The Travelling Companions
Poor John was very sad, his father was ill and he knew that he could not recover. There was no one else in the little room besides these two; it was quite late at night and the lamp had nearly burnt out.
"You have been a good son, John," said the dying man. "I am sure the Lord will help you on in the world!" and he fixed his mild, gentle eyes upon his son, drew a long breath and passed away so quietly, he only seemed to be asleep. John wept bitterly, for now he had nobody in the world belonging to him, neither father nor mother, sister nor brother. Poor John! he knelt by the bedside and kissed his dead father's hands and shed many tears; but at last his eyes closed, and he fell asleep with his head against the hard bed-post.
He had a wonderful dream; he saw the sun and moon bowing before him, and he saw his father quite well and strong again; he laughed as he always used to laugh when he was very pleased. A lovely girl with a golden crown on her long, beautiful hair, stretched out her hand to John, and his father said, "See what a beautiful bride you have won. She is the loveliest maiden in the world." Then he woke up and all the beautiful things were gone; his father lay on the bed dead and cold, and there was no one else there, poor John!
The dead man was buried in the following week; John walked close behind the coffin, and he could no longer see his good father who had loved him so much. He heard the earth fall upon the coffin lid, and watched it till only a corner was left, and then the last shovelful fell upon it, and it was entirely hidden. He was so miserable, he felt as if his heart would break.
A beautiful psalm was being sung which brought the tears into his eyes, he wept, and this brought him relief. The sun was shining brightly on the green trees, and seemed to say, "Do not be so sad, John! See how blue the sky is; your good father is up there, and he will pray to God that all may be well with you."
"I will always be good!" said John, "and then I shall go to Heaven sometime to my father, and what joy it will be to see each other again. How much I shall have to tell him; he will have so much to show me, and to teach me aout the bliss of Heaven, just as he used to teach me here on earth. Oh, what joy it will be!"
John saw it all so vividly that he smiled at the thought, although the tears still ran down his cheeks. The little birds in the chestnut tree twittered with joy although they had been at the funeral, but they knew that the dead man was in Heaven, and that he now had wings larger and more beautiful than their own. They knew, too, that he was happy, because he had been a good man here on earth, and they were glad of it. John saw them fly away from the trees out into the world, and he felt a strong desire to fly away with them. But first he made a wooden cross to put up on his father's grave; when he brought it along in the evening he found the grave covered with sand and decorated with flowers. This had been done by strangers for love of his father.
Early next morning John packed his little bundle and stowed away his sole inheritance in his belt; it only consisted of fifty dollars and a few silver coins, and with these he started out into the world. But first he went to the churchyard to his father's grave, where he knelt and said the Lord's prayer, and then added, "Farewell, dear father! I will always be good, and then you won't be afraid to pray to the good God that all may go well with me!"
The fields that John passed through were full of bright flowers nodding their heads in the warm sunshine as much as to say, "Welcome into the fields! Is it not lovely here?" but John turned round once more to look at the old church where he had been baptised, and where he had gone every Sunday and sung the psalms with his good old father. On looking back he saw standing in one of the loop-holes of the tower the little church-Nissé with his pointed red cap, shading his eyes from the sun with his arm. John nodded good-bye to him, and the little Nissé waved his hand and kissed his fingers to him to show that he was sending his good wishes for a pleasant journey.
John now began to think how many beautiful things he would see in the great beautiful world before him, and he went on and on till he found himself much further away than he had ever been before. He did not know the towns through which he passed, or the people he met, he was quite among strangers. The first night he had to sleep under a haystack in a field, for he had no other bed. But he thought it was lovely, no king could have had a better. The field by the river, the haystack and the deep blue sky above made a charming room. The green grass dotted with red and white flowers was the carpet, the elders and the rose bushes were growing bouquets, and he had the whole river for a bath, with its clear fresh water, and the rushes which nodded their heads bidding him both "Goodnight" and Good morning." The moon was a great night light high up under the blue ceiling, one which would never set fire to the curtains. John could sleep quite quietly without fear, and this he also did. He only woke when the sun was high up in the sky and all the little birds were singing, "Good morning! Good morning! Are you not up yet?"
