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The Traveling Companion
Poor John was greatly troubled, because his
father was very ill and could not recover. Except for these two,
there was no one in their small room. The lamp on the table had
almost burned out, for it was quite late at night.
You have been a good son, John," his dying
father said, "and the Lord will help you along in the world." He
looked at his son with earnest, gentle eyes, sighed deeply, and fell
dead as if he were falling asleep.
John cried bitterly, for now he had no one in
all the world, neither father nor mother, sister nor brother. Poor
John! He knelt at the bedside, and kissed his dead father's hand. He
cried many salty tears, until at last his eyes closed, and he fell
asleep with his head resting against the hard bed-stead.
Then he had a strange dream. He saw the sun
and the moon bow down to him. He saw his father well again and
strong, and heard him laughing as he always laughed when he was
happy. A beautiful girl, with a crown of gold on her lovely long
hair, stretched out her hand to John, and his father said, "See what
a bride you have won. She is the loveliest girl in the world." Then
he awoke, and all these fine things were gone. His father lay cold
and dead on the bed, and there was no one with them. Poor John!
The following week the dead man was buried.
John walked close behind the coffin; he could no longer see his kind
father, who had loved him so. He heard how they threw the earth down
upon the coffin, and watched the last corner of it until a shovel of
earth hid even that. He was so sad that he felt as if his heart were
breaking in pieces. Then those around him sang a psalm which sounded
so lovely that tears came to his eyes. He cried, and that did him
good in his grief. The sun shone in its splendor down on the green
trees, as if to say, "John, you must not be so unhappy. Look up and
see how fair and blue the sky is. Your father is there, praying to
the good Lord that things will always go well with you."
"I'll always be good," John said. "Then I
shall go to join my father in heaven. How happy we shall be to see
each other again! How much I shall have to tell him, and how much he
will have to show me and to teach me about the joys of heaven, just
as he used to teach me here on earth. Oh, what joy that will be!"
He could see it all so clearly that he smiled,
even though tears were rolling down his cheeks. The little birds up
in the chestnut trees twittered, "Chirp, chirp! Chirp, chirp!" They
were so happy and gay, for although they had attended a funeral they
knew very well that the dead man had gone to heaven, where he now
wore wings even larger and lovelier than theirs. They knew that he
was happy now, because here on earth he had been a good man, and
this made them glad.
John saw them fly from the green trees far out
into the world, and he felt a great desire to follow them. But first
he carved a large wooden cross to mark his father's grave. When he
took it there in the evening he found the grave neatly covered with
sand and flowers. Strangers had done this, for they had loved the
good man who now was dead.
Early the next morning, John packed his little
bundle and tucked his whole inheritance into a money belt. All that
he had was fifty dollars and a few pieces of silver, but with this
he meant to set off into the world. But first he went to the
churchyard, where he knelt and repeated the Lord's Prayer over his
father's grave. Then he said, "Farewell, father dear! Ill always be
good, so you may safely pray to our Lord that things will go well
The fields through which he passed were full
of lovely flowers that flourished in the sunshine and nodded in the
breeze, as if to say, "Welcome to the green pastures! Isn't it nice
here?" But John turned round for one more look at the old church
where as a baby he had been baptised, and where he had gone with his
father every Sunday to sing the hymns. High up, in one of the belfry
windows, he saw the little church goblin with his pointed red cap,
raising one arm to keep the sun out of his eyes. John nodded good-by
to him, and the little goblin waved his red cap, put his hand on his
heart, and kissed his finger tips to him again and again, to show
that he wished John well and hoped that he would have a good
As John thought of all the splendid things he
would see in the fine big world ahead of him, he walked on and on -
farther away than he had ever gone before. He did not even know the
towns through which he passed, nor the people whom he met. He was
far away among strangers.
