Gnome Legends

Three Wishes

In a small house in the middle of a dark, sprawling forest lived a poor woodsman.

He had a wife, six children, and a black cat with one eye who kept the rats and mice at bay. The children had to walk two hours to get to school. Beside the little house was a vegetable garden and even a little flower garden; in the barn were two skinny goats and a pig.

But the family could hardly manage on the meager earnings of a woodsman, even though the father left the house before dawn and arrived home--exhausted--long after sunset. Though they had plenty of firewood and a clear stream nearby, the wife often sighed to her husband:

"How can we possibly bring up all our children?" And the woodsman would shrug his shoulders and say he couldn't work any harder than he already did, and this was true.

One day as he was arriving home in the twilight he saw in the distance the cat leaving the woods with a rat in its mouth. But something was strange: the rat had no tail. Filled with curiosity, the woodsman approached the cat who was sitting under a bush. She hissed malevolently as he came closer, but the woodsman wasn't afraid. He grabbed the cat by the base of her tail with one hand and with the other pressed against her jaws until she opened her mouth and let the thing fall.

"Well, I'll be," said the woodsman. Because what he had picked up was not a rat, but a gnome woman. She was dead.

The woodsman had seen a gnome once, but never a female one. He took her inside and wiped away a few drops of blood on her cheeks and legs. His wife and children stroked the doll-like little being and laid her on the window seat in the living room while they ate their meal of potatoes and bacon fat in the kitchen. When they came back, the little gnome woman was gone.

"Maybe the cat has got her again," the wife said, but the cat still sat sulking under the bush outside, showing one angry eye. The family gave up searching and went to bed, as everyone had to be up early in the morning.

The woodsman woke up in the middle of the night. Something was tugging gently at his ear. Beside his head stood a gnome. "You saved my wife," he said. "What can I do to reward you? .... But she was dead, wasn't she?" the woodsman asked, sleepily. "She was only pretending to be dead. Luckily, she's still full of life oh, a scratch here, a few black-and-blue marks there--but she'll get over it. Just tell me what you want as a reward. Here is a little flute. When you blow on it, I'll return." And just like that--he disappeared!

The woodsman and his wife discussed the matter the rest of the night. They finally decided to ask if they might have three wishes, just as in the fairy tales.

The following evening the woodsman blew on the flute, and shortly thereafter the gnome appeared. "I'd like to have three wishes," said the woodsman, somewhat timidly, while his wife poked at the fire behind him.

The gnome looked a little glum but finally said: "Well, go on then--what is your first wish?" "I want a nugget of gold so I won't have money worries anymore."

The gnome shook his head. "You can have it, but gold seldom brings happiness."

"I don't care," said the woodsman. "And the other two wishes?" "We haven't decided yet." "Well, just blow on the flute when you want me again," said the gnome with a sigh.

Next morning, there on the front steps of the little house lay a gold nugget as big as an orange, sparkling in the sun. The woodsman grabbed it up and yelled, "We're rich, we're rich!" And then he carried the nugget to the village to exchange it for money. But no one in the village had ever seen a gold nugget before and no one knew what it was worth. The blacksmith advised the woodsman to take it to a jeweler in the city. The woodsman set off at once; but instead of going the long way he took a shortcut through the swamps that he remembered from the days of his youth. As he danced along the way, admiring his gold nugget, he slipped off the path and plunged into a quagmire and immediately began to sink. He tried to reach out for firm ground, but couldn't make it. In one hand he clutched the gold nugget, and with the other he struggled to get the flute out of his pocket so that he could signal the gnome. He was barely able to reach it and blow a shrill blast.

He had sunk up to his neck in mud when the gnome appeared. "Get me out of here," cried the woodsman. "That is your second wish," said the gnome. He then stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly--and in a few minutes he was surrounded by six other gnomes. Using their little axes, the gnomes chopped down a nearby tree so that it fell across the quagmire right next to the woodsman. He was able to hoist himself up onto it and get back to the path from which he had fallen. When he looked around, the gnomes had disappeared.

But still he had the gold nugget in his hand. He went on his way, muddy and shivering; eventually, his clothes dried and his courage returned. He found a jeweler in the city and entered his shop. The jeweler was a distinguished-looking man in a white smock; he wore gold-rimmed glasses: Frowning at the enormous nugget of gold and at the woodsman's bedraggled appearance, shop through the back door to notify the police. A half hour later the woodsman found himself in the police station.

"And now tell us where you stole this gold," said a fat police sergeant in a fatherly fashion. The commissioner of police asked the same question an hour later--but in a less fatherly fashion. "I didn't steal it," cried the woodsman in despair, "I got it from a gnome." "Of course, from a gnome," said the commissioner, who had never seen a gnome---and would never, because he was such an unpleasant person. "Not even one grain of gold has ever been found in this country in a thousand years--but that doesn't occur to this gentleman, does it? Lock him up!"

During the days that followed, the woodsman was questioned again and again--and threatened with dire consequences if he did not reveal the source of the gold. Finally, he was examined by a doctor, but even he could cast no light on the matter except to report that the woodsman kept babbling away about gnomes.

None of these people had ever seen a gnome because they all had ugly souls. Meanwhile, the gold nugget was kept in the vault of the city council. After a week went by, the woodsman became so miserable that, one night, he blew the flute. After two hours, the gnome appeared. "My wife and children are starving," the woodsman said. "I want to get out."

"That is your third wish," replied the gnome, "but I have already taken care of your wife and children." The gnome went that same night to consult a lawyer in the city who had a house gnome. Next day, the lawyer visited the police and succeeded in having the woodsman freed, owing to lack of evidence. But the gold remained behind for safekeeping until its theft could be verified.

The woodsman gladly went back to his work. The forest had never seemed so spacious and free as it did after his stay in the stuffy cell in the city; he was happy and satisfied even though he often thought of the gold.

From that time on, things improved for him in all sorts of ways. First, a rich foreigner bought all the logs the woodsman had cut for twice the usual price. Next, the same man asked if the woodsman would become his overseer.

The happy woodsman was given a cheerful house at the edge of a village, and close to the school. He earned much more than before and his troubles were over. A few months later he came across the gnome in the woods. "And?" the gnome asked, "Have you got your gold back yet?" "Not yet," the woodsman said, "It seems to be a criminal act in this country to possess gold. But even without it, my troubles are over."

"So, there you are," the gnome said--and disappeared into the bushes.