The bells were ringing for church; people were on their way to hear the parson pray and preach, and John went with them. He sang a psalm and listened to the word of God, and he felt as if he were in his own old church, where he had been christened, and where he had sung the psalms with his father. There were a great many graves in the churchyard, and some of them were overgrown with long grass. John thought of his father's grave, which some day might look like these when he was no longer there to weed and trim it. So he knelt down, pulled up the long grass, and raised the wooden crosses which had fallen down. He picked up the wreaths which had been blown away and replaced them, thinking that perhaps someone would do the same for his father's grave now he was away.
An old beggar was standing outside the churchyard leaning on a crutch, and John gave him the few silver coins he had left, and then went happily and cheerfully on into the wide world. Towards evening a fearful storm came on and John hurried to get under shelter, but it soon grew dark. At last he reached a little church standing on a solitary hill; the door was ajar, and he slipped in to take shelter till the storm was over.
"I will sit down here in a corner till the storm is over," he said; "I am quite tired and in need of a rest!" so he sat down, folded his hands, and said his evening prayer; and before he was aware he was asleep and dreaming while it thundered and lightened outside.
When he woke up it was the middle of the night and the storm was over; the moon was shining in upon him through the windows. In the middle of the aisle stood an open coffin with a dead man in it who was not yet buried. John was not at all afraid, for he had a good conscience, and he knew that the dead can do no harm; it is living wicked people who do harm to others. There were two such bad men standing by the coffin. They bad come to do harm to this poor dead man; to turn him out of his coffin and throw the body outside the church door.
"Why do you want to do this?" asked John. "It is very wicked and disgraceful; let the man rest for Heaven's sake!"
"Oh nonsense!" replied the wretches; "he cheated us, he owed us money which he could not pay, and now he has gone and died into the bargain, and we shall never see a penny, so we want to revenge ourselves. He shall lie like a dog outside the church doors!"
"I have not got more than fifty dollars," said John; "it is my whole inheritance, but I will gladly give it to you if you will honestly promise me to leave the poor dead man in peace. I shall manage very well without the money, I have good strong limbs, and the Lord will always help me."
"Well," said the bad men, "if you are ready to pay his debt like that, we won't do him any harm, we can assure you!"
And they took the money John gave them, laughing at him for being such a simpleton, and then they went away. John put the body straight again, folded the hands, said good-bye and went away through the woods in a state of great satisfaction. Around him where the moon pierced through the trees he saw numbers of little elves playing about merrily. They did not disturb themselves on his account, they knew very well that he was a good innocent person, and it is only bad people who never see the fairies. Some of them were no bigger than one's finger, and they had long yellow hair fastened up with golden combs. They swung hand in hand upon the big dewdrops which covered the leaves and the long grass. Sometimes the dewdrop rolled down, and then they fell with it down among the grass, and this caused great noise and laughter among the little folks. It was very amusing. They sang all the pretty little songs John used to know when he was a little boy. Great spiders with silver crowns upon their heads spun their webs from branch to branch like bridges connecting palaces. They glittered in the moonlight like glass where the dew had fallen on them. They went on with their sports till the sun rose, and the little creatures crept away into the flower buds, and the wind caught the bridges and palaces and swept them away into the air like cobwebs.
John had just got through the wood, when a strong man's voice called out behind him; "hallo, comrade! whither away?"
"Out into the wide world," said John. "I have neither father nor mother, I am only a poor lad, but the Lord will protect me."
"I am going out into the wide world too!" said the stranger; "shall we go together?"
"By all means," said John, and so they walked on together.
They soon grew much attached to each other, for they were both good men, but John soon saw that the stranger was much wiser than himself, he had been round the greater part of the world, and he was well able to describe all that he had seen.
The sun was already high when they sat down under a big tree to eat their breakfast, and just then an old woman came up. She was very old and bent, and walked with a crutch; she had a bundle of sticks she had picked up in the wood on her back, and her apron was fastened up, and John could see in it three bundles or faggots of dried fern and some willow twigs. When she got near them, her foot slipped and she fell with a loud shriek; the poor old woman had broken her leg.
John wanted to carry her home, but the stranger opened his knapsack, and took out a little pot of salve, which he said would make her leg well directly, and she would be able to walk home as well as if she had never broken it. But in payment for it he wanted the three bundles of fern she had in her apron.