The first night he slept under a haystack in
the fields, for he had no other bed. But he thought it very
comfortable, and the king himself could have no better. The whole
field, the brook, the haystack, and the blue sky overhead, made a
glorious bedroom. The green grass patterned with red and white
flowers was his carpet. The elder bushes and hedges of wild roses
were bouquets of flowers, and for his wash bowl he had the whole
brook full of clear fresh water. The reeds nodded their heads to
wish him both "Good night," and "Good morning." The moon was really
a huge night lamp, high up in the blue ceiling where there was no
danger of its setting fire to the bed curtains. John could sleep
peacefully, and sleep he did, never once waking until the sun rose
and all the little birds around him began singing, "Good morning!
Good morning! Aren't you up yet?"
The church bells rang, for it was Sunday.
People went to hear the preacher, and John went with them. As he
sang a hymn and listened to God's Word, he felt just as if he were
in the same old church where he had been baptised, and where he had
sung the hymns with his father.
There were many, many graves in the
churchyard, and some were overgrown with high grass. Then John
thought of his own father's grave and of how it too would come to
look like these, now that he could no longer weed and tend it. So he
knelt down to weed out the high grass. He straightened the wooden
crosses that had fallen, and replaced the wreaths that the wind had
blown from the graves. "Perhaps," he thought, "someone will do the
same for my fathers grave, now that I cannot take care of it."
Outside the churchyard gate stood an old
beggar, leaning on his crutch and John gave him the few pieces of
silver that he had. Happy and high-spirited, John went farther on -
out into the wide world. Toward nightfall the weather turned
dreadfully stormy. John hurried along as - fast as he could to find
shelter, but it soon grew dark. At last he came to a little church
which stood very lonely upon a hill. Fortunately the door was ajar,
and he slipped inside to stay until the storm abated.
"I'll sit down here in the corner," he said,
"for I am very tired and need a little rest." So he sat down, put
his hands together, and said his evening prayer. Before he knew it
he was fast asleep and dreaming, while it thundered and lightened
When he woke up it was midnight. The storm had
passed, and the moon shone upon him through the window. In the
middle of the church stood an open coffin and in it lay a dead man,
awaiting burial. John was not at all frightened. His conscience was
clear, and he was sure that the dead do not harm anyone. It is the
living who do harm, and two such harmful living men stood beside the
dead one, who had been put here in the church until he could be
buried. They had a vile scheme to keep him from resting quietly in
his coffin. They intended to throw his body out of the church - the
helpless dead man's body.
Why do you want to do such a thing?" John
asked. "It is a sin and a shame. In Heaven's name, let the man
"Stuff and nonsense!" the two evil men
exclaimed. "He cheated us. He owed us money which he could not pay,
and now that he has cheated us by dying we shall not get a penny of
it. So we intend to revenge ourselves. Like a dog he shall lie
outside the church door."
"I have only fifty dollars," John cried. "It
is my whole inheritance, but I'll give it to you gladly if you will
solemnly promise to let the poor dead man rest in peace. I can do
without the money. I have my healthy, strong arms, and Heaven will
always help me."
"Why certainly," the villainous fellows
agreed. "If you are willing to pay his debt, we won't lay a hand on
him, you can count on that."
They took the money he gave them and went away
roaring with laughter at his simplicity. John laid the body straight
again in its coffin, folded its hands, and took his leave. He went
away through the great forest, very well pleased.
All around him, wherever moonlight fell
between the trees, he saw little elves playing merrily. They weren't
disturbed when he came along because they knew he was a good and
innocent fellow. It is only the wicked people who never are allowed
to see the elves. Some of the elves were no taller than your finger,
and their long yellow hair was done up with golden combs. Two by
two, they seesawed on the big raindrops, which lay thick on the
leaves and tall grass. Sometimes the drops rolled from under them,
and then they tumbled down between the grass blades. The little
manikins would laugh and made a great to-do about it, for it was a
very funny sight. They sang, and John knew all their pretty little
songs, which had been taught him when he was a small boy.
Big spotted spiders, wearing silver crowns,
were kept busy spinning long bridges and palaces from one bush to
another, and as the tiny dewdrops formed on these webs they sparkled
like glass in the moonlight. All this went on until sunrise, when
the little elves hid in the buds of flowers. Then the wind struck
the bridges and palaces, which were swept away like cobwebs.
