each root the form you desire to see.'

With this he left her, and the princess, without an instant's delay,
opened the basket, and touching a turnip, cried eagerly: 'Brunhilda,
my dear Brunhilda! come to me quickly!' And sure enough there was
Brunhilda, joyfully hugging and kissing her beloved princess, and
chattering as gaily as in the old days.

This sudden appearance was so delightful that the princess could hardly
believe her own eyes, and was quite beside herself with the joy of
having her dear playfellow with her once more. Hand in hand they
wandered about the enchanted garden, and gathered the golden apples from
the trees, and when they were tired of this amusement the princess led
her friend through all the wonderful rooms of the palace, until at last
they came to the one in which were kept all the marvellous dresses and
ornaments the gnome had given to his hoped-for bride. There they
found so much to amuse them that the hours passed like minutes.
Veils, girdles, and necklaces were tried on and admired, the imitation
Brunhilda knew so well how to behave herself, and showed so much taste
that nobody would ever have suspected that she was nothing but a turnip
after all. The gnome, who had secretly been keeping an eye upon them,
was very pleased with himself for having so well understood the heart of
a woman; and the princess seemed to him even more charming than before.
She did not forget to touch the rest of the roots with her magic wand,
and soon had all her maidens about her, and even, as she had two tiny
radishes to spare, her favourite cat, and her little dog whose name was
Beni.

And now all went cheerfully in the castle. The princess gave to each of
the maidens her task, and never was mistress better served. For a whole
week she enjoyed the delight of her pleasant company undisturbed. They
all sang, they danced, they played from morning to night; only the
princess noticed that day by day the fresh young faces of her maidens
grew pale and wan, and the mirror in the great marble hall showed her
that she alone still kept her rosy bloom, while Brunhilda and the
rest faded visibly. They assured her that all was well with them; but,
nevertheless, they continued to waste away, and day by day it became
harder to them to take part in the games of the princess, till at last,
one fine morning, when the princess started from bed and hastened out to
join her gay playfellows, she shuddered and started back at the sight of
a group of shrivelled crones, with bent backs and trembling limbs, who
supported their tottering steps with staves and crutches, and coughed
dismally. A little nearer to the hearth lay the once frolicsome Beni,
with all four feet stretched stiffly out, while the sleek cat seemed too
weak to raise his head from his velvet cushion.

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
hour.'

'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
him.

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
beloved.'

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
mountains.'

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
more.

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
Thorny Valley.'

The magpie listened, hopped awhile from branch to branch, and then
darted away, the princess watching him anxiously as far as she could
see.

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
upon.'

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
longer there.

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
dominions.

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
underground kingdom.

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.





Next: Story Of The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate

Previous: Asmund And Signy



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