"That is very good payment," said the old woman, nodding her head rather oddly; she did not want to part with her three bundles of fern, but it was not so pleasant to lie there with a broken leg, so she gave him the faggots. As soon as he had rubbed on the salve, the old woman got up and walked away faster than she had been able to do before. This was all the effect of the salve; but no such ointment as this was to be had at any chemist's.
"Whatever do you want with those bundles of fern?" said John to his companion.
"They make very good birch rods, and they are just what I like. I am a very queer fellow, you know!"
Then they walked on for a good bit.
"What a storm is drawing up there!" said John, pointing before him; "those are terribly black clouds."
"No," said his fellow-traveller, "those are not clouds, they are mountains, beautiful high mountains, where you can get right above the clouds into the fresh air. It is splendid up there! To-morrow we shall just reach them."
They were not so near, however, as they seemed to be; it took them a whole day to reach the mountains, where the dark forests grew right up towards the sky, and where there were great boulders as big as houses, or even towns. It would be a heavy task to climb over all these, and so John and his fellow-traveller went into an inn to rest and refresh themselves before they made the ascent next day. There were a number of people in the bar parlour at the inn, for there was a man showing off some marionettes. He had just put up his little theatre, and the people were sitting round waiting for the play to begin. A fat old butcher had taken up his place in the middle of the front row, and he had a ferocious looking bulldog by his side, and it sat staring just as hard as anybody else.
Then the comedy began, and it was a very pretty play, with a King and a Queen in it. They sat on a velvet throne with golden crowns on their heads, and trains for they could well afford it. The prettiest little wooden dolls stood by all the doors, they had bright glass eyes and big whiskers, and they were employed in opening and shutting the doors to let in the fresh air. It was a capital play and not at all a tragic one, but just as the queen got up to walk across the floor—Heaven knows what idea entered the bulldog's head, but finding that the butcher was not holding him, he made a great leap forward right into the middle of the theatre and seized the Queen by the slender waist, and crunched her head up. It was a terrible disaster!
The poor showman was quite frightened and also very sad about his Queen, for she was his prettiest doll, and the horrid bulldog had entirely ruined her. But when all the people had gone away John's fellow-traveller said he could make her all right again, and he took out his little pot and rubbed some of the same ointment on to the doll which had cured the poor old woman who had broken her leg. As soon as ever the doll had been rubbed over with the ointment she became whole again, nay, she could even move all her limbs herself; it was no longer necessary to pull the wires. The doll was exactly like a living being, except that she could not speak. The showman was delighted, because now he did not have to hold the wires at all for this doll, as she could dance quite well by herself, and none of the others could do that.
At night, when everybody had gone to bed, someone was heard sighing most dolefully, and it went on so long that everybody got up to see who it could be. The showman went along to his theatre, because that was where the sighs seemed to come from. All the wooden dolls were lying in a heap; it was the King and his guards who were sighing so dismally and staring with their glass eyes. They all wanted to be rubbed with some of the same ointment as the Queen, so that they might be able to move their limbs as well as she did. She threw herself down on her knees and stretched out her hands with her golden crown, saying, "Pray, take this, but do, please, rub some of the ointment on to my consort and the courtiers!" The poor man who owned the theatre and the marionettes could not help crying, he was so sorry for them. He immediately promised the travelling-companion that he would give him all the money he possessed if he would only anoint five or six of the prettiest dolls. But the travelling-companion said that he did not want anything except the big sword that the showman wore at his side, and as soon as it was given him he anointed six dolls. They began to dance about at once so prettily that all the real, living girls who saw them began to dance too. The coachman and the cook, the waiter and the chambermaid, and all the strangers joined in, as well as the shovel and the tongs: but those two fell on the top of each other just as they were making their first bound. It was indeed a lively night!
Next morning John and his travelling-companion went away from them all, up the high mountains and through the great pine forests. They got so high that at last the church towers far below looked like little red berries among all the green; and they could see far away for many, many miles, to places where they had never been John had never seen so many of the beauties of this beautiful world all together before. The warm sun shbne brightly in the clear blue sky, and the huntsman was heard winding his horn among the mountains; it was all so peaceful and sweet that it brought tears to his eyes, and he could not help exclaiming, "Great God, I could fall down and kiss the hem of Thy garment out of gratitude for all Thy good gifts to us!"