John had just come out of the forest, when
behind him a man's strong voice called out, "Ho there, comrade!
Where are you bound?
"I'm bound for the wide world," John told him.
"I have neither father nor mother. I am a poor boy, but I am sure
the Lord will look after me."
"I am off to the wide world, too," the
stranger said. "Shall we keep each other company?"
"Yes indeed," John replied. So they strode
They got to like each other very much, for
both of them were kindly. But John soon found that he was not nearly
so wise as the stranger, who had seen most of the world, and knew
how to tell about almost everything.
The sun was high in the heavens when they sat
down under a big tree to eat their breakfast. Just then an old woman
came hobbling along. Oh! she was so old that she bent almost double
and walked with a crutch. On her back was a load of firewood she had
gotten from the forest. Her apron was tied up and John could see
these big bunches of fern fronds and willow switches sticking out.
As she came near the two travelers, her foot slipped. She fell down,
and screamed aloud, for the poor old woman had broken her leg.
John suggested that they carry the woman to
her home right away, but the stranger opened up his knapsack and
took out a little jar of salve, which he said would mend her leg
completely and at once, so that she could walk straight home as well
as if her leg had never been broken. But in return he asked for the
three bunches of switches that she carried in her apron.
"That's a very high price!" The old woman
dubiously nodded her head. She did not want to give up the switches,
but it was not very pleasant to lie there with a broken leg, so she
let him have the three bunches. No sooner had he rubbed her with the
salve than the old woman got to her feet and walked off much better
than she had come - all this the salve could do. Obviously it was
not the sort of thing you can buy from the apothecary.
"What on earth do you want with those bunches
of switches?" John asked his companion.
"Oh, they are three nice bundles of herbs," he
said. "They just happened to strike my fancy, because I'm an odd
sort of fellow."
When they had gone on for quite a distance,
John remarked, "See how dark the sky has grown. Those are dreadfully
"No," his comrade said, "those are not clouds.
They are mountains - splendid high mountains, where you can get
clear above the clouds into perfectly fresh air. It is glorious,
believe me. Tomorrow we shall certainly be far up in the world."
But they were not so near as they seemed to
be. It took a whole day to reach the mountains, where the dark
forests rose right up to the skies, and where the boulders were
almost as large as a whole town. To climb over all of them would be
heavy going indeed, so John and his companion went to an inn to rest
and strengthen themselves for tomorrow's journey.
Down in the big tap-room at the inn were many
people, because a showman was there with a puppet-show. He had just
set up his little theatre, and the people sat there waiting to see
the play. Down in front, a burly old butcher had taken a seat, the
very best one too, and his big bulldog - how vicious it looked - sat
beside him, with his eyes popping as wide as everyone else's.
Then the play started. It was a very pleasant
play, all about a king and a queen who sat on a velvet throne. They
wore gold crowns on their heads and long trains to their costumes,
all of which they could very well afford. The prettiest little
wooden dolls, with glass eyes and big mustaches, stood by to open
and shut all the doors so that fresh air might come into the room.
It was a very pleasant play, it wasn't sad at all. But just as the
queen rose and swept across the stage - heaven only knows what
possessed the big bulldog to do it - as the fat butcher was not
holding him, the dog made a jump right on to the stage, snatched up
the queen by her slender waist, and crunched her until she cracked
in pieces. It was quite tragic!
The poor showman was badly frightened, and
quite upset about the queen; for she was his prettiest little
puppet, and the ugly bulldog had bitten off her head. But after a
while, when the audience had gone, the stranger who had come with
John said that he could soon mend her. He produced his little jar,
and rubbed the puppet with some of the ointment that had cured the
poor old woman who had broken her leg. The moment the salve was
applied to the puppet, she was as good as new - nay, better. She
could even move by herself, and there was no longer any need to pull
her strings. Except hat she could not speak, the puppet was just
like a live woman. The showman was delighted that he didn't have to
pull strings for this puppet, who could dance by herself. None of
the others could do that.
