The gnome


El gnomo

There was once upon a time a rich King who had three daughters, who daily went to walk in the palace garden, and the King was a great lover of all kinds of fine trees, but there was one for which he had such an affection, that if anyone gathered an apple from it he wished him a hundred fathoms underground. And when harvest time came, the apples on this tree were all as red as blood. The three daughters went every day beneath the tree, and looked to see if the wind had not blown down an apple, but they never by any chance found one, and the tree was so loaded with them that it was almost breaking, and the branches hung down to the ground. Then the King's youngest child had a great desire for an apple, and said to her sisters, "Our father loves us far too much to wish us underground, it is my belief that he would only do that to people who were strangers." And while she was speaking, the child plucked off quite a large apple, and ran to her sisters, saying, "Just taste, my dear little sisters, for never in my life have I tasted anything so delightful." Then the two other sisters also ate some of the apple, whereupon all three sank deep down into the earth, where they could hear no cock crow.
When mid-day came, the King wished to call them to come to dinner, but they were nowhere to be found. He sought them everywhere in the palace and garden, but could not find them. Then he was much troubled, and made known to the whole land that whosoever brought his daughters back again should have one of them to wife. Hereupon so many young men went about the country in search, that there was no counting them, for every one loved the three children because they were so kind to all, and so fair of face. Three young huntsmen also went out, and when they had travelled about for eight days, they arrived at a great castle, in which were beautiful apartments, and in one room a table was laid on which were delicate dishes which were still so warm that they were smoking, but in the whole of the castle no human being was either to be seen or heard. They waited there for half a day, and the food still remained warm and smoking, and at length they were so hungry that they sat down and ate, and agreed with each other that they would stay and live in that castle, and that one of them, who should be chosen by casting lots, should remain in the house, and the two others seek the King's daughters. They cast lots, and the lot fell on the eldest; so next day the two younger went out to seek, and the eldest had to stay home. At mid-day came a small, small mannikin and begged for a piece of bread, then the huntsman took the bread which he had found there, and cut a round off the loaf and was about to give it to him, but whilst he was giving it to the mannikin, the latter let it fall, and asked the huntsman to be so good as to give him that piece again. The huntsman was about to do so and stooped, on which the mannikin took a stick, seized him by the hair, and gave him a good beating. Next day, the second stayed at home, and he fared no better. When the two others returned in the evening, the eldest said, "Well, how have you got on?"

"Oh, very badly," said he, and then they lamented their misfortune together, but they said nothing about it to the youngest, for they did not like him at all, and always called him Stupid Hans, because he did not exactly belong to the forest. On the third day, the youngest stayed at home, and again the little mannikin came and begged for a piece of bread. When the youth gave it to him, the elf let it fall as before, and asked him to be so good as to give him that piece again. Then said Hans to the little mannikin, "What! canst thou not pick up that piece thyself? If thou wilt not take as much trouble as that for thy daily bread, thou dost not deserve to have it." Then the mannikin grew very angry and said he was to do it, but the huntsman would not, and took my dear mannikin, and gave him a thorough beating. Then the mannikin screamed terribly, and cried, "Stop, stop, and let me go, and I will tell thee where the King's daughters are." When Hans heard that, he left off beating him and the mannikin told him that he was an earth mannikin, and that there were more than a thousand like him, and that if he would go with him he would show him where the King's daughters were. Then he showed him a deep well, but there was no water in it. And the elf said that he knew well that the companions Hans had with him did not intend to deal honourably with him, therefore if he wished to deliver the King's children, he must do it alone. The two other brothers would also be very glad to recover the King's daughters, but they did not want to have any trouble or danger. Hans was therefore to take a large basket, and he must seat himself in it with his hanger and a bell, and be let down. Below were three rooms, and in each of them was a princess, with a many-headed dragon, whose heads she was to comb and trim, but he must cut them off. And having said all this, the elf vanished. When it was evening the two brothers came and asked how he had got on, and he said, "pretty well so far," and that he had seen no one except at mid-day when a little mannikin had come and begged for a piece of bread, that