His travelling-companion also stood with folded hands looking at the woods and the villages basking in the warm sunshine. They heard a wonderful and beautiful sound above their heads, and looked up; a great white swan was hovering in the air above them. It sang as they had never heard any bird sing before; but the song became fainter and fainter, and the swan gradually sank down before their feet, where it lay dead—the beautiful bird.
"Two such beautiful wings," said the travelling-companion. "Such big white ones are worth a lot of money; I will take them with me. Now, you see what a good thing it was that , I got this sword!" and with one blow he struck off both the wings of the dead swan, for he meant to keep them.
They travelled many, many miles over the mountains, till at last they saw before them a great town with over a hundred towers, which glittered like silver in the sunshine. In the middle of the town was a splendid marble palace, thatched with red gold, in which the King lived.
John and his travelling-companion did not want to go into the town at once; they stopped at an inn outside to change their clothes, as they wished to look their best when they walked through the streets. The host told them that the King was such a good old man, he never did any harm to anyone; but his daughter—Heaven preserve us! she was a wicked Princess.
Beauty she had more than enough of; nobody could be so beautiful and fascinating as she was, but what was the good of it when she was such a bad, wicked witch, who was the cause of so many handsome Princes having lost their lives. She had given permission to anybody to court her. Anyone who would might come, were he Prince or beggar—it was all the same to her; he only had to guess three riddles she asked him. If he could answer them, she would marry him, and he would be king over all the land when her father died; but if he failed to answer them, he either had to be hanged or to have his head cut off. So bad and so wicked was this beautiful Princess. Her father, the old King, was much grieved by it, but he could not prevent her from being so wicked, for he had once said that he would never have anything to do with her lovers; she must deal with them herself as she liked. Every Prince who had yet come to guess the riddles so as to gain the Princess had failed, and so he had either been hanged or had his head cut off. Each one had been warned, and he need not have paid his addresses unless he had liked. The old King was so grieved by all this trouble and misery that he and his soldiers spent a whole day every year on their knees praying that the Princess might become good. But she had no intention of so doing. The old women who drank brandy dyed it black before they drank it; that was their way of mourning, and what more could they do!
"That vile Princess!" said John, "she ought to be well birched, that would be the best thing for her. If I were the King I would make the blood run!" Just then they heard all the people in the streets shouting "Hurrah!" The Princess was passing, and she was really so beautiful that when they saw her everybody forgot how wicked she was, and so they all shouted "Hurrah." Twelve beautiful maidens clothed in white silk with golden tulips in their hands, rode twelve coal-black horses by her side. The Princess herself was on a snow-white horse, adorned with diamonds and rubies; her riding dresi was of pure gold, and the whip in her hand looked like a sunbeam. The golden crown on her head seemed to be made of little twinkling stars from the sky; and her cloak was sewn all over with thousands of beautiful butterflies' wings. But she was far, far more beautiful than all her clothes.
When John saw her his face became as red as blood, and he could hardly say a single word; the Princess was the image of the beautiful girl with the golden crown whom he had seen in his dream, the night his father died. He thought her so beautiful that he at once fell in love with her. It certainly could not be true, he thought, that she could be a wicked witch who allowed people to be hanged or executed if they could not guess her riddles. "Anyone may pay his addresses to her, even the poorest peasant: I will go to the Palace myself! I can't help going!"
They all said that he ought not to go as he would only meet the same fate as the others. His travelling-companion also advised him against going, but John thought he would be sure to get on all right; so he brushed his coat and his shoes, washed his hands and face, and combed his yellow hair, and then went quite alone to the town and straight up to the Palace.
"Come in," said the old King when John knocked at the door. He opened it, and the old King in his dressing-gown and slippers came towards him. He had his gold crown on his head, the sceptre in one hand, and the golden ball in the other. "Wait a moment," said he, tucking the ball under his arm so as to be able to shake hands with John. But as soon as he heard that John was a suitor he began to cry so much that both the ball and the sceptre rolled on to the floor, and he had to wipe his eyes with his dressing-gown. The poor old King!