In the night, after everyone in the inn had
gone to bed, someone was heard sighing so terribly, and the sighs
went on for so long, that everybody got up to see who it could be.
The showman went straight to his little theatre, because the sighs
seemed to come from there. All the wooden puppets were in a heap,
with the king and his attendants mixed all together, and it was they
who sighed so profoundly. They looked so pleading with their big
glass eyes, and all of them wanted to be rubbed a little, just as
the queen had been, so that they too would be able to move by
themselves. The queen went down on her knees and held out her lovely
golden crown as if to say: "Take even this from me, if you will only
rub my king and his courtiers."
The poor showman felt so sorry for them that
he could not keep back his tears. Immediately he promised the
traveling companion to give him all the money he would take in at
the next performance, if only he would anoint four or five of the
nicest puppets. But the traveling companion said he would not take
any payment, except the big sword that hung at the showman's side.
On receiving it he anointed six of the puppets, who began to dance
so well that all the girls, the real live girls who were watching,
began to dance too. The coachman danced with the cook, and the
waiter with the chambermaid. All the guests joined the dance, and
the shovel and tongs did too, but these fell down as soon as they
took their first step. It was a lively night indeed!
Next morning, John and his companion set off
up the lofty mountainside and through the vast pine forests. They
climbed so high that at last the church towers down below looked
like little red berries among all that greenery. They could see in
the distance, many and many a mile away, places where neither of
them had ever been. Never before had John seen so many of the
glories of this lovely world at once. The sun shone bright in the
clear blue air, and along the mountainside he could also hear the
hunters sounding their horns. It was all so fair and sweet that
tears came into his eyes, and he could not help crying out,
"Almighty God, I could kiss your footsteps in thankfulness for all
the splendors that you have given us in this world."
His traveling companion also folded his hands
and looked out over the woods and towns that lay before them in the
warm sunlight. Just then they heard a wonderful sound overhead. They
looked up, and saw a large white swan sweeping above them and
singing as they had never before heard any bird sing. But the song
became fainter and fainter, until the bird bowed his head and
dropped slowly down dead at their feet - the lovely bird!
"Two such glorious wings!" said the traveling
companion. "Wings so large and white as these are worth a good deal
of money. I'll take them with me. You can see now what a good thing
it was that I got a sword." With one stroke he cut off both wings of
the dead swan, for he wanted to keep them.
They journeyed many and many a mile over the
mountains, until at last they saw a great town rise before them,
with more than a hundred towers that shone like silver in the sun.
In the midst of the town there was a magnificent marble palace, with
a roof of red gold. That was where the King lived.
John and his companion did not want to enter
the town at once. They stopped at a wayside inn outside the town to
put on fresh clothes, for they wanted to look presentable when they
walked through the streets. The innkeeper told them what the King
was a good man who never harmed anyone. But as for his daughter -
Heaven help us - she was a bad Princess.
She was pretty enough. No one could be more
lovely or more entertaining than she - but what good did that do?
She was a wicked witch, who was responsible for many handsome
Princes' losing their lives. She had decreed that any man might come
to woo her. Anybody might come, whether he were Prince or beggar, it
made no difference to her, but he must guess the answer to three
questions that she asked him. If he knew the answers, she would
marry him and he would be King over all the land when her father
died. But if he could not guess the right answers, she either had
him hanged or had his head chopped off. That was how bad and wicked
the beautiful Princess was.
The old King, her father, was terribly
distressed about it, but he could not keep her from being so wicked,
because he had once told her that he would never concern himself
with her suitors - she could do as she liked with them. Whenever a
Prince had come to win the Princess's hand by making three guesses,
he had failed. Then he was either hanged or beheaded, for each
suitor was warned beforehand, when he was still free to abandon his
courtship. The old King was so distressed by all this trouble and
grief that for one entire day every year he and all his soldiers
went down on their knees to pray that the Princess might reform; but
she never would. As a sign of mourning, old women who drank schnapps
would dye it black before they quaffed it - so deeply - did they
mourn - and more than that they couldn't do.
