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 nimbly 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 Eatibor.