he had given some to him, but that the mannikin had let it fall and had asked him to pick it up again; but as he did not choose to do that, the elf had begun to lose his temper, and that he had done what he ought not, and had given the elf a beating, on which he had told him where the King's daughters were. Then the two were so angry at this that they grew green and yellow. Next morning they went to the well together, and drew lots who should first seat himself in the basket, and again the lot fell on the eldest, and he was to seat himself in it, and take the bell with him. Then he said, "If I ring, you must draw me up again immediately." When he had gone down for a short distance, he rang, and they at once drew him up again. Then the second seated himself in the basket, but he did just the same as the first, and then it was the turn of the youngest, but he let himself be lowered quite to the bottom. When he had got out of the basket, he took his hanger, and went and stood outside the first door and listened, and heard the dragon snoring quite loudly. He opened the door slowly, and one of the princesses was sitting there, and had nine dragon's heads lying upon her lap, and was combing them. Then he took his hanger and hewed at them, and the nine fell off. The princess sprang up, threw her arms round his neck, embraced and kissed him repeatedly, and took her stomacher, which was made of pure gold, and hung it round his neck. Then he went to the second princess, who had a dragon with five heads to comb, and delivered her also, and to the youngest, who had a dragon with four heads, he went likewise. And they all rejoiced, and embraced him and kissed him without stopping. Then he rang very loud, so that those above heard him, and he placed the princesses one after the other in the basket, and had them all drawn up, but when it came to his own turn he remembered the words of the elf, who had told him that his comrades did not mean well by him. So he took a great stone which was lying there, and placed it in the basket, and when it was about half way up, his false brothers above cut the rope, so that the basket with the stone fell to the ground, and they thought that he was dead, and ran away with the three princesses, making them promise to tell their father that it was they who had delivered them, and then they went to the King, and each demanded a princess in marriage.

In the meantime the youngest huntsman was wandering about the three chambers in great trouble, fully expecting to have to end his days there, when he saw, hanging on the wall, a flute; then said he, "Why dost thou hang there, no one can be merry here?" He looked at the dragons, heads likewise and said, "You too cannot help me now." He walked backwards and forwards for such a long time that he made the surface of the ground quite smooth. But at last other thoughts came to his mind, and he took the flute from the wall, and played a few notes on it, and suddenly a number of elves appeared, and with every note that he sounded one more came. Then he played until the room was entirely filled. They all asked what he desired, so he said he wished to get above ground back to daylight, on which they seized him by every hair that grew on his head, and thus they flew with him onto the earth again. When he was above ground, he at once went to the King's palace, just as the wedding of one princess was about to be celebrated, and he went to the room where the King and his three daughters were. When the princesses saw him they fainted. Hereupon the King was angry, and ordered him to be put in prison at once, because he thought he must have done some injury to the children. When the princesses came to themselves, however, they entreated the King to set him free again. The King asked why, and they said that they were not allowed to tell that, but their father said that they were to tell it to the stove. And he went out, listened at the door, and heard everything. Then he caused the two brothers to be hanged on the gallows, and to the third he gave his youngest daughter, and on that occasion I wore a pair of glass shoes, and I struck them against a stone, and they said, "Klink," and were broken.
Vivía una vez un rey muy acaudalado que tenía tres hijas, las cuales salían todos los días a pasear al jardín. El Rey, gran aficionado a toda clase de árboles hermosos, sentía una especial preferencia por uno, y a quien tomaba una de sus manzanas lo encantaba, hundiéndolo a cien brazas bajo tierra.
Al llegar el otoño, los frutos colgaban del manzano, rojos como la sangre. Las princesas iban todos los días a verlos, con la esperanza de que el viento los hiciera caer; pero jamás encontraron ninguno, aunque las ramas se inclinaban hasta el suelo, como si fueran a quebrarse por la carga. He aquí que a la menor de las hermanas le entró un antojo de probar la fruta, y dijo a las otras:
- Nuestro padre nos quiere demasiado para encantarnos; esto sólo debe de hacerlo con los extraños.
Agarró una gran manzana, le hincó el diente y exclamó, dirigiéndose a sus hermanas:
- ¡Oh! ¡Probadla, queridas mías! En mi vida comí nada tan sabroso.
Las otras mordieron, a su vez, el fruto, y en el mismo momento se hundieron las tres en tierra, y ya nadie supo más de ellas.