"That abominable Princess," John said, "ought
to be flogged. It would be just the thing for her, and if I were the
old King I'd have her whipped till her blood ran."
"Hurrah!" they heard people shout outside the
inn. The Princess was passing by, and she was so very beautiful that
everyone who saw her forgot how wicked she was, and everyone shouted
"Hurrah." Twelve lovely maidens, all dressed in white silk and
carrying golden tulips, rode beside her on twelve coal-black horses.
The Princess herself rode a snow-white horse, decorated with
diamonds and rubies. Her riding costume was of pure gold, and the
whip that she carried looked like a ray of sunlight. The gold crown
on her head twinkled like the stars of heaven, and her cloak was
made from thousands of bright butterfly wings. But she herself it;
was far lovelier than all these things.
When John first set eyes on her, his face
turned red - as red as blood - and he could hardly speak a single
word. The Princess was the living image of the lovely girl with the
golden crown, of whom he had dreamed on the night when his father
died. He found the Princess so fair that he could not help falling
in love with her.
"Surely," he thought, "it can't be true that
she is a wicked witch who has people hanged or beheaded when they
can't guess what she asks them. Anyone at all may ask for her hand,
even though he is the poorest beggar, so I really will go to the
palace, for I cannot help doing it!
Everyone told him he ought not to try it, lest
he meet with the same fate that had befallen the others. His
traveling companion also tried to persuade him not to go, but John
felt sure he would succeed. He brushed his shoes and his coat,
washed his face and his hands, and combed his handsome blond hair.
Then, all alone, he went through the town to the palace.
"Come in," the old King said when John came
knocking at his door. As John opened it the old King advanced to
meet him, wearing a dressing gown and a pair of embroidered
slippers. He had his crown on his head, his sceptre in one hand, and
his orb in the other. "Just a minute," he said, tucking the orb
under his arm so that he could offer a hand to John. But the moment
he heard that John had come as a suitor, he fell to sobbing so hard
that both the orb and sceptre dropped to the floor, and he had to
use his dressing gown to wipe his eyes. The poor old King!
"Don't try it!" he said. "You will fare badly
like all the others. Come, let me show them to you."
Then he led John into the Princess's pleasure
garden, where he saw a fearful thing. From every tree hung three or
four Kings' sons who had been suitors of the Princess but had not
been able to answer the questions she put to them. The skeletons
rattled so in every breeze that they terrified the little birds, who
never dared come to the garden. All the flowers were tied to human
bones, and human skulls grinned up from every flower pot. What a
charming garden for a Princess!
"There!" said the old King, "you see. It will
happen to you as it happened to all these you see here. Please don't
try it. You would make me awfully unhappy, for I take these things
deeply to heart.
John kissed the good old King's hand, and said
he was sure everything would go well; for he was infatuated with the
Princess's beauty. Just then the Princess and all of her ladies rode
into the palace yard, so they went over to wish her good morning.
She was lovely to look at, and when she held out her hand to John he
fell in love more deeply than ever. How could she be such a wicked
witch as all the people called her?
The whole party went to the palace hall, where
little pages served them jam and gingerbread. But the old King was
so miserable that he couldn't eat anything at all. Besides, the
gingerbread was too hard for his teeth.
It was arranged that John was to visit the
palace again the following morning, when the judges and the full
council would be assembled to hear how he made out with his answer.
If he made out well he would have to come back two more times, but
as yet no one had ever answered the first question, so they had
forfeited their lives in the first attempt.
However, John was not at all afraid of his
trial. Far from it! he was jubilant, and thought only of how lovely
the Princess was. He felt sure that help would come to him, though
he didn't know how it would come, and he preferred not to think
about it. He fairly danced along the road when he returned to the
inn, where his comrade awaited him. John could not stop telling him
how nicely the Princess had treated him, and how lovely she was. He
said that he could hardly wait for tomorrow to come, when he would
go to the palace and try his luck in guessing. But his comrade shook
his head, and was very sad.