"Leave it alone!" said he; "you are sure to fail just like the others, I am convinced of it!" Then he led John into the Princess' pleasure garden, which was a ghastly sight. From every tree hung three or four Kings' sons who had come to court the Princess, but who had all been unable to guess her riddles. With every gust of wind the bones rattled so that all the little birds were frightened away and they never dared come into the garden; all the flowers were tied up to human bones in the place of stakes, and human skulls grinned out of every flower pot. It was indeed a nice garden for a Princess.
"Here you see," said the old King, "your fate will be just the same as all these. Do give it up. It makes me most unhappy, I take it so much to heart." John kissed the old King's hand and said he thought it would be all right for he was so fond of the beautiful Princess.
Just then the Princess came herself with all her ladies driving into the Palace gardens, so they went up to her and said "Good morning." She was certainly very beautiful as she shook hands with John, and he was more in love with her than ever; it was impossible that she could be the wicked witch people said she was. They all went up into the hall and the little pages brought jam and gingerbread nuts to them; but the old King was so sad that he could eat nothing, besides the ginger nuts were too hard for him.
It was now decided that John was to come up to the Palace the next morning, when the judges and all the council would be assembled to hear if he could guess the first riddle. If he succeeded the first time, he would have to come twice more, but nobody yet had ever guessed the first riddle—he had lost his life at once.
John was not a bit alarmed about himself; he was delighted, and only thought of the lovely Princess. He felt quite certain that the good God would help him but in what manner it would be he had not the slightest idea, nor did he trouble his head about it. He danced along the highway, when he went back to the inn where his travelling-companion was waiting for him. John was never tired of telling him how charming the Princess had been towards him, and how lovely she was. He was longing for the next day to come, when he was to go to the Palace to try his luck with the riddles. But his travelling-companion shook his head and was quite sad.
"I am so fond of you," he said; "we might have been companions for a long time yet, and now I shall lose you directly! My poor dear John, I could weep over you, but I will not spoil your pleasure on the last evening we perhaps may spend together. We will be merry, as merry as possible; to-morrow when you are gone I can be sad!"
Everybody in the town had heard directly that a new suitor had come for the Princess, and there was general mourning. The theatre was closed, and all the cakewomen tied black crape round the sugar pigs. The King and the priests were praying on their knees in the churches, and. there was universal grief, for they all knew that there could be no better fate in store for John than for the other suitors.
Late in the evening the travelling-companion made a great bowl of punch, and said to John that they must be merry now and drink the Princess' health. But when John had drunk two glasses he became so sleepy that he could not hold up his head, and he fell fast asleep. His travelling-companion lifted him quietly up from his chair, and laid him on his bed. As soon as it was dark he took the two big wings which he had cut off the swan, and tied them on to his own shoulders; then he put the biggest bunch of twigs he had got from the old woman who had broken her leg into his pocket, opened the window, and flew over the roofs of the houses right up to the Palace, where he sat down in a corner under the window of the Princess' bedroom.
The whole town was quiet. As the clock struck the quarter before twelve the window was opened, and the Princess flew out in a great white cloak and long black wings. She flew over the town to a great mountain, but the travelling-companion made himself invisible and flew behind her, raining blows on to her back with his birch rod, till the blood flowed. Oh, what a flight that was through the air; the wind caught her cloak, which spread out on every side like the sail of a ship, and the moon shone through it.
"How it hails, how it hails!" said the Princess at every blow, but she richly deserved it.
At last they reached the mountain and knocked; there was a rumble as of thunder, the side of the mountain opened, and the Princess went in closely followed by the travelling-companion. No one saw him as he was quite invisible. They went through a long passage which glittered curiously, owing to thousands of shining spiders which swarmed over the walls, shedding a fiery light. They next reached a great hall built of gold and silver, with red and blue flowers as big as sunflowers all over the walls. No one could pick these flowers, for the stems were poisonous snakes, and the flowers were flames coming out of their mouths. The ceiling was covered with shining glow-worms and pale blue bats which flapped their transparent wings. This had an extraordinary effect. In the middle of the floor was a throne supported on four horses' legs with harness of the red fiery spiders. The throne itself was of milky glass, and the cushions were made of little black mice holding on to each other by the tails. There was a canopy above it of rose-coloured spider's web, dotted with the most exquisite little green flies which glittered like diamonds.