Al mediodía, cuando el padre las llamó a la mesa, nadie pudo encontrarlas por ninguna parte, aunque las buscaron por todos los rincones del palacio y del jardín. El Rey, acongojadísimo, mandó pregonar por todo el país que quien le devolviese a sus hijas se casaría con una de ellas.
Fueron muchos los jóvenes que salieron en su busca, pues todo el mundo quería bien a las doncellas, por lo cariñosas que siempre se habían mostrado y, además, porque las tres eran muy hermosas. Partieron también tres cazadores, los cuales, al cabo de ocho días de marcha, llegaron a un gran palacio con magníficos aposentos. En uno de ellos encontraron una mesa puesta con apetitosas viandas, tan calientes que aún despedían vapor, pese a que en todo el palacio no aparecía un alma viviente. Estuvieron ellos aguardando por espacio de medio día, y las viandas seguían sin enfriarse, hasta que al fin, hambrientos los cazadores, se sentaron a la mesa y comieron de lo que había en ella. Acordaron luego en quedarse a vivir en el castillo y en echar suertes con objeto de que, quedándose uno en él, salieran los otros dos en busca de las princesas. Así hicieron, y tocó al mayor quedarse; por tanto, los dos menores se pusieron en camino al día siguiente.
A mediodía se presentó un diminuto hombrecito, que pidió un pedacito de pan. El cazador cortó una rebanada del que había encontrado y la ofreció al hombrecito, pero éste la dejó caer al suelo y rogó al otro que la recogiera y se la diese. El mozo, complaciente, se inclinó, y entonces el enano, tomando un palo y agarrándolo por los cabellos, le propinó unos fuertes garrotazos. Al día siguiente le tocó el turno de quedarse en casa al segundo, y le pasó lo mismo. Cuando, al anochecer, llegaron al palacio los otros dos, dijo el mayor:
- ¿Qué tal lo has pasado?
- Pues muy mal - respondió el otro, y se contaron mutuamente sus percances; sin embargo, nada dijeron al menor, a quien no querían, y lo llamaban tonto, porque era un alma bendita.
Al tercer día se quedó el menor en el castillo, y, presentándose también el hombrecito, pidiéndole un pedazo de pan. Al dárselo el muchacho, lo dejó caer como de costumbre y le rogó se lo recogiese. Pero el muchacho le replicó:
- ¡Cómo! ¿No puedes recogerlo tú mismo? Si tan poco trabajo quieres darte para ganarte la comida, no mereces que te la den. Enojado el hombrecito, lo intimido a obedecerle; pero el otro, ni corto ni perezoso, agarró al enano y lo golpeó de lo lindo. El hombrecito se puso a gritar:
- ¡Basta, basta, suéltame! Te diré dónde están las tres princesas.
Al oír esto, el muchacho interrumpió el vapuleo, y el enano le contó que era un gnomo, un espíritu de la Tierra, y como él había más de mil. Le dijo que fuese con él, y le indicaría dónde se encontraban las hijas del Rey. Llevándolo ante un profundo pozo sin agua, le dijo que sabía que sus compañeros no lo querían y que, si deseaba rescatar a las princesas, debía hacerlo él solo. Sus dos hermanos también lo pretendían, pero sin someterse a fatiga ni peligro alguno. Para desencantarlas era preciso que se proveyese de una gran cesta, su cuchillo de monte y una campanilla, y, así dotado de lo necesario, debía bajar al fondo del pozo. Allí encontraría tres habitaciones, en cada una de las cuales vivía una princesa, ocupada en rascar las cabezas de un dragón, que tenía muchas. Él debería cortarle las cabezas.
Cuando el hombrecito le ha revelado todo esto, desapareció. Al anochecer regresaron los dos hermanos y le preguntaron cómo había pasado el día.
- ¡Muy bien! - respondió él. - No he visto un alma, excepto a mediodía, en que se me presentó un hombrecito y me pidió un pedazo de pan. Al dárselo, él lo dejo caer y me pidió que se lo recogiese. Yo me negué; él me amenazó; yo no lo consentí, le sacudí de lo lindo. Entonces, el enano me reveló dónde se encontraban las princesas.