"I am so fond of you," he said, "and we might
have been comrades together for a long while to come, but now I am
apt to lose you soon, poor, dear John! I feel like crying, but I
won't spoil your happiness this evening, which is perhaps the last
one we shall ever spend together. We shall be as merry as merry can
be, and tomorrow, when you are gone, I'll have time enough for my
Everyone in the town had heard at once that
the Princess had a new suitor, and therefore everyone grieved. The
theatre was closed; the women who sold cakes tied crape around their
sugar pigs; the King and the preachers knelt in the churches; and
there was widespread lamentation. For they were all sure that John's
fate would be no better than that of all those others.
Late that evening, the traveling companion
made a large bowl of punch, and said to John, "Now we must be merry
and drink to the health of the Princess." But when John had drunk
two glasses of the punch he felt so sleepy that he couldn't hold his
eyes open, and he fell sound asleep. His comrade quietly lifted him
from the chair and put him to bed. As soon as it was entirely dark
he took the two large wings he had cut off the swan, and fastened
them to his own shoulders. Then he put into his pocket the biggest
bunch of switches that had been given him by the old woman who had:
fallen and broken her leg. He opened the window and flew straight
over the house tops to the palace, where he sat down in a corner
under the window which looked into the Princess's bedroom.
All was quiet in the town until the clock
struck a quarter to twelve. Then the window opened and the Princess
flew out of it, cloaked in white and wearing long black wings. She
soared over the town to a high mountain, but the traveling companion
had made himself invisible, so that she could not see him as he flew
after her and lashed her so hard with his switch that he drew blood
wherever he struck. Ah, how she fled through the air! The wind
caught her cloak, which billowed out from her like a sail, and the
moonlight shone through it.
"How it hails! how it hails!" the Princess
cried at each blow, but it was no more than she deserved.
At last she came to the mountain and knocked
on it. With a thunderous rumbling, the mountainside opened and the
Princess went in. No one saw the traveling companion go in after
her, for he had made himself completely invisible. They went down a
big, long passage where the walls were lighted in a peculiar
fashion. Thousands of glittering spiders ran along he walls and gave
off a fiery glow. Then they entered a vast hall, built of silver and
gold. Red and blue blossoms the size of sunflowers covered the
walls, but no one could pick them, for the stems were ugly poisonous
snakes, and the flowers were flames darting out between their fangs.
The ceiling was alive with glittering glow-worms, and sky-blue bats
that zapped their transparent wings. The place looked really
terrible! A throne in the center of the floor was held up by four
horse skeletons in a harness of fiery red spiders. The throne itself
was of milk-colored glass, and its cushions consisted of little
black mice biting each other's tails. The canopy above it was made
of rose-red spider webs, speckled with charming little green flies
that sparkled like emeralds.
On the throne sat an old sorcerer, with a
crown on his hideous head and a sceptre in his hand. He kissed the
Princess on her forehead, and made her sit with him on the costly
throne as the music struck up. Big black grasshoppers played upon
mouth-harps, and the owl beat upon his own stomach, because he had
no drum. It was a most fantastic concert! Many tiny goblins, with
will-o'-the-wisps stuck in their little caps, capered around the
hall. Nobody could see the traveling companion, who had placed
himself behind the throne, where he could see and hear everything.
The courtiers who now appeared seemed imposing and stately enough,
but any-one with an observing eye could soon see what it all meant.
They were mere cabbage heads stuck upon broomsticks, which the
sorcerer had dressed in embroidered clothes and conjured into
liveliness. But that didn't matter, for they were only needed to
keep up appearances.
After the dance had gone on for a while, the
Princess told the sorcerer that she had a new suitor, and she asked
what question she should put to him when he came to the palace
"Listen to me," said the sorcerer, "I'll tell
you what; you must think of something commonplace and then he will
never guess what it is. Think of one of your shoes. He won't guess
that. Then off with his head, and when you come tomorrow night
remember to fetch me his eyes, so that I may eat them."