A hideous old ogre sat in the middle of the throne with a crown on his ugly head and a sceptre in his hand. He kissed the Princess on her forehead, and made her sit down by him on the costly throne, then the music began! Great black grasshoppers played upon Jews' harps, and the owl beat upon his own stomach in place of a drum. It was a most absurd concert. Numbers of tiny little elves, each with a firefly on their little caps, danced round the hall. No one could see the travelling-companion, but he could see and hear everything from behind the throne, where he had placed himself. The courtiers who now made their appearance looked most grand and proper, but anyone who could really see perceived at once what they were. They were merely broomsticks with cabbages for heads, into which the ogre had put life by his magic powers and dressed them up in embroidered clothes. But this did not matter a bit, for they were only used on grand occasions.
After the dancing had gone on for a time, the Princess told the ogre that she had another suitor, and asked him what she had better think of to put as a riddle the next day.
"Listen!" said the ogre; "I will tell you what, you must think of something very simple, and then he will never think of it. Let us say one of your own shoes; he will never guess that. Then have his head chopped off, but don't forget when you come here to-morrow night to bring me his eyes. I want to eat them."
The Princess curtsied low, and said that she would not forget the eyes. The ogre opened the mountain, and she flew home again; and, as before, the travelling-companion followed her closely and beat her so hard with the birch rod that she groaned at the terrible hailstorm and hurried back as fast as she could to her bedroom window. The travelling-companion flew back to the inn, where he found John still fast asleep. He took off his own clothes and went to bed too, for he had good right to be tired.
John woke quite early in the morning, and the travelling-companion got up at the same time, and told him that he had had a wonderful dream about the Princess and her shoe; and he begged John to ask the Princess if she had not thought of her shoe. This was of course what he had heard the ogre say in the mountain, but he did not want to tell John anything about that, and so he merely told him it was a dream.
"I may just as well ask that as anything else!" said John; "perhaps your dream will come true, for I always think God will help me! All the same I will say good-bye, for if I guess wrong you will never see me again."
So they kissed each other, and John went to the town and up to the Palace. The hall was full of people; the judges were seated in their arm-chairs and they had down pillows under their heads for they had so much to think about. The old King stood near wiping his eyes with a white pocket handkerchief. Then the Princess came in greeting everyone very pleasantly, and she was even lovelier than yesterday. She shook hands with John and said "Good morning to you." Now John had, to guess what she had thought oL She looked at him most sweetly, but as soon as she heard him say the word shoe, she turned as white as a sheet and trembled all over; but that was no good, for he had guessed aright.
Preserve us! how pleased the old King was, he turned head over heels without stopping and everybody clapped their hands both on his account and on John's, whose first guess had been right.
The travelling-companion beamed with delight when he heard how successful John had been. But John folded his hands and thanked God, who no doubt would also help him on the two following occasions. The next day was fixed for the second riddle.
The evening passed just as the previous one had done. When John had gone to sleep the travelling-companion flew behind the Princess to the mountain, and he beat her harder than ever, for this time he had taken two birch rods with him. Nobody could see him and he heard everything as before. The Princess was to think of her glove, and this he told John just as if it had been a dream. John of course could easily guess aright and again there was great delight at the Palace. The whole court turned somersaults as they had seen the King do the first time; but the Princess lay on the sofa and would not say a single word. Now all turned upon whether John guessed the third riddle or not. If he did, he would win the Princess and inherit the whole kingdom when the old King died; but if he was wrong, he would lose his life and the ogre would eat his beautiful blue eyes.
The evening before John went early to bed, said his prayers, and slept as peacefully as possible; but the travelling-companion tied the wings on to his back, and bound the sword round his waist, took all the birch rods, and flew off to the Palace.
It was a pitch dark night. There was such a gale that the tiles flew off the roofs, and the trees in the garden of bones bent like reeds before the wind. The lightning flashed every moment, and the thunder rolled continuously the whole night long. The window burst open and the Princess flew out; she was as pale as death, but she laughed at the storm as if it were not bad enough; her white mantle swirled about in the wind like the sails of a ship. The travelling-companion beat her with his three birches till the blood dripped on to the ground. She could hardly fly any further. At last they reached the mountain.