Al oír el relato, los hermanos se pusieron furiosos, pálidos y verdes de cólera. A la mañana siguiente fueron los tres al pozo y echaron suertes sobre quién se metería primero en la cesta. Tocó al mayor, quien, agarrando la campanilla, dijo:
- Cuando la haga sonar, súbanme rápidamente.
Apenas había descendido unas pocas brazas, se escuchó arriba el son de la campanilla, por lo que los dos se apresuraron en subirlo. Con el segundo ocurrió lo mismo, y, tocándole luego al tercero, se hizo bajar hasta el fondo. Saliendo entonces de la cesta y empujando su cuchillo de monte, se avecinó a la primera puerta y pegó el oído a ella, oyendo cómo el dragón roncaba ruidosamente. Abrió con cautela la puerta y vio a una de las princesas ocupada en acariciar las nueve cabezas de un dragón, apoyadas en su regazo. Empuñando el cuchillo, las cortó todas de una sola cuchillada, y la princesa, poniéndose de pie de un salto, se arrojó a su cuello y lo besó con todo su corazón; luego, quitándose un dije de oro viejo que llevaba sobre el pecho, lo colgó del cuello de su libertador. Pasó entonces el joven al recinto de la segunda princesa y la desencantó también, después de matar a un dragón de siete cabezas. Y, finalmente, salvó a la tercera princesa, condenada a acariciar un dragón de cuatro cabezas. Y ahí tienen a las tres hijas del Rey preguntándose mil cosas, abrazándose y besándose una y mil veces. Mientras tanto, el joven suena la campanilla, hasta que, por fin, lo escucharon los de arriba. Hizo subir entonces a las tres princesas, una tras otra; pero cuando le tocó el turno a él, le vinieron a la mente las palabras del gnomo, o sea, que sus hermanos querían jugarle una mala treta. Tomó una gruesa piedra y la cargó en la cesta; y, en efecto, al llegar ésta a la mitad del pozo, cortaron los hermanos la cuerda, y la cesta con la piedra cayeron al fondo.
Creyendo los malvados que ya el menor estaba muerto, se marcharon con las tres hijas del Rey, obligándolas antes a jurar que dirían a su padre que los dos hermanos mayores las habían salvado. Y así, presentándose ante el Rey, pidió cada uno de ellos la mano de una princesa.
Entretanto, el más joven de los hermanos cazadores vagaba tristemente por los tres aposentos, temiendo que habría de morir allí. Vio una flauta que colgaba de una pared y se preguntó:
- ¿Por qué estará aquí? ¿Quién puede sentirse alegre en estos lugares?
Y, mirando las cabezas de los dragones, dijo: - Tampoco ustedes pueden servirme para nada. - Y, así, siguió paseando de arriba abajo, muchísimas veces, que el pavimento quedó completamente liso. Cambiando, al fin, de ideas, descolgó la flauta de la pared y se puso a tocar una melodía, y he aquí que de repente se le presentaron un número incontable de gnomos; y a cada nueva tonada llegaban más. Y así siguió tocando, hasta que la habitación estuvo atestada de ellos. Le preguntaron qué deseaba, y él respondió que su deseo era volver a la superficie, a la luz del día. Entonces, tomándole cada uno por un cabello, remontaron el vuelo y lo subieron a la tierra. Ya en ella, corrió el joven al palacio, donde se estaban preparando las fiestas de la boda de una princesa, y entró en la sala en que el Rey se hallaba reunido con sus hijas. Al verlo las doncellas cayeron sin sentido, y el Rey, furioso, mandó que se le encerrase en una prisión, creyendo que había causado algún daño a sus hijas. Pero, al volver éstas en sí, rogaron a su padre que lo pusiera en libertad; al preguntarles el Rey el motivo de su petición, ellas respondieron que les estaba vedado revelarlo. Les dijo entonces el padre que lo contasen a la chimenea; él salió de la pieza, aplicó el oído a la puerta, y de este modo se enteró de lo sucedido. Hizo ahorcar a los dos perversos hermanos y concedió al menor la mano de una de las princesas. Y yo me puse un par de zapatos de cristal, di contra una piedra, oí "¡clinc!" y se partieron en dos.

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