The Princess made a low curtsey, and promised
not to forget about the eyes. The sorcerer opened the mountain for
her, and she flew homeward. But the traveling companion flew behind
her and thrashed her so hard with his switch that she bitterly
complained of the fearful hailstorm, and made all the haste she
could to get back through the open window of her bedroom. The
traveling companion flew back to the inn, where John was still
asleep. Taking off the wings he tumbled into bed, for he had good
reason to feel tired.
It was very early the next morning when John
awoke. When his comrade arose he told John of a very strange dream
he had had about the Princess and one of her shoes. He begged him to
ask the Princess if she didn't have one of her shoes in mind. This,
of course, was what he had overheard the sorcerer say in the
mountain, but he didn't tell John about that. He merely told him to
be sure to guess that the Princess had her shoe in mind.
"I may as well ask about that as anything
else," John agreed. "Maybe your dream was true, for I have always
thought that God would look after me. However, I'll be saying
good-by, because if I guess wrong I shall never see you again."
They embraced, and John went straight through
the town and up to the palace. The whole hall was packed with
people. The judges sat in their armchairs, with eiderdown pillows
behind their heads because they had so much to think about, and the
old King stood there wiping his eyes with a white handkerchief. Then
the Princess entered. She was even lovelier than she was the day
before, and she bowed to everyone in the most agreeable fashion. To
John she held out her hand and wished him, "Good morning to you."
John was required to guess what she had in
mind. She looked at him most charmingly until she heard him say the
one word "shoe." Her face turned chalk-white and she trembled from
head to foot. But there was nothing she could do about it. His guess
Merciful Heavens! How glad the old King was.
He turned heels over head for joy, and everyone applauded both his
performance and that of John, who had guessed rightly the first
The traveling companion beamed with delight
when he heard how well things had gone. But John clasped his hands
together and thanked God, who he was sure would help him through the
two remaining trials. The following day he was to guess again.
That evening went by just like the previous
one. As soon as John was asleep, his comrade flew behind the
Princess to the mountain and thrashed her even harder than before,
for this time he had taken two scourges of switches. No one saw him,
but he heard all that was said. The Princess was to think of her
glove, and he told this to John as if he had dreamed it.
Naturally, John had no trouble in guessing
correctly, and there was unbounded rejoicing in the palace. The
whole court turned heels over head as they had seen the King do on
the first occasion. But the Princess lay on her sofa, without a word
to say. Now everything depended on John's answer to the third
question. If it was right, he would get the lovely Princess and
inherit the whole kingdom after the old King died. But if he guessed
wrong, he would forfeit his life, and the wizard would eat his
beautiful blue eyes.
That evening John said his prayers, went to
bed early, and fell serenely asleep. But his comrade tied the wings
to his back, buckled the sword to his side, took all three scourges
of switches, and flew off to the palace.
The night was pitch black. A gale blew so hard
that it swept tiles from the roofs. In the garden where the
skeletons dangled, the trees bent before the blast like reeds.
Lightning flashed every moment, and thunder kept up one unbroken
roar the whole night through. The window was flung open, and out
flew the Princess. She was deathly pale, but she laughed at the
weather and thought it was not bad enough. Her white cloak lashed
about in the wind like the sail of a ship, and the traveling
companion thrashed her with his three switches until blood dripped
to the ground. She could scarcely fly any farther, but at last she
came to the mountain.
"How it hails and blows!" she said. "I have
never been out in such weather."
"One may get too much of a good thing," the
Now she told him how John had guessed right a
second time, and if he succeeded again tomorrow, then he won, and
never again could she come out to him in the mountains. Never again
could she perform such tricks of magic as before, and therefore she
felt very badly about it.
"He won't guess it this time," said the
sorcerer. "I shall hit upon something that he will never guess
unless he's a greater magician than I am. But first let's have our
He took the Princess by both hands, and they
danced around with all the little goblins and will-o'-the-wisps that
were in the hall. The red spiders spun merrily up and down the
walls, the fiery flowers seemed to throw off sparks, the owl beat
the drum, the crickets piped, and the black grasshoppers played on
mouth organs. It was an extremely lively ball.