"What a hailstorm there is!" she said as she entered. "I have never been out in such a bad one!"
"One may even have too much of a good thing!" said the ogre.
Then she told him that John's second guess had been right, and if he was successful again in the morning she would never be able to come and see him again in the mountain. Nor would she ever be able to do any more of the sorcerer's tricks as before, and she was very sad about it.
"He shall never guess it," said the ogre.
"I shall think of something that will never enter his head. But we will have some fun first!" And he took the Princess by both hands and they danced round the room with all the little elves and the fireflies. The red spiders ran merrily up and down the walls, and the fire flowers seemed to give out sparks. The owls played their drums, the crickets chirped, and the grasshoppers played their harps. It was a very gay ball.
After they had danced some time the Princess was obliged to go home or she would be missed, and the ogre said he would go with her so as to have more of her company.
So away they flew through the storm, and the travelling-companion wore out his birch rods on their backs; never had the ogre been out in such a hailstorm. He said goodbye to the Princess outside the Palace, and whispered to her, "Think of my head," but the travelling-companion heard what he said, and at the very moment when the Princess slipped in at her window, and the ogre was turning away to go back, he seized him by his long black beard, and before he had time to look round cut off his head close to the shoulders with his big sword. He threw the body into the sea to be food for fishes, but he only dipped the head into the water and tied it up in his silk handkerchief and took it back to the inn, and he then went to bed.
Next morning he gave John the handkerchief, but said he must not open it before the Princess asked him what she had thought about.
There were so many people in the hall that they were packed as close together as a bundle of radishes. The judges were sitting in their arm-chairs with the soft down cushions; and the old King had his new clothes on, and his crown and sceptre had been polished up and looked quite festive. But the Princess was very, very pale, and she was dressed in black as if for a funeral.
"What have I thought of?" she asked John; and he immediately untied the handkerchief, and was very much frightened himself when he saw the hideous ogre's head. A shudder ran through the whole assemblage, but the Princess seemed turned to stone, and could not say a single word. At last she got up and gave her hand to John, for he had guessed all the riddles; she looked neither to the right nor to the left, but sighed deeply, and said, "You are my master now; our wedding shall take place to-night." "I like that," said the old King; "that is just as it should be." All the people shouted hurrah, the guard's band played in the streets, the bells rang, and the cakewomen took the crape off the sugar pigs, because all was now rejoicing. Three oxen stuffed with chickens and ducks were roasted whole in the market-place, and everyone could cut off a portion for themselves. The fountains played wine instead of water, and anyone who bought a penny roll had six large buns full of plums given in.
In the evening the whole town was illuminated. The soldiers fired salutes, and the boys let off squibs and crackers. At the Palace all was eating and drinking, toasting and dancing. The grand gentlemen danced with the pretty ladies, and the singing could be heard far and wide.
But the Princess was still bewitched, and she did not care a bit about John; the travelling-companion knew this, and gave him three feathers out of the swan's wings and a little bottle with a few drops of liquid in it. He told John to have a large bath full of water placed by the side of the bed, and when the Princess was going to get into bed he must give her a little push so that she fell into the water, where he was to dip her three times, first having thrown the three feathers and the drops of liquid into it. She would then be released from the spell and would grow very fond of him.
John did everything as he was told. The Princess shrieked when he dipped her into the water, and struggled in his hands in the form of a black swan with glittering eyes. The second time she came up as a white swan, except for a black ring round the neck. John prayed humbly to God, and the third time she came up as a lovely Princess. She was more lovely than she had been before, and thanked him, with tears in her eyes, for having released her from the spell.
Next morning the old King came with all his courtiers to offer their congratulations, and this went on all day. Last of all came the travelling-companion; he had his stick in his hand and his knapsack on his back. John kissed him over and over, and said that he must not go away; he must stay with them, as he was the cause of all their happiness. But the travelling-companion shook his head, and said gently and tenderly, "No; my time is up. I have only paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom you prevented the wicked men from disturbing. You gave all that you possessed so that he might have rest in his grave. I am the dead man!" And then he immediately vanished.
The wedding festivities lasted a whole month. John and the Princess were devoted to each other, and the old King had many happy days in which to let their little children play "ride a cock-horse" on his knee and to play with his sceptre. But John was King over the whole country.