After they had danced a while the Princess had
to start home, for fear that she might be missed at the castle. The
sorcerer said he would go with her, to enjoy that much more of her
Away they flew through the storm, and the
traveling companion wore out all three scourges on their backs.
Never had the sorcerer felt such a hailstorm. As he said good-by to
the Princess outside the palace, he whispered to her, "Think of my
But the traveling companion overheard it, and
just at the moment when the Princess slipped in through her window
and the sorcerer was turning around, he caught him by his long black
beard, and with the sword he cut the sorcerer's ugly head off, right
at the shoulders, so that the sorcerer himself didn't even see it.
He threw the body into the sea for the fishes to eat, but the head
he only dipped in the water, wrapped it in his silk handkerchief,
and took it back to the inn, where he lay down to sleep.
Next morning he gave John the handkerchief but
told him not to open it until the Princess asked him to guess what
she had thought about.
The hall was so full of people that they were
packed together as closely as radishes tied together in a bundle.
The judges sat in their chairs with the soft pillows. The old King
had put on his new clothes, and his crown and sceptre had been
polished to look their best. But the Princess was deathly pale, and
she wore black, as if she were attending a funeral.
"Of what have I thought?" she asked John. He
at once untied the handkerchief, and was quite frightened himself
when he saw the sorcerer's hideous head roll out of it. Everyone
there shuddered at this terrible sight, but the Princess sat like
stone, without a word to say. Finally she got up and gave John her
hand, for his guess was good. She looked no one in the face, but
sighed and said:
"You are my master now. Our wedding will be
held this evening."
"I like that!" the old King shouted. "This is
as things should be."
All the people shouted "Hurrah!" The military
band played in the streets, the bells rang out, and the cake women
took the crape off their sugar pigs, now that everyone was
celebrating. Three entire oxen stuffed with ducks and chickens were
roasted whole in the center of the market square, and everyone could
cut himself a piece of them. The fountains spurted up the best of
wine. Whoever bought a penny bun at the bakery got six large buns
thrown in for good measure, and all the buns had raisins in them.
That evening the entire town was illuminated.
The soldiers fired their cannon, and the boys set off firecrackers.
At the palace there was eating and drinking, dancing and the
clinking of glasses. All the lordly gentlemen and all the lovely
ladies danced together. For a long way off you could hear them sing:
"Here are many pretty girls, and don't they love to dance!
See them hop and swing around whenever they've a chance.
Dance! my pretty maid, anew, till the sole flies of your shoe.
But the Princess was still a witch, and she
had no love for John at all. His comrade kept this in mind, and gave
him three feathers from the swan's wings, and a little bottle with a
few drops of liquid in it. He said that John must put a large tub of
water beside the Princess's bed, and just as she was about to get in
bed he must give her a little push, so that she would tumble into
the tub. There he must dip her three times, after he had thrown the
feathers and the drops of liquid into the water. That would free her
from the spell of sorcery, and make her love him dearly.
John did everything his companion had advised
him to do, though the Princess shrieked as he dipped her into the
water, and struggled as he held her in the shape of a large black
swan with flashing eyes. The second time, she came out of the water
as a swan entirely white except for a black ring around its neck.
John prayed hard, and as he forced the bird under the water once
more it changed into the beautiful Princess. She was fairer than
ever, and she thanked him with tears in her beautiful eyes for
having set her free from the sorcerer's spell.
In the morning the old King came with all his
court, and congratulations lasted all through the day. Last of all
came John's traveling companion; he had his stick in his hand and
the knapsack on his back. John embraced him time and again, and said
that he must not leave-them. He must stay here with John, who owed
all his happiness to him. But the traveling companion shook his
head. Gently and kindly he said:
"No, my time is now up. I have done no more
than pay my debt to you. Do you remember the dead man whom the
wicked men wanted to harm? You gave all that you had so that he
might have rest in his grave. I am that dead man." And at once he
The wedding celebration lasted a whole month.
John and his Princess loved each other dearly, and the old King
lived on for many a happy day to let their little children ride
astride his knee and play with his sceptre. But it was John who was
King over all the land.